I work in hospice.
This statement has never been written in either of my blog columns. I checked. I actually just conducted a Google search to confirm it. The omission is likely due to the fact that I write about birth, and cribs, and babies punching Santa. Hospice seems out of place here.
However, end-of-life care often evokes conversations relevant to my experience as a young father. My professional work is about family, and loyalty, and legacy. These themes transcend context, and occasionally reach far enough to punch this young father right in the mouth. I find myself smacked with the frightening yet liberating reality that I start dying now. The process starts today. The ways in which I work, and love, and serve will influence the legacy I eventually leave behind, as well as the manner in which I leave it. I am reminded each day that the life I live is meaningful, that it has consequences, and that it affects others. It affects my wife, and it affects my son.
On the rare occasion that I am asked to define my role as a hospice worker, I share that my efforts revolve around meaning. I base my care on that which the patient and family have found most meaningful over the course of their lives. Alongside these brave individuals and their families, I engage the mystery of death and affirm life. I validate faith and the commitment of the individual, and support him or her as life closes. Everything we do revolves around that person’s journey. Reconciliation and legacy abound. Heartache is ever-present. A few good laughs are often shared.
I am writing all this to remind myself and others why I began writing about parenthood in the first place. At the end, all we have are stories; Beautiful, sacred stories that bind us and sustain us. Faith, family, and hope are all founded in story, and in death these stories collide.
Today, my stories are joyous, and they are mine forever. Oliver is crawling, smiling, and occasionally raising his eyebrows at ladies in the supermarket. He is awesome. His stories add meaning to my life, and I feel as though I am aware of this now more than ever. Most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on our relationship now with enriched perspective, rather than later. If not for my job, that perspective would not exist.
So here I am, because of that “terribly depressing job,” anticipating our adventures together with newfound excitement. I look forward to watching Star Wars with Oliver for the first time. I look forward to sharing my faith with him. I even look forward to getting him his own dog, and then watching as he figures out that tails are not leashes.
All this excitement … brought about by that terribly depressing job.
When I was a child, my father set out to build a backyard fort. To this day, the structure is his greatest architectural achievement. Though his three rambunctious boys are now three semi-mature adults, that clubhouse still stands amidst orange trees and a vegetable garden. It remains glorious. When I initially embarked on this parenting adventure, I figured that I would have to wait several years before creating something of significance. I was wrong. Sort of.
With the help of my sister-in-law and a multilingual instruction manual, I built a crib that has not yet fallen apart. Some of my friendly readers might point out that I technically assembled a crib from parts manufactured somewhere in the United States. They are correct. Still, I assembled that thing masterfully, and I deserve some credit for not assembling it upside down or accidentally nailing it to a door.
This was the latest of several steps we had taken in creating a fun living space for our little guy. Now that Oliver has been here for three months, I can confirm that he thrives in his new habitat. His nursery is baby friendly, personal, and nerdy. He has some fun clothes, a few bath toys, and a wall covered with pictures of historic sports figures. We framed the covers of several sports-themed children’s books, and displayed them throughout the room. Prominent sports icons can be found above shelves, next to windows, and hiding beneath smoke alarms. I initially thought of juxtaposing my face on a few of the athletes, just to boost my self-esteem and subtly convince my child that I’m athletic. I eventually gave up my dream, and allowed for the icons to retain their place of prominence. His walls tells stories of Pele, Wilma Rudolph, and small Canadian children that play ice hockey.
In all seriousness, this process was much more complicated than expected. I knew that choosing baby room décor was an important part of the nesting process, because someone said it in Juno. However, I never expected this process to become important to me. It never seemed very significant. In fact, when we first started talking about the room, I optimistically figured that my wife would lead the charge. She happens to be more organized, more intelligent, more artistic, and far more proactive than I am. As facets of the room were discussed, however, I found that I had opinions. Strong ones. I suddenly overthought every aspect of the room, and began to question the messages being sent by whatever and whoever was being displayed on the walls. I questioned the iconic figures, the sports represented, and even the color themes. Questions abounded. Am I accidentally conveying some bias about gender or ethnicity by choosing some pictures over others? Am I forcing my child to like sports? Why are there no pictures of my bearded face in this room?
I spoke with a dear friend who happens to share most of my views on life, and I informed him of my concerns. I was both surprised and comforted to hear him suggest that my worries were absurd. The walls do not matter. My kid receives so much love at every moment of every day, and no faulty room display will detract from that message. My child will learn to love and value all others because he will see that behavior modeled by his parents. I can fret about somehow creating the racist third grader who makes awkward comments at recess, but it simply will not happen.
I probably will not build a glorious, surprisingly sturdy backyard fort for my children. This kid will be lucky if I construct a go-cart without losing fingers. Still, I have plenty of confidence that I can create a decent human being. I'll let you all know how he turns out.
Dear Little Baby,
After we bring you home from the hospital, we will choose how to present you to the world. Many of our peers have chosen forms of social media. These are online platforms that allow a grown man to show the inside of his wife’s uterus to all of his friends without feeling awkward. Future dads get to say, “Hey high school friends, come and check out what I put in that uterus! Trust me, it’s going to be a baby.” This way, it becomes much easier to display pictures of the actual baby after it’s born, no matter what it looks like.
“Remember when I showed you that picture of a skeleton wearing a Luchador mask? Well don’t worry. My baby has a face now, so it’s cuter.”
This “show-off the baby” stage is actually quite daunting. It does not help that The Lion King has given me terribly unrealistic expectations. First of all, that primate holds the baby with so much confidence. I can’t hold a baby without fearing that his arm might fall off like he’s a faulty super hero figurine. Secondly, the crowd’s excitement is terribly misleading. Whenever I watch that opening scene, I tend to imagine that some of the animals aren't so enamored with the royals. It would make sense. There have to be some griping, pissed off antelope sitting by the lake somewhere. They can’t all be dancing in unison. Somewhere, far from the circle of life, there are some bitter antelope. They likely knew Mufasa in high school and thought he was a punk bully with a nice mane and a rich dad.
"Boooooo! Booooo! I hope the monkey drops that kitten, you tyrant! Boooooo!"
These thoughts have left me with some apprehension. Should I show you off? Will people cheer? Those hypothetical antelope haunt my dreams. I can imagine other dad bloggers flipping through pages of Facebook baby images, and rating them Cute OR Not. I fear for your ranking.
Still, I cannot imagine that anyone would have a hostile reaction to you. People love me. People love your mom. I never ate anyone’s family and shrugged it off as “the circle of life.” When I post pictures of you on Facebook, or hold you above my head in a crowded grocery store, everyone will cheer. They should, because you are going to be mind-blowingly cool.
Regardless of your political affiliation, little baby, it is safe for you to assume that the job of US President is a tad stressful. Every President looks like Walter Matthau after a four year term. Without fail. Hair becomes gray, skin starts to sag, and these guys always look like someone punched them in the face.
This White House photo by Pete Souza, recently published by TIME, reminds me that kids in costumes make everything better. If I were Commander in Chief, I would demand that mini super heroes greet me every time I board Air Force One, give a speech, or kiss a baby. In fact, all babies should be costumed. No kisses for non-super-hero babies.
Dear Little One,
You might not know this, but I was born two and a half months premature, and once weighed 2 lbs, 9 ounces. I received loads and loads of attention, like a baby movie star living in a fancy uptown incubator.
Years later, your grandmother took me to a festive miracle baby celebration at a nearby hospital. The party was held to celebrate the lives of prematurely born infants, years after their births. While my memories of the event are hazy, I remember that I felt important. Music. Clowns. Miracle Toddlers. It was a glorious Preemie Party.
Much like the folks that threw that shindig, I hope to remind you each day that your life is a blessing. I eagerly anticipate your adventures, your mistakes, and your triumphs. All blessings.
One day, you will come home from church camp, trash all your rap music and break up with your pagan girlfriend. That will be hilarious. Two weeks later, you’ll want your 2Pac albums back and wonder where your cool girlfriend went.
When you start Little League, we will all quickly discover that you are not very good. But fear not! Your hot mom and I will create a drinking game in which we crack open a beer every time you have a well-hit foul ball. We are really supportive. We will be even more supportive after a few foul balls.
Oh, the moments we will share.
As a toddler, I never understood why preemies were being celebrated. I now understand that people simply want to remind themselves that life is precious, and give thanks. I am grateful for life, little child, and I grieve deeply this week for the ones who have been robbed of its moments. The horrific events of this past week are haunting, and leave me with few words. I can only say that children are precious, and I feel this now, more than ever.
In a previous post, I discussed the importance of your due date. If your tiny baby fingers are unable to click on this link, read the excerpt below.
While many might think of the myriad logistical implications of a baby being born in April, such as weather and work schedules, I find myself wondering what celebrities might share your birthday...
In the previous post, we discussed the baseball players to whom you may be forever linked. This week, we are exploring historical figures. Here they are, in no particular order:
Political leaders: Monroe, Lenin, and Elizabeth II. To this day, I still have not figured out how Lenin was able to write all of those Beatles songs.
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher. He was super tight with Russell Crowe, so Joaquin Phoenix got jealous and killed the Emperor. Then Joaquin was like "I'm going to marry my sister" and Russell Crowe was like, "Dude I'm going to kill everyone." History is crazy.
Click on the pictures to see the names of your possible birthday buddies. Depicted are the respective creations of a designer, a sculptor, and an architect. These men created incredible things. I would be pleased if you built a sturdy fort in our living room. Without pillows. Keep it classy.
Gollum is an extremely important historical figure. His obsession with jewelry eventually saved Middle-earth. Plus, I plan on photo shopping his face on half of your baby pictures.
One day you'll learn that lying is bad.
And then, some other day, you'll learn that lying is hilarious.
I am not suggesting that you lie. I am suggesting that you be able to recognize when someone is lying, and then laugh at him or her for a really long time. Let me help you understand. You know that friend of yours that tells everyone his dad owns a horse? You know him. Last week, he said that the Kardashians came to his birthday party. That is a funny dude. Bring him over more often.
He'll grow up and become that one-of-a-kind whopper-espousing friend that EVERYONE wants to have. A true classic. I’m not talking about the guy that met Shaq once. I’m talking about the guy that was drafted by the Lakers but had to turn down a roster spot because he was an undercover cop at the time and all the guys down at the precinct were depending on his leadership. That guy is hilarious.
When you get older, little baby, make sure that you choose good friends. Stay away from the kid that likes to smell his hands. Avoid the guy that really wants to show you all his dad's sharp tools. Keep a distance from that kid who always sings Creed songs. And bring us one bold faced liar, so we can all have a good laugh. Yes, it's wrong. But it's also hilarious.
Greetings, Minor Leaguer.
I've been contemplating your due date. We expect your arrival sometime around the final week of April. While many might think of the myriad logistical implications of a baby being born in April, such as weather and work schedules, I find myself wondering what celebrities might share your birthday. This is important. Every time you have a birthday, some toolbag DJ on a pop radio station will say "Happy birthday to Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, and the girl who plays that one girl's friend on that TGIF show I used to watch." DJ Tool will then delve into an anecdotal story about watching this terrible show with his middle school friends, and you'll start to hate yourself for being associated with this awful story.
This is important stuff. You don't want to be associated with the wrong people, the wrong stories, or the wrong smells.
Let's get started. I have categorized your possible birthday buddies, and we'll start with baseball players because these people are golden gods. In no particular order, here are some baseball players that might share your birthday.
Don Mattingly looks like every police officer you've seen on television. He is like the cool hippie that grew up and became a strict dad. He used to be a rebel, but now he shaves his mustache and makes everyone bunt.
I am not sure why, but your mother will not let me name you Hornsby.
In his prime, Andruw Jones could cover Center and Left field at the same time. He still can, if he stands too close to the camera.
As a child, I took a picture with Barry Larkin. Your grandmother wrote on the back of the picture, "The boys with Kenny Lofton." Side note: Don't get mad when grandma forgets your name.
I have nothing bad to say about this man. He is really, really pretty.
His real name is Larry Wayne, but he goes by Chipper. You understand this, because I have been calling you Hornsby since you were born.
You know that guy who still works in construction, even though he is 80 years old? People just keep him around because they're too afraid to fire him, and he used to be really good at his job. Now he's been building the same wall for years. He has a baseball equivalent, named Omar Vizquel.
Dear Formless Being,
One day, you'll come home and tell me a disheartening story about the kids that stole your bike. Or the kids that put mud in your juice. Or the kids that told everyone your dad was a male stripper. You'll seek revenge, and I'll likely tell you that revenge is wrong. "It only leads to more hurt." That's a quote from Future Me. I completely agree with Future Me, because I think that Future You will be an absolute terror, and Future Me needs to be a hard ass.
In reality, I probably couldn't help you anyway. My attempts at revenge have rarely been glamorous, or even effective. I could never be a mobster or any sort of professional that has retaliation as part of their job description. That is, unless I am being asked to avenge a puppy. Then it's on.
Suzie walked into my place of employment in 2003, holding a beautiful black labrador puppy. "I found this puppy on the cliffs by the beach," she said. "I need to find someone that will take her. Would you like to have her? And if not, can you ask staff members if they want her?"
The puppy was beautiful, and your grandma had long been saying that she would like a new dog. I called her immediately, and by 10pm that night, the dog was home. Over the next couple days, I heard reports of how much your grandma loved the dog. Suzie occasionally saw me in the cafe where she worked, and she often requested updates on her old puppy. I expressed my gratitude, and happily relayed grandma's newfound joy.
Then it got weird. I discovered from a close friend that Suzie did not find the puppy on the cliffs. She had supposedly found the dog near the Mexican border, where she met a nice homeless man and traded a blanket for the puppy. She then brought the puppy home to her college dorm, to be her new roommate. Friends later told me that she dropped the puppy while playing, and the dog immediately started acting funny (she walks with a limp to this day). Suzie kept her in the dorm room, and fed her scraps from the cafeteria. After a few days of this, Suzie became bored and decided to give her away. Hesitant to tell the truth about the puppy, she decided to visit all university offices and describe the dog as "rescued on the beach."
Suzie wasn't a cruel person, but she was selfish, short-sighted and dishonest. I decided that I should confront her about this deception in a totally passive aggressive manner. I walked to the cafe, ready for battle.
Suzie: "Can I take your ord- Oh Hey! How's my puppy? Tell her I said hi."
Me: "Hey....I'd like a smoothie. Uh, yeah the dog... sh*# got crazy man. I don't know what's going on. The dog bit my brother, and now doctors are saying the dog has a disease only found in Mexico.... not rabies, but like it, I guess. It's really weird, and it makes no sense, right? My brother is in the hospital, but he'll probably be fine, we think. (Long, long, dramatic pause) We don't know what to do about the dog though. It probably has to be put down... ah, I don't don't know...don't really like talking about it. I got to go."
She just stood there, unable to say anything in response. She was probably thinking about my puppy, sitting on The Row, waiting for the needle. Or maybe she was picturing your uncle, crying out in his hospitable bed. I was thinking about my smoothie. It was one of those pineapple-strawberry lava-flow concoctions, with extra strawberry syrup. It was going to be delicious.
I walked away with the best cracked-voice and fake tears I could muster, and silently applauded myself for the brilliant performance. I discovered later that my roommate came in and decided to follow-up with Suzie. This was not planned. He said things like "Are you laughing? I don't know how you could laugh right now," and "Oh yeah, it's easy to smile when YOUR brother is not in the hospital." I think she felt pretty bad.
My friend informed me that she was about to cry, so we told her the truth late that evening. She never spoke to me again. And that smoothie was delicious.
Stories and Letters
This Dad Blog was originally written as a collection of letters to my child, chronicling my awesomeness and warning of the chaos to come. Now that children reside in my home, it also includes essays on successes, failures, and lessons learned... and humiliating pictures... as well as rants, jokes, short stories and random videos. Read stuff!
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