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The Best Times of My Life

The Best Times of My Life

My oldest son just turned five years old. While reflecting on the last five years, it is very clear that my son has brought tremendous joy and fun into my life and I’m extremely grateful for it.

Our boys are 2 and 5 and they are starting to play together. What I love is that they really get excited for all kinds of different adventures. Even, if it’s just heading into the backyard with a shovel in hand. Recently I was talking with my mom about the stage of parenting that we are currently entering.

When my sisters and I were young, my parents would regularly put us all in a van, with friends, and travel a few hundred miles south to Lake Cumberland, KY for some boating and recreation. It must have been a ton of work for my parents, who were both working full-time jobs. They had to coordinate with our schedules, communicate with our friends’ parents, grocery shop, pack suitcases and boxes of food, pack the van with 8 people and all weekend luggage and supplies, and drive 3-4 hours to get there.

Then while we were there, they had to clean the house and the boat, make sure we the proper life jackets and safety equipment on the boat. They had to make beds and cook all the meals, do all the dishes, repair the house as we did our usual wear and tear that only 6 kids can do. They paid for everything, gas, food, games, boat gear, activities in the car.

And this, my mom says was the best time of her life.

With the ability to reflect on a few years of my oldest son’s childhood, it is very clear to me why my mom feels this way. Children have the ability to bring immense joy into our lives. And while they require a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice, nothing else is nearly rewarding.

My mother has had some significant adversity at various stages of her life, and this middle aged phase that she reflects on with such fondness was no different. She and my father worked their tail off and sacrificed a ton to give us children an absolutely tremendous, joyful, adventure filled childhood.

The hardest things, closest to your highest values in life, are the most rewarding. Parenthood offers this tremendous opportunity. 40 years later, I’m pretty confident that nothing else in this world brings my parents more joy than spending time with their children and their families.

Last night, my wife and I asked our oldest son what he wanted to do for his birthday dinner and gave him some ideas to get him thinking. Without hesitation he wanted to invite his grandparents over for a pizza dinner. So we called, and they came with joy and love.

Now that my sisters and I are a few decades into being adults, my parents can see the fruit come to bear from the seeds they planted in our lives. Now that some of us are parents ourselves, they are able to reminiscence about when they were in our shoes. They were working and sacrificing almost continuously to provide us as much joy and opportunity as they could.

It was selfless and hard, yet it was the best time of my mom’s life. It was filled with purpose and generosity. It was full of love and patience. They had all kinds of heavy responsibility and yet it was still the best time of their lives.

On my son’s 5th birthday, I spent the quiet morning before he woke and reflected on the last five years. And I feel the same way that my mom does. My son is high energy and at times strong willed, but he also brings me more joy than I ever could have dreamed. He challenges me, makes me grow, always finding a new way to test my authority. But he loves me tremendously and gives me the sweetest, and most tender moments filled with pure joy and innocence that only young children still possess.

He has renewed my ability to find joy in the simplest of blessing that life brings.  Whether it is a silly dance song, a train, or a beautiful sunrise, he lights up with glee and it is absolutely infectious.

Parenting is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but just like my parents, it is the best time of my life.

Fathers Need to Keep Dreaming Alive

Fathers Need to Keep Dreaming Alive

We all have dreams. We dream of happiness, achievement, and fulfillment. We dream to connect deeply with others. The opportunity to achieve these is what fuels us and makes us human.

I learned something from my parents about how to dream. In the early 1980’s while in the throws of raising a family with three children, they dreamed about spending more time boating. They loved the playfulness and joy that came out as a family when we were on the water.

So while they were working two full-time jobs and raising kids, they managed to find land, design a house, save the money, and build a lake house. This was a dream of theirs and they saw it to completion when their children were all under the age of 10, which was probably the busiest decade of their lives.

That dream of theirs keeps on giving to me and my family to this day. Now my parents are grandparents and take joy in my family and my siblings families use and appreciating their lake house.

My boys love it. They love grandpa’s boat, swimming in the lake to keep cool, and taking naps on the porch. To be fair, everyone likes taking naps on the porch.

Dreaming should not end when we become parents. Or be put on hold and then start up again after our children grow up and move out of the house. They should be reinvigorated with a new motivation and passion. They should be visited during routine self-evaluations and stoked by regular action. They should be fueled by a new source of joy, our children.

Since becoming a father I have been revisiting my personal dreams very often. And my dreams have changed. What I value has changed. Money and stuff isn’t as important now. Time and experience with those I love is.

I have found that I dream best when I’m walking by myself. Whether it is on a hike in the woods or just a quick stroll around the neighborhood at dusk, there is something about solitude in the outdoors that triggers my imagination and wonder. With distractions minimized, the majesty of the world around me provides the energy and I allow myself to let go.

I dream of more time with my family.  I dream of simplicity in my routine and less distractions from material things. I dream of developing a few, very deep relationships with good men. I dream of growing skills for my career so I can provide more for others. I dream more of financial independence. I dream of having a six pack and being able to dunk a basketball again. I dream of long, health marriage with my best friend.

And I’ve been called to action in support of these newly invigorated dreams.  I try new methods, routines, or diet strategies. I wake up earlier, go to bed earlier, workout more, eat healthier, and write more. I play with my kids, write less emails, and automate the mundane.

I’ve also gotten ruthless at elimination. I’ve eliminated much of the time I used to waste on mindless web-surfing or watching brainless TV shows.  My web-surfing is usually focused with a purpose of something I’m trying to learn about.

I am more selective on what I read. I started this blog and built it from scratch without knowing anything about websites. I’ve become very picky on how I spend my time at work and at home. I’ve learned to say no more.

We as fathers also influence our children’s ability to dream. They learn from us leading by example when we allow ourselves to dream and go chase them. Their dreams will be different from ours and that is OK. Our encouragement for them to dream while they are young will be critical in their willingness to do it later on in life.

As a father, I am trying to focus my time, energy, and resources to dream big and go chase them. And I want my children to have no unreasonable fears that prohibits them from dreaming or chasing those dreams. Our humanity is built on hope that our dreams may come true, so we as fathers need to do what we can to foster that hope.

How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis During Fatherhood

How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis During Fatherhood

The previous 5 years in my life have been focused on reproduction and in all honesty survival. Pregnancy, baby, toddler. Repeat. Throw in a few job changes, buying and selling a house, a torn pectoral tendon, and I now can come up for air.   

Do note that this breath of fresh air does get sandwiched between temper tantrums, business trips, and ear infections, but it’s there nonetheless. Undoubtedly it is welcomed, but the taste of the air has changed.  It now has a bit of crispness and weight unlike before. It is quiet, noticeable, and definitely a little chilling. During these moments of respite, I felt the need to reflect.

This period of life was hard. You don’t get to ease into parenting, one day you don’t have a child, the next day you do. And most of the time it seems that while you’re still in the sleep deprived slumber of having a baby or toddler, you do it again.

Then after a while, you get a moment to reflect like I did and you realize, what have I done? I’ve got 20 more years of this?  But what about me and my dreams, hobbies, etc.? How am I going to achieve all the other things I had planned in life when all I want is a nap?

These questions surfaced like a philosophical face-slap.  Was this my version of a mid-life crisis?  I was determined to find out and avoid the feeling of crisis at all costs.

These moments, when I first got some fresh air, were pivotal. Here was a fork in the road. On one path is a trip down real fatherhood, which includes some honest self evaluation and incredible opportunities. This path looked daunting but it also gave a glimmer of hope for something rich and wonderful.

The other path I could have chosen was to put the pause button on what I considered my life and focus only on raising children over the next 20 years. Here I could allow myself to let the responsibilities of fatherhood turn into a burden without the opportunity. I could start saying to myself and others, “I just don’t have any time for myself anymore” while I let some dreams slide.  Or worse, not allow myself to dream because I don’t think I have the time.  At first this path appeared to be easier, but in the distance it did not appear as fulfilling.

The good news is that this split in the path to fatherhood is not a one time choice.  Everyday we get the opportunity to choose which way we want to go.

Being a father feels both straightforward and infinitely complex.  The responsibility and commitment can be daunting.  The self evaluation it demands is challenging.  Not be willing to do an honest self evaluation and lead by example can possibly lead to a midlife crisis.

Choosing the right path by being honest with oneself and trying to lead by example is a one way to get started.