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.