$ign here: Something to think about before you pay for an autograph

 

photo credit: andres musta via photopin cc
photo credit: andres musta via photopin cc

Poor Cam Newton.

Not poor Cam Newton. An NFL quarterback, with multi-year contracts and endorsement deals, cannot be called *poor*, unless he’s gambled his earnings away, or squandered them on wine, women and song, or left them in a Hefty bag in the backseat of a taxi cab.

Or if he’s torn a knee ligament just before the playoffs and can’t play. Then it’d be, “*poor* (insert quarterback’s name here – I don’t want to jinx anyone), he can’t play in the playoffs.”

Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers star quarterback, isn’t poor in any of those ways.

Continue reading “$ign here: Something to think about before you pay for an autograph”

I’m a bad dad. And a lousy coach.

bad-dad
photo credit: v_mats D16B2649-1 via photopin (license)

I believe the universe corrects itself.

Track races. Pennant races. Racial races. Yin and yang, alpha and omega. My noble ventures as dad and coach – tempered by those thoughts/actions/decisions that make me forever mortal.

The 11-year-old burping in the middle of Taco Bell.

The dad, only marginally embarrassed. More proud of the effort … wanting to coach her, even. “From the diaphragm, Marie. Project! Belch for that person in the last row, dear. GIVE IT LIFE!” All those endearing comments on my columns about my wonderful fathering?

Continue reading “I’m a bad dad. And a lousy coach.”

Thanking those who serve, and one who didn’t.

All we had to offer was a can of Sprite.

He opened it right away. Gulped it, really. We wished we’d had a bottle of water. Much better for gulping on a 97-degree Independence Day, when you’re a man with a sign to declare you’ll work for food. That you served in the military. With a faded “I served” sticker stuck in the corner of your beat-up, rectangular cardboard sign.

He held that sign in one hand and gulped Sprite in the other. At least the Sprite was cold.

And here, on July 4th, we watched a man who told everyone at that exit ramp he’d served his country, and now needed a little help. For little things. Such as eating and drinking.

beggars,coins,cups,gestures,hands,homeless,people,panhandling,poverty

Whether this was a war veteran or a swindler is of little consequence. I saw sincerity in his swig. As the light turned green, I saluted him – entirely inappropriate, probably, when the saluter is sitting in air-conditioned comfort wearing a Rockies cap, and the salutee is sitting on a milk crate in the blazing sun – and we were off.

My immediate thought was of the flag at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro the night before, that lay motionless against its pole for seven innings, then whipped to life as a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” wafted over the loudspeakers. (After the song, the flag again rested against the pole).

I also thought of the men and women who’ve served our nation, and who do so today. So many Pachecos on the Vietnam War Memorial wall. My uncle Gilbert, a prisoner of war in Korea who was rescued by American forces.

I appreciate them all, those who’ve served.

I especially appreciate one skinny teenager who did not.

Oh, he tried.

When the draft notice arrived at his ranch home in rural New Mexico, he packed a modest bag, said his goodbyes, and reported to the train depot on a fateful Saturday morning. Ready to serve his country. Scared beyond belief, understandably. But reporting to serve.

One by one the draftees boarded the train as their names were called, each stepping up, some probably sheepishly, others, more brazen about their appointment. All were called, but one.

“Name’s not on the list,” they told the skinny kid. “Come back next Saturday.”

So, he did.

Same modest pack, after seven days of contemplation. He had to say goodbye again. Report again.

Another batch of draftees waited. Again, role call sent each, name by name, from the platform to the train.

All, again, but one.

“Sorry,” the officer told this same kid. “Not on the list. Try again next Saturday.”

American eagles,armed forces,officers,badges,e pluribus unum,emblems,jobs,military personnel,occupations,soldiers,symbols,United States,animals,government

The kid didn’t come back.

They never called.

He wasn’t a conscientious objector. He didn’t flee to Canada, seek student deferment, or become a “divinity student” to shirk the draft. He loved America. He took an interest in its history, its politics, everything about it, as a second-generation native of the nation he loved.

Had he been deployed, he’d have likely been the point man in a rice paddy, wide-eyed and fearing Vietcong at every rustle in the forest.

His name likely would have graced the Vietnam War memorial, honestly.

Instead, he decided not to tempt fate a third time.

Had they called again, he’d have gone, he said.

I believe him.

I know that sounds bad, especially on this holiday.

But I am grateful.

And I know when he met Uncle Gilbert and John Wayne on the other side, they’d have been OK with it too.

Instead of becoming a soldier, he became a father.

Instead rifle carried into battle, I’m around, to carry on his name.

So, dad, thanks for *not* serving.

God bless America.

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5 Ways to Give Your Kids Confidence (Without Becoming an Ogre or Doormat)

 

photo credit: lawndart via photopin cc
photo credit: lawndart via photopin cc

 

There’s this delicate balance we want to establish in our kids. No, I don’t mean popular in school, without living like a starlet.

Or being the star of the team, without regard to the concept of team.

Or brilliantly smart, without knowing when to take time from the books and be a kid.

Come to think of it, we want those things, too. But that’s not the purpose of this particular blog.

There are three other things we want to instill in our kids, at some point between the moment we cut the umbilical cord to when we take the training wheels off the bike for the first time to helping to pull their jeep out of a lake after college homecoming (what?).

I want my girls to feel …

Young Boy in Confident Pose - Centro Habana - Havana - Cuba

Confident, but not entitled.

Self-assured, but not self-centered.

Happy in their skin, but not oblivious to the world around them.

It’s like trying to balance an egg on one end on Arbor Day (or is that Winter Solstice? I forget.

The generations before were just as perplexed, from the era of Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard to Kids Are Just Little People to Let’s Idolize Our Child With Bumper Stickers Declaring Their Academic Brilliance, Window Stickers With Their Jersey Number, and Cost Of Private Lessons In Anything They Choose To Do Recreationally.

What is right?

There’s more validity in action than theory, as parents know.

These are a handful I try to put into action. The less you speak, and the more you do, the better. I even asked the kids for their input on this. After their initial suggestion that I instill confidence by buying them i-Pod touches were squashed like an Eva Longoria romance, we got down to business.

1. Hype it up, with good stuff

athletes,horse races,horseback riding,horseracing,jockeys,men,persons,riding crops

Grace told the world (or at least her first-grade class) daddy yells at her during soccer. No, not spittle-spewing, vein-popping, profanity-laced discourse, but something really simple: “Go Grace, go!” My sideline sounds are mostly confined to prodding the kid bringing up the rear.

I won’t scream “reverse field!”, “get to space!” or “Pass! Shoot!”; but, kind of like the horse crop on the flank, just a little prodding to get the lead out.

This happens to work, not as effectively, to finish school projects before bedtime (at which time they become parent projects. Definitely thoughts for another blog).

2. Pay attention. Always. Completely.

animals,lizards,nature,Photographs,reptiles,salamanders

If your nose is still in your Louis L’Amour novel while she’s telling you about the salamander she found in her school lunch, she’s gonna be bitter. That wacky play he’s dreamed up for the next soccer game that involved sliced lemon and a hedgehog? Take notice.

When they ask to help mush up the hamburger meat for dinner, tell them to wash their hands first, then let them get messy with you.

Honestly, when there’s these sweet familiar brown eyes fixed on you, how can you look anywhere else? I can’t confirm this scientifically, but I feel like if I listen to them, they’ll listen to me.

3. Get behind them – in a real way

brass instruments,entertainment,music,saxophones,valves,leisure,arts,tools

Drive the distance to be at the game. Switch shifts. Praise the effort, not the result. Make sure she has cleats that don’t pinch her toes. A saxophone that the b flat doesn’t sound just like a C. Think about it: If you feel someone cares about what you do, doesn’t it make you want to do it better?

4. Shoot straight

goals,nets,soccer balls,sports,equipment,scores

Not even a kid wants blown smoke. If it wasn’t her best game in goal, no need to call her Swiss cheese and an embarrassment to her heritage, but don’t also tell her she’s the next Hope Solo. “Those were great opportunities you created to shoot today,” you could say, “and I think with a left-footed shot, you might have ended up with a hat trick.”

Now, you can both work on that left foot together.

Beats the heck out of telling her you thought you saw the other team’s goalie driving herself to their U-12 match.

5. Love, Love, Love.

Soccer Ball Cake (2)

I had a goalkeeper who let in the tying goal with 10 seconds left, then missed a penalty shot, and gave up with winning PK. Lots to swallow in the span of 3 minutes, 37 seconds when you’re 10 years old and away from home.

She got hugs as she cried on the field afterward; no words would have done it justice. I’m talking from not only her parents and coach, but parents of other players. We all couldn’t help but think of our own kid in that very spot.

It’s really what makes us want to look into their eyes and root for them and listen to their ideas and watch their mouths move and eyes light up and just get as close to them as you possibly can, because they’re like a really, really awesome little version of you before you knew anything about mortgages and failing transmissions and downsizing.

Plus, love’s the easy part, right?

These Aren’t Your Father’s Video Games, Apparently

video-lede
photo credit: loresjoberg Peace in our Time via photopin (license)

They’re the three words a dad doesn’t want to hear from his daughter.

“It’s complicated, dad.” When did I lose touch? When did I become irrelevant? At what point did the things that matter in my daughter’s life slip off my radar; so far that when I try to regroup, attempt to understand, she could just shake her head and gives up on me?

This wasn’t a Hallmark movie conversation with my teen about boy drama.

It wasn’t with my 11-year-old about her own developing life. This happened on a lazy Saturday morning, when dad decided, yes, he will take a shot at Mario Brothers with a 7-year-old.

Continue reading “These Aren’t Your Father’s Video Games, Apparently”

What to Do When Your Kids Pick Their Favorite Teams

 

photo credit: #163/366 via photopin (license)
photo credit: #163/366 via photopin (license)

You can pick your Lotto numbers. Your pizza toppings. Even your kids’ noses, in a pinch. But, no matter how hard you try, you can’t pick your kids’ favorite teams.

When a man’s child pledges allegiance to a team, it’s the first lesson in loyalty. Pride. Passion. Trash talk. A world of high hopes, unwavering pride, dashed dreams, and reliance on the belief that you’ll get ‘em next year. Or the year after that.

The colors. The logo. The history. The immediate connection when you meet someone wearing your team’s colors – or the instant disdain felt when they sport your rivals’.

As a boy, I pledged my allegiance to the lowly Seattle Seahawks, an expansion NFL team featuring my hero, Jim Zorn, a tough-luck, left-handed quarterback. I brought my poster of Zorn to school; my gym teacher hung it above the back entrance.

I welled with pride with every lap and missed basketball layup under it. Every other kid at Centennial Elementary boiled over with vitriol, and took shots at my hero with dodge balls.

“This is my son, Eli,” Dad would say to friends, then look down. “He’s a Seahawks fan.”

“I’m sorry,” they’d respond, and shake their heads. They’d give me that look, as if I’d contracted the first case of leprosy / projectile diarrhea / chronic halitosis hybrid virus.

Frank Morado photo
Frank Morado photo

As a boy, I once foolishly leaped in the air to celebrate a missed field goal that gave my Seahawks a 13-10 victory against Denver. In my dad’s living room. Off his couch. Just feet from my embarrassed dad and stunned, angry uncle.

After my awful crime, I retreated to hide in the bathroom. My dad closed in quickly. And joined me.

I’d disgraced the Broncos, and my father. I got a good talking-to that day. A good one.

That marked my last Seahawks celebration under his roof.

At age 16, I converted on my own, from the Seahawks to Broncos. When Dad moved us to North Carolina, I felt a pull to pull for the team of my home state. I’ve been blue-and-orange ever since. My sister and I grew up in Broncos Country, watching our dad and uncles and grandpa live and die with Red Miller, Rick Upchurch and John Elway, listening to my grandpa break down the losses at the kitchen table, hair mussed, eyes tired, voice weak.

He’d just shake his head.

 

My daughters have chosen their teams: Elise, the San Francisco 49ers (because I took her to see the Panthers play them on her birthday); Marie, the Arizona Cardinals (only after she pared the 32-team NFL to five finalists, slept on the choice, then picked the team with the red jerseys and cool mascot); and Grace, recently switched from the Denver Broncos to the Carolina Panthers because of Cam Newton.

If their teams can beat my Broncos, the ice cream is on me. If my Broncos win …

“Daddy,” Elise peeped after a Broncos win. “I don’t have any money to buy ice cream.”

photo credit: profiterole via photopin (license)
photo credit: profiterole via photopin (license)

It’s OK. It’s still on me.

In fact, Elise got her ice cream revenge one year in a preseason game. Her 49ers hung a last-minute field goal on my Broncos to win. She celebrated unabashedly, in a 49ers T-shirt, fists thrust into the air, legs kicking.

I just smiled.

Maybe I’ve lost my edge. I secretly want the Cardinals and 49ers and even Panthers to beat my Broncos if they have the chance. They’re my kids’ teams.

“This is Elise / Marie / Grace,” I’d say to anyone who would listen.

“She’s a 49ers / Cardinals / Panthers fan.”

And she picked her team all by herself.

 

football season quote

What a catch: What happens when you fish with a 7-year-old

I can’t write about every daddy-daughter date.

We do this one a month, during the soccer offseason, my girls and I.

Each girl has her day. Teaching Marie to score a baseball game made such an impact, I had to write about it.

As the dude in the adjacent cubicle would say, “you GOTTA blog about THAT.”

I do, dude. I do.

Grace wanted nothing more than to fish on her first daddy-daughter date of this offseason. Her shins still bruised and scraped from the rigors of the season, she’d set her sights high on reeling in tiny fish on a Friday evening.

Oops, that’s Marie’s team banquet night. But when you get to terrorize a pizza line and attack the game room Reno-style, you can postpone your dream date by a day, apparently. (Especially if cupcakes are involved.)

Finally, there she stood in the doorway on a Saturday afternoon, flip flops, knobby knees, jean shorts, a Dutch soccer shirt and a pink-and-black baseball cap, waiting to cast some lines into the deep.

Right at that moment I’d love to have unzipped her head, to snap a picture of what she envisioned the day to be.

There she was, head full of dreams, cup full of worms, window down, breeze in her face, and a pond of unsuspecting fish ahead. She went right for the bait in the bait shop, forgoing the kiddie poles with Barbie, Dora and Spongebob in full endorsement.

Just give this girl a cup of worms. And a pond full of hungry brim.

I wonder what she thought when the muddy pond came into view. They’ll never tape Dangerous Catch in these waters. It’s a puddle, really, lined with trees and backyards and a slab of concrete we’ll call the dock.

This won’t be a chronicle of all the things said between a dad and a kid on her first fishing outing, but I did have questions of my own: How would the kid who spontaneously combusts into a cartwheel; who will make a jump rope out of anything she can swing and jump over; or seems to have two speeds – sleeping and turbo – handle the quiet and discipline necessary to fish?

Marvelously, as you can see.

As I fumbled in the tackle box, with a steady stream of accidental finger hooks and dropped lead weights with muffled curse words, she cast, and reeled in, using that perfect motion she used for soccer throw-ins to cast deep into the murky waters.

When a misfired cast nearly dropped hook, line and sinker on top of her head, I took the rod and reel, and gave it a good daddy cast – whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr – past a lazy turtle and into the snack zone.

Bite.

Before I could hand the reel back to Grace, the bopper dipped, the rod bent, and the chase was on.

“You got one!” I told her, handing her the rod. “Reel him in!”

She smiled and leaned back, then reeled in like a champ with a form I can attribute only to the Wii. We hadn’t covered this part yet.

In she came, a decently-sized brim destined for mobile-phone pics and the distinction of being Grace’s first. Then, a kind release back to the muddy waters.

She posed and grinned with the prickly-finned prize, and, one not-so-graceful attempt to de-hook and release that left the fish agitated and dad’s shirt slimy, it was right back to how nature intended.

Grace cast her line again. And began to think.

“Dad,” she said, that look of disappointment on her face like she’d just chomped a broccoli stem she thought was a green M&M, “you really caught that fish. Not me. You threw out the line, and it bit while you were holding it.”

“But honey, it was your rod.” (This is fallible, as any good Latino knows – if you’re wearing the Lakers jacket with the switchblade in the pocket, it’s your switchblade, no matter who owns the jacket. Ergo, he who casts … )

“I’ll catch more,” she said. “Remember the lunch I just ate? And how I scored a hat trick the last time?”

How could I forget? Here’s all you need to know about my failed track record as dad – Grace equates gluttony and regurgitation with athletic glory, ever since the day she downed 10 McDonald’s chicken nuggets, upchucked, then turned in a three-goal game, all in the same day.

I looked over at the cleaned-out nuggets box and defiantly crumbled McDouble wrapper by our tackle box. That’s not such a bad display of gluttony, is it?

Then I remembered the bag of sour-cream-and-onion chips and bottle of Bug Juice she conned me into at Bi-Lo …

(What would Dr. Oz say?)

I’m happy to report this story ends not with daddy holding the baby’s ponytail, but the baby’s line, six times. In between a wrangle of hooks out of fishes’ mouths, she asked about water snakes, marveled at a blue heron that flew overhead, attempted three times (OK, five) to convince me a brim would make a marvelous pet, wondered out loud how a nightcrawler could survive a triple impalement, water-ski action and constant nips from from hungry turtles and fish.

As dinner time approached, she insisted on one more cast. I wondered about the monster I’d created. Something right out of a country song.

When the lid finally closed on the tackle box, she’d collected (and released) six fish, two turtles, one tree branch that for just .002 seconds convinced dad it was a water moccasin, and about a million stories.

Fish tales.

“Looks like you’re daddy’s little fisherman,” I told her as she wrote a sweet thank you note to the friends who let us fish here.

“No daddy,” she answered.

“Fisher girl.”

And you don’t need a Barbie rod and reel to be that.

Boy, it’s good to have girls.

photo credit: Si-MOCs via photopin cc
photo credit: Si-MOCs via photopin cc

Getting their hair done.

Getting their nails did.

Buying clothes. Or accessories. Or jewelry.

All things my girls probably sometimes want, or will want, someday.

Continue reading “Boy, it’s good to have girls.”

The bottom line: When it comes to kicking butt, I bring up the rear

photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc
photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

I can’t handle success.

I fumble / mishandle / botch / butcher / sabotage / ruin / boot / flounder / flub / mar / mishandle / mismanage and muck up any good fortune I stumble upon on an athletic field.

How I’ve managed to win a handful of soccer tournaments and not strangle myself in the goal net, only St. Pele knows.

This applies to me, individually, on a field of play. It seems to go to my head, perhaps. Or my butt.

I’ll explain.

But first, let’s recap:

I’m the fourth-grader who took a whole Actifed for allergy relief before a rec basketball game, and, in my hyper cloud, lit up the scoreboard like Wilt Chamberlain; then, in my next game, fouled out in the first half and sat on the bench in tears when the drugs wore off.

(Barry Bonds, do you feel my pain?)

I was also the backup to the backup fullback on the J.V. football team who, on a rare day of playing time, went on a tear of at least three straight runs of 5 yards or more (epic!); and, in my haste to make history, hyperextended my thumb while getting down in a three-point stance.

At least my pants didn’t fall down.

The latest chapter of my athletic prowess happened as a soccer coach. During a one-on-one drill designed to teach the girls (under 10, mind you) to ward off a defender and shoot quickly, I got to play goalkeeper.

No matter who you are reading this, you have more experience and ability to play goalkeeper in a real soccer match than I do.

But I was on fire.

These kids couldn’t touch me. Two by two they tried, only to be turned away with a dive here, a leap there. Every save spawned the next. I pounced. I stretched. I saved.

I became 9 again, my head a sweaty mess under my mop of hair, my warm-up grass-stained, my legacy in bloom.

Then, I got cocky.

When things go my way in sports, it’s good practice to look for Haley’s Comet. It comes around about as frequently. When I get a hit in a softball game, my next time at bat, I get a little waggle.

You know. Rock the caboose. Shake my money maker.

Apparently, stopping 9-year-old girls’ shots has the same effect.

My stance developed more animation. I nodded my head and taunted a bit.
Shake, shake, shake. I.can’t.be.stopped.

So, my last great save was a dive to the left, in which I stopped the shot, lost the ball, the scrambled to recover. I could hear Hope Solo cheering me on from Seattle.

And crushing on me.

The coach at UNC Charlotte kicking himself for not realizing that pesky campus reporter who came to his games was actually a play maker.

U.S. Soccer needed me.

The shake took on a life of its own. I even bounced a ball off two girls’ feet as they ran back to their lines after that spectacular save, just for emphasis. The world? My oyster, for sure.

Then, the clapping started. Very close.

“You got two with that one, coach!” said the even closer voice.

I turned to see a gaggle of soccer moms, perched right behind the goal. Including the dreamy mama who makes half the coaches act like sailors at port every time she comes around.

A goal net makes a lousy barrier, y’all. All that butt-wagging? Turns out it wasn’t just for me.

Suddenly, I went cold. My knees stiffened. My technique wilted. Score once. Score twice! I unraveled, all because of the exposed butt waggle. I went from Hope Solo’s eye candy to Charlie Brown and the entire history of the Chicago Cubs all rolled into one.

I’m sure it wasn’t the quality of butt that drew the audience. My butt’s nothing to write home about. Not even in soccer pants.

It’s puny. Like, someone messed up on the ass-embly line. They attached a size 3 on a size 6 model. It’s functional, but I’ll never win any contests. I’m pretty sure the 3:6 ratio is fine if you’re a silverback gorilla, but a human soccer coach?

Not so much.

Without the waggle, I became ordinary. Show over. My jacket couldn’t stretch long enough to cover my shame.

For a moment, I had the limelight. Until I realized the light was on me.

All is right in the universe now, though. Practice is over. The moms packed their kindles and rounded up the kidlets. It’s time to grab dinner and find those lost water bottles.

As soon as the lights go out, this’ll all be a distant memory.

But I had my moment.

Bet your ass I did.

How an Anonymous Story Made My Girl Smile Again

photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc
photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

So, I took the girls to get their haircut the other day, and …

What? What’s so funny? Oh, that dad would be the one to take them? Psh. I’ve got this. I write of not being the “average” dad, and it’s true that sometimes I mean median income (I’m below) or median height (ditto).

I’m also 30 percent female, I’ve been told, and feel I do a good job as dad..

I make up for it, though, by letting my little kids use the restroom all the way in the back of Kohl’s, all alone, while I pour over the clearance racks in the men’s department in the front. But that’s another blog.

Continue reading “How an Anonymous Story Made My Girl Smile Again”