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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Proud To Be "Lame Dad"

The longer I live the more I realize two things:

          1. I was never as cool as I thought I was.
          2. Being cool is not all it is cracked up to be.

For me, the ultimate lessons in this come from being a Dad. Back in the day (Hey! That’s a term used only by the uncool!), I would pepper people with “Seinfeld” and “Caddyshack” references and work quotes from song lyrics into every conversation. At the most, I was showing how clever the people who wrote those things were, rather than myself.

As a Dad, I catch myself mostly saying things to my kids that I never would have imagined. Even as someone who has come to the revelation that I am not cool, I am cool with it.

These are some of the things that I said in my teenage and single days and how they relate to what the “Daddy John Pearson” says.

Childhood Me: “How come all the other kids get big birthday parties?”
Daddy Me:  You’ve already had more birthday parties than I did the whole time I was growing up. Count your blessings!”

Childhood Me:  “But Mom! It’s just a word. It doesn’t hurt and Scott and Larry say it!”
Daddy Me:  “Who taught you that word? I don’t care if your friend says it. We don’t use language like that in this house.”

Single Me:  “That Nine Inch Nails song rocks!”
Daddy Me: “Why does Taylor Swift have to say ‘Oh My God’ in her songs? Doesn’t she know kids are listening?”

Single Me: Whoa…Cool Car! That guy was flying!”
Daddy Me:  (Shouting) “Slow down! There are kids in this neighborhood! Somebody should call the police.”

Single Me:  “Wow! She’s hot!”
Daddy Me:  “I can’t believe someone would go out dressed like that! What would her parents think if they saw her?”

Single Me:  (When a child in the family would want to venture off by herself) : “Relax! She’s just going to be right over there and her friend is with her anyway.”
Daddy Me: (When MY six-year old wanted to go to the other side of an ice cream social with two of her friends) “Are you nuts letting them go over there by themselves? This is a buffet for scumbags who want to grab kids!”

Single Me:  “That kid is amazing on the monkey bars!”
Daddy Me:  (When it’s MY 3-year-old) “Miles, get down from there! That is way too high for you!”

Single Me:  “Did you hear Howard Stern today? That was hilarious”
Daddy Me:  “What?! You left the Howard Stern Channel on the radio when you knew the kids were getting in the car?!”

Single Me:  “Great game. I bet that kid had like fifteen tackles. I’ve never seen a kid hit like that!”
Daddy Me:  “We really need to think about whether it’s a good idea for him to play football with all the risk of concussions.”

Single Me:  “I can’t believe how watered down my Mom made the Kool-Aid. I mean the grape isn’t anywhere close to purple!”
Daddy Me:  “The kids have had way too much sugar. Make sure you put extra water into the apple juice.”

Single Me: “That kid really went flying off the trampoline! Hilarious!
Daddy Me:  “That kid is WAY too big to be in the bounce house! Did you see Miles go flying? Come on!”

Single Me:  “Cool tattoo!”
Daddy Me:  (In a conversation I envision ten years from now when my daughter is 16) “Is that a tattoo on his neck? No way are you going out with that guy!”

Call me uptight (in fact, ten years ago, I would have called me uptight!). Call me lame. Call me over-protective.

This is what these people have turned me into. As long as they call me Dad, this is who they get. Cool with it?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Putting Up" with Magic Moments

Ninety percent of Parenthood is "putting up" with what would have seemed like drudgery to your single self and finding magic in those moments.

One such moment came this past weekend at a dance recital that included fifty or sixty kids, one of whom I knew. One.

Yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.

Before I actually had kids, I can tell you what my reaction would have been when my wife said we were going to her sister's daughter's dance recital. I would have pondered ways to create flu-like symptoms or some type of work event that "I just can't get out of." I would have gone out of obligation but I would have dreaded it like my wife dreaded it when she saw that my St. Louis Cardinals were on ESPN so she would be stuck having it on for one Sunday night.

These are the things you do when you are in a family. These are also the things that shock you when they become a bonus of being in a family.

It does not matter if you are the uncle by marriage, aunt by blood, parents or grandparents, everyone does the same thing. You grab the program and risk a paper cut by finding out just how many ballet solos, hip-hop trios, and peculiar routines to every over-played pop song you need to sit through before the ONE that matters happens.

My wife saw that our niece Ainsley would be a part of a routine to a mash-up (word that was formerly hip until "Glee" came to be on TV) of "I Wanna Be a Cowboy" and "Wild Wild West". This would happen approximately fifteen songs into the show.

Now, if you thought we could maybe sneak out during intermission, oh, you have not been a part of the Land of Recitals. There would be several more dances and then intermission. Then, there was a number which included every current member of the school including our niece.

You committed to being here and as God is everyone's witness, you are here all afternoon!

So, as we waited and noticed that there were four or five girls who must be in Velcro costumes because they were in twenty different routines. Again, every parent had the same thought.

"Good Lord! How much money do those people have to spend on all of those costumes?!"

We counted down to when our niece Ainsley's routine with about 20 other girls was coming: Five (Hey, doesn't it look like they just pulled the antennae off of some bumblebee costumes to make those?), Four (Wait, when is my three year old son going to lose interest and start disturbing the peace?), Three (My three year old son pulls me by the collar and says, "Daddy, this is awesome!"), Two (Hey, that kid just picked his nose), One (Uh oh, someone is breaking the first law of all Dance School Recitals: When trying to sneak a video of your kid's routine rather than paying for a DVD copy from the school, use your phone. Your iPad is way too obvious!)

And then, came the moment we were waiting for! Somehow, we experienced absolute glee over hearing two songs that I remember hearing twenty years ago or so but never remember ever listening to all the way through. My three year old hopped onto my lap and pointed and gasped, "Aaaaaaaaiiiiiiinnnnnssssssleeeeeeyyyyyyy! Ainsley is dancing!"

My six year old stayed in her seat staring at 25 kids, only one of whom she will ever have met, and pondered, "So, how do I talk Mommy into letting me do that?"

For three minutes the kids skipped and mimed riding horses and lassoing......well they never actually threw their imaginary lassoes but it was still cool to see. Again, remember 25-year-old me, heck, 35-year-old me would have given myself a nasty headache from having my eyes rolled back in my head if I was watching something like this.

The surprising part was the pride I felt for Ainsley. The self-involved me gets that I would be welling up with pride if I saw one of my kids doing this. Oddly, I am related to this girl only by convincing her aunt to roll the dice and marry me.

Yet, here I was with a little tear in the corner of my eye as this twelve year old navigated around the menagerie of fellow faux cowgirls up on the stage at a Community College theater.

Yes, I do pray that this is the last time that I hear a combination of the one-hit wonders "The Escape Club" and "Boys Don't Cry" but I will remember seeing Ainsley having actual dance moves and coordination.

(Part of the pride comes from the fact that on at least ten occasions I have seen the same girl trip and fall while standing still!)

From there, we knew we just needed to get through intermission. The challenge was increased when a member of our party whose name I won't mention (but it rhymes with "Schmy Schmife") whispered about some desperation regarding having to pee!

Five songs later, we were able to do the "Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me" dance as people slid their legs but not their feet out of the way. I was given the diaper change duty (duty, not doody) and the others found the ladies room.

For some reason, we thought once Ainsley's second routine was over that we were heading down the home stretch. We were mistaken.

The show began again and I believe that everyone who had ever gone to this dance school or had driven by this dance school was on stage in our line of sight between our three-year old Miles, me and Ainsley. Again, she did a terrific job, Miles was giddy that he got to see her dance and the rest of the family believed that she was truly the Best One.

In these situations, do not dare to believe it is over! Being that there are the final bows at the end, you do know that you will be in for about an hour and fifteen minutes more of kids you do not know performing dance routines that really do not have much to do with the Disney songs and mostly out-of-date pop songs that overmodulated the auditorium.

My little guy Miles outsmarted us all. The second that Ainsley was done, he turned around in my lap, slammed his face in my chest and passed out. This is quite the trick. The first sign that he was out cold for the duration was the warm drool that I could feel on my shirt.

One minute later, the people in the row behind us and the row in front of us were serenaded by a sound that perhaps only a wildebeest would make. Miles was snoring loudly enough to drown out some NASCAR races.

Heads snapped around because every person who was here to see his or her little princess dance was ready to pounce on any adult who dared snore during this presentation. They still seemed annoyed even at Miles but let it slide. However, they did expect me to put an end to it somehow.

I moved him from one shoulder to the other. No luck

I spun him to face forward. The wildebeest just got louder.

I was also trapped with sixteen filled seats to my left, fourteen seats to my right and a directive that no one should interrupt the show.

Sorry, everybody but Miles Pearson and his snoring would be accompanying the dancers for the rest of the recital.

Now, I do not know if you have had a sleeping child laying on you with no chance of moving but there is no way to avoid having it sap your own strength.. The heat this 30-pounder put out started to have a Kryptonite-like effect on my eyelids.

"Must......not......fall.....asleep....Can'"  Knowing that my own snoring would completely drown out whichever song from "Frozen" was playing, I fought it.

Uh oh. My head is starting to bob. Miles was having the effect of a tiny electric blanket and I did start to fade. I sensed that my own family would have turned on me if I did not keep my eyes open.

Then, it hit me. My energy boost came from one simple feeling. This is just a long hug from my little guy. This was A Moment. Again, before these tiny people came into my life, the idea of being crammed into a seat in a theater that was not showing a Bill Murray movie or a U2 concert would have been a nightmare.

Instead, a big smile overwhelmed me. Yes, there was still about an hour left in the show but this was my second magic moment that only came because I was in a real family.

Mixing the comedy of a sleeping boy on my chest with a room full of people who eventually did not notice the noise but only the love of The Dance (okay, the love of their kids dancing) was a perfectly shocking recipe.

The show ended. Dads reached down under the seats to find the flowers that they had avoided stepping on throughout the afternoon so they could show their daughters how proud they were.

Of course, now I was jealous because I wanted to hand my little girl a bouquet.

Everyone got a chance to bow and soak in the love from basically a bunch of strangers.

This is one of those times that you only get with family. What would have been the worst of times before these people were around was now a day that makes me understand life is pretty unexpectedly spectacular when you let people into it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Losing My Bonus Brother

First of all, I do wonder what people who were running near Lake Drive in Milwaukee were thinking this morning. They had to be wondering, "Why is that guy walking and crying at 6 a.m.?" I was out for my usual walk/run but I do not even remember setting out into the fog.The fog is symbolic of how the weekend felt after hearing that my oldest brother Dave was not going to make it through the night.

Unfortunately, those doctors tend to be right about those things.

Dave was the oldest of six boys. I was the youngest. While there was no being around the man without thinking, "Wow! He is a great guy, " I did not grow up with any of the essence of the actual person. Dave actually had left for his freshman year of college when I was born. By the time I would have any memory of knowing him, he was in Vietnam.

He actually was more like a cool uncle as I grew up. Raising a family of his own and working ten to twelve hours a day driving a truck and selling chips or coffee to support that family meant that actually spending time together would not happen.

The only times we saw each other were at holidays and some family reunions. I remember two things about Dave. One, I was amazed at how many times he could go back for seconds, thirds and more at those family gatherings. Second, he simply was upbeat and positive when even as a kid I knew that all those hours worked had to be exhausting. Even so, he gave completely of himself to his family and that caused his son Ben to tell me, "I really won the Dad Lottery!"

I call Dave my "Bonus Brother" simply because I am pretty sure that we never spent any time alone together during my entire existence. There was simply not time. He had married into being a Dad to his amazing wife Linda's kids Troy and Tammy.  I could see that he was great at making sure they knew that there would never be a moment in the day when he was anything less than a father to them. You know he was drained at the end of the long days convincing people that they truly did need more coffee on their shelves and more Fritos on their counters.

That never stopped him from letting Troy and Tammy and eventually Ben know they were his ultimate source of pride.

He was showing every quality that a Dad should. Being that our father had passed away when I was four, I was a bit curious about what exactly it all meant to have someone who did that for his family.

That being said, I did not know him at all. Besides the obligatory moment at those family gatherings where someone would bring up the St. Louis Cardinals and mock the Chicago Cubs, I never saw anything besides this guy who you just knew you would like if you got to know him.

When I became an adult (or so I have tried to become with varying levels of success), my career took me around the country so, as Dave maybe was able to slow down, I was gone. The Family Reunion Friendship continued.

The Pearsons (at least this particular branch of the tree) has always been known for self-deprecating humor. It's just that Dave being good-looking, athletic and being loaded with admirable traits never seemed to have anything to "deprecate". That fact never stopped him from mocking himself.

Yep, there was that feeling again. "I know I really would like that guy if I got to know him."

Then, I got to know him.

And, I was right.

A few years ago, when I came home for a visit, we actually found a time when four of the brothers could get together and just meet out somewhere for dinner. I was staying with my Mom and I drove the three minutes (everything in Geneseo, Illinois is approximately a three minute drive) to Dave's house and picked him up. I don't know what all we said but we went to the beautiful Quad Cities and had a great night. We talked about nothing in particular with two of our brothers and then drove back to Dave's house.

All in all, the night lasted about three hours. It may not sound like much but it caused me to make the announcement as Dave got out of my 1998 Saturn SL1, "Well, we have officially hung out for the first time."

A wry smile came over him as he said, "Yeah, I guess we have." The joke I would have made was, "So, thank goodness we don't have to do that again," but Dave was too nice to take it that far.

Now, it was not like something where all of a sudden, Dave and I were putting each other in loving headlocks or having long talks about World Peace, Deforestation, or which Beatle was the best. It was a glimpse into what, actually WHO, mattered to him.

It does not break new ground to say that Dave loved his kids. I just never knew anyone who seemed to admire who they were as people rather than telling stories of what they were doing. It was not just about accomplishing things. It was truly that he loved them as human beings and any accomplishments were simply gravy.

I wish I had not waited so long to get these lessons but I am not sure that I would appreciate them as much if I had not "discovered" my brother Dave a few decades after everyone else did.

The biggest lesson that this Bonus Brother taught me came through his love and admiration and borderline-worship of his wife Linda. To give you an idea of how much that guy loved that woman, I just need to mention a doctor's appointment Dave had.

After my wedding to my rather delightful wife, Amy, Dave was not feeling well and basically collapsed in the hotel room.

After getting some updates, I called Dave to check on him after a few days. He told me that he went to the doctor (possibly for the first time since the 1970's.) Unfortunately, Dave had been a smoker most of his life. Of course, the doctor told him he needed to stop immediately.

Apparently, the doctor knew that Dave did not worry much about himself but also knew how to reach him. He told Dave something along the lines of, "I get the feeling that you do not think it's a big deal if you live a long life and that maybe Linda would be okay if you were to die."

Dave was surprised at the bluntness but admitted that he kind of agreed.

The doctor had a great read on him and said, "What if you don't die? How would you feel if Linda is stuck taking care of you for twenty years as you struggle to get around and she has to take care of everything? Have you thought about how that would be for her?"

Dave did not hesitate. He threw away all of his cigarettes and called Linda and let her know where his stash of secret cigarettes was. Dave would only think of himself because he could not imagine putting Linda through that nightmare.

The Bonus Brother was also a lesson in positivity. He actually was only diagnosed with lung cancer because he went to get checked for a kidney stone. Rather than reveling in the misery of a cancer diagnosis, he told me how glad he was that the kidney stone caused him so much pain that even he could not ignore it.

Through months and months of painful treatments and battles to make sure his health insurance and the VA would handle the costs, he just talked about how blessed he was that most everything was covered. While others would look at it as people finally doing their jobs, Dave talked of these wonderful people who came through for him in such a big way.

The positivity went to a whole new level when he talked about how what was supposed to be an ordeal actually let him see this family in action. He knew Linda and his kids would be there for him but to see it in practice allowed him to expound on their beauty inside and out.

Quite frankly, a conversation with Dave that included anything about Linda had the feel of someone calling in to a Love Song Dedication show to request "Wind Beneath My Wings." This was every time we talked.

This carried over even more when the lung cancer appeared to have been gone for many months but Dave was then diagnosed with brain cancer. Dave joked that, "Well at least this proves to Linda that I have a brain!"

I am sure this was a soul crushing thing and it was the first time I heard Dave talk and mention that things hurt. That lasted about two minutes because he wanted to make sure that he could gush about how his son Ben was coming through by coming over and taking care of every chore that Linda was not handling.

"Linda did a great job with him," Dave said. He could say it but even Dave could not deny that he had kicked some butt as a Dad.

Yes, it would have been nice to know the actual person that my Bonus Brother was for a lot longer than the last ten years of his life. He made sure in every conversation to point out that I, like Ben said, had hit the lottery with my wife and kids.

Seeing him bounce my daughter and son on his knee and emphasize the importance of how true happiness is tied to being a Cardinals fan was hilarious. Even my Cubs fan wife thought that was pretty funny.

I am sure I will cry a lot more this week. Everyone who knew Dave will. I just hope that my Bonus Brother knew that getting to know him, really know him through actual conversations, makes me know that this life is a great one if we just stop and notice.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Big Deal. No, Seriously, You're Not!

The uproar over Britt McHenry's verbal assault on a tow truck company employee is a statement of a lot of flaws in people. I don't have time for all of them but I do want to focus on one in particular.

Having been a television sportscaster for about twenty years, I can tell you that there is a constant need for one message to people in the media. It is the reminder that you are not that big of a deal. I learned that I wasn't. Hopefully, Ms. McHenry will learn the same thing.

Two things should drive this point home. The first is that I watch ESPN pretty much every day and I had no idea who Britt McHenry was until this story broke. In fact, when I started to write this piece I had to go back to Google to check to see if that is indeed her name. Every person who asked me if I saw the story called her, "That girl on ESPN." Not one actually called her by name.

The other thing that may be difficult for someone who actually plays the "I'm on TV" card is that no one is going to notice she is gone. What's her name again? Britt? I wanted to call her McMurphy, but that was Jack Nicholson's character in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Again, the behavior was awful and no one should talk to another human being like that. The class that the woman at the tow truck company showed is amazing. Sadly, I made the mistake of looking at the "Comments" section under the story about the incident and suddenly there was a debate on how unattractive this woman must be. That is another blog altogether.

Most of my socializing during my years in television involved hanging out with co-workers. Few others have that schedule so you are kind of thrown together. There are the same percentage of cool people and jerks in the industry as in the "real world" I can say that there were multiple people at every stop in my career who shared the "I'm  inTV so I'm a big deal" attitude that Ms., what is it, "Mc D-L-T?" has.

Wait. I looked it up again. It's McHenry.

Anyway, I can tell you that I have seen it in action. Years ago, several of us went out to Applebee's one night (See, it is a glamorous business!) When we noticed that our order of appetizers was not correct, we got the waitress' attention. Before I could mention that our order was missing the fried mushrooms, one of our reporters tore into the waitress and, of course, mentioned she was on TV, (mentioning the station call letters so anyone in the restaurant could think everyone at the station is behaviorally challenged.)

Rather than showing the big star this reporter thought she was, she let the 45 or so people at Applebee's see what we already knew. No one would be hanging out with her if she had not overheard us talking about it at the end of the work day.

One of the keys is being aware that those thoughts of your "Big Deal-ness" are coming into your head. It is a nice perk of the job to have someone come up and tell you that a story you did hit home. The problem comes when you start to expect to get treatment that is usually reserved for people named Bono, Bieber, or BeyoncĂ©.  (I had to go for the alliteration.)

It is amazing that the message that "I'm on TV" sends is so lost on these people. One night between newscasts, I went with a reporter to pick up dinner. When she ordered, she actually shouted into the Drive Thru Microphone, "This is (Name Redacted) from News Channel 19." She believed that would get her better service and possibly free stuff.

Of course, I imagined that the employee was incredibly tempted to add some "Secret Loogie Sauce" to her order.

To me, it is in the world of Sports where I made my living where I never have understood becoming full of yourself. Yes, I was happy when a viewer voiced appreciation for something I had done. Luckily, for me all it took was standing next to an actual athlete to realize that there is always someone who gets people's attention more than you do.

In my single days, I went out to a club and I was talking to a couple of young ladies who knew I was on television. It seemed to be my way in to the conversation. The lesson came when a couple of my friends who played for the Huntsville Channel Cats pro hockey team (Yes, THOSE Huntsville Channel Cats!) showed up and seemingly every woman in the place formed a semi-circle around the players with their backs to me. I was literally on the outside looking in. On the plus side, I did get home at a reasonable hour.

Some would be hurt by that moment. I actually saw it as a nice reminder.

It went to a new level when I worked in Milwaukee and Packers, Bucks, Brewers and Badgers all could make me realize that my worth as a person better not be tied to whatever celebrity status you imagine for yourself.

In one market, our station softball team had a bit of a controversial play happen and of course one of the on-air types threatened to call out the umpire and the other team on the air. Seriously.

We lost a friggin' softball game and you get to be known as "That idiot from the TV station."

Realizing that you are not a big deal probably is the first lesson and it needs to be emphasized again and again. I remember being at a New Year's Eve party with my wife and some friends. Oddly, a woman came up to me and wanted to engage me in a conversation about how tough life in the public eye was. I guess someone had mentioned to her that I was a local sportscaster and I was the closest thing to a celebrity at the party.

She needed to talk about the trials and tribulation of being a star simply because she needed people to overhear and then realize that they were in the presence of greatness.

The fact that I had to excuse myself and ask someone who the heck she was kind of flew in the face of her notion that everyone was gawking at her. Someone had to tell me that the woman in question had been a contestant on "The Bachelor" a couple of years before. (I mean, it's not like she was a true star, like someone on "The Real Housewives of Orange County. That's a thing, right?)

Use those reminders. I spent a lot of time covering big games and working extra hours and part of my thinking was, "Well, if I don't cover it, who will?" Well, I covered Nick Saban's first championship at Alabama. Then, a few months later, I got the boot from the TV station where I worked and, you know what?

They played more games the next year without me. No big deal.

So, please remember that Ms. Mc.....I want to say that was an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Sadly, Britt McHenry probably will never be more famous than she is now. Even more sadly, after her contract is up, you probably will see her on the open to a show on Bravo.

Then, you can really see the delusional celebrity kick in!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Eyes Have Me

As of today, Parker Pearson has been on this Earth for six years. Through all of the birthday parties (I believe she has had 14 over those six years), soccer games, dance classes, gymnastics classes, baseball and soccer practices, Disney movies, One Direction videos, bounce houses, questions involving "Daddy, why...." and "Daddy, How come....?" and improperly told 'Knock-Knock' jokes, first and foremost, I think of her eyes.

Yes, they are beautiful eyes but I think of them because of what those formerly blue and now green eyes have done for me.

To be honest, I was always aware there were children in the world and I actually was pretty good at entertaining kids when I was around them. It was just that when it came to children, I mostly just looked over the top of them and did not see any reason to pay attention to them. I treated children kind of like a fraternity guy treated the fairly cute girl they are talking to at the party as they scan around looking for the better looking girl across the room.

I did a nice job pretending to find a child's story about their friend, uncle or dog interesting enough to say, "Really?", "Oh, that's pretty cool," and I could sometimes even work up a "Wow!" but seeing any value in spending time with a kid was lost on me.

Parker Pearson changed all of that. Her eyes changed all of that.

Yes, the day she was born was a magical and somewhat terrifying moment. What was I supposed to do with this tiny human?! I actually found I could handle this easily because for the first year or so I could be entertaining, change diapers and feed her. That part is easy.

Those eyes got to me when she started observing things and asking those "Why?" questions and I could not give a generic answer and move on. Parker Pearson basically demanded that I listen, look her in those eyes and give her something of myself.

The sincerity in her eyes as she asked why Pete the Cat was so nice on "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" but was so mean when we found an old cartoon forced me to look deeply into how that was possible.

The fact that Parker had tears in those eyes in 2012 because she did not understand why President Obama and Mitt Romney could not just take turns being President was one of the more complex questions.

Seeing how serious those eyes could be when a couple of her friends ignored her and snuck away from her because they wanted to go off and play by themselves was nothing short of heartbreaking and inspiring. My eyes widened as she used those eyes to stare them down and say, "I just want to tell you that was not very nice and we should all play together!"

My happiness has no bounds when those eyes get really wide with anticipation of the moment when I am singing "Hey Jude" to her and it turns into a slow build until the part of the song when McCartney would be singing "Hooooooo" and I tickle her until she simply can not handle the happiness she is feeling at that moment.

Then, there are the eyes that are all about mischief. They usually involve our running jokes that all seem to be designed to make her Mom uncomfortable. The sideways glance she gives right before saying, "Daddy, let's kiss Mommy too much!" That is followed by the two of us inundating my wife with a barrage of mouths on her face that finally lets her decide that, Yes, there is such a thing as too much love.

For me, the ultimate is the look she gives as she does a long pause to show she has comic timing that would make Chris Rock proud. With two children in the house, there is a moment when my wife has just had enough noise and wackiness....and then I come home and it all cranks up again. As I rev Parker and my son Miles up, there is always that moment when their mother shuts it down with, "Okay, okay, can we just have some quiet?"

Since most of my comedy involves some form of mockery, I have developed this bit with Parker where I then ask, "Parker, what is there too much of in this house?"

Those eyes then look left...and then right...and then widen as she says, "Joy. Daddy, is there too much joy?"

"Yes, Parker. Yes, there is too much joy in this house."

While the cliche' is that "The eyes are the window to the soul," in our house it is Parker's eyes that are the window to my soul. Looking into them helped me through tough times of loss in life and in my career. Seeing the happiness that those eyes show when she sees that we have surprised her with a trip to Disney on Ice make everything in life better.

Even having to tell her not to look at us while she is supposed to be concentrating on the soccer game she is playing brings first a look of embarrassment and then the competitive glare that says, "I must get to that goal."

 Those eyes are just a part of what makes her a force that has made me notice that every experience has something wonderful in it. I will always be grateful to see things through those eyes and I can not wait to see for myself the wonder that will always be Parker Pearson.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lessons Other Dads Taught Me

As I look back at the oddness of what used to be "some day in June" now being My Day, I marvel at how amazing the feeling of carrying my two year old son a mile and a half into the ball park (and then back) will stick with me. Having my five year old whispering "Happy Father's Day" into my ear every time there was a lull in the conversation made me realize that this, more than anything else, is what my life needs to mean anything.

Honestly, for most of my life seeing the words "Father's Day" on a random Sunday in June had about as much meaning to me as "Arbor Day" or "Thanksgiving (Canada)". I was that guy who found it easier to espouse the old "Hallmark Holiday" cynicism that masked the fact that it was just something I had missed out on so much.

My dad passed away when I was four years old and I am sure that I probably colored something or pasted something together for him every Father's Day. I just have no memory of doing that. I never made the conscious decision that Father's Day was just another day but it truly was just something I heard about when other kids at church would say, "We're taking Dad to Roy's Taco House for Father's Day."

The perfect symbol of how that thought has been blown out of my life is that I actually had to stop writing this to go up and get my two year old out of bed, bring him downstairs, change his diaper and then help him pretend to fix my daughter's bicycle helmet.

As a Dad, I really am guessing every day. My main strategy is to wait for a question to answer or an emergency to avoid. Follow that up with a goofy face or noise and asking if the kids want cereal or pancakes and I am Super Dad!

I heard stories of my Dad being someone who drove a milk route before the sun came up and then did other jobs around town while still finding time to coach Little League Baseball and make sure that my five older brothers knew that he saw EVERYTHING. He put them in their places but those were just stories. For me, he was a character in stories more than anything else.

So, as my brothers were preparing to be grandfathers, I received two tiny packages.  I had as much perspective on, "What do I do now?" as I would have if I had become a Dad at 18 as I did at 43.  Then, I started to pay attention to what the Dads around me did.

The first person who taught me anything was a neighbor named Roger Miller. He and his wife had named their kids Kent, Kyle, Kraig, Karri and Kelly. We had a constant game of wiffle ball going in the Millers' back yard. Mr. Miller was that guy who was always there. I am sure that he had some sort of job but none of us knew what it could be. He coached Little League and was just constantly finding ways to be around. Even if it was swinging home to watch ten minutes of our games or to drive his kids and me to bowling, he was the first that I saw who probably did not actually have the time to be there for his kids, but somehow he was there for his kids.

For the most part, because my brothers were so much older than I was, they were more like uncles to me than brothers. My oldest brother Dave went to college the year I was born. Aside from the obligatory family holidays, Dave and I did not actually "hang out" until I was in my late Thirties. 

Dave actually had one son in his first marriage and later married into being a Dad. His amazing wife Linda brought with her two kids and Dave took on the challenge of raising them while still knowing that their Real Dads had all the power. He just plugged away and kept listening and through those challenges he became a Go-To Grown-up. When he and Linda had a son together, he knew that twelve-hour work days are no excuse for not listening and hearing what these people needed from him. 

Again, this lesson did not come to me until I got to hear some of the things Dave did for these kids. "Supporting the Family" does not just mean making a living.

Then, there is my brother Den (who I believe renamed himself 'Denny' when he turned 50 because he thought it made him seem younger.) Den's world got yanked around with job changes and transfers from our home town to Chicago to Nebraska and back to Chicago. He spent days and weeks at a time on the road for work but somehow gave his two kids the constant message that even after a 12 hour drive he was not going to miss what was important to them.  His two kids seem to be polar opposites but because they got to see how Den saw them as amazing people in their own ways. Therefore,they see it in each other. 

That is huge.

Before I get to more brotherly lessons in fatherly forays, I also look at another dad who had no idea that he was providing me a class in Fatherhood 101. He was a man named Norm Carbiener. Mr. Carbiener (every Dad is a "Mr."!)  really did not say a lot but I remember that the Carbieners would let me come out to their house and even let me stay with them when I came home from college. My biggest memory is that no matter what the story he was hearing from any of his three kids, it seemed to be the most interesting thing he had heard that day.

By the way, I had to stop writing this little essay for a few minutes because of the greatest Father's Day moment of all came when five-year-old Parker Pearson sprinted down the stairs and shouted, "Happy Father's Day!" and jumped on me. The fact that she runs to me like this every day in the morning and when school lets out is the ultimate daily affirmation of joy.

Then, there is my brother Paul. He is that "Cool Dad" most of us want to be. He did not just listen to his two amazing daughters talk about bands they liked and things they were doing, he went with them and participated.  I think he probably only embarrassed them in doing this every once in a while. Of course, I envision that he has a box full of "New Kids on the Block" concert shirts with the sleeves cut off but I think his daughters had much hipper taste in music than that.

Until I started paying attention to what other dads did, my only fatherly memories involved Andy Taylor and Opie and Ward Cleaver with Wally and the Beaver on reruns. It seemed like being a Dad involved a sit-down conversation after twenty minutes of the kids getting in trouble. That works right up until the next time my kids shove each other off the couch or attempt to knock each other off the slide in our back yard.

I honestly did not know I was missing out until the, "Dad, you wanna have a catch?" scene in "Field of Dreams". 

This Dad thing may seem conventional. My brother Dan has a great wife and two kids. He showed me creativity in Dad-dom. His job took him all over the area where he lived and he would map out the stops in his work so he could find thirty minutes here, twenty minutes there to see the endless barrage of games, concerts, recitals, church events and cookouts that having two daughters who seemed to be the social epicenter of our little home town brought.

Sorry, we interrupt this essay to answer Parker Pearson's question, "Daddy, did the Cardinals win last night?"   Yes. They did.  "YAYYYYYYY"

As late in life as I came to being a Dad, my brother Mark had another challenge in this Fatherhood Challenge. He married a woman who was the perfect fit for him but her kids were pretty much all grown-up. This means you have no chance of being called, "Dad" and they have seen it all and the old "You're not my Daddy" Concept could have made life pretty miserable. He had the instinct of just being someone they could count on as a friend and not just as some guy in the house.

The uncomfortable Land of the Step Dad could have been miserable had he not had the sense to just be there and come through for them.

That seems to be the biggest lesson I have learned. Nothing with kids will go exactly the way you draw it up. Finding ways to be around and be the one they jump on, giggle with, fear (just a little) and they trust that when you throw them in the air, you will catch them is what I have learned.

Now after all that wisdom, I need to go tell my daughter to get her fingers out of her mouth and tell my son to stop pulling on the dog's tail.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Star Student

Every day we watch the little "Life Force of Happiness" that is Parker Pearson run to the door and then stand in line as the rest of those tiny people wait to get the OK to go into the school. They march in as if a drill sergeant is barking at them.

Eventually, the back of my daughter's head disappears into a sea of pictures of "Dora the Explorer", Princess Anna and Queen Elsa, and Butterflies on the backs of backpacks. (Or would that actually be the FRONT of the backpack? Now back to our story)

However, this day is different. Presidential Elections do not get the buildup that Parker gave Star Student Day. Every kid in her class gets his or her own day. We got to hear about it for, well, basically every day since the world's last major event, Parker's birthday.

There was a poster to be made of All Things Parker Pearson. It involved photographs, glue, markers, two efforts at drawing a stethoscope and on the highest end of presentation...Parker coloring each letter of her name in, get this, a different color! (This would have been something that the shallow, single John Pearson would have seen as a down side of parenting but to this guy, it was kind of cool to see it come together.)

From there, Parker was allowed to bring her favorite book and some toys to show off. None of these toys actually seemed to be anything she plays with regularly but they fit in the bag so we did not argue.

As for the favorite book, since I was the one who would get to read to the class, I was kind of hoping for "Little Blue Truck Leads the Way" or "I Love You, Stinky Face" but Parker went with "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". It is basically the lyrics to the song. I had no idea there are like eight verses to that thing! Plus, all would have been concerned that it is nearly impossible to read that book and not start singing the song.

So, with all the preparation we wondered how this five year old would respond to sitting on a chair in front of 24 sets of eyes and two teachers.

Sitting a couple feet away as Parker sat on The Star Chair, I looked and saw a little clenching of her teeth, a glance left then right. Then came the 7895th time that this Forty Pounds of Sweetness made me feel pride that started in my toes and burst out of my ears.

As her two year old brother found the bounty of having the other side of the room to himself, including all the trains and cars he could have dreamed of seeing, Parker went step-by-step through every picture.

"That's just me."

"That's my grandma and grandpa"

"That's my Daddy and me playing in the snow"

I know these seem simple but watching her as the other kids sat on the carpet with their eyes fixed on Parker brought that salty discharge to the sides of each of my eyes. (Okay, there was that one kid who kind of kicked the boy in front of him and was not listening but there has to be one in every crowd!)

As she pointed at her favorite things, here came the curve ball. She had a picture of Olaf the Snow Man from "Frozen" on the poster but lest you think that she was going the easy way and saying that movie was her favorite thing, not this girl! "Playing in the snow is my favorite thing to do." That's right. If they thought they had this five-year old figured out, nope! She zigged when they thought she would zag!

(Okay, I am overselling but the amazement at Parker's performance is only outdone by how exciting I find all of this.)

She even did a little comedy bit. Her favorite food is watermelon and she knew that Ms. French, the teaching assistant, hates watermelon. So, the sheer glee in Parker's face when she said, "Watermelon" and got the whole room to look at Ms. French made me think that all of my efforts at imparting the ways of comedy were not wasted.

Of course, then she pulled out the toys from the bag, again, none of which she actually plays with very often but she still owned the room. Yes, we all believe that our child is the most amazing human ever but I just happen to be right.

Then, the pressure was on. Parker, in her most adorable voice said, "My Daddy is really good at reading. This is 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'. It's my favorite."

Now, I felt actual pressure. I had spoken to hundreds, even thousands at a time but, what if I screwed this up?  Those tiny eyes were looking into my soul but Parker gave me a look that, even with the lump in my throat at how proud I was seemed to say, "You can do it, Daddy."

I was able to plow through the seemingly endless verses and find out that the book was actually about the sheer joy someone can have if you just believe in someone else. This Star Student thing truly fit our relationship.

Parker gave that feeling right back to me.

It was time to turn it back over to the Star Student. The teacher said, "It's time for you to ask Parker questions."

Five-year-olds are limited to, "What's your favorite....(insert food or activity here)?"  Here are some of Parker's answers:

"Ariel. Oh, and Cinderella"
"Playing in the snow"
"The one I went to with my cousins"

There were more but one question stood out that Parker is either going to be a politician or simply cares about, well, everyone. A boy put her on the spot:  "Who is your favorite friend?"

Parker looked at a little girl in the front row. "Leila. And Katrina. And Lucia. And Nyiana. And Tessa....." She ran down the entire female population of K-4 and was just about to get to Liam G. and Liam W. and Juan and all the boys when the teacher thought that school got out in an hour and a half so they needed to end it.

From there, everyone got to go and draw a picture for Parker and write (or have the teacher's assistant help them write what makes Parker "A Star".)

It was pure and lovely and wonderful and just the type of thing I would have probably rolled my eyes at hearing about back when I thought I was cool.

First of all, looking at old pictures, I was never cool. Luckily, Parker never needs to know that.

It was time for us to go so she could go back to being with her friends. She looked at my wife and me and said, "Thank you so much for coming to my Star Student Day."

This tiny blonde person just allowed me to be a part of the coolest thing ever.

That's what a Star does.