A Son’s Dream, A Father’s Fear

IMG_4643The other day my son announced his intention to launch himself into space on a one-way journey to explore the galaxy. As his father, I should be used to him making grand, above-his-age statements (he’s only 6), but hearing my first grader calmly state his dream to die in space threw me off a bit.

He was so calm when he told me his idea.

“I want to build the ‘100th Horizon’ which would be a spaceship big enough to hold me and other people, and we would fly to the end of our galaxy learning about space. We would even fly past Pluto and other ice planets.”

“But it would take you years to get to the end of our galaxy,” I countered. “Mommy and I might be dead before you would come home.”

“I know that,” he said. “Me and my friends would all probably die in space, but that’s okay. It would just put me closer to heaven, so I could see you faster after I die.”

I’ll admit–that choked me up. But it was what he said next that floored me. I asked him why he would want to fly off on a one-way journey into space. This is what he said:

“Because I want to give my life to help people. We would have better knowledge if I flew into space.”

I wasn’t prepared for that answer. My wife and I have taken great pains to instill in our children a love and compassion for others, and we’ve always gone out of our way to encourage our children’s natural interests. My daughter, Ella, loves to dance and sing, so we’ve enrolled her in dance classes and helped her audition for school musicals. Jon loves science and playing drums, so we signed him up for drum lessons and try to fuel his thirst for knowledge.

Rachel and I both grew up in cultures that encouraged dreams, but weren’t so quick to encourage acting on them. We don’t want our kids to grow up like that; we want them to dream AND act, to be intentional with how they live their lives.

In short, we’ve never squashed their dreams. Despite what you might think, this is a challenging position to maintain.

As a parent, you want what’s best for your kid, but sometimes what’s best for them absolutely kills you on the inside. Hearing Jon so fearlessly announce that his dream was to launch himself on a suicide mission for the betterment of mankind made me want to throw up. In fact, on my insides, I could feel the fear rising up. My mental list-maker went into overdrive, concocting as many reasons why he SHOULDN’T go into space as I possibly could.

But I didn’t breathe a word of that to him. The only allowance I gave my fears was to mention to Jon that if he went to the end of the galaxy, it would make me sad because I would never see him again. Given how much my son loves me, even that was probably too much, an unfair emotional manipulation perpetrated on a child by an adult.

But Jon’s response was not only perfect, it was completely Jon: I’ll just be that much closer to heaven, so I’ll see you sooner.

Even now, I want to cry typing that out. It’s such a beautiful statement: I will live my dreams, but I will always love and think of you.

As a parent, could I ask for more?

Sometimes, I worry that I will transfer my fear issues on to my kids. I see Ella hesitate when walking into a room full of people she doesn’t know, and I wonder if I caused that. I see Jon have a meltdown because he hurts himself while playing, and I wonder if I’ve somehow bred weakness into him.

But then my children say and do things that amaze me, and remind me of what my actual end goal is as a parent.

My job as their dad is to raise them to be healthy, functional adults capable of living a life of meaning and joy. That means allowing them to experience and learn things as a child that cause me great fear.

I would rather be the one who feels the ugly, paralyzing fear. I would rather live through their childhood years worrying and fretting over things than pass that anxiety on to them. I want them to emerge from my home with a sense of wonder and courage, a belief in themselves and their talents that propels them to do things much greater than anyone could imagine.

My son wants to launch himself into the uncharted ends of space on a one-way trip to broaden humanity’s understanding of the universe we call home. As a dad, the idea makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry for a couple of days. But it also makes me proud of my son, proud of the man he will one day become, regardless of whether or not he actually makes it into space.

So, as his dad, I’m going to do the only thing I can: I’m going to bust my butt to introduce him to people who can expand his knowledge. I know some folks who know some folks, so I’m going to set up some lunches where Jon can interview an astronaut or astronomer. I’m going to take him back to the Space Center in Huntsville, AL, and maybe send him to Space Camp one summer.

I’m going to do everything I can to encourage my son to be all he can be, because that’s what is best for him as a person, and what’s best for me as a dad.

And if he actually achieves his dream, it might just be what’s best for mankind, too.

Keep the Train Rolling

This week I’m participating in Seth Godin’s #YourTurnChallenge. My goal is to blog everyday this week (Mon-Sun) here on my site as well as on the challenge’s official Tumblr blog. Here’s my Day 4 submission.

Today is my 39th birthday. One year away from 40.

I wrestle most days with feeling like a failure. The definition of success I learned growing up (marriage, family, steady job, plenty of money) hasn’t played out in my life. I’m almost 40 and still starting over in so many ways.

But then I stop and think:

  • I am a husband to a wonderful wife, Rachel.
  • I am daddy to two beautiful children, Ella and Jon, and a third, Ruthanne, who waits for me in heaven.
  • We have a beautiful home.
  • We have nice cars.
  • I have a wide and wonderful assortment of friends.
  • I rock Twitter.
  • I get paid to do what I do best: communicate (both written and verbal).
  • I’ve recorded and released an album with two of my closest friends.
  • I’ve written over 365 radio programs that still air to this day on 1700 radio stations worldwide (not to mention podcast downloads).
  • I’ve written and directed three short films, and won a Telly award for one of them.
  • I’ve written and published 5 books.
  • I’ve started three blogs, two websites, and one company.
  • I’ve pastored a church that was dying, and helped it not only die with dignity but give over $300,000 away to deserving causes as a last act.
  • I’ve performed over 30 marriages, many of those being the marriages of students who sat under my teaching and mentoring.
  • I’ve been privileged to write for a Fortune 500 company, a multi-national leadership firm, one of the nation’s largest churches, one of my community’s finest charities, and countless other people whose vision deserved to be shared.
  • I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs, civic leaders, spiritual leaders, and other interesting people and been privileged to share their stories with the public via magazine articles.

All of that by 39. Sure there are folks who’ve achieved more–but there are those who’ve achieved less. It’s not a competition anyway.

But more than all I’ve achieved, I’ve come to realize what I’m proudest of is that we–my wife, my kids and myself–keep looking for the next thing. The next step. The next challenge. We may fail, but as my wife is fond of saying, “We’re going to keep the train rolling.”

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know this: if we win today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

It’s taken me 39 years to understand just what that means. Here’s to another 39 (and more) to keep living it the best I can.

The Toilet Paper Holder Lesson


My nemesis.

I have a toilet paper holder in my master bathroom that drives me insane. I put it up about two years ago, and the stupid thing eventually pushed itself out of the wall, leaving a couple of nasty holes in the sheetrock which made me look as inept at home maintenance as I really am. Because of its mockery of me, I took the sucker down and stashed it in the back of a closet (I’m too cheap to throw away what should be a perfectly good fixture). It stayed in that closet for almost a year and half.

Recently, we repainted our bathroom and Rachel wanted to put it back up. I agreed, thinking that I had found the perfect solution to keep the holder affixed to the wall. I bought a substitute roll holder (the little springy tube you put the toilet paper on), reasoning that it’s weaker spring wouldn’t push the actual holders apart as much, and thus keep the holder on the wall.

Trust me, I know how insane this sounds. It is insane.

Anyway, I put the holder back up with the screws and wall anchors required. Everything looked great. I put in the new paper holder, complete with a fresh roll. It fit snugly, with no signs of strain. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Two days later, I thought I noticed the sucker starting to bow a little bit. I wiggled the holder, and it seemed to still be tight against the wall, so I chalked it up to paranoia. Two days after that, the sucker had almost pushed itself out of the wall again.

It’s still there, hanging on by a thread, making an otherwise elegant bathroom look like a 70s camper john. I’ve been tempted to rip it out and toss it across the room, but I’ve resisted. I am going to take it down today probably, and replace it with something else. I’m just tired of looking at it.

There’s a lot of lessons I could draw from this illustration – I suck as a handyman being the first. Maybe something about the need to learn from past experience being another. But what I really come away with is that some things just don’t go like you planned. And no matter how much you try and work out a solution, no matter how many compromises or substitutions you make, you will never beat the flawed design. When that happens, you simply have to take things back to the start and try another direction – in life as in toilet paper holders, I suppose.

I interviewed a friend yesterday who recently made a big change career-wise, and we exchanged emails about the similarities of our work situations: both of us have left behind everything we’ve ever known professionally in order to pursue something new, but strangely meant to be. We’ve gone back to the start in an attempt to find a true fit.

It’s scary. It’s unknown territory. It brings new challenges each day, whether it’s networking or resume writing or just trying to keep faith when God seems silent beyond just repeating, “This is what I mean for you to do.” Some days I do well. Some days, I wonder if I shouldn’t have just left things as they were, even though I know – like that toilet paper holder – eventually, it would’ve all fallen apart.

Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’re wondering if the unrest you’ve been feeling about work, or church, or your purpose in life, is the nudging for you to step out in faith and rebuild. I can’t tell you for sure, but I can say this: take a good long look at your life and consider which path offers you the chance to be the person you were meant to be.

Then take that path. It’ll be scary, but it’ll be worth it.

Personally, I’m looking forward to having some balance in my life – both professionally and when I go to spin the toilet paper in my bathroom. Here’s hoping you find it too.

How I Feel Lately

I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doingWell, maybe a little bit of an idea. I know what I want to do, I know I’m good at it, and I know people need the services I can provide. So it’s not like I’m totally adrift. But on the bigger details, on the exact “how” of moving forward with my life, I’m actually kind of winging it.

It’s scary.

And it’s turning out better than I could’ve imagined.

Maybe you’ve been putting off making a change. Maybe you’ve just had a bad week. But if you’re wondering today if life could possibly suck any less, the answer is yes. Yes it can. And if you can master the scary, then you’ll be amazed at how cool life can be.