You’ve Gotta Swim

So apparently being the dad of a newborn baby and taking a full academic load as a doctoral student are eating my lunch. I’m managing to stay afloat in those things in my life that matter the most these days but not much else. I know this is just a season of life and it will get better as I adjust to my new routine and things eventually start to level off.

However, in the meantime, I do find myself doubting whether or not I can manage this load for the next five years. And really, it’s actually not a matter of whether or not I think I have the ability to finish. What I really find myself thinking these day is this, “I know I CAN do this, but I’m not sure if I WANT to do this.”

Suffice it to say, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and was starting to wonder if I was the only one.

Apparently I’m not.

Last night in class, our professor had what she called a, “coming to the Lord” talk with us about our adjustment to doctoral studies. She had a list of about 15 difficult adjustments that new grad students in doctoral programs typically experience in their first few months, and as she read each one, I watched as the rest of my classmates (every last one of them) began letting their guard down and nodding their heads in agreement. The guy across from me let out an audible sigh at one point and several of the ladies in class had tears in their eyes within a few minutes. After talking about each adjustment, my professor repeatedly stopped and assured us that all the feelings and struggles that we’re all having are COMPLETELY normal. She then began sharing some stories about her grad school experience and several things going on in her life right now that are causing her to feel the same way. It was one of the most real, vulnerable, and poignant academic experiences I’ve ever had.

An hour and several puddles of tears later (thanks to our more sensitive and emotionally attuned classmates), class was over and it was time to go home to our families.

When I got out to my car, I plugged in my iPod and hit shuffle. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, the song that serendipitously came on was “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin. It’s a song written and performed by Andrew McMahon who wrote it after being diagnosed with cancer in 2005.

I’ve always really really liked this song because of how honest, real, and full of emotion it is, but last night it was exactly what I needed just when I needed it.

When you’re feeling ho hum down and overwhelmed by the world, there’s nothing quite like hearing a song about staying afloat while facing trials written by a dude who survived cancer to make you realize how insignificant your problems are. What’s that you say? You’re having a hard time staying afloat balancing work, family, school, church, and volunteer commitments? Oh… OK… well, I survived cancer.

Needless to say, by the time the song was over, I felt a lot better about everything.

I’ve included the lyrics below for anyone else who might feel like they’re expending every last ounce of energy they have just to keep their head above water. Maybe your problems aren’t as bad as trying to win a battle against cancer, but maybe they’re worse than what I’m going through right now. If so, I hope this song will be just as encouraging to you as it was to me last night. The bolded words are my doing because they’re the ones that really spoke to me last night.

You’ve gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you’re not so sure you’ll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven’t come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won’t end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you’ve gotta swim

Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don’t see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
Well I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There’s no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Don’t let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it’s not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above

Just keep your head above
Swim
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above
Swim

These days, I’m doing a lot of drifting. Despite my best efforts, some days it’s taking all I’ve got to simply try to find the horizon. On days like that, I have to learn to settle for just letting the current pull me along… because it will. Eventually, no matter what trials we’re going through, we’ll all get to where we’re trying to go. We just have to keep our heads above water and swim.

Real Men are Generous

I feel like I’ve written this one before, but after a cursory search of my previous posts, it turns out that I have not.

Real men are generous. Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a real man knows that it’s better to “give it away give it away give it away give it away now” than it is to receive it.

A real man knows that he’s been blessed with an abundance of talents and/or resources beyond what he needs to live his life, and as a result, he feels compelled to share the wealth with those who need it. In other words, he knows he’s got to give it away give it away give it away give it away now. Like the graph above, a real man pays it forward.

A couple weeks ago, I had a door fiasco at my house that put me in serious need of a new exterior door. In the process of getting it replaced, I was left with an unfinished job by a less than honest handyman. He installed a pre-hung door in our house and failed to finish the trim work. For several days, I was left with a brand new door that was beautifully installed except for the huge gaps around it where the light from the outside was shining in because there was no trim on the inside or out. Not exactly sure what to do, I was planning to pay a second handyman to come out and finish the job of handyman #1. I probably could have figured it out on my own, but I would have also had to buy several new tools in the process. When my uncle, who is quite handy with the tools himself, heard about my predicament he volunteered to come and help. Between the two of us… okay it was mostly just him… we managed to finish the trim on the frame surrounding my door in just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. When I offered to pay him for the wood he purchased for this project, he refused to let me.

There’s a lot of things about this uncle of mine that make me consider him a real man, but his generosity is the one that is shining through at the moment. He saw that his nephew needed help with something that he had both the resources (tools, wood, time) and talents (advanced carpentry skills) to greatly assist with and so he stepped in and did what generous people do.

Between that incident, lots of baby showers, and someone graciously sending me a check for $163 to pay for a recent speeding ticket I incurred, I have been the recipient of a lot of people’s generosity lately. These experiences have both humbled and inspired me to be more generous with my resources and with my talents.

There are so many small things I can do throughout each day to bless the lives of other people if I’ll only slow down enough to look for opportunities.

We can all be better at giving it away giving it away giving it away giving it away now. The Red Hot Chili Peppers certainly don’t have a corner on that market.

I leave you with the last few lyrics of the song I’ve quoted throughout this post:

There’s a river born to be a giver
Keep you warm won’t let you shiver
His heart is never gonna wither
Come on everybody time to deliver

Wise words brother Flea. Wise words.

When I Grow Up To Be A Man

On the day I turned twenty-one, a good friend emailed me the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ song, “When I Grow Up To Be A Man” and told me I should read the questions asked therein, think about my life, and imagine the man I wanted to be some day. He was joking, but took his email to heart and spent a few minutes thinking about it. It was a good time of personal reflection and by the time I went through and answered each question to myself, responded to his email to say thanks, and moved his message to my recycle bin, I was feeling simultaneously good and challenged about the man I was and the man I wanted to be.

In just over three weeks, I will turn 29 years old. As I find myself knocking on the door of my thirties, I thought I’d go back to this song, re-visit my answers, and see where I am today as a man.

When I grow up to be a man:

Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid?

Yes and no. I still love University of Oklahoma football, music, pancakes on a Saturday morning, swimming, and acting a fool. I’m not as keen today on playing in the dirt with my Hot Wheels, riding my bike everywhere, getting on my older brother’s nerves, lighting things on fire, and playing video games… though I still have my old Nintendo with Game Genie and my favorite game, Contra: UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A B A START baby!!!

Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn’t done what I did?

Sure, but then again, maybe not. Would I have liked to avoid picking up a handful of destructive habits along the way? Would I have liked to avoid a few mistakes, road traps, and bumps in the road? Definitely, but everything I’ve done (good or bad) and every decision I’ve made (right or wrong) up to this point in my life has helped shape who I am today.

Will I joke around and still dig those sounds when I grow up to be a man?

If by “those sounds” the boys of the beach meant those that come from our posterior bits when we’ve had a little too much fiber, then by all means, my answer is yes. At almost 29 years of age, my immaturity betrays me here. My 4 and 6 year old nephews aren’t the only ones who still think farting is funny.

Will I look for the same things in a woman that I dig in a girl?

I’m not really “looking” anymore but considering I married my high school sweetheart, the answer to this one is probably still yes. Having said that, I’d be giving my adolescent self too much credit if I said I was attracted to the same things about her at sixteen as I am today at twenty-eight. If I’m being perfectly honest here, at sixteen I was more interested in how good her tan legs looked in that dress the first day of class our junior year than any of her more intrinsic qualities. I still dig all the same things about her today that I did back then, but the attraction is so much deeper now than it was back in 1998. Before you start getting all pukey on me, I will move on to the next question.

Will I settle down fast or will I first wanna travel the world?

Both. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some pretty cool places in my day despite technically being “settled down.” After college, the wife and I backpacked through Europe for about a month. We slept on trains and in hostels, ate a lot of bread and cheese, showered less than once a day, did our laundry in the sinks of public bathrooms, wore the same three or four pairs of clothing the entire time, and visited about 12 different cities in 5 or 6 countries before coming back home. Since then, we’ve been blessed to go to Australia (where she grew up), back to Italy, the Bahamas, and all over the good ol’ US of A. I’ve always valued travel and I don’t think being settled down precludes you from the adventure of traveling the world. There’s still a lot of places we want to go.

Well I’m young and free but how will it be when I grow up to be a man?

Life is hard sometimes. Bills need to be paid. House and car repairs need to be made. People pass away. Friends move away. The lawn needs to be mowed. Balancing family, church, work, and volunteer commitments can be a struggle. No important decision is ever black and white. The heights of my selfishness and the depths of my failures become painfully obvious at times. But then again, life has a funny way of being just as beautiful and good as it is difficult. Relationships deepen. Work can be delegated. Children come along. Passions are discovered and cultivated. Memories are made. Redemption is found. Priories become easier to prioritize as we know ourselves better.

Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square?

Hopefully both, but it’s probably too soon to tell. Without a ton of effort on my part, if I’m just around, I know Izzy will probably adore me for at least 9 or 10 good years before she hits that pre-teen stage that marks the beginning of my 5 or 6 six year slide in coolness. And that’s OK. Some of the best parents I know aren’t highly esteemed as cool in the eyes of their kids, but they are loved and respected. I will act a fool at times, I will make dumb jokes, and I will probably unintentionally and even sometimes intentionally embarrass my kids. However, when they get to be my age, I hope they will appreciate me just as much as I do their grandparents.

When they’re out having fun yeah, will I still wanna have my share?

It’s probably too soon to tell on this one also. Though I do commit here and now that I will not try to live vicariously through them… at least not in an unhealthy way. If the last twenty-nine or so years of my life are any indication, I’ll probably still enjoy the same mix of mature and totally immature hijinks that I do today.

Will I love my wife for the rest of my life when I grow up to be a man?

You better believe it!

What will I be when I grow up to be a man?

A husband who’s wife loves him? A family man who kids adore him? A good man known for his generosity, kindness, sense of humor, and warm, calming spirit? I hope so.

When I grow up to be a man.

How about you?

A message to all the dads

Photo by Avi Revivo {http://revivo.co.il/blog}

I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…

“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?

Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”

I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They’re just children from the outside
I’m working hard, I tell myself they’ll be fine
They’re in independent
But on the inside, I can hear them saying…

“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can’t
Don’t want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up

I’ll show them I’m willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone

Father, lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone.

Lyrics to the song, “Lead Me” by Santus Real

Amen! Preach it brother!

I need more dudes to hold me accountable in this kind of stuff. Fortunately, I work with a pretty good group of guys and we’re in the process of getting ourselves better organized in this area of our lives. It even looks like we’re going to start getting together regularly to “check-in spiritually” and to hold each other accountable as we try to be the men, husbands, and fathers we were created to be.

If you know me outside of this blog (or even if you don’t) feel free to encourage or hold me accountable in this area of my life from time to time.

I’m a firm believer that men were created to lead in all of the various arenas of our lives. When we fail at that, it’s also my opinion that we fail as men.

The Boys of Fall by Kenny Chesney

It’s been a while since I’ve had a “Songs that Speak to My Heart As A Man” post, but my dad pointed me to this one earlier this morning and it was so good, that I couldn’t NOT share it. At 8 minutes, it’s a bit long so wait until you have a block of free time to watch it. But when you finally get around to watching, hold on to your seat and get out your man tissue. I’m willing to bet that anyone who has ever laced up his cleats, donned a pair of shoulder pads, snapped up his helmet, and gone head to head with a faceless opponent on the gridiron at any point in his life (from elementary school all the way on up to the pros) will not be able to watch this video without getting at least one or two goosebumps.

Though I’m not a huge country music fan, I’ve always loved me some Kenny Chesney. The dude is an amazing storyteller and he’s done it again with this one:

I really have no words for how this song (and especially the video) makes me feel. The first time I watched, I got goosebumps, my throat tightened up, and my eyes got a little watery.

Although it’s 104 degrees outside today, the days are getting shorter and fall is just around the corner which means: long sleeve t-shirts and shorts, warm days and crisp nights, Friday night lights, entire Saturday’s of college football, and so many other good things that make fall my favorite season. I get a little giddy just thinking about it.

Thank you Kenny Chesney, not only for your astute ability to tell a story through song and video that both captures my nostalgic imagination and speaks to my soul as a man, but also for reminding me with your stellar timing in releasing this that my favorite season is just around the corner. Well done sir. Well done.

P.S. This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t do a little Uncle Rico’ing myself and share a few of my old high school football pics as that experience definitely shaped who I am as a man today:

So serious. Taken a few weeks after the end of our season my senior year.


The Carl Albert Titans O-Line after winning the 5A state championship game against the El Reno Indians in 1999. This picture is definitely posed. A few seconds later, we probably all started laughing.


Here we are again acting a lot more like ourselves.


And one more for good measure with my biggest cheerleader. I know it’s not very manly, but this is my blog and I can post whatever kind of pictures I want.

Off the Reservation

As you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance that I’m either at or on my way to Joshua Tree National Park.

With David out of the country and me likely lost in the California desert… far out of range of my wireless router, it could be a quite few days here on the ol’ blog.

Don’t worry Mom, Dad, Deborah (David’s mom), and the rest of our five readers, we’ll be back.

In the meantime, the following song has been rattling around in my head the last few days, and I thought I’d share:

Mama told me when I was young, come sit beside me, my only son. And listen closely to what I say. And if you do this, it will help you some sunny day.

Take your time… don’t live too fast, troubles will come and they will pass. Go find a woman and you’ll find love, and don’t forget son, there is someone up above.

And be a simple kind of man. Be something you love and understand. Be a simple kind of man. Won’t you do this for me son, if you can?

Forget your lust for rich man’s gold. All that you need is in your soul. And you can do this if you try. All that I want for you my son, is to be satisfied.

And be a simple kind of man. Be something you love and understand. Be a simple kind of man. Won’t you do this for me son, if you can?

Boy, don’t you worry… you’ll find yourself. Follow your heart and nothing else. And you can do this if you try. All I want for you my son, is to be satisfied.

Though my mom never said these words to me, at least not exactly like this, I feel like both of my parents tried to impart to me the importance of trying to live a simple life and the importance of trying to be a simple man.

I’m not there yet, so when I hear this song, it challenges me. Well… maybe it doesn’t exactly challenge me, but compared to “Give Me Three Steps” and “Sweet Home Alabama” this song makes the Skynyrd boys sound like Plato. So maybe it doesn’t challenge me, but it definitely makes me think.

When I want to buy a new mower, instead of fixing the one I have, it makes me think. When I start to lust after a new house or a new car, it makes me think. When I feel like I don’t have enough, it makes me think. When I find myself starting to drift from my path toward becoming a simple kind of man (translated: real man) this song makes me think.

I’m excited to get out to the desert… away from cell phone coverage, crowds of people, suburban sprawl, Oklahoma humidity, and all the material trappings that often distract me from the bidness of becoming the man I want to be.

I will miss my wife and the little girl swimming around in her midsection, but I am excited about getting away from the distractions of everyday life. I’m excited to be out in the desert in the company of a man who I consider to be both a real and a simple kind of man.

Who knows? Maybe while I’m out there, I’ll find a horse with no name.