Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

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Dad – The Next Level

I have just returned from a wonderful Father’s Day weekend visiting my daughters.  As I am prone to do, I packed as many things as possible into this one weekend.  As they expected, there would be some adventure, but also a lot of “nerdy” things such as visiting “Dad’s past life” such as my college and the very first radio station I disc jockeyed at (although that was a bust as it was closed for the Summer break – back in the old days, the station ran year round).

As far as lessons in life, I gave my daughters one of their most important lesson, the value of friendship.  As children grow, one of their most traumatic concerns, is losing friends.  This commonly occurs when either moving to a new city or school.  Of course, as parents, we always encourage our children, “you will make new friends”.  But do you have to lose your old friends?

My daughters learned this past weekend, you can keep your friends your whole life.  One of my life long friends, along with her husband, had invited us to stay with them while I was visiting my daughters.  My daughters were amazed that I had remained friends with someone from school, more than 35 years ago.  It was a wonderful weekend all around for all of us, including our hosts.  They enjoyed the company of my daughters who as usual, were on their most polite behavior, something I always instilled in my daughters as always being important.  In fact, there was quite a bit of interaction as we played table games, shared stories about all of us, and my youngest daughter learned a new talent courtesy of my friends, how to play the guitar.

Up to this point, it was just like old times.  Just Dad and his girls, having their typical time together.  Time frozen.  Part of our weekend though would include their request of the weekend.  To go see a movie.  Being back home, I knew just the place to take them, a drive-in movie.  My daughters had never been to a movie where you parked and watched the movie from your car, and the perfect movies were playing at this drive-in, Cars 3 and Captain Underpants.  Perfect.  Under normal circumstances, this is the way things worked.  My daughters make the suggestions, and I work out the details.  This time, they had a suggestion, “The Book Of Henry.”

Both of my daughters were emphatic that they wanted to see this movie.  I had not heard of this movie, so of course I “googled” the trailer.  Based on the trailer, I found myself second guessing if this was going to be an appropriate movie for my daughters.  During the preview, it was clear there were a lot of “grown up” issues being shown, child abuse, possible murder, and who knew what to expect with a movie casting Sarah Silverman (a raunchy, but funny comedienne).  Well, being the nerd that I am, I saw this as an opportunity for what it was, a learning moment.  I was sure there would be questions after the movie, and I was the right parent to handle those questions.

Do not worry, I will not spoil the movie for you.  With a PG-13 rating, the movie was actually geared and targeting young teens.  And the previews of the movie did not disappoint either as far as what I would possibly face discussing with my daughters:  death, child abuse, bullying, single parenting, alcohol, obscenities, and solving problems with violence.  While that list is daunting, it was far from the level of intensity of the Fast & The Furious.

By the end of the movie, all three of us had shared some laughs, and at least one, some tears.  As we left the movie, all of us shared our own view point of the movie, but one thing was clear, we all enjoyed it.  And then it hit me.  This was the first “grown movie” I had watched with my daughters.  There would be no more Toy Story or Despicable Me movies.  I am more than aware of how old they are, but now was aware of how old they had become.

I have now entered the next level of fatherhood.

Can You Take 5 Minutes Today?

Happy Memorial Day!  I know that probably most of you are already either planning your barbeque or packing for a trip to the beach on this extra long weekend, the unofficial beginning of Summer.  But out of this 3-day weekend, is five minutes really too much to ask?

Last night I had a conversation with my oldest daughter about how her weekend has been going so far, and she said “okay” (typical teen with a one-word answer).  So as I am prone to do, to pull more syllables out of her, I asked her a question that contrary to popular suggestions, one that would require a “yes” or “no” answer.  Either way a discussion would ensue.

Dad:  Do you know why you have off on Monday?

Daughter:  Yes.  It’s Memorial Day.

Dad:  Do you know what that means?

Daughter:  No.

Now, I want to state up front, I was not able to serve in any branch of the service, so I cannot talk of personal experiences.  And as I have several friends and relatives who have served, I will do my best to be respectful to explain, as it once had been taught to me, by my elders, to appreciate and honor our servicemen and servicewomen who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and our country.

I started the conversation by explaining to my daughter that we actually have 3 days that we recognize those serving our country (again, I apologize for my ignorance if there are more – this is only what I have been taught).  There is Armed Forces Day which we honor all who serve in the armed forces.  This day is celebrated on the 3rd Saturday of May.  Next, there is Veterans Day.  This day is celebrated on November 11th to honor those who have served in the military.  And finally, as we remember today, Memorial Day.  Today, we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting our country, protecting our freedom.

As a child, I can recall conversations with family members with a limited range of military events… World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  I had friends with grandfathers who served in WWII.  My paternal grandfather earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War.  I had an immediate uncle who had served in the Vietnam War.  All I had heard was stories.  But it was enough for me to hope that as we learn history to keep from repeating it, we would learn the tragic losses of war, and war would be avoided.  Of course it did not.

There would be US military service needed in Europe once again in the 1980’s, and of course, in 1990, I watched the television, the first war in the Persian Gulf region, “Operation Desert Shield.”  Though it only lasted less than two years, and to some it was judged a success, others incomplete, the day that changed America, September 11, 2001, would leave our country and our armed service personnel, in a perpetual obligation ever since.  Through 3 presidents now, and with no end in sight, our military is involved in so many conflicts in the middle East region alone.

Following the 9/11 attack on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, my nephew then served multiple duties in middle East.  Now, as adults, my friends also had children serving in these conflicts.  Wars have taken on a new meaning for us.  Because even if our service men and women come home, most never come home as they left, physically or emotionally.

To all my friends and family who have served or are serving, as always I am grateful for your service.  And today, I remember not only my family and friends who served and lost their lives in battle, but also the friends and family, and fellow “brothers and sisters” who fought beside you and lost their lives.

Yes, this weekend is a beautiful weekend.  The weather at the shore will be great.  There will be lots of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ribs.  Oh, and let us not forget, the countdown to the end of school, less than two weeks away for most.  Yes, there is a lot to celebrate with our families.  But as we are going to be involved in military conflict for many years to come, we need to remember and recognize this day, because sadly, more names will be added to the list who died serving our country.  This is why we have to remember our history.  This is why we have to always take time to remember our fallen.  So that we can have the enjoyable weekend that we will.

An End Of An Era

In a little more than a month, my youngest daughter will be done with elementary school.  I spend so much time, going back through time in my mind to the days that both of my daughters were first placed in my arms to today.  My oldest has just about completed her first year of middle school, which is worthy of a post itself.

I look back at my own childhood, and the memories I have from elementary school, and the many teachers that had the first major impact on me, getting me to enjoy school.  And for me, it is that simple.  But now, as an adult, elementary school worth took on a whole new meaning.

I could not have been any more excited for the first days of school for my daughters.  First, I would ask off from work so that I could not only see the girls off to school, but took as many photos as I could of those first days, leaving the house, getting on the bus, to even entering the school.

From those “first” moments, my life as a father would change forever.

Monday begins Teacher Appreciation Week around the country.  And I do not think you will find anyone who appreciates teachers as much as I do, and my daughters are only mid-way through their education.

I remember all my teachers through elementary school, mostly by name, not necessarily for what they did for me, except for one, Mrs. McGuire.  I was quite sick and needed surgery during my first grade year.  She visited me and helped me with my homework while I recovered, yes, beyond the 9-3 school day.

My oldest would start elementary school officially in 2009.  The school district was going to be entrenched in a brutal contract negotiation, that would eventually result in a strike by the teachers.  Like many uninformed parents, I was irate that the beginning of the year was going to be delayed, which of course was going to have a last minute impact on finding child care to substitute for the absence of school.  “Those damn greedy teachers!  How dare they?”

But as quickly as those emotions came out, the school board released a full page color ad of the salaries of the teachers and union personnel of the district, of course to enflame the community.  My past experience as a victim of bullying, I saw this for what it was, bullying.  And immediately, that flipped a switch in my mind that something else was going on.  It was not as simple as it seemed.

In the meantime, the teachers returned back to school, and on the very first day, on a Thursday, at 7:45pm, and there is a reason I remember this exactly,  I received a call from my oldest daughter’s teacher.  She wanted to discuss a concern that she had about my daughter’s cognitive levels, especially with her being internationally adopted.  We spent more than 45 minutes on the phone.  Now keep in mind, this teacher had two young children of her own, but contrary to the popular myth, teachers days do go beyond the hours of 9am to 3pm.  Instead of spending time with her own children, she was helping me, to address a concern with mine.  There are countless examples of this throughout both of my daughters educations.

Teachers have almost as important role in the lives of our children as we, the parents.  Teachers spend more time during the awake hours with our children, not just teaching our children, English, Math, History and such, but often times, lessons about life that we do not have the simple answers to, many times uncomfortable.

I will never forget the care given to not just my daughters, but to all the students who would hear of the horrible massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Even small children know that they should be safe in school.  Sandy Hook changed that not only for the children who heard about the horror, but teachers soon found out, that in spite of the slaughter at Columbine High School years before, violence could even reach the elementary levels.  Now, teachers not only put their heath at risk with contagious germs and such, but were now expected to physically guard our children.  I am certain, this was definitely not dealt with in college when they studied to be a teacher.

My personal experiences with the teachers at my daughters elementary school also had a major impact.  The uncertainty of my health, led to many instances of an emergency phone call to the school, with last minute instructions for care, transportation, and sometimes, explanations.  And every time it happened, and there were a lot, the teachers responded with such assurance and professionalism, which made each incident a lot less traumatic, not having to deal with the stress of the care of the girls.  I always knew they were in good hands.

And no parent wants to get the phone call, “your daughter’s school bus was involved in an accident.”  But I got one of those phone calls, and again, the school staff handled everything perfectly.

During that first year of my oldest’s school year, I paid a lot of attention to the negotiations of the teachers contract negotiations.  I began to attend district meetings, noticing more things that did not make sense, and clearly came to the conclusion that the teachers were being made scapegoats for a situation that the school board had created.  It was very easy to fool the taxpayers who were just as uninformed as I had once been.  My voice by itself, along with a barrage of letters to the local newspaper opinion columns was not enough.

And so began my short political career, as I decided I would campaign for school board in the next election.  Along with four other candidates, and a great campaign committee, I spent the next six years, dissecting the business and activities of the school district.  Clearly things could be improved, but I definitely felt it was not the fault of the teachers as it was being made to believe.

Along with my school board campaign, I also became more involved in my daughters school activities, participating in their parent organization, an anti bullying campaign, and even managed to have some extra curricular fun, volunteering as the “official” school disc jockey for fun events made even more popular with fun music.  My daughters were split on just how cool it was to have “dad” DJing, but their friends always encouraged them that their “dad was cool!”

Over three years ago, the direction of our family took a dramatic turn that none of us had ever expected, divorce.  And with that, came separation from my daughters.  But the staff of the school, as they had done the previous years, stepped up as they always had, realizing that even the distance between my daughters and I, I was going to continue to be involved in my daughters educations, as much if not more, as when I had been local.  Teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, the principal, everyone has done everything I could ever ask, when it came to helping me, help my daughters with their educations.  From studying for a test, to making sure homework got done, the staff has always been there.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week.  And you better believe it, I appreciate the teachers that my daughters had, teachers that other children have, friends of mine who are teachers, and the ones who started it all for me, my teachers.  Teachers are full time workers who put their health and their safety at risk every day.  Their day begins when they step through the entrance of the school, but does not end, well beyond exiting those same doors.  Teachers have homework or tests to correct, preparations for the next day lessons, and of course, there are the personal correspondences to reach parents whose children are struggling in school.  I know there is more that they do, but I can only talk about what I have experienced.  I am not a teacher.  But they know what all they do in a day for children.  And so for that, I publicly say thank you.  And keep up the good work.

And to the staff at my daughters elementary school, I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  My daughters have so many positive memories.  You kept them safe, and as I found out with my oldest daughter in her first year of middle school, you did a great job preparing my oldest as she has done well so far after three marking periods.

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