Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

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Are we, as parents, too protective?

I am a father who has hit and passed the half century mark. I remember when I was child, my mother-who was not my biological mother-was a very doting mother. I could do no wrong and was sheltered from quite bit for a long time. But, even so, she never thought twice about letting me go outside and play. I would go out and play by myself or with any number of the other foster children for which she cared. At one point, I had ten ‘brothers and sisters’ to play with. We lived in an old, two story house sitting on a major thoroughfare in Richmond, Virginia.

We played with matches. We shot off model rockets. Rode our bikes through the woods behind the house. She even let the teenagers walk us across the street to the Minit-Mart to buy ‘penny candy’. We were each given two dollars and, with that, could buy about 100 pieces of candy AND get a soda with change left over. Sometimes, we would pool all of the candy use it as prizes in some stupid playing card game we made up.

We did much of this unsupervised.

And, that’s just the way it was, in the early to mid 1970’s.

Fast forward to 1997. I’m married, fat and have a child. I was probably starting to lose my hair too. I was a far cry that skinny, pasty, lanky and nerdy kid. Well, I was still pasty.

In holding my newborn, I remember all of the things I got away with, wondering how in hell I survived. If you believe everything you read then or now, I never should have it through puberty, let alone become a fat, middle aged father. But, I did. And so did many others.

Of course, all of the reminiscing I did at the time, led me and my late wife to shelter our child, much like my mother did to me. But, the difference, this time, was that we never let Chase go out and play unsupervised. Not that he really ever wanted to, unless he was with his cousins. We lived in a nice neighborhood in Chesterfield County, but it was one that did not have many children, especially those his age.

Even if it had, I don’t know that we would have changed.

As time went on, we loosened our parental grips and allowed him to do more. To our delight or dismay, I’m not sure which, the worst thing he ever wanted to do was watch the TV show COPS. Otherwise, he wanted to immerse himself in video games, the Weather Channel and Nickelodeon. Spongebob and ‘All That’. Yeah, we raised quite the rebel, we did.

Fast forward a few more years and I now have two more children. I live in a neighborhood full of kids of many age groups. April and I aren’t quite as stringent, but…yeah, we still don’t like the kids being out by themselves, we do keep an eye on them. We are very careful about whose homes that they are allowed in (for some reason, other parents are that way toward us…) but, we don’t shelter them quite as much.

I don’t want them to watch COPS. I don’t want them walking up and down the road without us. Did I say ‘i’? I meant ‘we’. Anyway, WE don’t want them seeing most of the crap WE watch. I don’t explain everthing to them…they don’t need to know. Right? Right?

I walk around a local theme park and see all of these kids with out parental units and bemuse ‘I would never let MY kids do that.’ Truth is, if we felt comfortable with the friends they hang with AND there are adults with them SOMEWHERE is that park, I probably would. I see those same kids with smartphones and think ‘I’m NOT spending that kind of money for phones for them’ when, in fact, we probably would. I see the young guys acting all dumb and goofy when the girls are around and think ‘MY son won’t be THAT way’, when, yeah, he will be.

No matter how much we protest ‘well, I did that and look at me’ the truth is you won’t know until it is that time.

Chase is a fine young man. Yes, I probably should have loosened up a bit before I did. But, I think he is who he is because, in part, of how he was raised. We weren’t perfect. We made a lot of mistakes and, I really wish a few things were different. And, while I made a point to spend an hour or two every night with only him, there are times I question whether or not I spent enough time with him. Once in a while, I feel the same now. Am I spending enough time with my kids? Probably not. But, what is ‘enough time’? With my four year old, it seems to vary on a minute by minute basis. With my nine year old, playing a game now and then and having that nightly bed time talk seems to be right.

Still, I wonder…if we were as care free about parenting today and our parents seem to have been, how would our kids turn out? Are we too protective? Should we give them more latitude as the ‘experts’ say?

I don’t know, but I think they will be fine either way.



I always knew this day would come

When my late wife informed me that she was pregnant, I was overjoyed and scared. The ensuing months were both wonderful and scary.  We were bringing new life into the world. What a huge responsibility.

Huge. Daunting.

But, mostly, scary.

When Jo Ellen gave birth to my first son, Chase, it was…wow. This little person, my son.  Just wow. How cool was that? My son. MY SON!

But, then it was like holy crap…what the hell do we do now?

Well, you be the best parent you can be, enlist those who you trust and…you wing it.  That’s pretty much what we did.

Throughout Chase’s early life, we faced a number of challenges, mostly medical in nature. Chase was born with defective blood. A specific part of his white blood cells were not produced sufficiently to keep him healthy. Chase got sick. A lot. He was on many different treatments and medications throughout his young life, we really did not know how they would affect him. Or, if he would even make it to his tenth birthday.

He did.  He made it. And, through out it all, stayed even keeled.  He took it all in stride. He was really laid back and quiet.

He was (and is) very smart.  By the time he made it to his tenth birthday, we knew he was going to be fine.  Not only was he going to be fine, we knew the crap he went through had not hampered his intelligence, congnitive abilities or any such thing.

As his time in high school drew to a close, I knew his time with us was drawing to a close. Once in awhile, I would think about it, but then put it out of my head. He got a car and a job, well, two jobs for a bit. He worked his normal job at the grocery store but, during the Halloween season, he was a scary guy at Kings Dominion. He relished that role.  And, though he may not admit it, he relishes being the big brother. When he played with Preston and Xander, it was like watching my eight year Chase all over again. Only, in a much bigger package.

And, while the house may still be full of laughter and the sound of kids playing, it won’t be the same.

Chase moved out today.

My little guy is all grown up. Not so little anymore, he’s taller than I am. Not so helpless now (though, he may still need us, from time to time) and able to excel at whatever he does.  Not so childlike, he has turned into a fine young man, one that any parent would be very proud to call son.

And, though is only ten minutes away, it feels like days…and, it’s only been hours as I write this.

I have a message for him, though he already knows:

Little buddy, I am so proud of you. You have given me, given all of us, such joy.  As a child and, now, as a young man.  Our trips last year to the theme parks were very special and I will always treasure those memories, indeed, all of our trips, experiences and memories.

Both of your mothers were and are very proud of you and what you have become, just as I am. As I know your grandparents would be as well.

Keep doing what you are doing.  And, remember, anytime you need us, we will be there.

Love Dad.


The Extended Family

Last night, Preston was having a bit of a difficult time. He had a concussion in November and is still suffering from the ill effects of the injury. He was a little upset that the weekend was over and he wanted to spend more time with his father. I may be step Dad, and treat him like my own, but I’m not DAD. I explained to him that I knew exactly how he felt. He gave me a funny look as if to say ‘yeah, how would you?’ I told him how lucky he was, he had two Mom’s and two Dad’s who love him very much. When I was growing up, I didn’t know my ‘birth’ mother or my Dad. I had spent some time with them, but didn’t really know either. The lady I called MOM, adopted me when I was his age. I told him that I didn’t really get spend any time with my Dad until eight or nine but got to really know him when I was a teen. I told him it was OK to feel the way he did and never be afraid to talk to me about it. He gave me the biggest hug, like a burden had been lifted. He asked me a few more questions about my childhood, which I answered. I reassured him that his Dad was welcome to drop by anytime he could to spend time with Preston. It also made me think about ‘FAMILY’.
They say blood is thicker than water, which may be true, but FAMILY trumps it all. And, in my book, there doesn’t have to be any blood relation to make a FAMILY. Yesterday was my SISTER’s birthday. We are not related by blood and, it seems, we don’t even share the same mother…but, that is OK. I grew up knowing who my family was, just as I want Preston to know his. Mike has been part of my family for six years now and it does not matter, to me, how that came to be. He, too, is part of my family.
Ann, the sister who had the birthday yesterday, and her late husband, treated me like a king when I was little. I remained very close to them until they moved to New York. I always had a problem with that, but, I really do not know why. They moved to be closer to their son and grandchildren. As that happened after the deaths of my Mom, my Dad and my first wife, it kind of felt like I was being left alone. That scared me. I don’t know why, as I still had a big family right here at home. My son, my then girlfriend (whom I married a short time later) and the rest of my family-which, just seemed invisible.  Ann and I grew apart, but not very much. The death of her husband had a big impact on me, he was, after all, like a Dad to me for most of my life. And, even though I don’t talk to her as much, I still love her and nothing will ever change that. I have three other sisters too…Mary, which Mom also adopted; Katy, who is my blood sister (meaning we are actually, biologically, related-have the same parents) and Rose. I could write a book about this.
Each one of those three ladies are awesome in their own ways and, as a result, I feel like I am a better man because of things I learned from them.
Mary was always unapologetic and adventurous. She showed me that following the rules was not always the best thing to do…I know how that sounds, but, she was right.  She’s had some rough times, but got through them and is now a fine lady, content with the way things turned out. Even now, when things don’t always go the way they should, she maintains that same attitude. It is a quality I wish I had.
Katy is my more liberal minded sister.  Polar opposite of me, more like the way my Dad thought.  She is very much like him, her sense of humor, the way she looks at things and the way she just accepts people. Well, OK, my Dad was not quite as accepting of a lot of people.  I didn’t grow up with her, we saw very little of each other as the ‘social workers’ in Chesterfield did their best to keep us apart.  We keep in touch now and I’m very glad we do.
Rose was a foster child Mom had for several years.  When she was released from the foster care system, she chose to stay with us. Rose has a physical disability–cerebral palsy–that left her not quite as mobile as most are.  She complemented the rest of my expanding family, only moving out on her own when she was in her late twenties.  Over the years, we’ve drifted apart and I do regret that.  It is one thing I need to work on. It isn’t because of an argument or anything like that. For the longest time, I convinced myself it was the distance-she lives in another state with what is left of her family. Distance, though, is a cop out. I just need to do it.
Suffice it to say, that there is actually very little ‘blood’ in my family and that’s OK.
That brings me back to Preston.  The difficulties of just trying to cope with the big world and Autism is hard enough.  Having your life change so much and in such a short time is overwhelming.  When he started to melt down last night, I though ‘oh my lord, what did I say this time’, but, this time, I think he was just looking for some comfort, even though it took a bit of effort to get him to open up.  And, he isn’t one to just blurt out what his problem or problem really is.  You have to piece it together.  That’s tough to do.
Little dude is having a difficult time dealing with his now bigger family. The two small one’s, Sam and Xander, bug him. He has to share a room with Sam when he goes to his Dad’s house and, soon, will be sharing a room here, with Xander. Sam is step brother (and cute as a button) and Xander is half-brother. Both are just annoyances to him. I suspect, in a few years, that will change. He still sees Xander as a bother, but warms up to him when he thinks it is necessary and plays with him, from time to time, without being prompted to do so. He still thinks that both are out to kill him, even though they are just playing.  In Preston’s view, there’s little difference between play and non-play action. It is something he is trying to learn.  He’ll figure it out. He’s one smart kid.
He also thinks he doesn’t get much time with Dad.  He’s right, he doesn’t.  That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way things are…it’s not always fair. However, having said that, it isn’t quite the lack of time that Preston perceives it to be.  Dad picks him up Friday afternoon and brings him back, early evening, on Sunday’s.  Once in a while, that doesn’t happen for various reasons…vacation, work, illness, etc.  It isn’t because Dad doesn’t want him or we don’t want Dad to get him. Those are infrequent.  Not to Preston, though. One of the Autism traits he exhibits is perception distortion. That is, two days to him is more like two hours.  This past weekend, Dad picked him up for physical therapy and then took him home. He came back a bit early for a birthday party that he had been invited. Now, we are only talking a couple of hours difference from the norm, but, for Preston, it was like a day. Add in the time that Dad spends with Dad’s new family and Preston feels like he doesn’t get enough Dad time.  And, try as I may, I’m not Dad. Nor am I going to pretend to be. I will treat him like mine, but never try to replace Dad.  And, that’s the way it needs to be.  I think Preston has accepted me as ‘dad 2’ and, in this case, I’m happy to be number 2.
We are all working with Preston to not look at his brothers as anything but brothers.  Preston has fully accepted Chase as big brother and Chase loves him the same way. They get along great. He also seems to have accepted his new sister–also older than him. It is just the young ones he has a problem with…they are, after all, trying to ‘kill’ him, you know, when they are not playing with him. He has yet to realize the support system he has or how big his family has become.
In time, though, I hope he will come to appreciate his expanded family as I have mine.

It’s the little things that matter

Sometimes, the most wonderful thoughts can be triggered by the smallest of things.  Even when you’ve had a long, tiring day, one little thing can make you forget all of it.  Such a thing happened to me.

Before I go one, lets go back in time a bit.

In 2013, two life changing events happened to me: I lost my job of 16 years and, my wife gave birth to my second child.

Alexander was born six months before I got laid off.  During those six months, I missed out on a lot, you know, the early, early infant stuff…rolling over, trying to crawl, etc.

Then, as the middle of summer approached, I got word that I was being laid off, you know, my position was terminated. That’s a smoke screen statement, but that’s another story.

Anyway, being laid off with benefits was a blessing: I got to spend a lot of time with my family, my newborn especially.  Watching him develop over the nine months or so before I got another job was just awesome.  The smiling, the joy, the wonder. It was truly a special time.  Then…


I got a job that was an hour and twenty minutes from home.  I got up at the crack of dawn and was home at sundown.  I missed a lot.  By the time I would get home, my step son was going to bed and Alexander was played out for the day. My wife would be beat. But, it was work and we needed it.  Badly.

Less than a year later, though, I got a local job. More money, less wear and tear on the car, but, more importantly, it took, maybe, 20 to 25 minutes to get to work or come home. Less time if the traffic was light.   I got to see more of my family. And Alexander.

Now, by this point, Xander is walking and talking and into everything.  The terrible two’s. He turned three in 2016 and…got even more devilish. But, that’s OK. For all of the screaming he does, getting into things, throwing…well, he has his cutesy, sweet moments too.

Coming home from work is a treat.  I get the biggest, best greeting from him. He is genuinely happy to see me.  All of the negatives melt away when he runs up to me, throws his arms around me and yells ‘Dadddeeeeee!’  And, the icing on the cake…I get nice kiss from my beautiful wife.

During his more calm moments, he wants to sit with me, play a game with me, share in his love of all things Spongebob (what is it about that cartoon? My 19 year old grew up on it, as did my eight year old step son and, now, Xander…) and the occasional book reading.

So, that moment I started out talking about?  Well, tonight, I was sitting on the couch, my back hurting and trying to get my head around a couple of things when Xander crawls up on my lap. He had my wife’s phone, watching YouTube.  He finds these videos of some idiot unwrapping toy filled things or videos of games, usually Minecraft. He thinks they are so funny.  He found one of a train based game.  He says ‘Daddy, I want to play this game’.  I told him I would see if I could find and put it on his Tablet (yes, my three year old has his own tablet, an Ellipse from Verizon…kidified.) He says ‘OK, fanks.’ He gives me a one handed hug and goes back to the video.  Then, he stops. Puts the phone down. Looks at me, pauses…then gives me a raspberry!  He giggled and giggled and giggled.  Picks up the phone and continues to watch the video. Well, I’m dying inside…I could not hold back and laughed out loud.  He looks at me, smiles, and then gave me a big hug.

That look on his face…it was priceless.  Not only did it make me feel like the world’s greatest dad, but it made me realize that this is what it is about.  While jobs make our lives work, it is the kids that are most important.  These little moments are fleeting and I sure hope I don’t miss them. Ever.

The Affordable Care Act and a Night out on the town

The Not-So Affordable Care Act

Raising one child is difficult and expensive. Raising three? Well, it’s not quite as hard as one may thing, but it is more difficult than raising one or two. The cost, however, is far greater.  Now, I don’t want to sound cheap or like I am complaining, but I am constantly amazed at how much it costs for certain things, like health care.

Just three years ago, I was employed at a major utility and had really good health insurance. I remember complaining that my premium was going up…a whole hundred dollars. A MONTH.  It was going to cost me about four hundred dollars a month for complete medical coverage for ALL of my family, including my lovely wife.  Granted, that coverage was probably more than most needed, but I have two children (well, one is 18 now) that have weak immune systems and sick quite a bit.

Well, fast forward three years.

I no longer work for that company as they ‘eliminated the position’ that I held.  My insurance lasted about three months after my official end of service date. Then, the worst happened. The Affordable Care Act was in effect and I had to use the web site and buy insurance. 

Let me tell you, that was not a pleasant experience.  Not at all. There is nothing good about that site and I think they forgot what ‘affordable’ means.  The cheapest insurance, for the family, was about what I paid at the former place of employment. The difference? It had a high out of pocket and deductible.  The deductible was something like five thousand dollars and the out of pocket was really high.  And, it was lacking in coverage PLUS…new doctors since, contrary to what we were told, our then current doctors did not participate.I ended paying nearly seven hundred dollars, with a two thousand dollar deductible.  Now, when you are stretched thin already, how is this affordable?

Today, I have a new job but am currently considered a temp worker (my full time job starts in a few months) so I am not entitled to the temp agency benefits. I have some, but…well, they aren’t great.  For example, the ‘medical’ insurance is the bare minimum they can get under the ACA. It ONLY covers preventive care, not sick visits. AND…my wife is not eligible.  She must go through  So, not only will she pay a lot more, there is still that high deductible.  Unfortunately, we have to go this way as it is the law. Albeit a broken law that just does not work.

Our lawmakers lied to us.  This Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable.

A Night Out With the Kids

Recently, we had a sleep over for my step son. It was just a neighbor kid and my stepson, but your would have thought we had a whole boy scout troop as it was bloody expensive.  A movie and then dinner at a Stevie B’s (like Cici’s Pizza) was just nuts, cost wise. Now, mind you, I have not been to a movie for a while and just forgot about how much they charge for things.  The movie was just over thirty dollars. I actually don’t mind the high cost of the tickets as the theater experience is still worth paying for, but just wait till I get my home theater. The concessions, though…OH MY.  Popcorn, one very large soda, two boxes of candy and two slurpee like frozen drinks was 33 dollars. Dinner, which also included my oldest son, was also around the 35 dollar mark-which isn’t all that bad, for five people.  So, this little outing, for two kids, my wife and myself was nearly a hundred bucks.  Seriously.  How in the world are parents on an even tighter budget supposed to do something like this? It’s no wonder Netflix and RedBox are so bloody popular. I have to wonder how others, who may not be as fortunate, do this. I can’t imagine how a parent who is making thirty grand a year and has two or more children does it. This has gotten me to think about alternative ways to entertain, have fun and enjoy the kids having a great time. Look for more later, but I will start with dinner, below. Read on.

The only reasonable thing we did was dinner at Stevie B’s.  In fact, it is even cheaper if you buy the regular size pies and take them home: $4.95 each and they actually taste fairly decent, for cheap pizza. Get a couple of them, a two liter of soda and rend a movie for under $20 bucks. Not bad.

Of course, it was all made worth it when the the neighbor kid looks at us, cute glasses and wide grin, and says ‘this is the BEST night ever!’ Well, that hundred dollars suddenly seemed inconsequential.  It got even better when my step son concurred, with an equally big grin. Yep, that’s what it is about and that makes it easier to swallow an otherwise very bitter pill.

The ups and downs of being Dad

Spring is when the flowers bloom, the weather gets warmer and the amusement parks around the country fire up the rollercoasters.  For me, it is a time for a lot of fun with my family and, now, a lot of wonderful memories.

Perhaps, two of the best memories I have are about 10 years apart.  The first one, was with my now 15 year old son, Chase.  I had taken him to Kings Dominion, a local amusement park just north of Richmond, Virginia.

Now, this theme park is also the first one I remember going to and the rollercoaster I first remember riding, the Scooby Doo Ghostercoaster.  This rollercoaster, a mini version of a famous Coney Island rollercoaster, is about thirty feet tall and wooden. It was and still is a fantastic little wooden coaster and one that, I’m sure, is the first for many people over the nearly forty years it has been around.

For Chase’s first ride on this coaster, he was very nervous.  With Chase, when he got nervous, he tended to talk. A LOT. He also held my hand with a grip that was surprising for such a little fart.

So, we are standing in line, waiting for our time. I look at him and tell him I wasn’t sure that we should ride.

“Why, daddy?”

“Well, I might loose my cookies.”

Chase stood there, quiet for a moment and then, very thoughtfully, he says…

“I’ll hold your cookies, so you won’t woose them.”

It was all I could do to not burst into laughter.  I paused for a moment and then carefully explained that it was just a saying. Explaining what ‘loosing ones cookies’ really meant was terribly difficult, especially when you are fighting back laughter. I’m sure the parents behind use were loving it.

The second wonderful memory took place just last year. We took my stepson, Preston, to the same park.  Now, he’s a child with certain sensory difficulties and is easily overstimulated. The first time we took him, a year earlier, was not too bad and for the rest of that year, he did fine.  Well, last year (2012) he was tall enough to ride the Scooby Doo rollercoaster.  So, I took the little squirt into the queue for the rollercoaster. He must have changed his mind a dozen times, but I convinced him he would have fun.  He loved the Taxi Jam coaster so I tried to explain that this was similar, only a bit taller. Fifteen times taller, but he didn’t know that.

So, we get in the train and I strap him in.  As we are going up the lift hill, I said ‘’Oh no! I’m scared, I have to get off”, He put his hand on my arm and proceeded to tell ME that it was going to be OK!

Sure enough, it was. When the ride was over, he had the biggest, happiest smile on his face.

“Let’s do that again!”

So, we did.  He absolutely loved that ride.  He was so excited, just like another little boy I know.  It was fantastic.  It was another moment I will always treasure.

I’m telling you, being a Dad is just fantastic.

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