Respiratory Signature

camptFour streams of breath entwined into a rhythmic harmony in our tent at midnight. I had watched the glowing embers and licking flames of our campfire later than everyone else. Cocooned in my sleeping bag atop a semi-comfortable cot, I began the daily ritual of powering down. Falls Lake’s Holly Point campground engulfed our tent in silence.

Jude lay on her cot to my side, and the three boys sprawled across the floor at our feet (no cots for those suckers). The breathing of four individuals became pronounced in the quiet tent. In, pause, out…times four.

The body’s complex biological process to cultivate oxygen and purge carbon dioxide requires no supervision. There were no voices or tones to identify them, yet each sleeper emitted a distinct pattern. Obviously I knew who was sleeping where, but had I gone in blindfolded, and had they rearranged themselves, I would have known their new locations by their breath.

Jude breathes softly and quickly.

Lincoln breathes deeply through his mouth.

Emerson is somewhere in between and occasionally snorts.

Alden sounds like a whisper, as if there is no resistance for the air.

Maybe you could call it a respiratory signature.

I listened intently for a half hour thinking about each family member. Modern living tends to drown out these moments. HVAC units force air, refrigerators hum, TV’s spew. But nestled in the woods by a placid lake in the middle of the night, the nylon walls became a sanctuary. My appreciation of intimacy is like a cat’s appreciation for a bath. But I have to admit, there was a modicum of intimacy I embraced listening to the cacophony of breathing.

It’s difficult to unplug, but the observations and connections are worth it.

Simple but not easy.

Hold Their Hands

Looking down at my seven year old’s hands as he interlocked his fingers in mine, my eyes misted. The creases at the joints, the veins, even the fingernails on his little paw are a miniature version of my own. Fortunately he doesn’t have the scars yet. His simple act of embracing my hand in his communicates a thousand emotions. Most of those he can’t explain yet, but I hope he feels them. I trust they endure.












It’s a little less frequent now. One, two, and three, the wobbly knees and uneven terrain often sent a little hand reaching up. At four, even five and six, it was uncertainty, or a busy thoroughfare that caused an arm to extend. Independence, strong legs, and life experience have eclipsed their desire for help these days. Which is why the unsolicited hand holding carries a deeper meaning. It no longer represents a need for physical assistance. The fingers form a net for touch, and warmth, and reassurance. I wish I never had to let go.

Love him or hate him, Tom Coughlin, the hard-nosed NFL coach of the NY Giants has been successful consistently for decades. For many years he earned the reputation of a tyrant and nitpicking dictator. For instance, he kept his watch five minutes ahead and demanded the entire organization operate the same way. He regularly fined players for being late to a practice or a meeting even if it was only seconds behind. But something happened.

Coughlin’s son Tim found himself in the south tower of the world trade center on 9/11. Tom actually talked to him as the building burned, and convinced him to leave ultimately saving his life. The entire situation moved Coughlin so much that he changed his approach to life and his dogmatic style. Family became more important than football. Ironically, he was just as successful, and became well-liked by staff and players after the adjustment.

In Season Two of A Football Life the demanding and hard charging coach said something that stuck with me. (pardon the language…it is Tom Coughlin)

“Now when I see my sons, my grown sons, I don’t care where we are, I hug them, and kiss them, and I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks.”

These precious moments of hand holding and snuggling will one day cease as manhood supercedes physical nurture. I trust the bond and affection will remain like the roots of a great oak securing it for years to come.

Simple but not easy.

Parenthood and Painting

Raising children can weary the bones. Fighting, filthiness, forgetting projects that are due…tomorrow. On the other hand, children also bring great joy to life. Hugs, laughter and constant adventure fill our home. My siblings and I often marvel at the patience my parents maintained to deal with two unruly boys and two moderately stubborn daughters. It can be difficult to step back and see how much progress our children make when we are entrenched in the day to day challenges of meals, school, sports, parties and such.

Last week I had the pure joy of painting a screened in porch. And by that, I mean I gritted my teeth all day while traversing up and down a ladder with a bucket of white paint attacking a seemingly unending construct of beams, paneling and associated nooks and crannies. Up and down, stroke by stroke, the paint covered the plain brown wood. After a few hours, I was pretty sick of painting. My brother in law walked up and said, “Man, that looks amazing!” For the first time I stepped down from the ladder and backed up to look at the porch.

Prior to cleaning and paint, the entire area had been dirty, plain and unusable. After a few hours of elbow grease, the space showed a hint of what it was going to look like. A clean, bright, and spacious area to sit and relax. Chris jumped onto another ladder and we continued to wage war against the remaining ugliness. Honestly it made me think of these three little boys Jude and I are blessed to call sons. Each day, each moment is like a paint stroke. It takes time, effort, attention to detail and diligence. But with each stroke, the overall value of the space improves.Photo Oct 19, 12 39 19 PM

And so with our kids. Each teachable moment, each conversation, each memory transforms the boys into something they weren’t before. In the midst of the mundane, it can make a parent grit their teeth. But step back. Look at what they are becoming. They are growing, learning and becoming more independent. They engage others. They have their own thoughts. They look out for one another. We can now trust them to be home alone without fear they’ll burn the house down. Edit that, the fear is still there, but to date, they haven’t created a catastrophe in our absence.

So today when you your kid drives you nuts and you want to raise your voice to shut them down, remember, you have them a limited time. They are going to become what you help them to become. It’s all about the long run. Don’t rush. Make sure each brush stroke counts.

Simple but not easy.

Photo Nov 05, 6 40 04 PM

Take Charge Kids | A Two-Edged Sword

This past weekend we celebrated Emer’s tenth birthday by piling three sons and two friends into the Suburban, and cruising to a drive-in. We arrived early to secure a prime parking spot, so there was plenty of playtime. At least 100 kids descended on a small field with an attached playground. Softballs were tossed. Baseballs were caught. Frisbees flew. Soccer balls were kicked. Games of tag ensued. Swings swung. A two-hand touch football game broke out. The mass of young people ebbed, flowed, laughed, ran, sweated, and in general, played with abandon for an hour and a half preceding the roll of the moving picture.

The football game started with six, and grew to approximately twenty kids. Their ages ranged from 8 to 14. Makeshift boundaries and dynamic first down rules created a few lively discussions, but overall the big group of boys just wanted to throw, catch and run. One thing was apparent immediately. My twelve year old and ten year old sons were in charge. Both had designated themselves quarterbacks for the opposing teams. I watched closely as the number of kids playing grew and the game evolved. They remained in their respective positions.

I love watching them lead. Confident, directive, supportive. I smiled. Then I noticed something, and my teeth started a bit of a grind. Not only were the boys the quarterbacks, they made, and changed, the rules. They did the kickoffs, and they received the kickoffs. They also called all the plays, even when they designated someone else quarterback. On the rare occasions someone else got the ball, they were yelling for a throw, or a lateral, to themselves, of course. They were also including only a select group of athletic and capable kids. Others were excluded. A palpable sense of frustration and resentment bubbled among some of the other kids.

Rearing take-charge children is a two-edged sword. They take charge…sweet…of everything…ugggh. My twelve year has no inhibition when it comes to telling people what to do, no matter how old they are. I once caught him lecturing a church kids program director on how to improve the program (in his mind he was “giving counsel”). Yea, he was nine. Fortunately the director is a close friend, has a mass of kids himself, and was able to laugh about it. Still, I’d rather have to reign them in than push them to act. I’d rather them jack it up a few times, than never try. I do want them to learn to think for themselves. Of course, taking charge and directing is the easy part. Implementing discretion and wisdom are more challenging. Leadership, like anything else, requires effort, trial and error, and corrective action. 

Having said that, I thought they needed some corrective action, immediately. I called the boys over one at a time, and talked to them privately about involving everyone, letting others be quarterback, and not controlling every aspect of the game. Funny how kids’ minds work. Lincoln responded immediately. It took Emerson two “coaching” sessions. By the end of the game they had balanced their approach, and the group of boys seemed to be having a grand time. This is not a fairy tale. They’ll need this coaching repeatedly to ensure the lesson sticks. But I’m glad to give it because it took me way too long to figure it out. They’re getting a head start. Leadership through collaboration, inclusiveness and camaraderie always trumps leadership via fiat, edict and micromanagement. Building their future means coaching them today.

Simple, but not easy.


Parenting with Purpose | Are Your Kids Active or Busy?

Photo Jul 15, 6 52 40 AMA new football season is upon us. Conditioning camp finished up this past week. The new twist: my six year old joined the fray. Alden Justice, my dimple cheeked “baby”, joined the mass of grunting, huffing, sweating and yelling boys and coaches. In fact, he jumped right in by volunteering to lead his miniature cohorts in a series of something resembling calisthenics. His jumping jacks look a lot like someone bumping into an electric fence. But he led with gusto. Funny guy.

I have to tell you, I’m really excited…and a little afraid. Three boys = Three teams =Three practice nights per week = Three games on Saturday. Not to mention, as the Broncos like to remind us, we’re a volunteer organization, so we’ll have numerous “opportunities” to paint fields, work concession stands or monitor plays. The next few months will prove to be the most hectic of the calendar year. However the next few months will also be chocked full of experiences. And that means memories. Memories are the intangible evidence of an active life.

I didn’t say busy life. Busyness is a drain. A weight on the shoulders while spinning on life’s hamster wheel. Busyness creates monotony. Monotony is dreadful. But an active life, now that’s different. Some call it proactive, and that makes sense. Choosing the activities in which you engage your family is by far the most important factor in family unity, home stability, and long term preparation for your child’s future. For us, we’ve selected football with a purpose.

It’s not simply a game for them to play and earn a little participation medal. Life lessons await, and I want them to be students. I want them to learn the discipline of physical conditioning, the emotions of controlled aggression. and the heightened senses of field awareness. I want them to understand their personal role on a large team, and how to thrive under high pressure coaching. I want them to get up when they get knocked down. I want their engagement in this sport to be a place to learn in a controlled environment, an incubator of sorts. footballblog

My challenge for you – Consider those things to which your family is exposed. In other words, it’s easy to adopt the habit of reacting and rolling with the tide. That’s the path of least resistance. Our calling as parents is to resist this by making decisive choices. Decisiveness results from purpose. Understanding purpose requires thought. Thought requires effort.

Ask yourself, as a parent, why you are doing what you’re doing in any given situation. Why do I want my kid doing _____________ ? What do they gain? What do they miss? What are the rewards? What are the risks? How does this prepare them spiritually and physically? Am I keeping them busy, or am I building a foundation? Is this building a memory or is this creating drudgery? Is this building character or is this building a resume? Are you reliving your childhood dreams? Are you developing their strengths? And I’m not just talking about sports. There’s music, scouts, dance, service clubs, art, camps, youth groups, school trips, etc. Our first world exposure to opportunity is as limitless as keystrokes on the interweb. Your decisions for your children are investments in their lives and they simply must be founded in a purpose.

Strong parental leadership embraces choice, wisdom, vision casting and paradigms. While most of us don’t sit in the CEO’s seat at work, as parents we have a team to lead and build up. As someone has said, “The future is now.” Today is yesterday’s future. Yours. Your child’s. Each step we take today, each decision, teaching moment, correction, encouragement, or activity molds your child and shapes their future. We become who we are through daily choices. My responsibility to my children is, therefore, to help them make beneficial choices and literally build their future. The opposite is to let life deal them cards and hope they bluff their way out.

Added benefit, you may get to see your six year old run down the field with a football while intentionally flitting his long hair in the wind like a scene from Baywatch. True story.

Simple, but not easy.

What steps do you take to ensure your children’s activities are memory building life lessons? I’d love to hear from you.