Once More … For Oren

Give Forward

Oren Miller, founder of a Facebook dad bloggers group almost 800 strong. He and his family need our help. Now is the time to act.

They were in the car together, Beth behind the wheel, husband Oren Miller by her side. This was life now. A trip to Johns Hopkins for radiation treatment, a necessary precursor to deal with a cancerous invader in Oren’s brain before the rest of it could be dealt with.

The rest of it is stage 4 lung cancer, which has spread and is life threatening. Very life threatening. But that would have to keep. First, the brain.

Oren’s phone rang. It was me.

My editor at TODAY Parents had agreed to let me write it up live. When a group of dad bloggers get together to make something this big happen, it’s news. Especially on the Friday before Father’s Day.

What was so big that the parenting arm of the TODAY Show immediately responded in the affirmative to my inquiry that afternoon? The fundraiser, of course. Using the wonderful Give Forward platform, Oren’s fellow blogger and Marylander, Brent Almond, had set up an online fundraiser on behalf of the Facebook dad bloggers. This group, this extended family of fathers and writers from all over the world, would do our small part to help Oren’s family.

Oren Miller

L-R: Oren Miller, his wife Beth and friend and fellow blogger Brent Almond, together on Memorial Day weekend — hours before Oren’s cancer diagnosis.

The idea was to raise as much as we could to help them enjoy a nice vacation getaway before Oren began his treatment in earnest. We figured $5,000 was a nice, round target.

Brent posted the link to the fundraiser late Thursday evening. By Friday morning, the amount raised had slid right on past $5,000 and was bearing down on $10,000 before noon. When it reached $13,000, I emailed my TODAY Parents editors and told them news was happening.

Important news. News that illustrated the strength and power of these things that bind us in that Facebook group. Fatherhood. The creative impulse. Passion for our roles as caregivers, and compassion for others.

It had to be shared, this wonderful story that arose from such a terrible thing.

I say terrible, because that’s what it was. And is. Yet, Oren’s grace and dignity in the face of this awful circumstance moved thousands (here it is in his words, powerful words, words that will make you cry and wonder at the strength of this gentle father and caring husband).

That Friday afternoon, as Beth and Oren wheeled their way toward Johns Hopkins for his radiation treatment, I reached back into my professional past and tried to wear my journalist hat for an interview session. We chatted, he and I. He sounded tired, of course, but all I heard was music in that thick Israeli accent of his. His responses to my forced and awkward questions were as graceful as you would expect, if you know him.

And then he put Beth on the phone. I wish I had known Beth before this. She sounds amazing. She also let me know how much the group has meant to Oren during this time. I wrapped my TODAY piece with a great kicker quote from Beth, but it was cut in the final edit. Here is that quote now, in its entirety:

“Right now, this is the [worst] time you could ever imagine,” she said. “The only time in those early days in the hospital I saw Oren smile was when he was keeping up with what was going on with the group. I don’t think he would have made it out of the hospital if not for that. I really don’t.”

The fundraiser goes on. The goal has been increased to $30,000, and as of this writing, we’re past $26,000. It’s more than a vacation fund now. It’s money they can use for medical bills or any other needs that will arise as they fight this. The founders of Give Forward have generously agreed to donate $25 for every post the dad bloggers publish (up to 40 posts), an additional $1,000. Click here to donate, if you like, or simply to leave Oren and his family a message of love and hope.

There is no moral here. No feel-good story, no happy ending. Not really. There is something, though, and it’s this: We can do good in this world when we act together out of compassion and love. What else is there?

Oren Miller

Oren Miller and family.

 

Thank You, Dad: a Father’s Day Appreciation

Dad and me, circa 1988 or '89. This would have been in Palm Beach Gardens. That young man on the left could (and still can) play a mean mandolin, and he could pick it at shortstop.

Dad and me, circa 1988 or ’89. This would have been in Palm Beach Gardens. That young man on the left could (and still can) play a mean mandolin, and he could pick it at shortstop.

My dad taught me how to play baseball and how to love music.

There are traits he possesses — stoicism, a quiet dignity, an abiding sense of (and appreciation for) the absurd — that I catch myself unconsciously trying to emulate every now and then.

I have never quite managed to match most of the character traits I admire most about my dad, but that’s OK. I can’t be him and he wouldn’t want that, anyway.

There is one thing, though, that I feel pretty fortunate to have absorbed. My dad, Vietnam veteran, itinerant sports fan (Reds, Phillies, Indians, Rays just in my lifetime), logical thinker, musician, and so much more — he is his own man. Even as he sacrificed for his family with career choices that might not have been as emotionally fulfilling as following the path of the singing cowboy, he knew who he was and everything I saw him do erupted from that knowledge.

Dad and me, circa 1972 or '73. Note the Dolphins helmet. And the sideburns.

Dad and me, circa 1972 or ’73. Note the Dolphins helmet. And the sideburns.

I am different from dad in a lot of ways, but in that way we are the same. He taught me baseball, and so much more that I might never fully appreciate. But one trait that is very much a part of who I am is a fierce independent spirit, and I can’t help but think I inherited that from dad.

Dad, thank you, and I love you.

Happy Father’s Day to all my readers! Is there something about you that you know your dad helped shape by example or through lessons taught? I’d love to hear about it in the comments here, or comment and give me a follow on the DadScribe Facebook community.

That little guy looking askance at that huge hunk of smelly leather would grow up to become a voter in the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame balloting. Dad got me started early on the game.

That little guy looking askance at that huge hunk of smelly leather would grow up to become a voter in the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame balloting. Dad got me started early on the game.

TODAY Parents: We’re in this together

TODAY Show

I’m proud to announce that I have joined TODAY.com’s new roster of contributors. With the shift to TODAY Parents from TODAY Moms, the website for the popular morning show is acknowledging the growing desire of dads everywhere to be seen as equal and equally engaged partners in parenthood. After all, moms and dads: We’re in this together.

Parents tell stories. It’s how we relate to one another. It’s how we cope, and how we thrive.

It’s also how we empathize with the blank, sleep-deprived stares we sometimes encounter as we try to engage other parents. We know what they’re going through.

How do we know?

Because we’ve been there — believe me, we can tell you all about it. Also, because we’ve listened to others who have been there.

Parents know what it’s like to wake up to a major diaper blowout in the middle of the night — only to find the box of baby wipes empty.

Parents know how it feels to experience all the firsts — the joy and pain, the rapture and agony. Parents also know that sometimes, the rapture and agony are the same thing.

Parents know what it’s like to bear the awesome responsibility of caring for another human being — a helpless, clueless, selfish, hungry, not hungry, sleepy, NOT sleepy, stubborn, funny, clumsy, loud, disobedient, angelic, possessed, loving, cute, smart, beautiful human being.

Parents know all this and more, and we love to talk or write about it.

The power of story-telling is to help us find common ground. A good story illuminates and entertains. A great story reveals something about ourselves that we might not have realized.

I started this online journal in February, 2012, because I wanted an outlet to share my family’s stories. It has evolved over the past two-plus years into a catch-all site for my musings on parenthood or politics, issues and trends, small moments and monumental milestones.

Always, it’s about the story. The individual chapters that make up the particular posts, and the big, sprawling, shared story of parenthood.

The Big Announcement

Now, I am thrilled to let you know that I’ll have another platform for story telling: TODAY.com.

The website for the popular TODAY Show invited me and five other dad writers from around the country to join a panel of regular contributors. The invitation coincided with a name change for the parenting section of the site. What once was known as TODAY Moms now is TODAY Parents. This marks a significant and welcome shift, an acknowledgment that the task of parenthood is a shared endeavor in many households around the country and the world, and that fathers — more than ever — want to be recognized as equal and equally engaged parenting partners.

This week, as a lead-up to Father’s Day on Sunday, the TODAY Show will feature fathers from around the country. TODAY Parents, meanwhile, will feature introductory posts from the new panel of writing dads. Our posts will reveal our favorite “dad hacks,” clever and simple solutions to those sticky situations parents sometimes find themselves in. Read ours this week, then go share your own parenting “hack” on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #DadHacks.

Here are my fellow Today Parents dad writers, with links to their personal websites:

Be sure to give these talented writers some love on their personal blogs, and please share our TODAY Parents work as often as you see fit. Check out (and follow) the TODAY Parents content on Facebook and Twitter, too

Finally, a favor. One of the reasons I chose to write about parenting is because being a father is such a big part of my self-identity. I can’t imagine anything more important for me to focus my creative energy on, and there might be no more fertile ground for funny, tragic, poignant or just plain insightful stories.

Tell me your story. Let me know what you think. Give me ideas to share with the TODAY Parents audience. Find me on Twitter or Facebook, or leave a comment on a DadScribe post. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me want to share what you have to say with the world.

That’s what we do, after all. We’re parents. We tell stories.

 

 

 

Our New York

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

New York is the Statue of Liberty. The Circle Line. Washington Square. Greenwich. The West Village. Chinatown. The Empire State Building. MOMA. The Guggenheim. The Upper West Side. Central Park.

We did none of that.

Our plans were fluid. We knew where we would stay, knew what day we would arrive. There was a reservation for dinner, a date at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tickets to a show.

A loose itinerary for the rest of the weekend. We had ideas, certainly. We had hope. We made it there on our 10th anniversary. We could make it anywhere.

It rained. Did we care?

We had an umbrella, which I left under a table at a bar called Peacock Alley. We drank chocolatinis and ate truffled fries.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

A decade of life together. At the beginning, 10 years ago, this is what we knew: We knew where we would wed, knew what day we would be married. There was a Las Vegas honeymoon, a date in a helicopter for a champagne brunch at the Grand Canyon, tickets to a show. After that …

A loose itinerary for the rest of our lives. We had ideas. We had hope. We made it to our 10th anniversary.

New York. Why New York?

Because the city was mine, and it was hers, but it had never been ours.

It is ours now.

The loose itinerary allowed our imaginations to play. The boys were home and well-attended. This was our time. Time to discover and rediscover.

Time. That was one thing I had forgotten about New York. It is an island floating loose on the stream of time. This place, this metropolis of memory, took us back a decade. We were at the beginning, back in 2004 on our wedding night.

Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower.

The loose itinerary of our life together still hovered out there, unformed, unknown, unknowable, inconceivable to us.

Had we known …

We did not know, though, and when we were caught in the rain without an umbrella we improvised. The walk from the Gershwin Theater to the Waldorf-Astoria is seven blocks, farther in heels. Farther still in the pouring rain at midnight, but New York is New York. There is always a gift shop nearby offering to sell you a $2 umbrella for $17.50.

It rained. At Grand Central Terminal, we ate hot soup and watched the stars. At the Met, I lost the docent, the tour group, my wife and myself. Through the Italian masters I wandered, past the Degas, the Seurat, the Van Gogh, the Rembrandts, the Monets, the Tiffany glass windows. I found her among the mounted knights in their armor.

The sun came out and we walked the streets of New York together.

It is ours now.

New York is the Upper East Side. The Met. Times Square. Wicked. Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, masked by scaffolding, inside and out. Bryant Park in the rain and in the Sunday morning sunshine. The Public Library. O’Casey’s Irish bar. Chelsea Market. The High Line. St. Paul’s Chapel. The Freedom Tower. Zuccotti Park. The Stock Exchange. Federal Hall. Stone Street. The Brooklyn Bridge from the South Street Sea Port. Little Italy. The 6 train. The 35th floor of the Waldorf Towers, where presidents and monarchs spend their nights in New York.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

Our loose itinerary revealed to us the pew where George Washington prayed on the day he was inaugurated. It threw into our path the original stuffed animals that A.A. Milne gifted to his son, Christopher, and later immortalized as Winnie the Pooh and friends. With no tyrannical to-do list holding us hostage, we lingered at the Ground Zero memorial pools, tracing the engraved names of the dead in reverence. It was sublime.

We did all of that, unfettered by an agenda, free to actually see it, to let it wash over us and to appreciate the city and each other. We gave ourselves the gift of room to breathe in New York, and the city helped us remember who we were.

And as we remembered, we floated on the island in its stream back to a time before our hopeful itinerary of our life together hardened into the immovable facts of shared history.

For a time, it all fell away. There was just us, and just New York, and it was ours.

 

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

 

Sunday Serendipity

Brooker Creek

A serendipitous Sunday morning photo safari at Brooker Creek Preserve. Target acquired: dragon fly.

My older son stopped short on the boardwalk and signaled his brother and me with a finger to his lips.

“Dad! Shh. There’s a deer!”

He pointed toward the far side of Brooker Creek, where the brown back of a white-tail doe moved away from us up the bank. The deer crossed under the boardwalk and into the palmetto scrub on the other side as my sons moved lightly in her direction and readied their cameras.

Our unplanned Sunday morning excursion had just gotten interesting.

_______________________

A lazy Sunday. Breakfast consumed. No immediate plans. A couple of old iPhones and a freshly spawned world on Minecraft. Hidden behind the easy chair, they plotted with heads together, fingers flying across the screens, communication by murmur — something nearly indecipherable about reaching bedrock, diamond armor and creepers.

This would have gone on for hours on a bright, breezy Sunday morning.

I took a sip of coffee.

“We’re getting out of here,” I said. “Let’s go do something fun.”

It registered with one of them, who inquired from behind the easy chair: “Like what, dad?”

I didn’t know. I didn’t answer.

“Dad? Like what?”

The lesson here: Know the plan before speaking, just in case someone actually is listening.

“We’re … going to … um.”

My stalling tactic was to give them five more minutes on Minecraft, which suited them just fine. As they went about the business of … crafting a mine or … whatever, I mentally scrolled through the options. Beth was still asleep, a rare chance to grab a few extra minutes’ rest. It would be just me and the boys. I spotted our point-and-click digital cameras on a table in the living room, and I knew.

“Five minutes are up, boys,” I said. “Get your socks and shoes on. We’re going to Brooker Creek for a photo safari.”

_______________________

The standing highlight of our 20-minute drive to Brooker Creek Preserve is trying to spot the wild turkey flock that inhabits the open pasture across Keystone Road from the park entrance. On this Sunday morning, we spotted only a pair of sandhill cranes as we arrived.

A quick camera lesson for each boy in the parking lot. Spray-on insect repellent. Then we were off.

“When you’re looking for things to shoot,” I said, “try to see everything like it’s a picture.”

I pointed into the dense wetland woods.

“See how that tree angles away from the rest of them? See how the vines come down out of that tree next to it? And the Spanish moss hanging there … that’s beautiful.”

They stopped to snap a few shots of a dragon fly. We checked to see if “Bubble” the gopher tortoise was home in his den, and found him not receiving visitors.

Then Jay spotted the deer, and we spent a few minutes watching her move slowly away through the woods.

The morning ended with an encounter on the other side of the trail with an 8-foot American alligator.

This 8-footer looks closer in this photo by Jay than it actually was.

This 8-footer looks closer in this photo by Jay than he actually was. Chris named it “Crockie.”

There were other moments, while not necessarily as dramatic or breathtaking as running into a deer or a gator, that I found equally memorable. Both boys delighted in searching for photogenic details in the woods and on the trails. They found mid-morning light filtering through a basket-shaped spider web, and they found a dancing dragon fly to chase. They noticed odd knots and other irregularities on old trees. They looked at ferns and other plants as if for the first time. They saw paw prints and cypress knees and twisted branches and flowers. Purple flowers, yellow flowers, red flowers and thistles. Spiders they saw, and ant lions. Even fallen leaves under their feet held new wonder: “Dad, look at the colors on this one.”

Brooker Creek

Sunlight on a web. One of the many details the boys spotted as they tried to capture their morning with digital images.

We woke up this Sunday morning not sure what the day would bring. No plans, no constrictions, nothing to limit our imagination. By lunch time, we had interacted with a deer, danced with dragon flies and shared space with an alligator. There is something to be said for serendipity.

Here is a short video montage of our morning, including footage of the deer and the alligator:

 

Year of Disney Epilogue: Disney on Ice, Let’s Celebrate!

LetsCelebrateThe Year of Disney for the Gaddis family was a triumph. The memories we created with our sons as we used our seasonal passes to explore all the Walt Disney World parks and resorts had to offer will stay with us for a lifetime. We’ll go back, of course. New memories await.

Meanwhile, there might be no better epilogue for our 2013-14 Disney experience than heading to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the Disney on Ice show, Let’s Celebrate! We’ll be there Thursday night for the 7 o’clock performance, the first of seven shows scheduled at the Forum for the Feld Entertainment crew through Sunday.

My family was invited to attend after my fantastic experience as the Tampa Bay Lighting social media captain last month. I’ll be tweeting from the Forum using the hashtags #DisneyOnIce and #LetsCelebrate, so follow along at my Twitter handle, @DadScribe, and on Instagram (instagram.com/dadscribe).

I also want to share a couple of details about the deals available this weekend for families. First, tickets for kids start at $12. And the Forum also has provided a “Me+3″ offer — buy three Disney on Ice tickets and get one for free by clicking this link and entering the pass code (not valid for the performances on Thursday, 7 p.m., or Saturday, 3 p.m.): TMNME3 

And here’s a preview video of the show, which is  of a 32-city U.S. tour covering 11,825 miles. There are 38 performers (14 men, 24 women), and 155 costumes in the production, which features characters from 16 different Disney stories.

Don’t forget to follow along Thursday night as I share our family’s experience at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Crayola

Cinderella Castle in chalk and a sweet Mother’s Day message on the driveway.

The boys spent the past couple of days creating. Crayola sent us a big box full of markers and sidewalk chalk, and we got to work.

It began with two big poster cards that they designed and colored and inscribed themselves on Saturday. We also put our heads together and came up with a design for a huge driveway mural, featuring Cinderella Castle from the Magic Kingdom and a sweet sentiment.

Here are a couple of keepsake memories that made their mom very happy, and that we’ll never forget.

Happy Mother’s Day from our family to yours!

Working hard on the Mother's Day cards.

Working hard on the Mother’s Day cards.

Crayola

All the hard work was worth it, because mom was thrilled!

Swing, Fail, Swing Again

Baseball

Stay focused. Stay relaxed. See the ball, hit the ball. Failure is inevitable. How you respond is up to you, and it can make all the difference.

We played ball out back on a makeshift miniature diamond I mowed into the high, early summer St. Augustine grass. The 8-year-old stepped to the foam-rubber home plate, batting lefty, knees bent just so, arms high but relaxed, head cocked toward the pitcher — me.

I wound up and tossed the ball softly in his direction.

It occurs to me that I was 17 when I became a sportswriter. Nine years older than this boy at the plate. I stepped into that life before my life had really begun, and had no real reason to regret it for two decades. But at the end, when it was over, it could only be classified as a failure.

The boy swung and missed. The swing was handsy, too much upper body, but there was purpose to it and his head and eyes were where they were supposed to be. That’s more than half the battle when you’re learning to hit a baseball. Watch the ball hit the bat. See it, hit it. He retrieved the ball and tossed it back.

How could a career as rewarding as mine be considered a failure? Because it didn’t end on my terms. Where did the fault lie? With me alone? With a newspaper industry in its dying throes? A combination? No matter. When I began that career, I intended for it to end many years from now, many games later, when I was too old to carry my computer bag into the press box. Didn’t happen that way. I failed.

I reminded him to focus on the ball, to keep his arms relaxed, to step toward me, pivot and turn his hips, throw his hands at the ball and explode into the swing. I pitched, he swung — and missed again.

Failure of that sort — mammoth, life-altering, frightening — can derail a man. You think you’re moving along toward a certain destination, surely, confidently. And then … it stops. Even if you sensed it coming, knew failure was inevitable, it stung. Worse, for the first time in your life, you didn’t know what came next.

The ball sailed over the shrub and the external AC unit as he swung and missed a second time. It was a bad pitch, a ball in any league, but at age 8 he still swings at anything and everything. He has not yet developed a discerning eye, a well-defined hitting zone. Every pitch is a promise. Every swing and miss is that promise broken. He dropped the bat and hustled after the ball again.

You didn’t know what came next, but you understood for the first time in your life that nothing was promised. Really understood that fact, not merely the theory. That there were dead ends. 

He found the ball in the high grass and tossed it back. Insects disturbed by the lawn mower began to crowd around us. He swatted at a bug in front of his face and stepped in for one last pitch from dad.

There are dead ends. Failure is inevitable. How you respond to that inevitability determines whether dead ends crack and split and branch off in promising new directions or stay dead ends. You choose your response. You choose to move forward. You choose. That’s what failure does for you, if you let it. If you let it.

This one came in under-handed, an acquiescence to physics and undeveloped, 8-year-old muscles. His eyes grew large as it arced toward the plate.

He stepped. He pivoted. He swung.

The Kids Couldn’t Wait for Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments

Bella, our neighbor’s fourth-grade genius, could hardly wait for Mike Adamick’s “Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments” to arrive. When I told Mike about her enthusiasm for science and learning, he sent an extra review copy of her very own.

When her copy arrived, Bella grabbed it and went to find her friend Hanna. They spent an afternoon digging through the pages of this energetically written companion piece to Mike’s “Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects,” which was published last year. Within a few hours, the girls had experimented with Floating Water (Page 93) and with the Mentos and Coke Rocket (Page 107).

Bella and Hanna soon came over to visit our sons, and we all worked together on perfecting the Straw Balloon Rocket Blasters (Page 89). It was a lot of fun:

Mike’s new book officially publishes on Friday, April 18, and is available now on Amazon.

What I love about this book and his earlier volume is that the main idea is to give kids and parents a chance to do some cool things together that don’t involve sitting around in front of a TV. The 30 experiments in this book are not necessarily easy, but nor are they so challenging that parents and kids working together can’t figure them out. In fact, Mike even encourages you to embrace failure as you go, to find a way to make it work next time, to learn from mistakes.

I love that our neighbors’ daughters and our sons were so excited about learning. And I love that Mike Adamick has given us another awesome book.