Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kardashian's Baby

Much is being written about Kourtney Kardashian's unplanned pregnancy. The part of the story that is most interesting to us, at least professionally, is that her boyfriend played an important role in her decision to keep the baby.

From her interview with People, it is clear that she had serious discussions with him about her pregnancy, and she indicated that she knew he would want her to keep the baby. The fact that they got back together when they found out she was pregnant seems like a signal of commitment on his part. Many guys would see that as an excuse to stay "broken up," and many women would be indifferent as to whether or not her ex-boyfriend reunited with her, let alone became involved in her decision to keep the baby. The couple is now shopping together and learning about parenting together, both good signs.

It has also just come out that Kardashian's pregnancy is making her miss her own father even more - he died in 2003. She says, "I wish my dad was here, but I know that he is here with us [in spirit], and I feel like this is definitely a blessing from him."

At least on the fatherhood front, it appears that Kardashian has a sense that fathers play an important role in family life, from her desire to have her own father there with her and to have the father of her child involved in the pregnancy and the baby's life.

Much remains to be seen, so we will watch as this story unfolds.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Songs of our Fathers

This weekend, I attended a concert of guitar virtuoso and three time Grammy® nominee Stanley Jordan. It was a pretty amazing concert for a number of reasons.

First, Stanley was a couple of years ahead of me at Princeton and it had been some time since I had seen him play. I didn’t really know him while we were in college other than to nod “hello” when we would pass each other on campus. We “played” in different circles that didn’t overlap…his a world of jazz and mine a world of football pads.

Second, Stanley developed a unique way of playing the guitar with both hands topping the fret board that creates a sound like no other guitarist. (Check out his rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”) Even in college, he was becoming quite well-known for this technique. It’s really something to see and hear…

At one point in the concert, Stanley strolled over to the piano and began to play a song. Nothing unique about this since lots of folks can play multiple instruments. But then, he started playing the piano AND the guitar simultaneously. Amazing.

When he finished playing, he explained that the song was called, “Song for My Father” and then he spoke a bit about the importance of fatherhood. Here’s what he had to say in the notes of his fabulous new CD “State of Nature.”

Fathers of fathers, sons of sons
Timelessly linked.
Fatherhood, that precious profession;
That sacred occupation.
Passing on strength and wisdom,
Leaving no stone unturned,
Moving heaven and earth
To teach and protect,
To love and inspire,
And ultimately, to free.
For we are all children of mystery.

When Stanley finished his remarks and moved to the next number, I could not help but linger there a bit. Ironically, his unique ability to play two instruments simultaneously with such grace and skill is the perfect metaphor for what good fathers do. They balance family AND work. They balance affection AND discipline. They balance patience AND urgency. They do all of this—and much more—to create a “melody” that their children’s hearts need to see and to hear. Like Stanley’s music, it’s a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Life's "Little" Interruptions

My life was interrupted yesterday. I was all set to head to work when I got a call from my wife. She told me that she was not feeling well and was heading for the emergency room. She said not to worry but asked that I get there as soon as I could. So, I grabbed my briefcase, etc. and headed out.

By the time I got to the hospital, she was already in a room and was hooked up to a few machines and an IV. They had already started to run some tests to check her blood. After an hour or so, the doctor came in and told us that the test results were fine and it turned out that she was having a bad reaction to some medicine that she was taking to settle her stomach. This was certainly great news and I have to admit, being a “man of action,” I instinctively checked my watch to see how long before I could get back to my “regularly scheduled programming.”

Just then, a nurse rushed into the room and told us that we needed to move to another room quickly because they needed this one for a patient in critical condition that was on an ambulance in route. Moments after we settled in the new room, the PA began to blare “code blue” this and “code red” that. It all sounded like a foreign language to me but not to my wife, who quickly grew somber. She is a family practice doctor and she decoded the announcement and told me that the incoming critically ill patient was a small child, probably a baby. We said a quiet prayer…

Soon there was a storm of activity of rushing feet, urgent commands that nearly muffled the wailing of the mother of the child. However, almost as quickly, it was silent again—sort of an eerie hush. So I decided to leave our room to see what was happening. As I approached our old room, the curtain was pulled back just far enough for me to see him…a little baby boy no more than 6 months old laying on an oversized gurney. He just looked adorable laying there. He had the cutest little face with a small tuft of blond hair tumbling gently on his forehead. And, he looked so peaceful—almost as if he was sleeping—but he wasn’t…his day had been interrupted.

It’s been a long time since I have been this close to someone who was dead. And, I have never been this close to a death so quick and so young. It was really difficult to take it all in and I could not help but to think back to how my day started and the “interrupting” call that I received…and the one that the father of this little boy received. Like me, I am sure that he had a day planned with lots of “important” stuff too. Now, he had to come to terms with a painful loss, an interruption of life-changing proportion.

Over the years, I have been fond of reminding dads—rather “tongue in cheek”—that what makes you a dad is that you have kids. Otherwise, you’re just a guy. But I had not really thought about what it means to be a dad in this situation. How does one view his identity as a father in light of the death of his child, especially one so young? Does one wrestle with a sense that he is now a dad in name only? I don’t know.

But I do know a few things for sure. First, 6 months, 6 weeks, 6 days, 6 minutes and 6 seconds before this father received the call, he had hopes and dreams of many “firsts” to share with his son that will never happen. Second, I know first hand as a father that despite the joy and blessing that babies are, at times, they place demands on us and they often interrupt our sleep, our plans and our life. Finally, I know that this father, as he cradles his little guy in his arms for the very last time, will look into his son’s face and think…I would give just about anything for another chance to pardon his interruptions.

Monday, August 10, 2009

NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and Fatherhood

Buffalo Bill-great, Bruce Smith, gave a stirring speech at his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame over the weekend.

Throughout his remarks, Smith spoke of the positive, life-changing influence his father had on him. Here are a few choice lines:

"He didn't tell me what it means to be a man, he showed me by example."
"Because I knew I was important to my father, I understood my significance in the world."

It is clear that the strength of this family helped them get through many struggles throughout Bruce's childhood.

Smith also spoke of his love for his mother, and his dedication to his wife and son. To his son he said, "Austin, my son, the unconditional love I have in my heart is like none other I have ever experienced before.... I am so proud of the respectful, empathetic human being that you have become. The path that you will follow in life is yet unknown, but I know this for sure; that your courage, intelligence, and strength in character will be your guiding compass."

A great fatherhood legacy is being passed on in the Smith family - from Bruce's father, down to him, and down to his son. It is a beautiful, powerful thing to watch. View his whole speech here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Other Casualties of War

Relationships. Families. Those are the casualties of war that you don't see in the news everyday.

USA Today had an insightful, emotional article today - Troops' Families Feel Weight of War. It profiles several different families as they struggle to reintegrate after not just one, but several deployments.

NFI and Lockheed Martin's 2009 Military Fatherhood Awardee, QMC John Lehnen of the U.S. Navy, said something so telling at this year's award ceremony: The hardest part...when you're gone...your family grows without you...you come home to strangers.

That's exactly what this article is saying. One of the military fathers profiled is having a hard time reconnecting to his teenage son, and his son is acting out:

Scott, at 15, says his dad still seems to treat him like the 12-year-old he was before the last combat tour.

He says he loves his father and is proud of his military service but feels distant from him and often finds it easier to just leave the house and go skateboarding...

One a recent Sunday, before his father left on a trip, Scott suddenly threw his arms around his dad and hugged. "I didn't know what to do," Mark says. Father and son had shed that kind of physical affection one or two combat tours ago. "I lost that connection," Mark concedes.
Military families sacrifice so much for our freedom, both on and off the combat field. After the war in Iraq started, NFI developed a suite of resources specifically for military dads, to make sure they are able to reconnect with their kids. And the response we've had to these resources is overwhelming - the Deployed Fathers and Families Guide is being used by ten of thousands of families in all branches of our armed forces. You can learn more at www.fatherhood.org/military.

There is hope; these families show an amazing resillience and commitment to making it work. And, if these families can make it work, almost anyone can.