For Moms…(From The Grateful Dad)

Much like my wife, the woman in this picture could probably beat me senseless if she wanted to.

You’re tired by 1:30 PM because you’ve been trying to keep up with a toddler since 6:30 AM. You struggle to keep both the checkbook and the housework in balance. You struggle with your self-esteem while trying to show a little girl how to be a confident woman. You wonder where you fit in the world, while silently feeling like your presence is the only thing that keeps the world spinning.

It’s the toughest job on the planet. Harder than the presidency, actually, because the president has a power that you don’t: the legal authority to have someone shot. God help us if you actually did.

Many of us dads would be sleepin’ with Osama about right now.

Yeah – I’m talking about you.

Mom: the too-often unsung hero.

My opinion of motherhood changed the day my wife gave birth to our first child. Far from a typical birth, it not only showed me that my wife was a gritty, powerful survivor who would very well outlive me by 200 years, but that all women are more powerful than men give them credit for. Men grumble about wearing uncomfortable ties; women push tiny, living beings out of their bodies and then fall in love with said tiny beings, thus demonstrating a level of physical, emotional and mental strength that men simply are not capable of.

Comparatively, men are wienies. Wimps. Wusses. I had this reinforced a few weeks ago when my wife went out of town for a week. It took me plus parents, my church, and a babysitter to replace her. If she’d been gone any longer, I would’ve had to assemble a SEAL team to help me survive.

So, let me just say, to Rachel, her mom, my own mother and all of you other moms out there (including Dawn, my guest blogger from this morning, who would easily win Game of Thrones were it real):

You rock. And as the saying goes, the one that rocks the cradle, rules the world. All hail our mighty (and wonderful) rulers.

P.S. — Thanks for letting us dads feel like we’re important.

Guest Post: Cancer, Childbirth And One Tough Mother…

Given my wife's family's recent history, you know this ribbon means a lot to me.

There are some stories that just deserve to be told over and over again. My wife’s family has had some real battles with cancer over the last three years, with my wife opting to have a preventative double mastectomy to hopefully eliminate her chances for breast cancer. So when you hear a story of someone overcoming the Big C, it tends to stick with you. With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I knew of one story that I definitely wanted told one more time.

Dawn Hood and I were both hired to work at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries at around the same time. I didn’t get to know her very well though until, after about a year of working at RZIM, we both applied for the same position within the ministry. Long story short, Dawn was the better person for the job, but through the process of applying and interviewing, we got to know one another a little bit. Then, when I moved departments in 2009, I ended up just down the hall from her.

It was then that I really got to know Dawn. She is a true Southerner – sweet, gentile, polite, with enough of a touch of redneck to make fun to be around. What drew Dawn and I into many discussions was our love of writing; Dawn happens to have penned one of the most remarkable memoirs I’ve ever read, and she gave me the privilege of helping her work on the draft.

And if you doubt that her story could be all that impressive, ask yourself this: could you give birth to a baby while battling cancer and chemo treatments?

Me neither. That’s why I’ve invited Dawn to share a truncated version of that story with the blog today.

I hope you enjoy reading Dawn’s post, and that, if you do, you’ll visit her blog as a regular reader. The URL is easy to remember: I promise you’ll be glad you did. You can also read more about Dawn at Northside Hospital’s webpage, where Dawn’s story is not only a featured article, it was also part of an Atlanta-wide awareness campaign, and was turned into billboards and a radio commercial featuring Dawn.

Cancer, chemo, live birth...yeah, you don't EVER want to mess with this woman. She would destroy you.

Kissing 40 On The Mouth

In my 20s and 30s, I pledged to turn 40 kicking and screaming.  I jokingly made my list of three wishes: to be the bald chick on Star Trek (she was so cool), get a “boob job” (I was never what one would call ‘perky’), and have a tattoo (to satisfy my inner rebel).

In September 2001, my husband worked for a company in a sales position, specifically on a large account that after closing was going to provide a hefty commission check.  Our family had outgrown our house and his commission was going to be the icing on the cake for some new furniture and other goodies to make a new place our new home.

Tuesday morning after Labor Day he went to the office only to be told that his position had been terminated – for no specific reason.  And with that, he lost the job, the account, and the commission.  Our house plans came to a screeching halt.

Then, to our horror, we witnessed the events of September 11th along with the rest of the country and most of the world.  As if all that was not enough, we learned two weeks later that I was pregnant with our third child.  Oops.  A few weeks shy of 39, we had the all-American one boy and one girl.  I worked only part-time, and the idea of starting over with pre-school and little league or dance recitals didn’t sound very appealing.

In October we scheduled a visit to my OB-GYN for my first pregnancy check-up.  The instant my midwife touched my right breast her facial expression changed.  She went from, “wonder what I’ll have for lunch today” to “uh-oh, that’s not right.”  My radar went on high alert.

She told us a few minutes later in her office, “Everything looks to be in good order except I felt something in your right breast and I want you to have it checked.  I’m sure it’s nothing, but since you’re pregnant, I’d like to be sure.”  We left her office with the names and phone numbers of two breast surgeons she wanted us to talk to for further testing.

After meeting with one of the breast surgeons, I went to the hospital’s Breast Center for a core needle biopsy.  After administering local anesthetic, the doctor took four tissue samples from my right breast and sent us home.  Walking across the parking lot with an ice pack across my chest, I was certain we would get an “all clear” sometime in the next few days.

November 12th.  11:45 a.m.  The phone call. You know, the phone call.  My doctor said very simply, “All four tissue samples were malignant.  You have cancer and should see your doctor as soon as possible.  I’m sorry”.  I hung up the phone in disbelief.  The rest of that day was a blur of phone calls, questions, setting appointments, and chocolate chip cookies.

We learned that my tumor was feeding on estrogen, which my body was producing en masse because of the pregnancy.  It was like having cancer on steroids.  First surgery: lumpectomy went smoothly and our surgeon was optimistic that he had obtained clean margins.  He did not.  More surgery.  Our surgeon was confident this time that we would get a good report. We did not.  The day after Christmas we received the news that I would have to undergo a mastectomy.  And I really began to wonder where this was all going to end.  Hanging up the phone, I walked out of our bedroom, looked at my husband and said quietly, “This sucks”.

In an effort to keep our mental faculties in order, my husband and I had developed quite a sense of humor with regard to what we were facing.  We jokingly invited a few friends over for a final viewing of my breast the night before surgery.  One of my husband’s buddies actually said he was coming.  January 8th, 2002, my right breast was removed.

Over the next three months of February, March, and April, I had four chemotherapy ‘cocktails’ of Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  My hair started falling out exactly 14 days after the first treatment.  When I was ready, my husband lovingly and carefully shaved my head.  I looked surprisingly like the bald chick on Star Trek – except for the dark circles under my eyes – and the hollow cheeks – and the swollen belly.

I learned a lot during those months.  I learned that I could clear the aisle at a store in about three seconds flat.  I learned that we have nose hair and eyelashes for a reason – and I missed mine.  I learned that the soft, warm hands of my two children could make my cold, bald head feel warm as toast.  I learned what it means to feel ferociously protective of an unborn child.  And I learned that good friends and loyal family should never be taken for granted.

After my final treatment in April, we began looking forward to the birth of our child, another boy.  The doctors had been evasive about side effects he might have suffered because my case was rare and there were not many reliable medical studies to reference.  I had trouble gaining weight; our goal at that point was to get the baby to five pounds before he was born and avoid a stay in the NICU.

On May 7, 2002, at 4:02 p.m., our little bundle entered the world with just one push from Mommy.  His beautiful, perfect little head was about the size of a peach.  We were ecstatic when he weighed in at a whopping five pounds, eleven ounces.  For the first time since I had learned I was pregnant, I leaned over the bed and threw up in a trash can.

Six days later I began radiation.  My final treatment, and quite a celebration, came on July 3rd.  It was truly Independence Day for us.

Four months passed and my Mom hosted a surprise birthday party for me – my 40th.  I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a birthday more.  Surrounded by people whose love and prayers had sustained us in those dark, uncertain months, it was truly one of the best days of my life.  My son, who will celebrate his 9th birthday on Saturday, is a daily reminder that God is still in the business of miracles. Along with excellent checkups, I’m now sporting a full head of hair.  My ‘boob job’ is now complete and I have my tattoo: a butterfly designed out of a breast cancer ribbon, resting gracefully atop my reconstructed breast.

Disciplining My Child Through “Criminal Minds”

This is a picture I found online. If it had been a picture of the actual incident, the kid would've been crying like Tammy Faye Bakker.

There are times when fatherhood really bites. Sure, most people want to hear about the glorious poetic moments that make people reach for the Kleenex or look back longingly at their child’s baby pictures, but those moments don’t tell the whole tale. If every part of fatherhood was sunshine and sundaes, men wouldn’t build massive basement rooms into which they escape.

I don’t have a basement, so I just blog about the things that drive me crazy. Like yesterday, when I picked Ella up from school and learned that she had told one of her good friends in class, “You need to shut your mouth.”

Now, my daughter is, by all accounts, quite spunky. I would say sassy, but that can be taken too negatively. She’s bright, highly energetic, and sometimes says things that she shouldn’t (and often she has no clue she’s said anything wrong). So when the teacher told me about the infraction, and about the context of it, I immediately felt my blood rise.

Apparently, Ella sensed it too. She immediately started crying.

I can’t remember who wrote the line, but someone once said that it’s easier to stop an out-of-control train than a woman’s tears. That’s certainly true of Ella – once she gets the water flowing, it takes forever and a day to get her to stop. She’s a sensitive little girl, and it just doesn’t take much to make her cry.

So when she started squalling, there was a part of me that felt bad. I knew she knew she was in trouble, and really, isn’t that what discipline is all about? Teaching your child to have a conscience? But I’m too easy on Ella sometimes, so, determined not to be fazed by the tears, I gave her my “disappointed” look, a gaze that, when trained upon my children can wither steel and crush the human soul, but, when trained upon my wife, earns me a “What? Do you have to fart?” Ella withered. The tears flowed harder.

Did I mention we’re still standing inside the church? We hadn’t even made it to the car yet. There I stand like an unfeeling statue and my daughter is weeping so hard she might choke. I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and guided her down the hall.

“Would you like to tell me what happened today?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

Ask a stupid question… And, if I may have an aside for a moment, this is something I learned from my dad – asking the guilty child to provide their account of the crime – but it’s only been through watching Criminal Minds recently that I’ve learned just how effective this technique is, actually. You watch Hotch or Rossi in an interrogation, and they almost always nail the bad guy by leading him/her into telling their side of the story, and BINGO! – case solved.

And actually, there’s really something to that idea – part of parenthood is being able to profile your kid, to understand their likes and dislikes, to know their personalities so well that you can almost interpret an action without needing the child to do it for you. Maybe I’m just a nerd who likes that sort of thing, but I have to confess: knowing Ella the way I do (and knowing that I don’t know everything about her) helps me to be a better parent.

So, for all you new parents out there: you can learn much about parenthood by watching Criminal Minds. Just sayin’.

In this instance, I knew it was unlike her to say something so brutal to anyone, let alone a friend. It’s just not Ella’s style or personality; she tends to be more affirming than that, even when she’s being bossy. So, as we hopped in the car, I was pretty sure that if I pressed her for an explanation, I would uncover some extenuating circumstances.

Another aside – this doesn’t mean that I was looking for an excuse NOT to discipline her; I was looking for the answers to know how to discipline her correctly. There’s a big difference, in case you didn’t know. Any fool can punish a child – that takes no imagination and next to no skill; but it takes a honest parent to correct a child and teach them something that helps them learn. I’m not down with just punishing a kid (though, sometimes, I see the merits…) so I push to understand and then correct. It also gives me time to calm down so I don’t just beat a butt in my anger.

OK – where were we? Oh yeah – getting the story from Ella.

As it turns out, her friend had been the subject of some teasing all day (apparently Ella and her classmates have become enamored with the subject of pooping in non-bathroom locations) and Ella’s friend wasn’t saying anything to defend herself. And, if you know preschool kids, they don’t know when to back off. If a poop joke is funny the first time, it’s funny the next 312 times. So naturally they just kept pouring it on the poor girl. Finally, Ella had heard enough and, in an epic FAIL of an attempt to support and encourage her friend, she said, “You need to make so-and-so shut her mouth.”

My daughter, the life-coach.

Suffice it to say, after hearing this, I felt differently. First of all, what she said made more sense than what the teacher had reported. Let me pause for a second and say I support the teacher 100% in telling me what she heard and how she handled it. She did it the absolute right way and I got her back. Just because it didn’t sound like something Ella would say doesn’t mean Ella didn’t or wouldn’t say it; in point of fact, she said something pretty darned close, in both verbiage and meaning.

But I felt differently because I now understood that Ella didn’t mean to attack her friend, she meant to help her. And honestly, I see how she comes to this: it’s a bizarre and perfect mix of her mother’s and my personalities. I tend to be the more compassionate, side-with-the-victim person in our family, and Rachel tends to be the shut-up-and-fix-it person. Ella somehow meshed both into one statement and simultaneously encouraged and berated her friend.

That’s a little thing we like to call talent.

Anyway, long story short, I did what any good parent would do:

“Well, thank you for the explanation. We’ll have to see what your mother says when we get home.”

That’s right – I shifted the burden to Moms. Well, part of the burden. When we got home, I gave Rachel a quick rundown and then had Ella recount her crime for her mother. Rachel seemed satisfied with the mea culpa, and worked out a plea bargain for Ella: Ella would have play quietly in her room instead of being able to watch a movie, and she would have to apologize to her friend at church last night. Ella nodded and slinked away her room, halfway between relief and devastation. I watched approvingly.

If it had been an episode of Criminal Minds, we would’ve quoted some author everyone says they’ve read but no one really has. And we would have been on a private plane. But this is life, and real drama isn’t so tidy.

Postscript – Ella apologized to her friend last night before their Bible class. Her friend looked at her, said, “What are you talking about?”, and then skipped away to play with a puzzle. Again, not as tidy as a TV ending, but ultimately good for my kid.

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead. Does It Matter?

I know this is shameful pandering to a current event, but I can’ t help but ask:

Does it really make a difference that Osama Bin Laden is dead?

Yes, for the families left devastated after 9/11, closure is a good thing. And for those who vowed to serve and fight for justice for those families, it’s a great day.

But after all that’s happened in the world the past 10 years, can we really say that this one man’s death will matter?

What do you think? Myself, I need to sleep on it. More tomorrow.

To My Son On His Birthday

This is you, Jon, at your second birthday party. You're waiting to demolish some cake...

Dear Jon –

I know it’s more common for Daddy to write about your sister, Ella, than you, and I hope that you don’t take offense to that. I do it for any number of reasons, most of which probably wouldn’t satisfy you in the slightest (I think the main one is she’s quite often hysterical), but today is your day, so I’m going to write about you. Today you are officially two years old, and I simply cannot believe it. I can’t believe you’re growing up.

Well, that’s not true. I can believe it, but I guess I’m just not prepared for it. I don’t want to accept the fact that one day you won’t be my small snuggle friend, or won’t have the softest skin I’ve ever felt, or won’t be the quietest but most strikingly intelligent toddler I’ve ever come across. I struggle with the fact that the you you have been all of your life is changing, but it shouldn’t; I’ve learned so much in the last two years.

When Mommy and I first found out that you were coming our way, I was scared. In fact, I believe I looked at the ultrasound tech and said, “Oh, crap.” Or something close. I truly wasn’t prepared for a son and the moment freaked me out. I know now that the fear was irrational, based entirely in my own insecurity, and had nothing to do with you whatsoever.

And I know this because you’ve become my little best friend.

I can’t tell you how much it lights up my soul to hear you exclaim, “Dad-dee!” everyday when I come through the door. Or how special it makes me feel when you round the corner, your little feet going like Fred Flintstone’s (Sidebar: it’s a really old cartoon Daddy used to watch where people pushed cars with their feet. One day, I’ll take you to a museum and show you an example of the primitive culture your daddy grew up in). Or how unbelievable it is to swing you up into my arms and cradle your face into my neck and feel your tiny fingers reach for the back of my head and rub my hair.

Maybe it was this way with Ella, too, but I don’t think so. There’s something special about you, dude, and I love you to pieces. Even when you get short-tempered, or when I get short-tempered, it doesn’t take long for me to see something in you that stirs up all of the love I have within me. Maybe it’s the bond between father and son; I know from experience that it borders on mysticism (your Poppy is a really good dad to me), so I can buy into the idea that somehow, someway, there’s just a connection we share that can never be duplicated with anyone else.

For instance, we celebrated your second birthday this weekend and you were a pill. You whined, cried, moaned, and flat out pitched an all-out hissy-fit for the first 30 minutes of the party. Then, as if a timer had gone off inside your head, you were non-stop fun. Watching you tear around the house, or drive your Thomas the Tank Engine up and down the driveway, or show off for your great-grandparents by pushing your new lawnmower (Note: a bubble lawnmower, not an actual one – we’re not that redneck) made the some of the most hellish pain I’ve ever known melt into the distance. Seeing you enjoy life gave me back one more piece of mine.

I’m writing this because I want you to know that I love you. I want you to know that I cherish our relationship and want nothing more than for you to grow up and be a good man. I don’t care if you’re successful by current standards; I don’t care if you’re valedictorian or captain of the team or the single greatest trumpet player in modern American Jazz. If you turn out to be those things, great – it will mean all the more because they will have been your vision for your life, and not one that I superimposed onto you. My father granted me that freedom, and I want you to know it too.

Be a good man, Jon, because in a world full of sorry, mediocre and great men, the good ones stand out. It takes people a hella long time to realize it, but it’s good men that make the world work. It’s good men who provide good homes and create good families. Sorry men and great men alike tend to think only of themselves and thereby rob everyone they claim to love. Good men put others first and thereby bless generations.

You’re only two and will probably never read this (and if you do, it really does mean the Internet is forever) but I wanted to break my routine (Daddy typically doesn’t blog on weekends) and sing a song of celebration over you, my third child and only son. Your oldest sister, Ruthanne, whom you don’t yet know about, broke my heart but showed me that I was capable of giving my heart completely away to my children. Your big sister, Ella, taught me to embrace who my kids were innately and to not worry about making them into something they were not. The girls taught me a lot.

But you have taught me to not be afraid, to embrace a definition of manhood that has long defined me yet defied tradition, and to pass it on to you as a gift. I hope that when you are old enough, you will one day be able to look back and say, “My dad may have had his faults, but not letting me be myself wasn’t one of them.” I hope you will always know, no matter where life takes you, that you will always, always, be my son and the recipient of all of my love. You will never be able to lose that.

Even if you choose to attend Georgia Tech.

I love you, Jonathan. And happy birthday, my friend.

All the best,