Cleaning out a part of the basement I found a box full of photographs from the mid to late 90’s. Some of the pictures I never even looked at. The year 1997 was one of the best years of my life. That’s when my first child was born.
All work and no play is not an option or at least one I won’t take. Yesterday I took half the day off to hang out with the kids. We went to the park for a metal detecting adventure.
My daughter said metal detecting is and old person hobby. Shortly after I found coins in this crater but she still laughed. I guess I have an old person hobby.
Growing up I was lucky. My parents divorced when I was one, that’s not the lucky part, but my dad was always in the picture. As a kid I was exposed to good men and bad men. I always considered my dad to be one of the good ones, hardworking, kind, made time for me and most of all an even guy. By an even guy I mean he was always calm in any situation, never over reacting and someone I never felt I could not trust. He wasn’t a disciplinarian but he was respected because of the things I listed.
I wasn’t afraid of not doing what dad said because I thought there would be a punishment, I was afraid of not doing what he said because I respected him too much to do otherwise. That’s not to say I was a very well-behaved kid, far from it, but dad was the kind of guy you didn’t want to disappoint because you loved him so much.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my own kids, how it’s been over the years and what it’s like now. There are things I wish I could go back and change, yelling out of anger (dad never did that) or overreacting when they acted like kids. There’s no set in stone rule book for raising kids, I’ve tried different things with mixed results, but I do know there are things all kids need and that’s love, kindness and a role model. Someone needs to provide those last three things, mom and dad, mom or dad..or whatever. I’ve made spending time with my kids a priority and each day I’m so thankful that my career allows me to do that often. I’ve also worked hard at trying to be the things my dad was to me.
Right now I’m lucky. I’m getting divorced, that’s not the lucky part, but the mother of my kids is an awesome role model who’s there for our kids. She’s a hard worker, even-tempered, and they trust her. Despite what’s happening to my marriage I know the kids are and will always be our priority. I’m thankful for that.
So just like that you put it out there. One of my favorite bloggers puts it out there and I’m glad he does because his journey has been inspirational and has helped me. Thank you for sharing it. For the first time I will kind of put it out there like that.
But it feels strange to say the last part. Not because I’m embarrassed by who might see it or ashamed that I could not keep my family together, rather I don’t want that last part to define me. It’s true I’m getting divorced but it’s not who I will be. I won’t be the divorced guy with kids. Alright so for a while as I pick myself up I will be just that. You don’t spend 20 years with someone, lose them, then not be that for a while at least.
This morning I was looking at pictures stored on an external hard drive and I came across one from the summer of 2004. It was on a trip north and the first time we all went to Ludington as a family. My kids were ages 6, 5, 4 and 2. When I type that out I think “wow how do you do that?” Well the answer is obvious but still I can’t imagine being pregnant for that long..like back to back.
Looking at the photos from that vacation I can’t believe how much my kids have grown. They went from not even being in school to having two in high school and two in middle school, I want to hit the brakes. My mother always told me I was growing up too fast but as a kid that’s all I wanted to do. Now I get it. With kids, ten years brings so many changes. You do see them grow up so quickly.
Over the years I’ve documented life in journals and photographs. I go back to them periodically. Sometimes I dwell on the past but mostly I go there to remember. So many of those memories are awesome I know I’ve really been fortunate over the years to have this family and create the memories. Things of course were not always great or even good but I always believed they could and should be better. There was never a time when I gave up that hope, always willing to work at it.
-When our first child was born I thought the right thing to do was to work opposite shifts. That way one parent could be home with him at all times. Kids need their parents right? Over the years we become passing strangers handing off the children then heading out the door. That was a bad plan. Couples need to spend time together. I regret that.
-When I was introduced to the church she knew growing up, I was fascinated by what I heard there. Here was something that seemed to be solid. An element that was missing from my life. A foundation that I could build my life on and ensure my family would be happy and in harmony. In truth it burned me out, I just got so tired. I became angry and frustrated then controlling. It’s never fair to set expectations for a person that you can’t even attain yourself. Expectations can be a dangerous thing that should be used with caution. I didn’t realize that and I regret it now. I’m sorry for expecting her to be a certain way and not listening to what was happening.
-The distance caused by those years. The sadness I felt was not expressed appropriately. As a child I used anger to escape my surroundings. All the things I faced then were, in my mind, made bearable by being angry. If I was angry nothing could touch me. With anger you don’t need other feelings, a security blanket even if a poor one. I used that blanket as an adult. It wasn’t an anger that made me say hateful things or hurt people but it was there. My anger prevented me from opening up and saying I was hurting inside. By the time I got it under control, with help, it was too late. The defensive wall had been built up years before and I would never be able to reach her.
-For most of my marriage I made less money. I’m not at all saying that’s wrong or that somehow a man is less of a man because his wife makes more bread. I never felt less of a man and she never made me feel that way because of that fact. But I watched how she worked her way up the ladder, always moving forward and always excelling at each task. It has been quite inspirational. She opened my eyes to something different. The desire to excel and reach. Without that I would not be where I am now in business. I’m grateful for that.
-As a kid I always hoped to one day find a wife. She would be someone who had a good childhood and we would get along really well in our house. The house would have good food in it and a no fighting rule. We would hang out at the park and spend time together being happy. She would smile at me and I would hug her then we’d eat sandwiches. That’s what I thought as a kid. Lucky me I got that. Even when things turned she tried. I remember it well.
-There are things that happen in life that change you. They change you and open your eyes in ways you never imagined. When she gave birth to our fist child it opened up my heart. He was on the table and looked up at me. My heart melted and instantly there was a love I never experienced. That was an amazing feeling. I got to experience that four times. I’m so grateful for my kids.
I’m only 43 years old and if I live as long as my grandparents I have not even lived half of my life yet. My choice is to continue to be a hard worker and to make myself better, spend time outdoors and be a father of four. I will not always be the guy who got divorced.
Over the summer on our trip north we visited a couple touristy locations where gift shops sell cheap souvenirs mostly marketed to kids. For the most part I was able to avoid these stores but this time there was no escaping the glitter. You had to enter the store to buy a ticked for the dune ride then wait twenty minutes or so. We browsed the shelves for a while. Interesting how the shelves in this particular store were no more than four feet tall full of plastic toys and shiny rocks. I couldn’t blame my kids for going crazy, kids like sparkle.
After a little begging I agreed to let each kid buy one thing. My youngest picked a mood ring. While on the dune ride she held up her hand and said, “look dad, I’m happy!” That made me happy. I didn’t tell her green was the default color because it didn’t matter. This little girl is happy by default.
It’s the things we do on a whim that create the best memories. A few months ago it was warm enough to walk around in shorts, swim and rent a canoe. This canoe trip was not planned but ended up being one of my best memories of the trip I took with my boys.
Yesterday I took a walk along the trails of the Ann Arbor Matthaei Botanical Gardens. There was a time when I would visit the trails at least once every two weeks taking along my camera and exploring. I’ve always felt drawn to the outdoors and the gardens have been a favorite place of mine over the years.
My first visit was around 1995 when I first married and wanted to share experiences with the outdoors with my wife like camping, fishing and nature trails. As a kid I camped for a few days each summer and enjoyed it so as I always try to do I wanted her to enjoy it too. I always expect people to enjoy the things not as I did when I was a kid. While I don’t remember how I found out about the botanical gardens I do remember we used to drive around sometimes looking for yard sales or on my quest to find a better fishing spot/nature trail. On our first visit we stuck to the outskirts of the trails picking a spot under a thicket of Redbud trees forming a canopy and perfect spot to sit and talk for a bi ; secluded enough and peaceful . We brought along a wicker basket we got at a yard sale complete with little red and white checked napkins and containers which we filled with treats like cheese, sausage, sweets and something to drink though I don’t remember what. Placing the blanket on the ground we sat for a while enjoying nature, our goodies and chatting. That memory has always come to mind over the years when I visit the gardens and one of the stories I’ve told the kids over and over again. It always made me smile to think about it. On that first visit we didn’t venture into the trails very far but eventually we would come back explore more.
When we came back we walked along the trails following the colored arrows for a while then we took a few turns off the trail we were on, I always do that even now thinking I might find something I hadn’t seen before. There are blue, yellow and I believe orange trails to follow each marked periodically with a post and arrow indicating what trail you are on. These days they have maps in some areas to show you the layout and where you are on the map making it easier to find you way around or out. The trails cross over each other in some spots so you can take the yellow trail then turn on the blue trail depending on where you want to go. I actually used one of those yesterday to find a spot I like. We ended up at the far end of the blue trail that opens up to a large pond and trail that follows around it. The trees were in full bloom and it seemed like the woods didn’t have an end making you feel like you are miles into a forest. You could see into the woods at some areas but for the most part it was dense and impassible. By the time we reached the pond I believe we were somewhat lost not really having a good idea how to get to the exit/entrance where our car was parked. Eventually we would make it back to a wooden bridge on the yellow trail where we stopped for a while and sat. Sitting on the bridge I pulled out a cassette tape recorder to record the sounds of the running water, sounds of nature and a few words we spoke. I don’t know why I did that but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Years later I found that tape and listened to it on the same little recorder. Our voices sounded so young like a couple of kids which I guess we were. I think I still have that tape tucked away in a box somewhere but I’m not sure if I recorded over it with something else during out “techno music” years. Walking towards the exit it was dark and we ended up going the wrong way until we came to a small fence on the side of the road leading back to the parking area. Instead of trying to find the way out we jumped the fence and walked back to the car which seemed to take forever. By this time the gate was closed and locked but luckily there was enough of a gap between the poles and entrance sign that I was able to drive between them in our little car. It felt safe to finally be in the car.
Eventually the trips would come less because of work and things that take more time and effort in life. Still at times I found myself going alone to explore the trails looking for new places and thinking back on our adventures. Then kids came and I when they were old enough I was happy to introduce them to the gardens hoping they would enjoy it as much I as have. We would walk the same trails and like I always do I’d tell them about how their mother and I walked this same trail or sat in that same bench. I’m always doing that and I know my kids think, “dad we heard that one already.” Thinking back over the years and telling them about it has always made me happy though. I guess they listen just because I’m dad and well that’s what a dad does.
An evasive species of insects invaded our area years ago and attacked trees like the Ash tree which is a common tree here. As a result the gardens started to take on a different look and I would visit then leave feeling sad at the way things were changing. I still had the memories of how it looked years ago but now so many of the large trees were dead, cut down or leaning against the few healthy threes remaining. I was also afraid to take my kids there as often because I would always picture a large limb falling on one of them. Because of this I stopped visiting for a long time.
A couple years ago I started to visit the gardens again on regular basis, though not as often as I used to, and was happy to see efforts being made at planting new trees and protecting the area. When I visited yesterday I looked like I’d remembered it years ago with healthy tree’s, thick vegetation and an abundance of wild life. I even saw a fox running in a field. Trees take years to grow large so I know it’s not like the forest just came to life in a matter of a few years so these large trees were there the whole time but I just saw the dead trees and lost focus on what was alive. My trip yesterday was really one of the best trips I’d taken there in years. I stopped along the way at the wooden bridge my wife and I sat on and remembered the way we got lost, held hands while walking out because she was a little nervous and I admit I was too. I found myself at the far and of the trail sitting on the bench looking over the pond. The far end of the blue trail is a quiet place and rarely do you see another person that deep into the walk. It’s my favorite place to sit.
As I always do I thought about my life and the years gone by. There were moments of sadness but I smiled too. I’m lucky to have had the time there with my family and I also know that while things are changing I can still spend time there with my kids. I am looking forward to another visit to the botanical gardens with them. Who knows what new memories I might build there over the coming years.