Monster Fighters

ImageSo I’m sitting here this morning, listening to Jon and Ella play. Over and over Ella keeps emphasizing to Jon that the figures they are playing with are “monster fighters – they fight monsters so normal people don’t have to.” Anytime that declaration is made, it is quickly followed by a series of “Hi-yah! Bam! Smack! P-sht! Wee-boom!” sounds that illustrate just how thoroughly the monster fighters are kicking monster butt.

And I’m thinking: “I wish I had a monster fighter.”

I mean seriously – who wouldn’t want to have their own private monster fighter. Especially for the monsters that most of us face: doubt, depression, fear, uncertainty, and other creatures from the adult nightmare lagoon. How many of us wouldn’t love to call on someone else to handle the finances when they get tight, or the office when it gets too stressful? Or someone who could appear and deal with the baggage of our past in fell swoop? That would be awesome.

And even as I write this, Jon calls his monster fighter “Daddy” and Ella calls hers “Mommy.” There’s another monster fighter named “David” too, but I’m kind of hung up on Mommy and Daddy being the leads.

Because there are days when I don’t feel like fighting anyone’s monsters. There are days when I wonder if I have requisite power to fight my own. And yet that’s part of how my children see me: as their protector. Now, they have no delusions that I’m some sort of super dad (Jon asked me the other day if I could lift a weight. A weight. Sad.), but they do know that daddy’s the one to run to when you don’t understand something.

Ella does this all the time; if she can’t wrap her mind around an injustice in the world, or a question about theology or God, she comes to me and we begin one of our hourly games of “The Third Degree” – where she mercilessly hammers away at me with questions until I either answer her to her satisfaction or I finally go insane and scream, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” To me, it can seem like an annoyance (and really, timing is generally the issue), but for her it’s a form of monster fighting: the world seems big and mean and scary, and she wants to know that there is a way to make sense of it all, find peace in the midst of the scariness.

So I help her fight her monsters.

As a father, that’s a pretty cool thing to realize. I’m not big and brawny and “manly-man” so the notion that my daughter still finds value in me – in a big old nerdy nerd – is even better than a Father’s Day card. In fact, instead of cards yesterday, I got a day full of hugs, thank yous, and “You’re the best dad, ever!”s. I also got approximately 100,000,000 questions between Ella and Jon, but those just laid the groundwork for the hugs, thank yous, and best-dad-evers.

It was a glorious day.

Who are the monster fighters in your life? To whom do you turn when the situation gets scary and you need consolation? We may not have our own private Indiana Jones or Superman at the ready to battle the evil we encounter, but we probably have more resources than we know.

So who’s helping you fight today?

Just Like Dad

574716_10151110734279376_1861750003_nSunday is Father’s Day. Do your dad a favor – don’t go the tie route. Get him something nifty, like an electric razor or some boxer shorts. You know: show a little creativity in your choice of banal, inexpensive gifts! After all, dad will pretend to like whatever you buy him, so why put in the effort?

I’m kidding about the gift. Not so much about dad pretending to like whatever you get him.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the next few Father’s Days. My kids have finally entered the stage where I can expect some homemade gifts like ashtrays, coffee mugs, and elaborate attempts at pop-up cards. I am especially looking forward to the creative madness that my daughter will produce; Ella has the potential within her to make something heretofore unseen in the universe, and I want in on that kind of creation. And once Jonathan gets a bit older, his detail-oriented mind and science bend might actually produce some Father’s Day chemistry that turns out to be an anti-aging, performance-enhancing serum that allows me to live until I’m 190. So, yeah – I’m stoked about my potential Father’s Day gift haul.

But the greatest Father’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten has simply been to celebrate my own father each year. The joke around our house is that dad was always traveling, but my memory has him home quite a bit. I can see us in the backyard of our old house, tossing a baseball. I can see him cutting that same yard with the tiny, tired push mower that we used for years (it was only after I moved out and went to college that the man actually bought a riding lawn mower, a strange coincidence I’ve never reconciled). I close my eyes and I can picture him leaning against the fence at ballgames, or setting up a tent on a Scout trip, or paddling like a madman as we fought the Table Saw rapid on the Ocoee River.

For as much as we joke about my dad’s absence, it’s his presence that I most remember.

When I stepped away from youth pastoring, I also stepped away from seeing my dad on a weekly basis. In my entire life, there’s been a little more than five years when we didn’t go to the same church; over the past two years, we’ve worked side-by-side on most Sundays in the church’s sound booth: dad on the mixing board, me on the presentation software. Again, it wasn’t so much about what we did together as much as it was the fact we were together. I highly doubt that he would be so sentimental about the arrangement (though he’s surprised me a bit on that front lately), but for me, the warmth and joy of working with my dad on a weekly basis was something to be cherished.

As we both learned in 2011, you only have a little while to spend with your dad.

It was that weekly time together – even when we weren’t in the booth, we were still at the same church, in the same place – that I knew I would miss. There were a lot of wonderful people at the church, people that I still love dearly, but there is something special about being able to spend time with your family week in and week out; something even more special about being able to show your parents your personal growth on a consistent basis. Not that I live for my parents’ approval, but you never outgrow the hope that your parents are proud of you. Every Sunday, I knew that they were.

My kids felt the separation too. When I told the kids that we were stepping away to chase a new path, my kids were both hurt. Jonathan seemed to take it hardest; he started crying. When I asked him why, he said, “I’m crying because now we won’t get to see Nonna (my mom) and Poppy (my dad) anymore!”

He thought that the only reason we saw my parents was because we went to church together.

Once I explained that family is family, regardless of where you go to church, and that we would make special effort to see Nonna and Poppy now, instead of just taking it for granted that we would see them on Sunday, he felt better. In a strange way, so did I. Because I realized – as much as I loved seeing my dad every week – I took for granted that we would see them. It was a given. I didn’t have to work to make sure my kids had a relationship with them, it just happened because of Sunday.

That realization made me a bit sad. I don’t want my kids growing up and taking their grandparents for granted. So we’ve made extra effort (perhaps too much) to get the kids over to their grandparents’ house at least once a week. I worry about over-staying our welcome, but my parents assure me that it’s okay. That they love it.

Kind of like my grandparents used to tell my parents whenever my brother and I went for visits.

It’s weird thinking about that now. I’m now in my dad’s position and he’s assumed the role of his father. My dad had one advantage over me, in that when he was 37, I was 15. He had the youthful energy to be a good dad to a young boy; I sometimes wonder if I suck as a parent because I don’t have the same energy as I did at 27. My kids don’t seem to mind, though, and maybe I actually have an advantage not available to my dad: the perspective that comes from being older. Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know, however, that my dad thinks I’m doing a good job. He’s never sad that too me – or if he did, I mentally deflected it because I’m not great at accepting compliments – but I know he feels that way because he always tells me how great my kids are. That’s high praise. I eat it up.

I look a bit more like my dad these days, which is funny because for the longest time I didn’t think we looked anything alike. Now, my hair is going gray (though not as gray as his) and I definitely see him staring back at me from the mirror, or in pictures. I’m taller and thinner, but the eyes are the same. I can only hope that mine give off the same kindness and good nature that his do. After years of wondering which parent I favor, my physical presence finally caught up with my personality and the answer is clear.

I’m just like my dad.

And that’s awesome.

Slick Father’s Day

That’s Slick in the hat. Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Ron!

I’ve had this blog post rambling around in my head for over six months now, and today I’m finally going to write it. I’ve wrestled with this one because it’s about a person I consider family, but we’re not blood related. In fact, we don’t really see one another that often (Facebook helps, but only so much). And to be honest with you, I’m as nervous writing about this man as I was writing about my dad.

But after six months of trying to figure out an angle, trying to think of a legitmate reason to write about this person (beyond my own feelings), I finally have the perfect lede: it’s Father’s Day, and I want to celebrate one of the fathers I’ve been privileged to know.

His name is Ron Wexler. Or, if you go by his license plates, DWG CRZY or SLICK.

I know Mr. Ron because I lived across the street from him growing up. He was the crazy neighbor – had a loud motorcylcle, a sweet black Torino, and his very own Coke machine on the back porch. A University of Georgia season ticket holder, he had me convinced as a kid that the G-Day was a religious holiday much in the same way Christmas was.

I’m writing about him today not to embarrass him, or curry favor with him, but because as I’ve thought about Mr. Ron, I’ve come to understand just how influential he has been on my life. And I want to celebrate that influence this weekend, as a tribute to him.

See, Mr. Ron wasn’t the conventional father figure. I was best friends with his step-son, Pete, and every time I spent the night at their house, or just spent time over there, it was like walking into an alternate universe. Mr. Ron drank beer, so there was always some in the fridge. He had strict rules about what you could and couldn’t touch, which rooms you could and couldn’t go in. He used colorful language and metaphors that were a bit more adult in content than my parents’. And occasionally, he could get upset and scare the living crap out of you.

I type all that knowing that there are some people who will read it and immediately go into judgmental mode. It can’t be helped. Once upon a time, it bothered me too because it was so different from what I knew. I would see or hear something at Mr. Ron’s and come home and talk to my dad about it. And my dad would look at me and say, “That’s just Mr. Ron.”

That helped. I would see my dad go over there to help with a project, or to borrow a tool, or just stand in the driveway and talk, and I began to learn something valuable: how to love a person for who that person is. My dad was different from Mr. Ron, yes, but neither of them let those differences get in the way of their friendship. And I learned that, as different as Mr. Ron was to me and my family, we were different to him. I also learned that the things that made us different were often matters of personal taste; the things that brought us together, our sense of what was right and good in life, were more important.

So I learned to roll with the punches, but more importantly I learned to love Mr. Ron as much as I loved my dad.

I called him “Sir” anytime he asked me a question. I did as he said whenever he gave me an instruction. I told him how I was doing in school, shot baskets with him in the cul-de-sac, and spent a lot of time just talking about life, because his knowledge and experience of life was so fascinating. And he always gave me his time.

When I told him I was headed to the University of Georgia after high school, you’d have thought I’d told him he’d won the lottery. He was as proud as my own parents, and almost five years later, when we came home from my collegiate graduation, he did something that will stick with me the rest of my life. He’d hung, across the front of our carport, a huge sheet of butcher paper, and he’d written “No longer a pup, he’s a BULLDOG now!” in huge, black letters.

A handmade banner to welcome me home and celebrate in my accomplishment.

My parents cried. I cried. I’m pretty certain Mr. Ron didn’t, but I know he was happy for me, just as he was happy for me on the day I got married, and when each of my kids was born. I also remember him being there when my daughter died. I know his eyes were red that day.

Over the years I’ve been able to keep up with Mr. Ron, either by being part of milestones in his family’s life, or him being part of milestones in mine. I performed Pete’s wedding in his front yard, and shared the joys of his first grandchild’s birth at a baby shower in his house. Lately, we’ve seen each other at funerals more than anything else – at the funeral for his father-in-law; at the funeral for my grandfather. I guess it’s a sign that we’re both getting older.

Regardless of when we see each other, we still talk about life – whether it’s football, or golf, or cars, or parenting, or retirement, or whatever else might be on his mind. I’m still amazed at some of the stuff he says, but I’ve noticed a mellowing that gives him a very wise perspective. He and his wife, Ms. Carolyn (I’ll have to write a blog about her later – she certainly deserves one!) are still living life to the fullest, whether it’s road trips to Georgia games or spending time with their grandkids, and that life yields some wonderful observations about what it means to be human.

I drink it up when I can.

I’m going back and reading this as I type it, and I know I’m not really nailing the man down. But even if I tried, I don’t think I could; this is man who defies easy description. Just as I could never write the definitive profile of my dad, I don’t think I could for Mr. Ron, either.

But I can tell you that he’s impacted me. Taught me to look beyond the usual categories and behaviors that we often use to organize the people in our lives. Taught me that people don’t have to believe as me in order to be decent, kind, wise people. Taught me that, come heck or high water, you stay faithful – to your wife, your team, and yourself.

For those reasons and a host of others, I want to wish Mr. Ron a happy Father’s Day. And I want him to know that I love him, and – as always – wish him and Ms. Carolyn the very best.

And if you know SLICK, you wish him the same things too.

Father and Son


Three generations of Brooks men (with a Brooks female). We continue this legacy now with my dad, me, and my son, Jon.

This has been a hectic week: it’s the annual Vacation Bible School for my church, which means I have been parading around for about 200 kids, leading them in silly songs and dances and offering my public humiliation as an incentive for them to give towards a worthy cause. The VBS curriculum calls my position, “Worship Rally Leader.” I prefer to think of myself as “Big Stupid Man.”

(Sidebar: chances are I’ll have some great pictures to post tomorrow of said public humiliation, which in this case would be the kids getting to dump chocolate syrup on me and then throw flour in my face.)

However, my role also means that I’ve gotten to work with my father every day so far this week. My dad is the sound engineer for the entire week, so that means he’s responsible for pushing play on the DVD or moving the PowerPoint slides along while I’m speaking. It also means that he has my very life in his hands, because I’m completely reliant on the sound/projection system for making Worship Rally fun and engaging. Fortunately, my dad is really good at that stuff.

So for me, it’s been a treat. Granted, we’ve been separated by the walls of a soundbooth, so it’s not like we’ve been arm in arm singing Kumbaya around the campfire. But it’s been nice to know that my dad has been my partner.

It’s also been amazing, as a son, to give direction to my father and watch him humbly take it. Now, if you know my dad, you have no reason to expect otherwise; he is one of the most gracious and humble men you could ever hope to meet, the kind of guy that would rather serve than star (which is why he gravitated towards the sound booth).

But I also know that it can’t be easy when the kid you raised starts telling you what to do and when to do it. I mean, the man literally wiped my bottom until I learned to do it myself – so it has to be a little weird for me to suddenly become the expert on something. Yet he simply listens intently, smiles, and says, “Not a problem. I’ll handle it.”

If you’ve ever worked with another human being, you know how precious those words can be.

Which makes it all the more gratifying to hear them from my father because he, of all people, would be justified in copping an attitude with me. He could reference any number of embarrassing anecdotes from my childhood, or pull some other time-tested parental card on me, but he doesn’t. He just works with me, making me look good, making the few minutes a day we’re partners work seamlessly.

And like any good production guy, nobody thanks him. Nobody comes up to him and says, “Great job of balancing that split track!” or “Mr. Rickey, I love the way you play DVDs.”

I get all the glory, but all the credit belongs to him.

Which makes me all the more thankful, as we approach this Father’s Day weekend, that I have him in my life. That I can work with him, talk to him, give him orders, ask him for advice, or just wordlessly stand in the sound booth with him. Even when we don’t say anything, a lot is still spoken between us.

Which is how I know that this weekend will be tough for him. Not only are he and my mom volunteering to keep my kids so Rachel and I can celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary, but this will also be his first Father’s Day without his dad. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that my dad’s dad, my grandfather, Harold Brooks, passed away last year on August 29th. So the past nine months have been difficult because it’s brought all of the firsts after his death – Thanksgiving and Christmas were rough; so was Pop’s birthday in April.

So this weekend will be challenging.

I’ll most likely never see him shed a tear. At most, he’ll probably mention something about Pop in passing, or when he thinks nobody’s really listening. My dad is not one for working his grief out in public. I respect that.

But since I am, I just want him to know that I love him. That I am grateful to have him in my life, and in the lives of my children. I am grateful that when my kids hear the word “Poppy” they light up as if you’d just told them Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were break dancing in the kitchen.

Most of all, I am grateful that a long-standing family tradition of a son loving his father and grandkids loving their grandfather, will continue unabated this Sunday.

It is our legacy.

It is our gift.

Check Out This Guest Post…by ME!

Yup, my friend, Dawn Hood asked me to write the Father’s Day post for her blog, My Sentiments Exactly…

You may remember Dawn from her guest post on this blog, so please show her some link love and send traffic her way.

I’ll post something on here tomorrow (maybe) about Father’s Day and my grandfather. I’m trying to find the right words after seeing him tonight. It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling.

Also, I’m going to be traveling the next week, so the blogs may be few and far between. Just depends.

Happy Father’s Day to all you fellow dads out there!