Those who live in the Northern half of America’s heartland will tell you how much they love the change of seasons. I have sung that song for many years. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as that first fully thawed spring day; birds singing, the steady drip of ice and snow melting. Spring is after all the beginning of the four-season-cycle. It is birth, growth, movement and light. After a long, cold, dark, winter, the day lengthens, the sun moves north to warm us.
In the far north, we do our best to embrace winter; indulging in every sort of winter sport: skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross country skiing, and lots of winter walks. We beam at the winter wonderland of fresh snow, enjoy cozy days at home with the kids when the schools close for a winter storm. A beautiful White Christmas is the capper. Nothing is better than inches of fresh snow, blanketing the landscape, aglow with Christmas lights as we scurry about in preparation for our time with family and friends.
And yet, no matter our best efforts, winter begins to wear us down. Is it the cold? No, not at all, we shirk off the cold; we know how to dress for it and by mid-winter, we skip gloves and hat when the temperature hits the teens. Is it the snow? It can be, when we are buried under the snow of massive winter storms. But what is it really, what really wears us down? THE DARK.
For those with early work schedules, leaving in the dark and arriving home again in the dark becomes a depressing, drudging ritual; like some low budget sci-fi flick where the sun has been removed forever. We long for the light; we HUNGER for it; longer hours of daylight and the holy grail of winter relief: The Return of Day Light Savings Time! By the time it comes, we have enjoyed our lengthening days, ever warmer sun and rising temperatures. Then it finally happens, we arise on Sunday morning, one hour short of sleep, knowing that the sun will set an hour later. This simple thing, adjusting the clock, lifts our spirits. We smile more easily and begin planning for the spring and summer ahead. The simple fact is this: without our season of darkness, spring would never be so sweet.
Quite some time ago I started writing about being a DAD. I created my own blog, Real Talk With D.A.D.
Life got busy and as with many things, Real Talk got put on the back burner. Well, it is time to dust off the pen, grab some paper and get back to work. So why Real Talk With D.A.D.? Simply put, I just wanted to share my ramblings and musings; my journey through the trials and travails of parenting.
Being DAD or MOM is the most daunting thing. What? ME, responsible for this helpless little child?
That first moment, right after birth, you hold your newborn, awestruck; time stands still for a bit, the center of the universe is in your arms. Joy, fear, thankfulness and the beginning of the never ending journey. You are now a parent.
Everything I have written up till now is posted on Real Talk. I will post my new writings on Real Talk, with links on facebook as well. Here is a taste of my first writing: http://www.realtalkwithdad.com/1/post/2010/04/worlds-greatest-dad.html
We live in Wisconsin and it is the day after the Packers failed to advance in their run for back to back Super Bowl wins. So let's not talk football. Or on the other hand, Let's Talk Football!
Football indeed, but not the pro's, oh no. Let's talk about College Football.
As My son continues his Junior year in High School, the search for a college begins. Well, at least that is what you would think, but in his mind, the search is over. He clued me in on his parameters for a school late this past summer: Pretty far from home, warm weather, and a Division I school with great sports teams. I knew where this was headed. He and I have traveled to Oklahoma and Texas for the past five years over spring break to give him an early start on the motocross season.
Of all the places we have visited on those trips. none is more a true home to motocrosss, than Stillwater Oklahoma. Just by chance this is also the location of Oklahoma State University. It is a great school, has excellent programs in his area of study, and yes, it is a Division I school with excellent teams. Football, Basketball and Wrestling top the list. So on a three day weekend fall trip, we did the power drive from Northern Wisconsin to O.S.U. for a little motocross riding, and if my son has his way, his one and only campus visit. He was bent on it before we got there and nothing we experienced changed his mind. To the contrary, the campus is gorgeous, the staff and students excellent hosts and the facilities, well, flat out amazing. T.Boone Pickens, oil billionaire, is an alum of O.S.U. and has dug deep in his pockets to support his alma mater. One of the tour highlights is the football stadium. Seating 60,000 plus, this is exactly what he was looking for; the quintessential college experience. Huge crowds, a winning team, marching band and all.
The trip was a total success, and academically, it works very well, acceptance seems likely and the costs; well let's just say we can get it done. Gulp. At years end we were able to watch the OSU Cowboys win over Stanford in an absolutely crazy overtime game. He didn't just enjoy that game. He climbed right on in; might as well have been there. Just over a year, one last year, then off to college he goes, I'll be sad to see him go, but I am so proud that he is ready.
I was out in the driveway today working on an enclosed trailer we use for hauling dirt bikes. It was time to finally put in those fluorescent lights I have been promising my son for so long. Like most projects, I was getting totally wrapped up in my work. It’s almost a zen state; at one with the task at hand; the clock irrelevant. What’s the next step, ah, there is just the tool I need. The radio is blasting my favorite classic rock station and I am “right in tune” to the strains of The Who singing “teenage wasteland”. The smell of fresh cut grass fills the air, along with that musty dampness that follows a couple of days of uninterrupted rain. The sun peeks out now and then. Then it hits me, what am I now, fifty seven? Hmmmm, what’s the deal? I remember days just like this when I was in my teens; loving my music, engrossed in what I was doing, my mind lost in the combination. I don’t really feel any different now than I did then. Seriously; and yes, I know the bones creak a bit, and I sure get sore more quickly, but at the core of it, I really feel the same. Just as focused, just as into the music. The work, the sights, the sounds, the smells, and most importantly how I feel at the moment… all pretty much the same. So there it is, I’m in tune, right in tune, just like I have been for a very, very long time.
In the sixties, the Beatles sang: “Here Comes the SUN.” I am happy to say that after “a long cold lonely winter,” that the sun has indeed arrived. After months of pining (and yes I have to admit, whining), the SUN has finally arrived. The grass is green, the buds on the trees are beginning to open, and the birds sing endlessly from dawn to dusk. Best of all, the temperatures up here on the frozen tundra of northern Wisconsin have finally risen to the point of opening the doors and windows. Ah, the sweet delight of a home filled with fresh spring air. As much as the winter wears me down more with each passing year, the blossoming of spring can only be truly experienced if you have suffered through that “long cold lonely winter.” The longer and colder the winter; the sweeter the spring that follows. It snowed a few last flakes here, just this past Sunday, but today, ah, today; sun, birds, green grass, and lovely fresh spring air.
There is such a feeling of exhilaration when you step outside on these early spring mornings, the smells, the sounds, and that lovely warmth of the sun, high in the sky. The end of the school year is only a few weeks off, and although it was a bit frosty, we have already enjoyed our first camping trip of the season. Summer trips, hikes in the woods, holiday weekends and barbecues, lie ahead . Our enjoyment is all the sweeter, knowing as we do, that winter follows. We have to grab our warm, wonderful spring and summer and squeeze everything out of it. Up here, we don’t take a lovely day for granted, we bask in it, we cherish it, and we remember it fondly during the following winter.
Recently I shared, “I got the fever.” Now the tables are turned. The fever has been replaced by a big chill, a chill that has shaken me to the core. Let me explain. There are five of us in our family: Me, my wife Deb, Our Daughters Anika and Alyssa, and our son Erik. Just a couple weeks ago, we celebrated our 25th anniversary and on that occasion I took time to reflect on the past quarter-century.
I realized quickly that we are very near the end of the road of raising kids, at least in the traditional sense. I know that you never really retire from being “Mom” or “Dad.” I get that, I really do. However, our oldest, Anika, is almost done with college and has a great career already in the works. She is done in one month. Alyssa, second born has been back at home for a while, but has plans to move soon. Last but not least, Erik our youngest and “trailer child” is sixteen. He is working two part time jobs and as a sophomore, will be done with high school in two short years. They drive, they work, they have relationships; in short, their lives are busy and full. As for Deb and I, the empty nest is imminent, lurking around the corner like a cold dark storm, ready to sweep in and chill us to the bone.
There is such satisfaction in seeing our chldren move through life, sharing their hurt and pain, reveling in their successes. It’s been that way for the past twenty five years, but not for much longer. This impending change is a big one. I long for those years when the kids were younger, and I was less gray. So here I am, feeling a bit cold and lonely. As with all change, the future will bring us wonderful things: trips to visit our children, and someday, grandchildren. “Good night honey.” “Goodnight daddy, I love you.” “I love you too honey, I love you too.”
I grew up in a close-in suburb of Chicago. That being said, there wasn't a lot of personal touch when you went shopping. Even at the smaller stores, it was rare that you were remembered. I moved a number of times and my family and I ended up in a smallish college town; twelve thousand people, and a main street that rivals Bedford Falls for aw shucks quaintness. We had a home built here, so long before moving in, I had to find the local hardware store. There are two in town, and the one nearest to us is Lund's.
The first time I stopped in to Lund's, I entered a typical small town hardware store. The entire place is the size of a department at a big box store. The prices may not be as low, but you can get in and out, and not drive a twenty mile round trip. Now that alone would be enough to bring me in fairly often. Then I met Fred.
Moments after I entered I was met eye to eye by a warm gentle man, hand extended; "hello, I'm Fred, can I help you?" "yes" I answered; and within five minutes, Fred had extracted my name, occupation, names of my wife, our three children, hobbies, and a fair bit of family history. As I left that first day, he made sure to be near enough to the door to bid me "thanks Doug." By the time we were done with our part of the sweat equity on our new home, I had been into Lund's dozens of times. Each time, Fred would acknowledge me with a warm greeting and ask a few questions about my clan. I observed other new residents, first time visitors to Lund's, and watched as Fred drew them out, welcoming them to his family of customers.
Through good times and bad, Fred, ever present, would help me find what I needed and if I was in a rough patch, would provide a patient listening ear. I don't remember of the now hundreds of visits to Lund's more than a hand full of times that Fred was not present. His staff is well trained, patient and polite, but Fred is the heart and soul of the operation, and for that matter a significant bit of the heart and soul of our little town. He is the only Dad I have ever seen outside throughout Halloween evening, greeting and engaging every trick-or-treater as they approached his home.
Every visit to Lund's Fred learned a bit more about me and my family, and always asked for updates on the latest goings on. Going to Lund's I would forget the stubborn broken bolt, or maddening problem with a leaky pipe, and instead, look forward to those few quiet moments with Fred.
At my sarcastic worst, I have said that every history museum in every city will soon be adding two wings: Customer Service and Common Sense, this because both will soon be "extinct" in the real world. Ah well, Fred to the rescue on that one, proving me wrong. Thanks Fred.
There are 365 days in a year. We are taught from a tender age, that the year is split into four roughly equal parts: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Now there are parts of the world where this holds true. The north central portion of the United States is exempt from this however.
No, we do not get to enjoy 90 day slices of seasonal variety, no gentle transitions through the four seasons, no easy enjoyment of the freshness of Spring after a tolerably short Winter, not here, not up in the Northland, oh no, we have two seasons; winter and construction.
You think I exaggerate? Hardly. This year the snow hit before thanksgiving, and pretty hard at that. We have had snow after snow, with barely a three day break without at least a dusting.
And cold? Where do I begin? Real temps in the -20 to -30 range with wind chills that just sound ridiculous. Did I mention wind? Lots of wind, bone chilling frostbite and die wind.
Up here we can expect the average winter to end sometime around April 15th. We have experienced blizzards as late as early April. The worst year, we had a blizzard on Halloween, then to add insult to injury, March is traditionally our heaviest snow month. Really, I’m not kidding.
Just imagine the unbounding joy of a winter that begins on October 31st, and continues till tax day. 5 1/2 months.
Cabin Fever, Snow Fever, Spring Fever. . . I got it all!! Around mid-February, depression sets in. It’s still dark fully half of the day, cold, bleak frozen, and almost perpetually gray when it’s not dark. We do get some sun, but at a price. The price? You guessed it, those lovely bone chilling temps I mentioned before. Yesterday, February 10th, we awoke to a delightful 21 degrees below zero. I got the fever baby, I got the fever.
Now for the second part of life up North, our other season: CONSTRUCTION. This year, even with the early snow and intense cold, projects were not fully wrapped up until about December 7th. With today’s modern construction techniques, they work well into the cold, and you guessed it! Start very early, as in even before winter “ends” on March 20th.
During our relentless winter, the season to follow is never out of mind, or for that matter, out of sight. Construction season is so long, that on the largest projects, they leave the equipment out, poised and ready for another 7 month assault of traffic delays and detours.
There they sit, dark looming shadows, you see them in the distance as you draw near, like characters from the latest Transformers film, waiting to whir to life and pounce. The seemingly endless delays and detours are heralded months before they start, by orange signs telling you when the misery begins, and how incredibly long it is going to last. The signs should be going up any day now. Roads that were repaired a few short years ago will be torn up, rebuilt, and in another few years, rebuilt again.
Throughout Europe and the British Isles, there are Roman roads that are still in use, two thousand years after they were built. Why can’t we get a road to last for fifty, or even twenty?
Well, I have a few scant weeks to ponder that fact, sullen, depressed and wan, as I await the end of winter and the signs of the next season: DETOUR AHEAD.
December 23rd, almost time for Scrooge to be visited by the three spirits. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mean many things to many people. Many who rarely attend church celebrate the season with purpose and fervor rivaling anything else they do the rest of the year. There is just something about it; the hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, and preparation for the feasts that will be laid out for family in the days ahead. When all is said and done, there will even be enough time to sit back and read through this year’s Christmas Cards, marveling at how tall the young ones have gotten as the old ones have become a bit grayer.
Even those serving the rest of us in the stores and shops seem to smile a bit brighter, unwearied by the long hours and the endless press of customers. We are all a bit like Scrooge on that Christmas morning; the time of the year, the Day itself, put in us Joy that we cannot seem to quite muster at any other time.
When we have passed through our youthful days of ripping the paper from our presents, greedily rushing through to be sure that every Christmas wish has been fulfilled, we are left with the rest, the important part: Time with family and friends; a meal shared, laughter, talk, and family games.
When we gather, we see the changes in each of us, the young ones who now open their presents more slowly and deliberately, those celebrating their very first Christmas, children now grown becoming what they were meant to be as they move into adulthood, and the oldest moving a bit slower each year. We laugh, we pray, we share our feast and at the heart of it all, the Christmas Story; the very first Christmas, the beginning of it all. The Christmas message creeps into our hearts; that child, born so long ago, born for us, to save us all. He who lived His life with Joy in His heart every moment, joy and abiding love for us all. Merry Christmas everyone, Merry Christmas.
As a child of the sixties, I was, as were most, sucked into the counter-culture. I didn’t fall irrevocably into that endless pit of quicksand, but for a time, I “checked out” of mainstream America. A major part of the “movement” was to disregard all that our elders had to teach us.
Our government, our parents, tried and true institutions that were the foundation of our society were ignored and in some quarters, reviled. They had been defined as “the system,” the enemy. We, trapped within the confines of our tiny inexperienced and undeveloped minds, were sure that we had all the answers; how wrong, how sad. What a waste of a generation.
I have finally reached that point in life where I get it. It being why one should respect their elders; the truth in the concept is evident in virtually all tribal cultures to this day, and was until the sixties, practiced in western society. As I talk with my two now adult daughters and my teenage son, I am amazed at how few questions they ask fall out of the scope of my knowledge and experience. The tables are turned, I am now a member of that “older” generation; one of those that historically earned the respect of those younger.
The dictionary definition of WISDOM is: 1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight. 2. Common sense; good judgment. 3a. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge. b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.
I think they dig a little too deep on that one. My definition of wisdom is simple and to the point:
“Wisdom is knowledge gained through observation and experience.”
A lot of the wisdom I have gained can be expressed in a few short phrases:
“Screw me once, shame on you, screw me twice, shame on me.”
“Assume nothing, trust no one, not even yourself.”
“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” Nietzsche (very old, but very true)
“I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I experience and I understand.” Confucius
“Life is what you make it.” Art Erickson (my father in law)
“You are above average, you can achieve whatever you want.” My dad, and most dads
The part I really didn’t get about respecting your elders when I was young, is that a lot of that knowledge gained comes at a price: Grief, pain, loss and at times, suffering.
Part two of the price is aging; that slow process of decline in vision, hearing, strength and health. I am still young enough that I am in pretty good shape, but the word “arthritis” has become part of my daily vocabulary.
So in the long and the short of it here is the message: My generation squandered the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of others, we forged ahead, often recklessly, without the benefit of the experienced guiding hands of those who had lived before us. What fools we were. It took a long time to unlearn those lessons of the sixties and come to this simple undying truth:
“Respect your elders; they have for you a wealth of knowledge, respect and love. Through you they achieve immortality as they impart those precious bits of themselves to you.”
So sorry for the long delay dad, but I get it now. I finally get it.