Sunday, June 20, 2021

Nailing It & Failing It & Fumbling It

Garren and Katy's wedding. May 14, 2021.

Somehow, almost poetically, Katie is out of town over Father’s Day. Leaving me to get a very clear and accurate sense of my fatherhood prowess. 

Is there a way to measure your dad-ness? 

Like, as an employee, at work, you get a raise or a promotion. Or fired. In a relationship, you love spending time together, even doing mundane things – or you even have that more visceral “gaze factor,” where you are looking at each other and you know you’re seeing your whole world. Or you get fired. 

But parenting? 

Unofficially, somewhere in my mind, I keep undocumented notes of three areas: 1. Have I done what I can to make sure my kids know I love them? 2. Have I done what I can to create memories with them? 3. Have I done what I can to apologize when I get it wrong? 

I can tell you that for me, like most of life, these things are measured in the small, little moments (cue Rob Thomas’s Little Wonders). Not that you can total them up and if your ledger is in the black then you’re a good dad. “Oh, look, I am 51% nailing it – my kids are so fortunate.” Each moment stands on its own, and I suppose I take stock in the times when I sense that my kids feel loved. I certainly notice when I feel loved, too. 

I feel loved when Abbie walks into a room I’m in and no matter what else is going on, she comes over and rests her head on my chest and hugs me. Or like when Garren invites me to come play racquetball with him and his friends, knowing (or hoping?) that I won’t embarrass him. Or like when Connor was neck-deep in the doctrine and principles of all things Marvel Universe and he left a note for me on my bed that said, “Dear Dad, you are my favorite superhero.” Like when I come home from anywhere and Hillary (age 7 and keeping me young), will scream, “Dad!” and come running to hug me. And like every time one of my children says, “Dad, can I talk to you?” because they know I’m on their side, in their corner, and love them so ridiculously much that their problems are my problems. And that I’ll even usually put my phone down to talk to them! Those are all moments of success to me. 

I don’t think I need to assure you that I have a bumper crop of Parenting Fails, as well. Like the time somebody called our home and one of my little kids answered it and just put the phone down without telling Katie or I, so my friend on the line could overhear me lecturing one of my kids for a world-record amount of time. The time one of my kids was in tremendous pain and crying about their stomach so persistently that I began to wonder if it was appendicitis and took them to the ER to find out that it was absolutely nothing – and instead of being relieved, I thought to myself, “Well, you little punk, your little tummy-ache just cost me $1,500.” Or the time my daughter went through a major break up and I thought she might enjoy watching 500 Days of Summer together. Or every time I buy Little Caesar’s Pizza, which is for sure slowly killing all of us, slice by slice. 

For the sake of time – and so that you can get to your Father’s Day Nap – I’m going to share three moments on my mind today: A time I nailed it, a time I completely failed, and a time it could have gone either way. I’m a little embarrassed to share these, as they are close to my heart and not exactly flattering. I realize nobody is forcing my hand, here. I guess I just feel like sharing, if you feel like listening. 

Nailed It

In May 2017, U2 was touring in support of their 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album. The album of my youth … and pretty much every year since my youth. I had raised my children on this album, and they knew every song. This was “our band.” The closest concert to us was in San Francisco, at Levi’s Stadium. And with the help of my brother, we secured general admission tickets and were standing directly in the action for one of the most incredible concert-going experiences of my life and theirs. There were literal tears. This was logistically complicated, financially irresponsible, and an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. It was effort-full. But it was amazing and absolutely worth it. It was a memory that my older kids will always keep. 

Failed It

Years ago, when Becca was 3 years old, we piled into our 12-passenger van and drove to the other side of Las Vegas for an event. It was a hectic day and we were scrambling and actually arrived to our event late. I started hollering out commands before we even parked – to “grab your things” and “make sure you are fully dressed” (summer in Las Vegas leads to various levels of undress when you’re in a car). We parked and climbed out of the car like we were firemen running to a fire. We sped into the event, found our seats, and began to catch our breaths … when after a while, an internal alarm went off, and I did a headcount. We were down a child. After a moment, I realized Becca wasn’t with us. I made eye-contact with Katie and with my shoulders shrugged, mouthed, “Where’s Becca?” Katie’s face immediately matched mine, and my stomach sunk. 

It is generally a group effort when we go anywhere – to grab the necessary props and to help younger kids get unbuckled from their car seats and get shoes on, etc. But in the bustle of not being any later than we were, it had become an “every man for himself” situation, and it dawned on me that of course Katie would be attached to the baby (Lucy) and it was assumed by the rest of us that “someone else” would help Becca. It should have been me. Whenever there’s a baby, Katie is attached to the baby, and I am assigned Former Baby duty, watching over the next youngest who still wants to be attached to Mom, but it’s now somebody else’s turn. 

I sprinted from the building to the van faster than any human has ever run anywhere. I ripped open the side-door of the van, frantic. Becca’s head whipped around to meet my eyes. The sound of the door being yanked open had startled her. She had fluids running from every orifice of her face, but she had passed the point of crying and was now doing that thing you do when you’ve finally stopped crying and your entire body is hiccuping. (This memory pains me so much, I am sincerely crying again as I write this, and it’s been 10 years.) She started crying again and in this apologetic tone, said, “I had an accident. I wet my pants. I was crying and crying for you, Dad. But you didn’t hear me.” Is there anything more painful than a child – at any age – telling you that they needed you – that they cried for you – but you didn’t hear them? There. Is. Not. 

Fumbled but Stuck the Landing
[My apologies for mixing sports metaphors]

Some years ago, when Tanner was 10 years old, there was a morning when he was particularly pushing my buttons. Our neighbors, an elderly couple, had called and asked Katie if we could send a couple of our kids over to help in their garden for an hour or so. No, we don’t live in Mayberry, but isn’t that the sweetest thing? Doesn’t that take you back to a simpler, gentler time? Well, 10-year-old Tanner was unmoved by the request. Katie had asked Tanner and a couple of his sisters to go help. Tanner flippantly said, “I’m not doing that,” and walked off. Katie let Tanner know that yes, in fact, he was going to do that. He still refused. I firmly told Tanner, “Look, your mom has given you ‘an instruction,’ and you don’t have a good excuse for why you can’t help – so you’re going over to help.” He walked off. A few minutes later, the girls were on their way out the door and called back, “We’re going over to the neighbors to help in the garden.” “Is Tanner with you?” I yelled back. “No,” said Roxanna, “He’s in his room. He said he wasn’t coming to help.” This blew my mind. What, in the name of all that grows in a garden, did he think he was doing? And on a morning when I was already out of sorts? He picked the wrong day to draw this line in the garden sand. 

I marched up to his room, making the loudest footsteps I could to communicate my disbelief and fury, and kicked open his door as I raised my voice. “Get your shoes on and get over to the neighbors – NOW.” He didn’t jump up and with the speed of a cartoon character to run past me and out the door to the neighbors … but he didn’t roll his eyes either. He moved reluctantly, but he moved. This didn’t temper me. I watched him walk out the door and I updated Katie and told her, “When he gets back, he and I are going for a little drive so I can talk to him more about this.” 

I know this entire scenario seems like the smallest of infractions. He hadn’t lied or hurt anyone or stolen something or anything like that. He just copped a huge attitude and he seemed pugnacious about the entire situation. And oh, you guys, I was cooking up a Grade A lecture for him. When he got back from helping the neighbors, I was going to give him the business. 

Tanner walked in the door with his sisters, came right up to me, hugged me, and said, “I’m sorry I had a bad attitude earlier, Dad. I’m glad I went. I feel really good about helping.” Isn’t that exactly what you’d want to hear? Oh, but it was too, too late for my sweet boy. I was not about to let my lecture go unused. “Go get in the car and let’s go for a drive,” I told him. 

We drove down the road a bit and I pulled into Ripples, for ice cream shakes – because maybe I needed to teach my son a lesson, but I’m not a monster, you guys. Everything goes smoother with ice cream. We sat down on a bench outside, across from each other. I was seconds from launching into my tirade when I heard a voice so clearly and so directly, I will never forget it. It said, “Praise your son. Praise your son right now … or he will lose confidence in you.” I didn’t know what that meant, exactly, but I knew it wasn’t good and it wasn’t what I wanted. 

“Tanner,” I started, “I want you to know how much I love you. And I want you to know how important and valuable you are to our family. Your influence in our family is part of what makes us who we are.” And I watched tears suddenly stream down my little boy’s face. Tanner is the fifth of eight children. Maybe he needed to feel seen or understood in that moment – or more often. Maybe he needed to know that apologizing for a bad morning is easily met with forgiveness. Maybe he needed to know his dad thought he was pretty amazing and important. Maybe his dad needed to recognize how blessed he was to be Tanner’s dad. 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there who are nailing it, failing it, and fumbling along the way. What a gift, to be a dad. What a wonderful, heavy, hilarious, exhausting, beautiful, inspiring, heart-wrenching gift. 

Yes. I took a photo of the moment. I didn't want to forget it. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?

I think one of the worst (yet most frequently played) games couples find themselves competing in is, “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” Or you might be familiar with the slightly altered knock-off, “Weren’t We Going to Watch That Together?” – which is somewhat different because in that version no one ever wins.

“Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” can be played at any time. But for the greatest entertainment and highest stakes, it’s best to play it at a social gathering in front of a crowd of people. The game starts on a whim when somebody in the crowd refers to a movie and you foolishly take the bait and add your commentary, forgetting that you actually viewed this movie when your spouse was out of town, at a class, or worst of all – stuck at Girls Camp – while you were lounging on a couch with the remote control and a pint of ice cream.

You’re about halfway through your comment when peripherally, you feel her head whip in your direction and her eyes pierce into your mind, as if the movie is currently playing in your head and she’s caught you in the act itself. The only way out at this point is to grab the person next to you and kiss them full on the mouth. Sure, it’s inappropriate and you’re going to get slapped by at least two people, but everyone in the room will immediately forget what you were talking about and your chances of getting out alive increase by a factor of ten.

“Did you watch that movie without me?” she asks, moving her game piece onto the board. At this point, it’s all about bluffing. “NEVER. I just remember that part from the preview.” Or “No, I just read an article about it, preparing for when we go see it ... you know, together ... the way God intended.” This is your best move. You can also pretend you didn’t hear her. It’s risky, but if you’re like me, this is the only perk to aging and actually experiencing legitimate hearing loss. Or play like you’re just so enthralled by the crowd-conversation that you didn’t notice someone was speaking directly at you.

Your other move is to say, “I didn’t think you wanted to see that movie.” This is dangerous because you leave yourself wide open. No matter what the movie is, her move is going to include her claiming, “I would have watched that!” Now it’s your turn to call her bluff. “You would have watched Anchorman 2?” “…Yes,” she answers. (There’s a slight hesitation from your spouse – this does not mean you’ve won yet; it simply means you’re still in the game.) “That movie came out seven years ago and we’ve never watched it!” you point out. This is where you finish your solid move by adding, “It wasn’t very good – I hated it and you would have, too.” Check. Mate.

The problem for me is that I occasionally travel for work and end up on an airplane about every four to six weeks (not since March, obviously). I am not a great flyer. I get motion sickness fairly easily, and my one way to dodge it is to immediately focus in on the little screen in front of me and watch movies the entire flight. And the issue for Katie and I – and I will freely admit this is not the case for all couples – is that our tastes in movies really do overlap. We both like rom-coms, psychological thrillers, comedies, and good drama. The thin margin of what I can safely view without her really only includes “scary movies” or “bland, formulaic action movies.”

For example, when I came back from a trip and told Katie, “I watched that Tom Cruise Mummy movie without you,” her response was, “Good call.”

But was it? I didn’t even want to see it. I was actually just worried I might accidentally watch another good movie because of the huge mistake I had just finished enjoying before watching Mr. Cruise embarrass himself. Right before watching the bland, formulaic Mummy, I had rolled the dice and watched Sing Street, expecting a harmless, forgettable, independent Irish movie.

Big! Mistake!

That delightful homage to eighties music made me feel way too many feelings during my flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. After watching that movie, I knew I was doomed. I had totally just lost at our next match of “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” because I would totally spill that I saw it because I had to talk to somebody about this movie because I loved it a whole lot.

(This is the scene right here. When the boys are jamming in the living room at 2:06 and my brain says, “My word, this is making me so inexplicably happy right now —” and then ten seconds later it clips to Raphina crying and tears start comin’ out-ma-face and I’m like, “Thanks a lot Delta Flight 467 – this is totally unprofessional of me and now I’ve also lost the next round of “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” Katie is so going to love this movie.)

I also lost when I watched this little gem on my last trip. 

Now, there are times when I’ve won “Did You Watch This Without Me?” because I stuck to the “scary movies” and “dumb action movies” genres. However, those victories come at a cost. I think if it’s choosing between airplane-induced nausea or watching that Tom Cruise Mummy movie again, it’d be a toss-up for me. (Pun intended.) I also watched The Conjuring on one flight. Have you seen this movie? Good luck sleeping FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. And this was an edited-for-airplane version of the movie! I was so creeped out I added some more special editing myself by occasionally looking away from my screen to watch the Korean soap operas my neighbor was enjoying.

Yes, “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” is not a game for the timid. And if you hate this game, you should for sure avoid “Did You Finish All the Ice Cream?” and “Did You Stick to Our Christmas Budget?”

Monday, August 17, 2020

25 Years in the Making: An Inconvenient Gift


This is one of Katie's favorite pics from our wedding. Sneaking a kiss, so stealthily. 

Katie and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage today. Some of you may think that sounds like I'm bragging. [I'm not.] Some of you might be condescendingly thinking, “Hmph, that’s cute. Tell me when you get to 40 years.” [I will.] Some of you may wonder what 25 years looks like. Well, I’ll tell you. At least, I’ll tell you a little of what our 25 years looks like. 

There’s the emotional shorthand of being able to skim or completely skip details because we already know the history, backstory, opinions, and feelings about sooooo many things. There are the millions of inside jokes, quips, and idioms … and for some of them, you really can’t remember how they began, you just know they’re a thing you say to each other. There are the hundreds of subtle, non-detectable-to-the-public glances you share that indicate, “We already know our feelings about that” or “That’s not how we would do this, but whatever” or “We’ll talk about this later” or “We’ll talk about this person later” or “I’m so grateful you’re the one I’m going home with after this party.” 

• We’ve been married 25 years. A quarter of a century. That’s 9,132 days. 
• We’ve lived in 9 different houses/apartments. 
• We’ve had 8 children – all 8 with a midwife, and 7 of them at home. 
• We’ve owned six cars – three of them vans, and one of those a 12-passenger van. 
• We’ve owned one cat, two goats, a dozen chickens, one guinea pig, two mice, one rabbit, and several subpar goldfish. 
• We’ve homeschooled all of our children since 2003. 
• We’ve watched the entire series of The Office, Seinfeld, Chuck, Cheers, and Parks & Rec. [And ER, but I don’t want to talk about that.]
• Together, we’ve been to Grenada, Israel, Portugal, England, Scotland, Canada, and 40 of the 50 States. [We were supposed to be in Europe for our 25th, but COVID punched us square in the throat, instead.] 
• We’ve had careers or side-hustles in copywriting, doula work, improv/acting, public speaking, account managing, philanthropy, and sales rep’ing – with three separate stints of unemployment. 
• We’ve lived in Las Vegas, where we never thought we’d live, and in Utah, where we never thought we’d live. And we've realized we don’t want to live in California, where I grew up and always thought I’d live. 
• We’ve met and fallen in love with some of the loveliest people that we get to call our friends. 

There are a lot of memories crammed into those 9,132 days. A lot of moments. Some of them are these unremarkable moments that somehow punctuated a feeling or an impression in that instant and stayed with me. Taking the kids trick-or-treating and looking over my shoulder at Katie, standing in our doorway to hand candy out to the trick-or-treaters coming to our house – both of us loving our stations for the evening. Holding each other’s hands at concerts. Making a meal together that we’re both excited about. Or like this one time when Katie and I were watching Saturday Night Live and fell asleep, spooned on the couch. I woke up when the musical guest was performing. Katie was still asleep in my arms, our house was quiet and still, the kids all asleep in bed – and I felt this warmth come over me like a blanket. I don’t know how else to describe it – it was just a sense that everything in the world was right. I didn’t move, worried that I would disrupt this glow. I just felt grateful.

There are other specific experiences that stand out as marriage moments. Those sometimes predicable or expected life moments that you share with your partner, because you are on this path together – but they are uniquely yours, because it’s your path. When we got to honeymoon in Hawaii and it literally felt like the world paused just for us. When we hid in the bathroom at my parents’ house on Thanksgiving Day to take our first positive home pregnancy test. When we bought our first house and realized we were committing to staying in Las Vegas longer than we’d planned. When Katie had a miscarriage between Becca and Lucy. When we decided to move from Las Vegas to Utah. The moment we both knew we were done having children and cried. When my dad suddenly passed, and I’d immediately left to be with my mom, and Katie joined me three days later and we found our way into a bedroom so I could tell her about the last 72 hours and I completely came undone and was unintelligible and just sunk my head into her chest. 

Twenty-five years holds a lot of unpredictability, with the occasional plan coming to fruition. When Katie and I were dating, I knew it was different from previous relationships. I had this spiritual, visceral confidence that we could build something happy together. And that was everything to me, because I have never had the gift of “vision” – being able to see what the future could look like. I’m not that savvy or wise – especially if you’re comparing me to Katie – but from experience, I can tell you that we’ve built our life and our home on faith, laughter, compassion, and quick forgiveness. And ice cream to fill in the cracks. And I would say we have definitely built something happy. 

As one of those non-life-events that was unremarkable and extraordinary to me, I thought I’d share something that I wrote for Katie some time back and never published. Please enjoy! Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you. [But you should know that this is the only thing I got you all for our anniversary.] 

An Inconvenient Gift

Timing is a crucial ingredient for romance. 

This is what Katie tells me every time I grab her bum in the kitchen and there are one or more of our children around. (And there is always more than one around.)

Timing hasn’t always been on our side anyway. Like, since day one. The day I met Katie, I was dating someone else. The day I decided I wanted to ask her out, she was dating someone else. And I’m not kidding, on the very day I mustered up the courage to ask her out, in the precise moment I walked up to her on our college campus with concert tickets in hand and my mouth open to say the words, she turned to me and with all the excitement of someone who had just figured life out, she said, “Hey! So, guess what – I decided that I’m going to serve a mission, so I’m not going to date this entire semester!” “That’s awesome,” I said, one hundred percent certain it was the least awesome thing I had ever heard in my entire life. And I had heard a lot of bad a cappella music in college. Including an a cappella version of U2’s Mysterious Ways that still offends me. 

Fortunately for me, Katie was easily worn down. And by “worn down” I mean I waited 24 hours for her to change her mind and/or completely forget that she’d said anything. And then I asked her out – and she said ‘yes.’ 

See?! Timing!

Decades later, the struggle is still real. 

It was early evening in late October when we met up with some friends for dinner in downtown Provo. Station 22. A restaurant that is so contemporary that it gives you one of those electronic buzzers that light up and vibrate to let you know your table is ready. This means you have the convenience of cruising around downtown Provo and visiting the cute shops instead of just sitting in a crowded restaurant while everyone except you is eating and enjoying the merriment of no longer waiting for their turn to eat. Oh, red vibrating buzzers … where were you in the mid-90s?! And why didn’t you stop that a cappella group from arranging Mysterious Ways?! Or at least Enya’s Book of Days, which was also not ok. 

Katie and I wandered into a nearby store called Here, a quaint little place that, among other things, featured art from local artists. Sadly, the store has since closed, so Here is actually no longer There. I was casually browsing pithy greeting cards and Katie was thumbing through some books when we suddenly found ourselves staring at the same painting … and we both stopped moving as our hands found each other and locked. 

Right before us was this painting, by Brian Kershisnik. It’s titled This Splendid Inconvenience

Let me tell you something. You don’t get something that accurate without having lived it. Dear Brian, we get it. That exact moment? We get it. The trying to take advantage of those last few minutes of snuggle time, only to be interrupted … but to be interrupted by your other favorite people? Timing is indeed everything. 

And without a word between us, we both immediately welled up. 

I knew in that moment that I was going to buy that painting for Katie for Christmas. Sure, it would be the third Kershisnik painting hanging up in our home. But so what? We aren’t hurting anyone. It’s not like we arranged an a cappella version of the Pointer Sister’s Fire and made people pay money to come listen to us sing it. (You also don’t get that kind of detail without having lived it.)

I wanted to surprise Katie, so I knew I needed to keep the purchase off bank and credit card statements. So I did what every single citizen of Utah County has done at some point in their life. I donated plasma. I donated a lot of plasma. This painting wasn’t cheap. But I was so excited to surprise Katie with this painting that resonated so much with both of us. 

On the day I wondered back into Here and purchased This Splendid Inconvenience, I felt like I had just won Christmas. It was worth all the times some random teenager with weird facial hair jammed a thick needle into my unsuspecting vein and promptly forgot all about me as he or she went off to flirt with coworkers. 

Here was kind enough to giftwrap the painting for me. It was a plain brown paper, but the string was tied in some fancy way that made the whole thing look pretty. I kept it at my office, safely hidden from Katie throughout the entire season. Each day when I walked into work and saw it by my desk, I got excited all over again. 

On Christmas Eve, I brought it home from my office and hid it in my closet. I was so stealthy, you guys. Like an a cappella group who decided that now that they had your money, they were going to blindside you with their version of Suzanne Vega’s Blood Makes Noise.  

Christmas morning had exploded all over our living room, and with wrapping paper everywhere and candy already eaten for breakfast, and toys and gadgets being played with … I turned to Katie and said, “Oh, I still have my present for you.” To which she literally, physically jumped up and responded with, “And I still have mine for you! Me first!” And she ran into the other room … and came walking back in with some very familiar-looking packaging. Brown paper with decorative string. The Christmas tree lights were dim compared to the light in Katie’s face. She was so excited for me to open my present. 

I tore off the paper – and there it was, in all its glory. This Splendid Inconvenience. I stared at it, and apparently my expression was not what Katie had anticipated, because she started to coax me. “Don’t you remember it? We saw it in that little store last October! While we were waiting to go to dinner! We were, like, both emotional! Remember?!” Of course, I completely remembered. Katie went on, “I babysat for our neighbor for the last three weeks so I could have the cash to buy it without you knowing. I wanted to surprise you!” 

I looked up at her and we smiled huge at each other and I hugged her and kissed her and thanked her and gushed. I was thinking how now I didn’t have this surprise gift for her … but I also so completely loved that we were both on the same wavelength and had the same idea and made similar secret plans to surprise the other one. I retrieved her gift, and as I walked it over to her and she recognized precisely what it was, her eyes grew even bigger, and I wryly commented, “You…don’t need to open it.” 

It was this uncanny Gift of the Magi moment. 

Maybe the timing was actually perfect. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sunday Will Come

My dad has been gone a year today.

I have replayed in my mind, countless times, the moment I got the phone call from my mom. Her voice had a tremble, and her breathing was uneven. She had come home and found him on the floor. His heart had stopped. With impeccable health and physical and mental strength that defied aging, it was simply his time to go.

I’ve missed my dad. And it’s an ache that is hard to describe. I don’t just miss the 2019 version of my dad. I feel like I miss the entire 48 years I knew him.

My dad was a presence. You knew when he was in a room.

I miss that.

And yet I can tell you at least three specific times in the last year when I knew he was in the room. And not just that he was there, but where he was. I couldn’t see him. But I knew precisely where he was in that room. Each time. It is reassuring, it is comforting, and it’s a gift I wouldn’t dare ask for – because I don’t feel like I could reasonably expect such a thing. It’s this generous tender mercy.

April 2019 feels like a lifetime ago, because so much has changed in that year and my family doesn’t look the same. Lucy was baptized, Abbie went through the temple and got married, Josh joined our family, Garren came home from his mission in Brazil, Connor went through the temple and left on his mission to Washington, Roxanna had a distressing brain injury, Tanner’s voice is continually lower and his tallness is continually higher.

You naturally expect the emotion of certain “firsts” without your dad. His birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas, weddings, etc. With the expectations of those moments, you can somewhat prepare yourself. Not that they aren’t emotional, but you anticipate it and brace yourself.

It’s the moments that catch you off guard that really do a number on you.

When you come across someone – anyone – who knew your dad and they take a moment to tell you why they thought your dad was great. I was recently in the temple here in Provo and a man came up to me and asked, “Are you related to Ken Craig?” (I was named after my dad, so I had no idea if he meant my dad, if he had me confused with myself, or if he meant somebody else entirely.) I just stared at him, so he continued, “From California … he was a CPA.” “Yes, that’s my dad.” “I knew it. You look just like him.” This man had done some computer work for my dad back in the early 1980s. It caught me so off guard, it had an emotional impact on me that was different from missing him on a holiday.

My brother, Dehn, was in town one afternoon, for work. He texted and asked if I wanted to grab lunch before he left. Sitting across from each other at this quiet restaurant, we started talking about our kids. One of mine was heavy on my mind. It was something that I would have shared with my dad (and mom), but not too many other people. I felt vulnerable. But as I looked down at my plate, picking at my food, I started telling Dehn about it. When I looked up at him … I promise you, I was looking at my dad. It was Dehn, with my dad’s eyes. The softness and empathy. The concern, and also the confidence. Then Dehn started talking and he made this distinct movement that my dad always made. I could barely – barely – hold it together until I got out to my car.

Another time, I walked into a small post office to mail a package to my son in Washington, and playing over the sound system was Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night, his live recording from the Greek Theater in 1972. All my growing up years, it was Dad’s go-to album. My earliest memories have this album in the background. And it was this particular part of the album that you really just have to be a superfan to know. (It’s the very beginning, when the string orchestra is playing the prelude, before the drums kick in for Crunch Granola Suite. Do you know the part? If you do then you should know that you and I are instant best friends.) This is not an album that gets radio play, and it is certainly not a part of the album that gets radio play. It had no business being played over a speaker at a post office. I had to excuse myself from the premises.

And most recently, I came across this photo of my mom and dad laughing together. Do you see this? Can you feel it? No matter my age, no matter what else was going on – when I would see my parents laugh like this together, everything was right in the world. They were united and they were in love and they were joyful.

I hope my kids feel that when they see Katie and I laugh together. I hope that is part of the legacy I am leaving for my children and eventual grandchildren. I value this part of my dad’s legacy more than I would have thought.

I do feel like he is just around a corner, waiting for me. This is a temporary separation, and that offers more comfort than I know how to express. It is the thing that makes it all ok. It strikes me as poignant that today, this Saturday, is the one-year anniversary of his passing, and it falls on that “waiting day” between Good Friday and Easter. I am waiting to see my dad again – though I am grateful I don’t have to wait until then to feel him nearby. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the peace that is always, always offered.

“We will all have our Fridays, but I testify in the name of the One who conquered death, Sunday will come.” – Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Living Life on My Terms ... or Ben's.

My friends, as we begin a new year, and you engage in some self-reflection and ask yourself some hard questions about your health, your happiness, and whether you are going to keep Disney+, I wanted to share something with you. Something I found on the Interwebs recently.

It’s an article by Benjamin P. Hardy, found on the website Medium. The article is titled “50 Ways to Live on Your Own Terms.”

You are, no doubt, as intrigued as I was to know how exactly Benji Hardy knew what my terms were. Well, turns out … he don’t. What he does know is other stuff that he apparently thinks should be my terms…

In reality, some of these items he mentions are actually very important to me and do happen to be things that are priorities and practices in my life. But that doesn’t lend B.P.H. any credibility in my book. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Fling enough vinyl platitudes against the wall, and some of them are bound to stick.

Anyway, here is the list of Ben’s terms, in his order - and my thoughts about them.

1. Stop consuming caffeine. 77% of the people I know just tapped the table in front of them twice, and out loud said, “I’m out.”

2. Pray or meditate morning, mid-day, and night. I’m all about it.

3. Read 1 book per week. Does my Calvin & Hobbes Anthology count?

4. Write in your journal 5 minutes per day. Agreed.

5. Marry the person you love. Way ahead of you.

6. Make a bucket list and actively knock items off. Bucket List Item #1: Don’t let other people define the terms I live by. Bucket List Item #2: Sleep until noon. This is so easy, you guys.

7. Stop consuming refined sugar. HAHAHAHA! Oh, were you SERIOUS?!

8. Fast from all food and caloric beverages 24 hours once per week. Since this is on my terms, we’ll go with once a month.

9. Fast from the internet 24 hours once per week. Pssshh. This is a snap. I’m not trying to brag, but I do it at least 8 hours every night. That’s, like, 56 hours a week.

10. Stop consuming the news or reading the newspaper. And spend more time reading Medium! Right, Ben?

11. Do something every day that terrifies you. Does getting on Facebook count?

12. Do something kind for someone else daily. Does it count if I refrain from doing unkind things to certain people?

13. Go to bed early and rise early. This guy clearly doesn’t have children.

14. Get 7+ hours of sleep each night. See? No children.

15. Replace warm showers with cold ones. My ancestors gave their lives so I could take hot showers; and I’m not about to disrespect them by taking cold showers.

16. Say “No” to people, obligations, requests, and opportunities you’re not interested in from now on. My six-year-old lives by this philosophy. It’s not working out super well for her.

17. Say “Thank you” every time you’re served by someone. If you’re not already doing this … you might be a child.

18. Say “I love you” 3+ times a day to the most important people in your life. I do. But the cashier at Rockwell’s Ice Cream is getting super uncomfortable.

19. Consume 30 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes of waking up. No problem. There’s 30 grams of protein in Twinkies, right?

20. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts on 1.5 or 2x speed, your brain will change faster. Sure will. It’ll get annoyed quicker.

21. Decide where you’ll be in five years and get there in two. I’ll be 53 in five years. Why would I want to get there in two years?

22. Remove all non-essentials from your life (start with your closet). My kids already do this. They haven’t used a closet in years. They prefer the floor.

23. Consume a tablespoon of coconut oil once per day. How much coconut oil in an Almond Joy?

24. Buy a juicer and juice a few times per week. Or just buy juice. My favorite juice is a milkshake. 

25. Choose to have faith in something bigger than yourself, skepticism is easy. Preach, Ben.

26. Stop obsessing about the outcome. And start obsessing about the process.

27. Give at least one guilt-free hour to relaxation per day. I’m going to stretch myself and go for eight guilt-free hours of relaxation per day!

28. Genuinely apologize to people you’ve mistreated. 100%.

29. Make friends with five people who inspire you. But Bill Murray won’t return my phone calls!

30. Save 10 percent or more of your income. I was. But movie theater prices keep going up!

31. Tithe or give 10 percent of your income away. Welcome to the party, Ben.

32. Drink 64–100 ounces of water per day. And be sure to move your desk directly into the bathroom.

33. Buy a small place rather than rent. When Ben isn’t writing for Medium, I suspect he’s a realtor.

34. Check your email and social media at least 60–90 minutes after you wake up. Ok, Boomer. [Did I use that correctly? That was my first time using that.]

35. Make a few radical changes to your life each year. I’m kind of too tired. Even using the word “radical” makes me kind of want a nap.

36. Define what wealth and happiness mean to you. I define them as “Things people should give me.”

37. Change the way you feel, think, and act about money. Sounds like somebody has asked Ben for a loan one too many times. He should just call them out. “Change the way you think about money, Peter!”

38. Invest only in industries you are informed about. Informed about? So…invest in Netflix and pizza. Got it

39. Create an automated income source that takes care of the fundamentals. Swell idea. Ben, what’s your credit card number?

40. Have multiple income streams (the more the better). Why do I feel like Ben is trying to get me into his downline?

41. Track at least one habit/behavior you’re trying to improve. Does it count as “tracking” if what happens is you are praying and praying for strength to become a better person, and you realize you’ve been praying for the same thing for several years … and kind of you’re still the same person?

42. Have no more than 3 items on your to-do list each day. Ben, what color is the sky on your planet?

43. Make your bed first thing in the morning. Now you tell me! I got rid of my bed after item #22.

44. Make one audacious request per week (what do you have to lose?) I guess nothing except my friends, since I’ll be developing a reputation of being that guy who walks around making audacious requests of everyone around him.

45. Be spontaneously generous with a stranger at least once per month. I like this.

46. Write and place a short, thoughtful note for someone once per day. Doing it right now. “Dear Ben, I think you have a gift for identifying the obvious and/or ridiculous.”

47. Become good friends with your parents. Check.

48. Floss your teeth. Once a year, whether I need it or not!

49. Eat at least one meal with your family per day. Of course. Wait. What are we having?

50. Spend time reflecting on your blessings at least once per day. Today I’ll reflect on the blessing of living life on my terms.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Faith, Fatherhood & Food

Dear Friends, Family, Loved Ones, Loyal Blog Readers & Other Riffraff:

I am incredibly happy to announce that I’ve written a book! Just for you! Just in time for Christmas!

My debut book – Faith, Fatherhood & Food – is now available on Amazon. You can find it right here.

I am truly grateful for all of you who have offered words of encouragement over the years. From “If you wrote a book, I would probably read it” to “You’re an idiot if you don’t write a book” – all of these flattering words have landed right on my heart and inspired me.

This is a book of personal essays - comprised of many of these very blog posts found here, over the years - plus a handful of new ones written specifically for this publication. I really am excited to share them.

I have self-published on Amazon – which means that people will only know about it if you or I tell them about it. So, if you like it – or think you will like it – here’s what you can do:

1. Tell your friends about it!
2. Buy a copy for all your friends!
3. Leave a glowing review on Amazon!
4. … that about it, I guess.

If you don’t like it, here’s what you can do:

1. Go pound sand.

If you've read my blog and enjoyed these stories or meandering thoughts over the last decade or more, then you will absolutely enjoy the book. In fact, you'll have read most of it already! Think of it! Cracking open a book and being able to tell people, "I've read most of it already." They will think you are a speed-reader and super cosmopolitan!

Thank you, again. For reading, for visiting, for checking in from time to time. I haven't decided yet if I will shut down my blog entirely, or leave it up. I don't write as often as I used to - but it's nice to have a place to do it if I do feel like it. It is a privilege to write for an audience who gives you the benefit of the doubt.

I love you all.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Pre-Marriage Questioning

Pre-dating. When Katie was playing hard-to-get.  

I recently came across an article on the Interwebs with the title 54 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. (I assumed one of those questions would be, “Do you put an inordinate amount of trust into anonymous articles that you come across on the Internet?”)

I thought back to when Katie and I were dating, and how this article would have most likely inspired my own line of questioning. Mainly:

“54 questions? Who has time for that?!”
“Will this involve a polygraph?”
“How much will this cut into ‘kissing time?’”

…and so forth.

Dating. And time permitting, being adorable.

Since our courtship was before the invention of the Internet, smartphones, Ted Talks, or Robert Mueller, I didn’t have easy access to lists of questions I should be asking this highly attractive, hilarious, and wicked-smart love of my life. For me, when I was dating Katie, the Question List was much shorter.

1. Do you like me?
2. Do you think you could like me forever?
3. How do you feel about eating ice cream every night?
4. Do you consider it a hate crime that Bill Murray doesn’t already have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

That’s about it, I guess.

The Big Day.  

23 brief years later. 

I learned a lot by reading this list of 54 questions, you guys. I’ve been married almost 24 years, and I’ll just say it, I kind of thought I was nailing it. But NO! I am so embarrassed. As I read these questions, I began to realize that after 23 years of marriage – there are still things we have never even asked each other!

I couldn't wait for our next date night, so we could get to the bottom of some of these. "Do you want kids?" I would begin. "How many?" "If it were up to you, when would we start having kids?" Katie would then wrinkle her nose and squint her eyes, like she was giving a lot of thought to my timely questions. Or like she was wondering when I'd started drinking in the afternoon, since the relevancy of these questions is questionable. "Why do we want to marry each other?" "How should I behave when you’re in a bad mood?" "If physical attraction were eliminated, what would be left in our relationship?" ("Ha!" she would answer. "Like we’ll ever have to cross that bridge.")

54 questions would seem like an exhaustive list, right? Wrong. Like, wrong wrong. You should be ashamed of how wrong you are.

Sit down, you adorable Gen-Z’er. Let me tell you the kind of hard-hitting questions you want to ask that flawless young thing sitting across from you right now … peering into your eyes … fully confident that you have never had body odor or blown your nose in the shower.

Wanna know who you are really marrying? Consider these 20 questions that you couldn’t possibly even know needed answering before you get married …

1. Does the Christmas season start on November 1st or the day after Thanksgiving?

2. Will using humor diffuse a situation, or throw gas on the fire?

3. Follow up: Is it more important to be right or to be funny?

4. How do you feel about having a conversation while one of us is sitting on a toilet?

5. What temperature is the thermostat going to be set at?

6. It’s midnight, but there’s a new episode of Brooklyn 99. Do we watch it?

7. The speaker at church is super earnest. I’ve decided to do an impression of him for you. During the meeting. But with an adorable lateral-lisp. How do you respond?

8. There’s precisely one serving of ice cream left in the freezer. Who gets it? (Follow-up question: And how did this happen when the carton was half-full yesterday?)

9. I have a story from when I was single and at a church social function where an older, married woman mistook me for her husband and stuck her hand in my back pocket. I will be telling this story at parties for the rest of our lives. Is this a problem?

10. When I feel overwhelmed with love or gratitude – or when our kids do something amazing – I will get emotional. In public. Will this embarrass you?

11. How do you feel about stints of unemployment or underemployment?

12. How do you feel about putting up decorations for every holiday?

13. I won’t sing in public. But I will sing to you. And those songs will usually be pop songs where I have parodied the lyrics to the point where they are about 85% innuendo. Do you find this amusing?

14. Do you feel lip syncing is superior to karaoke? Correction: Why is lip syncing superior to karaoke?

15. Dinner is almost ready, but I go to the pantry anyway and grab a bag of chips. Is this met with a) eye rolls b) sarcasm or c) death threats?

16. We agreed on a specific price tag for our Christmas presents to each other. I completely ignored it and surprised you with something way out of budget. Again. For the 23rd year in a row. Even though I promised you I wasn’t going to do that this year. How much trouble am I in? Why do I keep doing this? Do promises mean nothing to me?

17. We will most likely see U2 every time they tour. Despite the ridiculous ticket costs. Problem?

18. There will be moments in our life together when I feel inspired to take over the world! To do something amazing! Excited and determined, I will present you with my ideas and plans. After the music dies down and I realize my plans require a lot of work, I will go back to being just me. Will you be able to get excited with me and tell me how wonderful I am when I present my ideas – and then, will you be able to quickly forget them and not throw them in my face when absolutely nothing happens?

19. If neither of us is a doctor, are you still comfortable looking at weird things in unspeakable places and answering the question, “What do you think this is?”

20. How much of our lives is going to be shared on blog posts?