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Filling up the Holes

Tees Bday Post largeTHIS POST WAS TEE APPROVED…(but without her approval)
(Oh…and she MEANT that I Was 29…not that SHE was 29.  That would be strange.)  

 Over the years since I had my daughters, I’ve often thought about life, death, legacy,  what’s really important and deep stuff like that.  (Hey…I’m a deep kinda guy.)…but, it would always leave me with a BANGIN’ headache and no answers,  so I would kind of just place it on the back burner until another situation came up that would put me in one of my Prince listening, dark room sitting, meaning of life pondering moods. 

One of those times came when my brother died almost a year ago and it left me with one big question that I’ve been internally debating ever since.

What exactly is legacy?

     It ain’t as simple as one would think. Well, it kinda IS, but  there’s a lot of stuff that muddies the subject for us.  It took me a LONG time to sort through it, but I think I can bring some clarity.  Through it all, I hope that  I can help some of you benefit from my ignorance so that you don’t have to go through it.  So hang with me, and I’ll try to shed some light on it or, more colorfully,   like one of my friends from my Air Force days used to say, “…throw some dirt in that hole”.  

     What I discovered is that as men, we often place such a huge value on providing for our families financially and materially, that we leave  ourselves with almost no energy to provide for them mentally and spiritually.   We sometimes worry so much about getting that hot, new toy,  or the latest Jordans, or the newest video game system (Okay…maybe that one was more for ME than the kids…but you get the picture.  DON’T JUDGE ME!)  when in fact, our time and attention is the MOST important thing that we can do for our daughters.  I now look at it like this…”If I can buy it, it will  eventually be useless…buy if I can INSTILL it, it will last forever…..You can’t run out of character.”

So in a nutshell, be careful not to fall into the trappings of giving your daughters STUFF.  YOUR time is one of the few things that no one else can give her and that can never be replaced.  Simply put, once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back.  That makes it valuable beyond measure.

When I first adopted the girls, we would sometimes go to a coffee shop together just to hang out.  I would get some kind of foo foo latte or something, and the girls would get what we affectionately called a “moo- moo steamer” or, plainly put, a steamed milk with flavoring in it.  We would sit there and I would read a newspaper and they would  pretend to read as they sat across from me.  One of my biggest regrets in regards to them, is not doing it more often.  I can remember looking across the table at them as they “read” but gosh…it sure would be nice to have a LOT more memories of it, but, as I said…you cant get time back.

So, the keys?  Share your time, and make good use of the time you share with them.  Here are a few ideas that I think would be great to do with your daughters.

1) Leave work  sometimes and pick her up from school “just cause”.  Go see a cartoon at the movies or maybe just go for a nice long walk and talk about life.

2)  Deliver flowers to her school for no reason.

3) Have lunch with her at school.  (That is IF you can still fit in those little tables….Let me tell ya, years of eating like the government would be making it illegal tomorrow made sitting in them chairs one  hecukva experience for yours truly.)

4) TELL her how important she is to you as often as you can.

5) Take her fishing.  (I wish I had pictures of when I first took my girls fishing on the pier.  It was HIGH-LARRY-US  and they absolutely LOVED it.  They STILL love to go.) Yes, I DO know how to spell hilarious…but EVERYTHING is better when spelled phonetically.

6) Take funny faced pictures with them.

7) Two words:  Pillow Fights.

8) Take her  kite flying. My daughters STILL talk about how I took them kite flying.  To them , it was the most amazing thing in the world, but  if I describe it, I’d call it “Daddy running around a field with a kite in his hand while they held the string.”

9) Hold her hand as often as you can.  There will be a time when you wont be able to anymore.

10) Listen to her.  Even though she may be little…she still wants to know that she’s important enough to get your attention.

In my mind, the litmus test is this:  “When I’m no longer here…and my girls are describing me to their children….what words will they use?”    I think of that…and then act accordingly.

BAM!  That’s some high quality dirt that I  just threw in that hole!

 

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So Many Questions, So Little Time…

Fat Ethan Approved

Hey…I COULD tell you that I never look for advice, but that would be a lie.  That said……

Over the years, there were several instances in which my daughters would come to me and tell me that other students in their classes were cheating.   EVERY time, I would tell them basically the same thing,” It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing.  WE DON’T CHEAT.  If you don’t get as good a grade as them, that just means that you need to study harder.  We go about things the right way. ”

But now I wonder, if by holding them to a higher standard than some of their classmates, was I tilting the playing field against them?  Was I forcing them to play the game according to a set of rules that very few others were playing by?

I mean, I understand the lofty goal of taking the high road, doing the right thing, manning (or in their case “girling”) up, being a stand-up kind of guy so on and so forth, but is that type of idealism DEAD?  Is it wrong to even teach it?

Is it just me, or does it seem that cheating has become more and more a part of the American mindset over the years?  Is it still true that cheaters never win?  Or have the cheaters taken over the game to the point where we all have to cheat at it just to compete?

Case in point, let’s look at all of the cheating scandals that have come to light over the last couple of years:

1) Harvard:  http://nyti.ms/1i4FZ3N
2) Air Force: http://cnn.it/1m87TLX

Sure, these people got CAUGHT, but the bigger story lies in the question of whether or not they only STARTED cheating in their current situations, or is it more likely that they cheated to get TO that situation?  How about those that didn’t get caught.?  I’m sure that if we knew the whole story, the numbers would indicate that it is much more widespread (and accepted?) than we thought.  I mean nowadays, cheating people out of money is almost considered a viable biz practice.

Does this lead to a bigger conversations regarding cheating within/between large corporations?

Anyway, I was just curious as to what you guys think of this?  Is it just my imagination?

( Sorry about all the questions today.  Chalk it up to the 5 cups of coffee coursing through my veins atop and sending my natural ADHD into overdrive.)

 

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My knowledge for the day.

The rule is that I’m going to keep this one short n sweet.  Well, actually, it’s more like a suggestion…’cause, well… you know how I am.

ANYWAY, my mother once told me “You can learn from a fool….you just need to know what to throw away and what to keep.” , So I always try to learn something from everybody that I interact with.  Some make it easier than others.

So,  yesterday I was having a conversation about love and acceptance and the like…and my friend broke it down to me as simply as I have ever heard it.  She simply said :

“I love you should  never have “buts”…it should  only have “ands”.”

Think about it.

See?  Short n sweet.

 

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St. John vs The Bootlegger

I know that the majority of my writing is about fatherhood, but I’m going to devote this post to motherhood….more specifically, my mother.

Now before we get into this, let me explain (again) the geography  of my upbringing.  On one side of my house was a church.  It wasn’t just ANY Church.  It was St. John Missionary Baptist Chuhch.  (Yeah…I know I misspelled “chuhch”, but that’s how we say it in the country.  Say it slow…you’ll get it.)   If I sit quietly, my mind will still let me hear the sound  of all of the heels tapping against that old wooden floor when the choir sang.  Even though I’ve moved on in life, have lived in MANY places and have been a member of many churches, I still call that place my home church. (See? Even without thinking about it….u said it like “chuhch, didn’t you?  Just admit it!)

Now, on the OTHER side of my house was a bootlegger.  (For those that are unfamiliar with the term, a bootlegger is one that either  a) makes homemade liquor or b) sells homemade liquor that they buy from someone else .  I’m sure, that in some places, there may have been an option “c) Buys liquor from the stores and resells it”, but hey, we were in a poor area and selling the fancy, schmancy, high highfalutin’  rust free, store bought stuff with its FDA safety regulations and quality inspections and things like that took MONEY.  Besides….iron is good for ya, right?  So the rust made it healthy.  ( I have a similar philosophy about how you can eat as much as you want and as long as you eat it fast, the calories cant stick. too….sue me.)

So, on any given day, I could either see a bunch of staggering drunks drowning their hopelessness in  mason jars filled with homemade liquor; tinted red with flakes of rust from some back woods still or I could see people  filtering into the church to look for hope when they were otherwise surrounded by bleakness.

It all painted a pretty curious picture of the world for a kid like me.

But to my mother, it was pretty cut and dry.  If I wasn’t suffering from Ebola, scurvy or rickets ( And you thought I wasn’t paying attention in Health class, DIDN’T YOU, Mr Ramseur???) ………..I would be going to church.  It wasn’t  JUST Sunday morning church either.  There was Sunday School, Sunday Service,  prayer meetings, revivals, Vacation Bible School, Youth Choir practice, usher board meetings (She was also the president of the Usher Board at one time, so guess who also had to usher?) ,and so on and so forth.   So, church attendance was pretty much the rule of the house.  And try as I might, I never figured out how to fake ricketts, so I found myself in the pews…….a lot.  Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always pay attention….and sometimes, being that we lived DIRECTLY next door, I could sneak out and go home for extended periods of time and sneak back in without her knowing

But the fact of the matter was, Mama, in the only way that she knew how, ( and in a wisdom that she didn’t even know she had) was exposing me to hope when there was nothing but sheer hopelessness just on the other side of the house.

Mama was fighting for us…and we didn’t even know it.

All those cumulative weeks, and weeks, and WEEKS, and W-E-E-K-S of church that I was FORCED into gave me a belief that even though my CIRCUMSTANCES said that  I was poor, that they didn’t control who or what I could become.  It helped me to understand that even though many of those near us had given up, that I could still have hope for a brighter tomorrow, and when tomorrow came, if it wasn’t brighter, that I could continue to make THAT today’s tomorrow brighter.  She taught me pride that even if I didn’t have the best clothes,  (remind me to tell you about pants with rings around the ankles), that I could keep what I had nice, clean and pressed and be proud just the same.    It taught me that even though there was a den of despair just a ditch jump away one side of the house, that as long as I had faith, and if I put my time in,  that I could strive to be something greater than that; that I didn’t have to subscribe to the hopelessness there.

Faith can  trump common sense, and sometimes…you should LET it.

I have to say that I’m grateful for where I’m from.  I’m grateful that I had a mother that forced me to see a better way; not BECAUSE of me or because of what I could do,  but DESPITE me and irregardless to what I did.

Now,  I’ll admit…I do find myself drinking out of a mason jar from time to time, and I’ll even “pour a sip out for the brothers that ain’t here”,  and let me tell ya…………it’s some of the BEST iced tea I’ve ever tasted.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in children, fatherhood, parenting, Uncategorized

 

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Enough with the Intermission Already!

“It’s been a long time…I shouldn’t have left you……” (Sorry….I was having an Eric B. and Rakim  moment…it happens.)

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything for you guys, and I hope that you hadn’t given up on me.  I promise my writing from now on out will be so cool that you’ll be glad you stuck around through the intermission.  Scout’s honor, homie.   That said, I still feel as though I owe you an explanation.  So here goes.

When I first started writing this blog/book, I promised myself that I would always bring it from the SOUL; that I wouldn’t hold anything back from you.  It was (is) my belief that I’m not the only one that goes through the things that I find myself in and that I could (can)  benefit others by sharing my stories.  I wanted to share my failures as well as my successes; my faults and my strengths; my happiness as well as sadness.  The goal was to deliver all of that; all wrapped up in the ideals of good fatherhood.  Yup….that was what I was reaching for. Ultimately, I wanted to help.

But sometimes, when you find yourself in a dark place, it’s hard to think about helping anybody else through their dark places.  Call it selfish, but would find myself with JUST enough energy to push myself through my days sometimes, much less put something into writing to try to help someone else.  So, I found myself writing from a meaningless, kind of soulless place.  It was becoming mechanical, and I felt like I was writing more for people to like what I was saying than I was to help people by saying it.  ( I hope that makes more sense to you than it did to me when I just wrote it….)  I never STOPPED writing, but I just stopped SHARING it….because I wasn’t being honest with myself or with you.  Long story short is that I have about 30 entries that will never see the light of day because I don’t feel that they meet my standards and I refuse to compromise.  I think that each and every one of you that encouraged me as I was going thru this dark period deserve much more than that….and I aim to give it to you.

Sometimes, in order to see the beauty of the world, you have to refocus your binoculars.

Ty

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in children, fatherhood, Uncategorized

 

Games We Play

So, Me and Tee have this “thing ” we do.  She’ll say something like, “Dad, you’re my best friend.”  To which I ALWAYS reply something like, “I’m not your bestie.  I’m not your friend.  I’m not your pal.  I’m not your buddy.  I’m not your com padre.” in my most monotone, uncaring voice.

Anyway, being that yesterday was Father’s Day, she got me a card.  She held the card oout in front of me so I could read it.  This was the front of the envelope:

Photo 2

So, Upon seeing it, I INSTANTLY went into my tirade…”I’m not your bestie.  I’m not your friend.  I’m not your pal.  I’m not your buddy.  I’m not your com padre….”  To which she politely flipped the envelope over and shoved it in my face so I could read:

Photo 1

Well played, Tee……Well played indeed.

 

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Once…twice….three times a Lady (part one)

Sup, Daddies??  Happy belated Fathers’ Day!

I figured I’d take a little time today and write a lil somethin’ somethin’ to encourage you (us)  all  since, well, you know…Father’s Day is over and we probably won’t get any more props ’til next year at about this time.  Anyway, I wanted you to know that the stuff we do all year round IS important and it IS recognized, and it will have lasting effects on our daughters…

I know, I know, I know, sometimes,it may seem like your  daughters aren’t listening or don’t even pay attention when you talk…but, dear reader, I have evidence that at least SOMETIMES, they listen.  Here’s the proof!

Cue the flashback music!…..

“Doodle loodle loo…..Doodle loodle loo…….doodle loodle loo………………..”

(Hey, I don’t have a budget for special effects and a fancy, schmancy soundtrack, so I do what I can.)

Anyway, the year is probably about 2005 or so, and my oldest daughter, Tee was about 12 (13?) years old.  At the time,  they had three rules that I would give them pretty much EVERY time they left  the house.  We always followed the same ritual.  (It was probably more so to help ME remember the rules  than for their benefit….my memory has never been the best, and I needed to make sure I knew what I was punishing them for if the need arose…)   I would ask them what each rule was and have them tell me what it meant.   It went something like this:

Me:  What’s the first rule girls?
Them : Respect ourselves.
Me: what does that mean?
Them:  That we should never do anything that we wouldn’t be proud of.

Me:  What’s the next rule?
Them: Respect our surroundings.
ME: What does that mean to you?
Them: That we should always know what’s going on around us and pay attention to things so we don’t get hurt.

Me: And the third one?
Them: Act like little  ladies.
ME: And what does that mean?
Them:  That we should always carry ourselves like ladies.  We sit like ladies.  We talk like ladies.

So, that was what we went through day in and day out.  Now over the course of time, the ritual got shorter and shorter, and eventually it just got to the point where I would just have them recite the rules to me before they got out of the car.   I hadn’t had an opportunity to see if they were actually FOLLOWING the rules, and they were never actually put to the test.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure that even remembered the rules after the car door slammed……….until….

One day, I took Tee and three of  her neighborhood friends to the mall.  They were all about the same age, except for one, who was a few years younger.   As usual, and without discriminating, I had her AND HER FRIENDS go over the rules with me.  I said them one at a time, having them repeat them to me and asking Tee what each one meant.  She did it without missing a beat. So I let them get out and go into the mall.  I drove off and went home.  One of the other girls mothers was going to pick them up in a couple of hours.

About an hour or so later, the phone rings.  On the other end is one of the parents.  Apparently, the kids had gotten into trouble for trying to steal some jewelry and she was bringing Tee home.

So, of course, when Tee gets there…I was  ready to read her the RIOT ACT with both guns a blazin’.   I didn’t  ask any questions, and we went straight to my room.

“What happened, Tee?”

She looked me right in the eyes and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong, Daddy.”  and she began to cry.  So, me being the concerned, loving, sensitive Daddy that I am, I thought, “Okay…here she goes with the waterworks to throw me off balance, but I ain’t no SUCKER.”  (Yeah…I kinda am…don’t judge me!) She continued  to tell me what happened.  We didn’t get to talk long before there was another knock at the door.   When I answered, I saw the neighbor girl (the young one) and her mom.  The daughter,   was standing there ; her eyes all red as if she’d rubbed them with sandpaper and flushed them with bleach.  The mother asked me if she could talk to Tee for a minute.

I called Tee to the door, and she came and stood beside me in the doorway.  The mother then said, “Mr. McDuffie, I want to tell you that your daughter didn’t do anything wrong so don’t be mad at her.   Our daughters weren’t stealing from the store.  The other two girls were the ones stealing….Our girls were at another store .  Security just assumed that because they were in the mall together, that they were in it together.  (There’s a LOT more to this story that I’m saving for next time.) Then she looked down at Tee and said, “Thank you for keeping ___________out of trouble.”

The next voice we heard was that of the neighbor girl.  What she said hit me like a truck and I’ll NEVER forget the little life lesson that I got from it.  With that tiny, scared, still borderline crying voice she said simply…

“……you told them to act like ladies…You TOLD them…..and they didn’t do it.  They wouldn’t listen……”

Mind….blown.

This little girl, who had only heard the rules  that I drilled into my daughters ONCE, had taken it to heart.  She remembered it!  Granted, it was only two of four that heeded it…but that was better than ONE of four, right?

Now, the message behind all of this is larger than this post, and it’s larger than just me, my daughters and their friends.  In essence, it ain’t about me and mine, it’s about  about YOU and YOURS.    If my words could mean that much to her; a little girl that I hardly knew past her first name, apartment number and mother’s name, think how much weight YOUR words carry with all of the potential “little ladies” in your life.  God has placed and continues to place them in your path all the time.  You have the ability to help guide these little ladies and TRUST me….they listen to you more than you think.

Funny thing is….out of everything that happened that day, the biggest disappointment that BOTH girls seemed to have  was that they thought they had let ME down.  It wasn’t a trip to the mall suddenly cut short.    It wasn’t being questioned by mall security.  It wasn’t  that their “friends” were now mad at them.  (I’ll explain that in part two), but what was most important to them was what I thought of them.  Heavy stuff, huh?

I say ALL of the above to simply say  this:   Your words carry WEIGHT, gents…don’t undervalue yourself.

So until, next Father’s Day, stay encouraged.

I’ll share part two with ya next time.

Thanks for reading.

 

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My letters to God

So, somebody that read one of my poems before said that I should write more….I don’t really fancy myself as being a “poet” but I do LOVE poetry….(But only the real MANLY kind.)  Anyway, I decided to put one of my old rituals from the years of raising my girls into poem form.  Hope ya like it.

My Letters to God

Sometimes,
at night,
while you slept,

I’d sneak

quietly,
to you
just to watch you breathe.

I’d kneel
and pray,
by your side,

Concerned

for the stars in your eyes
and the joy in your laugh
and the strength, thru life’s lessons, you’d  earn.

I’d pray
to God,
for things I didn’t see..

in me;

the friend,
the guardian,
the confidant that I needed to be.

Then

I’d stand,
and speak
softly in your ear

of my

dreams
and wishes
and hopes, never fears

And this

 I’d send,
addressed to  God
and stamped with a  kiss on your cheek.

 

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If only I knew THEN……

Photo 3

(This post gets the “Fat Ethan Five Food Covered Fingers” rating)

Disclaimer:  Okay, I’m gonna say  this SIMPLY to rain on the parade of any of my siblings, before  they try to rat me out on it.  (My family seems to have a thing for blackmail material.)   So, I’ll go ahead and say it….I’m a REALLY lovey, huggy, kissy,  sensitive type.  Okay, there…I said it.  PREEMPTIVE STRIKE!!!    KABAM!!!!

(Don’t get me wrong though… I mean, I AM a tough guy…like….I luv bear /arm  rasslin’  (not to be confused with bare arm or bear arm rasslin’…THAT’S just dumb…) , and ummmm…..off roadin’,   and ummmmm…..bo staff fightin’  and like ummm….hunting with wolves aand stuff s much as the next guy….For real… Seriously….Yeah, that’s GANGSTA, right?)

ANYWAY, (new word alert…new word alert…) I had an EPIPHANY ( told ya!)  just yesterday.  Now, don’t tell anybody else this because it’s a secret and it’s just between us….since we’re family.  Okay?  Now lean in real close…..you ready?  Okay…Here it is:  The years go by really fast.   (Hey, I never said that I was the smartest guy in the room.)

Looking back on it, it seems like just yesterday that I would tip toe into my daughters’ rooms at night just to kiss them on the forehead and say a quick silent prayer for a good day while they slept.   It seems like not so long ago that I bought them pillows to sit on in the car so they could see out the window or when I was teaching them Eric B. and Rakim songs in the car on the way to their Granny’s house.  (They both still know the lyrics to Microphone Fiend, btw…and have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of old school hip hop)

Anyway, the funny thing about time is that you don’t really know to savor it while you’re in it.  We spend so much time going from moment to moment, that we often forget the joy OF the moment.  I was reminded of this from a conversation that I had with Tee.  It went something like this….(Cue flashback music…..doddle loodle loo…doodle loodle loo…doodle loodle loo….)

Tee: Hey Dad, I took a picture of that cupcake that you bought me the other day and put it on Instagram.  I tell my friends all the time about how close we are…and how you’re  my best friend, Dad.

Me:  I ain’t your friend, Tee….I ain’t your pal, I ain’t your buddy,I ain’t your com padre… (Said in the GRUMPIEST voice I could find to cover up my obvious joy)

Tee:  You should appreciate it,  Dad.  A lot of kids my age (21) don’t even LIKE their parents…I still like you… I still want to hold your hand….

Right then it hit me….like a ton of bricks….One day WILL be the LAST day that I ever get to hold my daughters’ hands….It’s inevitable…everything ends eventually…  One day, if Sharon and I were successful in raising them, and they don’t decide to stay in our house forever, they’ll move out, have families of their own, become successful and have to put their energies into putting into practice everything that we’ve taught them over the years.  I’ll see them less and less, talk to them less and less, and eventually not get to hold their hands anymore….

I say all of that to say this…It’s really important that we Daddies  take every opportunity that we can get to savor life with our daughters……..and guess what?  It’s okay to be silly to do it.  Sometimes, it might take screaming Eric B and Rakim lyrics at the top of your lungs while riding down I-40 at 85…I mean 65 miles per hour with the windows down….Sometimes, it might take listening to Brittney Spears for an hour and a half (THANKS, KEE!) But sometimes, SOMETIMES, in the quieter moments, it  might just be a matter of a kiss on the forehead..  No matter what it is,  it’s important that we create as many of those moments as possible and that when we ARE blessed with them, that we live in them,  fellas…because one day will be the last time we get to hold our daughter’s hands.

Tee and Kee today

Tee and Kee today- Guess which one was the “bad” one…lol

 

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(G)race Matters

Photo 22Tee on the Left                                   Kee on the right
in the middle are their God sisters and brothers.

(Okay…..I know the girls are going to KILL me for posting this picture…but oh well….When I’m old, I’ll make sure to always check the brakes on my wheelchair whenever they push me near staircases, so I’ll be cool.)

So I was just thinking about race the other day.  You wanna know what I discovered?  Race is a pretty  interesting.  It can make people love  someone or hate someone with equal vigor based simply  on how they look.   In short, it can make the otherwise rational people irrational.  

 Now, that’s not saying that race isn’t important, because it is.  In fact, I hate it when someone says, “I don’t see color……because I certainly do.  Yup….Here’s a newsflash for ya….If you’re White…I KNOW you’re White..If you’re Asian, I KNOW you’re Asian.  If you’re Indian…I KNOW you’re Indian… I just choose NOT to make it a factor in how I treat you.  More important than the color of your skin, is the color of your character. Now if your CHARACTER sucked…THAT is when we’d have issues. So, in a nutshell, it’s okay to see differences, the problems creep up when you start to see those differences as making someone inferior to yourself.  So, with that in mind,  I  tried to surround  my daughters  with the best people possible; Black, White, Red, Brown, Blue…it didn’t really matter.  

So, I chose to teach my daughters about their heritage, and the uniqueness of the African American journey…but I always took great pains to make sure I tempered the message with ones of tolerance, and understanding and equality…    I think that that’s one of the most important things that we can do as a Daddy.

 
 

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