One of the greatest things you can be

This is Andrew.

Andrew_5

He is absolutely beaming today, because when he woke up this morning he turned 5.

And being 5 years old is just about the greatest thing that you can be.

You see when you turn five you can do things that just weren’t possible at four.

Five year old muscles allow you to pick up things that you just couldn’t do yesterday as a four year old (Andrew quickly demonstrated with several pieces of furniture).

Five year olds are also waaaaayy taller than four year olds, as Andrew also quickly pointed out (“Dad yesterday I couldn’t even see over this sofa”)

Five year olds start asking deeper questions like “Dad now that I’m this big do you think a bird could pick me up?”

As a five year old he can now run faster, throw a baseball farther, do amazing bike tricks, stay up later (not really) , jump higher, do awesome slides into second base, hold his breath longer, dunk a basketball (also probably no), beat his brothers at wall ball, do triathlons, hold a big boy cup with one hand (probably not a good idea), go to kindergarten, ride a real school bus….

Yep there is literally nothing better than being 5.

Well except one thing…

Being the dad of 5 year old Andrew is pretty awesome too.

You see Andrew is the youngest of our four boys,

which means that our family has celebrated several other five year old birthdays in our house.

But with each passing five year old birthday, my appreciation and love of these moments has become stronger and stronger.

Today I get to immerse myself in Andrew’s giddiness and excitement for all the new things that he can do.

Because as I fully share in his joy, it makes me feel five too.

And I see how beautiful and awesome and amazing life is,

which happens to be what turning 5 is all about.

Yep, being 5 years old is just about the greatest thing you can be.

The Strongest Person I’ve Ever Met

13 years ago today I became a dad to an awesome little boy.  A little boy so tiny at birth that my wedding ring could easily go over his foot and slide all the way up his thigh, and so fragile that it would be more than a month before we could even hold him.

It amazes me now to think that this teeny tiny little helpless baby has taught me so much about strength.

Despite his tiny frame, Patrick has always had a physical strength that allows him to do countless pull-ups and glide effortlessly across monkey bars (107 times non-stop is his personal best).  A strength that allows him to traverse up rock walls for hours and hours with a natural ease and grace to his movements.  A physical strength that seemingly gives him the ability to run forever.   At 13 years old, Patrick’s strength is his art, and it’s an incredibly beautiful thing to watch.

Patrick riding bikeMarcus_and_Patrick

Patrick also has an inner strength though that burns brighter than anything I’ve ever seen.  As a result of his prematurity part of his vision was taken away, and when your eyes don’t work at 100% it means that every day life becomes exponentially harder to do.  Small tasks like dropping a pencil on the ground require a ton of effort and focus, and at some point you have to accept that your 4 year old little brother will sometimes be able to do things easier than you.  Despite all of the things that seem so unfair though, Patrick has this inner strength that constantly fuels his abundant love of life.  A strength that at times seems to overflow from his little body and always allows him to see the good in other people.

It is this inner strength that makes Patrick the strongest person I’ve ever met.

Pat wedding

A tale of two violins

Airport totally crowded. As I get ready to board two young brothers catch my attention. One is about 11 and the other around 7.  I watch as they weave through the mass of people each with a violin case in their hands.  The older brother suddenly stops, puts his case on the ground, pulls out his violin and is about to start playing.  I’m about 50 feet away from them but I can see the little brother is suddenly struck with fear. His face goes completely white.

The older brother leans down, I imagine offering some words of encouragement, but the younger brother shakes his head “no”.  More encouraging words, but they’re not getting through, there is no way the younger brother is going to do this.  Most of the airport is oblivious to the boys and their discussion, but I find myself completely entranced, rooting for the little brother to find the courage to play his violin.  A couple minutes go by and the older brother finally decides to get down on a knee and plead with his little brother for the last time.  This time something somehow resonates and the little brother very timidly and slowly pulls his violin out of the case.  If there was a picture of fear in the dictionary it would be this little boy at this exact moment.

The older brother starts playing before his younger brother can reconsider. It takes a second for both violins to hit the same chords and then suddenly “Silent Night” begins to float through the air.  I watch as everyone in the airport stops and takes in this unexpected scene for the first time.  The boys are really talented and their music seems to have the power to suddenly put everyone in a good mood.  As the song comes to an end, the entire airport erupts in applause and I notice that the fear that was on the little brother just a moment ago has now turned to pure joy.  The boys continue playing as more and more people start to gather around them.

As I board my plane I watch the smile on the little brother’s face and think about how there is always something amazingly awesome and beautiful on the other side of fear, and hope that I have the same courage as those little boys next time I need it.

The Summer of Baton Rouge

 Violence, Flooding, Death, and Destruction.  These are the words used over and over in national headlines to describe the events in Baton Rouge this past summer.  They are words that you hope are never associated with your city.  Paralyzing words that add description to tragedy, while simultaneously breathing life into feelings of fear and anger.  There is no denying that a truth lies in each of these words as they refer to specific events over the past two months, but they are also incomplete as they only tell part of the story.

Hope, Belief, Compassion, Kindness, and Love.  These are the words that paint a much fuller picture of this summer in Baton Rouge.   These are the words that tell the story of the events after we buried police officers and watched floodwaters flow into every crevice of the city.   There is no doubt I have felt immense levels of sadness and grief over the past two months, but as I reflect I know that I have also experienced equal amounts of compassion and love.  For there have been many times when the sadness as real and tangible as it is, simply gets overpowered by enormous waves of hope as our community has united and unwaveringly decided to push forward together.   Each time my heart has broken this summer; it has seemingly been mended with an exponential growth of pure love for Baton Rouge.

katrina
Picture from local newspaper with all our possessions after Hurricane Katrina

11 years ago we lost our home and all our possessions in Hurricane Katrina.  It was a certainly a trying time but one that taught me that tragedy and disaster are not just the ingredients for sorrow and despair, but also a catalyst for the purest and best elements of humanity to rise up.  I know that many tears are still left to be shed as people mourn loved ones and grasp the recovery in front of them.   But I am also comforted by own experience to know we will get through it together.  There is a beauty in the bravery it takes to not give up, to help one another, and know that you will succeed, and Baton Rouge has certainly let its beauty shine.

#unBRoken

An Idea on Marriage

This upcoming weekend my wife’s brother is getting married, and as the brother-in-law I’ve found that I am pretty much in the wedding sweet spot.  I am close enough to the action to hear about plans being made, but far enough removed from the decision making that I can actually relax and enjoy it.  As far as weddings go, I like this position, and it has given me time to think back on my own wedding and start developing an idea on what marriage is all about.

I’ve been married nearly 14 years, and can still remember being very excited about my own wedding, while also feeling unsettled with the fact that it seemed like such a grown up thing to do.   I never doubted who I was marrying (she’s ridiculously amazing), but that I would actually be able to do this, to be a good husband.  It was the same sort of doubt I felt several years later when I became a parent.  I’ve noticed that’s how life seems to work though; always putting you on an adventure you don’t feel fully prepared to take on (which coincidentally also happens to be the plot line of all of your favorite movies).

Nearly a decade and a half later the minute details of my wedding day have been replaced in my memory by snippets of the most important parts: my wife walking up the aisle, my father-in-law crying as he handed over his daughter, a hug from a groomsman, and of course me totaling my mother-in-law’s minivan two hours before the wedding (yep, that actually happened).

wedding pic

As my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law’s nuptials approach, I think about what I have learned over the past 14 years and what piece of advice I could share.  To be honest I feel weird giving advice as I am still trying to figure things out myself (I’m a very slow learner).  So with that I figured I would share an idea that I have been working on.  Something to just chew on and let simmer for a little while.  Something that is taking a little while moving from my head to my heart before it can become a concrete truth.

The idea is that marriage is actually about creating a partnership in helping you be you.  Maybe that sounds obvious, maybe it doesn’t.  It didn’t to me for a very long time.

Collectively you are working as a unit, but the success of the unit depends on the work of the individual.  Your spouse is there to enhance yourself, not to fix all your problems.  On the good side you have someone along for the ride that is trying to encourage you to pursue your dreams and do the things that only you can do.   On the flip side it also means that you have a lot of work to do on your own, which can either be empowering or deflating.

The empowering part is fun and exciting and needs little explanation.  It’s easily felt and can be spotted surrounded in hugs, kisses, laughs, high fives, etc.   The deflating part though is typically where I have struggled.  Under this idea it means that when something isn’t quite working I have to point the finger back to myself (which is never fun), instead of the easier alternative of pointing it at my wife.  I know, I know, this is the part where the idea needs a little time to percolate and take shape.

Over the past 14 years we’ve hit a rough patch here or there, and what I’ve noticed is that most of these patches seem to coincide with me dealing with some type of internal issue.  With just me struggling to be me, and less to do with the fact that someone just ate the last piece of cheesecake (though maybe sometimes it is about the cheesecake).

I think that we are constantly experiencing new things, which forces us to constantly change, constantly evolve, (as proof, I would have never considered writing a blog post about marriage even 5 years ago).  The difficult part of marriage and relationships as a whole is that everyone is kind of in a different spot in being themselves.   When people feel a little off, I think they feel as though something is missing and do everything they can to fill that gap from the outside (from binge watching The Real Housewives, to changes in career, to alcohol, infidelity, and everything in between), which pretty much never solves the issue at hand.  So as a spouse you then have to figure out when to give your significant other the space he/she needs and when to step in and help them get back on track, while at the same time doing the same thing for yourself.  This then is the trickiness of marriage, because there is no one hard and fast rule to tell you when you to do this, or at least I haven’t discovered it yet.   So like everything else you just try to wing it, and figure it out as you go along, as you learn more and more about each other.  As you learn more and more about yourself.

The months and months of planning leading up to this weekend’s wedding will come and go in a blur.  It will be absolutely awesome, and in the end our family will officially grow by one.  I don’t know if my idea on marriage will help the newlyweds as they start their new life.  Like most ideas, this one has pros and cons.  It’s certainly not filled with answers for every occasion and has holes that still need to be thought through.  Even after 14 years in the trenches, I’m still very much an amateur on every level, but the more I apply this idea and think about it, the more it just feels right.

The Fear of 40!

40!

F-O-R-T-Y!!!

Affectionately called the BIG 4-0!

I have secretly been dreading my 40th birthday. We’ve talked a lot about turning 40 over the past couple of months in my house. The conversations primarily focused on “how are we going to celebrate this momentous occasion”, and less on moving into the next decade of our lives. It was fun to talk about the parties and exotic trips we would take, but deep down, I was really bothered about 40. Something about it carried a seriousness and a weight that kept making my stomach turn.

I was surprised at how upset I was about my impending birthday. I always had different things rattling around in my head, but getting older had never been on my playlist. This was virgin territory, and in all honesty I thought I had handled growing older like a champ. In previous years, I laughed (possibly even guffawed) when I realized that I had eased into the “Just for Men” demographic. I had even fist-bumped the fact that at somewhere along the way I had become empowered to use the phrase “mid-life crisis”.

Despite my previous acknowledgements, the gravity of 40 would surprisingly creep into my thoughts at any time during the day or night. As my birthday approached the thoughts became more persistent, never clearly defining the problem to be addressed, but always with a significance that would demand my attention.

My mind would race through a rolodex of issues that possibly needed to be addressed: from building a house, to my career, to the season 3 finale of House of Cards. I would think about unfulfilled dreams, and the fact that at this stage of my life I still didn’t know what the appropriate temperature was to wear a vest. But none of these issues would match up to the puzzle piece of a feeling I was trying to deal with, and so, as silly as it sounds the idea of turning 40 would continue to haunt me.

Then at midnight, on a completely random Tuesday (two days ago), I actually turned 40!

I was no longer dreading 40, because suddenly I was 40.

For the briefest of moments, as I took stock of my new age, I had totally clarity and could see that all the angst and anxiety had simply been demanding that I take an incredibly honest look at myself in the mirror. I thought about my amazing wife, my incredible kids, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. It was awesome!

A split second later though I saw the seriousness of 40, realizing that I needed to take responsibility of my regrets too, not just my blessings. This is what had been bothering me about 40. I knew that it was time for me to take ownership of my poor decisions and the times that I didn’t act the way I knew I should have. All things that I had tried to push down, and forget they even happened.

As I looked closely at all of my regrets, I realized that they all had one thing in common……FEAR.

At some point I had allowed fear to seep in and take over my decision making. It had allowed me to stay silent when I should have spoken up, allowed me to not take action when I should have done something. Allowed me to avoid the hard work, because well “why did it matter anyway”? Fear had given me a way out, and every single time I followed its advice I regretted it.

I started this blog 4 years ago simply because I enjoyed writing, but somewhere along the way I stopped making posts because of fear. I was scared that I would write something dumb, or would say something that would offend someone, or would maybe just run out of ideas. So before I got to that point I would let fear win and just stopped making posts. It was that simple.

I’ve written nearly every single day since my last post, mostly short stories and essays ranging from airport etiquette to the importance of fake mustaches. I’ve written and re-written my first screenplay and even submitted it to Sundance (where they very politely told me it was garbage), and am currently working on my first novel.

Writing is something that I absolutely love to do, but for whatever reason I was scared to keep sharing it. As I turn 40, I now see the absurdity of letting fear win. So I’ve decided now was the time to dust off the old blog, give it a fresh look, and a name that more aptly described what I write about…..stuff. I’m also thinking that 40 might turn out to be pretty incredible.

No matter what side of 40 you’re on I hope that you won’t make the same mistake I did and let fear control your decisions.

The external appearance of internal vision

My first reaction was to correct him and say “No it’s actually a stop sign.”  But something happened on that day, and I finally seemed to have a moment of clarity, finally learning from the thousands of similar experiences over the previous 4 years. Instead of correcting him, I simply agreed and said “sure is, buddy.”  And with that simple phrase I allowed myself to see an entirely new world.  For just a moment I was able to see life through my son’s amazing eyes.  I was able to see a world that is in large part created by the imagination of a 4 year old.  I closed my eyes for a brief second, and when I opened them the big metal red stop sign had suddenly transformed into a red balloon just hovering there for us to see.  We both smiled and laughed, and I realized that while his eyes do not work as well as mine, he very often has the ability to see a much more beautiful and exciting world.

In the 4 years that have passed since that innocent car ride, I have constantly had to remind myself to be quiet and see the world through Patrick’s “misperceptions”.  It is these misperceptions that make up part of his reality and allow me to see things that I could have never imagined.  But as a parent there are also times when I must force my reality upon him. A reality where you can unfortunately get hit by a car if you mistake a stop sign for a floating balloon.  Our life is a constant song and dance between my reality and his.  My reality is aimed at keeping him safe, while his seems designed simply to add magic to mine.

You see Patrick was born 4 months premature and as such his eyes didn’t develop as they should.  His right eye is completely blind, and his left eye has 20/220 vision (legally blind).  I imagine it to be like going through life with a pirate patch over one eye and a piece of parchment paper over the other.  Patrick gets around well, but he also lives in a world that doesn’t seem to recognize body language and facial expressions in others.  Books are incredibly difficult to read, and tv, movies, and video games certainly don’t provide the same entertainment they do to everyone else.
What Patrick has taught me though is that if you remove these staples of entertainment, the only thing left to do is to use your own imagination, to create your own world.  And the world that Patrick has created is absolutely incredible.  Where part of his vision was taken away, it has seemingly been replaced with an abundant love of life that overflows from his little body.  He lives in a world where people are good (except maybe Reid sometimes) and where magical things happen all the time.  He has an undeniable passion for life, and it is this passion that seems to make a permanent impression on everyone that he meets.  It is this passion that gives him far more vision then what his eyes can actually see.
 It was on this day 8 years ago I became a Dad for the first time, and Patrick’s entrance into the world was certainly not the way I expected to enter fatherhood.  At the time I was completely overwhelmed with the complications of his birth.  I would lay in my bed at night worrying about how this little guy was ever going to lead a “normal” life.  How was he going to be able to see all the things that I wanted to show him?  As time has passed though it is painfully clear that Patrick is here to show me much more than I could have ever imagined showing him.
Happy Birthday P!  I love you!