February 26, 2011

Do as I do, but not all the time

Lead by example.  It's one of my favorite leadership principles.  On the surface it's quite simple, but there are so many underlying aspects of it that make it so powerful.  Most obviously, if I can show you two how to act instead of simply telling you how to act (especially since actions and words aren't always the same), I can raise you girls to do the right things.  For myself, knowing that someone is always watching, judging ("look at the baby, look at the baby"), is the greatest motivator for myself to do the right things as well.  It's circular, I try to scratch your backs, you scratch mine.  We're all better for it.

What happens though when you see your dear old dad mess up?  As much as I try to get things right the first time, every time, I'm going to get them wrong sometimes.  I don't always get it right when it comes to discipline.  Or handling frustration.  Even when I know you're watching, I still do it wrong.  That's not leading you two by example, and telling you to do as I say, not as I do is probably the worst response I could make.  

What is an example is showing you how to react to those mistakes.  We all have the ability to learn, if we just pay attention.  Like I've written before, when we mess up, we need to take a moment to realize our mistakes, think about how to fix or recover from them, then press on.  At this point, it's not as much a lesson for you as it is for me and your mom.  If we can learn to handle our mistakes, and you see how we're able to do this, then we don't need to be perfect to raise you right (thank the Lord!).  We just need to lead by example.

February 23, 2011

You Said It, All by Yourself

It sounded like this:

Ayow yo Dada.

I remember it like I remember the first time you ran to me as I walked in the front door after work.  This time I was walking to the door, leaving for an overnight trip.  I had already kissed you goodbye while you were preoccupied with one of your books on the couch.  Before I got to the front of the house, you came running, knowing that I was leaving.  So I hugged and kissed you again.  Then as your mom stood in the doorway holding your sister, I walked outside.  Before the glass door shut, you said it.  I couldn't help but stop and smile.  When I looked back you were waving at me and smiling too.  I had to respond.  I couldn't let those words go unacknowledged.  So I blew you a kiss.  We'd never done that before, but you caught on and returned it.

As I drove down I-95, I could think only of that moment.  You saying those words was another one of those moments that will stick with me forever.  There will be days when I need those memories.  We all have them.  Days that are long or difficult, tiring or frustrating.  On those days, I'll pull out memories like this, and think about how much I love you too.

February 20, 2011

Was Going to Have a Scotch Tonight

Here's one of my favorite lyrics from the song Used to Be, by Lost and Found, the Christian duo.  

It used to be that failure only meant you didn't try /
In a world where people gave a damn.

I first heard it my freshman year in college.  There are a ton of good nuggets in these lyrics, but this line has stuck with me all this time because they're right: Seldom do we fail at things we put actual, legitimate effort into.  Very often we fail, whether at school, at work, or at relationships.  Ultimately it's because we don't try, especially when things get hard (I'm certainly no exception).  So whatever it is you girls decide to pursue, praise the Lord by giving it your best.  Put your heart and soul into those things that are important to you.  Don't ever stop listening and learning so you can be better, or pick yourself up when you fall.  And because you will have given a damn, you will not fail.

February 17, 2011

Feel the Pain

In flight school, I wanted to go home.  The plane ticket from the back woods of Mississippi to California wasn't cheap.  At the time I was between phases of the training pipeline; the break between the two fell perfectly over Christmas.  It was perfect timing, really.  I had already gotten my leave papers approved up through the chain of command and was slated to begin the next phase right away in January.  As November closed, I was told I would have to begin ground school for the next phase in a few weeks.  The training would significantly interfere with my trip.  So much for those tickets.

I went to the operations officer and told him my situation.  While it doesn't seem all that important, several hundred dollars was still a lot of money to throw away.  I told him I didn't want to put anyone else in a similar situation, but I asked if it would be possible to push my start date back to January, where it was originally.  He asked the usual questions: when was I traveling, where was I going, etc.  Then he told me a story.

He had been in a similar situation.  His leave had been approved and he had bought his tickets.  He was going home.  Unfortunately, a last minute situation arose and he was told he'd have to cancel his trip.  He missed his family during one of the few opportunities he'd had in years.  He was crushed.

He paused and looked up at me.  At this point I knew I was missing Christmas.  Looking back, this wouldn't be the first time (and probably still won't be the last).  I thought I better start getting used to it.  He continued, saying he had gotten hosed, even with tickets and papers in hand.  He explained how he dealt with it, because as Marines (even though he was in the Navy) and aviators, missing important holidays came as part of the job.  Then he said he wouldn't let that happen to me, this time.

In a cliched way, the Hallelujah Chorus sang.  A very minor crisis had been averted.  I learned a great lesson that day.  Everyone has to face adversity.  There are always situations where people get a raw deal.  This is a given.  But there are two kinds of people.  Some people have the attitude, "it happened to me, so I'm going to make sure you feel the pain too."  And there are those with a better, though more difficult attitude to foster and maintain.  Those people say, "it happened to me and it wasn't right.  I'm not going to let it happen to you."

Losing a few hundred dollars and a couple weeks with family doesn't really count as adversity.  It wouldn't have been so bad.  What's important is the lesson that I carry with me nine years later.  The lesson I want to pass on to you girls.  The lesson that I want to pay forward.  

So you know, while in California, I got to pick out a diamond ring for your mom.  I'm sure glad I got to go on that trip.

February 14, 2011

V-Day is Better in a Mini-Van

I had a co-worker today tell me that just about anything you can do is better when you're single.  Really?  Maybe this is just the way it is with your mom and me, but I enjoy being with her.  Wouldn't you like to do things with your best friend?  I sure would.  Of course I'd like to go play golf with the guys, but even after having some fun with buddies, I enjoy coming home to see your mom.  And you girls too.

She asked me, "why would you want to have kids? They take up all your TV time and you can't go out and do anything fun."  She has never come home to see her little Bear, big blue eyes looking up, blurting an innocent "dadadada."  I still remember the first time you, Joy, came running to me.  I would say I wish I had it on camera, but it has a special place in my mind that I'm not sure I'll never forget.  And while she may be right about certain times, like cleaning up the puke that filled your entire car-seat that day (don't worry, your sister uses that seat now...), there truly is nothing better than a surprise hug.  I could only smile at her and shake my head.

Then I realized it's Valentine's day.  And she's single.  While I hope she is happy, I realized that she may have been trying to tear down two institutions that make me the happiest: marriage and fatherhood.  All in the name of helping herself feel better.  I hope this isn't what was happening, but it was very convenient on a day when love and relationships are celebrated.

It made me sad.  If only she could know the feeling of being loved by three wonderful people.  Or be happy in her own situation.  I pray she can find that happiness.  And I pray that you girls will too, now and in the future, whether or not you get married.  If I could tell you two things today, I'd say first, there is absolutely no feeling like the love I have for you two.  Indescribable.  (I tried once.  I think I utterly failed).  This is a source of great happiness for me.  Second, don't let your happiness come at the expense of others'.

February 12, 2011

Daddy Fan Club

I felt like I had my own fan club today.  Both of you decided that Daddy was the one to be with.  I’m not sure why, but I’m not going to complain.  Sometimes I feel bad for your mom on days like these, but she does get plenty of days when Daddy’s name is mud.  I love these days.  They erase any negative feelings I might be having.  It’s amazing how the look of your daughter can make you feel.  Not that today was a bad day, but a ray of sunshine on even the nicest of days is a welcome surprise.

After days like these, Joy, I wonder how we can get into the battles-royale that we do.  I realize you’re only two, but there’s something about the clash of our personalities that leads to a quickly elevating struggle.  Your mom says it’s because you love me so much; that since Daddy’s for fun and Mommy’s the more common enforcer, when Daddy has to take that role it hits you much harder.  She’s probably right.  She is very good at understanding human emotions.  And predicting the end of a movie.

There are certain things you need to learn, like listening and respect for authority (I guess I do understand what your Grandma and Grandpa were trying to say back then).  What I need to realize is that I need to pick my battles.  Those lessons are important, but you are still just two.  Your mom is much better at figuring out how to get you to do what we want, while making you think it was your idea.  Genius really. 

I like to think I’m pretty good at things, generally.  But this is one area where I struggle.  As you get older, I feel more and more humbled by our interactions.  I’m learning.  And I think you are as well.  I realize you are young and quite new to life.  Though I’m only 32, I’m beginning to realize how much I thought I knew, and how much there still is out there that I don’t know.  I hope we can learn some of these things together.  I look forward to it.  Especially after days like today.  There are few feelings out there that can surpass a willing hug from a daughter.  I don’t think there is anything else that can wipe clean any slate of frustrations so cleanly.

It makes me want to pray.

February 9, 2011

I Was Running...

I am amazed at how much little kids trip and fall.  Sometimes it's hilarious (is that bad?), and other times it's sad. But what I'm really amazed at is not so much the frequency, but the reaction.  Of course, there are times when you fall and immediately start crying.  But there are so many times when there is absolutely no reaction.  You just get back up and keep running.

This is an important lesson to keep in mind because we all make mistakes at some point in our lives.  Wrong decisions, stupid words, or a clumsy step happen to us all.  What's important is how you react to it.  There are those who will simply never try again.  Why bother?  I got it wrong this time, I'll just do something else instead and spare myself the embarrassment.  Then there are those who get back up; those that realize their mistakes, learn from them, and start running again.

Sometimes dads need to remember this lesson too.  So let's get up and run together.

February 6, 2011

Man Landers

I'm not big on etiquette, but there are a few rules I do like to follow:

1. Say please and thank you.
2. Share your cookies.
3. Don't poop in the tub, especially when you've got company.

Apparently one of you needs work on number 3.

February 5, 2011

Courage Under Fire

Let me just tell you two that putting out “the vibe” will no longer be allowed once you turn 13.  I think a lot of things will change around that age.  It scares me, having you girls, especially being so close in age.  I know at some point you’ll start liking boys and wanting to do crazy things like driving cars and talking on the phone.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  Probably.

I just don’t want to lose you. I’m sure all dads go through feelings like this, especially with their daughters. I know I won’t “lose” you, but when you hit those teens and Mom and Dad are no longer cool to hang out with, well that’s going to be tough.  And again, there are boys.  So I’m scared. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Since it’s inevitable, I guess there’s really no use worrying about it. Besides, what would I tell you, or one of my Marines, if you were faced with fear? I would tell you to be courageous.  I would tell you not to back down or give up just because something is scary or hard. I would tell you to do just the opposite: Let the face of adversity drive you harder to do better. Because there are many things in this life to be scared of, in some way or another.

Maybe I’ll take my own advice. Maybe you still have over a decade until these "problems" arise. Maybe I should focus on loving and teaching you in the best way I possibly can so when those years come, I know that you’ll make the right choices. Maybe I’ll go put on a sherbet-orange tuxedo and put out a vibe of my own… to scare away the boys. And probably everyone else too.

February 3, 2011

The Anti-Santini

I’m not the yelling type.  I never have been, and barring some unforeseen life change, probably never will be.  I have started raising my voice to you Joy.  Why?  Because you’re two.  And after asking you once and telling you again, raising my voice seems to work.  I’ve always told myself I would try to remain calm; I’d be firm and in control, never aggressive.  Not that I am mean or condescending when I do this, but I’ve been raising my voice more often lately, and resorting to it sooner.  But the ends don’t justify the means.

This may seem unusual for a Marine.  If you ever read The Great Santini (which is worth a read), I hope you never see any of him in me.  This may also sound unusual for a Marine: I want to make sure you grow up in a loving environment.  I want you to know that your father loves you and always will.  I don’t want you ever to be afraid of coming to me and sharing your thoughts, feelings, opinions.  Or your favorite book.  I know I may want to regret saying this as soon as you hit those teen years, but this feeling will never truly change.  If I raise my voice to you once a day, as it seems I’ve been doing lately, this environment will fade.  If I raise my voice to you repeatedly, I may begin to yell, and eventually find myself grasping for a branch as I plummet down that slope.

This may be overly dramatic, but falling into such traps is a great fear of mine.  Sure, I could intimidate you and force you to obey.  But I would rather lead you to the right path, even as a two year-old.  I am your father and in a position of authority, but I can build our relationship around love and mutual respect so we can grow and learn together.  I will always choose your willful obedience over fearful reluctance, even if it means a more difficult path for me.  Raising my voice has worked.  And it has been easy.  When I can’t think of anything else to do at the moment, or my patience has ended, a louder, lower timbre seems instinctive.  I need to realize the ways of coercing you to do what I ask, before I get in those frustrating situations.  What I need to do is work on “the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding, and moral character that enables [me] to inspire and control [my girls] successfully."  John Lejeune may have long since passed, and his words may have been intended for leaders of Marines, but they certainly apply to a father who loves his girls.

There will be more times when you frustrate me.  (And trust me, I will frustrate you too, especially when I wear my Members Only jacket around your friends.)  I may lose my cool.  God-willing I won’t.  I am, after all, the adult.  I am the one with the experience and responsibility to do my best for my family.  I will always strive to foster a loving relationship between both my girls.  Because if there is one thing I love, it’s when you sit on my lap with your doggy book for us to read together.  That’s something I’m not willing to let go.  And neither is that jacket.

February 1, 2011

Ponies and Bras

Apparently I need a remedial class on animals. I saw a horse today and told you it was a cow. You got the noise right though with an aggressive “mooooooooooooo”. Your mom decided that she’d be the one to teach you two about animals. With that, we had to set some ground rules. Turns out I’m responsible for teaching you left and right, colors, and animal sounds. Your mom gets the animals themselves, girl-things, and feelings. You can come to me any time, about anything, including those things that are officially your mom’s. But if you ask me about a bra or something, I just might tell you mooooo.