Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Infamous Dog Bed!

 
One thing that makes a motor home adventure more enjoyable is the effort the manufacturer takes to make the RV a bit more like a home. You get to enjoy the comfort of beds, a shower, closets—even curtains.

During an RV trip one year my family and I fashioned treasured memories as we took our time stopping at many of the kitschy Americana roadside attractions. What made the trip more pleasant was the little things we did to help us feel at home—a favorite pillow, a family photo, or just a souvenir fridge magnet. I learned this valuable lesson the hard way.

During the first weeks of my divorce, it took only a few nights to realize I was neglecting the importance of a welcoming environment for my kids.  I made the mistake of being a little cheap and buying a dog bed for my son to sleep on. Yes, you read that right—a dog bed! You know, the large round kind you buy for a Labrador retriever or German shepherd.

I’m such an idiot.

The pooch cushion was new, clean, and comfortable. Caleb was young enough to enjoy the idea rather than be disgusted. He would lie down on it, wrap it over himself like a giant taco shell, and giggle himself to sleep. He never complained, but when I tucked him in and saw him on the ground sleeping in a canine cot I knew it was an absurd idea. I was getting weird and my kids were paying the price. I quickly got a real bed for Caleb.
The point I’m getting at is this: Men, in the midst of chaos, we need to make life for our kids as normal and homey as possible. We must create the illusion of something more permanent so our kids don’t feel they are camping out for the weekend in our man-cave. At the very least, we should make it a motor home experience, if not something better. Allowing our kids to live out of a piece of luggage every other weekend probably shouldn’t be a long-term option. Nothing speaks “This isn’t your home, kid” louder than a fridge that only contains moldy cheese and a bottle of beer.
Making your place a warm and inviting environment is all part of parenting. Our kids need us to be the dad, not a fun single uncle. When you can replace your Gladiator poster with a framed portrait of Grandma, your kids will experience an underlying sense of being home when they are with you—whether for a weekend, a summer, or full-time.
Ask Yourself:
  • When you’re around your kids, are your words or actions reinforcing a sense of camping rather than permanence?
Learn to laugh at yourself. Tell us one of your mistakes in the comment box.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Time for a Tune-Up (PART 2)


             Last week I shared my thoughts regarding the importance of mental health for single dads. Let’s continue with some other areas that may need attention.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH
Pastor Thomas gently smiled at me. “When did you last cry? I mean real tears.”
I shrugged. The divorce was six months behind me. I wasn't really upset about the breakup anymore. I had accepted that, months ago. It was more about the kids now. I was angry they would not have the childhood I’d dreamed they would have.
If I allowed myself to grieve, that would be embracing the irreversible. If I stayed mad, I could maybe change things—force my ex to correct some wrongs that impacted my children.
“Your family situation is what it is, Tez. Staying mad won’t fix your children’s futures. Before our next session I want you to go somewhere private, put your face on the floor, and pour out your heart to Jesus. Just bust your guts mourning. Because turning it into anger, Tez, just makes you end up sinning in some way or another.”
He was right. My anger wouldn’t change things for my kids, at least not for the better. Later that night I released my resentment and began grieving over my kids’ losses—things they would never know they lost.
I grabbed a roll of toilet paper—because it’s manlier than a box of tissues, right? I began repenting to the Lord, then mourning over my children.
I thought about all the norms that would never be. The family vacations without a mom, the holidays without a dad, the everyday conversations that usually happen over dinner or while driving to school. The little teaching opportunities while taking walks or working in the yard. Conversations about manners, finances, romance, and heaven. I knew these moments would still happen, but not in the fashion I had hoped. One parent would often be missing from these discussions.
I was finally letting my dream die and realizing this new reality wasn't really going to make a difference to the kids. For them, life would be what life would be. This dream had been more about my needs than theirs. Maybe that's why I was so furious. It had become all about me, and I was annoyed because nobody around me seemed to need what I needed so terribly.
My selfishness now revealed, I began to weep—slowly at first, then like a levy in a hurricane. Thirty minutes later, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom earnestly petitioning God—mediating on my children’s behalf. At one point I remember taking their photos off the dresser and waving them in the air—lifting their names to the Father, in prayer. I interceded for them so passionately; I thought my neck veins would pop. When I was too exhausted to go on, I took a deep breath for closure, went to the mirror, and laughed at myself. I looked like a Botox junkie, but my junk suddenly felt a lot lighter.
           
PHYSICAL HEALTH
Seven years later I found myself working night shift and sharing a house with a good friend, Derek. My son, Caleb, (now eleven years old) was also living with me full-time. It was like a godly version of the sitcom, Two and a Half Men. On school nights, Derek would wake up Caleb as he left for work. My son got ready for school with no adult supervision. I hated this and beat myself up for it daily. I would arrive home just as he was walking out to meet the school bus. Intoxicated with guilt, I’d kiss him goodbye and sleep until he returned. Then I’d make dinner, help Caleb with homework, watch a little television with him, tuck him into bed, and leave for work.
Thankfully Derek had an incredible servant’s heart. He was willing to forfeit any social life he might rather have, in order to stay at home all night with my son. Together with the help of our church, we provided Caleb with the male companionship he needed during this crucial time in his life. With Caleb’s mother three states away, many of the women at church doted on him. Caleb seemed to especially love that. It wasn’t the best situation, but it’s all I could offer as a single parent.
  Sometimes I wondered, What am I thinking? Sure the graveyard shift offered better pay than more traditional hours, but at what cost? By working nights, was I forfeiting relationship with my boy, as well as safety and the protective care of a parent? Derek had a fantastic heart, but he was not a dad. He was a single guy with no parenting experience. Meanwhile, my overall health wasn’t responding well to this nocturnal lifestyle either. Caleb never complained, but I knew I was physically becoming less and less able to care for him like I should. I relied heavily on my small group and the singles ministry to help me raise my boy. My neediness doubled when my daughter visited.
There’s no way I can care properly for my children if I don’t first care for myself. 
So tell us, what part of you do you feel most needs improvement?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tune Up - PART 1


Traveling by plane doesn’t seem complicated these days. However, when the flight attendant begins giving instructions about crisis procedures, you realize things are very different from earthbound travel—the drop-down mask in particular. No other form of public transportation requires oxygen in case of an emergency. Clearly, you are to take care of yourself first, before attempting to care for any children. It makes sense. How can you help anyone else if you aren’t getting oxygen to your brain? You can’t think straight or formulate sensible decisions when you’re on the verge of passing out. It’s the same with parenting alone. How often I have seen single parents attempt to care for their children when they themselves are obviously in need of some quiet time, a little community, or counseling.
It was 1995, I was thirty-two, suddenly single again, and losing weight. I wasn’t trying to find a woman. I was just forgetting to eat. There was a lot of stress in my life and some things were neglected in order to cope. I was only able to keep a few essential things in focus—my kids’ welfare, my job, and the search for basic shelter. My hygiene was cut back to a shower and brushing my teeth. I often forgot to shave or put on deodorant. I didn’t always feel the need to get dressed on the weekends either. It took all I had to juggle the basics. I ate to stay alive. A bean burrito and a cup of water at the drive-thru fueled my body. My car interior became my second apartment. Life was dismal.
Before long, it was evident I was becoming weird. I needed to stabilize my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical lives. Here’s my philosophy about us men: if we don’t maintain some type of community with others, we digress. To better understand, let’s hear from you about some of those areas. How have you found yourself needing some mental tune-ups?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Idols


A divorce is much like a ten-car pile up. It affects not just two vehicles but a whole slew of perimeter vehicles that get caught in the chaos. Not even innocent bystanders come out unscathed.
So you might feel totaled, like a pile of scrap metal. Take heart; you’re not beyond some bodywork and a little loving care. In the right hands you could come out in better shape than before the crash.
Usually, the first thing you see when you climb out of the car is the damage. You know you’re okay, but as steam pours from your radiator you hear a ka-ching in your head as you survey the needed repairs. With a divorce, it’s a sinking feeling we call dread.
Much like being in a car wreck, during the months following my divorce I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. An overwhelming sense of hopelessness chewed on the back of my mind.
I didn’t know it at the time but the reason I felt this way was that I had put my confidence in what I had acquired, not who I was in Christ. I thought my identity was in the things I had attained, and they were slipping away from me—my wife, my kids, my house, my cars—all of it.
Looking at my life as if it were a listing on the Kelley Blue Book website was a mistake. When I entered all my features into the fields and clicked on the “appraisal” button, I didn’t like the amount it calculated. My self-worth was way below the world’s market price. This stung.
As I embraced the world’s mentality, my actions followed suit. Desperate, I attempted to prove to the universe that I was an excellent father, a great employee, and a successful and desirable man. But it was all in vain because I really didn’t believe it. After all, how could I argue with the calculations from the internal appraisal I kept pondering?
In my feeble attempts to appear respectable, the opposite began to happen. I needed to pay the mortgage on the house my wife was living in while paying rent on my own apartment. As a result, I lost my car to the repo man, got fired from my job, and had to move to a seedy part of town in order to afford the rent. Worst of all, the kids didn't enjoy living with me during this season.
My transmission was slowly slipping as I went down the road to becoming one of those clueless fathers you often see in films. I could feel failure encroaching upon my dignity like an infection. Obviously, I lacked understanding for why I’m placed on this earth. In all my years of living for the Lord I somehow missed that it was about Him and not my own happiness or success.
It was in the midst of this when I called out to the Lord for help. I was tired of my journey. All my life had been an uphill climb to accomplish little more than a few trophies that had been wiped out. Life was vanity, nothing but striving for petty ghost treasures.

I saw how chaotic my life was because I had placed idols on the throne of my heart rather than allowing God to sit there. Idols like having a wife and kids, a house with a picket fence, the American dream. Those were my idols. 
I repented, asking Christ to take His rightful place on that throne. Then I prayed for the Holy Spirit to rearrange my priorities, placing them under the control of the Father instead of me. The late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, calls this “spiritual breathing.” Rightly so, because when I exhaled my sin and inhaled the Spirit of God, I could suddenly breathe a lot easier.
As followers of Jesus, as children of God, we don’t need to calculate our worth by the world’s standards. When we understand our significance and security come from who we are in Christ, it defeats thoughts of failure. Why should we fear trials and tribulations when He has not given us a fearful disposition (2 Tim. 1:7)? These trials are perfecting us into mighty men of valor. His heart is toward us with loving kindness and compassion (Lam. 3:21-23). So should we feel alone, confused, or even cursed? If we do, He wants to whisper in your ear, “I love you. I revel over you, favored one.”
Take heart friend, He likes us—a lot!
What are your idols?