Celebrating Father’s Day when You’ve Lost a Child or Father

Recently I did a webinar with the Open to Hope foundation about celebrating Father's Day when you've lost a child or father. You can watch the webinar below below.

About the webinar: Father’s Day honors fathers and celebrates fatherhood. Yet for fathers who have lost a child or father, the day can be difficult or painful. Join author Abel Keogh, Dr. Heidi Horsley and Dr. Gloria Horsley who will discuss how you can manage this holiday. If you are a father who has lost a child or someone who has lost their father, this webinar is a perfect way to start the journey toward hope and healing.

Spring Soccer in Utah


Five years and one job ago I worked with someone whose wife coached soccer. While he was supportive of his wife, every spring he would comment that he hated the spring soccer season because it was always cold and/or rainy and/or windy. At the time, I didn't think much about what he said. Our boys were two young to play organized sports and I was leaning more toward putting them in other sports.

Years have passed. The older boys have gravitated toward basketball and football. Our oldest daughter prefers gymnastics and tumbling. The five year old watches with insane jealously every time they go to practice or compete at their games. Last fall we put in him soccer because that's the only sport they allow pre-kindergarten students to play. He loved it and enjoyed every moment of it. All winter he talked about wanting to play it again. February rolled around and so it was time for spring soccer signups. While I was in the process of registering him, the thought flashed through my mind what my co-worker said about the weather. I looked at the calendar and realized games didn't start until April and figured the weather wouldn't be much of an issue.

April rolled around and the season started. All the practices have been ice cold. All the games have been rainy or windy. My five year old has had a blast but it's been less than enjoyable for me and the other parents to watch the games and practices in such conditions. Last Saturday was his only bye week. That day it was 80 degrees and sunny. The forecast for his game tomorrow is 58 degrees with a 60% chance of rain.

The gods look down and laugh.

The Third Grade Email Dilemma

Last week our oldest child came home from school and proudly announced that he had a Gmail account and wanted to email his friend. This announcement took me and Marathon Girl by surprise. Email? In third grade? I assumed this day would come but I thought it would be something I’d be dealing with in toward the end of elementary school—not at the close of third grade.

Curious to see what was going on, I logged into my laptop and the next thing I know he’s typing in a username and password and there’s an inbox full of email messages from him and his friends have sent over the last couple of days. Then he proceeded to show me that he could email any student in the school district. He typed in the name of a girl who lived next door to us before we moved. Her name came on the screen and he typed her a quick message and clicked Send.

“I don’t know how I feel about you having a Gmail account,” I said.

“It’s not a regular Gmail, dad,” he replied. “It’s a school account that works with Gmail. It’s totally safe. The block out the bad stuff.”

Turns out the kid was right—well mostly right, anyway. After doing a little research I learned that the school district, starting in the third grade, gives kids in their own district email account that is run through Gmail. And apparently they do have decent safety standards because I tried to sending him test emails from work and other email accounts and all were bounced back as being undeliverable. Still, nothing is ever 100% secure in the online world. I work for a company sells computer security software to businesses. It’s a great product but I’m also well aware of the limitations that such products have.

So we’re letting him use email—for now. We really don’t want to discourage him (or any of our other kids) from learning computer technology or using email—especially where our oldest has such a gift for learning anything related to computers, smartphones, and tablets. The challenge is to find the balance between letting him learn and keeping him safe from all the online garbage out there. We have basic computer rules at home (Mom and Dad have access to everything they do online, the computer is a public space, no interactions with strangers, etc.) but now we’re going to have to incorporate some email rules too.

My only real complaint about the email incident has to do with the school district. It would have been nice to be notified that our kid would be getting an email address before he got one so we could have talked about email safety and rules ahead of the game.

Even though I’m a technical person, I always figured keeping up with my kids and new technology would be a challenge. Thankfully, I got an early reminder that it’s time to up my game.

Not the World's Greatest Dad

It’s time I return that World’s Greatest Dad Award.

Yeah, I know, that award is bestowed upon almost every dad on Father’s Day usually in the form of a coffee mug or T-shirt. And for the most part every dad who gets one of those deserves it.

Usually, I do enough to earn it—at least in the eyes of my kids.

But I’m returning my latest award it because I don’t deserve it.

Not by a long shot.

For those who have never received the World’s Greatest Dad Award, you really need to do two things to be worth of it.

First, you need to father offspring. That’s the easy part.

Then you need to do, at the very least, basic dad stuff like throwing a football with your kid, teaching them how to ride a bike, and going camping with them.

Pulling your six-year-old son’s loose tooth. Yeah, that World’s Greatest Dad stuff.

Screwing up the tooth fairy end of things?

Well, that’s why I’m returning the award.

Yesterday I pulled a lose tooth for my six-year-old son right before bedtime. As I tucked him in, he went to bed rubbing that empty spot in his mouth with his tongue, excited that the tooth fairy would be leaving some money under his pillow. I make a mental note to return in a couple hours and make sure the tooth fairy showed up.

Then, well, I kind of forgot to check.

I didn’t realize my mistake until the next morning. I was finishing up a run on the treadmill when the kid walks into the room with a concerned look on his face.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” he says dejectedly.

I just about fall off the treadmill.

Before I can say anything he adds, “Maybe it was because of the storm last night. Maybe she couldn’t get here because of the rain and the wind.”

“I think you’re right,” I say between breaths. “She’ll probably come after breakfast.”

I end my run a few minute later and head upstairs to get breakfast ready for the kids. Marathon Girl comes down and in a low voice I tell her that the tooth fairy didn’t come last night.

Marathon Girl gives me the look. Yeah, you know what look I’m talking about. That look. The Fix-it-or -Else look.

I tell her not to worry and I’ll take care of everything. I’m not the World’s Greatest Dad for nothing.

So while the kids are eating I head downstairs and discover that the tooth fairy has indeed left some money and the tooth is gone. In fact it looks like the tooth fairy has slipped in an extra dollar because she was late and caused a six-year-old boy to needlessly worry.

Feeling like I dodged a bullet I head up to our room to shower knowing that by the time I’m done I’ll hear an story about the tooth fairy coming during breakfast.

Only it didn’t quite work out way.

As expected, there the six year old had found that the tooth fairly had arrived and left a little more money than usual. Excitement abounded.

The World’s Greatest Dad knows how to make things right.

Then my son paused and asks, “Why did the tooth fairy leave me a receipt?”

“What receipt?” I say.

“A receipt from a restaurant,” he says. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a long, white piece of paper. “It was stuck between my two dollars.”

I’m speechless.

I turn to Marathon Girl for help. She gives me the You-Really-Screwed-Up Look--the one all husbands get at least twice a year from their wives. It’s followed by the Fix-it-or -Else look that I got a few minutes earlier.

In other words, she’s not going to help me. I’ve got to solve this on my own.

“Oh, she probably stopped and got some breakfast this morning on her way here,” I say as I take the receipt from his fingers and set it on the counter. “But hey, you got an extra dollar. And that’s really cool.”

The Art of Distraction is something the World’s Greatest Dad knows well. It usually works wonders on kids this age.

Not this time.

“I don’t understand why she would leave a receipt,” he says truly mystified.

“Well, maybe it was so you’d know why she was late.”

“Maybe,” he says, but I can tell deep down he’s not buying it.

I hurry and get them ready for school. He doesn’t say anything on the drive over but I can tell the wheels in his head are spinning. He likes to solve problems. That’s the kind of kid he is.

By lunch he'll probably put two and two together and figure it all out.

Meanwhile, I'll take the World’s Greatest Dad trophy down from my shelf. Maybe I’ll put it up next year if I can do enough to earn it back.

And, yes, I still plan on pulling all of my kids teeth when they get really loose but I’m leaving the rest of it to Marathon Girl.

They don’t call her the World’s Greatest Mom for nothing.


Two Inches of Snow

Apparently I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. This realization smacked me full in the face two weeks ago when the kids woke up and found two inches of fresh, white snow covering everything.

Normally two inches of snow isn’t something to get excited about—at least not in northern Utah. Yes, we have the greatest snow on earth but it’s usually we more that I want to deal with. But this winter snow storms have been few and far between and these two inches of snow was the biggest storm to date.

Being an adult, no snow is good news. No, wait, it’s great news. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll die in some horrific accident caused by snow packed roads on the way to or from work. And it makes running outside in the winter more enjoyable and inviting. I have no complaints about the mild winter.

But for kids, no snow is one of the worst things that can happen. Without snow there are no snowball fights to be had, snowmen to create, or sledding to be done. In short, winter becomes cold, dark, and pointless.

Thankfully my kids haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. They saw those two inches of snow and went crazy. They practically had their hats and coats on as they ran into our bedroom.

Kids: It snowed! Can we go sledding?

Me: [Getting out of bed and looking out the window] Looks like only two inches on the ground. Probably not enough for sledding

Kids: We can sled on two inches of snow!

Me: [Looking out the window again] But I can see spots of grass on hill.

Kids: But we haven’t gone sledding all year!

Me: That’s because there hasn’t been any snow this year.

Kids: Please!

Marathon Girl: Dad will take you all outside as soon as he gets his coat on. He needs to shovel the walk, anyway.

Me: [gives Marathon Girl the “Whose Side Are You On?” look]

Marathon Girl: [gives me the “What Are You Complaining About? This is the First Real Snowfall of the Year. Go Outside and Shovel.” look]

Me: Okay. Okay. Let me get read and you can start sledding.

Kids: Yay!!!!!

Fifteen minutes later I’m outside shoveling and the kids are running up the hill across the street, dragging their sleds behind them. I stopped shoveling long enough to watch them make the first few runs. Much to my surprise the two inches of snow seems to be just enough for sledding. The kids are screaming with delight each time they race down the hill.

I finish shoveling and head to the park to watch. Soon my kids are joined by other kids on our street and there’s a steady stream of sleds going up and down the hill. By the time they finish two hours later, there’s not a shred of snow left on the hill.

I take them inside to warm them up, dry them off, and give them some hot chocolate. Their clothes are soaked and they’re shivering with cold but have the biggest smiles on their faces I’ve ever seen. As they sip their hot chocolate they share sledding stories and how much fun the morning was.

Hopefully next time it snows, I won’t forget what it’s like to be a kid.

Kids 1984 vs. Kids 2011

1984 During the winter months the first thing I’d do after waking up is head straight to the living room where I’d send next a heater vent. There I’d sit there until the furnace clicks off and my legs and toes were toasty warm. Once the heater clicked off I’d hurry off to my bedroom where I’d get dressed and get ready for the day.


When it turns cold, the first thing my kids do after they wake up is tiptoe downstairs and lie on the heater vent near the foot of Mom and Dad’s bed. They share the vent until the furnace clicks off and which point they race to the table for breakfast then, after eating, hurry off and get ready for the day.

College Football = Family Time

As a kid my dad took me and my brother to Utah State football games. Some of my fondest memories as a 5-year-old were sitting about as high as one can sit in Romney Stadium watching the action on the field.

We moved soon after that and though I watched a lot of football with my dad, we didn’t attend any Utah State games for another 10 years or so. The only reason we went back was because Utah State offered family passes to their football games. Since they were cheap, I was able to talk my dad into getting one. I think the family only attended the first game. I believe my dad and I were the only ones that used the pass after that. Most of the time we watched the Aggies get their butts kicked by unheralded college teams like Pacific and Cal State Fullerton but we had a good time anyway. It was football, after all. It was hard not to have a good time.

Looking back, I realize the games we went to as a kid and a teenager were fun not because of the football but because I got to hang out with my dad. Now that I have young kids of my own who like watching games the occasional game on TV and playing football in the yard with me, I thought it would be fun to take them to some college games. The problem was finding a close and fun place to take them.

The popular college football tickets in this state are to Utah and BYU games. Having attended games in both stadiums I know from firsthand experience that neither are places I want to take young kids. The passion and intensity that can be found in both places is great if you’re in college or an adult who has his or her identity wrapped up in a football team, but there not so good if you’re a dad trying to spend a fun Saturday afternoon with the kids. (Utah State games aren’t much better.)

Last year I got word that my alma mater, Weber State, was offering family passes for its home football games. I bought one on a whim even though I wasn’t sure if my kids were going to enjoy it. At the very least I figured it would give me an excuse to go to a couple of games—even if I ended up going with just one or two of the kids. Besides, I figured the kids would have a good time since Weber State games are about as family friendly as a football game can get. On a good day the stadium is half full. That means if your kids get bored about halfway through the game, there’s plenty of empty bleachers to play on and tons of other bored kids to befriend. And the fans that do show up for games never have high expectations. If Weber State wins, everyone goes home happy and somewhat pleasantly surprised. If they lose, everyone shrugs their shoulders and goes home happy. It’s kind of the way sporting events should be.

Much to my delight, the kids loved going to the games. Granted they seemed to enjoy the kettle corn and root beer I bought them just as much, if not more, than the action on the field but the loading up the van on Saturday afternoons and making the 90 minute drive to Ogden become something they really looked forward to.

This year renewing the family pass was a no-brainer. The tickets arrived in the mail yesterday and the kids were thrilled when I showed them what was in the envelope. We marked the games on the calendar and the kids went to bed tonight chattering about kettle corn and upcoming football games. And to be honest, I’m just as excited about it as they are.

When they look back at these days I hope they realize the reason I take them to football games isn’t because of the action on the grid iron. It’s because I enjoy spending lots of uninterrupted time with them. Football games just happen to be a fun way to do just that.

Pause: A Generation Gap

A while back I was playing Monster with my kids (read: chasing them around the house) when one of my boys turned around and held his hand straight up, palms facing each other and yelled “Pause!”

“Pause?” I said. I’d never had any of my kids pause a game of Monster before.

“You know, like the Wii games,” my kid said. “You pause them when you need a break.” Then he held up his hands again and I realized he was making the pause symbol with them.

I nodded and went off chasing the other kids all the while wondering when Pause became a phrase kids used to stop real world games. Back when I was kid—one who grew up with video games—you called Time Out. Since then I’ve noticed that all kids (at least the ones who play with my kids) all of them use the word “Pause” instead of “Time Out” or some other phrase when playing real world games.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining. I just find it fascinating how games my kids and other play in the virtual world influence the way they play games in the physical one. So far I haven’t seen them use the world “play” when they start up again after taking a break, but have noticed that they sometimes they turn their Wii games into games they mimic in the real world. That's Something I never did either. Back in my day video games on the Atari 2600 or other consoles weren't as interesting, in-depth, or fun as they are today. In the meantime I’m keeping my eyes open for more signs that the virtual world is bleeding over to the real one.

How to Play Real Football

This fall I’ve taken my kids to three college football games. One of the unintended consequences of this activity is that they think I don’t know a darn thing about how to play the game.

Take Saturday, for example. I take the kids to the park so we can play football. I divide everyone up into teams and hand the ball to my oldest kid. He gives me a quizzical look and hands the ball back to me.

“We can’t play yet,” he says.

“Why not?” I reply.

“Because we haven’t run out of the tunnel yet,” he says matter-of-factly.

Now it’s my turn to give him a quizzical look. “What are you talking about?”

“Before the game starts the players run out of the tunnel and you say what team you’re playing for.”

Now I get it. At the games I’ve taken them to, the teams run out of tunnels on the other side of the field. He wants to do the same thing.

“OK,” I say, “run out of the tunnel.

He and his brother run around the park and yell “Denver Broncos!” at the top of their lungs. They run back to me and I hand the ball to him.

“Hike the ball,” I said.

“We can’t Dad,” he said. “You haven’t run out of the tunnel yet.”

“I don’t need to—“

“All the teams run out of the tunnel,” he says. “Oh, and you’re the Indianapolis Colts.”

The Colts? I don’t want to be the Colts. I open my mouth to object but realize it could be worse. He could have asked me to be the Oakland Raiders.

So me and my daughter run around the field and let the world know we’re the Colts. When I get back to the ling of scrimmage the oldest hands me the ball.

“You start,” I tell him.

“No, Dad. You need to kick the ball to us.”


“They kick the ball off to start the game,” he says as tosses me the ball.

The kickoff. How could I forget that?

I walk back to the goal line. My boys back up. I kick the ball over their heads. Laughing, they both run after it.  My oldest picks up the ball and I wrestle him to the ground. He jumps up and gets ready to hike the ball to his brother.

“We’re going to get a touchdown!” he says before hiking the ball.

Let the game begin.

Family Runs II

Family Runs

Now that the weather’s finally warmed up, Marathon Girl and I have taking the kids on weekly family runs again. In the back of my mind I worry that the kids will tire of them but every week they still enjoy hopping on their bikes or climbing in the stroller for a three or four mile run with Mom and Dad. The oldest two enjoy them so much that they’ve now ride alongside me during my morning—so long as they’re awake and ready to go when I’m heading out the door.

Most mornings, just as I’m finishing my weight routine I hear them running down the stairs to see if I’ve left without them. When they see that I’m home, they let out excited cries of joy, put on their shoes, and head out to the garage to get their bikes.

It’s been a nice having the two boys on their bikes with me as I run. Having them with me helps me focus my thoughts on the family instead of work or other stress inducing subjects. It's been fun to watch their endurance increase with each passing day. A four mile bike rid is no longer a problem for them.

We don’t talk much during our runs but from the big smiles on their faces as we count off the miles, I can tell they’re having a good time riding their bikes in the cool morning air with dad.

I hope they can tell Dad enjoys them too.

Family Workouts

Family Treadmill Runs

When it comes to my kids’ bad behavior, I often see them mimicking my own shortcomings. I grimace every time my 4-year-old son get frustrated when something doesn’t go as planned because it’s something he learned from watching Dad. It’s a reminder to me that I need to do better (I’m trying!) and how much my actions (instead of my words) influence them.

Thankfully the kids learn from my (and Marathon Girl’s) good behavior too. One thing they’re really into is exercising. For them exercising usually involves running around outside with their friends. But with the cold spring, playing outside hasn’t happened as often as they like. So on days when it’s too cold to play outside, they run on the treadmill—just like Mom and Dad.

They know how to turn it on, select a speed, and run. I get a kick out of watching them run at full speed for a minute or two, slow down to walking speed until they catch their breath, and then start running again. And while one runs, the other kids explore my weights, pick up the lightest dumbbells, and start mimicking curls or strength training exercises they’ve seen me do.

When they started running this winter, I thought it was because the treadmill was new and that they’d tire of it after a week or two. But they’re still at it, almost every day, enjoying running on the treadmill. Today my oldest used it while I worked my triceps and chest. It made my workout extra fun to work out with him. It was a nice bonding experience.

I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. I’d love to keep working out with him and all of my children now and as they get older.

I look forward to the day that they can run faster or bench press more than their old man.

Story Time

Story Time

Back in January I started reading Harry Potter to the oldest three every night. I wasn’t sure if it was something they’d enjoy. I didn’t know if they were old enough to understand what was going on or if a story about a young wizard would even hold their attention.

It’s worked out better than I expected. The two oldest boys understand the plot in the characters. Sometimes I have to explain words or things in the book they’re unfamiliar with but they usually lie in rapt attention as I read. Our lone girl is a bit too young, but looks forward to story time anyway because she can snuggle next to Mom or Dad. I’ve also learned that 10-12 pages a night is all the kids and my voice can handle and that explaining magical creatures and flying cars garners the most amazing, imaginative thoughts from my kids.

Having never read the Harry Potter books until now, I can see why they were so popular. They’re very imaginative and well written. Two thumbs up to JK Rowling.

I’m glad my kids are enjoying story time because whether I’m telling them something I made up or reading from Harry Potter, it’s one of my favorite times of the day

Real vs. Virtual Talent

Time Management

The best Christmas present I ever received was an Atari 2600. Unwrapping it on Christmas morning is probably my most vivid Christmas memory. Over its life it received thousands of hours of playtime. Even after it became outdated (Nintendo’s were all the rage in high school), friends and I would break it out on occasion and play our favorite games. It and the dozens of games we owned were finally thrown away as the family packed up to move to Wyoming.

By far the best Christmas present our kids received this year was a Wii. And while I’ve enjoyed playing it with them as well as watching them play, it’s been somewhat troubling how addictive they find it. The boys would spend all day doing nothing but playing it if we let them. (We don’t. Its use is highly regulated.)

I bring this up because it amazes me how much time kids and adults spend playing video games. Even a lot of adults I know can’t live without their weekly game nights or spend hours after their kids are in bed playing World of Warcraft. Granted today’s games are better, more complex, and take longer to play than the ones I grew up on, but it really concerns me when I see the boys begging to play the Wii while they’ve got plenty of other toys and friends to play with as well as countless activities they can do outside. And though I wasn’t a video game addict, I did spend lots of time during college and the year or two after I graduated playing video games. Looking back it was time that could have been better spent honing my writing skills or spending time with friends, family, and loved ones.

This month we gave our boys a choice: they could sign up for spring soccer or baseball. (They both chose baseball. And, no, I did nothing to influence their decision.) The issue wasn’t what sport they were going to play but, rather, how they’re spending their time. And even though there are hundreds of clichés on why sports are good for kids, the real reason I want them to play a sport is so they can learn the amount of hard work it takes develop real talents as opposed to virtual ones.

While I don’t expect my kids to become professional baseball or soccer players, I know they all have skills they can develop that will help them later in life. It takes hours of practice to become a good artist, plumber, or computer programmer. Having the self discipline to work hard at something will carry anyone long distances in the real world.

We all have a limited amount time in this life. One of the best things we can learn at any age is what our real talents are and the best way develop and use them. Yes, it takes skill to hit a baseball 450 feet on the Wii (I’m still working n that one), but it takes more talent to hit a home run with a real bat and ball.

I’ll take the real talents over virtual ones any day.

Up with Grief

Up: Carl & Ellie

Note: This post was written for and posted on the Open to Hope site. You can see the original post here.

It's hard to find movies for adults that adequately deal with the death of a spouse and putting one's life back together. Fortunately, one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar does a great job of dealing with the subjects of death, grief, and moving on better than any other film in recent memory—and it's target audience is kids.

The movie? Up.

In the first 20 minutes of the film we see Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting his future wife, Ellie. When they grow up, they both want to become explorers and journey to faraway lands. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that contains a few notes and drawings of things she's done. Most of the pages in the book are blank, and Ellie tells Carl that she's going to fill the rest of book with photos and of all the exciting things she's going to do.

Then the audience is taken on a short silent movie journey of their life. They get married and start careers. They decide to have a family only to find out she's infertile. Though the news is tough to swallw, they both decide to keep working and save their pennies for a trip to Paradise Falls in South America. But as the years pass, they keep raiding their savings to pay for car repairs and other life emergencies. They grow old, and one day Carl realizes that they've never taken the trip they dreamed about. He throws caution to the wind and buys tickets to Paradise Falls. Only they never make the trip. As he's about to surprise his wife with the plane tickets, she falls ill and dies.

The next time we see Carl he's a grumpy widower. Fed up with life and facing a court-ordered placement in a retirement home, he decides he's had enough. As a former balloon salesman, he rigs his Victorian house with thousands of balloons and launches it into the sky, determined to finally visit Paradise Falls. The only complication to his trip is that Russell, a neighborhood kid and wilderness explorer, has unwittingly come along for the ride too.

During the journey to the falls, the Victorian house becomes the symbol for Ellie. Not only does the house contain photographs and other reminders of Ellie and Carl's life together but, at various points in the journey, Carl looks up at the house talks to it, wondering what Ellie would say if only she were there with him.

As he travels with Russell, the house becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Carl's so determined to take the house to Paradise Falls that he's unable to form a relationship with Russell or even think about getting them both home safely. At times Carl seems more concerned about damage the house receives than the danger Russell and himself find themselves in.

Carl doesn't realize how much the house is holding him back until he finds himself browsing through Ellie's adventure book. As he turns the pages, he's surprised to discover that the blank pages she showed him years ago are filled with pictures of his and Ellie's life together. Suddenly Carl realizes that even though he and Ellie were never able to visit the Paradise Falls together, they did have a wonderful, fulfilling life as husband and wife. It doesn't matter that they never got to visit the falls together—the real adventure in life was the years spent with Ellie.

Armed with this new insight Carl is able to literally let go of the house in order to get he and Russell home safely. As a result, he's able to move on with his life and start a new and fulfilling chapter as a father for Russell. It's a message that anyone who's struggling to move on after the death of a spouse could use.

Don't let this beautifully animated film trick you into thinking it's for kids only. There's plenty in Up to keep kids entertained but with its unique plot and adept handling of more “grown up” issues, this life-affirming film deserves the Best Picture of the year award and is the new high water mark in movies that deal with grief and the loss of a spouse.