Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Mission

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it..." Anyone who is familiar with the television show, and more recently, the movie, Mission Impossible is familiar with this line. The hero begins every episode by receiving a difficult mission, but the thing I like is that in the show/movie, as in life, the hero always has the option to decline. Throughout my life, I have had many jobs, and in pretty much all of those jobs, I have been presented, in one form or another, with a mission. In every case, it has been up to me whether I choose to accept it or not. This is what we are all faced with in every aspect of our lives. There will always be a task at hand, some ideal to live up to, and we are all faced with the decision to accept it or not. I will be the first to admit that in some jobs, I have not always accepted the mission.

I often tell my kids that being their father is the most important job I have ever or will ever have. I mean that. It doesn't mean that my other jobs weren't/aren't important. It only means this one is the most important because if I fail at this one, there is nobody else to fix it. In the military, I did a job with very little margin for error. If I messed up, people could die, including myself, but we always operated as a team, and we were trained to back each other up. If I messed up, there was almost always someone else to my right or left to correct the mistake. In teaching, I can have a tremendous impact with my students, but if I fail them, there are dozens of other teachers in the building who can teach them whatever is that I failed to teach them. With parenting, however, there is no margin for error. Sure, my kids have a mother, so I am not their only parent, but I am there only father. If I fail to give them something they need from their dad, there is no other dad to pick up the slack. Not only that, but I also have to recognize the fact that everything I do with them is likely to impact them for the rest of their lives. As human beings, we are the sum of all of our experiences, and the experiences my children have with me are shaping the people they will become. It is a tremendous responsibility, and I only hope that all parents understand this.

Every company I've ever worked for has a mission statement. The purpose of the mission statement is to articulate the goals and values of the organization. It gives everyone in the organization a compass by which to navigate the challenges they face daily. I'm taking a psychology class right now as part of my master's degree program for educational organization and leadership. Recently, we did an exercise through which we drafted our own personal mission statements. While I am in the class in pursuit of a degree which will qualify me to be a school leader, I always have a hard time separating my role as a father from my role as just about anything else, so my mission statement thinking primarily of my children and the role I play in their lives. Here is what I've come up with:

To be known by my family, friends, students, and colleagues as someone who is passionate, steadfast, disciplined in words and actions, caring and hard-working so that I can inspire them to trust and believe in me to do what is right and to inspire them to do the same. I will do these things so that people may look to me and say, "There is a good man." I will do this so my sons will have an example of what they should be, so that my daughter knows the kind of man she deserves. I will do this by consistently trying to view myself through the eyes of those around me, for their perception of my is my reality.

It was a great exercise in thinking about what values matter to me and what kind of person I hope to be. I think I will keep the handouts we used in class and use it as an introductory activity for my students this fall. For my readers, I challenge you to do the same. Create a mission. Actually take the time to write down a personal mission and then ask yourself if you choose to accept it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I like inspirational movies. There is something about seeing a character overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle or deliver an incredible speech that makes watching movies fun. The one thing that always occurs to me as I find myself getting motivated by the on-screen triumphs is that I really don't have much of anything in common with the characters or their undertakings. As pumped as I always get watching Rocky, I'm not a boxer. I had the same experience when I watched Warrior, which I recommend. I could easily list about a dozen inspirational movies that don't directly relate to my situation, but I recently watched a movie, Courageous, that inspired me to be a better father.
The movie revolves around a group of friends who, because of a tragic accident, sign a resolution to be the kind of father they believe God would want them to be. This is a Christian movie, so their resolution is drawn from biblical passages, but I believe the message is universal. When the main character, Adam Mitchell, brings up the idea of striving to be a better father, one of his friends responds by saying, "You're a good enough father." His response is that he doesn't want to be a "good enough" father. You don't have to be a Christian to see the truth in that. I don't want to be a "good enough" father either. I feel like my kids have the potential to be pretty remarkable people but they won't get there if I'm only "good enough". I need to do a better job of seeing myself through the eyes of my children. As Atticus Finch puts it in To Kill a Mockingbird: "Before Jem [his son] looks at anyone else, he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him."

These are two very different sources of what it means to be a father, but they both the nail on the head, and they both challenge me to evaluate my actions as a father. I'm not saying that I'm a bad father. In fact, I think I do a pretty darn good job a majority of the time, but a majority of the time isn't all of the time. There are days when I lose my temper with my children. There are days when I place other priorities above them. There are days when I simply want to be left alone. It is at these times that I need Atticus Finch and Adam Mitchell to remind me of the gravity of my role in my children's lives. I've had a lot of jobs in my life. As a soldier and a teacher, I have been in a position to have my actions make a tremendous impact on the lives of people around me, but nothing I did or continue to do in either of those positions will be as important as how effectively I function as a father for my children, and I'm glad that there people out there spreading that message.

Monday, January 16, 2012


"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
~Stephen R. Covey

I'm always amazed when I talk to people with hobbies. Whether it is golfing, making crafts, reading (for pleasure), or just about any other thing people do for no purpose other than the feeling they get from doing, I am always envious of hobbyists. It isn't that I necessarily want to do what they do; the fact is that many people's hobbies would bore the daylights out of me. No, the thing that paints me green is simply that they have a hobby. I've never really had what I would call a hobby. I've flirted with hobbies before, and there are a list of things that I would love to spend time doing, but I have to admit that I have always failed to establish something that I regularly do for enjoyment. Don't get me wrong, I do things for enjoyment, but not many of them are productive. I think hobbies should be productive. The problem I have is that by the time I'm done with all of the productive things I have to do on any given day, I don't have much left in the tank for something unnecessarily productive. Then, while doing something enjoyable but wholly unproductive- watching television- I had an epiphany.

I was watching a show called The Middle. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, it is a sitcom that centers on a family of five in rural Indiana. The parents both work, and the kids are a strangely familiar mix of people you may actually know. They live in a house that has clearly been decorated bit by bit over a couple of decades of not being able to afford an interior designer, and their dishwasher requires duct tape in order to work. In a sentence, it is a show about my family and quite a few families I know. It is refreshing to see a sitcom that I can relate to. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy shows about Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents and lovable physicists with a passion for all things nerdy, but I don't really connect with those characters. This connection to the characters in The Middle is the source of my epiphany. The mother, Frankie, comes to the realization in last week's episode that they spend so much time doing the unpleasant things they don't really want to do that they don't have time to the things they really do want to do. She references missing fun holiday events to do laundry and passing on birthdays and anniversaries in order to fulfill other menial household tasks. She realized her "To Do" list was out of whack. Her realization became my realization. My priorities are usually listed like this:

-Things I have to do.
-Things I really should do
-Fall asleep
-Dream about the things I'd really like to do
-Wake up

The fact is that I have a hobby. There are a couple of things that I really enjoy doing. In fact, I enjoy doing these two things so much, that I actually majored in it in college. I love to read books, and I love to write. The problem is that I put all of the things that are supposedly more important ahead of doing either of them as a hobby. Do I read? Sure. I read all of the time, but very little of it is based on enjoyment. I read emails, instructions, and homework assignments. Do I write? Absolutely. I write assignment instructions, emails, hall passes, and feedback on IEPprogress reports. I've spent the last couple of years lamenting the fact that I don't have time to read the books I'd like to read or write the things I'd like to write. I find pockets of time here and there, spread out over months of time for these activities, but I'd hardly call that a rewarding hobby. That is until that episode of The Middle when I realized that much like the characters on the screen, I've had my priorities out of whack. I need to start putting my hobbies higher on the list. It depresses me to look at my two blogs (this post appears on both) and realize that children born on the dates of my last posts are old enough to walk. I am resolving with this post to change that. I am resolving to put my hobbies closer to the top of the list. I am resolving to blog once a week (I require my Creative Writing students to do it, why shouldn't I allow myself to do it?) and read a novel a month (A pathetic goal for someone who used to read a novel in a day, but it takes baby steps).

Just to prove that this isn't an empty goal, I am writing this post with a stack of work sitting next to me. I have student work to grade, lesson plans to create, hundreds of pages of assigned reading and assignments from my grad classes, and laundry to fold, but I am taking the time to do something I want to do before I even touch the things I need to do, and I feel better about the day already.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cabin Fever

We've been snowed and iced in for the past few days, and I have to say that I am really starting to get cabin fever. Our house isn't very big, and aside from chores, there isn't much to do, so when we are forced to spend a lot of time in the house, a few things happen: the laundry gets done, the dishes get done, we watch an unhealthy amount of television, and we find excuses to go to the store. Yesterday, my two oldest children and I went to the store to get stuff for my daughter to make her valentines for the upcoming Valentine's Day festivities at her school. If we weren't snowed in, would valentines have been cause to make a special trip out twelve days before Valentine's Day? I highly doubt it, but we needed to get out of the house, so we went.

Once we got to the store, it took about five minutes to have everything we needed for Valentine's Day, so we decided to just walk around and look at stuff. With two small children, the obvious place to kill time is of course the automotive department. Just kidding. We went to the toy department. We stopped in each aisle for a few minutes to peruse the assortment of colorful playthings. I loved watching their eyes light up as they moved from one item to the next. I remember being a kid and doing this same thing with my parents. I loved imagining the things I could do with those toys. I would have so much fun playing with this or running around with that. I used to do the same thing when the Christmas catalogs would come in the mail. I remember being kind of sad that my parents couldn't afford to buy me many of the toys I spent so much time looking at. I knew they loved me, though, and I never did anything but love them for what they did provide for me.

Having said all of that, there was still a moment when my son had spotted something he really wanted- a Power Wheel four-wheeler. I know he would love it because my parents have one out at their house that he loves to ride. He asked if I would buy it for him. I told him we couldn't afford it. I felt horrible. As a father, I want to give my kids the world, but in reality there is a very real limit to what I can provide for them. He asked why we didn't have enough money. This is when I really started to feel crummy.

I explained to them that we didn't have enough money because I am a teacher, and teachers don't make very much money. I told them I was sorry that I picked a career that didn't pay me enough to buy them all of the things they wanted. Some reading this might take that last sentence to be one of sarcasm, but it is not. I am a fairly intelligent man, and I began college with the intention of becoming a Certified Public Accountant because accounting was something I was good at, and it was a career in which I could earn a substantial salary. Life, however, does not always go the way we expect, and in my freshman year of college, I fell in love with two things: my future wife and English. I quickly changed majors and my new career was to become a high school English teacher. I did it because it was something I really liked and knew I would enjoy. I made the decision for my own enjoyment, which is why I felt so guilty about telling my kids I couldn't afford to buy them the things they wanted.

I didn't feel crumby for long. My kids immediately said, "That's okay, Daddy. We love you." Then, I remembered something else from my childhood. My dad was my hero, no matter what. I never thought less of the man for not being able to buy me all of those toys. If anything, it made me appreciate it even more when he and my mom were able to buy us a really extravagant item. In fact, shortly before I was born, my dad left a career that he really enjoyed and was very skilled at doing in order to go work in the factory in which he still works to this day because it provided a more dependable source of income. I always regretted that my dad had not followed his heart because he felt the need to make money for me.

So, that is how I came to an understanding about the love between parents and children and the nature of sacrifice in the middle of the toy department on a snow day. I promise the next post will be funny again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All I Wanted For Christmas Was My Sanity Back

I guess I should begin this post by explaining the lack of any new posts over the last several months to my vast and impressive audience. Honestly, my life just accelerated to the point that keeping up with my blog became impossible. The school year got into full swing, I was coaching junior high baseball, my wife was working full time an hour from our house (my job is about an hour from home, too), our youngest son was past the "easy" phase where you can just feed them and put them back to sleep, and I was spending most evenings and weekends as a single parent.

My days had become endless blurs of attending to the needs of others. As soon as I woke up (sometimes sooner), I would have three children relying on me to get them ready for the day. There were breakfasts and lunches to be made, kids to get dressed, bottles to make, diaper bags to pack, diapers to change, and that is on top of getting myself ready to go. During the commute, I usually tried to wake myself up while answering an endless barrage of questions from the backseat assuming I wasn't mediating fights over the color of the sky or which town we were in. Once I got to work, my day as a teacher consists of dealing with the attitudes, insecurities, questions, and needs of around 130 teenagers. One thing I think a lot of people don't realize about teaching is that there is no fifteen minute break as a teacher. Every forty-three minutes, there is a four minute passing period and a fresh set of eager minds walks through the door in various combinations of eager curiosity and righteous indignation. Immediately after work, I would drive back across town to pick my daughter up from school, listen to her talk about her day all the way to daycare to pick up the boys, and then the questions and arguments of the morning commute were resumed. Once we got back home, I immediately made my way to the kitchen to throw together something that vaguely resembled an adequate dinner (mostly) and then begin the battle of "But, Daddy, I don't even like this stuff!" The complaints I got at home were very similar to the ones I got at work now that I think about it: "But, Mr. Ogle, I don't even need this stuff!"

After dinner, it was time to get everyone bathed (assuming it was bath night), into pajamas, my daughter's homework done, break up fights over toys not being shared or air being recklessly breathed, and finally to bed. By the time all three kids were in bed, I was so exhausted, both physically and mentally, that the idea of reading a book or writing a blog or anything other than staring mindlessly at the television for a couple of hours until I collapsed was ridiculous.

Each day, I could feel my patience for my children and my students wearing thinner. With every passing week, my enjoyment in life diminished. I tried not to complain or think about it too much, because there really didn't seem to be much point; there was nothing anyone could do for me anyway. It all finally came to head on Christmas Eve at my parents' house. As is the case with most family gatherings, there were a lot of people having a lot of different conversations all over the place. There were kids running around all over the place. The noise and chaos level in the house was at a ridiculous level, and I just couldn't take it anymore. I went back to the guest room and closed the door just to keep my head from exploding. My wife came looking for me. We talked and decided that something needed to change. I felt selfish for wanting to have some time to myself to do what I want to do. She made me realize that in order for me to be a good father, husband, teacher, I have to make time for myself. I have to allow my own battery to recharge and my own needs to be addressed.

Luckily, this meltdown also coincided with my wife making a career move to begin working as the school nurse at my high school. This would mean that we would be able to work together to take care of the kids before and after work, which would be a huge load off of my shoulders. My wife also agreed that it would be a good idea for me to take one night a week to leave her at home with the kids and go spend a little time taking care of myself. I am happy to report that this is one of those outings. So far, I have gone to a movie by myself, taken my wife on a date, and today I am sitting in a peaceful coffee shop writing this blog. With any luck, I will be using my "free time" to come up here once a week to write. This blog has become the most enjoyable hobby I've ever had, and I look forward to getting back to it. So, in spite of getting a Wii, and my wife claiming my sweet Droid X as a Christmas gift, the best thing I got for Christmas was given to me on Christmas Eve and wasn't even wrapped. My wife gave me the gift of my sanity. Thanks, Lady.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about siblings lately. I don't really know why, but it seems like I'm constantly having these moments of reflection about what it is to have a brother or sister and how those relationships change over time.

I'll start with my own kids. It started when my wife was pregnant with our middle child. Our daughter had been the only child in our family and the only grandchild on either side of our families for a couple of years. Like most only children, she was enjoying a life of indulgence. She was never without stimulation from adults; no matter where she went, she was the center of attention. Every holiday was an extravaganza of gifts that she didn't have to share with anyone. In fact, for her first two years, she didn't have to share anything. I have to admit, I was nervous about how she would react to having not only a new little brother in the house, but on my side of the family, she was getting a cousin at about the same time. I had heard stories about children in that situation acting out when the new baby came or refusing to accept that the new baby was even part of the family: "Can we take it back?"

When my son was born, everyone made sure that my daughter knew this didn't make her less special or that we would love her any less now that she wasn't the only little kiddo in our lives. My wife and I got her a baby doll as a present for her to open at the hospital when she came out to meet her little brother, and my parents got her a gift as well. We told her that the doll was for her to practice on so she could be a big helper with her little brother. She was beaming. I love to look at the pictures we have of her holding him at the hospital. You can't imagine a happier little girl, but I wasn't ready to let my guard down. I knew that this could just be a "honeymoon" phase and that things could change very quickly after a few days. This never happened. It was quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The days passed by, and instead of distancing herself from her little brother, she became more and more infatuated with him. They were together every minute of every day for a few months. This hadn't occurred to me until one Friday night when I decided to take her to a high school football game.

I was student teaching at the time, and I really thought it would be a good experience to go to a game and see my students outside of the classroom, a teacher's right of passage. My wife and I also decided it would be fun if my daughter went with me. My wife was working, so I dropped my son off with some friends of ours who had agreed to watch him for the evening, and my daughter and I headed to the game. Within a block of dropping my son off, my daughter became completely inconsolable at the thought of being away from her precious little brother. She cried the entire twenty-minute drive to the game. Once we were there and she was able to watch the band play and cheerleaders cheer, everything was okay, but as soon as we got back into the car, she immediately became worried about her brother. I thought she was happy the day he was born, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when we walked into our friends' house and she saw him again.

That was three years ago. I am happy to report that they are still as close as they were that night. It probably helps that they share a bedroom, so they continue to spend an incredible amount of time together. Sure, they have their moments when they don't want to take turns or they can't agree on what movie to watch, but at the end of the day, I don't know that either of them has a better friend in the world than each other. Over the past couple of weeks, they have developed the need to sleep in the same bed. I wasn't sure about this at first, but when my son waited until we left the room and snuck up into the top bunk with his sister, and my wife and I found them snuggled up together sleeping peacefully, I decided I should just cherish these moments while we have them. In the words of Darius Rucker, "It won't be like this for long."

A few months ago, my wife and I welcomed our third child to the world. Again, I was worried about the reaction of our other two children. For my daughter, I was worried about the disappointment of having another little brother instead of the little sister she had ordered. We had kept the sex of this baby a secret from everyone, including our two children, so we decided that a good way to avoid any issues with our daughter would be to let her in the secret the day before my wife was scheduled to be induced. This worked like a charm. She was disappointed, but it was offset by the excitement of being trusted with such an important secret. I was less worried about my older son than I was about my daughter when he was born because he wasn't used to being the only kid in the house, but I also figured he might have a problem with not being Daddy's only little buddy anymore. Again, my children amazed me.

When our older two met the new guy for the first time, they naturally wanted to hold him and love on him, but I really thought it would be something where they would hold him for a minute or two and lose interest. This couldn't have been farther from the truth. Both of my kids held their little brother on numerous occasions for upward of thirty minutes. They would just sit there and hold him in their lap like he was the greatest treasure on Earth, hugging him and kissing him and talking to him. It hasn't stopped. They still faun all over their little brother every chance they get, and they are enormously protective of the little guy. They are quick to let us know that we have let too much time lapse since he started crying and that we need to take care of him. Often, they will even let us know what it is he is crying about and what we ought to do to alleviate the situation.

I guess the sibling relationship I see in my own kids, and how incredible it all seems to me, is probably the reason I have become so attuned to the sibling dynamics around me. I remember growing up as the oldest of three boys. We were all close in age (four years between me and my youngest brother), so we grew up playing on a lot of the same teams and having many of the same friends. This led to some pretty contentious sibling rivalry from time to time. Sure, I have a ton of great memories of all of us playing together and getting along great, but there were also times when we wanted to tear each other apart. This got a lot worse when we were all teenagers. We were all struggling to find our own identities and develop relationships outside of the family, but we were all at different stages, all having different needs from each other at the same time. As the oldest, I desperately wanted to develop a social life separate from my brothers. For them, I can only guess that they weren't quite ready to lose the leader of our little wolf pack. We fought and bickered for much of our teen years, but now that we are adults, I can honestly say that I count my brothers as two of my best friends.

My wife is the youngest of a mixed bag: two girls and a boy. From what I have heard, they were not a very close bunch. Unlike my brothers and I who all had the same interests, my wife and her siblings are all completely different. Each of them had their own interests and hobbies, so they didn't share a lot of the same things that I shared with my brothers. For this reason, that little bit of separation I had with my brothers was far greater for them. However, this past weekend, we were over at the home of my in-laws. My wife's sister was there with her fiance, and her brother was in and out as he worked to get crops out of the fields. We had a great day of four-wheeler riding, combining (for my son with his uncle), and visiting with the family, but everyone agrees that the highlight was the hour or so that the three kids spent (plus my sister-in-law's fiance and me) sitting around the kitchen table chatting about anything and everything that came to our minds. My wife was beaming. She said she can't remember a time when she had just sat with her brother and sister and just talked without any real purpose. Around that table were people who were enjoying each other's company simply because they enjoyed each other's company. They didn't have to sit and talk like that just because they are related. They did it because they genuinely like each other.

As I sit and write this all down, I wonder what I can take away from it all. What message can I express about siblings? There is a saying about being able to pick your friends but not your family. The idea is that we are better off with our friends because we get to pick them but that our families are something we are saddled with. Certainly, there are times in our lives that it feels that way, but I also feel blessed that I was given the family I have. They're not perfect. Nobody is, but they are a group of people that know who I am in a way that even my friends probably don't. Our siblings are people with whom we have a shared heritage. Even if we experienced it in different ways, we have the same basic history. We share traditions, memories, and at the expense of sounding a little cheesy, love. I know that as my children grow, there will be times they don't like each other, but I also know that they love I see between them now will always be in there somewhere, just waiting for an afternoon around the kitchen table to show itself again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Warp Speed

There are times as a parent that a milestone arrives and there is an overwhelming sense that somebody must have flipped the switch to "Warp Speed". I don't remember giving the order to speed recklessly through my children's lives, yet I found myself crashing into a kindergarten room with my oldest a few weeks ago. How can this be? I can still close my eyes and feel like I'm getting off the plane from Iraq to see her birth.

I wrote about it a post awhile back, so I hate to keep bringing it up, but having kids makes you more aware than you've ever been of the passage of time. Without kids, I wouldn't give a second thought to how quickly the last five years have passed, but now that I have kids, I can see it passing before my eyes. I look at pictures from a year ago, and while I still look just as stunning as I did 365 days ago, my kids look like they've aged ten years (in a good way). As I type this post, I'm looking at a family picture taken last fall. The two kids I had at the time seem so young compared to the two I dropped off this morning before coming to work.

At this time last year, my wife and I were hoping to get pregnant again, but now we have a two-month old that smiles and coos. In the picture on my desk, one can barely tell that my sister-in-law is pregnant, but my niece was crawling around like a pro when I dropped my boys off for daycare this morning.

I'm loving every second of this adventure, but I at the same time, I'm bracing myself for the morning that I wake up to the sound of my daughter getting ready for her wedding day or my sons packing up to head to college. I think of the movie Click starring Adam Sandler, and realize that while his remote started auto-fast-forwarding because he was using it so much, mine would probably get stuck in pause mode. I would want to pause on every smile, hug, and "I love you, Daddy," but life doesn't work that way, so I'll just have to do my best to live in the moment every moment I get.