So now he turns 18…

I wrote this on Facebook on the early morning of July 27, 2013…one day later it appears here:

It’s well past midnight and I’m sitting here with all sorts of sentimental thoughts in my head. My son – my only child – turns 18 today.

Boy that was fast.

Throughout my younger years, my own dad – the best ever – would tell me how great fatherhood was. Man, did he get that right.

Being a father has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Being a single father has been the most challenging – and rewarding thing that I could imagine. I’ve learned a lot. Most of it good.

I learned when he was born that you can somewhat prepare yourself for what was about to happen. But only somewhat. You’ll have new life changes that don’t come in any manual or video on a YouTube video.

I learned about projectile vomiting and the amazing force a tiny body can project liquid across a room. Without any notice.

I learned how to get a sense as to when it’s time to change a diaper. Done it thousands of times.

I learned, at 10 months, that my son will never directly know the best fatherly role model I could possibly had as a heart attack claimed my dad.

Eight months later, I learned my son would never get to know my other hero, my mom.

In between that time, though, at fourteen months, I learned, thanks to that old friend, projectile vomiting, that my son could now say a word. At about 2:00 in the morning, I was feeding him and suddenly the gush of warmed milk shot out of his mouth onto pretty much anything within a 10 foot radius. Including him and me. Impromptu bathtime. There it was, past 2:00, where he, sitting in the tub, looked up at me and uttered his first word… “Daddy”. Booyah!!

I learned throughout much of the time that he was two that I was going to be a single dad.

When he was about four, I learned that little boys loved the sound of fake burps and fake farts. Little girls, not so much. Y chromosomes give us a better sense of humor.

I learned that, despite the fact that I just spent 45 minutes with a retail store attendant telling them what I need and what his sizes were – or was it a doctor’s office where I would ask questions and give information – that there would be some well-intentioned fool to would tell me what to tell my wife regarding the best next steps.

I learned that I was going to be my son’s biggest role model. That he would look up to me and mimic my actions and try to absorb my attitude and thoughts. With this, I learned that I had a great responsibility. I learned that one should never utter a prejudicial thought if it is geared against a category of people. Never. And if one does, one should immediately apologize to your child and explain what had just been done was wrong.

I (re)learned about dinosaurs, about the planets, about our revolutionary war heroes.

I learned that some of us learn differently. My son certainly did. Sometimes he didn’t learn at all. Patience is key. I’m surprised I still have hair… figured I would have pulled all of it out.

I’ve learned that, no, kids aren’t chick magnets. Not hardly. But I will say that I’ve had two serious relationships over the years with two wonderful women and I’m very grateful to them for being part of my life and of his.

I learned that, as a guy who loved to follow and play sports, you have to give your son his own space when it came to such things. If he wasn’t interested, that was fine, even though inside I may have been slightly disappointed. The most important thing is to not force him to have my dreams as his dreams. But I also learned that you gotta teach a kid some basics – so, if need be, he won’t look foolish. How to swing a bat, how to dribble a basketball.

I’ve learned that any kid is going to be sensitive and insecure. We have to recognize this and not treat that as a weakness. Instead, we need to help them build their own strengths as they deal with their own challenges.

I’ve learned that you have to encourage a kid to strive for his dreams without becoming overly supportive to the point that he thinks that his dreams are your dreams transposed on him or that every minor accomplishment is overvalued.

I’ve learned that, as a single father, one needs to, at times, put career and career goals on hold. And event though that can be frustrating, it’s a lot better than putting fatherhood on hold.

I learned that once boys enter their mid teens, they don’t want to hear their dad tell them that they love them too often. And you have to comply. Even though you know how you feel inside. They know too.

I’ve learned that my son, who it seems just yesterday was a little boy, is now becoming a young man. I’m proud and I’m a bit scared.

I’ve learned over the past 18 years that there’s something I can learn everyday.

But most of all, I’ve learned that for the past 18 years, I’ve been one lucky bastard.


Figuring out Connor

It’s often hard to write about a child that has “special needs”, especially when it is rally hard to nail down just what exactly those needs are.

Connor failed seventh grade.  He can’t retain anything.  He has difficulty adding single digits.  His handwriting is that of a six year oldl.  His greatest interests seem to be extending some sort of child world fantasy land.  It could be related to Pokemon or Digimon.  But it’s increasingly becoming age inappropriate.

The hard part is trying to figure out how to respond to all this.  Do I “put a stop” to these fantasay world type things and thus destroy what he may best relate to?  Do I let it continue and keep him on a path where he can avoid growing up?  Where exactly is that best middle ground?

He’ll be 14 in a week.  To him, that means like he’s turning 10.

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A tragic day of innocence lost

This morning I woke up to a jarring story in the newspaper.  The killer of Adam Walsh was finally identified.

On July 27, 1981, Adam went into a deparment store with his mother.  She lost track of him for just a second…and he was abducted by the person we now known as his killer, Ottis Toole.  Adam’s head was found two weeks later in a nearby canal.  His body has never been recovered.

This story gripped America.  It was one of those turning points in which a singlular event caused massive, but subtle changes in our society.  I was still a teen when Adam was abducted.  As I look at his picture now, I automatically recognize him.  I’ll never forget him.  In a way he became everyone’s little boy.  The freckled-faced gap-toothed baseball cap wearing kid.  The picture was the type of picture that parents and grandparents would have on a coffee table or a fireplace mantle or on the living room wall.

When I was a kid in junior high, I’d walk to the bus stop alone.  Today, by habit, I walk my son to his.  (The bus comes at 6:30 a.m. so it’s completely dark out).  Each kid there has a parent nearby.  It’s as if each of us has a feeling that we should be there.  I can’t help but think that unconsciously we’re doing it because of Adam

I have to say that I admire John Walsh and the way he made this a crusade.  He had to.  Now we’ve got systems in place that, while not being able to prevent these tragedies, can make them more rare.

Today, I’m going to say a special prayer for the Walsh family and, most especially, for Adam.  And my son is going to get extra hugs for a reason that he knows nothing of.

Dadomatic is the place to be

The greatest joy of my life came into this world on July 27, 1995. His name was Connor. My father always told me that when I grew up and had a child it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. He was right.

One thing about Dads though. Being men, we seem to have less of a need to congregate in these warm, fuzzy groups. We’re sensitive, but we also have a need to hide that. We also tend to be humble about being fathers.

Enter Dadomatic. Datomatic Logo

Started by Chris Brogan and Dariano “Paisano” Carta, Dadomatic is home to a growing list of a growing list (40 plus at this point) of online dads who write stories of fatherhood, of families, and of their kids. It’s a very much needed concept because many of us online spend so much time writing about the medium as place to connect and to express that we, being dads, need a place to do just that about, well, being dads.

Because I think deep inside, we want to share, to connect, to commiserate with other dads. Yes, we are (most of us, anyway) are softies inside when it comes to our kids. Now we’ve got a place to hang. A Dadomatic wiki has been created and we are in the nascent stages of planning get together next year a la BlogHer.

I’m already going to review a cook book with a health food focus. Should arrive any day now.

See, this is the type of stuff that makes the internet great.

On Veterans Day

My son never got to really meet his grandfather. That’s something that I don’t want to accept but I have to. But on June 12, 1996, my dad suddenly passed away from a heart attack. Connor was 10 1/2 months old.

I do have a wonderful picture of my father holding my son. It sits upon my dresser and it always will, whenever and wherever I have a dresser.

Last year on Veteran’s Day, when he was in sixth grade his teacher asked the kids in his class to stand if they knew someone who had served in the military. Connor, knowing that his grandfather had served in World War II, stood up for Philip A. Trenn Jr. He served as in the U.S. Army in the Aleutians.

Many of my generation, with the exception of those that served, quite often never understood the concept of military service. We respected it, but it was often a somewhat distant idea. Our fathers and uncles may have served in World War ll or Korea, and we may have marched in a few parades if we were in Scouting. We knew it was noble. But we were also part the post-Vietman era, where military service was somewhat unfairly and unfortunately derided. To me, this was a disgrace. (I once considered going to OCS for the Marine Corps and people asked me why I wanted to kill people, or for that matter, to die).

The reality is that it is those very veterans that serve that keep us safe. Simply by their service. And at times, horrible sacrifice.

As the World War II generation began passing away in greater numbers, their sons and daughters began to really understand what they had accomplished. We watched Saving Private Ryan and the Band of Brothers. We read The Greatest Generation. Sure, there had been plenty of war movies and novels and other types of media devoted to the “men in uniform”, but many younger people saw them as action films. Just like many today see military-oriented video games as fun and exciting.

Korean War veterans have never really gotten their due. They’re often meshed in with World War ll vets as the two wars were relatively close together timewise or they are meshed with those of the Vietnam War as we were fighting Asian communists from the northern part of a country. For many, the Korean War was the TV show M*A*S*H*.

In the eighties, we began to understand that Vietnam veterans, too, were noble. And were worthy of every bit of respect as those in previous generations. Long, long overdue.

But now it’s time to honor and thank a new generation of veterans. Those that are serving as we speak. Before they are forgotten.

I came upon this story in the Washington Post. It’s about a new organization for Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans, the IAVA. These young men and women may be spending early adulthood in a foreign hositle land, risking their lives. They are leaving loved ones behind here in the state for months upon months. Thousands have come back injured, physically, emotionally, or both. At times to horrible conditions because they aren’t a priority. Sure, we may appreciate them in a generic sense, but we then forget and go on with out lives. While we can’t honor them everyday. But we need to remain vigilant, as a society, and to ALWAYS return to honor to them that they have given to us.

I’m starting today. How about you?

Today’s challenge got to me

Today was an especially hard day for me.

My son is the biggest part of my life. He’s precious to me. His name is Connor. I’m very thankful to be a father and even more thankful that I had such a wonderful father myself.

My son has learning disabilities. They, as I keep on finding out, are subtle but severe. You can’t really tell because he seems young for his age. He’s relatively small and has a younger face. He also has Aspergers Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. It’s called “high functioning” and it affects his academically and socially. He also has a hard time with some fine motor skills.

I’m a single dad. His mom is definitely involved in his life, but I’ve been his primary caretaker for most of his life and it can be hard. You see, today I was trying to get him to understand simple arithmetic. Basically, I was trying to get him to fully learn what number  + what number equals ten. 6 + 4, 7 + 3, 8 + 2. He couldn’t get right it a slight majority of the time. It was 7 + 2 or 8 + 3. My son can’t add single digits to equal 10. Connor is 13.

I don’t know how to help him fully get it. He’s forgotten how to ‘carry’ the one in equations, …so 19 + 10 = 29, but 19 +11 = 20. Children in first grade are learning this.

He gets frustrated and embarrassed. He gets tears in his eyes. I get a lump in my throat but I have to appear confident in him.

After a half hour of him getting things alternatively right and then wrong, I had to go for a long walk by myself. It was a truly beautiful fall day. I came upon this small park that I didn’t know existed. No one was there…it was just this small section of grass surrounded by small trees with two stone benches. I sat down and kinda looked off in the distance. Didn’t know what to think. The whole time my chest was tightened up.

I’m afraid that Connor doesn’t know the challenges he’s going to face. I’m afraid I don’t know them either.