Ode to Sleeping In

Inspired by David’s ode to his truck, I decided to give an ode to something in my life that has been with me through thick and thin but that has, in fact, seen better days as of late.

Oh sleeping in… what a cruel cruel mistress you’ve been to me through the years. We’ve seen it all together, that is, as long as “all” occurred after 11 a.m.

I remember when I was just a wee lad, a school boy if you will, and my dad resorted to using a spray bottle to separate us as we lay there in my bed basking in the glory that was our time together. I may have been on time to school, but I never forgot you through the day because I knew you’d always be there for me the next morning.

In the summertime of my tween years, my parents instituted a 10 a.m. cutoff time on our blissful slumber together. I remember my mom calling from work around that time each morning to make sure I was out of bed. I must have been a bad liar or your influence on me was just too much, because she’d always know when we’d been together. Maybe she could hear it in my voice.

Either way, I’d leave you each day for a fun-filled afternoon of MTV’s beach house, little league baseball, or swimming in our above-ground pool. But then, like the bride of a soldier awaits the return of her husband from battle, you were there waiting for me when I finally made my way back to our bed each night.

During high school, you never made me late for class, but you were the reason I rarely ate breakfast. It was you who made me forsake ironing my clothes. It was you who pushed me into the arms of hooded sweatshirts, nylon warm-up suits, and gym shorts. It was you who made me defy the normal limits of driving speed set by local authorities just to make it to class on time. And yet, I never complained because our love affair was deep and it was true.

In college, you were with me freshman year on Tuesdays and Thursdays when my first class wasn’t until after lunch. Who am I kidding? You were with me on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as well. Good thing they didn’t take attendance… oh wait. You were with me on the Saturdays when I didn’t have to work and when I did, you were the reason I usually clocked in a few minutes late.

Unlike some people who shy away from houses of worship during their freshman year because of some form of loose living on Saturday night, my love affair with you was the reason behind my spotty Sunday morning church attendance that first year away from home.

When I got married, you graciously accepted, without complaint, the new dynamic in our relationship. You welcomed my young bride into our relationship with open arms. And although we abandoned you that first morning after we were married for a 6 a.m. flight to the Bahama’s, you understood and never held a grudge. In fact, you were there patiently waiting for us the next morning in our ocean view hotel room on Nassau’s famed Cable Beach. If you were ever jealous of her, you never let on and for that, I thank you.

After grad school, I joined the ranks of the working world and it was then, for the first time in our storied history, that our relationship was put to the test. As the demands of the full-time professional life crowded you further and further out of my life, you were relegated to the weekends. I often found myself feeling guilty in the arms of an afternoon nap, unable to forget all that we’d been through together. And yet, when I returned to you on Saturdays, holidays, and occasional vacations, you were always there. It was as if we’d never skipped a beat.

Then it happened. We both know what I’m talking about. That fateful day in November 2009 when I signed the divorce papers on our storied 28-year relationship. There was no screaming, no fighting, no messy legal battles. You gracefully accepted the blow I dealt you with grace and honor. We said our goodbyes and we parted ways. That was it.

And although we don’t see each other on a regular basis any more, I still find myself sneaking back to your arms every now and then on days when my alarm clock isn’t set correctly or when events out of my control keep me awake past 11 p.m. the night before. But it’s just not the same anymore. I know I should cherish our time together, but I just feel guilty after a morning with you. Don’t take this the wrong way either, it’s not you that’s changed. It’s me.

It’s me who’s been tempted by the fruit of another. It’s me who’s tasted the sweet intoxicating cup of waking up early. It’s me who no longer finds satisfaction in your faithful arms.

But let’s not get emotional. We had a great run, you and me. For years we were thick as thieves despite the ardent efforts of other people and institutions who tried to tear us apart.

With a new baby girl on the way, I have a feeling it will be a long time before we see each other again. Little Izzy may even prove to be the final nail in the coffin that used to be our relationship. But life is like that, isn’t it? Change can be good and exciting, but with anything new, we usually lose something old.

No one can take away the 28 years we spent together in the bliss of youthful love. Our memories will sustain us in our later years and maybe, just maybe… our sordid love affair can continue on in the lives of my children. I only hope you will love, honor, and cherish them half as much as you have loved me.

And if by some chance I return to you in the twilight of life, like a dog faithfully awaiting the return of his master, I know you’ll be there waiting for me.

A letter to my dad on Father’s Day

The year was 2003, I was about to be a senior in college, I’d been married for almost a year, and money was tight. Father’s Day was just around the corner and I didn’t have a clue what to do for my dad. I couldn’t just rush out and buy something, I’ve never been all that handy at making things, and so I was stumped. With no other good option for a Father’s Day gift, I sat down and started writing the letter below not knowing exactly where it would end up.

Dad – I don’t know where to start. I just wanted to do something a little different for you this Father’s Day, so I decided to write you a letter to let you know how much you mean to me. I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how blessed I am to have you for a dad and about all the things you’ve done for me and all the times you’ve been there for me.

I was thinking the other day (probably because of the mold problem in my apartment and how it’s been making my allergies flare up) about the time when I was 11 or 12 and we went to the lake in Arkansas. If you don’t remember, it was the one with the cabin that was really moldy. I went up a few days before you did with Mema and Papa and my allergies were making me miserable. As hard as everyone tried, no one really knew what to do for me (or they just thought I was being a baby) but when you got there, you came inside and got me in the middle of the night and we slept outside in the van away from the mold for the rest of the time. That was the last night I was miserable.

To this day, I still get all funky and allergified every time I’m around mold.

Then I was thinking about high school football my sophomore year and how you kept pushing me to keep going even though I thought I hated it because you had the wisdom to realize that if I kept working at it, eventually that year would be over and I would love it (needless to say, you were right).

That was the year I was officially the offensive and defensive scout team’s tackling dummy. I went through about a bottle and a half of Tylenol each month that season. And to make matters worse, because I’d transferred in to that school from another school district, I was ineligible to even suit up for games that season.

And I think about the all times you consoled me after those tough losses reminding me that it wasn’t the end of the world… especially after losing the Ada game my senior year when you were waiting right off the field for me to give me hug.

They were our rivals, we were ranked #1, and we were supposed to beat them. We left it all on the field that night and still came up short. It was one of the few times I ever cried over the results of a sporting event.

And I certainly couldn’t write this without mentioning Rib Crib. Yeah, you usually didn’t stay very long, but the time I spent there with those guys and the memories I have from that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though I can’t remember the scores of most of the my games, I’ll never forget eating 31 spare ribs in one sitting and still losing the rib eating contest 31 to 32. I never would have had those experiences without your generosity.

During football season, he used to pay for all-you-can-eat ribs for me and the entire offensive line every Tuesday my Junior and Senior years of high school.

And I know it probably wasn’t your favorite day when I quit playing baseball (or basketball for that matter), but you still supported me, tried to understand, and never branded me a quitter… thanks.

I was also thinking about how my friends and I were always welcome at our house. Not only were we always welcomed but we were often invited. And I never had to be ashamed to bring people home to meet you or mom.

Thanks for working crazy schedules when Sean and I were kids so you could provide for us in so many different ways.

There were times when my dad worked nights and my mom worked days (and vice versa) so they could provide for us and so that one of them could always be at home with us. At one point, I think they probably went at least two or three years without seeing each other except for on the weekends.

Thanks for cooking the best Hamburger Helper I’ve ever eaten to this day and thanks for sitting in the middle seat at the bar sometimes so I didn’t always have to pass everything.

When my mom was working nights, my dad would make Hamburger Helper. He, my brother, and I would sit three-across at the bar facing our kitchen for most of those meals. If you got stuck sitting in the middle, you were in a precarious spot because you always had to pass stuff back and forth and rarely got to eat an uninterrupted meal. My older brother was usually pretty good at manipulating me into the middle but every now and then my dad would save me from that wretched fate.

Thanks for all the instruction on the right way to treat people and to not hit girls, even though I came close a few times with a certain next door neighbor.

Just like there’s not really just one place to start this letter, it would never end if I tried to list everything special you have ever done for me, but I just want you to know how grateful I am to have you for a dad.

So… thanks for the example you have been to me. From what I’ve seen in you, I’ve learned what it means to be a real man and a great father. I consider you one of my best friends and have really enjoyed getting to know you better these last few years and I hope we can keep that up.

I guess I’ll finish this letter with one final memory that doubles as an explanation for your gift. One of my favorite memories growing up was waking up on Saturday mornings to pancakes (not chocolate cake) and the sound of a Bill Cosby record blasting through your stereo, so for this Father’s Day, I decided to make you a CD with some of the sets that I remember from those records. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed them growing up.

Thanks for everything! I love you dad.

-Michael

With the time difference between Central Standard Time and Stuttgart Germany time, I know we may not get a chance to chat today. I just want you and the rest of the world to know that I’m thinking about you today. Thanks for your example. Thanks for your generosity. Thanks for your love. Happy Father’s Day sir. Happy Fathers Day.

20-Plus Years of Fatherly Wisdom Boiled Down to 91 Words or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bag

On Saturday afternoon, I posted the following question on Twitter and Facebook:

The lovely and talented wife wants to get me my own, less girly diaper bag. Do I really need one of my own? Can’t we share the brown one with pink flowers on it? Rest of the world, what do you think?

I got a lot of really good responses and advice. After soaking in all of the advice and wisdom I got from so many good people, I ended up sending a text message to the lovely and talented wife (who was out-of-town on a shopping trip with her sister and mom) that essentially said:

I’ve consulted the Twitterverse and the Facebooks and the consensus seems to be that you should get the bag if you want it.

What I had failed to realize was that when she called me to ask about the diaper bag earlier in the day, she really needed to make a decision right then. Texting her almost 4 hours later to tell her to go for it was too late and she did not get the bag.

Even so, I’m still glad I consulted the collective wisdom of the social media world on this one. If I hadn’t, I never would have received this great pearl of fatherly wisdom from one of my Facebook friends. The father of two grown children who’ve turned out pretty well themselves, he said:

You will wake up and realize she is 21, and, she isn’t coming home for the summer. Drink her play tea. Carry her flowery diaper bag. Let her dress you up. Read to her at night. Hold her when she is asleep. Kiss her always. Tuck her in at night. Pray for her. Pray for her future mate. Pray for forgiveness when you over react to this or that. Sit in her room and listen to her breathe. Then, advise a young father 20 plus years younger than you to do the same.

The world needs more fathers like that who not only do a good job raising their own children, but who also encourage other men to do the same.

Pure gold sir. Pure gold. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I really appreciate it. I count myself fortunate to know your son and if what they say is true about being able to judge a man by the character of his kids, then you sir were and still are an excellent (even if you weren’t perfect) father.

Stuff My Dad Taught Me #3

I had a completely different post in mind for today, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a recovering sleepaholic and I turned off my alarm this morning at 5 instead of hitting the snooze button.

So here I am at 6:15, and I don’t have enough time between now and 8 o’clock (when I have to have my rubber footed steed to the mechanic for a brake job) to really give the post I had in mind the attention it deserves.

Enough with the intro and on to another golden nugget of wisdom I learned from my pops.

It could be said that my dad is a University of Oklahoma sports fan. But then again, that could probably be said about many people in this fine state, and to lump my pops in with that group just doesn’t seem right.

You see, my dad is more than just a casual fan. For as long as I can remember, he’s been going to OU sporting events. I remember when I was a little kid (and we lived in campus housing), he used to carry me on his shoulders and we’d walk to OU basketball games from our apartment. Since my childhood days, he’s even added women’s hoops to his repertoire of fandom and is now a season ticket holder for this more finessed version of the hardwood classic.

In the spring time, he’d carry me out to the berm behind the baseball field and we’d sit out there and watch the Sooners battle it out on the diamond. I didn’t know until some time early in my teenage years that people actually watched college baseball games from INSIDE the stadium.

And please don’t get me started on OU football. Not only does he have season tickets and near-perfect attendance at home games, but he also goes to most away games. Not only does he tailgate at just about every game he attends, but he’s there several hours before kickoff. 11 a.m. kickoff, he’s there by 5 a.m.; 2 p.m. kickoff, he’s there by 8 a.m.; 6 p.m. kickoff, he’s there by 10 a.m. You get the point.

For many Sooner football fans, who’ve really only been fans for the last 10 years or so, it’s difficult to imagine a half-empty stadium. And yet, we Mitchell’s went to just about every game in the 1990’s as they struggled to find their post-Switzer gridiron identity. As a kid, I remember getting bored at games and being able to lay down on the row in front of us to take a nap. That’s how empty the place was back then. For any fan who’s just started following the Sooners since the Stoops era, I realize it’s pretty hard to imagine an Owen Field experience not accompanied by 89,000 of your closest friends jam-packed into a roaring mess of crimson and cream… but trust me, it wasn’t always that way.

And that was where my dad first taught me this next fine lesson in manhood. No matter how bad the Sooners were back then and no matter how bad they were getting beat by: Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, and yes… even Oklahoma State, my dad would not leave early.

I’m not sure if he ever phrased it this way, but essentially his message was this: Mitchell’s don’t leave an OU sporting event before the game’s over.

I never realized the significance of having to stay until the last second ticked off the game clock until I was a bit older and became aware of the mass-exodus of fans that typically occurs just after the 3rd quarter at many college football stadiums. I don’t know why, but if you happen to get distracted for a second or two around this juncture in a game and aren’t paying attention, you could literally look up and find that over 1/2 of the losing team’s fans have disappeared.

For my dad, I suspect this had less to do with Oklahoma football than it did with his commitment to finishing things. As I grew up, I learned how important it was to my father not to be a quitter. In not so many he words, his actions showed me that anyone can start something, but it takes a real man to stick it out to the end.

And boy did I ever need to be taught that lesson.

In the 8th grade, I committed what I thought at the time was the unforgivable sin in my family. I quit the 8th grade basketball team. I wasn’t enjoying it, I was about 15 deep on the depth squad, and there were just a lot of other things I wanted to be spending my time on.

Oh man was I afraid to go home that day. I imagined the speech I’d get about quitting basketball today and how it would lead me down a path that would eventually involve me living in a van down by the river.

He wasn’t as hard on me as I thought he’d be, but he did make it clear that he did not want quitting things to become a pattern in my life.

And it didn’t, thankfully. However, finishing things has been something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I have no problem starting most things. New hobby. Easy. A new blog. Easy. A new project at work. Easy. For me, the problem has always been finishing, or as my good friend Seth Godin calls it, shipping.

And yet, somehow I’ve managed OK up to this point in my life. I don’t have a reputation for being a quitter. I don’t have a million half-finished projects looming over my work and personal life. For the most part, I’ve managed to minimize (or at the very least, neutralize) my natural proclivity to want to move on to new things before I’ve finished whatever project I’m currently in the middle of. Don’t get me wrong, I have my fair share of unfinished bidness that I need to attend to, but I’m definitely not lost in a sea of incompleteness.

Honestly, I have to give my dad nearly 100% of the credit on that one. When I’m tempted to quit something before I’ve seen it through to completion, I hear his voice in the back of my head telling me that Mitchell’s aren’t quitters and that Mitchell’s stay ’til the end of the game. This is usually enough to keep me going or at least distract me long enough to make me forget that I wanted to move on to something else.

I suppose this could also be another real man post: A real man stays until the game is over or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it so eloquently all those years ago:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning

Thanks for teaching me this all too important life lesson pops.

Avoiding Passive Irresponsibility

I had a pretty good dad growing up. In fact, I consider him one of my best friends today. He was not perfect, but then again, no one really is. And yet, he’s always had an active roll in my life. He took responsibility for helping make sure my brother and I grew up with a stable masculine influence in our lives.

When the words, “Ask your mother” came out of his mouth, it was out of respect for rule #1. It was just his way of telling my brother and I that it was OK with him but that we needed to make sure we had the other 50% of the approval needed for whatever scheme we were hatching before we could move forward. It was a gesture of courtesy to my mom as his partner in the marriage.

When it was time to make difficult decisions in our family (at least from what I could observe as a child) my dad was not afraid to take the lead.

A man who is passively irresponsible is just the opposite. Instead of making tough decisions and leading his family, he is content to sit back and rely on the old standby response, “Ask your mother” to most situations in life.

He is not a man of action. He is not a man of resolve. And those around him suffer. He’s content to sit back and let other people make the decisions that he should be making. As his kids get older, they begin to understand what they’ve witnessed all their lives. His wife takes on a roll that she was never meant to fill. Everyone around him suffers.

I’m not exactly sure what causes a man to live his life like this and I suppose it’s more complicated than what I care to cover here. But it seems like fear might be at the heart of the problem.

For the man who is dominated by fear, the easiest response in any situation is no response. It always feels safer to maintain the status quo than it does to try to interject any kind of change into the system. Making a decision is risky business. When we make a decision, we risk failure. We risk that our family will not follow or respond in the way we had hoped.

And so…

The man who is passively irresponsible withdraws when his family needs him to pursue. He throws back a beer and turns on the game when his wife needs to talk to him. He turns up the TV a little louder when he hears his kids fighting.

Little Johnny wets the bed? Eh… let her deal with it. Susie’s been getting in trouble at school? Mom will take care of it. We’re in financial trouble? Not my problem. Our family is drifting apart? If she wanted it to be different, she’d do something about it.

And yet, by not responding, the passively irresponsible man has, in fact, made a decision. The decision not to act is just as powerful as any other decision. And while it’s not always a bad thing to delay a decision to gather more information, that’s not what the passively irresponsible man is doing.

Though the passively irresponsible man appears cool headed when his family’s having problems, in reality he is aloof, and it’s time for men to realize that there’s nothing noble or masculine about being aloof.

As a guy who wants to be a real man some day, I know that I’ll have to fight against passive irresponsibility in my marriage and in my family. While I was fortunate enough to have a positive example in this area through my dad growing up, I think a lot of men today really have lost touch with what it means to lead their families because they haven’t seen it modeled by the important men in their lives.

I can’t promise that I’ll never say, “Ask your mother” when our kids ask permission to do something. In fact, I don’t want to promise that. I want to be partners in most decisions. However, I don’t ever want to be a man who uses those words as a way to shirk my responsibilities as a husband and as a father.

I hope to always seek the counsel of my wife in our family decisions, but when the time comes to make important decisions, I hope I will have the resolve to act… to stay involved… to lead my family.

I want to be engaged in my kids’ lives. I want to fight for a good a marriage. I want to be active in and take responsibility for the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical development of my family. I want to lead and protect them in these areas and fulfill the roll that I was meant to have in their lives.

Real Men and Tea Parties

No, this post has nothing to do with a powerful political movement that’s sweeping our country. It’s about something way more important. A totally different kind of tea party.

In keeping with my theme of being a father-to-be, I just want to make sure I’ve covered all my bases should I ever receive an invitation from my daughter to attend a tea party (imagined or otherwise) that she’s hosting. That said, a real man is willing to sit down for a tea party with his daughter.

By attending a tea party as the honored guest of his daughter, a real man models for her the kind of man she should be interested in dating when she is of courting age.

The only other important thing I can add to this discussion at this time is this: a real man always remembers to stick his pinky out.