I can only count to 19

image credit: 2C2K Photography, Flickr. CC license.

Hello, my name is Jim and I have Type 2 diabetes. Wow, that is the first time I ever wrote that … and honestly, it feels foreign to me. It was my own fault; I didn’t keep up with my pre-diabetes because I thought the next step “couldn’t happen to me.” But it did — in a big way.

In mid-October of last year, I saw a black spot on the side of my big toe. It was different enough that I headed to the emergency room at the request of my wife (my angel and the best caregiver I could ask for). When the ER docs saw it, they called for backup from a couple of specialists and soon I was headed to a single room where people wore masks and special gloves every time they looked at my foot.

A sore on the bottom of my foot became infected and had manifested itself on the side of my big toe in the form of gangrene. Other doctors came in and out with pained looks on their faces. Shortly after, I was told they were going to have to amputate my toe … if not more.

I will tell you one thing: Once you hear the word “amputate,” the world slows way down and you start wondering what happened to get you to this point.

This next line is going to sound like I am trying to shift blame, but I’m not. I eat my emotions; it is my way of not dealing with stress, and yes, it is totally unhealthy. From when I was a little kid to now being closer to 50 than 30, I’ve comforted myself with treats. I’m in the process of learning not to do this, but it’s a struggle.

The worst part is it’s become part of my parenting style. I reward, bribe and console with snacks. It’s not fair to my daughters when I spread my issues onto them, and I am trying to make changes by stopping that as well. I don’t need them to go through what I’ve put myself through for nearly a year.

I’m on the mend. Another infection slowed progress, but after a second surgery, everything seems to be on the upswing. However my selfishness caused a lot of issues — both health-wise and financially — for my family and for that I will always ask for forgiveness.

You’re probably wondering why this is in a parenting column. It’s because I want to warn people that their actions, or lack thereof, have a ripple effect that you can’t even realize. So if you have a lingering health issue, get it check out or under control because your kids are counting on you to be around.

I’m in the process of trying to lead by example; wish me luck.

P.S. The title refers to how high I can count on my fingers and toes.

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

No screens

young girl in front of computer screen

Cropped image. Zeitfaenger.at, Flickr. CC license.

I’ve been traveling for work the past few months, from Florida to Tennessee, learning as much as I can about the business I’ve been in for nearly two decades. Sounds odd to see that in print, but I’m proud that I am always learning something.

Sure, I can learn all I want to know about my area of expertise from books, blogs and websites to just name a few, but meeting and working with people from around the nation is more of an education than the whole Internet has to offer.

You learn the strengthens and weaknesses of co-workers, and they learn yours. You become a team, a family for three or four days until the job is done. Then you shake hands, give everyone a “bro hug” and head home to your real family.

You share some stories with your loved ones, and try to explain there is a whole, big world you want to share with them. You describe that Florida has some of the best service in the world and Nashville has the best music and BBQ you’ve ever heard (yes, the BBQ there is so good it sings).

So many of us spend countless hours in front of screens – both big and small – and we allow our kids to do the same. We need to stop. Don’t get me wrong, entertainment and the Internet are great, but so are the experiences of turning the screens off and living in the real world.

Learn from neighbors; go share a recipe in person. Find out what its like to ride a bike down the middle of the street with your kids and see who can go the furthest without peddling. Think you’re the best chalk artist in the neighborhood? Prove it with an art block party and show your inner Diego Rivera on the sidewalk.

Trust me, I need to take my own advice because as a family we spend way too much time watching everyone else’s lives on screens that we need to start living our own. The summer of 2018 will be the summer of memories.

Turning off in 3… 2…

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

Bag man

Ever circle something on the calendar in anticipation of doing whatever you wrote down? Vacation, wedding, class reunion? It seems so far away at first, but the day kind of sneaks up on you. It happened to me recently when I was carrying out my daughter’s bags for her week-long, sleep-away camp with school. Don’t ask me how Fifth Grade Camp can sneak up on you; I mean the name of the camp is something measurable – fifth grade comes after fourth grade and all that.

Nevertheless, there I was, literally holding the bags wondering where time had gone! It seemed just like yesterday that I was holding a car seat being taught how it works in the valet area of Beaumont. Now I have a week’s worth of clothes – I’m guessing two weeks by the weight of it – a sleeping bag and pillow in my hands. I hand everything over to the guy in the designated truck; he slaps the appropriate piece of duct tape on it and off it goes, with hundreds of other kids’ bags, to an adventure that I’ll be lucky to hear stories about.

For more than a year, our oldest did a lot of hand-wringing over camp. She knew she was going, but the thought of leaving home for a week was more than she could handle some days. Other days, she was counting down the days excitedly knowing she’d get a break from her little sister (and maybe her parents).

We went shopping, stocked up on what was on the list. At every turn, we sold her on how fun it was going to be. The neighbors, who went to the same camp when they were in fifth grade, told her how much fun she’d have and that once she put her head on the pillow that she’d be out cold. You see, our daughter has always had a little bit of an issue falling asleep, so it was good to hear that she wouldn’t have trouble falling asleep.

The anticipation grew. As camp got closer so did the anxiety. But through talking, texting her friends that might be in her cabin, and knowing she would be away from school, she really started to like the idea of being away from home. So did her sister who took full advantage of being the only child for a week.

The big day came; she bounded from the school and onto the bus. Just like that, no big deal. We flooded her with hidden notes in her bags and she wasn’t wanting for mail at mail call; in fact, she received the most mail in her cabin. She met a new friend from another elementary school who will be going to the same middle school next year, so she’s looking forward to seeing her next school year.

Camp was filled with firsts: first time holding a bald python, a bearded dragon and touching a turtle. Honestly, all things I thought she would never do. They played games that taught teamwork, even if she didn’t know it. She learned a lot that week, but I think her biggest lesson was also our biggest lesson – she’s growing up and isn’t our little girl anymore. Well, she is but in a much more mature package.

My dad always said time flies, and I finally understand what he means. I’ve looked for the pause-on-life button, but there isn’t one. Trust me our youngest would have found it so she could be the “only” child a bit longer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is enjoy the ride.

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

The biggest challenges single dads face and how to overcome them

Silhouette of man holding baby

Most single parents didn’t set out to raise their children alone, but according to Pew Research, the single-parent household is the most prevalent today. In 2013, 17 percent of these custodial single parents were men. That means we need to start looking at the special circumstances of single fathers in addition to those that all single parents face.

Higher expectations

It isn’t just a myth that men usually clock more work hours than women; according to Harvard Business Review, it’s a statistical fact. Studies show that 29 percent of working men living with their children work more than 50 hours per week, while only 9 percent of women do the same. Unfortunately, these expectations usually don’t go away when a man becomes a single father.

As a single father, you probably feel the guilt that comes along with not spending enough time with your children. That’s completely normal. But it may help you to know that most studies show that quality time beats out quantity time in almost all situations. Make the most of the time you do have together and try to let yourself off the hook for things you can’t control.

Men don’t ask for help

According to Psych Central, there are several reasons men won’t ask for help, but the fact is that as a single parent, getting help from others is vital. Not only do single parents need help with afternoon care and rides to school, but a good support system could mean the difference between burnout and healthy self-care.

Single parents need to be cognizant of mental health and how it can affect their children. The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety and sadness all play a big role in the state of our mental health. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing. Your need to feel in control should take a backseat to your need for a healthy and happy home and family.

Setting boundaries

Discipline is one of the main struggles of single fathers according to the National Center for Fathering. While dealing with guilt from several factors—such as having too little time to spend with the kids and possibly from a relationship that ended—single dads can find it hard to set the necessary boundaries children need to flourish.

Boundaries, however, are vital in a parent/child relationship. Children who have set rules to follow grow up to become more productive citizens. Fathers can establish these parameters by clearly outlining what is and isn’t acceptable behavior at home and at school. While this will be different for all households, fathers must remember that consistency is the key to any disciplinary methodology. Broken rules should always have consequences.

Financial burdens

If you have recently lost a spouse through death or divorce, you may have lost, along with them, a second income. This means your budget tightens while the need for your children to spend time with you increases. This is a battle that usually doesn’t get any easier, but it can become more manageable. A lot of single parents find it helpful to speak to a financial planner to discuss their options since second jobs are not usually an option.

No one will ever tell you that single parenting is easy. It could be the most difficult challenge you will ever face, but also counted among the most rewarding. Just remember to take care of yourself, try to let go of the guilt and make the time you have with your children memorable.

Daniel Sherwin is a single dad raising two children. On his personal blog, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.

Two-step bus stop

girl painting ceramics

My life changed on a late day in November 2007 and again on an early day in May 2011 when my daughters were born. I went from a carefree, newly married guy to an overprotective father when each of them cried in the delivery room. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this as a bad thing but more as an important piece to a nearly deadly incident involving my youngest daughter.

There was talk around the house that we were going to make our triumphant return the local daddy/daughter dance put on by our local parks and rec department. Sadly, for us, the tickets sold out in a heartbeat so we needed to make alternate plans.

Do the three of us go out to dinner? Movie and a trip to the ice cream shop?

After careful consideration, we decided to do separate daddy/daughter dates, which  led to much more discussion on what to do. After much thought, and back-and-fourth, my youngest picked going to paint pottery and hit one of her favorite restaurants, Noodles and Company.

Date night came; we dressed nicely but not too nice just in case we got paint on ourselves. We hopped in the truck and headed to the next town over. I missed the turn for the parking structure, but we found some street parking. We needed to walk about five blocks though, but no big deal because we were having fun chatting.

We came to the corner of a four-lane road and a side street. I explained the difference the between the red icon that was lit up and the white “walk” icon that eventually showed itself. We took a couple of steps off the curb and I had to pull my daughter away from an oncoming bus. We were within inches of this being a totally different blog article.

The sleepy-eyed driver “didn’t see” us nor the other woman coming the other direction; she had to use some fancy footwork to avoid becoming part of one of those bike racks every bus seems to have nowadays.

What really happened? The driver wasn’t paying attention and jumped the light because, as only I can guess, he had something more important to do or place to be. He didn’t make it on his scheduled route for a few minutes because the protective dad came out of me and I had a few choice words for him.

I said a few things I wish I hadn’t, not because he didn’t deserve them—which he did tenfold—but because my screaming scared my daughter more that the actual near miss did. That put a damper on part of the evening, but we had a talk about why I reacted the way I did and she seemed to understand and even asked for a hug.

Any parent, aunt or uncle, or grandma and grandpa changes with the first cry of their child, niece or nephew, or grandchild. It’s up to us to control that protective behavior so that we don’t do more damage than what we’re trying to protect them from.

After the hug, we painted some pottery and chatted about stuff we’d never talk about with her sister around; it was quite the bonding moment. And if you were wondering, she got her favorite dinner from her favorite restaurant.

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.