Developing Character

July 11, 1988. 16 days before my 16th birthday. The day my father went to heaven. Good grief, that was 31 years ago! Sounds like a long time when you say it out loud, but that day — that day still seems like it was this week. I remember what I was wearing when I found him. I remember what I did as soon as I knew: I ran out the back door of the house and into the back yard, screaming obscenities, trying to make myself cry. I don’t really recall a lot after that; the days that followed, or even the funeral.

Those memories play back like scenes from television reruns. Bits and pieces seem clear, but most of the dialogue is paraphrased, muffled, or blurred.

I do remember his mustache – he had a great Tom Selleck mustache that would disappear into his coffee cup, and it stung my face when he kissed me goodnight or gave me a “zerbert” before school. I remember his laugh. And I remember his eyes. He had happy eyes.

As I grow older, the more and more thankful I am for my Dad and the influence he had on my childhood. But I think I am most thankful for the impact he has had on me since he’s been gone. Let me explain: After people die we tend to remember the best of them. And as time passes, memories play back like a “Best of…” highlight reel.

Not many people sit and ponder the douchey things their dead relatives did. And even then, there’s a kindness and fondness to the memory. My memories of my father are all good ones. I’m sure he yelled sometimes, but I don’t remember, and I bet he had a good reason if he did.

Probably my sister. 

I’m sure he had annoying habits and flaws that bothered me and others. I’m sure he smelled bad from time to time. But I can’t recall.

I just remember him being there. At practices, games, performances, church and the dinner table. I remember his smile. I remember playing football, wrestling, skipping rocks and skipping church to watch John McEnroe defeat Bjorn Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon championship. I was nine.

He sounded kind of like a seal being eaten by a larger seal when he laughed. He’d listen so intently as I recounted silly stories or made-up jokes and then he’d belly laugh as if I were the funniest 14-year-old on the planet. 

I don’t remember a single time when he was disappointed or angry. I don’t remember him telling me to get my shoes out of the middle of the room or to go make my bed. Of course he did all of those things, but that’s not who he was. He was the guy who taught me how to juggle by tossing around pieces of my grandmother’s fine china. The man who threw me flailing through the air at the swimming pool, and then again and again, because, “I think I can get you farther out there this time.” He was the one who let me ride on his shoulders while climbing Stone Mountain. The guy who sweated through telling about how men and women are different and how babies are made when those “differences” bump into each other.

I remember throwing the football with him. Once, maybe. We played a lot of football, but I only really remember that one time, in the front yard. I remember the Willow Tree that we'd established as the end zone. Maybe it was a Dogwood.

I remember that my dad ran a lot. He was a marathon runner, actually. But I don’t have a clear memory of him actually running. Not a single one.

My dad loved Jesus, and he loved to tell people about how God had changed his life. After he got sick, he was even more excited and vocal about God’s love and grace. I remember getting frustrated about that. I was a healthy, confused, and pissed off teenager, and he was about to die with those happy eyes. I didn’t get it back then. I do now.

My story — like all stories — is full of major and minor characters that have impacted me in one way or another. Like the lady I saw in the checkout line at Wal-Mart this weekend. She was a minor character. True, I will not soon forget the chain she had connected to rings in her ear and her nose, but she simply made an impression.

My father, on the other hand, was a major character. Someone around whom the plot of my story has been cast. He helped shape me, mold me, guide me, and direct me to where my story will ultimately lead.

I’m getting to a point, I promise.

We all have a unique opportunity to help shape the people around us. Every day we’re here. The things we do and the memories we create – no matter how faded or heightened they become over time – can make a real, meaningful, and forever-difference in the stories of folks we love. And here’s the really great part: We don’t have to do great, big things to make a difference.

Quick story:

I got cut from my school’s basketball team in eighth grade, and I was devastated. Truth be told, I should have been cut because I wasn’t very good. But my dad knew I was upset, and he ached with me. Later on that day, he proceeded to give me one of the the single, greatest gifts he ever gave me. That night, after I had gone to bed, he wrote me a note. It was scribbled, and hard to make out because he had to write it with his left hand. He was born right-handed, but the disease he had rendered his right arm useless. So, he sat down at the kitchen table that night and wrote this with his left:

Today is going to be a great day. 

It’s your day. No one and nothing can make your day anything other than what you want it to be. If the weather calls for rain, decide now that you will enjoy being wet. If the test score is low, work hard to make sure the next one is higher. If treated unfairly for something, smile and be thankful for the many things you’ve not been caught for. 

Attitude is everything. Today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.


I kept that note for a long time. Somewhere along the way, I lost the original, but the idea of that note – and the words he wrote – have stuck with me. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t think about him and what he must’ve been going through when he took the time to encourage me and reveal some truth about what really matters.

It was such a simple act, but the mark it made on me is indelible.

Now, I may not remember all the details of my relationship with the man I called “Dad,” but I hope that the life he helped shape can become a meaningful character in the story of others. 

What about your day today will be remembered? More important, what about your life today will shape the people around you?

Thirteen Dollars

My Mom used to visit every so often. She’d come in for the kids’ ballgames, recitals, and other events where her presence was often undervalued, and always marginally appreciated by those she came to honor. “I’m so proud of you! Great job! You are so talented! Mimi loves you so much…” She’d pour out her accolades and delight with the excitement of a raving fan, sometimes even following up the charge with, “can I have your autograph?”

She always came bearing gifts, too. But not like “real” gifts. She’d bring plastic things. Gadgets, knick-knacks, trinkets, baubles, and tchotchke she’d pick up at the Kangaroo gas station or Dollar Tree between here and her home in Newnan, Georgia. Oh, and candy. Good lord. Always with the candy. She’d spend a month’s social security on Gummy Worms. 

“Tell you what,” I’d say. “Next time, just bring us $300 for the cavities we’re gonna have to get filled, OK?”

And I was only half-joking. Her incessant “gift” giving was a little bit annoying. “Why do you bring them these silly things? You do know this stuff breaks before you even make it back to your house, don’t you? It’s kind of a waste of money.”

She’d purse her lips and smile. “Oh, let them enjoy it,” she’d say. “Even if it’s just for a few minutes. Haven’t you ever heard ‘it’s the thought that counts’?” 

Yes. Yes I have. I’d mumble to myself. So, how about thinking of something else next time…

No matter how hard we’d try to convince her that she was wasting her money; buying things the kids would never use again; and really kind of pissing us off by going against our wishes and continuing to fill our trash bins with useless crap… she’d always show up with a sackful of Gummies, cap guns, action figures, hair bows, and .99 cent knock-off Barbie dolls.

And she was always trying to give me money! Always. Big bills. Small bills. Change from the bottom of her purse…

“Mom, for cripe’s sake, I don’t need the money. Stop. I don’t need it. You feel bad? Why do you feel bad? Trouble? You’re no trouble. Why do you think you’re trouble? You’re family. Stop apologizing for coming to visit. No. I’m not taking your money. And don’t give it to the kids. They don’t need it either. They don’t need anything. We’re covered up as it is already. My gosh, there’s enough candy in there to kill an Oompa-Loompa. I’m not going to tell you again. No. I’m not mad. Why do you think I’m mad? I’m just saying. We don’t need your money. YOU need your money. Keep it. Put it back in your purse and we’ll see you in a few weeks. Go. We’ll see you later. Leave. See you soon. I love you, too. We all do. Bye. Thank you. See you later. Buh-bye…”

One time, a few years ago, my daughter and I went out to the car after one of Mom’s visits, and I found a wadded-up paper towel in the driver’s seat. I opened it up and found several bills  crumpled inside and a note that simply read: Love you.

After shaking my head and rolling my eyes, I put the paper towel in the cup holder and started to back out of the driveway. “How much money is that?” My daughter asked, picking up the folded bills and counting. “It’s thirteen dollars,” she said. “Why would Mimi give you thirteen dollars?”

Exactly, I thought to myself. How weird is that? Why in the world would she give me thirteen do…? And then it hit me, sure as I am typing the words today. She gave me thirteen dollars because that’s all she had.

She gave me everything.

If she’d been able to find an ink pen, peppermint, Band-Aid, paperclip, coupon, or gift card in her pocketbook, she would’ve wrapped that up in a paper towel, too.

She gave us everything.

Gosh, we miss you, Mama.

What a woman.


Being a dad is great, I think.

Sure, it’s exhausting. And expensive. And terrifying. And debilitating. And expensive. And frustrating. And maddening, which is not the same thing as frustrating, but almost. There’s just a little bit of crazy thrown in. And very expensive. And gut-wrenching. And sad at times. And anxiety-ridden. And sleepless. And ulcer-inducing. And expensive. And, sure, it costs a lot of money. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Go team, go.

Being a parent is hard. Especially for moms. Now, I’m not 100% positive this is true because I have a penis, but as the father of five I can say with great confidence and conviction that Mom’ing has got to be the most difficult thing in the world.

I’m not a biologist or psychologist or anyone worth quoting, really, but you can trust me. I had a Mom, I know a lot of Moms, and I snore next to one of them — the best one, in my opinion — every night. That last fact alone is proof enough that the female sex endures the most harrowing existence there is, and that the Mom, the Mom, is the strongest and bravest and smartest and most formidable of the species without even a shadow of a doubt.

Being a dad is like being an assistant coach on a professional basketball team. I work kind of hard, I guess. I’ve got a clipboard with all the rules on it. I yell a lot and wave my arms, and look pretty busy on the sidelines with my shiny shoes and ten dollar haircut. I shake my head disapprovingly sometimes, but mostly I just give high-fives and slap people on the butt as they walk past, not listening to a single word I say.

Taking the basketball analogy excruciatingly too far, I imagine that being a mom is like being the head coach, lead cheerleader, star player, mascot, team owner, chief executive officer of basketball and game day operations, and the ball… all at once.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the mom my children came out of is pretty special. And I’m not just writing that here because she’s my wife and I’m a little bit scared of her; I write it because it’s true.

She is gorgeous and wonderful and perfect in almost every way. She’s someone that catches your breath and your heart, and you oftentimes get overcome by the simple fact that you share the same planet as this beautiful creature. She’s the everything, but willing to become the nothing so that everyone around her can shine a little brighter. She’s the real deal and the reason I smile most of the time, and I just thought you should know.

Actually, I don’t smile most of the time — because I am a parent and being a parent is hard — but when I do, it’s usually because of her.

Go team, go.


I used to be in love with a black woman. And before you go thinking to yourself: “what difference does race make?” let me just tell you… it matters.

Louise Harper was the first person I saw as I stepped off of the bus at Rockbridge Elementary School in 1979. It was my first day of school, and to this day I remember the fear with which I took my first steps onto my new school's front lawn.

Would I be able to make friends? Would I understand their language? I’d spent most of my life in Tennessee where the children and teachers spoke in 'tennessean'. The kids dressed like me, looked like me, were like me. Stone Mountain, Georgia was a different world. 

I’m pretty sure I wore khaki shorts and a white and blue striped button-down oxford shirt on that day. My seat-mate on the ride over had on blue jeans and a black Zeppelin t-shirt. He carried a notebook with the words 'Andy Gibb is a fag' scratched into its cover. 

I actually kind of loved the Bee Gee's, and felt my tear ducts begin to swell like the tide before rain.

Mrs. Harper's eyes met mine almost immediately. She saw me. She understood. But as she made her way through the sea of scrappy-haired kids to me, I looked frantically for a direction in which to escape. She was huge. Her jet-black hair rested, hard as a rock high atop her gigantic head. Her bright red fingernails — a foot long if they were a centimeter — reflected the light of the morning sun, making it seem as though she was approaching me with 10 bloody swords.

My bottom lip quivered uncontrollably. And then with a slight, knowing tilt of her enormous noggin — she smiled. As if she’d been there before; like maybe she had been forced to endure being different at some point in her life; feeling lost and alone; maybe she didn’t look right or dress right or listen to the right kinds of music. It was the most beautiful and sincere thing I'd ever seen. Suddenly, my fear turned to acceptance and I began to weep. Literally. My arms fell limp to my sides and I stood there, crying, resting in the arms of a black angel.

She took me to the boys restroom, cleared the place of a few ne’er-do-wells who were lingering before class, and she cleaned me up. Then we entered room 119 together. She held my trembling hand in hers and guided me to my third-row seat between a beautiful girl named Kelly, I think, and a kid named James, who was chewing on his shirt collar:

"Boys and girls, I want to introduce Billy Ivery. He just moved here from Tennessee."

"Ivey," I whispered, afraid to not look directly into Mrs. Harper's beautiful brown eyes. 

"Ivery." Mrs. Harper said once again, smiling at me as if I were a newborn. 

She called me 'Mr. Ivery' for the rest of the year, but I didn't care. I loved her. And she loved me back. We shared something much more powerful than words or names. Ashamedly, we lost touch over time, and I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t even know if she’s still alive, but I will never forget my first and purest love. A 6-foot-2-inch black woman named Louise.

She might not have been the perfect teacher, but she was my perfect teacher. She taught me to read. She taught me multiplication and division. She taught me cursive. And she taught me to trust; about a love much greater than flirtations, romance, or time. She taught me about compassion, empathy, and unconditional acceptance during a crazy time… in a crazy world. 

I thought about her this morning for some reason, and I’m glad I did. I needed her back then, and I need her today.

Thank you, Mrs. Harper.

Roll Tide, baby girl.

I used to write a lot about Anna Beth. She is my first child, so by virtue of inexperience, the newness of even the most mundane happenings would inspire me to sit down and peck out story after story. I wrote about how she “cooed” and rolled over; how she slept with her arms above her head, like the models from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (circa 1991); how she snorted like a pig once after I made her laugh when she was just a few months old.

I even wrote about her poop when she was a baby. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just kinda proud that she had a poop the size of one of mine.

I wrote about her handprints and the amazing noodle art she created in Sunday school. I wrote about her first this, her first that and even her second, third and fourth thisses and thats.

She was this brand new part of me that I helped create, and she was the cutest little angel on God’s big earth. But I didn’t just write about her. I talked about her incessantly. I can only imagine my friends’ dread as I approached with another Anna-ism. They would smile while no doubt thinking to themselves, “What’d she do this time, memorize the Magna Carta?”

But there was a lot I didn't write about. Memories that were mine and hers to share, like singing "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..." every night before bed; telling stories about a talking housefly with a penchant for orange sherbert; reenacting Beauty and the Beast in her bedroom; going on bear hunts in the bonus room  – with flashlights and coat hangers – you know, for protection; finding dragon food (that happens to look a lot like moss) while walking in the woods; listening to her pray, "God is grape, God is good, Let us thank him, For our food." So many memories.

She was the smartest, most beautiful, talented, and remarkable child to grace the planet earth, and a few years later, she helped welcome her siblings into the family. I’ll never forget the sweet tears that formed in her eyes the day her Mama and I told her she was going to be a big sister. She would finally have a real, live baby doll to show off to friends and family and strangers at the mall. She was equally excited when she found out about her baby sister and then another baby brother. And Anna became the family’s biggest cheerleader as we prayed about adopting baby number five.

That’s just the way she is. It’s the way she’s always been.

I stopped writing about every inhale, exhale, and funny word that came out of her mouth a lot of years ago. There just wasn’t enough time, what with all the other kids and the miracles they were uncovering at every turn. Sometimes I would share a story here and there, but focus most often turned to her siblings. They were smaller and cuter and learning to do life for the first time. She was a "big girl" now.

That was a long time ago. That was the blink of an eye. 

My baby girl. From the very first moment I held that breath from heaven in my arms, I knew that I was changed. Forever. I was her daddy, and she was my world. At some point along the way, though, I seemed to forget the awe I felt knowing that God had blessed me beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for. At some point, the miracle became a little girl and the little girl became more of an obligation, a responsibility, than a blinding glimpse of God’s radical love and favor.

She's not a baby anymore. None of my babies are. Today, Anna Beth and her siblings often serve as reminders of things that must be dealt with as opposed to divine creations that their mother and I have been gifted for a short time.

Such a short time.

Divine grace allows me to forgive myself for not acknowledging the gift of my kids every moment of every day, but my heart still breaks today because Anna Beth does not — she cannot — fully understand the love and pride that her Daddy feels each time she enters a room or flashes that crooked smile. She cannot possibly understand the aching in my throat right now in this moment as I try to somehow connect the words that might somehow do justice to the immeasurable pride I feel because I am hers and she is mine.

Over the years, she has grown into a beautiful, graceful, faithful, and determined young woman, and my God, I fear I’ve missed most of it! I’ve taken for granted how much she has brought and continues to bring to this family. I’ve focused on the fact that she cannot keep her room clean, or she holds her fork weird, or she talks too loud, or she dresses like a slob, or she sleeps too late, or she watches too much Netflix, or she doesn’t floss her teeth enough... As opposed to the fact that she is a masterpiece; a treasure; and a perfectly, wonderfully made-in-the-image-of-our-Creator-child of God and of Billy and Bethany Ivey. 

Tomorrow, we are taking her to college, and oh, dear, sweet, merciful Lord, I pray that I can once again approach each of her days — each new miraculous and mundane milestone — with the awe, the wonder, and the gratitude of a Daddy experiencing the magic of firsts, seconds, thirds, and fourths, forever, and ever.

Amen. And Roll Tide, baby girl.

Math is dumb and I am getting rid of XBOX.

School is back, which mostly means that the yelling about Fortnite and not cleaning their rooms will soon turn to yelling about homework and not cleaning their rooms. 

That’s pretty much the only difference, really. I don’t understand Fortnite, and I definitely don’t understand their homework, so basically my entire life is yelling at children about things I can’t comprehend.

And while we’re at it (but please don’t tell my wife I said this because she will leave me and I need her around to make casseroles and manage finances), I don’t really understand why they have to clean their rooms, either. I mean, what do I care if there are dirty socks on the floor and their shoes or Legos haven’t been put away? 

Actually, those things are pretty important.

Have you ever been late for something, and you’re running around like a crazy person trying to get ready so you can get Kid A to practice before you have to pick Kid B up from church and then drop Kid C at her friend's house so they can study until Kid E needs to be picked up from the Youth thing that is running over, meanwhile Kid D is just sitting there, staring at the TV in bare feet because he can’t find clean socks, and he doesn’t know where he put his shoes, and you — in a full-out-cartoon-like-rage-sprint (whilst guiding him by the scruff of his neck) — run into his bedroom to show him that his shoes are, in fact, “RIGHT-FREAKING-THERE-WHERE-YOU-FREAKING-LEFT-THEM” and then you step on a mother-bleeping Lego and fall to the floor screaming like a girl on fire?

Anyway, math is dumb, and I’m getting rid of XBOX.

Y'all clean your rooms.

How much is too much?

This isn’t a blog about money, I promise. It’s not about spending or saving or living within your means or minimizing or maximizing or being frugal, frivolous, or financially fickle. It’s not about “the best things in life are free,” or “money can’t buy you love,” either, because I wholeheartedly disagree with those statements, and also because as I have already mentioned: this is not a blog about money

It’s about kids and being prepared to love, feed, clothe, house, and provide appropriate extracurricular activities for them as they grow into the people God created them to be.

Now, at times, my writing can venture across the line that separates genuineness and just trying to be funny — and my sarcasm can land smack dab in the middle of “Oh, my gosh, did he really just say that?” So, before I go any further, I need for you to know that I truly, genuinely, 100-percent love kids. 

Not all kids, mind you. Just mine. I’m not like a lot of crazy people who say they see the divine beauty and preciousness and hope for tomorrow in the eyes of all children. I’m only referring to my kids and the deep, deep love I have for them. All five of them.

Five kids is a lot, though. There’s no denying it. Some might even say it’s too many, and depending on the day of the week, I might agree. Especially when it comes to extra-curriculars. My wife and I have been at this parenting-thing for more than 18-years, and we're still trying to figure out how to juggle it all.

We spend most nights from around 10:00 PM til Midnight sitting outside, contemplating these things while kicking back with a beer or a glass of wine in one hand and an iPhone in the other. We usually don’t talk a whole lot during this time, because this is when we try to relax by comparing ourselves to others on Facebook and Instagram.

But when we do engage in conversation, it almost always revolves around doing stuff for the kids. Running from here-to-there-and-back-here-again-so-we-can-get-back-over-there-and-then-the-other-place-before-it-closes-and-oh-don't-forget-about-this-and-that-and... the other thing. 

Evidently, this is our collective spiritual gift and the only thing(s) we are actually qualified to do.  

Last night, after the battery on my phone died from watching videos of friends on beaches with parasailing and scuba-diving and surf-lessons and beachside fruity drinks with whole pineapples and mangoes and other things that look almost too delicious to eat, Bethany and I started talking about some of the stuff we do for our beloveds every month. It verges on the insane. 

As mentioned above, we have five kids: two girls, and three boys. Their ages escape me at the moment, but rest assured, they are old enough to do stuff. Lots of stuff. Too much, really. Things like baseball, football, lacrosse, dance, church camp, overnight camps, bowling lessons (yes, bowling lessons, bless his heart) and, oh, by the way, the oldest is headed to college in the fall, sans scholarship(s). 

The estimated cost of these activities is — you're gonna want to write this down — roughly, nine and a half trillion dollars, give or take. It's worth it, though. It really is. 

But that's not even the point, because this isn't a blog about money. The point is this: if you want to be happy — and I mean really, really happy like your friends on Facebook — don't have a bunch of kids unless you are a trillionaire. That is all I have for you today. 

You're welcome.

She lost her noodles.

She lost her noodles.

After a yelp and a pitiful little cough, Merrie let loose of just about everything she’d consumed over the past week: Hot dogs, gummy worms, Kool-Aid, green bean casserole, corn chips, vegetable soup, cheese puffs, popcorn, barbecue chicken salad, spaghetti, Lucky Charms, milk, hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, Hamburger Helper, strawberry ice cream and little bits of an almost-digested granola bar.