Leaving a legacy (with a little help) . . .

Let’s start with this. I am not what you would call a journal kind of guy. I like to keep my internal thoughts . . . well, internal.

So, when Ned over at Rebel And Create (go check the site and the podcast, it’s a fantastic resource for dads wanting to be better dads) sent me this journal he’s created, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep it up.

This is not your ordinary journal.

Ned gives you all the tools you need in this one beautifully bound book to decide who you want to be as a dad, celebrate your victories, reflect on and learn from your mistakes, give yourself grace when (not if) you screw up, and really focus on how to be a better version of you.

The journal covers 3 months. Each month starts out with a calendar so you can plot out your month with what you have to do and what you want to do. Already, this makes it more practical than any other journal I’ve tried. Then the daily entries are a series of guided prompts to help you focus your mind and your heart on what really matters: your family and how you can best love and serve them.

I worry about leaving a legacy for my kids. I don’t always feel like I have that much to offer. I’m a former retail manager turned stay at home dad. Whoopie. But I’m starting to understand that it’s not what I do for a living that matters. It’s how I live. My 2 year old doesn’t care what my paycheck looks like. She just wants to know that Dada will hold her (and get her cheese on demand). She just needs to know that Daddy is there and will love her no mater what.

One of my favorite things that surprised me is a small not printed on the first few pages: “If found after my death, please give to my children.” This is not just a tool to better your own life. This is a legacy you give to your kids, so they can see just how much you tried to invest of yourself in their childhood.

Ned, thanks a ton for this, thanks for having a passion to help fellow dads out on this adventure of fatherhood, and thanks for this piece of the map to get to the end of it better than we started.

Me Time -A Precious Commodity

During this time in which the universe seems to have told us all to go to our rooms and think about what we’ve done, I have been spending most of my time helping my in-laws around the house, trying to keep up with my 20-month old toddler, and taking care of my now 9-weeks pregnant wife. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Daddy-time (hence the sporadic posting here). At this point, I take over the living room after everyone else has gone to bed. So, here I sit, on the couch, with my beer.

Hear that? That’s a sigh of temporary relief you hear.

As a result, I have to be pretty selective about what I watch/listen to/play. Gotta make Daddy-time count. I thought that I’d offer up to you all what I’m using for personal entertainment because so many people have asked me . . . no . . . wait, no one has asked. Oh, well. I’m forging ahead anyway. Here you go.

Podcast: Espionage from Parcast.

I’ve been a fan of spy stories for as long as I can remember. From Bond to Bourne, I’m a sucker for it. Espionage goes deep into the true stories of real spies, and offers up some of the most interesting history lessons I’ve heard in quite a while. I highly recommend the recent two parter on George Washington’s spies.

I listen to this on my morning walks with Little Bit. She sits in her stroller and eats her Cheerios while I listen to podcasts. It gets us out of the house in the mornings, gives her some quiet, gives my wife some extra sleep, and gives me, well, some time out of the house. Everybody wins!

Book: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

I got this on my Kindle on a whim. I know of the Expanse TV series based on this book, but have not watched it yet. The book reads like a detective novel set in an epic space opera (so far, anyway. I’m only a few chapters in). I’ll usually read a little bit before I finally drift off to sleep, so a paragraph or two at a time. So far, it’s an interesting read.

TV: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Yeah, I’m a nerd. Sue me. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Ahsoka Tano is one of the more interesting characters in the Star Wars universe. Thus far, this is an excellent way to close out this series. Two more episodes to go as I write this, and it looks like we’re coming to an emotional conclusion. Again, unapologetically a nerd.

How about you? What podcasts should I be listening to? What books should I give a chance? Let me know.

Stay safe and stay sane out there, y’all.

Led By Little Bit

This picture is a snapshot of the rest of my life. My little girl will be leading me around from this day forward.

Let me clarify; I don’t have any intention of letting my daughter dictate what she gets, when she gets it, whenever she wants. I’m not going to be a parental yes-man. What I mean is this: everything I do, from this day forward, will be for the betterment and welfare of my daughter and my wife, in that order. (Before the comments start, I regularly tell my wife she is my second favorite person in the world. She agrees, and knows that’s how it should be. I’m her 4th or 5th favorite, I think….)

I also tell my wife that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m 3rd in our family equation. For her part, my wife is usually pretty good at seeing when I need some quiet and sends me on an errand or two so I can have some non-baby time. I try, though, to make sure that my girls are well taken care of before I do my own thing (which usually means playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at 2am when everyone else is asleep). This is tough for me, because I was an only child, as well as the fact that Little Bit came along later in my life (I’m almost 50, and she’s not quite 2), I was pretty set in my ways. I like to have a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, maybe read a little bit before bed. Those days are no more. My daily coffee is in a travel mug, even though I’m not going anywhere, because it’s the only way to have at least warm coffee in the mornings. Reading before bed, which used to be Tom Clancy or Jim Butcher, is now Dr. Seuss or Sandra Boynton (Ok, I kind of like the Boynton. They’re delightfully silly.) I do all this because, since the birth of my daughter, it’s simply not about me anymore. My life is led by what’s best ofr my daughter and my wife, and thus it shall be until the day that I die. And nothing makes me happier when my baby girl comes to me with a book in hand, climbs into my lap, and has me read “Green Eggs And Ham” 4 times in a row (although I kind of want to smack Sam-I-Am upside the head).

Take my hand, Little Bit. Take me on your next great adventure. I’ll be there o help and protect you as much as this old man is able.

On Frustration, Coffee, And Stoics

First things first: if one is going to start a blog, one should really add new content regularly. I have not done so. Why? I’m a stay at home dad with a toddler. Quiet time to write is not exactly in abundance, so I take the time when I can find it.

That being said, as I write this, it is just after 2 in the morning. I’ve just gotten back from my workout at the gym (good news – there’s virtually nobody there; bad news – it’s 2 in the freaking morning). The girls are asleep, and I can actually hear myself think for a brief, beautiful moment.

Why, I hear you asking incredulously, would anyone go to the gym in the middle of the night? Clearly, you say, I must be some fitness obsessed, steroid riddled muscle head. You would be wrong. I workout at ungodly hours for one simple reason: so I’m not taking time away from my wife and daughter, so I can be present in their lives as much as possible. I might ingest enough coffee to kill a horse, but it’s worth it to be sure my girls know that I’m going to be around for them when they need me. I want Daddy’s presence to be Little Bit’s normal.

It’s important to me to be sure my daughter’s sense of normality is good healthy. Mama and I want her to grow up with a better relationship with food than we’ve had (turns out, a balanced meal is not a taco in one hand and an equal amount of bacon in the other). I want her to see Daddy being healthy and strong, not pudgy and couch potato-y. And I feel like I have a handle on the physical side of my journey to better-ness. It’s the mental side I’m struggling with.

As mentioned earlier, we made the move to sunny California to help take care of my wife’s family. This involved a LOT of change all at once, especially for this midwestern boy. In my prep for being a stay at home dad, I noticed an overarching theme: a loss of identity and a lack of community. While stay at home dads are becoming slightly more common, it’s apparently still an odd concept for society at large. So, we dads can start to feel isolated and even looked down upon at times.

Couple that with moving cross country to a place where you know practically no one, and taking care of a toddler who’s not quite ready for longer outings without Mama’s magical milk making mammary on standby . . . well, you can see where one might have a rough day here and there.

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” I forget this so often. In any given situation, good or bad, rested or exhausted, I was never meant to be tossed by the whim of circumstance. I can choose my response to any frustration and see it as an opportunity to grow. So, when my daughter flails around like an electrocuted octopus when I’m trying to change her diaper, it’s probably better to think that I’m fortunate she’s alive and kicking, rather than being frustrated because toddler poop has become a projectile weapon. My lack of sleep means I’m exhausted, yes, but it’s also an excuse to have more coffee. Besides is there a better reason to wear myself out than giving my daughter a better outlook on life by watching Daddy make his life better?

And that’s what I want a big part of her “normal” to be; choosing to be positive and productive, even when she’d rather be sleeping. Which, lately, is never.

I’m going t crawl into bed now, wake up in the morning, fix my coffee and chase my toddler all day. Again. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Preparing For World Domination

Everything changes when you have a kid. Everything. Wait, let me amend that. The physical structure of the world and everything in it doesn’t change. That would be ridiculous. What I mean to say is that the way you see the world and everything in it changes, as well as how you approach it and behave in it. It happens in the space of a heartbeat, and, as far as I can tell, lasts until you take you final breath.

For example, before my daughter was born, the scream of a baby was, at best, a minor annoyance. Put that scream on an airplane, or any other enclosed, inescapable space, and that annoyance multiplies exponentially. Until it’s your kid. When it’s my daughter, and I’m driving her around in the car in the middle of the night in an attempt to calm her down and give Mama a break, I can listen to it for as long as I need to. Does that mean that my girl’s piercing cry has some magical quality that other children don’t have. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Because she’s MY KID. I hear her differently because she’s flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, fruit of my loins.

Not only do I see her differently than other children, I see the world differently. I try to imagine the world through her eyes, the daily discoveries she makes that we all-important grown-ups take for granted. Shortly after her birth (well, six months or so), I took my child and sat her on my lap and played piano for her. Nothing complicated. I played with one hand and held her with the other. No one in the world would pay to hear that, unless they’re musical masochists. I don’t think I could pay anyone to listen to that. But she smiled and laughed as I played and sang. This was her first exposure to music, and it came from her daddy’s hands and voice. And she liked it. Judges on America’s Got Talent, or The Voice, or any other competition be damned. Hers is the only opinion I care about, and her smiles at my playing are worth more than all the critics’ and judges’ opinions combined.

We’re 16 months deep in this crazy ride, and my amazing, brilliant daughter has about a 40 word vocabulary under her tiny belt. This means that, by the time she’s four, she’s going to be able to lawyer me under the table. Heck, she already bends me to her will just by smiling at me. I don’t stand a chance. But I will celebrate each and every new word like she’s just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Why? Because, as stated above, she’s MY KID. I will encourage her drive to learn, her curiosity, and her joy of discovery every moment o every day. How else will she be able to take over the world?

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The Starting Line

OK, a little background. I’ve been a Midwestern kid all my life. Smaller towns, open spaces, the whole nine yards. My wife (talk about opposites attract) grew up in California. Los Angeles, to be exact. How we came to meet and marry in Kentucky is a story for another time.

After almost 5 years of marriage and one kid (just over a year old), my beloved and I start talking about how she misses her family, some of their health problems, and how she’d like to be able to help them. Fast forward a few months and a few dozen such conversations, and guess where we are today? That’s right, L.A.

Culture shock would be an understatement. This has been, as they say, a difficult transition. As I write this, we’ve been here about three weeks, and I’ve been moved into the role of stay-at-home-dad. This is not a complaint. I love my little girl more than anyone on this planet. We’ve moved in with my in-laws, and I’m learning how to navigate this bustling metropolis of insanity.

I have mixed feelings about being here. The pop-culture-nerd in me is excited. Disney, Universal, Warner Bros. (Helloooooo Nurse!) and the rest. The chance to see places where my favorite movies were made, take nerdy pics with my daughter to embarrass her with when she’s older, go to podcast recordings, live shows and the like; it all makes my little geek heart pound.

Then there’s the Dad in me. I know we’re only here temporarily, but how safe will my little girl be? How can I keep her as safe as possible? It’s good that she’s here to spend time with her cousin (who is ten days older than her), and it’s good that we have some family in town to help take care of her when we need a Mommy and Daddy break.

The bottom line comes down to the question I’ve been asking myself since the day I knew we were having a child: What do I want her normal to be? What default mode can I instill in her to go back to when things get rough as she grows up? For me, this all funnels into a more personal question: How do I want her to see her Daddy living.

The answer to that question leads to a change in perspective for me about being in L.A. Instead of just seeing this as taking care of my wife and her family, I’m choosing to take this time as a new beginning. Since I’m in Hollywood, let’s call it a personal reboot. I want my daughter to see her Dad take control of his life, make better choices, be a better man, better husband, better dad, so that when she gets older, she has that as an example for how to live her life the best way she can.

Me being me, I need a plan, a framework, to make this happen, so I’m focusing in four main arenas, physical, mental, spiritual, and creative. In my mind, the breakdown looks like this:

  • Physical – eat better, get in shape, be able to keep up with my daughter and my wife, and live as long as I can for them both.
  • Mental – I’ve taken a long hiatus from learning new things, so now is the time to learn some new skills, teach this old dog some new tricks.
  • Spiritual – This is a little tougher. I’ve gone through some church politics issues and some betrayal/cover-up from church leadership in the past, and it’s led to some level of mistrust of what I call the church of man. I want my daughter to trust in God, not fallible men. I need to live that in my own life as well, and no longer confuse one for the other. Possibly more on that down the line.
  • Creative – I’ve always been a creative soul; music, theater, prose, and so on. I haven’t been able to indulge that side of me in the last little while, and I miss it terribly. Moreover, I want my little girl to have a creative outlet for herself. So, for her sake and my sanity, I’m looking for an avenue back into that side of me.

As I’ve been contemplating all of this, I’ve decided to document my journey through it all. Why? Maybe there’s another 40-something guy out there who feels stuck, scared, and stagnant, and needs a kick in the tail-feathers to do something about it, and I’m supposed to be the boot. Maybe in documenting this, it’ll motivate me to keep going. Maybe there’s another reason for it that I haven’t found yet. Regardless, here it is. The starting line. I have no idea where this’ll take me, but you’re welcome to come along for the ride of nerdiness and self improvement. Buckle up.