Thursday, May 31, 2012

You Deserve It

Words are so powerful. With them we can build up or destroy. As we walk through life we can either speak life and in a sense, death into a person. Looking back, I see that I have done both and can celebrate and mourn the thought.
When I go back in my mind through the times of my life I found that rarely has life been spoken into me. Don't get me wrong, I grew up in a wonderful home. It was a Wonder Years existence with me as Kevin Arnold. The all important practical side of life was very much safe and secure. But the deep questions of life remained mostly unanswered. I fear that most men these days live without those questions answered - Do I measure up? Is my dad proud of me? Am I really a man? It's not that our dads are inadequate or even to blame, but the fact that throughout the generations these questions remain unanswered. This is a tragedy.
I am deeply thankful that I have one shining moment where those elusive answers were found. Perhaps there were many others like it, but through the harsh times of shame and bullying I seemed to have lost them. I hope that this story can give all of us some hope.
I grew up the youngest of three brothers. When you're the youngest, you never quite catch up to your brothers. They're always smarter, always stronger, always more accomplished. One measuring stick was the fact that they had trophies: ones for baseball, basketball, music and academics. It became a deep desire for me to get a trophy. For once, I'd like to feel like the champion, the winner, the one who ends up on top.
The summer when I was eight was that time. We had a great baseball team. Although I wasn't the star, I was a big contributor. I could hit for average, steal bases and was a sure handed first baseman. We had a good collection of talent so the wins started piling up through the summer. Eventually, we ended up winning the city championship. It was a fun summer indeed!
So at the end of the summer, we got to feel likes kings of the city. We got to go to Candlestick Park to see the San Francisco Giants and our team was congratulated on the scoreboard. A few days later we got to receive our just prize. Yes, we got to parade around the park; we got our picture in the paper; but that paled in comparison to what I wanted: that trophy with my name on it! Realize this is in the day when only one team got a trophy - not in the "everybody gets a trophy" days that we live in today - it was a prize that was earned. I drove there with my friend Pete Damianakes (sorry if I misspelled this one, I was never good in Greek). Well the moment came and we lined up and I was handed my trophy. It had wood base and a golden ball player rapping out a hit (very much like the statue of Willie Mays in front of AT&T Park).
Not as impressive, but here's my coveted trophy:
It truly was a memorable day for me. I was so happy to have my very own trophy. On the drive home I was smiling and admiring this wonderful prize I had won. I feel that in some way I had arrived and that I was a winner. In that moment Mr. Damianakes caught me admiring my trophy. He broke the moment with the words:
"You're proud of that aren't you?"
Embarrassed I felt that deep feeling of shame that had already been heaped upon me in my eight years of life on fallen earth. These were words of correction that said that you're being too proud; and that you shouldn't brag. Even worse was the demeaning messages I had already heard as a child: you really don't deserve it; you weren't the star of the team; you were just lucky to be on a good team. Ashamed, I wanted to deny that I was proud of my trophy, but he obviously saw through me already. So I sheepishly admitted:
"Yes, I am proud of it."
I could feel myself tighten up bracing for the admonition that was forthcoming; an experience that I had been through all too many times already. His next words will stick with me the rest of my life. I can't think about them without a lump in my throat. Even almost forty years later I can put myself in the backseat of the car driving down Rose Lane and hear this brief conversation:
"You're proud of that aren't you?"
"Yes, I am proud of it."
Mr. Daminakes then said:
"Well you should be. You deserve it."
I was speechless and stunned. I choked back a tear as I let a validation that I had rarely received sink in. Even now I'm a bit choked up. Where has that been all of my life? Why doesn't that happen on a daily basis? Just know that a conversation I'm sure that Mr. Damianakes has long forgotten stays with me today.
Which brings me back to a truth that we all should hold deeply to. We have in our possession the ability to build up or tear down. My friend's dad built me up in a deep way with just a few words. We also have that power to bless in a meaningful way. My encouragement to you is to throw off what hurt and failure that is in the past, and move forward to a life of blessing others.
If you feel inadequate to the task (as I have felt), realize that your Heavenly Father has already validated you. He is proud of you, He knows that you measure up and that you have what it takes to do it. As Mr. Damianakes would say: "You deserve it."
 "No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." John 16:27
To complete the story, Mr. Damianakes coached my baseball team two years later. We once again won the city championship. I felt that in some way, I made him proud. Even today, the trophy from this team sits on my nightstand. Here it is.

5/1/13 UPDATE
I have the great pleasure of meeting up with Mr. Daminakes and hopefully I'll see Pete later this week. It took 40 years, but I was able to sincerely thank him for his words. He didn't remember saying them, but the real important thing was the I remembered them. Let's keep on speaking life into others receiving strength from the One who gives us strength! 
Pete mentioned in an email that Mr. Daminakes claimed that the team that won the second championship was his favorite. My thought: "Me too!"

Monday, May 28, 2012

Route 66 Meets Mad Max

In one of those convergences of life, both Amanda and I ended up simultaneously getting motorcycles. Both were located north of us and so we ended up doing a road trip picking them up. For Amanda and I nothing seems to be conventional. Our daddy date nights consisted of motorcycles and gun ranges. She's the artist in the family. More than just that, she's truly has an artist's mind. Having her in my life has opened my view of the world as she exposes me to seeing life with more color and nuance. I am so deeply grateful for her as she is not only beautiful, she brings beauty in the way she creates things.
Jodi's cousin, Hope, was kind enough to give Amanda her 1989 Virago Route 66. It's a 250cc standard. Considered by many to be the ideal starter bike. I found my dream bike on Ebay for a great price: 1989 Yamaha VMax. It's one of those bikes that has almost a mythic air about it. It looks like a standard and has the power of a sport bike. It has many nicknames: The Widowmaker, The Instruement Of Death, Muscle Madness and of course Mad Max. It's scary fast.
The trip was one that took us from Knoxville, to Nashville, to Louisville, to Merrillville (all those 'villes'!), to Chicago (to pick her bike up), to Fortville (just outside Indianapolis), to Florence and back to Knoxville. About 21 hours in the car!
A big shout out to my friend and co-worker Mike Hill who lent us a trailer which saved us the trouble of renting and all of that hassle and cost. The first few hours in the car was just wonderful catching up with her. She's in college studying film making. I can say without parental bias that she has almost unlimited talent to succeed. Her films have already won awards and her stories are so deep and amazing. It's also fun to hear about her pets and her job at Jersey Mike's (Mmmmm, Philly Cheese Steaks!). Our first stop was at the Louisville Motorcycle Superstore Outlet. To be honest, the prices weren't that impressive even though the selection was great. We did eat lunch at a killer Japanese restaurant (another one our "things" that we do together). We got to talk about Japanese culture and someday travelling together to Japan. She ate her usual Bento box. I had Katsu and Philly roll sushi. We holed up in a Red Roof Inn in Merrillville (nice for the price). Dinner was at the food court in a local mall. My fortune cookie hit the mark:

Sometimes God gives you something really cool. I guess He knows how much I love launching myself down the road on a two wheeled rocket. As I said, somehow He reveals himself to me there!
The morning was on to Chicago where we hit tons of traffic, but allowed me to get a shot of the New Comiskey Park:

I would usually plan in a ballgame, but both Chicago teams we were out of town. We met up with Hope and found her bike in decent, but non-functioning state. The front brake was seized, the throttle was stuck, the rear tire was dry rotted and there were small patches of rust. Here's the bike with a beautiful model on it:

We loaded the bike and headed through the north side of town. That meant driving by Wrigley Field. I've been to Chicago so many times and have never seen a game there!
Heading down to Fortville which is just east of Indianapolis. Of course we were crazy enough to go through there on Memorial Day weekend. If you don't know, that's the same time as the Indianapolis 500! Thankfully, we missed most of the traffic. There we met up with the VMax. It's old and rough looking, but that belies the fact that it has power. Lot's of power. I test drove it and knew that this bike will be something special. My hope is that this is the last bike I own. I'm sure I'll never need any more power and speed in a bike. Just hope I don't get old and scared.

I think that Amanda has found love (at a Burger King):

We made it home where I'm working on getting her bike running. I'm also finding new ways to launch myself through the horizon.
So why blog all about this? Because it will be a memory that I will have forever with my beautiful daughter. Beyond getting two cool motorcycles, I will cherish that God granted my two and half days with just me and Amanda. When your kids become adults, the time that you had taken for granted becomes deeply missed. For me, with her it's gun ranges, motorcycles, and Japanese restaurants. There's so many little things I love about my daughter, her blue eyes, her ironic and dark sense of humor, her love of films, her inexhaustible creativity and her sweet laugh. So my next date night will either be flying to Tokyo with her, or cruising down  Foothills Parkway. Route 66, meet Mad Max!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Best Book For Dads

It's always a bit much to label a book the definitive authority on any subject, so I'll leave the debate to others on this thought that in my opinion, if you're going to read one book on being a dad, this is it. I'll list my reasons below. The book is "You Have What It Takes - What Every Father Needs To Know" by John Elldredge.
First, it's short (and also very inexpensive $4.99 as of this writing). Let's face it. One things men don't want is another tedious thing piled onto us. Along with that, some of us aren't the type to sit down and read thousand page novels, let alone long books on theology, physics or the history of sheep shearing. In fact we're too busy working, mowing lawns, coaching, changing diapers, chauffeuring, helping with homework and volunteering at church. The book weighs in at 52 pages in length on 6"x3" booklet in size. That's manageable for most of us with short attention spans and those whose attention is divided between keeping the kids from killing each other, answering "Are we there yet?" while trying to find directions to that all import vacation destination. I told a few friends that you could put it next to the toilet and during your quality time on the throne read it cover to cover in just a few sittings. Also, I find myself reading it over and over again.
It's positive. The one thing that I hope is clear from my writing is that shaming is at best short term motivating and at worst abusive. I can't count how many Christian books are just about what's wrong. Mostly, what's wrong with the reader. I think that it's a cop out to be a critic. I think we all would just like to move past that and be motivated to want to do something. I think there's not a man in this world who doesn't want to be a great dad. Is it motivating to hear all of the dire consequences of bad dads? How about all of the little things that we get wrong on a daily basis? Most men would rather throw in the towel if that's the only alternative. So here's the cool thing: as the book states, you have what it takes to be a great dad. Not only that, you don't have to dig deep for some unknown reserve to find what it takes to be a great dad. You see, God has provided that already. It's not some mystery He's holding out for you to find. He wants you to succeed! Best yet, the benefits have a huge impact on this world!
It answers the most important questions. One thing that drives me crazy is that people can't seem to get to the point. For some reason, it isn't considered profound unless it's buried in some deep, wordy, exposition that somehow proves the writer's expertise on the subject. There is a place for this. But when it comes to the most important questions of fatherhood, get me right to the answer so I can start applying it now! So here it is: first, you have what it takes to be a great father because God is a great and generous God who wants you to succeed. For your sons, find any way that you can in as many ways that you can to tell them that you're proud of them; that they have what it takes to succeed and that you are behind them 100%. For your daughters, find any way that you can in as many ways that you can to tell them that they're beautiful; worthy of love; and worthy to be pursued. OK, class dismissed!
I know that you could take a lifetime to unpack that. But if you're focused on that as a father, you will succeed. I have to admit that as a dad, I wish I had heard this when my girls were little. Sadly, kids will continually reach out to you to answer that question and at that time I wasn't prepared to answer them. The good new is no matter where you are with your kids, it's never too late. Start today and over time it will make a huge difference. As Hebrews 12 says thrown off every hindrance. In my opinion, that's fear that we have to throw off: Fear of what others think, fear of failure (past, present and future), fear of change. All I can say is that I know what those fears feel like. Realize what that's from (Satan) and step up. Believe it or not, it's the most freeing feeling in the world to step up.
Ultimately, you will open up the doors to receive God's deep love. He is your true Father and is smiling proudly when He thinks of you. I know that you will have an eternal impact and the applause of heaven when you do it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Never Too Late

Dear Samantha,
After these few month as serving as your "stand in" dad, I want to write to you so that you will know just how much I have enjoyed our brief conversations during the week. You are truly a delight and a very special young woman. You are an amazing blessing to your children and husband. I know that Chip feels that he is the luckiest guy in the world that you married him. I remember many times how he would go on and on about how beautiful you are - and he's so right about that! Those who get to know you are truly better for meeting you.
I very much look forward to talking with you; hearing how your week is going, what the kids are doing and even hearing your dreams. Those are so very special to me. For those short moments, I hope that you can feel an earthly father's love. Because you are a delight to get to know. You radiate a giving, wonderful air that brings life to people. I also want you to know that you are beautiful young woman. Even greater is your inner beauty. Beyond that, you have a servant's heart and a deep strong character that would be the pride of any father. I know that I am proud of you.
I have mentioned to you that even as a young girl I would have happily have taken you in to my home as my own daughter if I was given the opportunity. You are that special. I feel that God has given me this special gift now; for even a short time during the week, I get a chance to be in the role as your dad. I feel it is a great honor that you have allowed me those moments.
I want you to know just how much I wish you had better parents growing up. I feel that you truly were robbed of your childhood. The emotional turmoil, manipulation, and confusion that reigned in your home is something that you truly did not deserve. The amazing thing to me is how well you have turned out in spite of this. You are a survivor and this is a testament to your character. If that wasn't enough, you as a mother have broken the abuse cycle that could have easily invaded your family. You are creating a new Godly legacy.
Most importantly, I want you to know that your Heavenly Father truly loves you. I know that the example you received from your father has distorted what you might see as God the Father. But this is truly how He sees you. You are his beautiful and cherished princess. When you enter His throne room, you are not a sinful slave who receives His wrath. On the contrary, you are His delight. He desires for you to boldly enter into His presence run up to Him and embrace Him.
As I hope you can see, with God it's never too late to heal; never too late to be a beloved daughter; and never too late to be loved. God has an amazing way of taking the broken and making something wonderful and beautiful. I know that I see that in you. Looking forward to our next time to talk.

Naka (your stand in dad)