Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Holidays Dadlosophites

Given that Christmas is now less than a week away, I wanted to use this post to wish everyone a joyous season. However, the phrase "Happy Holidays" just seems too general. No, in an effort to be more personable and yet remain politically correct (because we all know how horrible it would be if one failed to be politically correct), I just want to take a moment to wish all of you the best holiday season ever in the language that means most to you. So, here we go:

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah!

Rockin' Kwanzaa!

Blessed Eat a Red Apple Day (No kidding, it was December 1)

Joyous Ira Gershwin's Birthday (anyone named Ira could really use the encouragement)

Happy Frank Sinatra's Birthday (I plan on celebrating this one My Way)

Glorious Holy Crap You've Maxed Out Our Credit Cards Day

Prosperous I Spent All That Money to Watch My Kid Play with the Box Day

Happy Honey the Teenagers in the Neighborhood Rearranged Our Lighted Reindeer to Make Them Look Like They're Humping Again Day.

A Bearable I Think I'll Have More Vodka So I Can Tolerate My In-laws Day (This one is actually observed over an entire week.)

Joyful Oh Look, Uncle Fred is Burping Jingle Bells after Christmas Dinner as Usual Day

A Memorable Oh Great, My Kid Just Peed in Santa's Lap Day

A Relaxing Don't Put Your Freakin' Packages in Your Car and Make Me Think You're Pulling Out of Your Parking Space Only to Remain Parked and Return to the Mall Day

Festive Atheists Who Don't Believe in Anything But Still Want Someone to Give Them a Present Day

and the Hap-Hap-Happiest New Year you've ever had!

Joyous Holidays, Everyone! I hope it's a wonderful season for you and your family!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Different Kind of Christmas

"Daddy, can you help us find Sam?" Sam is the Elf on our shelf that arrives at our house every Thanksgiving and then proceeds to reappear in a different spot every morning through Christmas Eve. Every day, it's the kids' job to try and find where Sam is hiding.

At night, Sam flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa on the kids' behavior and enjoy a beer with his little elf buddies. I'd imagine it's a pretty good gig if you're an elf. At least it's better than being shut up in a workshop 24/7 and forced to crank out toys at a production rate second only to the Chinese.

Still, Sam has to sit still all day. I figure that's gotta be tough. However, I do have my suspicions that Sam doesn't really stay put. I'm pretty sure he gets up and moves around when no one's home. Just the other day, I came home to find that my laptop had been tampered with. Someone had been Googling pictures of Tinkerbell while I was out. I don't have hard evidence, but I'm pretty sure I know who the guilty party might be.

Anyway, Sam's mischief aside, this year looks to be a very special one for the Howard household and a very different kind of Christmas. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my last post, Meredith and I are adopting twin baby boys from Ethiopia. Our initial trip to Africa was awesome! We stayed in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and had the chance to see much of the countryside as we drove five hours to Hawassa, site of our sons' orphanage. Meredith and I absolutely loved the Ethiopian people. Despite the fact that there is much poverty and most of the people there have 100Xs less than even your poorest Americans, the Ethiopian citizens we encountered seemed happy, full of faith, and very grateful.

Most encouraging, our sons, Samuel and Asher (their Ethiopian names are Abenet and Afework)appeared happy, healthy, and well-cared for by their nannies. When we arrived at the orphanage, we were warmly welcomed, presented with a gift, and honored with a "coffee ceremony." (Ethiopia grows some of the best coffee in the world, and coffee is a part of many Ethiopian ceremonies).

Then, we met our boys. It was an amazing moment. Finally, our sons were no longer merely photos sent to us over the Internet. They weren't simply stories we were told by an adoption agency caseworker or official forms to be signed as part of an administrative process. At last, they were real. They were little hands to be held, little cheeks to be caressed, little smiles to laugh at the sight of, and little ears in which to whisper the words, "I love you." After thousands of miles and countless prayers, we were holding our boys. We were finally kissing them, tickling them, and making ridiculous goo-goo faces at them. All the while, Samuel and Asher kept looking up at me wide-eyed, as if thinking, "Holy Crap! Dad's white!"

One of the most moving parts was when the director of the orphanage told us Samuel and Asher's story. They had been born in a hut in rural Ethiopia. Their mother, sadly, died giving birth to them. Their father, a very poor man who suddenly found himself facing the prospect of raising his two older children without a mother, could not raise the twins. Distraught by his wife's death, he relied on an uncle to call the orphanage and ask them to take the boys. Born premature and fighting just to stay alive, Samuel and Asher arrived at the orphanage at a mere 4 lbs. each, with umbilical cords still attached. Rushing against time, the orphanage got them to the hospital as quickly as possible. The nannies blew on the babies' faces to keep them awake, lest they fall asleep and never awake.

Samuel and Asher's last name in Ethiopia means "God is with us." The care givers at the orphanage told us that they cried out to God collectively for days, reminding God of the meaning of the babies' name, and calling on Him to be with them. God heard their prayers! Miraculously, Samuel and Asher survived. They are the orphanage's miracle babies--and ours. Surely, God must have something very special planned for these boys.

The only downside of the trip is that we could not yet bring Samuel and Asher home. That privilege is reserved for later this month. Meredith will return to Ethiopia with my father and our seven year old daughter Emerson (a.k.a., Assistant Mommy). There they will appear at the U.S. Embassy to sign paperwork and bring my sons to the United States. I'll stay back with William, Carson, and my mom.

Unfortunately, we'll be apart on Christmas Day. But whenever we're tempted to get a little sad about not being together on Christmas, we remember the reasons. Our kids remember that Mommy is going to Africa to bring home the best Christmas gift ever: their new baby brothers. Meredith and I remember that loving an orphaned child (or children) makes Jesus smile; and what better way to celebrate his birthday than to do the very thing that would make him happiest. And we all remember that the separation is only for a few days. God-willing, we will all be together again by New Year's Eve.

Yes, it's going to be a very different kind of Christmas. But it's going to be the most memorable and blessed one we've ever had too. So please say a prayer for Samuel and Asher. Pray that they will continue to grow healthy and strong. Pray that Meredith and I will have the wisdom and spirituality to raise them the way they deserve. And pray that my new young sons can somehow deal with the fact that, "Holy Crap! Dad's white!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ethiopia, Here We Come!

Hello friends and loyal dadlosophites! I am writing this entry rather quickly from a coffee shop in Washington, D.C. Meredith and I arrived yesterday on the first leg of a long trip. In a few hours we will board a plane for Ethiopia. We have a twenty-hour flight ahead of us as we go to Africa to meet the twin baby boys we are adopting.

If all goes as planned, we will make a seven-hour drive from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to the orphanage where our sons are living on Tuesday. Then, on Friday, we go before an Ethiopian judge, hopefully to be awarded custody. Unfortunately, we do not bring our boys home right away. Next begins a month-long process of paperwork, during which Meredith and I will return to the states until time to return and pick up our sons in late December.

It's crazy! It's exciting! It can even be challenging. You go through a lot when you're trying to adopt. There's a ton of paperwork, a massive amount of financial expense, and (when adopting from Ethiopia) quite a bit of distance one has to travel to bring home their child/children.

"So why do it, Kindred," you may ask. "You and Meredith already have three beautiful kids. You have a great family. You're happy. Why spend all that money? Why put up with all the administrative headaches associated with gathering paperwork, passports, tax records, and so on? And, for goodness sakes, why get all those shots to protect you from diseases you usually only hear about on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel? Most of all, why risk it? Aren't you worried that you might mess up the kids you've got? Don't you think you should devote your full attention to them and that this will only take away from all you and your wife should be doing to ensure they have a fulfilling childhood? Shouldn't all that money you're spending on an adoption go towards Emerson, William, and Carson's futures? And what about possible issues? What if these kids you're adopting have inherited diseases, mental problems, don't adjust well, and so on? C'mon, man; what are you thinking?"

Well, I'm sure I'll get deeper into our reasoning in the weeks to come as I get to know my new sons and have more time to write (fighting the clock a bit today). But here's some short answers.

1)Why do it? -- It's right. God is described in Psalm 68 as a "Father to the fatherless." Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that "as we do unto the least of these, so you do unto me." The Bible repeatedly tells us to remember the orphans and widows. And, let us not forget, of all God's kids, only one is begotten. The rest? All adopted if you believe the Bible. Oh, and any distance we're having to travel or trouble we're encountering is a lot shorter and easier than the distance Jesus had to travel to reach and save us so that we could be part of his family.

For me, the answer to "Why do it" goes back to the fact that I'm a Christian. I claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. 'Nuff said. Of course, many Christians say that they "don't feel called to adopt." Hey, it ain't my place to judge; especially since many of these people exhibit Christ-like qualities that far outshine my sinful example. But I will say this: The math doesn't seem to add up. God calls all Christians to remember the orphans, but most Christians don't feel called to give an orphaned child a home. Something to ponder, eh?

2) Why Spend the Money? -- Trust me, I've asked this one more than a few times. But the truth is, I believe this is why God gives me money. God hasn't blessed Meredith and I so that we can read monthly statements showing a growing IRA or other retirement account (although I do believe in saving). No, he has blessed us so that we can put the money towards His purpose. "A Father to the fatherless." I think God wants us using our resources to adopt these orphaned boys, not planning our dream home or the trips we'll take one day when we retire (although it will sure be cool if we get to enjoy those things too.)

3) What About the Kids We Already Have? -- What about them? They're excited about 2 new brothers from Africa. And you know what I've seen? They are more selfless and more conscious of God and what it means to care about and love others since we started talking about the adoptions. Yep, lots of money saved for college is nice (and is still a goal of mine). But I'd rather my kids value the lives of these two Ethiopian boys and see parents who live out their convictions, not just talk about how much they admire other people who do.

4) What About Health and Other Issues? -- What? Our twin sons don't need a mom and dad if they have health issues? In fact, wouldn't they need the love and support of a family even more if they have health concerns. And, if they are going to have health issues, how much more does God expect Meredith and I to be there for these kids. As for issues, the fact of the matter is this: We all have issues! Heck, I hope the twins do have issues. If they don't have issues they won't fit in with our family. In fact, don't give us kids with no issues--we'll only mess 'em up.

There's tons more I want to, and eventually will, say. But for now, so long. We're off to Africa. I'll shoot out my next post when I return (probably just before Thanksgiving) and give you an update. Take care and, if you're a prayer warrior, say one for us. We'd really appreciate it. In the meantime, look for ways to remember the orphans and widows (and sick, and poor, and hurting...) Don't forget, your adoptive Father is watching.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Parenting Style? More Like Parenting Philosophy

This week's dadlosophy is a bit different. Rather than sitting at my own kitchen table, in my office, or at the local coffee shop, I'm sitting in a room full of fellow bloggers at Atlanta's WXIA television studio. No, I haven't been called here to be interviewed on live television (hard to believe they would miss such an opportunity, I know). Nope, I've been invited to participate in a blog off.

What is a blog off? Well, it basically involves a bunch of mommy and daddy bloggers sitting around and blogging about our parental lives. After an hour and a half, judges will come around, read our blogs, and judge us. What happens if our blog falls flat? Personally, I think the losers should have to take the winners' kids for a week. Now that's a blog off!

We've been given several topics we can choose from. Topic one, My Scariest Moment as a parent. That's kind of like blogging about my goofiest moment as a teenager. Too many to choose from--next topic.

Next, How My Child Surprised Me. Again, hard to narrow down. Throw in the fact that many of those "surprising moments" nearly resulted in my needing therapy, caused me to have a life-threatening rise in blood pressure, or cost me enough money to bring tears to my eyes, and I'm pretty certain that I don't care to relive any of them again for fear that it may lead to the need for some really expensive medications. Pass.

The topic I've chosen is HOW I FIRST REALIZED MY PARENTING STYLE. Hmmm... interesting question. First of all, what is a parenting style? I'm not totally sure. Haven't really thought about it before. I would describe what I have as more of a parenting philosophy. I realized pretty early on that it is important to be my kids' dad, not their buddy. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with my kids and having fun together. I get a kick out of playing games, wrestling on the living room floor, throwing the ball in the backyard, and doing silly dances with my daughter to whatever is playing on the kitchen radio. But, at the end of the day, what my kids need most from me is leadership, not another pal.

I can't necessarily think of one moment at which I came face-to-face with this realization. Rather, it's more like a series of moments that continue to occur. Take, for instance, the other night. The kids and I had just finished dinner and were engaged in one of our fairly common post-meal wrestling smack downs. They were winning, but they also cheat. They call for Mommy every time Daddy starts to win. Anyway, they were laughing and thoroughly enjoying themselves when my supervisor (a.k.a., Mommy) walked in and announced, "Okay everyone, time for bed." Noticing that the kids didn't seem to notice, Meredith gave it another go. "Did you guys hear me? I said the wrestling match is over, time for baths and bed." This time, my kiddos jumped up and proceeded running around the house, thinking that it would be funny to tease mommy.

It's at moments like these that a parent has to ask him or herself a question: What do my kids need me to be right now? The answer (as I see it)is AUTHORITY FIGURE. Not that my wife wasn't more than capable of corralling this rowdy herd of little Howards, but since I was the one who'd gotten them so wound up, I felt that I needed to be the one to reel 'em back in. I stood up and, in a calm but firm voice, called my kids. Realizing Dad meant business, Emerson, William, and Carson, stopped their running and, still smiling, made their way into the living room. Were they scared of me? No. Did they know Daddy was serious? Yes. They could tell that Daddy had just flipped the switch. I had transitioned out of "let's have fun" mode into "Authoritative Leader" mode. After apologizing to Mommy, my kids went upstairs.

That's a good illustration of my parenting style/philosophy. In a word, it's leadership. More specifically, CONFIDENT LEADERSHIP. I believe kids need parents to be comfortable in their role as an authority figure. Sadly, many parents today don't feel confident. They feel that they are doing something wrong or destructive by being in charge. But kids need direction. They need firmness. They need discipline (which entails a lot more than punishment). And, yes, they need Mom and Dad to decide for them what is best--at least when they're as young as my kids.

Be confident leaders Moms and Dads. Be comfortable being in charge. Believe it or not, your kids want you to clearly define the boundaries. They don't need an adult buddy, and you shouldn't over concern yourself with whether or not your kids always like you. Nope, in fact, being a good parent often means loving your kids enough to let them NOT like you for a while. The coolest part is that, if you do fulfill your authoritative role, you'll probably find that your kids are so secure and happy that you're all having more than enough fun to go around. And that's a pretty good prize too, even if some blogger won't take your kids for a week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Your Child's Greatest Need

Last Friday, I arrived home after a long day at a seminar in Atlanta. I'd left early in the morning, before my wife and kids were up, and returned roughly around dinner time. As I pulled into the drive, my children rushed to the car to meet me. They were excited to see Dad and immediately started bombarding me with information. I was glad to see my kids. I gave them all hugs and listened with "fascination" as William described how he'd skateboarded down the sidewalk without falling and Emerson shared about the sleepover she'd been invited to that weekend.

As my little paparazzi followed me, begging for my attention and expecting me to stop, I slowly kept moving as I said things like, "Really?... That's wonderful, Buddy..." and, "Sounds awesome, Emerson..."

Entering the house, I found my wife, Meredith, cooking dinner. She was wearing a sweatshirt and pajama pants. Her hair was pulled back in her customary "mommy pony tail." It was obvious from her appearance that she'd been tending to household responsibilities and kids all day. In other words, she looked beautiful as always.

It's then that I did the most important thing any father can do when he gets home at the end of the day. I turned to my children (whom I dearly love) and said, "Guys, I want all of you to go outside and play while Daddy and Mommy talk for ten minutes." That's right; I sent my children away so that I could have a few moments alone with my wife.

Why? What deep thing did I need to discuss with Meredith? What important issue demanded that we talk right away without the kids around? Absolutely nothing. The fact of the matter was, I just wanted to see my wife and have some time alone with her. I hadn't seen her all day, and I wanted to find out how she was doing.

Often, when I write 'Dadlosophies,' I make reference to how important it is that we spend time with our kids and not let the concerns of life crowd out what's most important--our families. I especially think that this is valuable advice for dads, who are often busy pursuing careers and have a tendency to define themselves by what they do for a living. We're usually the ones who can most easily make the mistake of defining what it means to provide for our families in material rather than spiritual, emotional, and developmental terms.

But even parents devoted to spending time with their children can fall into a dangerous and potentially destructive pattern (destructive for the marriage and the kids, themselves). If not careful, our homes can become kid-centric rather than marriage-centric. One of the dangerous trends I often see developing in families is when our households all-to-easily end up revolving around the children instead of the marriage. Before we know it, we parents wake up and realize we've become mommy and daddy first and husband and wife second. Mom's life is more about caring for the kids than being what her husband needs. Dad comes home and immediately engages the children rather than first making sure his wife is okay and connecting with her.

Here's the deal: Your child's greatest need (outside of a relationship with God) is a strong, loving marriage between Mommy and Daddy. Nothing--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING--makes a child feel safer and more secure than seeing that Mommy loves Daddy more than anything or anybody, and absolutely no one (not even his own child) holds a candle to Mommy in Daddy's heart. As my new friend and nationally renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond, puts it: "Mommy and Daddy HAVE A RELATIONSHIP with their child, but they are IN A RELATIONSHIP with one another." Translation: I'm my wife's husband first and my kids' dad second. Meredith is my wife first and my kids' mommy second. Our home must revolve around our relationship as husband and wife, not our kids' schooling, extracurricular activities, children's "needs" (which often are just wants), and so on.

Yes, I take time every day to spend with my children. Of course there are times when the kids get and even require our full attention. But Meredith is number one. In fact, it's no contest. When Meredith is talking to me, the kids know that they are not to interrupt. When I come home at the end of the day, I want to (and will) see my wife first. I'll take some time to play with my kids, but not until after I get quality time with Mommy. And when there is an issue that involves disobedience or requires discipline, the kids know that Mommy and Daddy stand united. We back each other up and trust each other's judgment. Trying to play us against one another is a crucial and, as my children have learned, potentially fanny-painful error.

Does that mean Meredith and I always agree? No. But we act like we do in front of the kids, then discuss any differences of opinion behind closed doors. In short, the most important relationship in the home is NOT parent-child, it's husband-wife. Our children are NOT the center of the household universe, Mommy and Daddy are.

What about your home? Is it kid-centric or marriage-centric? Does your kids' world revolve around your marriage, or do you and your spouse continually neglect each other because of the kids' activities, the children's "needs," or some unhealthy cultural standard you've bought into that erroneously suggests your worth as a parent is gauged by how much time you devote to your children or how much you've helped them accomplish in comparison to other kids?

If your kids are the center of things, then you're setting them up for failure. What happens when they get out in the real world and are met with the harsh realization that things don't revolve around them? What happens when your child, who is used to being waited on, catered to, or given precedence over everybody and everything gets married one day and is disappointed to learn that his or her spouse falls short of adequately "meeting their needs?" Can you say 'divorce after only a year or two of marriage?'

Nope, best thing you can give your kids is a strong marriage and a sober realization that they aren't the main player. Trust me, they'll be more secure and comfortable in that role, and it will provide them with a good, realistic assessment of themselves. One that will better equip them to interact with others, have strong relationships, and do well in life once all is said and done.

And moms, don't buy the lie that the best mothers pour tons of time and attention into their kids. No, the best moms are the ones who teach their kids to be people of character, to care about others, and to fend for themselves because they'll have to in the real world. This means occasionally REFUSING to do for your children, insisting they solve certain problems on their own, requiring them to do some chores around the house, not being afraid to lead and discipline your kids, and sometimes reminding your precious little angels that they aren't anything special rather than constantly shining a spotlight on every little thing they do as if it were some earth-shattering accomplishment. (A dose of humility will serve kids well, don't you think?)

So parents, show your kids some love. Send them away while you hug each other, kiss each other, compliment each other, and ask each other about your days. Chances are, there's a little kiddo who'll be peeking in, smiling, and feeling happy and secure in the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy love each other more than anyone else in the world--even the kids.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Life's Hectic--Take a Break

Life's hectic. There's work, life's daily odds and ends, marriage, and--if you are as blessed as Meredith and I--the parental bliss of children all requiring an adult's time and energy.

As a freelance writer, I'm constantly either engrossed in a project or immersed in the pursuit of the next available job. I don't have the security that comes with knowing an employer is depositing a paycheck every 2 weeks. Nope, I don't make any money until jobs are done. Oh, and did I mention that there are no jobs unless I go out and round 'em up? Given that my family has grown accustomed to eating, living in a house, and using electricity pretty much every day, you can imagine how much work and the pursuit thereof can--if left unchecked--totally dominate my schedule.

In addition, Meredith and I just learned last week that we have officially been approved to adopt twin boys from Ethiopia. They're 4 1/2 months old and handsome little guys (nice to know they'll fit right in). But with all the joy and excitement that comes with knowing our family is about to expand, there also comes additional worries about finances, the future, and how to be a dad to five children. At times, I'm tempted to feel overwhelmed. One minute I'm looking at my new sons' pictures and thinking, "This is SO cool!" The next I'm sitting on the corner of the bed, rubbing my temples and trying desperately to go to my "happy place."

Just the other day I experienced such an anxious moment. I was working from home, running late on a deadline and thinking about the huge check I was about to write for our adoptions. The instability of our finances and the uncertainty of our future combined with the demands of work almost left me paralyzed. "What's the use?" I thought. "I just can't do it all. There's no way."

That's when my 3-year-old, Carson, came wandering into the kitchen where I was busy writing. Holding a half-eaten yogurt tube, he shuffled over to the table, totally oblivious to the fact that Daddy was working and had a few things on his mind.

"Daddy," he said, "will you swing me?"

At first I didn't answer, my mind was too busy dividing its time between focusing on the project at hand and worrying about where all life's twists and turns might be taking me.

"Daddy, will you swing me?"

"Huh, what's that, Buddy?"

"I asked you if you will swing me?"

Feeling a bit frustrated by the interruption, I looked up from my laptop, removed my glasses, and was about to politely inform my son that Daddy was very busy and that I might have time to push him on the swing later. Only, when I glanced down to see my little man looking up at me with a ring of yogurt around his lips, something in me clicked. Despite all the work to be done and worries I could choose to dwell on, I knew in that instant that the absolute best thing I could do was get up from the table, give my son a hug, wipe the yogurt from his grinning mouth, and take fifteen minutes to push him on the swing.

And that's what I did. I made the work and worries wait. It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining and the early fall breeze was blowing just enough to cause a few of the leaves above us to drift down from the multi-colored tree tops. My two older children were in school, so there was no one else there. It was just me and Carson.

With every "Higher, Daddy," that came from Caron's mouth, I pushed a little harder. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning with my son. We talked about all kinds of things. I tried to explain as best I could why birds fly, why dogs bark, and how come Mommy won't let Daddy talk whenever The Bachelor is on. Conversely, Carson explained to me why Iron Man is so cool, why he wants to be Lightning McQueen when he grows up, and why he thinks it should be socially acceptable to pee in one's pants if one is engaged in a fun activity and doesn't want to stop to use the bathroom.

After the swinging was over, I still had (or, should I say, made) a few minutes to spare. Carson and I walked around the yard, looking at leaves and bugs, kicking the soccer ball, and talking a bit more. All my attention was on my son. It was awesome taking a few moments to listen to what was on his little mind, talk to him about the simplest of things, and just connect with my little buddy.

When the fifteen minutes was over, we went inside. Carson gleefully returned to what he'd been doing, and I went back to my work. But my attitude was totally different. Instead of feeling stressed or anxious, I felt at peace and happy. The moments with my son reminded me that my life is going just fine. I'm married to the woman I love the most in the world. My children love me and are happy and healthy. And Meredith and I are about to fulfill our years-long dream to adopt. Sure there are some unknowns. Aren't there always? But, overall, my life is pretty awesome. Truth is, most of the time when I get anxious it isn't because of any actual problem. Rather, it's because I'm not trusting God enough to take care of me and my family--even though He's never failed to do so. (Go figure.)

I share this simple account simply to make this point: Life will always be hectic. You have to MAKE YOURSELF TAKE A BREAK! Slow down and spend some simple but meaningful time with your kids in the backyard. We run ourselves nuts, bouncing from job to home and to activity, after activity, after activity. Why? Because we're concerned about the future? Because that's the way our culture tells us parenthood is supposed to be done?

Yes, we need to be responsible, work hard, and do our best to provide for our kids' futures. But what about today? If we're waiting for the schedule to let up so that we can play with our kids or talk about why Iron Man is cool, then guess what--you're going to be waiting a long time. Maybe too long. Maybe so long that, by the time you decide you're ready to take a break and push your kid on the swing, you'll turn around to find that he or she has already grabbed the car keys and is out the door.

Slow it on down, guys. There's likely a little boy or girl looking up at you and saying, "Daddy, will you swing me?" He or she might not be saying those exact words. In fact, he or she may not even be asking the question audibly. Maybe they're asking it with their eyes. Maybe they're asking it with that picture they drew for you at preschool. Maybe they're asking it as they kick a football or play in the sandbox all by themselves, hoping Daddy will emerge for even just a few minutes to throw them a touchdown pass or assist them in building the world's greatest sand castle.

Yes, I've got a lot to do. I've got responsibilities that require me to work and market my business. I've got bills that need to be paid and financial concerns that sometimes weigh on me. But I've learned that I will always have responsibilities and things to be concerned about. I owe it to my kids--and myself--to put them aside for a few minutes every day so that I can play a quick game of baseball, push someone on the swing, or marvel at a trick one of my kids has been practicing just so they can show Daddy. If we're not careful, we parents might get so distracted by the fact that life is hectic, that we forget to enjoy the fact that life's pretty good too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Big V

In a couple of weeks, I'll turn 42 years old. I have a beautiful wife and three awesome kids. Add the fact that Meredith and I are currently in the process of adopting one (possibly two?) children from Ethiopia, and I will soon be the father of four.... possibly five. Yes, I said FIVE!! How can we afford it? Well, for starters we'll just have to draw straws to see who gets to go to college. Blue straw, you go to a state-supported university and pursue a career. Red straw, you learn to wait tables and say things like, "Thank you, please come again."

But seriously, given that our soon to expand family seems to be nearing completion (although with the Howards you never know), I finally had to acknowledge that the time had come for Kindred to take a huge step. Knowing that we would still want to have sex but not wanting to cast our own production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Meredith and I decided that yours truly should get the Big V--a vasectomy! And so, last Friday morning, I dropped my daughter off at school and set off to the doctor's office to break ties with my little swimmers.

Why a vasectomy? Well, there's a few reasons. First and foremost, a vasectomy is a lot safer and offers a much easier recovery time for a man than other procedures offer for a woman. Plus, my wife has already experienced three miscarriages, carried three children to term, and undergone three C-sections; so any suggestion by me that she be the one to undergo surgery could very well have led to a physical assault and the implanting of a large object up one of my bodily cavities. Thus, I decided to do the considerate (and safer) thing; I agreed to the vasectomy.

Just in case you're wondering, vasectomies aren't fun. In fact, I'd put them right up there with that exhilarating prostate exam your doctor performs every time you go in for a check-up. You know, the one where your physician puts on a latex glove, douses his finger in petroleum jelly, then tells you to bend over and "try not to move." He then proceeds to ask you how your weekend was while going the wrong way up what God definitely intended to be a one way street. All the while you're trying not to sing like Julie Andrews and praying it will soon be over.

Anyway, my appointment started out easy enough. I filled out the normal paperwork, answered the normal questions, flashed my insurance card... all the usual stuff. Then, the doctor came in. He asked me a couple of questions to make sure I understood the permanency of what I was about to do. He then told me to disrobe from the waist down and promised he'd be back soon.

There I was, lying on the table, my little buddies left hanging. I felt like a sentence with dangling participles. Then, without a word, a nurse walked in carrying a tray of surgical instruments. She set down the tray, marched straight to the table, grabbed my special places, and began spraying them with something cold. "Whoa!" I thought,"How about a little conversation first, Honey. At least tell me if you like moonlit nights and walks on the beach." Then, once our 'first date' was over, the nurse told me to wait on the doctor who would be in shortly. (Like I was going anywhere.)

I then proceeded to lie on the table for over thirty minutes waiting on the doctor to arrive. At one point, a tiny Hispanic woman I'd never seen before walked in the room, looked right at my testicles and said, "I here to get cotton balls." She then rambled something off in Spanish while searching the cabinets above me. Looking for her supplies, she seemed totally undaunted by the fact that my little Taco Bells were jingling just a few feet away. Trying to play it cool, I just hummed something while wondering to myself where a guy goes to apply to get his dignity back.

Finally, the doctor arrived. Of course, thanks to modern medicine, I didn't feel any of the cutting. The tugging and squeezing, however, were another story. At one point, I thought the doctor was under the impression that he was rolling dice in Vegas. I kept expecting to hear him yell, "C'mon seven!" at any moment. A couple of times, my toes curled up so tight that they could have broken a drum stick in half.

Still, overall, the procedure went well and only took about ten minutes. No unusual side effects. On the up side, getting the Big V at least afforded me a built in excuse to lie on the couch all day Saturday watching college football. Sure I had to do it with a bag of ice on my balls, but hey, no scenario is perfect.

And so I've crossed over. Meredith and I have closed the door on having biological children. Any future kiddos will arrive via adoption. Yes, it was a big decision and one we didn't make lightly, but it was the right one for us. We've been blessed with beautiful children. But there's a whole world of kids out there who've already been born but are in desperate need of a loving family to claim them, love them, and call them their own. As we prepare for a soon-to-be-taken trip to Ethiopia, we realize that this isn't the end of our new parenting adventures. Nope, it's just a change in course.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Assembly Required... Noooooooo!

It's been a while since my last dadlosophy; over a month in fact. My apologies to anyone who regularly reads my blog. I should have at least posted something to let you know what was going on.

The truth is, there's been a lot of activity in the Howard household over the last 6weeks. We've experienced sick kids, the start of a new school year, the arrival and departure of two foster children, a slew of deadlines for my writing business, and a wave of paperwork associated with our pending adoption from Ethiopia. In short, I've taken a few weeks off from writing Dadlosophies with one simple objective in mind: to maintain a shred of sanity.

But now I'm back! Yes, I can hear the sighs of relief and shouts of joy ringing across the blogisphere from the parental masses who wait anxiously every Monday for my words of wisdom. Okay, maybe not. But still, whether you care or not, I'm back on task and ready to share what I'm experiencing (and hopefully learning) as a modern-day dad.

The highlight of this past week was my son William's 5th birthday. Since William naturally gravitates towards sports, I decided to get him a basketball goal. You know the kind; one of those adjustable goals you can lower to seven feet so that five-foot-eleven white guys can dunk the ball as they show off their 4 inch vertical leap. Anyway, Meredith did her research and found a good one online. We ordered it and, fortunately, it arrived in plenty of time for William's big day.

There was just one problem. Like most products you order online, this basketball goal came in a box labeled with three words that typically strike feelings of dread or overconfidence into the hearts of dads like myself: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.

I'm not a natural assembler, so I definitely fall into the "dread" camp. Truth is, I have trouble putting a sandwich together without good instructions. I know that many dads are great at making things, assembling things, and fixing things. Not me. I take on building projects as a matter of necessity only. I find that my blood pressure, use of profanity, likelihood of throwing things, and tendency to threaten inanimate objects as if they were living beings, all increase significantly when I try to put things together. But, as a dad, you have little choice other than to occasionally construct things. Unless you've got enough money to buy everything pre-assembled or hire folks to do it for you, a young father quickly learns that it’s build or perish.

And so, I tackled putting together the basketball goal. Right away I knew I was in serious trouble. I emptied the box to find more bolts and screws than are normally kept in stock at your local Home Depot. It looked like R2 D2 had exploded in my garage. Remembering that you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time, I opened up the directions and got started. Only the directions didn't make much sense. The pictures weren't clear and the wording was slightly less understandable than the current U.S. tax code. Add the fact that I couldn't find half the tools I needed because they'd been commandeered by the children or my wife for purposes totally unrelated to their intended use, and you can imagine all the fun I was having.

As the evening progressed, my frustration grew more and more evident. Parts that wouldn't fit; steps I did wrong, then had to undo and redo; directions I couldn't understand; tools I didn't have... it was a regular fiesta. All that was missing was the tequila, a pinata, and a band of middle-aged Mexican guys doing their mariachi rendition of Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical" to make the evening complete. (I would have settled for just the tequila.)

Despite my prayer to remain cool and in control, it wasn't long before curse words began to fill my mind and,eventually, my mouth. It started out mild; a few d-words, a couple of "hells." After about an hour, however, I had moved on to the more advanced levels of profanity. I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm pretty sure I broke the world's record for the number of F-bombs launched at a partially assembled basketball goal within a three-hour period. All the while, I continually threatened to hunt down and kill the manufacturer who thought it was a great idea to sell people a "some assembly required" basketball goal with 8,000 parts (most of which are smaller than your thumbnail and perfectly designed to roll away unnoticed while you're busy throwing your screw driver and yelling "Where the hell is the spring that looks like the one in the picture!")

Meanwhile, because it was definitely a two-person job, my wife had to help me once the kids were in bed. With every wrongly attached screw, misinterpreted reading of the instructions, and difficulty holding a backboard steady so that the next bolt could be tightened, the strain on our marriage increased exponentially. While Meredith grew tired of my profane outbursts and enraged tirades against a basketball goal that couldn't even hear me threaten it with physical harm, I became resentful of Meredith's correction and couldn't understand why she kept messing up by doing what I said instead of reading my mind and doing what I actually meant.

After hours of frustrated labor, marital friction, and enough cursing on my part to make Whoopi Goldberg uncomfortable, Meredith and I finally got William's goal put together. No, it wasn't my finest moment. I'm ashamed of many of the things I said and the way I acted. A dad needs to be more mature than that. Still, the work, struggles, and effort it took to put my son's basketball goal together were worth it. After all, when you're a dad, that's what you do. You do things you normally wouldn't do simply because you love your kids and you want them to have the best 5th birthday ever. Next time, however, I think I owe it to God and my wife to make sure I buy something already assembled. Then maybe I won't curse or have to wonder what all these extra parts are for.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Braves Game

A couple of Friday nights ago, I took my son, William, to his very first Atlanta Braves baseball game. William loves the Braves. At just shy of five years old, he's too young to know all the players or understand all the ins and outs of baseball. But he loves playing catch in the backyard or hitting a few "home runs" with his plastic bat whenever Dad pitches him a few. All summer he'd been asking, "Dad, will you take me to a Braves game?" So, about a month ago, I called William into my office, sat him on my lap in front of the computer, and, together, we ordered tickets online for a Friday night game.

Part of me had reservations about going to a night game. I knew how badly it would mess up William's bedtime routine. One thing you learn as a parent: Don't screw with routines! Today's missed bedtime is tomorrow's emotional meltdown. Still, despite the risk, I elected to get tickets to an evening game. I wanted no part of sitting outside at Turner Field on a ninety-degree day. Atlanta summers are brutal. Satan himself won't visit Georgia in the summer time. Charlie Daniels doesn't bother to tell us what month the Devil actually went down to Georgia, but I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul that it wasn't in August. And so, I rolled the dice and bought tickets for a Friday night.

I've never been a huge Braves fan. In fact, I'm not a big baseball fan, period. I'm more of a football and college basketball kind of guy. But I knew it would be great to go to a Major League game with my kid. After all, what dad doesn't live to take his son (or daughter) to the ballpark, buy him (or her) a hot dog and a Coke, and then sit back and enjoy as the two of them watch the hometown team play baseball?

The night before the game, I ran by Wal-Mart and bought William a Braves hat. I could have waited and bought it at the game, but given that my son is too young to care, I decided I'd rather pay $7 than take out a second mortgage to pay stadium prices. I did, however, buy William his first Braves shirt at the game. After searching the racks to find something small enough to fit, we finally found a Brian McCann jersey that didn't totally engulf him. Donning his new Braves apparel, William strutted proudly alongside me as we made our way from the souvenir store to our seats along the first base line.

Unfortunately, there was a rain delay. Then, once the skies cleared, the Braves held a 1/2 hour ceremony to retire Tom Glavine's jersey. The first pitch wasn't thrown until after 9:30pm. Despite the rain and late start, William and I made the most of the down time. We ate pizza and hot dogs. I pointed out to William different features on the field and explained to him the significance of the retired jersey numbers that hung across the way. I also tried to answer some of his deeper questions like, "Why do catchers wear their hats backwards?" and "What do baseball players do when they have to poop during the game?"

Eventually, the game got under way. We lasted into the bottom of the 5th inning before William finally fessed up that he was tired and ready to go. We left with the Braves and Giants tied 1-1 and the vast majority of what appeared to be a sold out crowd still sitting in their seats, waiting to see how the game would turn out.

As we walked back to our car, the streets much less hectic than they were a few hours before, William reached up, took my hand, and said, "Thank you, Daddy, for taking me to the Braves game."

"You're welcome, Bud," I answered.

Once in our car, we listened to the game on the radio and recapped the best parts of the evening as we made the 45 minute trek back to Powder Springs. To my surprise, William DID NOT fall asleep on the ride home. I guess he was just too pumped. When we got to the house, Meredith walked out to meet us in the driveway. Although it was fast approaching midnight, she refused to go to bed without letting William have the chance to tell her all about his first Braves game.

Eagerly, William ran to his mother to display his new Brian McCann jersey. "See, Mom," he said, "I'm the Braves' catcher." Seeing William so happy and proud, Meredith couldn't help but get a little emotional. Her eyes actually teared up (much like mine did when I discovered that beers at the ballpark costs over $6). For the next fifteen minutes, Meredith and I sat in the kitchen and listened while William told his Mom all about the rain, the view from our seats, Chipper Jones hitting the ball, and how William, himself, is going to be an Atlanta Braves baseball player when he grows up. Then, it was off to bed.

As I helped William pull his sheets back and climb into bed, my son looked up at me and asked, "Daddy,can I sleep in my Braves shirt?"

"Sure, Sport," I answered. Then, taking William's Braves hat and placing it on his dresser next to the now used tickets, I tucked "Brian McCann" into bed, kissed my little baseball player on the forehead, and told him "Goodnight."

"Sleep, well, Bud," I said. Then, I turned to leave the room. Turning out the light I heard a small, tired voice say, "Daddy, can we go to another Braves game one day?"

"Sure, Son," I said, "We'll definitely go again."

"Good," William said, "I like going to Braves games with you."

"I like going with you too, Sport."

And, with that, I closed the door and we called it an evening--our first Daddy-William baseball game in the books. Unfortunately, we discovered the next day that Atlanta had lost to San Francisco 3-2 in extra innings. But that's okay. It was still my son's first Braves game. It's a night I'll always remember. I hope he'll always remember it too. And, who knows, maybe the next time we go, the Braves will win, the rain won't fall, we'll finally know what baseball players do when they have to poop during a game, and I'll be more emotionally prepared to pay over six bucks for a ballpark beer.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Let the Little Children Come (Just Don't Put 'em on the Front Row)

According to the Bible, there was an episode in which the disciples tried to prevent a group of little children from reaching Jesus. The scriptures say that Jesus rebuked the disciples, telling them to "let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."

Yesterday, as I sat in church with my wife and kids, it occurred to me why Jesus wasn't afraid to let the little children approach him. It's because Jesus had the power to cast out demons and banish them to hell. I, unfortunately, do not. Thus, unlike the Lord, I find it rather challenging to maintain a spiritual focus, resist sin, and stay close to God while being climbed on, clinged to, cried to, and screamed at by "unhindered" little folk who, based on every biblical description I've ever read, show all the signs of being possessed by spirits bent on destroying a father's righteousness.

How else do you explain the fact that I can read my Bible, pray, and feel enthusiastic about trying to live as a disciple of Christ first thing in the morning, only to find myself mumbling curse words and losing my patience before the clock even strikes noon. Jesus maintained his sinlessness after forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. I can't even make it through one breakfast during summer vacation.

Church, itself, is always an interesting adventure. Take, for instance, yesterday's worship. We got to church shortly after the service had started. By the time we arrived, the only seats left were on the front row. Just a heads up to anyone who serves as an usher at their church. If you're looking for a way to totally disrupt your church service and mess with whoever is speaking from the pulpit, make sure you reserve the front row for couples with four kids under the age of seven. Few things "encourage" a public speaker more than the sight of a four-year-old picking his nose or the sound of a tiny voice screaming, "My toy! My toy! My toy!" as one tries to welcome the congregation or help people commune with God in prayer.

Then, there's always the fun the song leader has as he attempts to lead the singing of "Blessed Assurance" while cheerios fly from the front seats. If you look closely you can see the beads of sweat forming on the poor, insecure soul's forehead as he mistakes the flying cereal of a toddler for the cruel heckling of some dissatisfied parishioner.

Perhaps the most fun was yesterday's Communion. As the young man doing the Communion message stepped to the mic to share thoughts intended to focus our hearts and minds on the sacrifice of our Lord, I tried to separate and scold arguing siblings as subtly as possible. While a more spiritual man than I was reminding the church of Christ's grace and forgiveness, I was preaching Old Testament to my kids, assuring them of the wrath and judgment to come if they didn't quit arguing, complaining, and pulling on one another's hair.

To my children's credit, they pulled it together--at least as much as kids that age can. After all, let's face it, while Communion is important and very meaningful to an adult Christian, it's basically a confusing snack time to small children. As a parent, I do my best to explain that Communion is when we symbolically partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But kids often don't get it. Once, when my son, William, saw how small the crackers and servings of juice were, he looked at me disappointed and said, "Jesus must have been really small."

Eventually, the length and the structure of the Communion service was too much for my three youngest. Despite their best efforts, the "demons" began to return, so I exited with them as unnoticed as I could into the foyer before the "bread and wine" were actually served.

Once out of the room, my boys and their little sister began running crazy, my calls of "Calm down!" going unheeded as rambunctious little gremlins zigged and zagged in and out of tables set with food for the post-service potluck lunch . Envisioning the lasagnas and chocolate cakes that would soon be on the floor if I didn't do something, I chased down my little ones while four-letter words that weren't "Amen" raced through my sinful mind. (Hey, I'm just being honest.) Then, finally cornering my kids at one end of the room, I maneuvered back and forth like a soccer goalie at the World Cup, preventing anyone under four feet tall from scooting past me until Communion was over and it was finally time for Sunday School.

In short, Church is not a relaxing, meditative, or reflective time when you have small kids. In fact, at times, you're tempted to wonder if it's counter-productive. The effort and stress of getting four kids fed, teeth-brushed, dressed, and out the door, combined with the energy and anxiety involved in trying to keep them in check during the actual service, often means that, by the time the sermon starts and my kids are in class, my heart and mind are actually filled with ten times more sin than when I woke up that morning. At the very least, it's enough to make me wish we served real wine during the Lord's Supper.

Still, I think church is worth it. It allows my wife and I to fellowship with friends and other parents like ourselves. It provides a place where we can get much appreciated help raising our children to know about and love God. Most of all, it's a family--God's family. We don't go and participate because it's easy or convenient (it's not). We also don't participate because of what the church can do for us or our family (although we do benefit, we occasionally get hurt too). No, we go because it's a place where God wants us to give. Just like I desire my kids to want to be around one another and show kindness and love to each other, God wants his children to do the same. The purpose of church is to go and serve others, encourage others, and be available to others. In a crazy way, even our struggles as parents help serve the church. For all I know, some other young couple with kids witnessed the madness we were dealing with yesterday and thought, "You know what, if they can do it, then we can too."

So we'll keep going to church. I'll keep trying to be more spiritual. We'll do our best to hold it together during Communion. And--God willing--the ushers won't put us on the front row.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Forget Relaxing, Just Build Memories

Ah, summer vacation. That much anticipated time of year when we pack up our kids,our bathing suits, enough beach toys to entertain even your larger Mormon sibling groups, and as much sunscreen as Mommy thinks necessary to prevent any sunlight from actually touching her children's flesh. This past week, the Howard clan embarked on just such an adventure. Longing to smell the salt air and feel the sand under our feet, Meredith and I piled our four kids into the minivan and took off for a week on the South Carolina coast.

One thing I've learned since becoming a dad: When you have small kids, vacations are about building memories--not relaxing. Before Meredith and I had children, vacations at the beach involved little more than sleeping, sunbathing, sipping drinks by the sea, and late night romantic dinners. Now they consist of trying to find a screaming child's lost flip-flop, prying a terrified three-year-old off your leg because you were dumb enough to take him too close to the ocean, and keeping vigil to make sure your children don't pee in the pool.

Perhaps the most fun is the hour it takes to get everyone's bathing suits and sunscreen on each time you want to go swimming. Our typical day went something like this: After fighting a kicking 18-mo-old to get her swim diaper on, we then spent the next twenty minutes corraling naked little people who thought it was more fun to jump on the beds nude than to get ready to go to the beach. Once we finally did get them dressed, the next thirty minutes were spent trying to spray and rub sunscreen on squirming midgets as they screamed things like, "Daddy, it hurts!... Daddy, its cold!... Daddy, I'm blind!..."

Finally, once Mommy was satisfied that the last child had been doused in enough 50-block to repel gamma rays, I'd carry my mentally drained self into the bedroom to put on my own swimsuit and sun tan lotion. Of course, just as we were about to leave for the beach, our senses picked up on the fact that the 18-mo-old had pooped in the previously clean swim diaper, putting the whole expedition on hold another ten minutes.

With the swimsuit and sunscreen wars won (or, at least, survived), we then made our way to the golf cart that we drove daily to the beach. Let me assure you, it's not easy fitting a family of six and enough beach paraphanelia to supply most surf shops onto a golf cart made for four. Loaded down with inflatable floaties, plastic buckets, boogie boards, plastic shovels, play boats, snacks, bottled waters, umbrellas, fold-out chairs, towels, and a whole host of other beach "necessities," we took off on the half-mile trek to the beach. With body parts and beach toys hanging over the sides, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on Spring Break.

After parking and walking what seemed like miles, we finally found a spot in the sand where we could situate ourselves. Of course, the fold-out chairs were mostly there for show. There wasn't much sitting down. That's okay. Memories aren't made sitting down. They're made as you play with your kids. Constantly in rotation, Meredith and I alternated between playing with our older two children in the waves and goofing off with our younger two in the nearby pools that formed at low tide. After a few hours, we loaded up our supplies and walked back across the beach, each step making it more and more evident that sand had managed to reach parts of our bodies that God never meant to get sandy.

So went most of our week. No, it wasn't relaxing. There was always an argument to referee, a float to blow up, a breakable object in the condo to protect, or a child to make sure didn't drown. But that's not to say that it wasn't fun. We went dolphin watching and, yes, saw a few dolphins. We played "golf" with a play set of clubs I bought at a local store. We stuffed ourselves with crab legs and enjoyed having the grandparents join us for a few days. We saw lots of deer, lots of pelicans, and even one large alligator. We ate ice cream--too much ice cream. And there was the anatomically educational moment in which my four-year-old son explained to his sister that boys are different from girls because boys have "a penis and tentacles."

So here's to summer vacations. One day, years from now, maybe there'll be relaxing again. For now, I'll just keep building memories. Something tells me that a time will come when I'll wish I still had that three-year-old clinging to my leg.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fireworks? Really?

Yesterday was the Fourth of July. Our nation's birthday. The day commemorating our founding fathers' adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our family celebrated the day the way most probably did. After having the neighbors over for a cookout, we all set off for downtown Powder Springs to watch the traditional fireworks.

Many people love going to watch fireworks. Me, not so much. In fact, when someone first suggested that we make the trek into town to watch fireworks, my first thoughts were, "Fireworks? Really?"

It's not the fireworks, themselves, that bug me; it's the hassle involved. It's not as simple as grabbing a blanket or some chairs, having a seat outdoors, and then relaxing. No, for us, such outings involve corralling four small kids, getting them out the door, and keeping tabs on them amidst a crowd of people who've been drinking beer all day and are prepared to fight you for any patch of ground that looks like prime firework-watching real estate. (Yes, I said four kids. Meredith and I just became foster parents to a beautiful 18-mo.-old girl named Nancy. I'm sure I'll have more to say about her in future Dadlosophies.)

Still, I agreed to go watch the fireworks because the kids wanted to. So, along with our neighbors, we loaded up the minivan and headed into downtown Powder Springs to do our patriotic duty.

I love my town. Powder Springs is your stereotypical, southern patriotic community. It's tailor made for the Fourth of July. Arriving just before dusk, we steered in and out of slow-moving traffic in search of a suitable parking space. Having viewed more gun racks and "American by Birth, Southern by the Grace of God" bumper stickers than most people see in a lifetime, we finally found a spot about a mile up the road from where we would eventually settle in to watch the display.

Hiking a mile while holding an 18-month-old, a 3-year-old's hand, and a fold-out chair is always a fun workout. It's especially entertaining when you do it on a hot, July afternoon in Georgia. Anyone who knows their history knows that the first shots of the Revolution were actually fired at Lexington and Concord during the spring of 1775. But the Second Continental Congress didn't adopt the Declaration until July 1776. I sure wish our founders had been either bolder or more patient. Why couldn't they have declared independence around early May. Didn't they consider how much more comfortable a cookout would have been in early spring as opposed to mid summer?

Or, if they weren't inclined to speed things up, why couldn't they have held off until mid-September or early October? Imagine how much more comfortable watching fireworks would be on a cool autumn evening. Oh well, I guess they signed the Declaration when they did because they wanted to adjourn and get home before football season started--a goal I can appreciate, so I'll cut 'em some slack.

As for our fireworks expedition, we somehow found an open spot near the center of the action with all our children present and accounted for. Of course, no sooner had we set up shop than my son, William, announced that he had to go pee. Apparently, William's bladder must have sent a text to his younger brother's because he followed suit and announced that he had to "pee willy bad, too." So, taking both my boys by the hands, I navigated further into the heart of the patriotic celebration.

I finally found the port-a-potties. Only, the line stretched about fifty people deep. Realizing that my boys would never make it, I led them off the beaten path to some woods a block or two off main street. Then, after giving them a moment to accidentally urinate on their own shoes and pull up their Lightning McQueen underwear,we headed back through the crowd. More bumping, pushing, navigating, and repeating again and again, "Excuse me." (Yay, what fun.)

Upon returning to our seat, we then began the fun task of trying to keep seven young kids entertained until the fireworks actually started. William kept begging to ride a ride. I didn't know there would be rides, so I'd brought no money. The people seated around us then got to enjoy being serenaded by William's cries of agony after I told him that there would be no ride. God bless America!

My daughter, Emerson, and her friend Joely passed the time arguing over a DS and taking turns informing us parents that they were bored and ready for the show to start. Carson, my youngest son, kept grabbing his private parts and asking,"Where's da fire walks, Mommy?" All the while, little Nancy sat in my lap eating popcorn and periodically spilling ice-cold water that inevitably reached Daddy's "special places." Yes, it was definitely a night that made me proud to be an American.

Finally, the fireworks started about twenty minutes late. It was a good show. Up until the grand finale when William and Carson dove under Meredith's chair terrified, everyone had a relatively fun time. Then, once it was over, thousands of viewers all packed up their belongings and made the hike back up the road to our cars. Again, we managed to keep everything together. Other than William not paying attention and running head first into a mailbox, we all made it back injury free.

After fighting more traffic, we finally got our little ones back home close to midnight. Both they and their daddy were beat. Oh well, at least it was a memory. All I can say is, I am grateful for my country and for the Founding Fathers who had the guts to declare independence--even if they did choose one of the hottest days of the year on which to do it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Trip to the Fishin' Hole

Last weekend, I took my boys, William and Carson, fishing for the first time. I’m not an accomplished fisherman. Most of the time, when I go on a fishing expedition, I return with little more than a few “the one that got away” stories and a bucket full of worms still grieving the fact that their brave comrades died in vain.
Still, I wanted to take my boys fishing.

So, last Friday, I loaded up my van and took William and Carson on a “guys’ weekend” to the North Carolina mountains. We stayed with my mom and dad, giving the grandparents some quality grandkid time. At night we’d sit around the cabin. As the grown-ups talked, William and Carson spent their time playing with the numerous toys Ma Ma and Pa Pa always keep on hand for them and begging Pa Pa to tell them stories about when he was a little boy.

During the day, while Ma Ma stayed back at the house, Pa Pa, the boys, and I would head out to tackle some nearby adventure. On Friday night we rode Pa Pa’s Gator up trails and around the mountain. On Saturday, we inner-tubed a portion of the New River that flows right by my parent’s property. Then, on Sunday, we loaded up the crew and drove an hour to Linville, NC, where my dad knew of a stocked trout pond.

Of course, a true fisherman is likely to scoff at the notion of fishing in a stocked pond. But keep in mind, my ultimate goal was to insure that my sons’ first taste of fishing was a successful one. They didn’t need to know that the game was fixed, I just wanted them to enjoy the thrill of pulling a fish out of the water.

We arrived just before noon. Already the sun was reaching its peak and beginning to beat down relentlessly. We doused ourselves in sunscreen, the boys donned their Spider-Man sunglasses, and we headed for the fishin’ hole. After grabbing a couple of miniature poles that seemed good fits for my sons, a bucket to hold the fish, a net, and some bait, we headed for the closest pond.

Looking into the shallow water, I could see that we were dealing with some sizeable trout. Part of me wondered if my boys would even be able to reel in such large fish. “Not a problem,” I thought, “Pa Pa and I are here to help.” I couldn’t wait to get the hooks in the water, hand off the poles to my sons, and enjoy watching the excitement on their faces as they landed their first fish.

Of course, one of the things you learn early on as a parent is that, while imagination is busy putting the finishing touches on your perfect plans, pending reality is often lurking somewhere in the background, laughing at you hysterically, and thinking to itself, "What an idiot!" No sooner had we taken up our position by the pond to cast our lines then William, my older son, suddenly became seized with horror. He’d seen one or two people pulling fish from the water as we made our way to the pond. The size of the trout coupled with their mad flailing was enough to make him fearful of these freshwater “monsters.” Taking his cue from his older brother, Carson also panicked and decided he wanted no part of this wildlife adventure.

And so, after days of exhibiting nothing but joyous anticipation regarding their first fishing trip, William and Carson refused to touch the fishing poles. Instead, what was meant to be their fishing expedition turned into me and my dad standing on the side of the pond casting Fisher-Price-sized fishing poles and trying to catch trout. Dad caught three large fish. I caught one and had one slip off my hook before I could get it in the net. William eventually did take the pole for a little while and rejoiced triumphantly when he managed to catch some moss. (Eat your heart out Captain Ahab.)

The funniest moment of the day came after my father had just caught his second fish. He unhooked what was the day’s largest catch and placed it in the bucket. Cautiously, but driven by curiosity, William and Carson approached to grab an up-close look at the large fish. No sooner had the two of them leaned their faces over to see Pa Pa’s latest capture, then that fish flopped up into the air, flailing wildly and almost flying out of the bucket. Terrified and no doubt seeing their short lives flash before their eyes, my boys unleashed screams that I’m sure echoed throughout the southern Appalachians. Startled, I turned from watching my fishing line to see William and Carson rushing for me in tears and yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, that fish was gonna eat us!”

No, it wasn’t the fishing outing I'd quite envisioned, but it was still a fun day and a great memory. Next year, maybe the boys will be up for casting a line, secure in the knowledge that trout are not flesh eaters. Oh well, good fishin’ or not, nothing beats time with my boys. To any dad who has a son, I would highly recommend taking a "guys' weekend." And, if you get a chance, hit a fishin’ hole.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Coffee Tastes Better in a #1 DAD Mug

One of the best things about becoming a dad is Father’s Day. When you’re a little kid, Father’s Day is about making a card out of construction paper and giving your father a really ugly tie. As you get older, you buy the card and try to show Dad you appreciate him by not asking for money or playing your music too loud for a whole day. After you leave home, you mail the card and make a phone call to tell him that you love him (although, admittedly, I have to confess that I sometimes forget to mail the card--sorry, Dad).

That’s if you’re fortunate and still have your dad. For some, Father’s Day involves laying a flower on a departed father’s grave site or thinking about the dad they never knew because he just wasn’t around.

Regardless of one's past experiences, Father’s Day becomes very special for a guy once he has kids. Now he’s the receiver as well as the giver. He’s the one who gets to drink out of a mug that reads #1 DAD. It’s up to him to look at a pre-K finger painting and decipher if it’s a picture of himself, himself with his child, or the Blob attempting to eat a rabid chimpanzee. Best of all, he’s the one who receives the big hugs and gets to hear, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you.”

One of my favorite traditions for Father’s Day is when my kids give me their gifts. I love it because they actually pick the gifts out themselves. Every year on gift-giving holidays, Meredith takes the kids to the dollar store or some other relatively inexpensive retail spot and lets them each pick out what they want to give Dad. Since the kids get to pick the gifts on their own, it’s always interesting to see what I’ll get. In my six plus years as a father, I’ve received multiple coffee mugs, pens, pencils, hi-liters, tape, and one bag of stickers. I’ve also covered my office in numerous, hand-drawn Father’s Day cards.

A couple of years ago, my daughter bought me a Spider-Man action figure complete with motorcycle because she remembered me saying that I liked Spider-Man as a kid. I have to admit, it was fun playing with it.

That’s one of the great things about being a father; you get to play with toys again without people thinking you need psychiatric help. Folks see you on the floor playing with an action figure or Hot Wheels cars, and they assume you’re just doing it to entertain the kids. They don’t realize that you’ve forgotten all about the children as you focus on your Lincoln Logs tower or build your army fort. As a dad, you know you’ve crossed the thin line between interactive parenthood and childhood digression when you find yourself getting angry at a child for presumptuously adding an unauthorized Lego to the wall you were constructing or rearranging the toy cars you just spent ten minutes organizing according to model and imaginary horsepower.

The catch is to make sure the kids don’t slip out of the room unnoticed while you’re busy making the world’s tallest building or flying the Millennium Falcon. Few things concern a wife more than the sight of her husband sitting on the floor of the living room alone, simulating crashing sounds as he flies toy planes into each other. When my wife noticed that I was still playing with my Spider-Man motorcycle ten minutes after all the children had left to play outside, she got a little worried. As a result, she established two new rules: No toys for Daddy on Father’s Day, and always keep a professional therapist on speed dial.

Eventually, I made William the official caretaker of my Spider-Man. But, occasionally, if I happen to notice it, I’ll give the Spider-cycle a spin and think, “Now that’s pretty cool.”

As for this year, well, it was special as usual. The kids showered me with hand-crafted gifts. My daughter, Emerson, even took the time to make a huge banner that read “Happy Father’s Day” and tied it to the upstairs banister. Overall, it was a great day. It reinforced what I already knew: Of all the roles I play in life and all the responsibilities I carry, there are none more special to me than those that accompany fatherhood. Make no mistake, coffee just taste better in a #1 DAD mug.

Monday, June 14, 2010

SORRY. No new Dadlosophies this week. I'm off enjoying some time with my wife, Meredith. Today is our thirteenth wedding anniversary. Thanks, Babe, for the last 13 years. Who knows what the next 13 will hold. There's got to be a special place in heaven (or a mental health facility) for a woman who can put up with me that long.

Look for my next post a week from today on Monday, June 21, by noon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

HELP! Calling All Mommies!

This morning's blog post is a bit different. Instead of using the opportunity as I usually do to comment on some aspect of parenting, vent like an emotionally unsettled patient spilling his guts to an online therapist, or share an account of Meredith and my adventures in Mommy and Daddy World, I'm taking the morning to put out a call for help to all the mommies who take time out of their busy and insane world to read Dadlosophies.

For over a year now, I have been working on a book that shares my experiences (and hopefully, a few insights) regarding parenthood. I guess you might consider it an extended version of my blog. But, to finish, I NEED SOME HELP FROM YOU MOMMIES! Specifically, I need to hear from you regarding any frustrations, emotions, feelings of appreciation, or feelings of confusion you felt towards your husband/baby's father during your pregnancy and/or during the first few months after baby arrived.

In other words, if you were sitting down with a bunch of your girlfriends as a pregnant or new mommy and the conversation turned to the things your husband does or doesn't do (or that you wish he would do or not do), what questions would you raise? What feelings would you vent? What frustrations or feelings of bewilderment might you share? What is it that you wish your soon-to-be daddy would get about you as an expecting or new mommy, but doesn't? If you could ask a group of husbands who would give you an honest answer, "Hey, why do you guys (fill in the blank) when we moms are pregnant or have just had a baby?", what would you fill in the blank with?

I know you gals are busy. You have minivans to drive, Cheerios to vacuum out of the crevices of... well... everything, and tons of other mommy responsibilities to attend to. But if you have a few moments to respond with a sentence or two, or even just a question you would love that group of honest dads to answer, that wold be awesome! Also, if you know any pregnant or new mommies, please forward them this link and ask them to respond. The more input the better. SIMPLY COMMENT ON THIS BLOG, send me an email through FaceBook, or shoot me an email at Thanks in advance, ladies. I'm looking forward to what I'm sure will be a very eye-opening read.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Choosing Number Four

As anyone who's read my blog is aware, my wife and I have three kids. Our daughter, Emerson, is now seven years old. William will turn five in the fall. And Carson, the youngest, is on deck to turn three this summer. Since 2003, Meredith and I have lived in a continuous mind scramble. I can vaguely remember a time when Meredith and I used to engage in adult conversations. We'd talk about religion, politics, our plans for the future, and what we wanted to do on a Saturday night. Over the last seven plus years, such conversations have become rare, surrendering to discussions about what diaper cream is best, whether or not we have enough butt wipes to last the weekend, whose turn it is to clean up the night before's bed-wetting catastrophe, and who's next up to wipe the poop covered backside of a recently potty-trained pygmy. We occasionally still argue about money, time, and whether or not I'm working too much. But, thanks to seven years of sleep deprivation and the ongoing depletion of brain cells that is parenthood, Meredith and I have also lowered ourselves to fighting over whether or not Carson should wear his Incredible Hulk or Lightning McQueen jammies, who put the Blue's Clues towel in the wrong drawer, who placed the tube of Desitin next to the toothpaste (yuck!), and who should have done more to keep half-eaten Dora the Explorer yogurt tubes out of Daddy's brief case.

Yep, parenthood has been a tiring adventure thus far; and we're still early in the game. I can't count how many times other people (even other parents) look at us with our three young kids and ask, "How do you do it?"

"It takes prayer and a lot of team effort," one of us will usually respond. (It also occasionally takes alcohol and prescription drug use, but we tend to keep that part to ourselves.)

Therefore, it's no wonder that many people's eyes bug out and their jaws drop open when Meredith and I tell them that we've decided to have a fourth child. THAT'S RIGHT! WE'RE GONNA DO IT ALL AGAIN! (Anyone got the number of a good psychiatrist?) Like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, we're willingly dropping our pants, bending over, and repeating the words "Thank you Sir, may I have another," as the paddle of parenthood whacks us in the fanny one more time. When people look at my exhausted expression like I've lost my mind, I simply tell them, "Look, as challenging as raising kids can be, we love being parents. There's no greater joy in our lives than our kids, and we both agree that we want another child. Besides, once you've been hit in the head enough times with a baseball bat, how much will you really feel it if someone else shows up and takes a few swings with a crow bar?"

Only this time, Meredith and I are going a different route. After much prayer and discussion, Meredith and I have decided that it is time to act on a dream we have had since before we were married: We've decided to adopt. This past week, we learned that we have been officially accepted by an agency that will help us adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. Why Ethiopia? There were various reasons why we decided to go international for now (I won't get into them here). As we researched and learned more, Meredith and I decided that Ethiopia not only has a great need, we believe it presents the best scenario for our family as well.

Why a little girl? We already have two awesome boys and a beautiful daughter. We would love a second daughter as well. Emerson is also longing for a sister. She's excited about us adopting. Her only request was that it not be a boy. "We've got enough boys," she asserted, "if it's another boy I'll just die." William has also gotten used to the idea of a little sister, although originally, if the child wasn't a boy, he asked if we could "sell it on eBay and get a dog?" As for Carson, he just wants someone in the house to be younger than him. As long as he can have that and remember to poop in the potty instead of his "big boy" underwear, he'll be happy. (Sometimes he doesn't even need the 'pooping in the potty instead of his underwear' part.)

Adoption is a long, challenging process. I won't get into all the details here, but let's just say that my wife has said several times that "adopting a child is a lot harder than having one biologically." And this is a woman who has undergone three C-sections and a two week stay in the hospital due to complications after the birth of her first child. It's worth all the hurdles you have to jump. After all, you know that your child is waiting for you in an orphanage somewhere in Africa--just waiting to come home. Whenever the paperwork gets burdensome or the personal intrusions into our lives become a little offensive, I try to remember that, out of all God's children, only one was begotten: Jesus. The rest were all adopted. I think about the "adoption process" God had to go through and how long and drawn out it sometimes was. But it was worth it because he loved us so much. He didn't love us because we were perfect, had no issues, or because there were any guarantees that we would turn out to be well-behaved kids (we aren't). No, he just CHOSE to love us. He CHOSE to want us. He saw that we needed a dad. He longed to give us a home. That's what adoption is about. When people ask me, "How can you love an adopted child as much as you love your own?" I just say, "Because we choose to. And besides, once she's ours, she IS one of our own."

So pray for the Howards as we set off on this new adventure. It's challenging, emotionally wrenching at times, and often frustrating as we wait for the process to unfold. It's also expensive--very, very expensive. In the coming weeks, I will be announcing the beginning of my new blog focusing on our adoption journey. Keep an eye out for it. Hopefully it will be a fun, informative, and inspiring read. I will also be posting links like the one below for any reader who might be interested in helping us finance our adoption. Perhaps you're not someone who feels called to adopt or who can't adopt right now; but you'd like to help an orphaned child reach a loving family. Please consider donating to our adoption cause and helping us bring our daughter home, at least with prayers or comments of support if not financially. Anyway, we'll keep you posted. And, yes, even though I will be starting a new blog, Dadlosophies will continue as well. Look for my next dadlosophy next Monday: same Dad time; same Dad web address.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekends Without Tarzan and Jane

This morning, as a sit at my computer to write my weekly dadlosophy, I find myself suffering from a bout with writer's block. It's not that my kids suddenly stopped supplying me with material, it's just that I haven't had a moment to think all weekend. When you're a parent, weekends belong to kids' activities. Rare are the Saturdays when you can sleep in or have nothing to do but watch a ball game in the afternoon. If you do watch a sporting event, it's usually because you're sitting along the sidelines of a little league field and cheering your tiny athlete on from the comfort of your fold-out chair. There are birthday parties to attend, soccer games to coach, recitals to be at, and--in the case of this past weekend--Girl Scout ceremonies that demand your parental presence. Once your kids get old enough to become involved in sports, piano lessons, dance, or a barrage of other activities, make no mistake, your weekends are GONE!

Sometimes, when I have a rare moment to fix my mind on something other than trying to figure out who spilled juice on the living room floor, stopped up the toilet with an Incredible Hulk action figure, or left a melting ice cream sandwich in my sock drawer, I'll think back to what weekends were like before I had children. Like an old-timer recalling Sunday afternoons in Mayberry, I'll reminisce about a time when I knew who the players on my favorite sports teams were or could tell you what movies were playing at the nearby theater. I can vaguely recall a time when date night didn't involve leaving the house before six o'clock so that we could be finished and home by 10 p.m. to relieve the babysitter. I remember when Meredith and I used to double-date with other childless couples and conversational topics like baby bowel movements, leaking nipples, and the best ointment to apply to a butt rash never came up. (Except for one really awkward conversation in 2001 that resulted in Meredith and I never going out with that couple again.) And, of course, there was the post-date sex. I can still picture those days when romance and atmosphere mattered. My wife wanted a connnection. She wanted me to sweep her off her feet. Fulfilling sex required feeling and foreplay. Now, foreplay consists of rushing to get your clothes off as fast as possible so that you can finish before a child wakes up and appears at your bedroom door demanding a glass of water.

Yet, for all the ways we parents have had to modify our concept of a weekend, the truth is that most of us wouldn't want to go back. Oh sure, we often look back on our pre-kiddo Saturdays and talk about how nice it would be to have a weekend where all we did is veg, cheer on our team, hit the restaurant of our choice, and perhaps enjoy a little romance that doesn't involve phrases like "Are you almost finished, I think I hear the boys?" and "No, we can't play Tarzan and Jane, it will wake the kids." But like those high school days we often enjoy reliving through old stories or brief reunions with friends, we really don't want to do it again. Not if it means risking never having what we've got today: our spouse, our children... our life!

So I'll gladly sacrifice my weekends to the gods of soccer and Girl Scouts. I'll forego Friday nights having a drink or two and cutting up with childless friends in favor of ones spent getting to know fellow parents over a slice of pizza at a first-grade birthday party. It's all part of this stage of life. It's parenthood. Regardless of how hectic they are, my weekends are exactly what they are supposed to be right now. My advice to other dads who are where I'm at? Take a deep breath, remind yourself how special this time with your kids is, accept the fact that you may have to DVR the big game, and enjoy yourself. And don't worry. One day, maybe you can play Tarzan and Jane again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Jedi Knight of Motherhood

It's now just after 8:30 p.m. on an unseasonably chilly but comfortable May evening. It's Mother's Day; the day we devote to expressing our special love and appreciation to those amazing women who devote every ounce of their being to making their house, apartment, condo, whatever, into the loving safe-haven their children will always remember as home.

I'm sitting out on my back deck as the sun gives way to dusk with just my laptop and my thoughts. Not surprisingly, I find myself thinking about my wife, Meredith, who is the wonderful mother of my children. Meredith never ceases to amaze me. She endures the sleep deprivation caused by the late-night cries of an awakenened child. She often stops what she's doing to answer the call of a two-year-old who's proudly pooped in the potty and insists that mommy be the one to wipe his little fanny. She prepares breakfast and lunches for our three children (hopefully having washed her hands thoroughly after that fanny-wiping episode). Then she fills her day with family errands, battles against ever advancing piles of dirty laundry, proofreading first-grade homework to ensure that its done correctly, and cleaning dirty dishes that seem to grow miraculously on their own out of the bottom of our kitchen sink. Oh sure, I do my part to help out, but my household efforts and stamina pale in comparison to Meredith's. She's a tutor, a maid, a manager, a chauffeur, a pharmacist, a child psychologist, a crisis-control specialist, a chef, a cheerleader, a bodyguard, and--during those times when the kids seem to be holding my sanity for ransom--a hostage negotiator. No doubt about it; in our family, Meredith is the hero and the glue that holds the Howard household together.

Mothers are an interesting creation. How God managed to fashion something so beautiful and feminine, yet so strong, tough, fierce, and occasionally terrifying out of one little rib I'll never know. My wife is a gorgeous woman with a smile and laugh that could capture any man's heart. But mess with one of her babies and you'd be better off mooning an unchained pit bull from three feet away. She's the protector; the gatekeeper between our kids and harm. God help the saturated fat that tries to sneak its way past her into our children's diet. I challenge anyone to find even an inch of skin on one of our kids that hasn't been slathered in sunscreen between May and mid-September. She's the Jedi knight of motherhood, wielding band aids, tissues, sandwich bags of cheerios, teaspoons of children's Tylenol, and packages of pull-ups with all the skill and mesmerizing speed of a maternal lightsaber.

I guess that's true of most mothers. Like Meredith, they can be stern and the disciplinarians when they have to. But even the lectures, time outs, refusals to give in to a child's request, and occasional spankings are always out of love and the deepest affection. There's a reason country music singers feel compelled to sing about "Momma." It's no wonder that Mary is mentioned in Christmas carol after Christmas carol while Joseph sits in heaven eternally thinking to himself, "C'mon, even the ox and lamb got a shout-out in The Little Drummer Boy." Everyone knows that Mom is the star of the show. Dad is important, for sure. But he's not mom. No one is.

Sometimes at night I'll tuck my children into bed while Meredith cleans up after dinner or just takes a much deserved break on the couch with her big bowl of popcorn, a glass of her favorite wine, and one of her reality TV shows. Emerson, my oldest, is usually okay with it. She's kind of a daddy's girl so she doesn't mind spending the last few moments of the day with me. She tells me a little about her day, reads me a book (now that she can read she likes to read to dad rather than the other way around), kisses me goodnight, and tells me that she loves me as I get her into bed.

My boys, on the other hand, are another story. Just the other day I heard on the radio that the South ranks as the nation's number one region for "Momma's boys." If that's true, William and Carson will only serve to solidify that ranking. Every time I tuck William in I have to endure a barrage of questions like, "Where's Mommy?"... "Is Mommy going to come tell me goodnight?"... and "Will you ask Mommy to come lie down with me?" Whenever I offer to be the one to lie down with William, he always asks, "Why? Did Mommy go to the gym?"

The scene is practically the same with Carson. He cries as I walk or carry him to his bed, the phrase, "I want Mommy," repeated over and over. When I finally get him calmed down and at least tolerant of the idea that Dad is the one putting him to bed, I sometimes will whisper in his ear, "Carson, do you want to hear a secret?"
"What?" he whispers back.
"I love you," I say.

He then usually smiles, leans close to my ear, and softly mouths the words, "I love Mommy" (except for once when he said, "I love chocolate"). Oh well, you can see where I rank on my sons' parental spectrum of affection.

Thus, this post is simply a "thank you" to my wife on this most special day for moms. Thank you Meredith for being a great mother and a sensational wife. Thank you for being a best friend and a partner in raising our kids. The love our children have for you and the devotion they feel toward you is a testament to what a wonderful mother you really are. I'm honored and fortunate to be your husband. I'll most likely never rank quite as high as you do. After all, no one kisses a boo-boo or makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich quite like Mom. As dad, I'm stuck playing second fiddle. But that's okay. What father can possibly rank as high as Mom if she's really doing her job right? I just hope that one day I can consistently edge out chocolate for second place.