Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You'll always be my special big girl

Dearest Ava,
Your little brother arrives on Friday. We've been telling you you'll be a Big Sister for a while, and now that day is almost here. Before your brother arrives, though, I wanted to make sure that you always know how special you are to Daddy.

Someday when you're older and can read this blog, you'll see a lot of posts about how Daddy's life changed so much after you were born. You'll read about changing diapers, about all the pink stuff in our house, how Daddy worries about making sure he does his part to make the world a better place for you and Mommy. Maybe you'll laugh, surely you'll cringe, and you'll definitely probably think Daddy's a silly sap.

But I hope you'll read how I think you are the most amazing thing I've been a part of. I can't even explain to you how much you have changed me -- simply by being born.

I remember when we first brought you home from the hospital and how in awe of you I was. Mommy and I couldn't believe that we had made you, borne out of our love for one another. You would lay there in my arms -- sometimes awake, sometimes asleep -- and I would be hypnotized by you. Every yawn, blink of your eyes, wiggle or snuggle was a revelation. You had me instantly, completely, and forever.

As you grew, it seemed like every day was a new discovery. The first time you grabbed my finger. The first time you smiled at me. The first time you rolled over or held a toy or giggled or blew raspberries at Mommy and Daddy... they were revelations, "firsts" that seemed to happen at a breakneck pace. You were the most amazing, wonderful thing I had ever seen.

When you called me "Dada" for the first time, it melted my heart. When you crawled (and "butt-scooted") I cheered. When you stood up, I watched with equal parts joy and sheer terror. When you walked for the first time, I was so proud (and scared). When you learned to climb the stairs and ride your bike, I cheered again.

Now you sing and dance and play the piano and draw and run and laugh and make up stories... and so many other things. You're so smart and beautiful and funny and silly. I can't believe we made you.

It will probably be hard for you sometimes to be a Big Sister, knowing how long you got to be the only one. You'll have to share toys, attention, food, all sorts of things that used to be "just yours." You'll be mad, and maybe sad, and probably wonder if all the things that used to be just for you are now changed or gone.

They're not. You'll always have special Mommy-Daddy Hugs and Mommy-Daddy Kisses. You'll always have dance parties with Daddy. You'll always have bedtime stories and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

You'll always be my special big girl. And you'll always hear me say "Daddy loves you."


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My only prayer is, if I can’t be there/ Lord, protect my child

I've been reading about the new documentary film "Bully" a lot recently. And I've been wondering how a filmmaker could shoot a film like this -- which follows three kids being bullied and two sets of parents whose children committed suicide because of bullying -- without intervening.

Even though I've only been a parent for a short time, I've learned that standing idly by is not a luxury a parent has. Whether it's hovering anxiously while your child takes her first tentative steps or staying that extra second (or 20) in her day care room at dropoff to make sure she's happy, the idea that your child is unhappy or could be hurt (emotionally or physically) is unbearable. You just can't watch.

Now this is not -- in any way -- an indictment of the film's director, Lee Hirsch; on the contrary, his shining a light on bullying is incredibly important. In Massachusetts alone we've seen the positive impact of the Pheobe Prince and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover bullying tragedies, both which spurred schools and lawmakers to take decisive action to end bullying. The "It Gets Better" campaign has been revelatory to many, exposing the harsh truth that -- pop culture notwithstanding -- being gay or "different" as a teen is a lonely and harsh existence for too many of our children. Hirsch's film and the "It Gets Better" campaign will hopefully be important building blocks in the effort to stop bullying in our schools and, maybe, our society.

What "Bully" has done is make me think of what would happen if that were my child. And they were different.

I'm hopeful for so many things for my daughter and my son-to-come (due in June). I want them to be happy. I want them to love and be loved. I want them to be healthy, to laugh, to sing, to dream... to be whatever they want to be.

Maybe they'll be scholars. Or singers. Or athletes.

Or maybe they'll be different. Maybe they like art and they're classmates prefer sports. Maybe they'll love books while others prefer video games. Maybe they'll be short and others tall, fat while others are thin, brunette while others are blonde. Or maybe they'll be gay.

Whatever they are or want to be, it will probably be different from their friends, classmates, neighbors, whatever. When I was a kid, I loved singing and acting whilst almost all the kids in my neighborhood were jocks (including my brothers). I wasn't fast or strong or, really, at all athletic. Sometimes, it didn't matter; but sometimes, it was everything.

For example, when I was in sixth grade, I was still singing soprano in the school chorus; I would have liked to played baseball for the school, but I wasn't good enough (I tried out). Yes, I was teased, even by girls. Not bullied like Pheobe, Carl Joseph or the kids in "Bully" -- not even close -- but I was made to feel different. I was lucky; my "being different" came down to something pretty mild compared to the pain and suffering of others. But that difference was, to my pre-teen self, everything to me. And it hurt. 

Eventually, I discovered that who I was and what I liked made me different, yes, but also made me unique and special. That made me feel good. It gave me confidence.. That confidence -- reinforced and nurtured by my parents, my brothers, my friends and teachers -- was what I needed to grow and become who I am today.

Someday, my daughter and my son may wake up and find out that they like (or are) something different from their friends and classmates. It might be a something small -- liking a different band or type of clothes -- or it might be something big -- being smart or short or gay -- that could make them a target for their peers.

I hope that they don't get bullied.

I hope that they can accept and celebrate their difference.

And that when I'm not there to protect them that they I have done everything I can to give them the confidence to be who they are. Being different is not bad -- it's what makes us great.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When she wraps her hand around my finger, it puts a smile in my heart

It's been a while since I had any new programming on this channel, so here's something I think about a lot...

Things you do that make me laugh:
- Your "magic trick"
- Nak-ey Bab-ey!
- Dance parties
- Surfing
- The toothbrush dance
- Bibi taste testing
- Changing Lulu's "stinky poop"
- Trampoline time

Things you do that make me smile:
- Singing along in the car
- Mommy-Daddy hugs
- Dress up
- "Reading" your books aloud
- Screaming "Daddy!" when I come home from work
- Correct me every time I call you "Baby" by saying "I'm not a baby... I'm a big girl!"
- Holding my hand when we walk

Things you do that make me happy:
- Everything

I love you, Baby Girl!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And so today, my world it smiles

In my office every year, there's a "Giving Tree" that has paper ornaments with wishes for gifts from children at a local shelter. The kids are as young as 1 year old and as old as 17, and the gifts range from a winter coat to blocks. Every year I go up and read the tags and try to pick just one, and end up with 3-4. And I always feel like it's not enough.

My heart literally breaks when I see the things that these kids ask for. Many are from broken homes, their young lives torn apart by parents, family members and guardians consumed by drugs, alcohol, abuse, violence... all the things that no child should ever have to experience, yet so many do.

I wish that these children -- or anyone -- never had to deal with these types of things, these horrors and abuses that force them out of the world of a child into one that is far crueler, far more desperate and far more dangerous than I have ever known.

But they do. And if a winter coat or set of blocks or toy kitchen or a Dora doll can provide these kids with a brief light, a small measure of hope, in what has been a hard life, then it's worth the sacrifice of a few dollars.

In this season of thanks, I am thankful that my parents raised me in a home where -- even if we couldn't have everything we wanted -- we had more than we need: shelter, food, clothes, and most importantly love and support. Showing me what a strong, vital marriage is -- hard work and selflessness mixed with equal parts passion and humor -- gave me the faith to believe that I find that, too,

I am thankful that I have two brothers who, being  fathers and husbands themselves, taught me that being a good husband and good father doesn't mean "giving in" to your spouse or "sacrificing your life." Instead, it means taking a leap of faith that giving yourself over to your wife and children will bring you so much more than you could ever have alone.

I am thankful that I have friends who know how vain, moody, and/or strange I can be... and still stand by me.

I am thankful that I have my amazing, kind, supportive and incredibly beautiful wife, who shows me every day what love is and what it can be, and how giving in to that love and returning it can bring you a happiness that is impossible to describe.

I am thankful that I have a happy, healthy, growing daughter who has taught me more about myself and the world I live in than any college course could ever do, challenging me to be a better man and make the world a better place.

But I am most thankful that I have been given so many blessings -- health, family, friends, love and security -- that many don't have. I am humbled by these gifts, and eternally grateful for all that I have.

Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Penn State and responsibility

As you know from reading this blog -- and the title of the blog itself -- I am a dad. A new(ish) Dad. And I admittedly am learning on the job every day. Some of that learning is fun (Where are my daughter's ticklish spots? What's her favorite bedtime story?); some of it not so much (What are the signs of an ear infection? How do I sleep-train my daughter?)...

I can tell you one thing I didn't need to learn, tho. I didn't need to learn that a child is vulnerable, maybe the most vulnerable thing in the world. Vulnerable to sickness. Vulnerable to a new world that might not be fully be baby-proofed. And vulnerable to those who prey on them.

Those like Jerry Sandusky, the alleged pedophile at Penn State.

I tried to hold off writing this; I really did. I do believe in innocence until proven guilty. I believe in due process. But when a crime like this -- one so heinous that it shakes you truly to your core -- is alleged, I go blind. Blind to reason and justice and, frankly, logic.

Sandusky -- allegedly -- took advantage of young boys who came to his Second Mile charity foundation seeking guidance. Many of them came from single family or broken homes, looking for something or someone that would help them escape what I'm sure were awful situations. What they got was far, far worse.

They asked for help. Instead, they got a predator who was -- allegedly -- only too happy to take advantage of that need, that want, to feed his own sickness. To me -- again, if guilty -- Sandusky should go to prison for the rest of his life, where he will be subject to a Hell that monsters like him deserve. It's well known that child molesters and pedophiles are the most hated, most reviled, most ostracized members of any prison community. They are the ones that murderers, thieves and rapists look down. Men with no moral compass know a true monster when they see one.

But this is not just about one man who took advantage of children who were vulnerable. This is also about responsibility, more specifically moral responsibility.

There's no question that, when confronted by the reports that a predator was in their midst, using his position and influence in the football program and access to the facilities, the leaders in the Penn State community chose to bury the truth rather than confront it. The firings and resignations of the last two weeks -- academic, institutional and athletic leaders all have been dismissed, chose to leave or have been placed on leave -- are proof of that.

Many of these individuals claim that they "followed the rules" in reporting what they saw or what they knew to their higher-ups. That may be true, and -- legally at least -- was a responsible move.

But what about going further? What about realizing that a child often has neither the mental capacity to understand nor courage to report to an adult that another adult has taken advantage of them? Some children barely have the courage or smarts to tell a teacher when a classmate steals their pudding at lunch or hits them at recess, let alone that they have been sexually assaulted by someone they know and probably trust.

Now remember that, to many of these children, that adult was a "friend" who gave them gifts, took them on trips, and told their parents that he was "helping them to a better future."

So, confronted with an unspeakable crime, the coaches, administrators and leaders at Penn State chose to keep it in house. Take care of it their way. Not go to the police, protect the children, and stop a monster.

Those leaders, those pillars of the Penn State community, had a moral obligation -- as self-described teachers and leaders of men -- to report this and try to put a stop to it. And they failed.

And those children paid the price.

Monday, October 24, 2011

And when I die, and when I'm gone...

The title of this post sounds way darker ("dah-keh") than I intended, but I'm a slave to my "theme" (such as it is)...

There's this commercial that I'm sure most of you have seen where a Dad is using all sorts of web tools (Google, YouTube, Blogger, etc.) to document all these moments in his kids' lives, and it ends with him typing the line "I can't wait to show you these...", and it got me thinking.

What am I leaving behind for my daughter?

Not the obvious things -- money (hopefully), photos, our home, maybe a car, some personal possessions (jewelry, etc.) -- but things that are maybe more ephemeral, more intangible... like a better world, as much as I can. A legacy of trying to do the right thing. Of being a good person. Caring about the world I live in and my place in it, trying to make my corner of it a better place.

It's funny how these things seem "important" when you're young and single, but -- let's face it -- they're really not your primary focus. Or maybe not even secondary. You're young, just starting to figure out who you are and what kind of person you want to be, what kind of job or career you want, and how fast you can get there and how much fun you can have on the trip.

Of course, that all changes when you get "older." That word does not necessarily mean years, mind you; I know my fair share of 40+ year old men (and some women) still working out that "Who am I? What's my place? What are my goals?" stuff. And they have every right to take as much time as they need.

Because I sure did. I was 35 when I got married, and believe me (and I tell my wife all the time), I needed every one of those 35 years to get to a place where I was ready for my world to expand and become about more than just myself. Which is really what starting a family is about -- putting someone and something else first.

I was 37 when my daughter was born, and again that was right when I was ready. Being a husband is one of the hardest and best jobs I have ever had. Being a father is even harder and more rewarding -- which probably goes without saying.

That's why today, more than ever, I think about the world I live in and what my place is in it.

That's not to say that I have that licked, by the way. Every day I have the internal conversation about whether the time I have to spend away from my family to work is worth the sacrifice (i.e., the "Waah! I have to work to support my family but I'd rather be home with them!" feeling). What about the trips to the gym a few times a week? It's a balancing act.

So, yeah, what I do every day is a mix of trying to help my world and the world overall. Some days, I do it real good with one. Some days, it's the other. Very rarely, it's both. Often, it feel like neither. And it feels empty and not fulfilling.

But I wake up every day believing that day will be the one where I fill up both columns, a better world for my family and the world in general. And I keep waking up every day feeling that way; otherwise, why get out of bed?

That's what I am trying to leave behind. And that's what I want my daughter (and any future children) to know and remember. I tried every day to make the world a better place.

And that, to me, is the best legacy I can leave for my daughter. Because I'd want her to follow that more than anything else.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I just called...

So my office (really a cube) phone just rang, and I answered. The voice on the other end of the phone said "Hi Dada!"

It was awesome.

Crazy, really... for a while now, my daughter's been playing "telephone," picking up our house phone or cell phone(s) or even remote controls (or her baby monitor) and saying "Hi!" and telling us she's calling Grandma (my mother-in-law) or Nana & Papa (my parents). But when it came time for her to talk on a real phone to a real person, she would usually just smile at me (or my wife) when we told her to "Say 'Hi!' to" whomever was on the phone.

Now, though, she seems to be on board with talking on the phone, for real.

I'm sure there will come a time when I'll be asking her to NOT talk on the phone so much.

But for now, I can't wait till she calls again.