Independence Day Excerpt from “Lessons for Joey”

There’s no better day to post a free chapter about celebrating freedoms than on the day we Americans celebrate our nation’s independence. Enjoy…

#34 – Freedom is a right not to be taken lightly. Execute, but don’t abuse.

#34-webAs you grow and experience more, I hope you’ll come to understand how fortunate you are to have the freedoms you have. Even though we believe it’s the right of all to be free, not everyone is. For us, it’s a right that we’re entitled to, but it wasn’t always that way. And, in some parts of the world it still isn’t. You have the ability to spend each day doing whatever you want (as long as it’s within the law), and that is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Many people died fighting to earn those rights for you, and it’s an everyday struggle to maintain them. Knowing about your freedoms is not enough; they’re something you should take advantage of as well.

When I say take advantage of your freedoms, I don’t mean abuse them. I mean put them to use. Vote when you have the chance. Travel to different places. Choose a career that makes you happy. The course your life takes is entirely up to you and within your control. Sometimes it’s scary to think about it like that, because that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. But really, would you want it any other way? When you call the shots, the responsibility is on you to make it work, but you also don’t have as many hurdles to jump over. With this model, you are your biggest obstacle. Sure, things could be better than they are. We do have some flawed systems. But nothing is ever really perfect. And, despite the imperfections, there are certainly more than enough opportunities for you to find happiness. You have the right to enjoy life.

It’s natural, when we are afforded a little space, to try to test its limits. Just like a child checking to see how much he or she can get away with, we push the boundaries of our freedoms. This can slowly lead to exploitation, and before long the rights are abused. Unfortunately, when abuse takes place, those who afford the freedoms—whether it’s parents toward their children or a government toward its population—tend to have a knee-jerk reaction, and they pull back the reigns even further than before. Trust becomes an issue, and any progress is damaged if not lost. At that point, there is even more ground to make up just to get back to where you were.

The opportunity to control your own destiny and create the life you want is a wonderful thing. It might be the greatest thing. For those that subscribe to the theory of Carpe Diem, this is what it’s all about. You have been given permission to seize the day and to make it your own. The means to attack life are at your disposal. You are free to live as you wish. As a result, you owe it to yourself to settle for nothing less than what makes you happy. This means putting those freedoms to good use. It means maximizing your opportunities and it means doing so in a way that does not exploit those privileges. Freedom is a right not to be taken lightly. It can be taken from you as quickly as it’s given. Execute, but don’t abuse.

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Conversations with Joey: Skunked

Joey: Whoa, I just got skunked!
Daddy: You mean a skunk sprayed you?
Joey: No I walked by your feet. They stink!

Memorial Weekend Excerpt from Lessons for Joey

The following is an excerpt from Lessons for Joey: 100 Things I Can’t Wait to Teach My Son. I think this lesson is important all the time, but it rings particularly true this weekend, as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day. Last year, I was caught off-guard by a comment that was left on the “Happy Memorial Day!” post I made on a Facebook page I manage through work. The comment said it was insensitive to say “happy” on an occasion that should be more respectful of the sacrifices made and lives lost. I can appreciate their sentiment, but I also think Memorial Day should be a day to celebrate those selfless acts and enjoy the freedoms we have as a result. As we attend barbecues this weekend and drink beers with friends and family, let’s not forget the reason why we’re getting together.

Lesson #88 – Be grateful for what our military does for us, not just on holidays…every day.

#88-webAs Americans, we celebrate a couple military-themed holidays. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are there to remind us of the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in our armed forces. All four of your great-grandfathers served the United States in some capacity or another. They fought in World War II and Korea. They faced some serious danger and some miserable conditions. One was a prisoner of war. They didn’t do these things because they enjoyed it. They did it for me, for you, and for all the Americans still to be born who will enjoy living in a free country.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a holiday to realize how remarkable their service was. I don’t need other people to tell me it’s time to appreciate those men or the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are defending our freedoms as I write this or as you read it. I don’t do it every day. I’m guilty of taking things for granted just like everyone else, but when I pass someone in fatigues, or see a military special on TV, or when I see a Korean War Veterans magazine on Pop-Pop’s coffee table, I am reminded how lucky we are. Thankfully, there are many people who are willing to enter the military and make the necessary sacrifices. I am not sure I would be able to do what they do. To be away from your family and in harm’s way on a daily basis can’t be easy. I’m fortunate I don’t have to.

As a result, I sometimes find myself feeling guilty. Why am I okay with others doing what I admit I don’t want to do? The simple answer is this: I’m not okay with it. Fortunately, there are enough brave men and women who choose to serve that I am able to follow my dreams in a relatively safe and secure homeland. The best way I know how to honor them and show my thanks is to live consciously; knowing that everything I am able to do is a result of the sacrifices of our loved ones, and the many thousands of service people we will never even meet. I try my best not to take those freedoms for granted. I feel the pain of the families who are always worried about the well-being of their loved one. And I try to pay that awareness forward in the way that I raise you. I think, like any other human being, our service people mostly just want to feel loved and appreciated. They want to know the sacrifices they are making are not in vain.

So, the next time you walk through an airport or a shopping mall and you see a soldier in his or her fatigues, say “thank you.” Tell them you appreciate all they do for you and for all Americans. Most of all, let them know they have your support and that you are proud of them. You don’t need a holiday for that.

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There’s a Last Time for Everything

walk-with-dadA couple nights ago I woke up startled. Joey has been known to walk into our bedroom in the middle of the night. Usually it’s simply because he wakes up and realizes he’s alone in his room. He and I don’t typically say anything to each other when I hear his feet pitter-patter on our hardwood floor. I just reach one arm over the side of the bed, and he latches on, his favorite blanket in tow. Then, I lift him up into the bed with us. My bed real-estate usually suffers some, but I don’t mind because it’s kinda nice to have him there with us.

This most recent time was different, though. I didn’t hear him walk in. I must have unconsciously felt his stare, because at around midnight I slowly opened my eyes, and his face was 8 inches away from mine, expressionless. After nearly choking on my heart, I went about our usual routine and hoisted him up into our bed, between Dani and I. Aside from still being slightly terrified by his creepy entrance (how long was he watching me? 30 seconds? 3 minutes? Longer?), things settled down pretty quickly and we both started to go back to sleep. That’s when the real show began…

We were visited by a thunderstorm, which parked itself directly over our house and performed what sounded like the grand finale of a fireworks show. There is not a doubt in my mind it saved its best stuff for us. The flash from the lightning lit our house with enough glow to read by, and the thunder followed almost immediately after. The house shook, rattling a picture off the dining room wall. Joey wasn’t crying, but he did look at me and timidly ask if we were going to have to get a new house when the storm destroyed ours. He was shaking, almost shivering. I told him no, we wouldn’t need another house, because the storm was likely going to destroy us, as well. No, I’m joking. I told him we, and our house, would be just fine. And we were.

After ten minutes or so the storm moved on, content to terrorize other neighborhoods and allow us to go back to sleep. Gianna, ever her father’s daughter, slept through the entire thing just like I used to do as a kid, often waking up the next day completely unaware that the rest of the house was up all night.

Now, by itself, this thunderstorm story isn’t much to talk about, but it did remind me of a nostalgic thought I once had. I’m not really sure what to make of it, but I think it’s interesting enough to try and put into words here…

When I was young, say in the 8-12 year-old range, my friends and I would get together for backyard football games, kickball in the street, and nightly hide-and-seek contests. We spent an entire childhood worth of summers doing these things, and then, one day, we reported home for dinner, or curfew (I don’t remember which), and that was it. We never played again. I’m not sure which day it was, or why that day became our last. I don’t even remember details of that day or game. All I know is I haven’t played a neighborhood kickball game in close to 20 years.

When that thought first struck me, it made me consider all the other lasts that just kind of happen, completely unbeknownst to us at the time. I’m not talking so much about the big things; those “lasts” tend to leave an impression on us, often because we know it’s going to be the last time as it’s happening. It’s common that we remember our last high-school football game or the last time we saw our favorite big-leaguer play before he retired.

But what about the smaller events, the ones that so critically shape our lives before quietly becoming part of our past? Why don’t those “lasts” leave a greater impact on us? Why can’t I remember the last time we walked home from the sandlot, under the buzzing glow of the streetlights, with grass stains on our knees and tears in our shirts? What was it that finally made us no longer get together for a summer night of hide-and-seek? Lasts are often sad as it is, but there’s something extra sad about the idea that not only don’t you always know they’re coming, but sometimes you don’t remember them at all.

As I mentioned, Joey has a habit of climbing into our bed in the middle of the night. Is he normally permitted to sleep in our bed? No. Does he probably take advantage of us by doing so while we’re half asleep? There’s no “probably” about it. The question then becomes: Why do we allow it? The simple answer is because we’re more tired than we are bothered by his intrusion. But the more complex answer, I think, is that we know eventually he’ll stop. He’s not always going to “need” us in the middle of the night. One night he’ll come in, and the next he won’t. And he never will again after that.

We won’t know it’s going to be the last time as it happens. We won’t wake up the next morning aware that we’ll never “have to” share our bed with him again. Thunderstorm or not, he’ll no longer creep into our room in the middle of the night. He won’t bring his favorite blanket to my beside, waiting for my arm to reach down and pull him up. There won’t be any announcement, there will be no big fair-well tour; one morning we’ll wake up to a childless bed, and our bed will stay that way for all the mornings to follow.

Lessons for Joey: A Special Mother’s Day Excerpt

In Lessons for Joey there are a few places where I write about the unique relationship between a child and his mother. With Mother’s Day tomorrow, I wanted to share one lesson in particular, because I think it’s easy for us all to forget—or at least overlook—the unbelievable sacrifice that our moms make for us, beginning the moment we are conceived. This chapter was written to remind my children, myself and anyone else who may read it that our mothers have done something worthy of our respect just by bringing us into this world…

Lesson #27 – You’ve already put your mother through enough. Go easy on her.

#27-webChildbirth is traumatic for everyone involved. When you were born, I was the least imposed upon, and it still took quite a toll on me. I can’t imagine what it was like for you or your mother. As little more than a witness, I can tell you I experienced the full gamut of emotions that day. I was excited. I was scared. I was nervous, anxious, ready, unprepared, happy and hungry. I was a little angry too, but that’s because I get that way when I’m hungry. Still, I felt all of these things before we even really got started helping you into the world. Once that whole process began, my mind was completely blown. Childbirth is the most remarkable and amazing thing I’ve ever seen. It gave me an entirely new level of respect for women. I am not sure I could have gone through what the mother has to. But your mom can. She did. And she did it for you.

The fact that she happily put her body through all the changes that it went through, with the understanding that it probably would never be the same again as a result, is reason enough to earn your respect. So give it to her. She is your mom—your only one—and she loved you before she ever met you. She made you her first priority long before she ever saw your face, let alone held you in her arms. She has, and will continue to, sacrifice her wants and needs to make sure yours are taken care of. And she would still do all of those things, even if you never showed her how grateful you are—because that’s what moms do. Knowing all of this, how can you have anything but love and respect for her? How can you not be thankful that you have someone in your corner who would do anything for you?

It’s natural that she’ll have your back and support you. She’ll always do what she can to make sure you’re happy. She’ll continue making sacrifices for you, many of which you won’t even know about. But that’s not to say she’s going to be perfect all the time. Even though her intentions will always be good, and her actions will always be based on what she thinks is best for you, she will make mistakes. She will do things that upset you. Love her anyway. Sometimes you will think she’s being unfair. Respect her anyway. No matter how much you disagree with her decisions, she’s still your mother. Together, she and I are doing the best we can, and most of the time, we’re learning as we go.

When you feel the urge to give her a hard time because she exposes herself as the imperfect parent that she is—that all parents are—remember all the things she’s already done for you. Remind yourself of the sacrifices she made before she even knew you. Understand that she is not out to get you, and that everything she does, and has ever done, is directly inspired by one thing: love. Show her some of that love in return. Give her a break once in a while. Go easy on her. You’ve already put her through enough.

I want to wish all the moms out there a very happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do for us.

I’m Back! And I Have Some News…

L4J-Paperback

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here…like, a really long time. About 8 months to be more precise, and although I’ve been active on the Facebook page, I’ve dropped the ball when it comes to writing on this blog. I’m not happy about it because, but I have been working hard behind the scenes. So, to get you caught up on what I’ve been up to, here’s a little housekeeping, starting with the main reason why I’ve been slacking on this end…

I decided to finally write the book!

For me, it came down to a simple choice: Do I want to wait for an agent/publishing house to see the value in this idea (which isn’t guaranteed) or do I want to write the book that so many of you have already proven has value? I chose to just start writing. It meant squeezing time in around my busy work schedule; it meant staying up late and writing early in the morning, but it was worth it.

The bad news is writing the book came at the expense of writing on the blog, but the good news is the book is finished! It will be available for purchase beginning May 1st, as both a paperback and an e-book. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I think you’re all going to enjoy it.

I’ve also got some appearances scheduled in the coming weeks, so those of you located near the events can come by and get a signed copy. There’s a good chance Joey will be there as well, which means you’ll get a chance to meet the inspiration behind the book. He’s been practicing writing his name but I’ve got to warn you, if you are hoping to get his autograph on your copy, it would be in your best interest to bring some candy with you.

I added a link to upcoming appearances at the top of the site, and I hope to continue scheduling them in the weeks and months ahead. If you aren’t in the general area of any of the scheduled events, but wish you were, leave a comment on this post, or shoot me an email and I’ll see if we can arrange something in your area.

Site Updates

Another thing I’ve been working on is a renovation of the Lessons and Love website. You may notice that things look a little bit different around here. While the appearance has changed a bit, most of the major changes have been on the back-end. It continues to be a work in progress, but I think it will help me bring you more content more often.

Free Chapters

The book is still a few days away from release, but even when it is available, I know many people prefer to try a little bit of a product before they buy it. I am the same way. To give you a little taste of what’s inside, I’ve put together a mini-book of 12 hand-picked chapters taken straight from the book. They are free and will be sent directly to your email inbox when you subscribe to our newsletter. You can sign up on the newsletter page or in the quick form at the top of the website sidebar.

Your Feedback Matters

Without your encouraging feedback throughout the whole process of creating the list of lessons, growing a Facebook page and launching this website, the book would likely never have been written. For all of you who have been following all along, THANK YOU. For those of you joining us now, welcome. It has been a blast sharing my perspective on being a dad and I hope to continue doing so for a long, long time.

Lost in (3-Year-Old) Translation

bee-movie

This morning Joey came up to me and asked a question.

“Daddy, what do bees do?”

Once I got over the relief of realizing he didn’t ask what birds and bees do, I got excited about the question. As I’ve talked about before, the opportunity to teach our kids stuff, and not just feed and bathe them, is really the part of parenting I’ve been most looking forward to. And, finally, standing right in front of me, was a bouncy ball wrapped in skin with a very serious desire to learn.

Crossing Gender Barriers: An Experiment

Dumb and Dumber pedicure

For years I have heard how great it is. How it’s my loss for being too proud, or too stubborn, to give it a try. I refused to believe I was stubborn. Hell-o, irony. Nice to meet ya. Instead, I considered myself to be disinterested, not really caring either way. But yesterday, I changed my mind. I decided, that for all men everywhere, I would step outside my comfort zone and try something new. (Cue the theme music.)

After all, how could I feel good about encouraging the kids to extend themselves as they grow up if I wasn’t willing to take that advice myself? That thought, and the possibility that I might actually enjoy it, led me to get in the car with my wife and head over to the local strip mall to put my gender stereotypes aside.

I was getting a pedicure.

Bedtime and the Chain Distraction

joey-sleeping-like-a-frog

When gas prices got really high you heard all the experts suggest that you save up all your errands for one day and map out the most efficient route so you don’t backtrack and use up unnecessary gas. It was all about efficiency.

I wish someone had explained that to Joey. A perfect example is bedtime. As much as we’d like to have a routine, we haven’t been able to get one to stick. It’s hard in the summer too. I like to use the sun going down as proof that it’s time for bed. Works great when they’re tucked in before dinner during the winter and then blows up in my face when it’s twilight at quarter to ten in July.

What Would (or Wouldn’t) You Tell Your 16-Year-Old Self?

#14-web

One of my favorite new websites is one called Upworthy. It’s a collection of topics, videos and ideas that their staff has curated from the internet. All of their content is somehow tied in to social issues that we are faced with. I don’t always agree with their stance, but the ideas usually do make me think at least.