Saturday, December 29, 2012

Newtown: The New Normal

My wife said to me, "...You do realize the impacts of the Newtown shootings in our town will be felt for a long time....."  That struck me.

This event has put me "in a fog".  I have been changed by this event.  But, will I change?

My friends in town might be feeling the exact same way.
Along with grief, we have seen extraordinary amount of blessings.
Donors have sent to our town:  free coffee, food, toys, free events and free museums. 

In simple or big ways, this country has helped out the kids their families and our town.  Friends have randomly shown up on our door step.  Just to be with us.

This has helped us slowly gain a sense of community.  A sense of normalcy.

The media and memorial visitors are slowing fading away.

Our town hopes to return to what we once were.  But we can't.

We have a new normal.  We are changed.

But will we change?

Will I be a better father and husband?
Will I be a better friend?
Will I be a better coach?
Will I further help and serve the kids (our future) in our town?
Will our town work to protect our kids?
Will our town appropriately allocate all the $$$ blessings it has received?
Will our town work to improve our kids quality of life?
Will our town work for gun control?
Or will we work to gain media exposure for our own interests?

What is our new normal?  Time will tell.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Newtown: A Town Learns to Mourn

When you lose your Dad suddenly at age 17, you learn about death.
When your niece dies when she is 9 months old, you learn about pain.
When you lose 20 children in one day in your town, you learn to mourn.

We mourn each day for these kids and families.
We mourn the purity of our town.
I mourn the innocence of my four children.
I mourn for James as I read from his obituary:
"If his Dad was outside, James wanted to be right there with him."

My town is sad.  So am I.
I've learned we each mourn differently.
In mourning, I have learned I want to give of myself.
Trying in one small way to give life back to our town, life back to our kids.
As adults we know about death.  Especially this week.
But for our kids we wanted this week to be a step forward.
So we played.
We found a haven away from the media to play.
To play each day with our kids.
We cried.  We hugged.  We encouraged.
But through it all - our kids played.  And Smiled.  And Laughed.

One small step.

I am learning each day to mourn.   My town is learning too.

And yes, are right here with us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No Words from Newtown

Newtown, CT
Photo Taken: 
8 am 
15 December

No words.
I have no words to express for my children. 
I have no words to express to my wife.
I have no words for the media outside my church
I have no words to my mom who visits.
I have no words for family and friends who call.
I have no words to the Newtown kids I coach.
I type "NO WORDS" in my texts.
I stare blankly at people in Starbucks.
I hug friends in town while food shopping.
My Facebook status is blank most of the time.

How do you sleep comfortably?
The town is silent and somber.
Morning comes and the town is silent, still, reflective, in shock.

This is not a regular day.  Tears fill everyone's eyes.
There are no words.  A perfect town became imperfect.

I coached a boy who's eyes sparkled when he smiled. 
He did not need words to show his joy.
He showed me there is joy in baseball. 
He showed me the joy of hitting a baseball for the first time. 
I still picture J.M. running up the first base line smiling from ear to ear.

I spent time with J.M.s parents tonight.
They are special people. He is a special kid.
From one father to another....what do I say?
From one parent to another....what do I do?
From one coach to his kids....what can I teach?
Right now.  I have no words.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Growing a Playoff Beard

I decided to keep my Playoff Beard growing until D returns home one week from today.  If you don't know about the Playoff Beard tradition - read about it here.

Who knows, I may shave it off today (I get antsy like that).  My thinking is I want to be in unison with my son.  Through this time apart,  I figured out what bothers me most.  It's that we are missing an integral part of our family.   A piece of the pie is missing and it is noticeable.  There were actually times throughout these 3 weeks where we were looking for him.  Waiting for him to get out of the car.  Looking for him in his room.   We knew he was away.  But we still looked for him.

You also reach a point throughout the camp stay where there is acceptance on both sides.  We are apart from each other and how do you cope - whether at camp for D or home for us.  I know there are parts of the camp that makes him uncomfortable and I accept that.  They are pushing his buttons from a social / interpersonal way and he is completely void of any technology.  That has to be hard on any kid.

I've prayed for D every day.  I've fasted for him.  I am growing my beard.  Doing very small things to stay connected with my son.  Like any Dad would.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

How a Man Deals with Adversity

"The measure of a man is how they deal with adversity" - Bill O'Brien, Penn State Head Coach

Today I read this article on O.B.  I have been a fan and friend of his for a long time but the article resonates even more for me today.  Strength and resolve are grown through your life experiences especially how you get up after getting knocked down.

Today was filled with mixed emotions.  D called us today from Camp Akeela.  The call quickly turned emotional.  He misses home.  We miss him.  The tough part was also receiving a letter from D in the mail.  His earlier letter was upbeat.  Today's letter was not.  They are pushing him on his social skills and that can not be comfortable for him. 

The Camp Akeela experience is also taking ME out of my comfort zone.  Historically I am a life fighter (losing your Dad at 17 will do that to you).  However as I've grown older,  life's adversities make me insular.  I drift quietly away from family and friends.

I remember first hearing the words Autism for my first born son.  That was tough.  I remember telling our parents.  That was tough.  We've had emotional moments with family and friends along this road.  I am giving all I can for D in every way.  Any Dad would.  Camp Akeela hopefully is another gift for us all.

I take a life lesson from my friend and fellow Dad, O.B. "A man knows how to handle adversity, how to meet it head on and how to get through it."

This is not football.  This is life.  Real life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Re-thinking Autism: What is my Hope?

What exactly am I hoping comes out of this camp experience for my son?  Do I expect him to be cured?  A Harvard Research Study thinks that can be done.  I have never given an official cure that much thought.  Progress yes.  A cure? No.

Rethinking Autism captures the essence of Autism in adults.  It also captures effectively the feelings of those around & impacted by Autism.  Watching the British Open this weekend I learned that Ernie Els does a ton of work for Autism - Els for Autism.  Another Dad impacted by Autism through his son.

What is my hope?  My hope is that camp helps strengthen his social skills foundation.  A foundation for D now but especially as he matures into middle school and beyond.  My hope is that camp helps him navigate life's murky waters.  D as an adult seems so far away but I still need to help prepare him for life.  My hope is that camp makes D comfortable in his own skin and in the world around him.  My hope is that camp will help him thrive in life and not just survive.

In fact, my hopes may not be different from any other Dad - autism or not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Out of Sight, Out of MY Mind

Funny day.    I finally felt RELAXED about Camp Akeela and with D being away from home.  Camp Akeela provides a parent portal to see photos and provide general camp updates.  I logged in today and saw TWO pictures of D.  These two photos actually showed him HAVING FUN.

Now I could be cynical and say this was a staged photo op.  But I wont :-)

The amount of photos I have with D showing a happy emotion and having fun.....I could count on one hand.  Seeing the photos provided a sense of relief that he is on the right path thus far and I pray for this to continue onward in the weeks ahead.

What I learned today:  When each member of our family unit is in a good state,  the family bond and core is in a good state.  As a Dad I know it is important for me to "have it all together" or at least demonstrate that I do.

Having D out of our family unit really hurt the core.  Each of his siblings have even expressed missing him.  Each one of us had to deal with the loss in our own way and it seems like we are now back to strengthening our family bond.

We wrapped up our day with an evening Family track meet  All the kids in the community run different events - 100 m, 200 m, 400 m and get "medals".  Parents can participate too.

My baby walked toward me after the races with an ice pop in her mouth.
She said (with 5 year old wild abandon), "Dad - can we get ice cream?"
I said (with Dad sensibility), "Um, aren't you already having dessert?"
She said (with conviction and a little bit of 'tude), "No Dad, this is just a Track Snack!!"  I had no response.

She was right - Ice Cream was a good way to celebrate this day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I couldn't sleep last night.  I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 2:22 am - wide awake and thinking of D.  At that moment, I decided to pray for him.  Prayed that he was sleeping well, that he was not worried, scared, or in any way in any kind of trouble.  I prayed that his sleep was peaceful and I prayed for his day ahead.  I prayed that he has made friends and will experience some big belly laughs today. 

As a Dad that probably is my biggest worry - that my kids are safe. I've never wanted to see them hurt in any way (since birth).   That has been my biggest worry right now that D is well - safe and not in any way in harm's way.

He has a running saying of "Dad - you are too overprotective!" I have a standard response of "Yep, that is part of my job description!"  He doesn't get the joke but stubbornly knows I will always be an advocate for him.  Maybe the distance will be good for us?  Maybe not?  Whether he is near or far away his Dad is in his corner - in mind, body and spirit.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Camp Akeela - Drop Off Day

Today D started his 24 day stay at Camp Akeela.  Camp Akeela is designed for Asperger's kids and targets help improve their social skills.  I am hopeful this is a wonderful learning opportunity for D.  To learn, have fun, make friends, and lay a foundation to become the best person he can be.  He seemed to be excited for the camp.

As for me, I am excited for him too.  Below that excitement simmers a nervousness for my son. 
My son being on his own for the first time.  How will he cope?  If he gets scared at night who will be there to soothe him?  Who will help him? Will he fit in?  Will he make friends?  Will others make fun of him?  Take advantage of him?  I know I can't protect him forever and D lets me know that every day.  But the Dad in me wants him here, home with me.  Safe from the world.

I know this is a leap for D.   A leap for me too.  We received a call tonight telling us that D was doing well.  However he did have some moments where he was sad.  He told them he missed his family.  That crushed me.  The funny thing is on the way home from Vermonth all of his siblings expressed how they missed him too.  Even little A.  That touched me too - we recognized a cog in our family circle was missing.

On day 1 of this journey I am hopeful for a change in D in the coming weeks.  I am hopeful for a change in me too - learning to be a Dad of a growing 10 year old boy.  Lets see where this journey of emotions takes us over the next 24 days.  I'll chronicle it daily and will look for support through prayer and my social network community.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

All Star Game, Fathers and Sons

As a kid, I have always enjoyed the Baseball All Star Game.  Seeing each of the team's uniforms, watching the best players and of course rooting for the Yankees and the American League.

JP has expressed lots of curiosity in baseball - particularly the strategy, statistics and the intricacies of the game.  Which is fascinating coming from a kid so young.

After reading this excellent article, "All Star Game, Fathers and Sons" I called JP at home.

We decided to go out to a restaurant and watch the baseball game together. 
We set ourselves up in front of the big screen at a local restaurant. 
We ordered ginger ale and drank like men!
We ordered chicken wings and Mac & Cheese.

JP moved his seat closer and asked if we could go to All Star Game next year.
He asked about my Yankees - Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, and Don Mattingly.
He asked if I got a chance to see Babe Ruth play (I chuckled and said no)
He asked why Sammy Sosa cheated (I had no true answer)
He promised he would never take Steroids. (I smiled to myself)

We watched the Yankees hit (just like I did when I was young)
We rushed home after the 3rd inning so we wouldn't miss a pitch.

A simple father and son moment....with baseball as the backdrop. 
I have 362 days to find All Star game tickets for next year.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Grateful Dad

Not Fathers Day yet but I am grateful.  JP's gift was a "meat rub" (no pun intended).  After his baseball game, we grilled steak on the BBQ.  Not a bad pre-Fathers day dinner.

After dinner, we played soccer and baseball in the backyard.  The evening ended with my sitting on our back deck and watching the kids play til the sun set.  I admit - I dozed off for a minute (or two).  It was a peaceful evening.

Kids are now in bed (except A who is sitting on my lap).  I realized these quiet evenings don't come very often for us parents.  You may agree that we need to cherish these moments.  Cherish the quiet times with your kids as well as the quiet times to "smell the roses".  There was a couple of moments tonight when I looked out into the woods and I said to myself - "God is good!"

As a father I am grateful for many things.  Tonight is enjoying the calm before the Fathers Day storm.  There is peace, quiet, and joy in being a father - I am relearning that I just need to look for it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Daddy and Me

The corresponding photo is from J's 5th birthday....Today she turns 12.  I feel bad for her being my first child because I am learning how to be a father through her.  Even now - I am learning not to parent her as if she is still 5 years old. 

My daughter is 12.  She needs me to be protective, loving, level-headed and give her freedom..... ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  I don't have it figured out - but I am learning a lot about me and how to be a family guide.

My daughter is creative.  I re-learned that again today when she baked the most BEAUTIFUL cupcakes for her class.  I drove her to school and we had a really good time.  We talked....well she talked and I listened.  That was good.  I know being the first is tough (just like me).....she has to be the leader of the kids.  Having a sibling with Autism can't be easy either.  But this was good.  I miss that daddy and me time with her.

As I look at the picture I wonder if I miss that five year old stage.  Or maybe I parent her as if she is still five years old?  Something to ponder as I celebrate the beautiful girl she has become.  Daddy and Me....forever we will be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Always the Last Pick

Regular readers of Fatherhood Matters will know that I am a regular viewer of the NBC show, Parenthood.  Learning parenting skills for an Aspergers child is a passion for me and the weekly Braverman family struggles resonate each week.

A quote tonight from Max Braverman (son who has Aspergers) regarding why he was reluctant to play during gym class was "I always get picked last!

I worry about that for my son, D.  But when I was younger, I was exactly the opposite - NEVER picked last.  I struggle to relate with my son's social struggles and that bothers me.  How can I help him?

This week he made a first step to call a classmate and invite him over for a play date.  The excitement on awaiting the call back and confirmation of a date (THIS SUNDAY) was palpable for D.  I am happy and very proud of my son.

Now I wait.  I am extremely nervous for him on Sunday.  I pray that it goes well.  I will be the chaperone (I think a movie and some pizza are on the agenda).  I was emotional watching the play date for Max Braverman on TV.  I can't imagine how I will contain myself on Sunday.

I can't imagine how hard it is for him to make a phone call. 
I can't imagine how hard it is for him to socialize at school. 
I can't imagine how hard it is for him to make friends.
I can't imagine feeling like I am always picked last.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

25 Years - Jack O'Leary Pasta Night / Scholarship

On Saturday night, January 28, I have the honor of attending the St. Clare's Jack O'Leary Pasta Night / Student Scholarship at St. Clare's School in New York.   This event has been held EVERY YEAR since my Dad's death (February 1988).

My kids "love going to pasta night" each year. It really is a blast for kids - loud music, buffet style food, dancing, raffle prizes!  The organizers (Mary Lou and Nat) really have done a tremendous job hosting and have kept this tradition alive.

To think that I have not seen my Dad in ALMOST 25 years feels weird to type.  There is a sense of loss that impacts me today especially knowing family and many friends did not have the chance to meet him.  However through that time a fighting spirit, a blessing and even a mantra developed within me saying in my life I will thrive not just survive.

I look forward to sitting back and watching my kids dance the night away.
If you can make it, I look forward to seeing you as well.
Nothing formal - just a time to live, laugh and love and think of Grandpa Jack.

What is the Jack O'Leary Scholarship?
This is an annual scholarship for two 8th grade students from St. Clare's who have shown both academic and athletic achievement throughout their grammar school career.  One boy and one girl are chosen and are the recipients of this scholarship each year at Graduation.

Who is Jack O'Leary?
Jack O'Leary was an active member of St. Clare's School and Church from 1975 until his death in 1988. He loved children and knew that a child would excel in school if given the gift of pride in him/herself and pride in his/her school.  He was not only a member and President of the Father's Club during his time here, he was also the reason why the sports programs at St. Clare's are so strong today. He set out and succeeded in resurrecting the boy’s basketball program in 1978, coaching boy’s junior varsity and varsity basketball teams and helping to organize and coach girl's basketball teams at both the varsity and junior varsity levels.  For Halloween, while many folks complained about the trouble that kids caused, Jack did something about it. He understood the need to keep students involved, so he started the Rag-A-Muffin Parade and Haunted House with the Father's Club.

Why a Pasta Night Dinner?
At the first Pasta Night, the Father's Club came together to cook a simple meal, pasta and salad, and gather as a community to laugh and strengthen the St. Clare's family.  This was because Jack O'Leary was a simple man who enjoyed the community of St. Clare's because of the friendships and laughter, which surrounded him here. He would not have wanted the recognition, but would have been honored by the fact that the men who knew him honored him most fittingly:  by giving to others.  Jack represented selflessness.  He was selfless in giving to the school, his community and anyone who ever came in contact with him.  When he wasn't volunteering at the school as a coach or dressing up for Halloween as Fozzy the Bear he was dressed as a clown entertaining handicapped and sick children. So, this was the beginning of a wonderful tradition of not only honoring this man for who he truly was, but for doing so by fostering the things that meant most to him, friendship.

Why is the tradition important?
Today more than ever it is important to celebrate the commitment of family and education.  It takes a community to raise a child and the most important community is the child's Church and school.  Jack's life is an example of the commitment to his family, his church and to humanity. It is a testament to how important a parent's involvement in the school is to the success and happiness of their children and all the children of the community.