Daddin': The Verb of Being a Dad

Inspired by the book, by Dion McInnis

Living the dream: the past doesn’t forecast the future

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My phone vibrated. This text message from my youngest son awaited me with a heart-warming update. “…to give a presentation to hundreds of Bass Pro and Cabela’s employees at their national conference. Funny to think I went from a high school kid that failed public speaking class to staying up with you all night practicing a five-minute presentation (he used that presentation in his job interview for the company he now works for) to now a two-hour speech in front of 500 people. When does this elevator stop?”  As it turned out, the event organizers ended up breaking the audience into smaller groups so he did several presentations instead of one.

Our texting dialog continued for a few minutes. I couldn’t stop smiling. Following your kids’ life in adulthood is just another of the beauties of daddin’. Throughout the journey, remember that a crystal ball is not part of parenting; you can’t see into the future.

 

Don’t read too much into your child’s early “performance.”

When I was a kid, I was so shy that I would hang onto my mom and hide behind her when talking to strangers. Over the past 40 years, public speaking has been part of my jobs and avocations. One of the turning points was when I had a role in a school skit in middle school. I had joke lines and recognized to pause delivering my lines so the laughter could subside.  That afternoon, my mom told me how good it was that I didn’t talk over the laughter. Speaking has never been a problem since. I was motivated and hooked.

Look at my son’s comment above. One’s record does not set the tune for the future; it might, but it might not, too. Instead of thinking “I can’t do this” based on past experience, he grew in steps, largely because he was motivated to do so. Don’t let a person’s lack of motivation in school (it is not always their fault) become an expectation of ambivalence in the future. Inspiration is always more powerful than coercion for motivating sustained action.

My middle son didn’t do great in high school either. He graduated from college in five years – faster than his brothers or I did – and had a stint on the dean’s list while majoring in environmental science and minoring in biology with certifications in GIS and scuba diving. There, too, an example of the difference motivation can make when not allowing oneself to be burdened or dragged down by the past.

My oldest son absorbs knowledge like a sponge. He was just a few points short of National Merit Honor status based on the SAT test he took while on morphine for having separated his shoulder and coping with it for hours before having it reset the afternoon before the test. He didn’t apply himself much in the early college years. His motivations were elsewhere. He taught himself computer coding for a business he developed. He’s a software developer at a university now.

 

Never give up on them finding the air that fires up the yet-unfound embers within them.

Everyone has embers inside them, made through experiences, innate interests, curiosities and the such. Over a lifetime, the embers may glow like hot coals or dwindle down to something barely more than white-ashed glowing clumps. With a bit of air blowing over the embers, they can ignite a flame that burns hot and powerful within.

Be that air to your kids. Empower them; enable them; encourage them. Sometimes the assistance can be simple, like an encouraging word after a disappointment, and sometimes it can be more sacrificial like rising at four in the morning to get your child to practice. Tending the ember is more their responsibility than yours, but you can participate in the tending and remind them to do so, too, with focus and intentionality.

 

Help however you can.  It’s their life, not yours.

As you saw in the note above, my son and I worked on a short presentation he had to make for his job interview. I don’t believe either one of us knew how far his successful presentation would carry him in his new job, promotions and experiences in less than three years. He is living the dream on an upward moving elevator, using tools similar to his dad’s, but not trying to be like him. I don’t want him to be me; I want him to be him.

My sons have been around photography all their lives because it has been integral to my life since Santa Claus brought me a camera when I was a young kid. While the boys have had age-appropriate cameras throughout their lives, it is my practice to provide a semi-advanced camera to them at the birth of their first child. For my oldest son, that gift set him on a path of photographing two things that are most precious to him:  his family and the Student Bonfire at Texas A&M. I’ve provided some guidance when he has questions, but he took to the art quickly with great visual instincts. His style is his own, not a continuation of his old man’s, as it should be. Who would have known the outcome from that gift; likewise, I hope Santa realizes how transformational that Kodak Fiesta camera was for me almost six decades ago. A few months ago, he, his 9-year old daughter and I photographed together as student volunteers worked in preparation for the bonfire.

My middle son recently became the president and CEO of TEXSAR, Texas Search and Rescue. Their cause and his sense of purpose are perfectly aligned. New to him is the art-and-science of fundraising. It is there that I can, and have, and will continue to, provide input, guidance and answers. I don’t want him to be the kind of fundraiser I am; he needs to be his own. There are many insights and experiences that I can share that he can use as the materials to build his own program.

I believe in letting the examples of our lives serve as part of the inspiration for our kids’ lives, not as the instructions. If I had followed directly my dad’s footsteps, I would have been a boxer as a young man (and likely be destroyed in the ring, weighing in at 130 at five feet ten inches) and an accountant as an adult (which likely would have prompted me to jump off a building in frustration). Instead, I followed his inspiring example to never surrender, be scrappy and love your family. Inspire more than direct.

 

It’s cool to be excited. Them and you.

My sons are my heroes, along with my dad. When I wrote the book Daddin’: The Verb of Being a Dad, I had three binders of notes and writings to use as content. My middle son remarked, “It’s cool that you think our lives were interesting.”

Be excited by your kids’ lives and show it. Celebrate when they show it. Enjoy together both life and living.

 

Don’t wake ‘em up if they’re living the dream.

Life comprises highs and lows, victories and defeats, accomplishments and setbacks, loves gained and lost…there is enough in the natural flow of living to remind people that some days we’re the bug and some days the windshield. Don’t diminish or destroy the dreams of our kids; when they’re living the dream, don’t feed them unnecessary doses of reality to pinch them awake from the dream. Remember, one of the best ways to empower our kids’ dreams is to remember our own.

Christmas 2019

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Time gets away. Don’t let the stories get away, too.

A lot has happened in the past couple of years since I last posted (an absence that I am ashamed of), and I hope to catch you up on that over time.

My youngest son moved out as his career took off, I got married and moved, new grandsons have joined the McInnis clan, I’ve had a job, been laid off, tried some new ventures, the other sons have had job changes and growth…a lot has happened.  One thing hasn’t changed:  daddin’ still brings me great joy.

The stockings on the mantle reflect some of the changes and growth over the years.  There are now six grandkids ranging from 2 to 9 represented there. Two daughters in-law and one “special gal,” and my wife. One dog stocking is missing; poor Lacey had to be put to sleep because of her health issues and another dog stocking was added (my wife adopted a miniature Schnauzer a couple of years before we married). Life goes on.

Maybe that is why the last chapter of Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad is titled “Livin’.” Of course that is why!  Life goes on in its beautiful, unfolding, surprising, complicated, simple, joyous, sad, confusing, clear way.  Don’t forget to enjoy and remember the moments.

While photos on your phone are nice, try printing them, adding notes, writing in your journal or notebook … preserve the moments.  Share them to laugh and cry. I often describe the Daddin’ book as a book of moments (actually, my youngest son described it that way first when we talked about how the project was coming in 2010) and we do well to remember moments. Don’t spend so much time recording the moments that you don’t get to live the moments, though.

My oldest son is a talented photographer whose niche expertise is the Texas A&M Student Bonfire. We were recently discussing a photograph he had created of a young couple kissing before the bonfire was lit.  The photo is exceptional.  He gave a print to the young couple a month later at their wedding. We talked about how the beauty of photography is that you can re-live the moments, getting different perspectives on the images as time goes by.  Get prints made; don’t count on passing your phone around. Prints can last several lifetimes, that is your great-great grandchildren could be holding them in their hands some day.

Add a few words on the back of the photo. You won’t always be around to explain. Write some stories or passing thoughts. (Use my LIFElines approach to write your life story!) Those stories and images will serve you well as you get older, will re-enrich your love, and enrich anew the lives of others to come.

Life goes on. One of my favorite parts of life is being a dad. What’s yours?  Enjoy the moments and save what you can as nostalgic treats in the future.

Fathers Day 2017…remembering the moments

Father’s Day…a pause to relish the moments. Take the time to remember and share. From Listen to Life.

 

Kitchen Raids

Our schedules are not the same, but somehow the rhythm of them work together well.  I harken back to sophomore physics class in high school when I learned about wave patterns and how they build on each other or level each other out.  My 24-year old’s schedule and mine must complement each other, because we both have busy patterns that result in a calm, even, relaxed, joyful household.

When he returns home very late at night, long after I have gone to sleep and only a few hours before I wake up well before dawn, he leaves signals of his status.  If I hear nothing, he has probably gone straight from re-setting the alarm to bed.  If I hear the microwave, it means he is hungry and needs refueling before sleep.  If I see lights going off and on, he is moving from room to room, taking care of odds and ends tasks before hitting the hay.  Sometime exhaustion precludes me from sensing those things, but the morning evidence reveals much.

This morning, like many mornings, I first noticed the microwave door was open.  The low-wattage bulb barely lit the kitchen as the open door kept the light burning.  Clearly, heating food was part of his actions when he returned home. The plate on the counter had chicken bones (leftover fried chicken never lasts long in our house), as well as barely discernible traces of leftover mashed potatoes and cooked carrot coins. He must have had a hearty appetite when he got home!

I smile as I close the microwave door and rinse the dishes for the dishwasher.  I notice the box of leftover pizza is empty, only to find out shortly thereafter that he took the three pieces and put them in a storage bag for safe keeping in the refrigerator.  I suspect the pizza was either lunch today or will be dinner tonight.

I enjoy watching him grow as a man and in all the roles involved.  The tell-tale signs are everywhere, ranging from dirty plates to bags of boating or fishing gear, to fishing magazines and school books, from shoes in every room to the work uniform he wears as an operations manager.  I feel like an archaeologist, discovering my son’s life in the things I find.  It’s a good role, that.  When our schedules don’t allow for the overlap we enjoy for conversations, I learn by looking and listening.

A Lost Habit

Good habits are hard to create and maintain; bad habits seem to hang on quite easily.

I was in the habit of writing about life as dad, with recollections about the moments that comprise daddin’.  Then I published the book in 2010 and a lot of detours, bumps and curves came around.  I found it is harder to write about being a dad when there aren’t daily dad happenings.  Shame on me, because every day I am still dad, and now granddad to four granddaughters and a grandson on the way.

Watching from a distance as the little ones grow is certainly different than seeing my sons grow every day.  Also different is observing the growth of men, though I could not be more proud of how the three have grown as men, brothers, dads (two of them), spouses (two of them), productive men of integrity and values. I think back to the letter that comprised most of last chapter of the book — it was to my first granddaughter, and the first copy of the book arrived 48 hours before her birth — and how it described my sons and the type of men they were and were becoming.  Six years later, it is clear they are all those things and more.

I have lost the habit of writing about dad moments, and that is a loss to me, my sons and my grandchildren.  There are reasons — many that I can think of — that have nothing to do with being a dad that redirected my habit.

Good old habits that have been lost can be re-learned.  If you haven’t learned the habit of writing about being a parent or guardian, learn now; if you learned it and lost it, regain it.  Treasures reside in the letters, words, sentences and paragraphs.

 

A Moment to Remember Moments

It has been just over five years since the release of Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad, which occurred only 48 hours before the birth of my first granddaughter.  A lot has happened since then, including the addition of three more granddaughters.  As of late, I have had a lot of moments reminding me of moments, but the moment in church this morning was among the most powerful.

The cry of the nearly newborn, the smiles of pride of the elementary age students bringing up the gifts for Offertory, the children in mother’s arms or father’s embraces or tended by older siblings.  Everywhere I gazed, I saw…moments.  While not all of them are memorable, they join together to create memories.  My fondest memories involved time with, near, around or watching my sons…like the ones I watched in church.

I describe the Daddin’ book as a book of moments, and my youngest son noticed the same thing before I had mentioned the concept to him.  He was almost 18 when I finished the book.  Already he could tell what the verb of being a dad is all about.  Moments.  I miss those moments.

I admit to not writing nearly as much about being a dad since the book was completed.  Some of it may have been project post-partum, and some may be that daddin’ in the moments when the children are around is very different than when they aren’t.  It is quite different when all the kids are working, developing their lives (two of them as dads), and no longer looking for the next time to play catch with their ol’ man.  That has taken some getting used to.

The moments are different now.  The chance to listen to stories about their lives is similar to the poem in Daddin’ when I don’t want my child to go to sleep…I want to hear all the stories of the day.  The desire remains, but the stories are different.  But I always enjoy listening.  And I look forward to hearing more stories from grandchildren.  Those will be moments of a different type, but they will make memories that will always fill my heart.

As fast as life moves, it pays to notice and remember the moments.

Family Day at the Ballpark

More than a quarter century ago, my first-born and I sat in the upper reaches of the Astrodome to watch the Astros play. He was an Astrobuddy and his daddy’s buddy in baseball. He began his addiction to America’s sport at an early age.

The Astrosbuddy program was the baseball dealer’s way of getting kids hooked, and bringing their parents’ wallet along with them. In modest times, which those were, we enjoyed the budget seats and the view of the game with little more than a shared soda and bag of peanuts, but we enjoyed the fun.

The other day, the now-grown Astrobuddy enjoyed an Astros-Yankees game in Minute Maid Park, along with his wife and first-born daughter, my friend and me. Each of us held different levels of interest, knowledge or engagement with the game, keeping a tasty mix of intensity, humor and entertainment to blend with the flavors of peanuts, hot dogs, and beer.

Late in the game, we found out there was a theme: Family Day. It was his birthday present, though I felt like I had received the greatest gift.

As the years go by faster and faster, the only clarity in the blur of moments is that nothing stands as clear and beautiful as family moments.

And then there were four…

…and I look at both my career and life plans differently.

Granddaughter (and grandbaby) number four arrived on May 15.  Coming in at nine pounds, two ounces, she might have been able to walk out of her mom’s womb.  Within an hour, she would pop her eyes open as if wanting to see all these funny things (people) who came together (family) to await her arrival.  The group was not large, but the heart was.

As we waited for her arrival, her sisters played in the waiting area while chowing down on double stuff Oreos and Rice Krispie treats.  I watched them play, listened to their laughter and witnessed their relationships develop.  I cannot be a casual, occasional observer to those changes, but I can’t live under the freeway overpass either.  There are plenty of options between those two positions.

The grandgirls, and those who follow, need to ride on my shoulders, takey horsey rides on my knees, listen to stories of their great grandparents and so much more.  I also hope they have growing-up experiences at the Walden I am trying to develop.

Anneliese Rose arrived, just as thousands of others did.  She became another element in the lens through which I see my life and purpose.

Life As A Dad and Granddad, a full Easter

Most of Easter Sunday I spent alone, but as a dad and granddad it was full in rich ways.

I received photos from my two married sons showing off their children with items that this bunny sent them for Easter.  I melted like the chocolate in their little hands.  My youngest son and I had a combination Easter dinner and celebration dinner because he found out he will be offered a promotion on Tuesday. The food was great, even if I do say so myself, and then we chatted over a beer and cigar to celebrate his great trajectory.  To use a term that I’ve used with the boys over the years as they matured and found new challenges:  “This is big boy decision time.”

Watching the boys grow and hearing their stories and thought processes, is a gift and a treasure.

Later in the evening, I was going to send an email to a friend who is very curious about my oldest son’s work with Texas A&M’s student bonfire.  As I searched for links to send him, I came across the gallery when my son and I photographed a cut session.  I guess I had forgotten about the page of our combined photography efforts.

Today has been a day of gifts and treasures because of fathers and sons:  God’s Son who rose, and the gift that is being a dad.

What’s Daddin’ about?

At a recent presentation to the Association of Business and Professional Women, I was asked about Daddin’.  I used the opportunity to explain and read the last chapter which is essentially a love letter to my first granddaughter who had not yet been born at the time I was writing the book.