Thursday, March 21, 2013

Call Me Ojiichan

The first picture of my first grandchild!

To my first grandchild,

Hello! My name is James Nakamura but to you I'm grandpa (or ojiichan if you'd like to use the Japanese term). I know it will be a few months before we actually meet but know that the moment that I heard that God had created you, I loved you. When your mommy told me about you for the first time I was happy and stunned. You see, sometimes the best surprises in the whole world are almost too much to emotionally understand. This was the case when I heard of you. I was so happy to know that you were created, but it was such a happy moment I almost couldn't handle all of the feelings.

There's so much I wish I could tell you, but we have a whole life together to talk about these things so I won't overwhelme you with too much stuff.

So here are a few things I'd like you to know:

You have the best mommy in the whole world. When she was a little girl, she was so special to me (and still is!). She loved to hold my hand and tell me all the things that were going on with her. As she grew older I could always see that she loved God and was so incredibly loyal. She's really well read, loves talking with people and likes to do crafts and cook. All of those great qualities you get to enjoy as she raises you. She was even nice enough to go and watch sports with grandpa. I hope that some day we will do the same. You will of course have lots of San Jose Sharks and San Francisco Giants memorabilia in your life courtesy of me!

Your daddy is a great man of God. He was brave enough to serve his country to help protect us from people who want to hurt us. He also likes geeky things (like your grandpa) so you will be subjected to hearing about scifi (Star Trek, Star Wars) and over analysing of everything. He will also teach you to fly fish and is a good craftsman. I know those times learning from him will be very special!

As for grandpa, I promise you that you will have lots of ice cream, presents, and hugs! I'm excited to be the one who can do these things because that's what grandpas are for. We get to hear all the neat things you do in life and get to cheer you on in any activity that you try. Know that I will be so proud of you. I will be your biggest fan! I want you to know that I'm new to being ojiichan. Because of this, I will make mistakes. I hope that you will forgive me when I mess things up because I'm still learning too! I'm excited that we can learn things together and that most of our times will be happy ones full of laughter!

Most importantly, I will share as much as I can about your loving Heavenly Father. He created you and no matter how much I love you, He loves you more. He loved you so much that He would send His Son to teach us important things and even die for all the bad stuff we do. I know I will have a hard time remembering any bad things that you might do, but God actually erases them so we don't have anything guilt of being bad. Isn't that the most amazing thing (even more amazing than you!)?

I hope that you will read this letter when you are older and that we can remember a lot of good times together. I also hope that you feel as much love from me as I feel for you. May we have lots of sunsets, sporting events, movie nights, and inside jokes!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Final Buzzer

The eventual, has just happened. Our season has come to an end and with it comes the mixed feelings of change in the air. The final third of the season started fairly uneventful with a few wins and losses and then two tournaments. There are times in a season where the grind of the game can get to you. I admit late in the season I let things get to me at times. I know that I deservedly so received my first two technical fouls and my first ejection.  There's much I have to learn about self control as God is still not done with me yet.
The Nashville Regional Tournament was a tough experience. We faced two of the best home school teams in the country. I was very happy to once again see the team rise to the occasion and fight hard. We stayed close for a half, but then the opponents pulled away. I'm always wondering just how each of the players feels going through all of this. The work so hard, but many times comes up short. It's not anything that they're doing wrong per se, but much of it is the hand that we're dealt. The final game was just one of those games where we were flat. I think we all knew that we should have beat this team but ended up losing by 3.

Moving on to the East Coast Finals Tournament I got a reminder of just how much these young men mean to me and the privilege it is to be their coach. Travelling 4.5 hours and then getting up for the first game was tough. We ended up getting down early and fighting back late. Sadly we lost by three points - another hard fought loss! Up next is an elite team that quite frankly was way beyond anything that we have ever faced. 43-11 record with games in France, Australia and a team of all stars. They have their own chartered plane and bus. Mark Cuban's brother OWNS the team. They blew out the other teams in pool play by 60 and 50 points. We fought hard as usual but something different happened. We stayed close for most of the game. I could sense that the coach was not happy that we were making a game of this. Eventually, their talent level and superior coaching got the better of us and they pulled away for a 30 point win. For some reason this game felt good losing by "only" 30. I think they expected a blow out in the first quarter. The handshake at the end of the game felt different. There was an acknowledgement of respect from both teams. I sense that our team felt it too. We turned a corner and possibly matured that night. Our next two games were wins where that toughness that we've developed over the course of the season payed off. These were more gutty wins that required us fighting through lots of tough moments. Hearing the final buzzer of the last win was sweet - we had earned the right to play in the 4A championship!

The championship game was another tough fought battle from very evenly matched teams. It was strange that I had a peace throughout the game. I couldn't figure out why since this was the biggest game of the season. We got down early and played even the rest of the way - early cold shooting and the absence of two players hurt us, but really, adversity is something to fight through not use as an excuse. Still down by 10 I called our last timeout with one minute to go. I gave some usual strategic words but then it hit me why I had peace through the game and so I shared it with the team. It was so real and hopefully very meaningful: I told them that in my mind it didn't matter if they won or lost the game, they were already champions to me. I actually choked up when I told them this because it hit me really deep. Like the last timeout in the movie Hoosiers, I finally get what the coach in the movie felt. When you put so much into the team, some of you is going with them and you feel the deep love for who they are as young men. I sincerely hope they enjoyed the game and the moment when they got the trophy. It was well earned and I hope a lifetime memory.

The sum total of this season as a Varsity basketball coach has left me with some great memories. I know that God challenged me to put myself in a position that is a stretch. I had to be a decision maker, a life guide, a teacher, and a mentor. This meant that many of my flaws were right out in front of people. It also opened me up to scrutiny and criticism. I had to face off against superior coaches and programs and faced losing. Through it I had to find a way to keep the team going in the right direction. I know that without God and God's gift of two amazing friends to assist me, I'm sure I would have failed badly. I can not thank God enough for having Mark and Bruce there for me. Mostly, this was about the team and how they have grown. I am amazed and humbled at how high a quality of character these young men possess. It is a testament of God, their families and the lives that they live. I know that I can say so much more about them but again I'll say that they are champions in my book. I look forward to seeing how they impact the world and be a blessing to others. For that, I'm thankful that God gave me this amazing opportunity.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Planes To Catch And Bills To Pay

"And the Cats in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon
Little Boy Blue and the Man In The Moon
'When you coming home, dad,' 'I don't know when,'"
Harry Chapin - The Cats And The Cradle

Harry Chapin charted this song when I was about 8. It's such a bittersweet song. I remember as a kid that Brandon Cruz (of The Courtship Of Eddies Father fame) crying when he found out that Harry Chapin was going to perform that song live for him. I totally get it. Even then and even more now that song hits at the heart of where we are at as boys; as teens; as young men; as fathers; and as older men. Living through those stages, it hits home. We men just don't make the time for what's important. Jobs, mowing the lawn, church leadership, you name it gets in the way. When you figure that out, it's usually too late. By then, your son is dealing with the same stresses that kept you from him. I just wish I could stop things and find that perfect moment to tell Fox that I love him; that I'm proud of him; and that he has what it takes to thrive in this world. The problem is that even if I do, it doesn't seem to sink in. That's not an indictment on him, but more just how things are.
This all comes together as I live in middle life land. Right now I'm on a plane heading to see my dad. Although a picture of health for a man of his age, he didn't know that he was hemorrhaging around his brain. It resulted in a stroke. I am so thankful that he survived and has rehabilitated to the point of moving on to assisted living. I thought of how I now have to be on the other side of providing care. Not that I mind it, but I am concerned how that will be a paradigm shift for me and that I'll have to emotionally work it out. I also stop and think that our time on earth together is a lot less than I realized.
My dad comes from a very different era. He also is partially influenced indirectly from the Japanese culture his dad came from. I fully understand this and accept it. It doesn't prevent me from longing for that depth in relationship that God designed us to have. I know that men of his culture and era just aren't that in touch with their feelings or comfortable expressing them. I know that there are gaps in my life because of this and again, I don't blame my dad for that. It is these the burdens that bring me to my knees longing for my Heavenly Father.

Hospital Visits:
Seeing my dad in a weakened state is tough to see. Even though I knew this is the way it was going to be, it's nothing compared to when you see it first hand. I'm now the one instructing him and encouraging him. It's such a shift in mindset. Also, I'm working hard to find the balance of taking charge and helping without dishonoring or disrespecting my dad. He will need to learn to use a walker and spend considerable time in a wheelchair. There's hope that he could fully recover but also he could plateau and require assistance the rest of his life.

The most beautiful moment was when my uncle (my dad's closest brother) spent time with him. Here are two men who have been in a close relationship longer than any other people in their lives. I think they must have had countless wrestling matches, games of playing catch and quiet moments fishing together. Today, my uncle takes the time to carefully clip his fingernails. In most ways this is such a common thing to do, but for one who has suffered a stroke, it is a very difficult task. My uncle gently takes my dad's hands and takes care of a basic grooming need. I feel like I saw something so wonderful and intimate - two brothers who love each other and one demonstrating his love in such a tangible and caring way. I am blessed to have an uncle who will stand up for my dad.
I spent the large parts of the days learning how to help my dad. Again, I am continually trying to find a respective but helpful mindset when working with my dad. I'm helping him get in and out of bed, his wheel chair, and a car. I have to ask him when he needs to go the bathroom. I'm sure it's humbling for him and even a bit embarrassing but he understands the goal is to recover and so he soldiers on. It is the great blessing of his character and the age he grew up in. He has experienced a great deal of hardship (working on a farm, living through the depression, World War II, Internment, and losing loved ones). I sense a settled peace in this challenge. I'm very proud that I am his son.
My good friend Frank Prats

Relocating to assisted living:
There is a sense of great responsibility when it came to be having the assignment of moving my dad to assisted living. First I had to furnish his residence. A true testament of the Body Of Christ was that with one phone call to my good friend Frank Prats I was able to secure a truck and two men to help with the heavy lifting. It all went very smoothly.During this time anybody who provides that kind of support is a blessing. I am so thankful Moving some of the furniture included pieces that literally haven't left their respective rooms for over 50 years. Many pieces are older than me. This also provides some security in the familiar for my dad. My brother Robert was there to help arrange the place and put things away. That was nice to have.
If moving inanimate objects is a challenge think of the responsibility of moving your invalid father. This was a step beyond training as it was in my hands and my hands only. I packed his stuff along with his newly acquired walker and wheel chair. For the first time I helped my dad maneuver into a car unassisted. Again, the weight of my responsibility was hitting me. Thankfully, it went well. The drive did tire my dad out but we made the 80 minute trip without a hitch.

Arriving and admitting went well. I had a huge amount of information to disseminate (another huge responsibility!). It also required me to focus on the care of the staff (which looks excellent). I realize after being responsible and in charge in these past few days I now have to make the next shift, to releasing much of the control and let the staff take over. Change is a challenge for me so I went through a lot of challenges this week. I can't imagine how my dad feels through all of this change. Once again, God showed up in a literally sweet way. Dad's first dinner at the facility included cream puffs for dessert. If you've read my other blog post, you will know that cream puffs were a specialty of my mom. It was like God was telling me personally that it is all good with Him and that He is in control. We are all family and with a few special touchstones (like cream puffs) we'll get through this together. I am so humbled by all of this.
My hope is that I will see my dad fully recovered. He can then go back to walking with the group of dog walkers in his neighborhood and hit the golf links sometime before dawn with his friends. No matter what, I know that my time with him is limited so I'll be sure to make more time to savor his love, warmth and kindness.
"We'll get together then, you know we'll have a good time then..."