Archive for the 'Dad’s Corner' Category

Demand it

strong and brave girl's t-shirt

My youngest daughter has an unusual bedtime song: “America’s Sweetheart” by Elle King. It’s a throw down, bluesy song that is all about empowerment. Oh, it’s not something that you can sing while protesting for equal pay or one of too many causes that hopefully my daughters won’t have to face. It’s a song that lets a woman be herself and not have to fight society norms.

I’ll be honest; I was taught everyone is equal so treat them that way. My dad had a diverse group of friends, so when I was growing up and said, “I don’t see color,” I kind of meant it. I know that sounds naïve because it is, but for most of my childhood I was lucky to be innocent like that.

The generation before my dad’s had a different view of the world, but through the years they learned that it is who the person is and not the color of their skin. My naivety went beyond skin color, I treated everyone – male and female – equally; at least I tried to.

We moved from the world I knew in seventh grade to a world I had no clue existed, and it was barely 15 miles between the two spots. Essentially, I was dropped in to a fight that was going on for centuries and I didn’t have a side to root for.

Let me explain. I went to a school that was part Muslim, part Chaldean, part Italian and part Polish. I’ll let you figure out what group I landed in. As a naïve 13-year-old, I could never figure out why my friend Mike couldn’t go over to my friend Rob’s house. Didn’t they like each other?

I finally asked Mike why they couldn’t hang out. He explained that their parents wouldn’t approve because of the families’ cultural differences. It was a history lesson that a teacher could never teach.

Fast-forward to today and here I sit, a father of two girls. And much like Mike and Rob, my girls are in a fight I don’t know anything about. I’m talking about how they’re going to have to fight for things like equal pay, equal rights and things that I was awarded by being born male.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not teaching my daughters to be victims; far from it. I’m teaching them that everyone is equal and if someone doesn’t treat you as an equal, then you demand it. Demand it by killing them with kindness. Demand it by proving them wrong. Demand it like the women who are marching so maybe they don’t have to fight anymore.

I’m a naïve white guy who never will apologize for who I am because my dad raised me by the golden rule. I am now the dad who will let his daughters cut their own paths, but will always be there to help them up. Not because I don’t think they can do it because they’re girls, but because I want to be there when they do.

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

It’s time

tug of war closeup

Toffehoff, Flickr. CC license.

I’m going to warn you up front, this blog is going to be a therapy session for me.

I’ve written before about how I’ve struggled with my weight since birth. Recently, and by recently I mean over two plus years, I’ve lost 89 pounds. Which is great, but it got me thinking, why have the changes I made finally stuck? Why didn’t it stick with the other countless diets I tried? Quite honestly I wasn’t ready or didn’t feel worthy.

Let me tackle not feeling worthy to lose weight. I know it sounds weird, but when you had to wear “husky” onesies from day one, you don’t feel as worthy as everyone in the room. I’ve been bullied, made fun of, and even dragged across the field of a middle school during a tug-of-war prank on field day.

I had to be the bigger man and let it all go because I knew if I started a fight, it wouldn’t end well because of all my pent-up anger. I internalized it, ate those feelings too, and eventually became the class clown.

Class clowns are really the only way for a person built like me to stop the bullying and harassment. I held court with my humor, deflecting any negative comments with a witty retort … much of it self-deprecating. As you grow up and move away to college, you hope for the best and a new lease on life.

I reinvented myself a bit in college, using my humor as a columnist for the school paper. But no matter how many positive comments I received for what I wrote, I still felt like the kid being dragged by the rope across the soccer field. Honestly, I still do sometimes.

Some of you who’ve read this far might be thinking, “Just lose the weight already.” Trust me, I tried but the only two coping mechanisms I knew were humor and food. And since food is sort of a necessity, it’s a hard habit to break cold turkey.

Becoming a dad was truly the best thing that ever happened to me and I thought some sort of switch would flip, but sadly it didn’t. What finally made me feel worthy enough? The look on my oldest daughter’s face while I was laid up in a hospital bed with kidney stones. She looked so scared and helpless; all I wanted to do was hug her and hold her.

At that moment I felt worthy enough and ready to make some changes, no matter how small, because I want to be around when she needs me to give her a hug. This isn’t a “poor me” blog, but more of a telling of a journey of one dad who still has a lot of work to do.

Funny as I reread this blog article, I realize most of my examples happened long ago, but around the same grade my daughter is going to be in next year. She doesn’t have the weight issue like I did, but might face challenges that I never did. But, I know I’ll be around if she needs me.

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

Let’s go hiking!

family hiking

Spring is here and with summer right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to do an article about hiking. Just like camping, hiking is a great way for you to spend quality time with your family without spending a fortune. But how do you get started? Here are some tips that can help.


First, decide how big of an adventure you want to tackle. Start small and work your way into longer treks.

  • The easiest trails can be found at nature centers or Metroparks. These are often just a few miles on groomed trails so they can be completed in a few hours.
  • You can then steadily increase the distance and/or altitude on future hikes. As you take on more challenging trails, you may eventually decide that you want to spend the night on the trail.


Absolutely, the most important equipment is footwear! If you don’t have boots that are comfortable or fit properly, you are going to have problems.

  • Generally you’ll want a boot that provides plenty of arch and ankle support (although some hikers like to wear lightweight shoes with very little support).
  • Spend as much as you can afford on the boots. It is true that you get what you pay for.
  • Consider getting your boots from an outdoor recreation store like REI. Stores like this often allow you to exchange the boots for a different style if you find them uncomfortable. Their staff is also going to be more knowledgeable about hiking than at a regular shoe store.
  • Wear your boots around the house or during the day to help break them in before going on a hike.


Backpacking is all about saving weight. When you have everything in your backpack, it shouldn’t weigh more than one-third of your body weight. If it does, either you have too much stuff or you need to buy lighter equipment. Not surprisingly, lighter equipment is usually higher in price.

  • A backpack
    • Start with basic equipment. A regular school-type backpack is fine for going a few miles at a Metropark. You can pack a lunch, snacks, and a small first aid kit with plenty of room left for a raincoat, extra water, etc.
    • When you’re ready to start spending the night on the trail, it’s time to upgrade your equipment.
      • The duration of your hike will help determine the size of the backpack that you need. If you plan to continue expanding your hiking abilities, go with a bigger pack so you can grow into it.
      • For overnight hikes, you can probably get by with a 40 to 50 liter backpack. For a weeklong hike, you’ll want 80 to 90 liters.
    • Most backpacks now have an internal frame, meaning that the structure is built into the backpack instead of the frame being on the outside. When you’re at the store, try on several different brands and styles to see which one fits your build the best. Again, an outdoor recreation store is great for this because they have a wide selection and knowledgeable staff.
  • A sleeping bag.
    • There are generally two types of sleeping bags: down and synthetic. Down is warmer but can take longer to dry if it gets wet (although there are new styles available with water-resistant down). Synthetic bags will dry faster and are usually cheaper. Be sure to get a waterproof compression sack to store it in.
    • Note: You don’t want to use the same one that you use for tent camping because it won’t compress small enough to fit in your backpack.
  • A tent.
    • There are several styles of backpacking tents available in a wide range of prices. If you’re hiking with other people, you can get a two person tent and each of you can carry half of the tent.
    • Generally speaking, most tents are similar in design; you’ll have poles, a nylon shell, and a rainfly.
    • When you buy a higher price tent, you’re paying for lighter weight.
  • Some cooking gear.
    • Start with a backpacking stove. You can get ones with pre-filled canisters of fuel, ones with a fuel bottle that you can refill, ones that use fuel tablets, or even ones that use wood. Talk with a staff member at the store to determine which one is best for your needs.
    • For pots and pans, look for ones that nest inside each other to save space.
    • Again, higher price means lighter weight.
  • You don’t need to spend much money on plates, cups and utensils. Just get a plastic bowl, a cup, and a spork (a fork, spoon and knife all in one). You can even go simpler and use a Frisbee for your bowl!s
  • That’s it for the basic equipment that you need. You can consider getting things like collapsible stools, hiking poles, pillows, GPS, coffee pots, and more. Just remember to watch the weight.


  • To save weight, go with freeze-dried food. It stores easily and is fairly easy to cook on the trail.
  • Bring high-energy snacks to eat while hiking. You will go through more of these than you would expect, so have plenty.
  • Water can be your biggest obstacle when hiking. If you’re doing a strenuous hike, you’ll want to have at least one quart of water for every hour that you’re hiking. Drinking water also helps combat altitude sickness. You’ll also need water for cooking and cleaning. Consider dedicating specific bottles for each of the categories. You’ll likely need to fill your bottles during the trip so plan ahead. Either know where you can find clean, sanitized water or bring a method to sanitize water from streams and lakes.


  • Less is more with clothing. Believe me, you can go a whole week on two sets of clothes! Bring some biodegradable soap and you can wash your clothes in a stream. Hang them on the outside of your pack to dry as you hike.
  • Spend some extra money and get a lightweight, thermal, long-sleeve shirt. You can wear this in the morning so you don’t have to bring a coat.
  • Have a separate set of sleeping clothes. Shorts and a T-shirt work great.
  • Bring a couple extra pairs of socks so that you always have a dry pair to wear.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • A lack of sanitation is the enemy when hiking. Don’t drink untreated water from lakes and streams. Make sure you are properly cleaning and sanitizing your cooking gear. Determine how you are going to deal with your waste and use hand sanitizer as necessary.
  • Be sure to familiarize yourself with the trails before setting out. Even if you are hiking though a Metropark, print off a copy of the map so you know where you are. For longer hikes, purchase topographical maps of the area. Even though you can use a compass on your phone, have a regular compass as a backup.
  • Make sure to use sunscreen. Even in the woods, the sun can filter through and have an effect.
  • Always let someone know that you’re going on a hike (even if you’re with a group). Share your planned route and when you expect to return. This will assist rescuers should you need help on the trail. Remember, your cell phone may not work on the trail, so you may not be able to call for help.
  • Finally, follow the Leave No Trace principles. They can be found at It’s important that we all follow these principles so that everyone can enjoy the trails for generations to come.

Now, get out on the trail and see what the world has to offer!

– Dave Enerson started camping and hiking with his dad as a young child. He is a former Scoutmaster of a local Boy Scout Troop and spent a week hiking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico last summer.

Choo choo

two girls in front of Chicago skyscrapers

I have to admit I was a little nervous. It’s hard not to be when you go on a mini-vacation with your kids. Don’t get me wrong; my wife and I have done all we can to have our girls travel and we always have a good time.

I’m talking it about it being me — and only me — with the girls. We were headed to Chicago to visit my sister, her husband and my niece, so I had backup at our destination. Not only was it the first time I’m flying solo as a parent on a trip, but it was my first time on a train.

My wife, Becky, took the girls on the same trip a few years back, so the kids were pros riding the train. They told me where they wanted to sit, how to plug in the tablets, and even how to get on the Wi-Fi. The girls pointed out the bathrooms and even where the café car was. They acted like world travelers.

two girls in front of cupcake ATM

In Chicago, we hit all the hot spots a 9 and 6 year old wanted to hit. NikeTown for new shoes for Girls on the Run. Matching outfits for the youngest and her American Girl Doll. We even went to a bakery that had a cupcake ATM (check that one off the bucket list … and who knew it was on my bucket list?).

We weren’t just there to help the American economy, but I can say, “You’re welcome, America!” One of my main goals was for my girls to bond with their new cousin. Being hundreds of miles away from family is tough. Being that far away from one of the cutest kids ever makes it even harder. But we do what we can and by the time we were leaving, the three girls seemed to grow closer.

We walked on to a full train coming home, so full in fact we had to sit in the café car at one of the tables. I thought this would put a damper on the trip because it wasn’t exactly comfortable. But it made for good people watching!

We saw people from all walks of life like college kids heading back to Ann Arbor and moms taking their kids to see their grandparents for spring break. A train is a true melting pot and it provided me with some teaching moments.

It also allowed the girls to teach me a few things. Sure they pick at each other like siblings do, but they truly love each other and they showed it during that 4½ hour ride back by being patient and listening. I also learned that my youngest knows how to deal from the bottom of the desk during a game of war, but that’s for another blog.

It is nice to get a change of venue for some one-on-one time with your children. Shaking up the norm can show you as a parent where you need to help your kids improve, but it also lets you know what you’re doing right. The trip proved that my wife and I are building a pretty good team with our two girls and they’ll be ready to help each other up when they fall down; they may laugh first, but that’s for yet another blog.

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

She’ll be fine

young girl reading

As a father of two great girls, there have been many firsts to be proud of – first steps, first words, first time using a spoon, and of course the first time using the “big girl” potty. As my daughters age, the “firsts” come with a little space between them, but they don’t stop.

In fact, I am proud to say my youngest daughter is now a reader! That’s right, watch out world. If there is a sign or level-appropriate book to be read, she’s there to do it. As a writer, and as a Dad, there has never been a sweeter sound than hearing a five-year-old read book after book or let you know aisle nine is paper towels and cleaning supplies.

Sure, hearing “enter” and “exit,” or “frozen foods” and “sporting goods” on a quick trip to the store can be a little taxing after a long day, but honestly it makes me smile. I’m not sporting an ear-to-ear grin just for fun; I’m doing it knowing that she’s going to be just fine.

What do I mean by that? I know there must be a hundred clichés about teaching children to read is the best thing you can do for them, which are all true. But I know my little one will be just fine because now I know she can read “Do Not Enter” signs, be able to heed the “Hot! Do Not Touch” stickers, and in the coming years, she will be able to read an acceptance letter from the college of her choice.

I give all the credit for her having this life-changing skill to her teachers and my wife. Sure, I encouraged her, but these ladies spent years getting my daughter to this point. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful because they’ve given her the keys to whole new worlds – both fiction and non-fiction.

If I can take a second to talk about my other daughter; she is a mean, lean reading machine! Recently, she and her team finished third in a school-wide reading competition. She was tasked to read a select number of books to qualify to get to the end of the contest, and she and two other members of the team finished those books.

Her team started off much larger, but for various reasons my daughter’s team of three went into the book battle against teams that were much larger, so the third place finish was that much more impressive.

I’m a proud dad not only for the strong finish, but for the times our oldest and youngest are sitting reading quietly and not have their nose buried in a screen. It might not happen as much as my wife and I would like, but we are both proud knowing that through reading, our girls will be just fine.

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

Dad’s van

1985 Plymouth Voyager LE

Unaltered image. CetteUneVoiture, Wikimedia Commons. CC license.

My Dad was the proud owner of a Plymouth Voyager minivan. She was a sweet ride, seating for seven, “suburban dad brown” color with only the best wood paneling appliqué from bumper-to-bumper. It truly was the best 1987 had to offer.

At the time, I had a stepbrother and stepsister along with my full-blooded sister (not sure if that’s the politically correct way of saying sibling, but that’s what I’m using in this case), so he needed the room. We had assigned seats on family trips; I sat behind my dad in the first row but sometimes I got lucky enough to sit in the “way back” where there seemed to be a little more freedom.

Eventually the need for the extra room went away, and it was just my dad, my sister and I once again. The one constant throughout the life’s upheaval was the van. I know it seems weird, but there was an odd comfort getting into that van. Through trips to baseball practice or heading to the hospital after separating my shoulder during a freshman football game, I knew we’d get there in one piece because of that van.

That van even saved my dad’s life when a drunk driver ran a red light and t-boned the van right in the paneling. Dad was sore, but he is still with us in part because of that van.

As I look back, that van was a big part of our family’s life. We grew up in it. We learned to drive behind the wheel of it. It helped us move four times and made more than a few trips to Mount Pleasant and Kalamazoo to ensure my stepsister and I (and our stuff) got to college safely.

Sadly, after nearly 400,000 miles, the van died quietly in a parking structure in downtown Detroit as my dad was out of town on business. It was better that way. And because of its legendary status, and I think some respect, my dad’s coworkers adorned the van with flowers and an RIP chalk outline fit for a vehicle that saw a family through some good times and some rough times.

Looking back on it, I think the van was a four-wheel-badge of honor for my dad. Being a single dad for most of the van’s existence, it became proof that he put my sisters (both full-blood and step) and me first. He didn’t need the latest vehicle to prove his worth, he had a van with a rocking seat and hatch held up by a two-by-four so his kids didn’t go without.

That van became a symbol of the sacrifice Dad made for our family. He did without so we could have what we needed to succeed. Our family has grown through the years — new members, new generations — and they learn the legend of the van, but they also learn why and who made that van so special because it was so much more than a van.

My dad has turned into Poppie to my girls and my sisters’ children, and he’s still putting his family first. He leads by example and he has made me a better dad than I ever thought I’d be, and for that I’m grateful. And who knows, maybe I’ll get my own “van” someday.

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

Is she really ours?


When they put our oldest daughter in my arms at the hospital, I had an odd feeling that someone would come and take her away. She was too perfect, too precious to be ours. I waited for them to come back and say “our bad” and give us the right baby. They never did.

I realize now I was scared to ruin something so beautiful and right if that makes sense. I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to be a father—still don’t some days—and that sense of doubt makes parenting a challenge. You second-guess yourself a lot. You wonder if what you’re doing is setting up your child for success or a lifetime of therapy … or both!

There are a ton of books on parenting, but not one is titled “Being the Dad of Abby,” so they aren’t much help to me. Sure, they give great advice on raising a typical child, but as every parent knows, there is no such thing as a typical child. Every child is different, and in our house the difference between Abby and her sister is night and day.

Let me say I had the same feeling at the hospital with our youngest as I did with Abby, but on a different level. She was just as perfect and couldn’t be ours, but when Abby saw her sister and held her for the first time, I knew both of them were ours. I digress.

Those parenting books tell you never to compare your children, but we do. Your oldest set the bar and reached certain milestones that we all compare to our future children. It’s human nature for a parent to see how one is doing over the other, but what’s not right is pushing the younger ones if they aren’t meeting those milestones in the same amount of time. Allow the younger ones be their own people. Society will try to pigeonhole your children, so let them be themselves at home.

We’ve been a little freer with our little one, but not because we have become lax. Far from it. But we recognized early on that she’s more of a free spirit than her sister and she’s going to take a different path. Oh sure, she wants to do everything her big sister does, but she has an independent streak the Founding Fathers would have been envious of. She’s our comedian, our peacemaker and above everything else, our helper.

Self-doubt creeps into every parent’s head, but when you see your children use their “please and thank you” manners, you feel like you’re doing something right. This whole parenting thing can be boiled down to little victories—be it sleeping through the night for the little ones to walking out after parent/teacher conferences with your head held high, you start to realize you’re doing OK at this parenting thing.

It’s been a little more than nine years since they put Abby in my arms and they haven’t come back to get her, so I guess she’s here to stay and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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


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