I talked to Rob about what was about to happen. He is excited. His daughter is moving on. He mentions Sandy, his wife, is having a hard time with the impending transition. Over half a dozen kids we know are moving to different cities this week. They are ...


Shipbuilders, College Kids, and Goodbyes


I talked to Rob about what was about to happen. He is excited. His daughter is moving on. He mentions Sandy, his wife, is having a hard time with the impending transition.

Over half a dozen kids we know are moving to different cities this week. They are headed off to college. Some parents we know are beside themselves with anxiety and grief. Others are overjoyed.

Jen listed their names.   We’ve known these kids for years.   We’ve watched as they showed the slipperiness of time.  The way only kids can tell time’s story.  You see a kid every few weeks, months or years.  Predictable platitudes thrown from our tongues:  “They grow up so fast.”   “Savor every moment. They are fleeting.”   “Before you know they’ll be grown.”

We hear but do not listen.  The days are long.  The years are short.  Changes are infinitesimally small and incremental.  There are barely perceptible leaps that occur where you sense that from one day to another, this isn’t the same kid as yesterday.  I’ve noticed this if I spend as a little as two nights away from my girls.  It wakes me from my slumber to realize time is passing.

They grow.  Then they go.

We are shipbuilders.  Our kids are the ships we build.  Every story read and bedtime snuggle, karate class, traveling volleyball tournament, word of encouragement, each late night figuring out homework (Damn you, new math!), punishment and grounding, birthday party, tutoring session, and difficult discussions about life is part of the construction.  These are what we build with.

We pour ourselves into building the best ship we possibly can.  A strong and resilient one which can withstand storms and crashing waves.  One that’s hydrodynamic and capable of cutting forward through the sea.  A ship that can complete its journey to find a life of its own.

Some of us start building before our babies are born.  We open savings accounts, sign up for pre-school waiting lists, play Mozart to protruding pregnant bellies.

When they’re born, we work hard, long and late.  Some of us to ensure we have the resources to build the ship.  Others are working on the ship itself.  Then the day comes.  The ship is as complete as we can make it.

It is time for the ship to cast off.   That’s why we did this.   We said hello to a 5 to 10 lb infant so we can say goodbye to an 18-year-old young adult.

We might want to keep them at home, keep them from harm, keep them for our joy.   The ship is not built to be a collectors’ item in a museum.  It’s built to sail, to face and overcome the elements, to seek beyond the horizon, to discover the unknown.

I know many who are torn, tired and teary about seeing their baby boy or baby girl move away.  You did your best.  You built your ship.  It’s time to push your work out into the vast sea that is life.

I’m 12 years away from seeing my ships drift off into the distance.  I don’t know what it’s like to push the ship from shore.   I hope and pray for you shipbuilders to find joy in seeing your ship set sail for the destiny that is their life on their own.

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.  -Grace Hopper or John Shedd





Are you Giving This Rare Gift?

I messed up.  The clicker sounded.  I knew it was coming.  Feedback is part of the process.   It was my first and last “um” of the speech.   I was delivering an impromptu “Table Topic” speech at Toastmasters.

Toastmasters uses active and impartial feedback to help speakers improve.  “Um”, “so”, “and” are utterances that can receive a click.  All speech issues are counted and reported on.  Feedback comes in either real-time or before the one-hour meeting completes.

Later in the day I met my kids and nephew for t-ball practice.  Ellie, one of my twins,  was whining.  She said Aaron, her nephew, is being a bully.  I asked him, “Are you being a bully?”  He said, “No.”  I asked Ellie what happened, ” He said I cry too much and that I’m lazy because I don’t want to carry things.”   I paused.  It was a parental moment when I didn’t know what to do.

I told her, “You do tend to cry a lot.”   She insisted she didn’t as she whined and cried.  I told her it was feedback.  It wasn’t good or bad.  The world is telling her something about her behavior.

We proceeded to have a 10-minute conversation with huffing, puffing, whining, crying and eye-rolling as she fought against carrying her lunch bag with her water bottle.  She was proving her nephew’s point.

I started counting how many times Ellie cried for the rest of the night.  Generally, we focus on positive reinforcement.  I saw this as an opportunity for continued impartial feedback.  She said it annoyed her.  I told her it was to help her see how often she chose to cry.

For at least 20 years, the mantra of business is “more, better, faster, for less.”   The mantra produces useful constraints in some cases.  More often, it means more scope across fewer people with less direction and less feedback.  It’s difficult to perform when you don’t know how you’re performing.  It’s like driving without a speedometer, darkly-tinted windshield, soft brakes and a steering wheel with a lot of play.  Feedback comes in the form of accidents.  It’s expensive to correct.

At the end of the Toastmasters meeting, they reported on my speech defects.  In one minute and 48 seconds, I said “um” once, “so” four times, “and” twice, and I used 2 crutch words.   The feedback wasn’t painful.  It was matter of fact.  It was specific.  It was timely.  It was constructive.  I could process it and improve from it because it was about a specific, discrete performance.

I decided to join Toastmasters.  A main reason for my decision is the feedback.   It’s a rare gift.  It would be foolish for me to not receive it.

Are you giving the people in your life the feedback they need to get better?



A Hot and Happy Mother's Day

English: Mother's Day card

English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mother’s Day started at 3:41 am.   “Eric, the air conditioner isn’t blowing cold air.”   Jen and I get up.  We walk through the house.  I fumble with the thermostat.  Jen checks outside to see if the unit is freezing (that happened a few years ago).  We don’t find anything wrong.

I’m tired and frustrated.  “What am I supposed to do to fix this at 3:41 am?”, I think to myself.   My lack of HVAC competency increases my irritability.  Latent insecurity belies a lousy attitude.  Powerless to resolve the situation, we go back to bed.

We wake.  The AC is still not cold.  “Eric, it’s still 77 degrees in here.”  I begin the journey of finding an HVAC company I can trust.  After Googling and Yelping, I hold my breathe and make the call.   They can come when we’d be at church.  Jen takes the kids to church by herself.  I meet with the technician.   Any hope of a normal Mother’s Day is blown.  Brunch is out the window.  I didn’t have anything special planned.  I would have come up with something better than this.

The technician arrives.  He checks the unit.  “There’s no power.”   I roll my eyes realizing I didn’t check the breaker before calling.  The breaker is tripped.  I reset it.  The unit comes on.  The technician and I are relieved.  We think this visit will be short.  He starts telling me the things I can do to extend the life of the unit.  The unit stops 3 minutes into his talk.  “That’s not right.”, he says.   20 minutes later we have a new verdict.  The compressor is over amping (pulling too much power).  Our AC is four years old.  The repair will be $1750 – warranty covers the failed part but not the labor and other repair materials.

My wife comes home from church.  The sermon was about purpose.   Our purpose is to be graceful to everyone, even in the most challenging of times.  Jen takes the word to heart.  Grace is good.  It invites patience.  It encourages positive outcomes by freeing others from judgment.

Jen gets as many fans as she can.  She distributes the fans throughout the house.  Normally, I get annoyed by the whir of a fan motor or the sound of the blades beating the air.  Today, I’m grateful we’re dealing gracefully with 90+ degree Texas Spring day.   Grace frees me from judgment.  My latent insecurities grow slack.  The softening steam of grace and the temperature in our home relaxing them.

The rest of the day is relaxed.  I plant flowers with Evie.  Evie and I wash Jen’s car.  Jen hangs with the girls while I work on our property tax protest.  I play with the girls, building things with an electrical circuit kit and make jewelry with beads and string.

It’s hot inside.  The pace is slower.  The day feels calmer and more settled with the windows open, fans blowing and the heat resting upon us.

I realize the perfect Mother’s Day gift.  “Jen, how about we go out to eat somewhere air conditioned?”  She names the place.  El Vecino, The Neighbor.  We take the girls.  Jen has a tangy, blood orange margarita.  The girls get churros.  I enjoy 3/4 of a gallon of icy Diet Coke.  We head home.  The fans are rearranged to help us keep comfortable through the night, hopefully, asleep.

The heat can bring out the worst in people.  Riots happen in the heat.  Today was different. The heat brought us to a place of acceptance.  We didn’t fight it.  We didn’t get angry about it.  It was a productive day despite the disruptions (AC issue, Jen’s headlight went out, the Roku stopped working).   By the end of the day, I filed our  property tax protest, fixed the headlight, ordered, received and installed the new Roku.  Yes, these are all first world problems.

I’m grateful for the many luxuries my family enjoys.   I’m more grateful for the power of grace when the luxuries are removed from our grasp.  Grace gives life.   Grace makes for a Happy Mother’s Day.

I am blessed to have a graceful, patient and strong wife who’s a great mom to our sweet girls.  Thank you for being you, angel.


Action Is the Stuff of Heroes

I stepped out of the house through the screen door on to the front steps.  “Daddy do you want to play ball with us?” asked one of my twin 6-year-olds, Evie.  I answered, “Of course!”  I walked on to the lawn.    It was the first time we’d all been outside playing together.   Evie jumped jubilantly.  She cried out, “Hooray!  We’re having family time!!!”

The girls are at an age where they can start interacting like real people when they’re not talking about poop.  It’s fun.  It’s rewarding. Too often I miss it.  I’m not there enough.

A friend of mine sent me a text this morning.  He encouraged me to love on my kids today.  Tell them what they mean to me. My friend is on business halfway around the globe.  He is a dear and precious friend who God placed in my life.  He prays for me.  He encourages me.  He follows up with me even when I’m being a crappy friend who isn’t doing the best job of responding or keeping in touch.  I can always count on him to speak into my life in a way that leads me to be a better man, husband, and father.

Later in the day, I got an email from the same friend.  He found out about the death of the daughter of one of his friends, a 14-year-old girl.  My friend and his family knew this girl since she was 4.  He coached her in sports.  Their families spent time together.  His friend’s family and his family were distraught.   He was 15,000 miles away comforting them as best as he can from that distance.

My friend wrote the email letting his friends know about the situation.  He explained the importance of being a father.  He described how critical it is to be present for our kids.   He challenged us to reflect on our priorities.  What are we putting first?  Career?  Self?  Sports?    He expressed responsibility and regret for not being there for his family and his friend while he was working away from home.

This morning he encouraged me to love on my kids.  His email gave an idea of why.  Our time is fleeting.  We have a limited number of opportunities to connect with our kids and show them what they mean to us.  He implored in his email, “Our kids need their dad’s to be their hero by our actions.”

I don’t know that I was a hero tonight.  I was home.  I was present.  We had family time.


Post Script

We can be immensely powerful in the lives of others.  Persistent positivity.  Grace.  Strength.  Encouragement.  Love.  Who is there who is not uplifted by these things?

I am so deeply grateful for the faithful friendship God placed in my life with this man.  I don’t deserve it.  But I accept it.


Don't Feel Like It? Do It Anyway!

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You don’t get what you want by doing what you want,” I told her. This might be a bit advanced for a six-year-old. This is the hand my kids were dealt. A dad who speaks in platitudes. A dad who tries to program his kids with a way of thinking that makes their life easier in the long run by doing what’s hard in the short run.

Sometimes I have to listen to my own advice. I wrote about what I learned about smiling last week. This weekend, I learned I need to persist when I don’t feel like it. I woke up Saturday. I was tired. My mood was cloudy, like the late March sky.

Putting a smile on takes effort. It takes emotional courage. I’ve been wearing the same scowl for at least 30 years. Trying on the smile is awkward. People aren’t used to seeing it. I mess it up. It looks or feels forced. Sometimes it turns into a “turd sniffing face” —  The one where you crinkle your nose when you smell something that doesn’t smell right. Other times it turns into a terse smirk. Other times, yet, it can yield a strange contortion that shows an unknowable emotion. No matter what, it takes effort and attention. Cheeks get tired. Self-consciousness ebbs and flows.

There’s feedback telling me how unnatural this experiment is:

Co-worker walking up while I’m working: “Why are your lips pursed?”

Me: “I’m smiling.”

Co-worker: “That’s not smiling.  Smile with your eyes.  You look like a psychopath.”

Me: “—- you!”

There’s feedback from people who know about the smile experiment. The more who know, the more who let you know when you’re messing up. This week, my wife let me know I wasn’t smiling when we’re having “conversation”.  A co-worker asked if everything was ok. She said I seemed angry. I appreciate the feedback. It’s how I get better. It’s how I build the stamina to keep smiling.

It’s harder when the mood isn’t there. The more I need to fake it, the harder it is to make it. The harder it is to make it, the more important it is to fake it.

“Fake it ’til you make it” leads to a question of authenticity. I ordered a hypnosis program when I was in college, “Happiness for Life.” I asked my mom before ordering, “What if I become one of those annoying, happy people who I can’t stand.” She just responded with a, “Really!?” She said implicitly, “you’ll be happy, so you won’t care”.

I authentically choose to shape my mind and mood to be more joyful, patient, peaceful, gracious, kind and loving. It means calling these things into my life even when I want to dwell in a short-lived, ephemeral and situationally based feeling.

I choose eternal emotions of character over fleeting feelings of a moment. This means asserting myself to shape my mind and my experiences. This means trusting that my faithful, repetitive calls will produce the fruit of their repeatedly sown seeds.

My intent is as real as my moment to moment feeling. I decide my intent. I choose and persist it. My feeling can change at any moment. They are informed by circumstances – sleep, diet, weather, people outside of my control. One is a thermostat. One is a thermometer. Both are real. One actively shapes your environment. The other passively reflects it.

Would you rather use your power to shape your environment or powerlessly reflect what it is?

I trust that my experiment will bear fruit within a season just like when seeds are sown and their garden is cultivated. The fruit will tell me whether I planted something authentic and real.

I’m choosing power. Even when I don’t feel like it.


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