Needing me

They will always want more and I am thankful for that.

Tonight I had a bitching session inside my head as my two older children called me from the living room. It was like they were taking turns coming up with mundane requests just to aggravate me as I stood in the kitchen washing dishes after making dessert for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner.

First, they wanted to watch a movie. Fine, I thought. I’ll find something on Netflix and return to my duties, which were, at that time, making a cheesecake for Hollie, those kids, my parents, their kids, probably my uncle … basically everyone except me, because I would likely get stuck at work.

“No, I don’t want to watch that one.”

“But I do.”

“Okay, how about this one?”


“Noooo … “

Drag that dialogue out for 120 seconds and repeat it four times and you get an idea of what the movie selection was like. As usual, I made an executive decision and told them both to deal with it or go to bed. Then I started the movie and stormed out of the room.

That’ll show them.

“Daddy,” I heard 48 seconds later. I returned to the living room.

“Can we have popcorn or ice cream?”

That came from the night before, when we rented a movie from Redbox and I offered to run by the grocery store for treats to eat. I was in a better mood then.

“No,” I said, turning back toward the kitchen, my voice fading away from the little freeloaders as I made my escape. “Just sit down and watch the movie.”

Two seconds later, I hear it again … the adolescent voice of someone who just isn’t satisfied with what they’ve got.


I’d had it. It was a Saturday night. They were already up later than usual with the promise of being up even later because the movie’d just started. I was tired from their infant brother, who’d kept me from a complete sleep cycle for the last four months, getting up at 5:30 that morning for work, helping move furniture the second I got home, helping clean up from dinner, unloading the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, breaking up fights, spraying air freshener, dodging the rain that’s been going on for 40 days and 4,000 nights, hanging up photos, mounting a power strip near the outlet in the kitchen where my daughter charges her phone because she unplugged the crockpot this afternoon while tonight’s dinner was cooking so she could plug in her phone, making this damn cheesecake (it wasn’t a “damn” cheesecake until just now – up until this point, it was a perfectly delightful experience) and unloading the dishwasher again.

And what do these kids do? Want. Want, want, want. Always more. They had a pleasant day – probably one like people have in pleasant places like England or Wales – frolicking about the house, helping their mother with simple tasks (that were likely also pleasant like England or Wales), getting to eat lunch at my workplace with me and now – after all of this bloody pleasantry – were charged with the simple chore of watching a movie. Yet it wasn’t good enough. Not nearly, apparently.

“What?” I said sharply, marching back into the living room like a lunatic. They looked scared. Even the movie seemed to get quiet. “What could you possibly want now?”

That’ll teach ‘em.

“We were just wondering if you were going to watch the movie with us,” one said quietly.

Oh. That’s it?

Of course. Duh, I thought to myself. They just wanted my time.

Once again I was reminded of all of those Facebook posts that make people feel like bad parents because they have to work. I’m working myself to the bone, planning for Christmas, paying bills, buying them what they need and some of what they want, helping around the house when I’m not at work, etc., etc., etc., but now they want my time.

Nope, I thought. Not going to work. Not going to make me feel bad, kids. Because if I don’t finish this cheesecake – the kind your mother really likes and is really expecting because I told her I’d make it and bought the ingredients after taking Jakob to get a haircut earlier – your mother’s going to make me feel like I don’t care about her. Still, it calmed me down.

“I’m sorry. I can’t right now. But let me get this cheesecake in the oven. Just let me do that – give me 15 minutes – and I’ll come in and watch the movie with you.”

And I did.

All of these old people look at us when we’re out eating or bailing one of the kids out of jail and they just smile. Some older folks who work with me will see us all together when they join me for lunch in the cafeteria and later say, “You’re so blessed.”

I am. I know that. I’ve often thought what it would be like without them. What it’d be like to work 60 hours per week without feeling like I’ve let down a 10- or 5- or not-even-1-year-old. How it’d feel to go to bed exhausted and just roll over and fall asleep without telling a woman who loves me so much for all that is wrong and all that is right about me that I’m thankful to have her in my life. What it’d be like to spend the money I made on myself or not have to worry about adequate housing or paying for electricity or car insurance on two vehicles or making a car payment because it’s important we have vehicles that don’t break down and not the piece of $2,000 crap I’d probably drive if it were just me.

I wonder what it’d be like to be able to buy everything but still have nothing.

That’s how it would feel without my family. This struggle? This constant wonder if what I’m doing is enough? This pressure? It’s all worth it. Every bit of it.

Because I am needed – not by a job or a neighbor or a guy trying to buy drugs from me, but by my family. Four people who depend on me to come through. Four people who ask for more but are happy even if they don’t get it because I give enough every day. I am good enough. What I do is good enough.

Old people whose kids are grown and have lost contact must feel some kind of way. I couldn’t imagine not being needed like this. I feel for them.

I guess that’s why they tell me I’m blessed.

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Every night, when I am lucky, I get to smell the gentle scent of baby powder inside my left arm.

When I’m fortunate, the embrace of this sensation does not elude me.

Too often, though, it does.

I tell myself, when I think of it, he is my chance to relive his sister’s time as a baby … and live, for the first time, whatever I missed with her. I look back upon these times in her life at videos and pictures and birthday cards and artwork and wish I could have that moment again, whatever it was – that trying, difficult and beautiful time. I cannot.

When I pray, which is not often as I should, I ask God to remind me I will be wanting to live these beautiful times with him again someday, these beautiful times and moments. I hope remembering this will help me forget about the rest: how tired I am at the end of the day, how badly the house needs cleaned, what football game is on TV. I am no good at this.

I do not deserve him. I do not deserve her, or her or him. I’ve become too concerned with what I think I need to consistently appreciate any of them as they deserve. We all need each other – and that’s all. They all need me as much as I need them. And that is 100 percent.

God has blessed us all with the means for his mother to stay home with him each day. Each morning, I wake up alone, have some coffee and prepare myself for work, waking his brother and sister before nudging his mother to life so she can take them to school. I kiss them goodbye and stand over Kalob’s crib, refraining from touching him in fear of waking him before Momma’s out of bed. It will be nearly 12 hours until I see them all again.

Do I realize this enough? Does it, often as it should, make me cherish the few hours I get with them each day while we’re all awake? Does it make me want to call in sick to work when I am healthy?

No. Rarely. Never. In that order.

Tonight, I will try following my own instructions for the older children in their bedtime prayers and thank God for something instead of making a request. I will thank Him for the baby powder smell in the crook of my arm, where he laid his soft, bald head two hours after his bath and minutes after his nighttime bottle. I will thank God for his tiny laugh. I will thank God for my babies and a woman who loves me …

… in spite of myself.IMG_4511 (2)

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A Father’s Lessons

There are numerous cliché happenings in a boy’s life known to mark his entrance into “manhood.”

Eighteenth birthday. First beer with a parent. First utility bill in his name.

I’m an old man now. I can’t run at the top of my game with five hours of sleep anymore. My back hurts from time to time. I’m aware of the term “invincible” and know I’m not it. Still, I remember experiencing these clichés and thinking, “Wow – I’m a grownup.”

Then I’d do something childish, reminding me I wasn’t quite there yet.

NO, I WAS not a “man” more than a decade ago just because I was older than 18 and moved to another part of the country by myself for college. I wasn’t a man when I graduated or landed my first “real” job or moved into my first apartment without a roommate.

I realized I had become a man the first time Father’s Day rolled around and I was receiving gifts. That is when it hit me.

See, when you don’t have children, Father’s Day is exclusively about recognizing the men in your life who are father figures to you. You still have to do that after you have children, but it becomes a little different once you find yourself also on the receiving end of the deal. That’s when you know you’ve become a man.

Facebook is rampant with posts concerning racism, the Confederate Flag and references to shootings at a black church by a white man who hated them because they were black. One such post caught my eye today, Father’s Day. It had a photo of a baby with words to the effect of “babies are born without hate and bigotry; it’s our job to make sure they stay that way.”

One difference between a boy and a man is responsibility. Men have the responsibility of raising boys and girls in a manner that teaches them love and hate – a deed accomplished solely through actions, not words. The boys and girls, on Father’s Day, are expected to acknowledge their fathers’ efforts. That is why Father’s Day reminds me every year of my responsibility as a dad: I have tiny, developing brains attached to eyes that are watching me constantly, learning from how I lead far more than they’ll every learn from my verbal instructions.

Anyone can pay a bill. Anyone can have a good job, fancy house, flashy car or be known in the community as “respectable.” But not everyone can be a father. That’s the most difficult job of all, for it requires you to be “on the clock” 100 percent of the time. The pay, however, makes it worth the challenge.

I MIGHT BE GETTING too old for my own good, but today was the best Father’s Day I’ve ever had. My Kalista is definitely growing up and I look back on days when it was only the two of us in a small cottage between cotton fields in North Carolina with happiness, but I do not wish to return. Now I have my parents and sister’s three children in the same town. Now I have my Kalob, who makes me return to my home each night with the scent of baby lotion on my hands. Now I have a woman who makes me believe everything will be all right, no matter how it ends up.

Every one of them makes me delighted to be a dad.

When I was in college, my father got hung up on this idea for a mountain bike trip to Yellowstone, for which we’d live like savages and ditch anything electronic. I remember him setting a year. I remember him going over finances, stating it would be a few years after I graduated and started working, so I would be able to swing something like that. He presented it to me like it was a dying wish.

“You still want to do that?” I asked him a few years ago.

He just laughed. When the plan was discussed, I had no children. He wasn’t raising my sister’s three children. Financially, we could afford it today, but neither of us has the time to skip town for a month just to live out a Henry David Thoreau essay.

And he was okay with that.

I’ll admit, I was kind of shocked. It’s always seemed like my dad’s never getting the things he wants because he’s always making sacrifices for his family: jobs, cars, vacation destinations. Why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to finally do something outlandish he wanted to do? This bothered me for months.

In the time since, I’ve come to discover my answer. His family is his destination. He knows the reward is not in what we do, but with whom we do it. Happiness is only real when shared.

While I could be a little offended he turned down quality one-on-one time with his son, what might also be happening here is the teaching that never stops when you’re a parent: as a father, my children expect me to be there for them 100 percent of the time. Voluntarily dropping off the grid for a month would be terribly disappointing to those who count on me, well, 100 percent of the time. I should know better – and that’s probably why he laughed when I asked if he still wanted to go.

I am so thankful for the man whose actions I mimic 99 percent of the time.

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Dividing love

“I will never have enough love to go around.”

That is what I once thought.

In general, I’m a pretty doleful person. I’m fine with that. I look forward to three things: watching my Buffalo Bills play, an undisturbed day of yard work and any kind of project in the garage, such as restoring an old piece of furniture or refinishing an old bicycle. I also enjoy waxing floors.

When my daughter came into my life, I was shocked at the amount of love I had for her. It seemed to come from a deep pocket of my soul I didn’t know existed. I’d loved things before, but not the I-would-do-anything-for-this-person kind of love. That was new.

As years rolled by, though, and sporadic, short-lived romances came and went, I began to wonder if the sincere love I had for my daughter was all I had to offer this world. I don’t like to be bothered when I’m doing my stuff. If I’m in the garage or yard or watching a football game that had anything to do with the Bills, leave me alone unless the house is on fire and no one at 911 is answering. Only Kalista, it seemed, was the recipient of so much of my love that she was allowed to interrupt me. Would there ever be another person more deserving of my attention than football or my yard … perhaps a wife or another child? I’ve had my doubts.

Then there’s this fear that’s kept me awake before: What if I do love someone else and the love I have for Kalista must be divided?

On the surface to a guy who’s never had much use for math, dividing love means there’s less of it to go around for the original recipient(s). One divided by two, for instance, is a half. If I love someone else, I worried, Kalista and another would get half of what I originally felt for Kalista. Dividing my capacity to love by three was unthinkable.

Then came Kalob – my drooling, chubby, bald-headed son who’s always smiling and had his four-month birthday last week. As it’s always been with Kalista, time stops for me when he looks my way and gives a full-faced smile followed by a bashful laugh at the times I least expect it. His whole world revolves around a bottle every four hours, his mother and – I’d like to think – me. My whole world revolves around him. As it was when I first held Kalista, I’m almost shocked I can love something so much. As it was with Kalista, I find myself not thinking about how I’m supposed to parent or what I’m supposed to do or how I can make him happy, but just how great is that particular moment. Time is standing still when I hold him in my arms, but it’s doing it quickly.

Meanwhile, earlier this week I watched Kalista get called up on stage at her school’s end-of-year awards ceremony and receive six noteworthy certificates commemorating strong academic performances in a variety of subjects; her haul was noticeably larger than many other students’. Last week, she was notified she’d been selected for next year’s gifted and talented program. No, she doesn’t do much in terms of extracurricular activities and has won me zero friendships with the “who’s who” of our town, but I’ve only ever heard good things about her demeanor and character and have never received reports of her being unkind to other students. That’s what really matters, as far as I’m concerned.

Consequently, seeing her recognized for these things amid a year of transition and occasional chaos nearly brought me to tears. I realized I hadn’t always been there to help with homework and have wondered if I made the right choice putting the responsibility of keeping track of her own class assignments on her by intentionally NOT being the parent who hen-pecks her teacher every three days wanting to know what’s been assigned, what’s due soon and who she’s getting along with in the classroom. I gave her plenty of rope to hang herself this year, yet she’s not only still alive, she’s actually flourished. I was so proud of her this day.

Part of me, however, still pictured her on the very same stage four years ago dressed up as a cat for her role in the kindergarteners’ skit. Part of me still saw her with mostly baby hair. Part of me still felt for her exactly the way I feel for my new little boy.

Now I realize how it’s possible for a parent to love his or her children EXACTLY the same amount. My parents weren’t lying to me about that when I was a kid. I didn’t lose love for one child when another was born – I duplicated the love I had. I get sad every time I come across an outfit Kalob has outgrown the same way it hurt to hear Kalista say she wants her room re-painted so it isn’t so “babyish.” His crooked smile is as precious to me as her symmetrical grin. I know I’ll always remember his helpless, thankful look of relief at 3 a.m. in the dim light of the living room as he takes those first drinks of his bottle. I know someday he, too, will walk across some stage at school and I’ll get all teary-eyed and choked up revisiting the memories of what’s happening right now, just as I do with Kalista.

It seems my love was not divided with the birth of my second child – it multiplied.

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Caution to the wind

An old friend recently asked in a Facebook post the best way to free nut from a bolt in a tight spot. I’d been there and thought about offering some insight, but wanted to read in the comments if he’d found a solution already before typing up an answer on my phone, which is always a painful ordeal for me.

Low and behold, the nut he was trying to free was one of two holding down a kitchen sink faucet he was trying to replace. Remember “empathy?” I felt that because I’d literally experienced the same set of frustrating, muscle-pulling, beer-requiring circumstances about a month earlier.

In fact, the photo of the nuisance he posted looked almost identical to the one I sent my dad of my sink’s underside when trying to free the rusted nut.

YOU SHOULD KNOW now I am better at diagnosing problems around the house than I am at fixing them. I don’t even try to hide it. There is no type of home repair when this is truer for me than plumbing. Once, I noticed water around the base of the toilet. I knew – who knows how – there was a wax ring under the toilet that seals the job and if that fragile contraption gets moved even slightly, it would cause a leak. All that needs to be done to repair this is to unhook the bolts at the base of the toilet, lift the toilet off, replace the $10 wax ring and put the toilet and nuts and bolts back into place.

Easy, right?

Not for me. I took a long look at the stuff and decided to distribute two tubes of silicon seal around the toilet. Sure, it stopped the water from coming up onto the bathroom floor, but God knows what it’s doing under the floor.

BUT I KEPT HEARING my aunt’s words when I mentioned replacing my kitchen faucet: “Yeah, I think that’s pretty easy. (Her daughter) does it all of the time.”

Well, damn. If she can do it, I can too. And I was on a roll that day, under the kitchen sink. I’d successfully turned off the water and removed the first nut on one bolt. It was just that second one that seemed to be caked in rust that held like it had been welded there.

The trouble was the angle. There was the entire depth of the sink keeping out my ratchet attached to the socket trying to free the nut. I used an extension that made the task seem possible, but that sacrificed torque.

“I have a reciprocal saw. Can you get that up in there? You could just cut the bolt.”

That was my dad’s offering when I called to explain the predicament. The saw he was talking about is for cutting holes in a wall. It’s like a small chain saw. Clearly, that would be no help. Clearly, I was on my own.

I ENDED UP using nearly an entire can of PB Blaster (or whatever it’s called) over the course of two hours and three beers between attempts, escapes from the nasty under-the-sink area and trips to the bathroom to rinse the crud out of my eyes that had fallen from the rusted bolt when I tried to free the nut. I was afraid to crank too hard on the ratchet, as water valves of some kind were near my hand and I didn’t want to punch one apart once the nut came free.

It was not, though, until I became angry, had thoughts of replacing the entire sink and throwing the old one out into the yard so I could piss on the bolt that I got the job done. I decided I’d take a chance and crank with all of my might. Once I did, the nut came free, pulling several muscles in my shoulder and back and waking up the next day with a sore neck from straining so hard.

But I replaced the damn kitchen sink faucet. That’s what mattered.

CERTAIN PARALLELS TO life can be drawn from this saga. For one, how many times do we avoid solving problems even though we know how to solve them simply because we’re afraid of failing or making things worse? Furthermore, how often do we find taking a chance is the only way to reach our goals?

I need to do a better job remembering this. I know I’m not the only one who does. The safe solution to the kitchen sink would have been to pay a plumber $50 to install it, which I could have done. But where’s the manliness in that? My cousin, who isn’t a plumber, can replace a kitchen sink faucet – so should I. What kind of man pays someone to install a kitchen faucet? Would I admire my work and shine up that new faucet almost daily had I not been the one to make it happen? Not a chance.

It is only when we look a dilemma in the eye, grab onto it, squeeze and crank with all of our might en route to success that we can say we’ve done something. Enlisting another to assist with the matter is one thing – I believe asking for help is a lost art – but having him or her actually take over is something else … something entirely wrong.

Life is full of dripping faucets. The best way to handle them is through one’s own determination, persistence and perseverance.

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Hunting for something

Where would we be without colors and coffee and wind on a winter day?

I know these are essential to my life.

I AM NOT a very good hunter by traditional standards. I’ll be the first one to say so. I’m out there all of the time, during the seasons I prefer – but it’s rare that I kill a deer or a turkey or more than a few doves.

But, man, I love to do it.

It’s not that I can’t be a hunter like my relatives, co-workers, friends on Facebook or the guys who boast their prowess with stickers on their trucks. If I set my mind to it, I’d come home with a decent bounty practically every time I went to the woods or field. Believe me – I’ve been there.

I get sidetracked. That’s the problem with me. Just today, in fact, I loaded the dog, my Thermos of coffee and pouch of shotgun shells into the Jeep and drove to the dove field, where I hoped to commemorate the last few days of the winter dove season with a half dozen birds. It hasn’t been the best year for doves; even the fall, when they’re typically flying everywhere, yielded far less than past years.

However, as I sat on a log beneath a tree, sun shining, dog laying at my feet and steam photocoming up from the Thermos top that doubles as a coffee cup, I couldn’t help but think how little I cared about shooting a bird. In fact, at one point I began to see birds flying in and out of a break in the pines a few hundred yards away – the typical dove hunter’s cue to move there – but I chose to do nothing except watch.

It was 40 degrees. The wind was whipping across what remained of the grass in the field. I was pretty cozy – enjoying the setting and my coffee. That, I believe, is why I went to the field on such a blustery winter day.

I’VE HAD TURKEY hunts that went the same way. It was a bad year for those hunting these birds as well; a warm February moved the mating season up a month, so the jakes had found their hens weeks before hunters took to the woods trying to mimic the female birds. Many hunters gave up on this season long before it ended, stating in gas station eateries and fast food joints where they’d meet for lunch they couldn’t get any responses to their calls in the woods.

I, on the other hand, didn’t miss a day I could be in the woods, scraping the slate call and making all kinds of different sounds with the box call. The jakes were pretty picky; I only had a few responses and only had two I could say I called in, but I was quite fine with that. Turkeys are the woods’ keenest animals … my “conversations” with them were the thrill I sought. I don’t think I really cared about shooting any of them.

THERE IS SOMETHING to be said about color. I think it’s something everyone takes for granted. One of the things that makes turkeys so challenging is they can see color. People can, too, which is one of the distractions I have in the woods. These are places made by God, not man. I feel like I’m part of his paint pallet when I’m surrounded by the woods. It is not the colors alone we see, but the contrast, as a moist green grass made vibrant by the sun seems blatant when pressed against a dismal brown.

Wind on a cold day in winter is God’s voice. This is a being that comes from “nowhere;” wind just kind of shows up to the party. It moves things – big things – but has no power source. Wind also triggers sentimentalism and appreciation for solitude and warmth. Wind makes a man think; wind makes a man yearn for his warm vehicle and home. Wind can tear these things down, too, but it is God’s grace when it does not. Wind reminds me of my family’s dog that accompanied me on long walks in the snow to an out-of-service bridge near my childhood home.

Every sound echoes in the woods and carries across a field. Sticks crunch when you step on them. I do not notice this at my home in town. When I piss in the woods, it sounds like a bucket of water being dumped on the forest floor; it resembles something pitiful when I do it in an obscure corner of my yard. I can even hear my dog breathing in the woods. My heart beats loudly. Everything that doesn’t live there makes so much noise.

photo2Or perhaps it’s just that I take the time to notice color and sound and the hand of God when I am with nature. Maybe that’s why I could enter the woods unarmed and go home with the same pleasure I feel when I’ve harvested an animal.

There is no “maybe” or “perhaps” about it. I know myself well enough by now to see it is not the thrill of the hunt that takes me to the woods. It is the woods itself.

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Growing a woman

“I hate how my ears stick out.”


“My ears. They are so big and stick out so far.”

I WATCHED AS my daughter, a beautiful 9-year-old girl with almond eyes and a button nose, tried to hide her ears with her long, silky brown hair.

I knew the new concern had come from a light-hearted comment by her older cousin that day, who merely stated Kalista had big ears. But I’ve seen this day coming for a while now. She’s getting more and more concerned about her appearance – something I can tell by her comparisons to classmates and gazes at music videos and magazines at the grocery store checkout.

I am terribly ill-equipped.

I’VE TOLD HER she’s beautiful since the first time I saw her. Not every day, but every day – I know for sure – I’ve paid her at least one compliment on the way she looks or does something. Telling her she’s beautiful while she looked at her ears in the mirror with disgust would have been ineffective. She’s told me before I’ll always say she’s beautiful because I’m her dad and I’m supposed to do it.

I have an awful fear Kalista’s going to grow up hating herself. I can handle her not having self-confidence, as that is something that often comes later in life and, to be honest, one can survive without a shred of it. But thinking she’ll actually dislike herself is a different story.

That keeps me awake at night.

IT FEELS TOO late in her life to insert a fabulous woman as a mother figure who’ll transmit confidence, style and grace that makes a pretty woman beautiful. She should have had that a few years ago; that ship has sailed. Besides, I’ve tried dating women before purely hoping to find my daughter a mother and it’s always ended dreadfully, as they end up a nuisance to me.

So it’s just me. Only me, left here to suffer the consequences of teaching her to think like I man. Inserting my grownup, masculine way of handing matters that seem frivolous to me, such as the size of one’s ears. A woman would have taught her all along to do something different, I presume … work with what she’s got, I guess. I, on the other hand, would laugh off these “predicaments” and tell her it’s what’s inside that counts.

Yeah. That’s effective advice for a 9-year-old being ridiculed by the alpha female in her class. I can see her winning tons of friends and influencing all kinds of people with the ol’ “it’s what’s inside that counts” spiel.

I’m so much like my dad.

IS THIS THE beginning of something worse? I see only streaks of her being outgoing and bubbly at school. Most of her time, from my observations, is spent with herself and a book or a piece of paper and drawing instruments. She shows little to no interest in group activities or socializing. Her circle of friends seems but the size of a pin – and it hasn’t changed over the years.

Yet she clings to every style, phrase and activity of her older cousin. She follows and copies, and I place the blame squarely on myself. Perhaps my emphasis on rules and respect and my attempt at creating a structured household has brow-beaten her into a dangerous trend of submission that will last a lifetime. Maybe it would have been different with a sibling to lead or a mother to shadow. Perhaps I have not been as successful at this as I thought I’d be in court eight years ago.

THIS IS WHY people have God in their lives. I have no answers myself. My mother (may she forgive me for writing this) is too much of a grandmother to offer wisdom that is effective. My dad? Oh no. He’d be deeper in this than I.

So this is going to be God. All God. Kalista sometimes needs reminded He is with her always and made her to be her – big ears and all. But she has faith when triggered. She goes to church, recites the lessons and applies them to her life. Someone’s just got to remind her at times.

And that is something I can do.

“Kalista,” I told her in the car a few days after the ear incident, “someday all of these things you’re worrying about now with your ears and your hair and your clothes and your friends aren’t going to matter to you at all.”

I looked over at her as she stared back at me.

“I’m serious. I cannot believe the things I started worrying about when I was your age and kept worrying about all through high school, really. But one day, I noticed that none of these things really make a difference in your life. What matters is how you treat people and the person you are to the world.”

An impish focus came over her face.

“When did you start to think that?” she said.

I smiled. So glad she asked.

“The day I met you.”

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