April 24, 2016

Why Parenting is so Hard and Why I Deserve It

How every parent of a two-year old feels

I recently had the following conversation with my 28-month old son, Lukas.
Me: Lukas, would you like some chicken nuggets?
Lukas: [screaming] I WANT CHICKEN NUGGETS!
Me: OK, would you like me to cook you some?
Lukas: [screaming, laying on kitchen floor face down] I DON'T WANT CHICKEN NUGGETS!!!!
Hmmm, we've seemed to have reached an impasse. Feeling slightly flummoxed, I tried a different line of questions.
Me: Um, Ok. Would you like to go for a walk? Maybe we can smell the daffodils by the church [he loves smelling the daffodils by the church, as evidenced by the photo below. Note: This photo is from a separate trip to the flowers.).
Lukas: [screaming] I WANT TO SMELL THE FLOWERS!
Fast forward three minutes
Me: Lukas, why are you laying on the ground? I thought you wanted to smell the flowers?
Lukas: [screaming] I DON'T WANT TO SMELL THE FLOWERS 
Me: [feeling confused] OK, do you want to go home?
Lukas: [screaming, still lying on the ground] I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME; I WANT TO SMELL THE FLOWERS!
Me: [trying to remain calm] Ok, we can smell the flowers. Do you want to walk or do you want daddy to carry you?
Lukas: [screaming] I WANT TO DO IT BY MYSELF!
Me: [unsuccessfully trying to remain calm] Ok, then why are you still lying on the ground. Let's go, Bud.
Lukas: [screaming] NO!!!!
Me: [no longer calm] Ok, I'm not really sure what to do with that. Do you want to go home?
Lukas: [screaming] NO!
Me: [whispering under my breath "remember you're in public...remember you're in public...] Do you want to smell the flowers?
Lukas: [screaming] NO!
At this point I had to fight every urge to either lie down on the sidewalk next Lukas and join him in crying. Roughly nine hours later we completed the .3 mile walk to the flowers. Lukas smelled every flower while I softly weeped.

Yesterday when I got home from work we had a similar experience--this time over going to get the mail. It should be noted, Lukas and I have a very strict routine. I get home from work, I gave him a big hug, then we go get the mail together. He loves it and refers to himself as the "Mailman" (this is the only similarity between Lukas and Karl Malone). However, Lukas for some God-only-knows-why reason, decided that on this particular day, he REALLY didn't want to go get the mail.

Well, that's not entirely true. Depending on the precise second he either really wanted to get the mail, or somehow getting the mail was the worst and most inhuman form of torture.

We got the mail. But it wasn't pretty.



Terrible Twos 

I've heard people reference "the terrible twos." Usually it's brought up with a chuckle and accompanied by a ho-hum phrase like, "Yeah that was no fun!" Then they smile and talk about how their expert parenting and discipline strategy effectively turned their son our daughter into one of these:
These people are either 1) The best parents on the planet, 2) Liars, 3) Don't actually have children or 4) And probably most likely, their child has been genetically modified. We've tried just about every form of discipline and parenting style on the planet. Yet Lukas somehow fluctuates between this:


and this:


[for those of you that don't get that reference, click here]

Logically, and almost daily, I find myself pleading to God, "Why, Lord, why would you do this to us? What did we do to deserve this?!?!?!?!" Poor theology aside, I got to thinking. Is there something that we did to deserve it? Then it occurred to me in a moment of complete enlightenment. 

I did deserve this.

In a flash, my own childhood rolodexed through my mind. And then I remembered one fatal decision I made when I was 10 years. This choice would ultimately would shift the course of humanity for all time. 

I decided I wanted to become a drummer.

You might be thinking, "There is no way that your decision to become a drummer would somehow cause your son to be a terror." Well, you couldn't possibly be more wrong. Not only did I decide I wanted to play drums, I ALSO decided that I didn't need lessons and would go the "self-guided" route. If I'm being honest, at my best I sounded similar to this (wait for it):




At my worst it sound a lot like this:




I don't believe in karma, but I do believe in consequences for the decisions we make. My son, bless his heart, loves trains, dinosaurs, "diggers" and playing with his drumsticks. 







video

For the pain and suffering I caused my family while learning to play arguably the most annoying beginner instrument of all time, I deserve every outburst and irrational debate with my son. Every infuriating argument over whether the chicken nuggets or too hot or too cold and whether or not we should watch Daniel Tiger for the 16th straight time are all part of me developing the same patience my mother somehow procured. 

For the record I hate Daniel Tiger. 

Of course I don't actually believe any of this to be true. But anyone with a child ages 2 to 22 understands you have to figure out some way to laugh off this craziness. If for no other reason than to prevent the tears--both your child's tears and your own. 



February 25, 2016

India: Day 2 -- Seeing the sights in Mumbai

Gateway of India -- probably the coolest thing I saw
With my work responsibilities not gearing up until Thursday, I thought I'd spend the day Wednesday seeing the sites in Mumbai. I ventured around the city with a taxi driver and tour guide. Paying the extra rupees for the guide proved very, very worthwhile. It was part, history lesson, part study in comparative religion (more on that below) and overall incredibly fascinating.

Observations:

1) Downtown Mumbai is and isn't India

I made a conscious choice on my first full day in Mumbai to see the cliche tourist sites. I'm glad I did, but by the end of the day I kept thinking, "this is fascinating, but I wonder what the rest of India is like." I realize the danger in commenting on an entire country just by visiting a small section of a particular city AND only visiting select sites on a four-hour whirlwind tour. It'd be like spending a few hours in New York City and determining that you have a general sense for of what Bozeman, Montana must be like. With this in mind, I'll try to avoid sweeping generalizations on the second largest country (by population) in the world (note: I've heard India will over take China in population by 2025). Suffice to say, I think I am only starting to "scratch the surface" on this country and its people.

2) There are gods everywhere

My tour guide was Muslim, the taxi driver was Hindu, we visited a Jain temple and drove past a Wesleyan church. Hinduism is certainly the majority and as a result there are idols everywhere (there were several in the cab, for instance) but in general it seems like a pretty "spiritual/religious" culture. I have to admit, I was surprised to see the amount of men and women in "traditional" Muslim attire (I've heard the percentage of followers of Islam in Mumbai is about 15%).

3) Taxi drivers are virtuosos 

I quite literally have no idea how they do it. Each road fluctuates between 2 and 22 lanes depending on the traffic pattern. I thought we were going to collide with about 45 different motorcycles and rear end the car in front of us every time we stopped. We escaped the city entirely unscathed. I think the secret is their use of the horn, which serves as a way to let someone know you're coming, let them know that you are turning, let people know you're going straight, let people know that you're not planning to stop, let people know that they should go, let people know that you are stopping, let people know that you are hungry, let people know that you find their behavior off-putting, let people know that you're happy to see them, etc. etc. 

I think every linguistic phrase can be communicated with three beeps from a taxi driver horn. 

Of the places I visited, Ghandi's home (which has been converted into a pseudo museum) and the "Gateway of India" were probably most interesting.  

I've included photos of most of the places I visited with links to more detailed articles. I will have some more free time on Saturday night and am trying to connive my way into watching a cricket match.


Dhobi Ghat - Open air laundry

Click here to read about it

Ghandi's house

Letter that Ghandi wrote Hitler




A Jain temple

Just the bus stop, but pretty cool looking

Photo is terrible, but happened to drive past the filming of a Bollywood movie


Taj Mahal Hotel -- site of the 2008 terrorist attacks

Hanging gardens

February 23, 2016

My first trip to India



I think many people go to India to find themselves. Books have been written and movies have been made about how the culture, “spirituality” and people have a way of “unlocking” things buried deep within someone. I’m actually writing this post on my way to India for the first time. I’ll be spending about a week in Mumbai for business. 

In addition to my work responsibilities, I’m also hoping to find something. To be clear, I don’t think this something is inside me. I’m looking for something about India itself. Allow me to explain.

My dad travelled to India for about a month when I was growing up (he also travelled to parts of Nepal and Japan). I was too young to get a full summary of his visit when he returned, but there was something about India that captivated him. So much so, that he made arrangements for a second visit and planned to take my mom and sister. Unfortunately, he became very ill and had to cancel their trip. He passed away before he was ever able to return. 

He also passed away before I could ask him why India was so important to him. Naturally, I’m quite curious. I’m not sure what I’m going to find, but in some odd way, I’m hoping this trip can replace I conversation I was never able to have with my dad. 

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ll let you know what I find. 

I don’t intend for this to be a “travel blog” but I figured this would be a good place to track my observations of the trip.  Here's a few notes.


Observations:

  1. Emirates is awesome. The combination of good meals (yes, plural), above par entertainment (I watched Spectre, Steve Jobs and Bridge of Spies) and practically an endless supply of snacks and warm towels (apparently airlines still do the warm towel thing) added up to a surprisingly comfortable twelve hour flight (I had a layover in Dubai). Only negative, no Wifi onboard.
  2. I've only been in India for 12 hours, so take this with a grain a salt, I was shocked to see the amount of new construction. Everywhere you turn there are cranes building skyscrapers, motels, you name it. I have to believe this is part of that "developing middle class" I've frequently heard about. See picture above. 
  3. I've already experienced world-class hospitality. I told my server at dinner that it was my first time to India. They produced this in a matter of minutes:

January 28, 2016

Fear, Goals and How Scandal Ruined Everything


I blame Scandal. 

Though, I guess you could make pretty good argument that it's actually The West Wing's fault. After finishing the greatest show that ever was on television (i.e., The West Wing) we fell into the much-feared show rut. White Collar served as a nice holdover until we discovered Newsroom (Oh Aaron Sorkin...how you wrap me around your finger with your fast-passed, sarcastically humorous political dialogue...), which worked for awhile, but only three seasons and an abridged third year can only satisfy for so long. We've tried cooking shows (Chopped is fairly entertaining) and what evangelical Christian in the United States doesn't like Fixer Upper (I'll change my son's name to Magnus Ver Magnusson if you can find one). But there is a limit to the amount of creative ways to repurpose shiplap.

So, inevitably, we started watching...Scandal...

Now, I should say...it's not that bad. Well, actually...yes...yes it is that bad. Aside from the completely ridiculous torture scenes...unnecessary sex and the obligatory three-times-an-episode affair, it's really quite compelling. At least they were smart enough to wrestle Will Bailey away from his seat in Congress to make an appearance.



But because we are in a rut (and we haven't mustered up the necessary chutzpah to start Making a Murderer), we find ourselves watching Scandal on almost a nightly basis.

We are on season three.

I'm ashamed.

Here's the thing though, it's not like we even really look forward to watching it. Usually the evening goes likes this:

Me: What do you feel like doing?
Sarah: I don't care--whatever.
Me: Want to watch a show?
Sarah: Sure. We're one week behind on Downton.
Me: Yeah, I guess we could watch that...it's just...kinda boring.
Sarah: Yeah...
Me: Yeah...
Sarah: Do you want to read?
Me: We could...I'm just kinda tired.
Sarah: Ok...
Me: I guess we could watch Scandal.
Sarah: Yeah...I guess.

Then after three episodes, we go to bed.

How does this happen?!? I don't think we're lazy people (Sarah definitely isn't...I dabble). Why do we allow ourselves to waste so much time?

Then it hit me.

Yesterday Sarah and I were talking about a parenting book in which the authors write about how they highly encouraged (read: forced) their kids to set goals every year. And, once the goals were set, these parents would do everything within their ability to help their kids achieve these goals. Both the parents and the kids acknowledged that this wasn't necessarily easy but that it was ultimately worth the blood, sweat and tears (and I think there were lots of each).

I hate setting goals. They intimidate me. Mostly I'm paralyzed by fear. I'm terrified that the tinderbox of my already low self-esteem will be ignited by even the smallest of failures. So I watch Scandal because it's easy, because I don't know what else to do with myself, and because Will Bailey is just so likable.

But I'm getting sick of heads of states killing people (spoiler alert) and I'm especially done with that weird lip quiver thing that Olivia Pope does.


I don't know what to do, so I do nothing at all.

Ironically, I think I'm looking for an excuse not to watch Scandal. I think I'm looking for something to motivate me--something to keep me out of the rut.

Then I had a thought. If I wasn't afraid to fail, what is the one thing I would like to try to do. I was surprised how quickly the answer popped into my head...

I want to write a book.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why. Secretly, it's a big part of the reason I started writing this blog. Not because I think I'm a gifted writer, but because I feel a story in my gut that's close to bubbling out. I don't expect it to ever get published, or for more than my wife and mother to read what I write. But I think I'm ready to give it a shot.

Besides, I'm not sure how much longer Will Bailey will be with us...

I don't know what it will be about. It'll probably have something to do with God and/or growing up without a dad and/or being a dad and/or whatever random thoughts pop into my head. To be honest, I probably wont even finish it, but I gotta try.

I'm giving myself a year. By February 1, 2017 I plan to have some semblance of a manuscript completed. But hey, if worst comes to worst, I still have two more seasons of Scandal to finish.




December 31, 2015

Letters: A Short Story


I had to write a work of fiction for a class at Gordon-Conwell. I decided to write a short story about a dad and his son. Although I've written on this topic a fair amount in this blog, this story is NOT based on my own relationship with my father (but I'm sure I borrowed from a few real-life experiences) Ultimately, I hoped to write a true story based on fictional people. I'll let the reader decide if I was successful. 

I decided to post this story to my blog as part of my ongoing attempt to improve my writing. Along these lines, I welcome any and all feedback. 


Author’s Note

This story is about a father and a son, and about the value of writing things down. 


Preface

Thomas pushed open the door to his parents’ room. At first he couldn't see his father. The bed was engulfed by medical equipment and his frail body was hardly discernible beneath the thick blankets. Chemo treatments had taken most of his distinctive red hair. The room was silent aside from the slow beeping of the heart rate monitor and the almost inaudible raspy breathing coming from the bed.


10 Hours Before

He stared at a blank piece of paper for what seemed like hours. He had so much to say, but no idea how to say it. He took off his glasses, put the pen on the table and rubbed his temples with his thumb and index finger.

“Why don’t you you come to bed, Thomas. It’s nearly midnight, and you have a long drive ahead of you tomorrow.” Emily had been standing in the doorway unnoticed by Thomas. Her heart broke for her husband. She knew how painful the last few months had been on him.

“Is Edward asleep?”, he asked.
“Yes, I put him down at seven. You really should go to bed. Are you sure you’re OK?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll finish up in a little bit.”
“OK, I’m turning in. Promise me you’ll try to get some sleep?”
“I will. I promise. G’night”
He put his glasses back on and started writing.
Dear Dad, 
I’ve been meaning to write you. To be honest I have no idea what to say…
He leaned back in his chair and stared again at the paper. 

“I’m going to miss you dad.” He whispered to no one. “You’ve always been much better at this than me.” Thomas got up from the kitchen table and slowly crept into Edward’s room. His son stirred but didn’t wake. He couldn’t believe how big he had gotten. “Your grandfather was a good man, Eddie. He loves you very much.” Thomas Harold was a spitting image of his father. Both had fiery red hair, greenish-blue eyes and freckled, Irish-pale skin. Thomas looked again at his son and smiled. Aside from the rust-colored hair, he looked nothing like the Harold men. Luckily he had inherited his features from his mother, which Thomas was very grateful for. 

Thomas kissed his son’s cheek, quietly inched away from the crib and opened the closet door. He’s not sure why he stored the letters in his son’s room. In some ways he always felt like they were as much Edward’s as they were his. Thomas opened the old shoebox and started flipping through the letters. There were easily over 100 of them, and each one was stored in the simple white envelope that it was originally delivered in. Thomas smiled as he looked at the return addresses from each letter. 

Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Bangkok

His dad never stayed in a city long enough to include an actual address, but as soon as the letter arrived Thomas would grab the family computer and do as much research as he could on that city. His favorite city was Buenos Aires. Judging from the pictures and videos he watched, it looked like people in Argentina were always smiling and having fun.

Thomas sat down on the rocking chair next to Edward’ crib. He searched for the letter written from Wichita and began reading.
Dear Tommy, 
Mom told me you won your first game of the year against the Cardinals AND that you hit the game winning home run. Way to go, Buddy! I’m so proud of you. I’m sorry I missed it!. Coach Gordon called me after the game. He said the homer you hit EASILY cleared the right field fence. Way to hit to the opposite field! Just like how Manny does it for the Red Sox. Do you know what else your coach said? He told me that your defense at third base was rock solid. Remember son, anybody can hit, but great baseball players are what they call “five tool players.” This means they can: 
  1. Hit for average, 2) Play Defense, 3) Throw, 4) Run the bases, 5) Hit for power
My favorite five-tool player was a guy named Ken Griffey Jr. People called him “The Kid.” He was a lefty with the sweetest swing I have every seen. When I get home we can watch some videos together. 
I’m speaking Thursday night at Wichita State University. They invited me to talk about my most recent book. It’s always interesting to me when a big state school invites me to speak about God. I’m never quite sure what to say. Can you pray for me?  
Looking forward to seeing you soon. Give your mom a hug for me! Actually, give her two. 
Love ya, 
Dad
P.S. I got a big surprise for you for your 10th birthday!
Thomas smiled. His dad must have told him about “The Kid” 100 times. The surprise was an autographed Ken Griffey Jr. card. Thomas still kept the card in his desk at work. 
He placed the Wichita letter back in the box and searched for the one with the return address of Johannesburg—this was one of his favorites. 


Emily

Dear Tommy, 
Your mom told me about Emily. More specifically she told me that you asked for your grandmother’s wedding ring. This is so exciting! You know how I feel about Emily. Before I say anything else, know that you have my blessing. But with that said, there are a few things that I wanted to talk to you about. 
First, marriage is a serious business. I don’t intend to scare you, but this is a forever thing. I’m not going to tell you marriage is easy. It’s not. Marrying your mother was one of the hardest things I ever did. BUT, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Tommy, you need to be prepared to give up everything for her. I’m not saying that you will, or even should. But you need to be prepared to do that.  
Son, I know you hate when your mom and I give you advice…but…well, I don’t care. Your grandfather—your mom’s dad—gave me some advice when I asked for your mom’s hand in marriage. I’ve never forgotten it, and I think you may find it helpful.

  • Laugh every day. Life is really hard. Really, really hard. I never told you this but your mom had three miscarriages before you were born and another two after you came along. Even though you’re technically an only child we always wanted a big family and tried over and over again to get pregnant. We cried a lot and to be very honest the holidays are still very tough for your mom. She always envisioned sharing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at a table plated for ten (this probably explains why we always have so many leftovers). But we laughed. Oh man we laughed. You have to balance the tears with laughter, Tommy.  
  • Do something nice for your wife every day. Your mom does a lot; more than I could ever do. But I made a commitment when we first got married to do something for her everyday. Sometimes it’s as simple as making the coffee in the morning; other times it’s getting her a gift or buying her flowers. Either way, if you do something for Emily every day, even when you don’t feel like it and even when she’s driving you crazy, it will make your marriage so much healthier. In fact, I would say this is most important on the days where you really DON’T feel like doing something for her. On some days loving Emily will be a choice and not an emotion.  
  • Start traditions. Make as many memories as you can as often as you can. I know right now you’re young and you think you’ll have eternity together, but don’t wait to start having fun together. Set aside a date night, go to museums, take weekends away in Vermont. Do stuff. Have fun…before it’s too late.  
You're going to be a good husband, Tommy. I’m so happy for you both. Even though your grandmother isn’t alive and wont be able to see Emily wearing her ring, I know she would approve.  

Looking forward to seeing you soon. Next time you see mom, give her a big hug. Actually, give her two.  
Love ya, 
Dad
Thomas remembered reading this letter. He appreciated the advice—six years into marriage, it had proven to be spot on. But what he remembered most was learning about his mother’s miscarriages. He often wondered how his life would have been different if he had other siblings. And the idea of his father crying was nearly impossible for him to picture. He had seen him cry once, when his friend Henry was tragically killed in an armed robbery. As death approached, Thomas wondered if his dad cried more often. 

Emily cracked open the door to Edward’s room and peeked her head in. “Honey, it’s really late. Should you at least try to sleep? I don’t want to nag but I know that you are going to be exhausted when you get to your parents’ house tomorrow. And…” She paused when she saw the shoebox in her husbands hands and smiled knowingly. 

“Your dad loves you, Thomas. You are so special to him. I’m really sorry all of this is happening. I’m glad you have those letters. I think Edward will appreciate reading through them in a few years.” Thomas stared at the ground. “I’m going to go to bed. I love you. Even if he isn’t able to say it tomorrow, I know your dad is proud of you. You’re a good dad. Edward is lucky.” 

Emily was beautiful. She wasn’t the cover of People Magazine beautiful; her beauty was much more mature and nuanced—the kind that increases over time. She had brown hair and hazel/green eyes. Edward had her eyes. She was tall, smart, athletic and funny. Oh, was she funny. Thomas thought she was the funniest person he had ever met--They had no problem laughing. Thomas constantly found new things to appreciate about Emily, and he loved this about her.

They first met through mutual friends at a Harvard vs. Yale football game. Thomas fell in love first. Emily, like any good Yale undergraduate, was skeptical of all Harvard products. She reluctantly agreed to coffee the next day but only after Thomas made the three hour drive from Cambridge to New Haven and waited outside her dorm with three dozens roses. They were married six months later.

Edward, named after Thomas’ father, was born on their two year anniversary.  


Cancer

Edward Harold (his friends called him “Eddie”) grew up in Whitefish, Montana. His father pastored a small baptist church in the foothills of Glacier National Park and his mother taught English at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. After graduating from high school, Eddie attended Montana State on a baseball scholarship. Midway through his freshman year, Eddie who played second base, collided with a baserunner while trying to turn a double play and tore the ACL in his left knee. During the long recovery process Eddie passed the time by reading theology. His dad always told him, “Son if you don’t know how to spend your time, you could do worse than learning about God.” Although he went to Montana State to study engineering, he preferred reading the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley and George Whitefield. Never an academic, it took Eddie days to read and process these texts. It was also at this time that Eddie started writing. 

After reading complicated theories on the atonement or eucharist, Eddie would try to summarize the authors' arguments in his own words. After doing this for a few weeks he began trying to develop his own views and theories. He surprised himself when he realized how much he enjoyed writing. He was nineteen when he completed his first manuscript. He explored the implications of the Trinity on local church governance; he called it The Trinity and the Church: How the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Impact Ecclesial Polity. Although the document was never published, it somehow ended up in the hands of the editor of the college newspaper, the MSU Exponent, who was exploring a new column that dealt with religion and culture. He liked the way Edward communicated complicated ideas in easy to understand language. He offered him the job; Eddie jumped at the opportunity.

Eddie’s humor and accessible writing style made his column one of the most popular on campus. By his senior year the newspaper was running the column bi-weekly and Eddie was invited by the chaplain of the school to host an on-campus radio talk show. The show, called Ask Eddie, allowed MSU students to call and ask Eddie questions about God, faith, sin, the bible, the church and just about anything else that they were too scared to ask their parents, pastors or friends. The questions ranged from, “Why can’t I have sex with my girlfriend?” to “Why does God allow war and famine?” Eddie had a way of making his audience feel comfortable even when discussing the stickiest of issues. He talked about spirituality, ethics and organized religion the way a legendary announcer calls a baseball game. Even if you don’t support that announcer’s team, there is just something special about the way they describe balls and strikes—the game becomes a narrative chalked full of tension, drama and thrill. Eddie had similar mastery over the microphone.

After graduating he decided to attend Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. But classwork was often secondary to Eddie. As word of his radio show spread, he began to receive speaking invitations from churches and colleges across the country. He became known as “The Firecracker”—both because of his red hair and his impassioned speaking style. In 1982 Eddie was invited to serve as an opening act for Billy Graham during his crusade in Boston. He was asked to address the topic of faith in the midst of suffering. Although he was only given eight minutes total to speak, Eddie made such an impact on the 100,000 that had gathered at Boston University’s Nickerson Field that the crowd, most of which had come to see the Reverend Graham, gave Eddie a standing ovation as he left the podium. Eddie, feeling rather pleased with himself, invited anyone that would like to discuss the details of his talk in greater detail to meet him at a restaurant directly across from the stadium.

Eddie waited and waited, but no one showed. After forty-five minutes the waitress asked Eddie he still would like to keep his reservation for thirty. For some reason he hadn’t noticed the waitress—who had served him about fifteen Diet Cokes—before this moment. She had sandy blond hair, which she wore in a bun, and hazel eyes which were hidden behind thick tortoise shell glasses. Eddie was fairly certain he had just fallen in love. 

“No, I don’t think that will be necessary”, he said sheepishly. “I’m sorry if you had to refuse business on behalf of my arrogance.” Eddie glanced at the name tag pinned to her burgundy uniform. “Rosie, why do you think God humbles us?” Rosie looked at Eddie, smiled and said, “I’m not sure Mr….”
“Harold. I mean…Edward…call me Eddie.”

“I don’t know Eddie, but I do know God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Rosie, Eddie later found out, was a modern theology student at Northeastern., and although she couldn’t afford a ticket to the crusade across the street, had heard much of Eddie’s talk from the P.A. speaker. It just so happened that Rosie’s shift was ending, which allowed her the opportunity to point out aspects of Eddie’s talk that she thought lacked biblical support. They dated long-distance until Eddie was able to save enough money to move to Boston. They were married three months later. 
Eddie continued to receive offers to speak and was even approached by a handful of different publishers with multi-book deals. He eventually agreed to write a series called “Why God Still Matters” which he based on his conversations with classmates at MSU. Rosie was fond of reminding her husband that his popularity started to really sore after they met. In some ways she was right as she officially become his editor after their chance meeting. She continued in this capacity until cancer forced Eddie to retire. According to Rosie, the only benefit of the illness was that it forced him to slow down and be home more. 

Eddie hated to travel. More specifically, he hated being away from his bride and son. He loved seeing new cultures, trying new foods and didn’t even mind airports. But Thomas and Rosie grew accustomed to life without the patriarch of the family. During his busiest years, he would travel upwards of two to three weeks every month. At times he would bring his family on the trips but more often than not, Thomas had a baseball game that he couldn’t miss and Rosie dreaded the idea of her son playing a game without at least one parent in the stands. 

It wasn’t until he was a freshman in high school that Thomas started noticing how much his dad was gone. He wasn’t sure how to feel about his absence. Part of him resented the fact that his dad chose work over his family, but he also knew that he was helping people who were wrestling with faith, doubt and suffering. Despite this, it still drove Thomas crazy when his friends (or more often his friends’ parents) told him how lucky he was to have a “famous” dad. Thomas usually smiled and said, “I sure am.”

Esophageal cancer. Eddie thought this was terribly ironic. Not only was he otherwise perfectly healthy (he ran a handful of marathons a year), he had never smoked a cigarette in his life. Eddie joked that this was the only way that God could get a talker like him to become a better listener. Rosie didn’t disagree. Thomas found the letter his dad sent him after he first learned about the cancer.

Dear Thomas, 
How’s Eddie doing? I miss him; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the little guy. Your mom and I would love to see you, Emily and the little guy. Do you have a free weekend any time soon?  
Son, I have some bad news. You know how I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather over the last month or so? Well, I had some test done and the results came back. It’s definitely cancer. The good news, if you can call it that, is that it hasn’t spread and is located exclusively in the esophagus. The doctor is optimistic, but realistic. If all goes well with radiation and chemo, I’ll be just fine. If the treatments are not effective, I could have as little as six months to a year. 
I’m most worried about your mom. I’m OK with dying, but for some reason, I think she would prefer for me to stick around for a bit longer. Whatever happens, please take care of her.  
Love you, son. Next time you see mom, give her a really big hug. Maybe two.  
Dad


Homecoming 

The treatments were moderately effective. Edward had lived with the diagnosis for about a year and a half before things took a drastic turn for the worse. Thomas placed the letters back in the shoe box, kissed Eddie’s forehead and returned to his letter writing post at the kitchen table. It was 2:30AM. He started writing again.
Dear Dad, 
I’ve been meaning to write you. To be honest I have no idea what to say…
Thomas paused. It hadn’t occurred to him before this moment that he had never actually written his dad back. Over the years he had collected a boxful of letters from his father, but he had never once responded. 
I’m sorry I didn’t write you sooner. More accurately, I’m sorry I *never* wrote you back. I guess I resented the fact that your work schedule took you away from home so much. I think I resented you. You were never around when I was growing up, now you wont be around for Eddie—I grew up without a dad; he’s going to grow up without a granddad. 
Thomas crumbled up the paper and through it on the floor. What do you say to a dying man? he thought to himself. He probably won’t even be able to hear me or read the letter me. This is pointless. I wish he would just die. He immediately felt guilty. Sorry, dad. You know I didn’t mean that. He pulled out his phone and started looking at scores from that night’s games. 

Red Sox: 6, Yankees: 4
Cubs: 2, Dodgers: 9

He checked the headlines, Ortiz gets 500, Blue Jays land David Price, Young guns leading the Cubs into the playoffs. For the first time since his dad had become sick, Thomas realized he wouldn’t be able to talk about the Red Sox with his dad. Every year they debated the best Sox players of all-time (Thomas thought Manny Ramirez deserved to be on the list; his dad thought Manny’s defense prevented him from being truly great). Thomas went back into Eddie’s room and pulled the shoe box off the shelf again. It took him a few minutes to find the specific letter he was looking for. The return address on this one read “Boston.” He had sent it to Thomas when he was away at college. As he opened the letter, two ticket stubs fell out.
Dear Thomas, 
Front row seats behind home plate?!?!? Don’t ask how I got these tickets (I sold my spleen). The game starts at 3PM; I figured we could meet downtown and grab a bite to eat first. Can’t wait! This is the year! Nomar for M.V.P!
Give you mom a hug the next you see her. 
Love ya, 
Dad
Thomas smiled. Nomar Garciaparra hit three home runs that game. To this day, Thomas has never been to a game at Fenway that felt more electric (Nomar finished seventh in MVP voting, but did hit .357 that year). He would never forget this day. Thomas put the shoebox under his arm, kissed Eddie again and tip-toed into his and Emily’s bedroom. 

As quietly as he could, he packed a few items in a small backpack and tapped Emily on the arm. “What time is it?” she asked in a confused whisper.

“It’s 3:30am. I think I’m just going to start driving to my parents house now. If I leave in the next fews minutes, I can get there by by around 10am. Mom said Dr. Percy is planning to stop by around 11am. I want to make sure I’m there for that.”
“Are you sure? Aren’t you exhausted?”
“I'm tired, but honestly, I won’t be able to sleep. I think this makes the most sense.” They had decided it might be helpful to take two cars to Boston—a good amount of extended family was expected to fly in for the funeral so they figured an additional vehicle could be useful. “Are you sure you are OK driving the whole way just you and Eddie?” 
“Yeah we’ll be fine. Are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure. Try to get some rest. I’ll call you when I arrive. Love ya.”
“Love ya.” 

Thomas crept into Eddie’s room again—he was still sound asleep. “Your grandfather is a good man, son. He’s a good man.” 

The drive from Lowville to Boston typically took around seven hours. Thomas thought with no traffic on the highways, he could make it there in close to six. He had done the drive dozens of times since he and Emily had moved from Boston to this small farm town in upstate New York six years ago. Both Thomas’ and Emily’s parents, city slickers in their own right, were shocked when the young couple willingly moved to a town of less than 4,000 residents. During his senior year at Harvard, Thomas had attended a job fair in the college’s field house. He hadn’t remembered giving his resume to representatives from Kraft foods, so he was quite surprised when he received a call from the Lowville, NY plant asking if he wanted to be an assistant plant manager. Assuming it was his friends playing a practical joke on him, Thomas burst out in laughter and hung up. He was quite embarrassed when the phone rang again three minutes later and he realized it was no joke.

Thomas pulled off the highway around 6am to get gas. He assumed his mom was probably awake and gave her cell phone a call. 

“Hey mom, how’s he doing?” She didn’t answer the question.
“Hey Tommy, are you close?” Thomas could read between the lines. 
“I’ll be there soon, mom. How’s dad doing?” There was silence on the line. After a a few seconds, his mom finally responded. 
“He’s OK. He said he’s looking forward to seeing you.” This was a lie. Rosie’s husband hadn’t been able to speak in three days. 
“OK, I’ll be there in a few hours. Love ya.” He heard his mom trying to hold back tears. “You OK, mom?” 
“Yeah, just get here as fast as you can.” Thomas finished gassing up, grabbed a cup of coffee and pulled back unto the highway. He hadn’t prayed in years, so he was surprised at how easy and natural the activity felt. “Lord, please let me see my dad alive. I know I haven’t gone to church or read my bible lately, but my dad really tried to follow you. If for no other reason, you owe it to him.” He felt a little funny making a demand of God, but figured He would understand the urgency of this particular request and would forgive impolite behavior under these circumstances. As soon as he finished praying, a tingling sensation ran up and down his arm, and he sensed a voice say “Ok.” “That was weird”, he thought to himself. “God if that was you, turn this gas station coffee into Starbucks.” He took a sip, but was very disappointed.

Thomas glanced at the shoe box next to him on the passengers seat. He wasn’t sure what compelled him to bring the letters. It just felt like the right thing to do. He flipped open the lid and thumbed through the pile.

Milwaukee, Atlanta, Sydney, London, Brussels 

He wondered why so many people all over the world would want to hear his dad talk and read his books. Thomas was embarrassed to admit that he had never actually finished one of his dad’s books. He usually got to about the second chapter before he got bored and moved on. He thought his father was guilty of oversimplifying things. He frequently said this to his dad, who kindly responded each time by saying, “Actually, Tommy, some things really are this simple. God loves his people. In fact he loves them so much that he sent his son to die for them. And he commands us to love one other in the same way.” Thomas thought that it was absurd that his dad could write fifteen different books, all of which essentially made this same argument over and over again. 

Thomas stopped going to church when he was in high school. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God, he just hated how (what he described as) “commercialized" the Christian faith had become. He despised how casually people talked about Jesus and sin, and thought most churches were more concerned with the quality of music, and the preacher’s Power Point than they were about truth and righteous living. He tried attending the Anglican church in the area, but thought the services were too long and formal. Thomas had walked inside a church exactly three times in the last ten years: once when he married Emily, once when Eddie was baptized (this was done in his parent’s church) and most recently for a Christmas Eve service—Rosie told Thomas that all she wanted for Christmas was for the family to go to church together.

Thomas glanced at his watch; He was making great time. He exited at a highway rest stop and pulled out the letter to his dad. Thomas grabbed a pen from the glove compartment and started writing for the third time. 
Dear Dad, 
I’ve been meaning to write you. To be honest I have no idea what to say. Eddie and Emily pray every night that God would heal you. I guess I always just believed he would. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe you’re going to die…
He stopped after writing the word, “die.” Thomas really did believe his dad would get better. He assumed the chemo and radiation would do their job, then after the doctors gave him a clear bill of health he would hit the speaking circuit again. This time he would have stories to tell about how he trusted God in the midst of trial and about how he kept the faith when things were looking the bleakest.

But he hadn’t gotten better. Over the course of eighteen months his body systematically began giving out. First, he became winded more quickly during his mornings runs, then he wasn’t able to eat solid foods, then he started loosing his voice, then came the wheel chair followed closely by hospice care. 


Dad, I’m sorry I wasn’t a better son. I’m sorry I made things so hard for you and mom. I’m sorry we’ll never be able to go to Opening Day again. I’m sorry you won’t see ever see Eddie…
Thomas started sobbing. 

I’m sorry you’ll never see Eddie ride a bike, or teach him how to throw a changeup. Every time I look at him I think of you.   

Thomas folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope and decided to finish it when he arrived at his parents’ house. He quickly purchased another coffee and got back on the highway. He was only about an hour from his parents’ house. 

Edward and Rosie still lived in the house that Thomas was raised in. They never moved from their three bedroom ranch-style house in Brighton—a neighborhood in the west part of Boston. Thomas loved coming home. He enjoyed upstate New York, but at his core still preferred the city. It seemed like there was always something happening. Maybe even more importantly he loved how the local media covered the Red Sox. He thought national sports outlets were clueless sensationalists. 

Thomas pulled into his parent’s driveway. He turned off the car and stared at the front door for about five minutes before slowly making his way up the front steps. He took a deep breath and whispered, “Here we go.” He quietly opened the door. “Mom, you here?”

“Yeah, Tommy come on in. I’m in the kitchen.” He slowly walked inside. The house usually smelled like freshly baked something—Thomas thought it smelled like a hospital. 

“Hey mom. How are you holding up?” 

“I’m OK, son. Give me a hug.” Thomas hugged her once, extended his arms, looked at her, and hugged her again—this time holding on for a moment longer. His mom looked different to him. She looked tired, but almost cheery and somehow more mature. She still wore the tortoise shell glasses. “You missed Dr. Percy, Thomas. He just left.” Thomas was furious.

“What! Mom, I thought he was supposed to come at 11am? It’s 10:15am?” Rosie calmly looked at Thomas and placed her hand on his shoulder. 

“Why don’t you have a seat, son. I called Dr. Percy and asked him to come earlier. Tommy, I didn’t think he was going to make it to 11am. He’s…he’s…” Rosie paused, swallowed hard and gathered herself. “He’s no longer responsive, son. I called Dr. Percy and asked him to come because…I wasn’t sure what else to do.” Thomas stared at the floor. “I just wanted to tell you before…before you went in there. Dr. Percy says he has hours, maybe even only minutes. If you’re ready, I think you should go see him one last time.” Thomas thought of the letter in his pocket. He hadn’t finish it. “Mom…I…I don’t know what to say to him.”
“I know, son. You don’t have to say anything. Just go be with him.”
“Should you come in with me?” 
“No. Your dad and I already said goodbye. He’s waiting for you.” 


Heaven

Thomas pushed open the door to his parents’ room. At first he couldn't see his father. The bed was engulfed by medical equipment and his frail body was hardly discernible beneath the thick blankets. Chemo treatments had taken most of his distinctive red hair. The room was silent aside from the slow beeping of the heart rate monitor and the almost inaudible raspy breathing coming from the bed.

Thomas stopped, in a moment hundreds of memories—good memories—of his dad flooded his mind. He thought about playing catch in the backyard, the family road trip to DC and the letters. He walked towards his father. He noticed a chair had been pulled alongside the bed. He thought of the endless amount of hours his mom must had spent sitting in this chair. 

Edward turned his head towards his son and let out a deep sigh. Thomas was sure he had just witness his father’s final breath. He grabbed his father’s dry, boney hand and rested his head on the edge of the bed. For the first time that morning he felt tired. 

“Hey, Tommy.” Thomas’ head shot up from the mattress. 

“Dad! You’re…hey, how do you feel? Mom said…” He still didn’t know what to say. Edward swallowed hard and tried to speak, but was unable to. His eyes remained closed. The words seemed stuck in his throat. Thomas waited on the edge of the chair. After several more fruitless attempts, Edward frustratingly turned his head away from his son. Thomas knew those were the last words his dad would ever say. Edward laid motionless in his bed for the next thirty minutes. Thomas knew how much energy it took to simply turn his head and greet his son. His father’s breathing grew fainter and fainter until the only noise in the room was the “beep…beep…” of the heart rate monitor. Thomas waited for the monitor to flat line. His dad seemed peaceful to him. In fact it almost looked like he had a grin on his face. Thomas closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair and fell asleep.

At first he was sure it was dream. Someone touched his hand. He assumed it was his mother telling him it was over. Thomas opened his eyes; it was his father’s hand. His father had turned his head back towards his son. For the first time since Thomas had arrived, he saw his father’s bright sea-green eyes. Neither father nor son said anything. Thomas noticed his father looking down at their hands. Edward was holding a letter in his hand. “Dad how did you…when did you write this letter? How did you…how long was I asleep?” His father slowly blinked. He was smiling. Thomas knew his dad wanted him to read the letter. He delicately uncurled his father’s stiff fingers from the paper and began reading the letter. He was crying. 
Dear Thomas, 
This is a sad time, but I’m grateful that we were given twenty-five years together. I would give anything for even one more day…one more week…but I’m being called Home, Thomas. What pains me the most is that I know your relationship with God was complicated by the choices I made. I’m sure these decisions were confusing at times. As a result of my decision to travel, I missed more bedtime stories and baseball games than I care to think about.  
I know my absence hurt you Thomas. I also know you can never forgive me for this, but I am so sorry, Thomas. I don't remember when specifically, but at some point you stopped waiting by the door for me to get home from work. You stopped running and jumping into my arms when I walked through the door.
You stopped trusting me. I stopped being your "Daddy." 
Thomas stopped reading. “No dad, this isn’t true you are the best dad anyone could ever hope for…” Edward grinned again and nodded his head. Thomas knew this meant he should keep reading. 
 Being a Daddy is a privilege--a privilege I neglected. My fear is that you lost trust in more than just me. I wasn't good, but you have to believe that good does exist. Eddie needs good. You need to find good again. 
Be a good, really good father to Eddie. Be a good daddy. Give him a hug for me. I’m going to miss him so much. Be the type of Father you wanted—the type of father I wasn’t. But Tommy, you’re also going to hurt your son. I just pray you wont wait until your death bed to say, “I’m sorry.” Tell your son you love him.  
 Thomas looked down at his father. His chest was no longer moving up and down. He kept reading.
Did you even wonder why I wrote letters, Thomas? I thought you might need to go back and hear me say, “I love you.” Because I was gone so much, I thought you might doubt that this was true. I wanted to give you evidence. I wanted to give you something tangible you could touch and feel. When Eddie is old enough, maybe you can share some of these letters with him. I want him to know his granddad loved him very much.  
I love you son. Give your mom a hug for me. She’s an incredible woman. 
Love ya, 
Dad 
P.S. I know you always thought my talks and book were redundant and simple. I think you’re right. But the one thing I learned from all my travels is that most people know what’s true—they just need to be reminded of it every so often.   
Deuteronomy 6:9
Thomas grabbed his father’s hand. It was heavy. Lifeless. The monitor was no longer beeping. He kissed his cheek. Thomas heard what he could only describe as music, but there were no notes and no rhythm. His dad looked at peace. His face glowed. 

Thomas took his own half-written letter out of his back pocket, read it several times and added a few lines. He smiled as tears slid down his face. 

Thomas dialed Emily’s number. “Hey, Honey. He’s gone. Yeah, I’m OK. I’ll see you in a few hours. Drive safe. I love you. Tell Eddie I love him too.” Thomas left the bedroom, gave his mother a big hug then walked out to the car and placed both letters in the shoebox. 

  

October 30, 2015

I want to be a "bow tie" guy

Jim Limperis at our wedding in 2011
I want to be a bow tie guy. More specifically, I want to be a clip-on bow tie guy--a necessary distinction, but more on that later. I want to be a bow tie guy mostly because of The Bow Tie Guy, or as his family and close friends knew him, Jim Limperis.

This past weekend I attended the funeral of Jim Limperis who lost his battle to cancer at the way-to-young age of 59 [click here to read the obituary]. The service was overwhelming sad and poignantly beautiful. But just as this service was a minor footnote to a life well-lived, this blog post has very little to do with Jim's death. I want to be a "Bow Tie Guy" because well...I'm getting ahead of myself...

Let me start at the beginning.

Jim was one of the few people in the world that could make this guy seem docile and reserved.


He had an unmistakable voice that bordered on screechy and had a propensity to rise an octave or six as his excitement level grew (and he was almost always excited about something).  He had a bullish view on life and a particular brand of optimism that was as sincere as it was contagious. Every day was a good day for a run or bike ride, and some days even required a costume (e.g., his annual Santa Clause run on Christmas). He was the kind of guy that would impersonate a pro golfer and sneak into the clubhouse during a PGA event (true story), or con his way unto the field at halftime of a football game and somehow participate in a field-goal kicking contest (the winner got a car...he missed wide right).

Jim loved to laugh almost as much as he loved to make other people laugh. This is where the bow tie comes in.
Note: I could never describe Jim's life as well as his own daughter. Click here to read her post. It's beautiful, raw and honest. But most of all it's really, really true in the deepest and most important sense of the word. 
Jim was more caricature than he was character. He was hyperbole wrapped in exaggeration. There are people that love to laugh and have a good time. Then there was Jim. There are people that have the talent of not taking themselves too seriously. Then there was Jim. Like how a caricaturist exaggerates a person's features to highlight some aspect of that person's appearance, Jim caricatured all that is fun, funny, important and fresh in life.

Jim wore a bow tie to most "formal" events. Truth be told, I don't know the origins of when he started wearing them, or why. In some ways the bow tie was almost like a superhero's cape, but Jim didn't teeter between "mild-mannered Jim" over-the-top Bow Tie Guy. Really, regardless of neck accessories, Jim was the Bow Tie Guy and the Bow Tie Guy was Jim. It was like he wore the tie to help other people understand. It's like he was thinking most people are unable to have this much fun, love this hard and laugh this often. I need to find a way to communicate to them in a way they will get. 

Thus the bow tie.

As a general rule, bow ties have a way making people chuckle. Clowns and comedians wear bow ties. Or, really, anyone that doesn't want to be taken too seriously. Jim understood this. He understood that most people lack necessary adventure and humor. Jim had a mission to "un-civilize." I think this is a valiant cause, and one I believe in deeply. So, if you happen to see me at some formal (or semi-formal) event, there is a good chance you'll see me wearing a bow tie. In part, this will be to honor the life and legacy of Jim, but more so because I want to keep fighting the good fight the Bow Tie Guy started long ago.

Of course my own personal mission to un-civilize will incorporate clip-on bow ties. Allow me to explain.

I decided (along with Sarah's dad and brothers) that it would be fitting for us to wear a bow tie to Jim's funeral. We thought it would be an appropriate way to honor Jim. So at 10PM the night before the service Sarah and I went to Kohl's and bought four bow ties. None of us knew how to tie a bow tie, but figured it couldn't be that hard. The next morning, after about 49 failed attempts, lots of Youtube videos and a fair amount of profanity, we returned to Kohl's and purchased four clip-ons. We later learned that Jim--the Bow Tie Guy--had no clue how to tie a tie. Every single one he owned was a clip-on. We all agreed that this was Jim's magnum opus--his final practical joke.

Well-played, Jim. As always, you got the last laugh.