I won’t miss my chance for one last dance with Elise

Nature reminds a man of his age. Thinning hair. Graying temples. Crow’s feat. Gimpy knees. Nature swipes our get-up-and-go over time. (On the softball field, you know.)

True, all of it. It’s why George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone” gave way to Toby Keith’s “As Good As I Once Was” as my theme song.

A man naturally progresses. His sports hero retires. His alma mater hires a head coach his age. His sports hero lands a front-office or coaching gig. Makes it to the hall of fame.

His sports hero gets sick, or … (Jim Zorn, eat your veggies, please).

The moment that tackles you from behind? Try picking up your soon-to-be high-school daughter from the school dance. When you walk through the halls once decked with her elementary-school artwork and come face to face with this beautiful woman, who just takes your breath away. Part you, part her mama, every bit an angel.

None of these parallels hit me until they were parallel. That’s how it works.

Instinctively, I parked my car in that same last spot in the lot. The same spot I’d picked when I came to watch the lottery to get our girl into Queen’s Grant.

Tonight, I walked toward the front doors, seemingly the man I’d been when I’d held her hand on the way to assembly when she was in kindergarten. Eight years ago.

Man, middle school parents are SO OLD, I thought back then.

I made my way toward the cacophony of middle-school voices, squeals and yells, combustible hugs, exclamation points on every sentence, full of giggles.

I saw myself carrying Elise back to class after she fell asleep in my car, riding back from a kindergarten field trip, her little legs dangling, classmates giggling quietly and pointing.

I insisted on taking a picture on my phone, my hand shaking a bit, the phone covering my face long enough to hide a tear, or three falling. She smiled. Photo snapped. Tears wiped.

Her storytelling began immediately and didn’t stop until we got home. Here she was, still looking so much like the kindergartner I’d left behind on her first day of school in tears.

My tears.

clothes,dresses,high heels,household,ladies,party wear,corporates,personal appearances

Only tonight, in high heels, she was looking straight at me, not up to me.

I saw her lift her head up above her classmates when she saw me peeking through the window in the door. I saw her reaching for my hand as we walked back to class after assembly, happy her daddy was here. I saw her bounce up, off the side of my leg, as I bumped her up in the air when the teacher wasn’t looking.

She sang Adele’s latest, breaking between lines of lyrics to tell me about the fire alarm they had at the beginning of the dance, because of the smoke machine.

I saw my kindergartner as she asked me to read a book to the class after they ate lunch. In silly voices.

Was that perfume I smelled? I saw her at age 6, smelling like sugar cookies.

She rattled off about who’s dating who, tales of PDA and conga-line dancing, kids who she adored and kids who annoyed her. I marveled at the red glitter on her mascara-covered eyelashes, same color as the dress her mom worked so hard on the night before.

She sang along with the B-52s and Daughtry, pausing to laugh and tell me another thing that happened when another song came on. And about a dance called the “Waddle.”

Child car seat

I saw her through my rearview mirror a drowsy little kid in a car seat, and how many times she conned me into a swing through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home. Scoring the first goal, by a girl, in the school’s co-ed soccer history. Dancing with ME, at the daddy/daughter dance.

Salt-N-Peppa came on the radio. Hugely inappropriate, but nostalgic. Push it REAL Good. “This is what played when *I* went to school dances,” I told her, and then it hit me.

Middle school parents are old. WAY OLD.

But not dead. See, it’ll be time for the daddy/daughter dance again soon, my last such date with Elise before she moves on to high school. I’ll be the dad with the three pretty girls and the best moves of any pop out there. Seriously. It’s my grand finale, with Elise.

Knee, don’t fail me now.

I used to be hell on wheels,

 back when I was a younger man

Now my body says, “You can’t do this, boy”

but my pride says, “Oh, yes you can!”

~Toby Keith

I’ll be the dad hell-bent on staying “Bad to the Bone” – until I break one.

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When it Comes to Mermaids and my Rockies – You Just Gotta Have Faith

mermaids
photo credit: Is this the Star Wars version of Snow White? via photopin (license)

I knew a man who named his first kid after a movie mermaid. No one you know.

My daughters experienced their own Mermaid Stage. Creative leg wrappings and feet bound together at the heel mark the age. Water games center around my quick-footed kids transforming instantly into half girl, half fish, when they come in contact with the water.

They’re only to become human again at sundown. I think.

Or is it sunset? In mermaid movies – Aquamarine, The Little Mermaid, Splash – mermaids scramble at sunset or sunrise. Forgive my ignorance. I had a Dinosaur Stage, a Stormtrooper Stage, even a Future NFL Quarterback Stage.

None of those changed depending on the sun.

So, Daryl Hannah? Ariel?  The angelic mermaid with dirty blond curls who rescued me when I fell into Frank’s Fishing Pond in Colorado as a teenager? (OK, so I made that up.) You’re out.

Continue reading “When it Comes to Mermaids and my Rockies – You Just Gotta Have Faith”

It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Gets Hurt

fun and games
photo credit: Storm Troopers Searching for Remaining Rebels at the Examination School of Oxford via photopin (license)

My girls play through it all. Brutal weather. Corrupt referees. Clueless coaches.

They’ve won and lost games in shootouts. Scored colossal goals. Been party to enormous collapses and stunning comebacks.

They’ve taken verbal abuse from opposing parents, been roughed up by overmatched opponents, and could fill a thousand goals with all the post-game crackers and cookies and chips and Powerades and Gatorades they’ve demolished.

Does the game involve a ball? Expect grace, skill and confidence from my girls.

Continue reading “It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Gets Hurt”

$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.