She fills my heart with joy

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My world hasn’t been the same since the girl in this picture entered into it, sixteen years ago this week. She makes me smile, makes me laugh, sometimes make me shake with anger, but at the bottom of it all I’d do anything to keep her happy and safe. Being a parent is like that. Happy birthday to the best thing that ever happened to me.

The gamechanger

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On the day that my older daughter was born, life changed for me. Irretrievably, permanently, and completely changed. When another person depends on you for everything, you can’t possibly be what you were before that happened.

I like the person I am today so much better than I liked the person I was before she came along. Fatherhood has brought out things in me that I had only hoped were there before. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in life, and the best I ever will do, either.

People thank their own fathers on this day, and they should. But I’m recognizing my daughters for admitting me into the realm of fatherhood, which is a noble place for a man to be.

Happy day to all fathers and, just as importantly, to the children who made it all possible. We’re doing what we can for all of you, because you deserve nothing less.

An unconventional Halloween

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This year, my little one didn’t go out trick-or-treating. And she’s at the age where Halloween and trick-or-treating are among the highlights of the season. So missing out on it wasn’t an easy thing.

She participated in a Halloween-themed play, and the last show was on Halloween night. She loves being on stage, and I told her that being in costume on stage was a better use of the evening than begging for candy could ever be. I don’t think she believed me, but she’ll remember the play far more than she would a night fueled by fun-sized candies.

After the show was over, and the curtain calls and cast pictures had all been dispensed with, a cast dinner was held, marking the end of a successful show. She’s already learned, at an early age, that the hard work and camaraderie of building a show from scratch doesn’t last for very long. The set is struck, the cast goes their separate ways, and then it’s on to the next show. There is no permanence, other than the memories that you take from doing each show.

By the time we said our goodbyes, it was 10:00 on Halloween night, which was too late to do any of the ritual begging for candy at the homes of strangers. My little one at this point started to cry with an inconsolable sadness. I did all I could to cheer her up, and remind her of all the fun she had had in the name of the theater. But none of that mattered to a ten year-old who only wanted some candy.

We then went to a Halloween party at the house of some friends, where a large bowl of undistributed candy lay waiting. Despite protestations that it didn’t feel right, or that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, she filled up her Trick-or-Treat bag with more candy than she would have otherwise received in the customary way. And this, eventually, helped to calm her down. We left the party filled with Halloween spirit–no pun intended, of course.

There aren’t very many Halloweens left for me, at least in the current configuration of having a child who wants to go out collecting candy. But in a larger sense, I cherish Halloween as an affirmation of children and childhood itself. The little ones who come to our door on Halloween won’t do it for too many years, and when their trick-or-treating window closes, more children will be there to take their place. On an evening that was originally meant to remember the departed, we are reminded that there will always be reinforcements in the progression of life. And I find that ¬†comforting, in a strange way.

Here’s to the nines

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WordPress is of the opinion that this is my 1,000th post on this blog. I’ve been keeping track of the posts with a spreadsheet I created–for whatever reason–and think this is post number 998 instead. WordPress is probably right, but I’ll split the difference and call this post number 999. That’s three nines.

Nine is a special number, as I have a nine year-old daughter now, and I had another nine year-old a few years back. That nine year-old is now fourteen, and about to begin high school in the fall. Nine is a special age, filled with love and wonder and a sense that life is coming up to greet you, whether you want it to or not.

When you’re a kid, you want to be Ten a whole lot more than you want to be Nine. I think I started telling people I was nine-and-a-half on the day after my ninth birthday. But from a parent’s perspective, the reverse is true. I wish that Nine could last for several more years, and that all of the beginnings of separation could just hold themselves off for a little while longer.

My kids want to get on with their life, just as I did when I was their age. The world and all of its flaws and shortcomings and disappointments are coming for them, and I’ll do what I can to help get them ready for what lies ahead. But they’ll one day have to go out on their own, just as I once did. Nine is halfway to Eighteen, after all.

So I love Nine, even if Ten is less than two weeks away. I won’t ever see Nine again, at least not with my own children. I have to say that Nine has been fun times for me, and I hope for them as well. And ready or not, we’ll all have to face that brave new number–Ten– together.

It really makes me wonder

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the song of my lifetime. I’ve written about the song before, and it always seems to be able to lift my spirits up. And today, as I was contemplating the senseless attacks at the Boston marathon, the song worked its magic once again.

I had seen a picture of one of the fatalities on Facebook earlier in the day. His name is Martin Richard, and he was eight years old. It hit me hard, because eight years old is such a great age. Kids haven’t yet become jaded and cynical, and they haven’t learned that constant stimulation is necessary, lest they become “bored.” And the look on Martin’s face is enough to suggest that this was a good kid, the kind that anyone would want to have for a son.

So where does Led Zeppelin come in? The repeated lyrics about “it makes me wonder” came into play for me.

I wondered who would do such a terrible act, taking the life away from a good kid like this.

I wondered if other people will get any sinister ideas from this attack, and if so whether they will be able to be thwarted before other innocent kids are hurt.

I wondered if the person who made these bombs and detonated them had any remorse for the damage they did.

Whatever the answers to these might be, I hope that we, as a people, can learn something from Martin Richard’s senseless death. Let’s all hold the children around us a little bit tighter, and realize how precious they really are.

Sandra Fluke and the Kill for/Die for thing

It’s a typical Saturday morning, and around my house that means ice skating. My older daughter had a lesson with a coach at one local skating rink, and my younger daughter had another lesson at another rink. It’s a good thing that we have two cars and two drivers to acommodate them.

After I drove my little one to her practice, paid her coach, tied up her skates, and made sure she got onto the ice OK, I stood and watched her for a few minutes. I was bursting inside with my feelings of pride and love for her. Earlier in my life, before I had kids of my own, I would have considered such thoughts sappy and suspect in some way. But now, having crossed over to the other side, I completely understand them. That’s just how it works.

After leaving the ice rink area, I came upon a news story about Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh, and President Obama. As I watched the story, the afterglow of my thoughts about my young daughter brought the story home to me in a way that I otherwise would not have considered. And of course the first thing I wanted to do was capture those thoughts in this space, before everyday life comes in and strips the story of any meaning.

I love my daughters so much that I would kill for them, if it ever came to some outlandish situation where that would be necessary. I don’t want to do that, and I’m not a killer on any other level, but I would do it without any hesitation or regret. And, on the other end of that spectrum, I would lay down my life for them, if another situation were to arise where it would be needed. I love my life, but I love them more. And I would hope that every parent feels this way.

When filtered through this lens, the difference between Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama became crystal clear to me. Obama is a parent; Limbaugh is not. That’s why Obama called Sandra Fluke, and mentioned her parents in the phone call. It wasn’t meant to score political points for him, although surely that’s what’s happening. The reason for the phone call is that Obama has that kill for/die for thing about his own children, and he acted on that in order to reach out to a young woman who is in a difficult place right now.

And who put her into this difficult place? A man who has no children himself, and almost certainly lacks the kill for/die for thing that Obama has, and that I have, and that perhaps you have. Limbaugh could apologize, as some people seem to want, but he won’t mean it. It would be a grudging, carefully-worded sentence if it ever comes at all, and it will be done for the sole purpose of saving millions of dollars in ad sales for his radio show. I doubt that it will come, and if it does, it won’t change the fact that he lacks–and always will lack–the kill for/die for thing within himself.

Am I judging him? Not really. He is what he is, and I’m too charitable and too rushed for time (no pun intended) to try to spell that out here. And I’m not saying parents are any better than non-parents. This is not meant to put me or anyone else on a pedestal. But it is meant to suggest that Limbaugh did what he did for a reason, and Obama did what he did for an entirely different reason. And I’m glad that the one I identify with is the one who’s running the country.

UPDATE: Limbaugh did issue an apology on his website on Saturday. It was far more direct than anything I had expected to see from him. But he has lost many advertisers over this, and he deserves every bit of the losses he incurs.