Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening

For my friends and me, our Sophomore year looked like it was going be a smooth year for us.  We weren’t the lowest men on the totem pole anymore.  We were men… men among freshmen boys.  More importantly, we were men among freshmen girls.

Sometimes in high school  in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio there were days when you felt like there was nothing much worth getting out of bed for.  But then, you remembered you were going to see…her.  Your day was going to have all these moments that were full of possibility.  You just knew that would see her in the hall.  You hoped that you would catch a glimpse of her as she walked into the cafeteria.  Maybe as the both of you switched classes between science and math class, there would be a possibility of you catching her eye and give her a little smile.  Not too big….just enough to send the message that you approved.  All you could do was hope that she didn’t catch you starring.

Ahhh… fifteen… You’re too young to vote and too old not to be in love.   Or at least in what you thought was love.  You live in a house someone else owns.  Your dreams are already somewhere else.  You are already planning your escape from the tiny confines of that small Ohio town.  You face the future armed with nothing but the money you’ve earned from mowing lawns, a three-dollar corsage and a light blue leisure suit.  And you hope against all hope that that will be enough.

There are very few things in life as purely terrifying as calling a fourteen-year-old girl on the telephone.   Especially a really cute fourteen-year-old girl… I asked and she said yes.  Her parents would only allow her to go if they could drop her off and then pick her up after the dance.  I agreed and as much as that kinda stymied my expectations and definitely ruined most of my plans for the perfect date, I was still excited.    I would meet her at the school for the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night.  

Now, most people don’t know this but there are two kinds of logic. There’s logic-logic and then there’s 15 year-old in love logic.  I was sure that nothing bad could happen.  At least nothing that would leave a permanent mark.  Had I known then what I know now, I would have walked the other way.

So, that Saturday, I stood there in my light blue leisure suit with my new floral silk shirt.  We met in the middle of the hallway.  The same hallway that we passed each other everyday for months.  She walked into the hall with a beautiful red dress on.  She looked just as I pictured in my mind, she looked beautiful.  I gave her the three dollar-corsage and we entered the dance.  The measurement of success that night was more about the entrance to the dance than the actual dancing.  All eyes were fixed on the door for the next couple to come through the paper machete streamers. We made the grand entrance and for a brief moment the world was spinning and revolving around us as we made our way into the room.  We were the center of the universe.

It was painfully perfect.  It was wonderfully uncomfortable.  It was terribly frightening.

After the third song we finally made it out to the dance floor.  We slow danced to a song I cannot remember.  And then she was gone.  She had taken refuge in the safe confines of her freshmen girlfriends and I found myself standing with the other lonely sophomore boys.   And so it happened.  My poor, fifteen-year-old heart crumbled into a little pile of dust and blew away.  It was over.

I still had a little self-respect.  I was not going to stand there with all of my other friends and watch our dates giggle, laugh and dance together in their little group at the other end of the dance floor.  I walked down to where my date was standing and I was going to tell her it was ok, we didn’t have to dance.  She said that she wanted to be with her friends.  I told her that I understood but I knew that it was time to let it go.  Time to move on.  After all, who needed freshmen girls?

I managed to slip out the side door without being noticed.  I walked towards home.  I put my head down as my mind raced to make up a story as to why I would be home so early.   I knew I had a few blocks before I would have to face the music with my family.  As I walked past St. Boniface School on my way home, I suddenly heard voices.  I heard laughter.  I looked up in the darkness and saw a few of my friends.  They left the dance as well and they were now swinging on the swings.  They were climbing and playing on the monkey bars in the playground.   Something none of us had done since our elementary days.

Maybe we all realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line  but maybe a series of advances and retreats.  Maybe we were learning that we were growing up too fast.  Maybe it was the fact that we missed something about our childhood.  I don’t know maybe we just felt like swinging.   But what ever it was, my friends and I made an unspoken pact that night to stay young for a little while longer.  Even if it was only for a few more hours.  There was no need to rush into life.  The responsibilities of growing up would come soon enough.

Eventually…I made my way home.  I walked slowly.  Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something.  I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and the TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to find love.  I was just starting out on my journey to find it…“LOVE”…I wasn’t even sure I knew what it was anymore…but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.

Walking up my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by starlight.  The world smelled fresh and clean.  I turned the handle of the front door and opened it.  Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.  As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up.  I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night at the dance.  She  gave me a big hug.  She never said a word and neither did I.  We didn’t have to…for in that moment I felt like a kid again.  Life and all of its responsibilities would have to wait.

Years passed and my quest to find love would be fulfilled along the way as I journeyed through life. 

It was everything I had hoped it would be and more…strange thing is… thirty five years after this “Homecoming Dance” I still find love to be…

Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening.

I’m Not Here For Myself

Standing there in the dimly lit hallway that leads to the maternity department, I watched as my son-in-law came through the door to announce the birth of my new grandson.  Grandson number two had made his appearance. Brody Michael Kirchenbauer was born on July 9, 2013.  

As it was when my own children were born, the reality and truth of the great news he just delivered caused a small piece of “me” to fall off from the man I am.  The wonderful desire to become my grandson’s teacher, protector, provider and friend, suddenly overtakes any desire that I may have had for myself.

I am reminded once again that I’m not here for myself.

Grandpa and BrodyBut it is different for me than it is for my daughter and for my son-in-law.  They have the responsibility to raise him and while I don’t have that responsibility I still feel a sense of purpose and a responsibility to do what I can to help my grandsons reach their dreams and goals.

As this “small piece” fell away from me, a much larger piece had just fallen off of my son-in-law.  I look into his eyes. His eyes have changed.  If you didn’t look closely it would have been easy to miss.  It is something that happens when the weight and responsibilities of a father of a new-born son and a budding toddler come crashing down upon his shoulders, he suddenly seemed far less concerned about his own future and desires.  His eyes tell the story as personal goals suddenly seem less important.

It has happened since the beginning of time. The moment when you first hold that child in your hands for the first time, the bulk of your attention and hopes are now focused on someone else and not on yourself.   The joy of receiving a child into your life gives you something outside of yourself to hope for – someone to dream harder for than you dreamed for yourself.  There is no way to truly understand until that moment  and your heart desires change.

I’ve thought about my journey with my own children. And I can’t help but think back to another me I used to be all those years ago.  I was single with no kids. I saw all the new movies and every concert that came to town.  I played music at all hours without interference from the volume police. I traveled. I slept in. I had plenty of time with my friends, and a little more “me” money in my pocket.

I didn’t know it at the time but something was missing in my life. 

I began to understand it in new ways the day my son was born.  He was a gift to me… a key that unlocked perspective and wisdom I desperately needed if I was ever to become who I was meant to be. In fact, I believe it was downloaded into me the instant he wrapped his little hand around my finger.  Five little words came to my mind that had never been truer, and would change my life forever.Clay and Brody

I’m not here for myself.

Do parents have a corner on this market? Do they get some greater opportunity at fulfillment than the rest of the world? Absolutely not! A child is not required. But for some of us, parenthood will lead us to one of the most important lessons we’ll ever learn.

I’m not here to attain or accomplish.  I’m not here to build a name. I’m not here to rise to the top of my field.  I’m not here for what I can earn or have.  I’m not here for myself.

This same resolution was seen in the eyes of my son-in-law as he delivered the great news of Brody’s birth as it was when Indiana our firstborn grandchild was born.  

I understand and appreciate the love we have for a child where we will lose ourselves, our dreams and desires for the hope that is found in having our children and grandchildren find theirs.

We find our purpose by laying down our self-focused hearts, minds and ambitions to offer the world what we have to give.  Hopefully, you and I will accomplish amazing things in our time. But in the end, most of it won’t hold the significance we think it might. We lose ourselves to find ourselves in our children. Our purpose and fulfillment are directly tied to how we can make the life of our children and grandchildren better than ours.  Ultimately our legacy will not be found in what we do but in what we leave for those who come behind us.

May I never forget that I’m not here for myself.

Welcome to the world Brody… your world will be filled with love from the Lee’s, the Sumner’s and the Kirchenbauer’s. 

Just Not Good Enough

It was the first day of practice – I was late.   I began to panic.  Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place!  Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway.   I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players. 

And that’s when it hit me,  this was Jr. High School. 

And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.

1973.   It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.

Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity.  Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High.   I was looking forward to new adventures.  I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang.  I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.

After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.

To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement.  For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed.  More importantly,  I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass  for the rest of the season.

I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey.  Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back.   I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets.  I was so proud.

I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey.  We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied.  I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on.  I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.

I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.

Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face.  When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different.  Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard.  This was going to take some time to adjust.

For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire.  Then the fateful event happened.  We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching.  On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach.  At that point, they run at each other. The  player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down.  After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.

I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be.  I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me.   So I watched to see who was going to line up against me.   I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size.  I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard.  Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!”   I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.

He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball.  He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying.   I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach.  Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player.   Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.

Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster.   Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High.   He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well.   Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face. 

I had never been hit so hard in my entire life.  My body went completely numb and I saw stars.  I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.    

Have you ever known those moments that changed your life?    Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you?  I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day.  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t quit.  I stuck it out for the season.  I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer. 

Profound moments of life are not all good moments.  This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football.  So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.  

That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.

Dreaming of Days to Come

I taught US History for a number of years when I was a teacher in the mid 80’s but in the years that have passed, I’ve forgotten more names and dates than I care to remember. 

However, just because I’ve forgotten a few names and can’t remember a certain date or place that something of significance took place, doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the basic principles upon A FLagwhich this country was founded.

I am the first to admit that the history of the United States is complicated and imperfect. There are and will continue to be certain principles and facets of our history I don’t think I will ever fully understand or appreciate.

But I understand the man who wants more for his children than he had for himself.  I sense his desperation. I feel his determination.  I respect his resolve – crossing an ocean, leaving everything behind that had been – carrying nothing with him, but his hope and his will.

If I’m quiet and still, I can imagine what it might have been like for the early settlers to carve a road where there was nothing – exploring completely uncharted territories, in search of a new and better life, a place to belong.  Setting their sights, slowly and painfully, they began to build…

A cabin. A church. A community. A little town.

A Home.

Hard as I try, I can’t imagine what it must have cost. But having paid that unimaginable price, I can understand why they’d risk their lives again to protect what they’d built.  In my mind, I hear their cry for freedom, along with each generation that has followed – so that the pursuit of life, and liberty and happiness can be enjoyed by all people…including me. 

That is why I struggle with a government (any government) that would try to suppress anyone’s right to express their rights and beliefs.  That includes any group or political party that I may disagree with.   Seems to me that somewhere along the line we no longer can disagree without risking having your right to free speech threatened or at least monitored.

There are so many people who believe that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of all their needs. However, building a government that takes care of all your needs is not what this country was founded for.  This country was founded on the principle of freedom from a controlling government that would impose its authority to the point that it’s citizens are no longer free to pursue the same dreams that previous generations enjoyed.  This country was built upon spirit of hard work and self-determination. The freedoms we enjoy were given and defended by the blood of the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters that have sacrificed and fought for this great countFlagry.  

It scares me to think of what this country will look like when my grandson is old enough to be a contributing part of society.  My fear is it will not be the same country that I grew up in.  Will the blood and the lives of those that sacrificed and served be given in vain?

Only time will tell.

I wish I could find a way to somehow say the right words.

But the only thing I can say is… “Thank You”.

To anyone who has paid a price for the freedom I enjoy,
To anyone who has fought a fight on my behalf,
Thank you.

Thank you for clearing a path for me to follow after.
Thank you for sacrificing much, so I wouldn’t do without.
Thank you for acting boldly and with great courage, even in the face of fear, even though it cost you everything.  The life I live is built squarely on the shoulders of those that built this wonderful country.

Over 237 years have passed since the founding of this country and we find ourselves standing where generations before us once stood.  Dreaming of days to come, building our future country by our words and deeds, creating what will someday be.

May we live up to the example of those who’ve come before us.
May we continue to cry out for our freedom and sacrifice to protect it.
May America continue to be the land of the Free and the Home Of The Brave.