Archive for the 'Dad’s Corner' Category

Who says you can’t pick your family?

bunch of kids skating on a pond

My daughter and most of her Beaumont siblings

As a parent you tell your kids never to lie. It’s one of the cardinal rules in our house that has the biggest consequences—we’re talking loss of electronics! I know, the worst punishment ever … according to my oldest, anyway. But to be truthful, we’ve been lying to her. Let me explain.

We’ve told our girls you never get to pick your family, you get what you get and don’t throw a fit. That part of it is true, but here comes the fib. The day she was born we signed up for a Beaumont Parenting Program group and on that day she wasn’t an only child anymore. She gained two brothers who excel on the ice, another who has more musical skill than any of her blood relatives. A fellow bookworm and a sister who, just like her, can dance until the streetlights come on. And lest we forget, her family is now international with a sister in England and her German transplant who moved to Germany when work called her dad back home.

6 kids with birthday cake

Celebrating “7”

They are her Beaumont Family, a hodgepodge of brothers and a sister who all may have different parents, but share common experiences that siblings only do. Birthday parties, Halloween costume competitions and even a few camping trips that show these kids pick up right where they left off from the last time they saw each other.

Heck, even the Beaumont moms go on an annual “girls weekend” that is filled with laughter, good times and relaxation … or so I’ve been told. Being a Beaumont dad, I never get an invitation! That doesn’t mean we don’t have our excitement though.

During the most recent girls weekend, one of the dads was playing basketball with his son, and what can only be described as one of the highest jumps in recorded backyard history, hit his head on the backboard suffering a serious cut.

Like any good dad, he sucked it up and went on with his weekend. But after a quick consult via a few texted photos, the injured dad decided to get medical attention. Too deep for urgent care to handle, and not knowing how long he’d be in the ER, he reached out to another dad in the group to look after his son as he went to get patched up.

Without hesitation, the other dad looked after the son and folded him into the daily family plan. That’s what’s good about having the built-in support system that the Beaumont parenting group offers—when you need someone to lend a helping hand they’re there for you.

We’re coming up on a decade of being a Beaumont Family and even though we don’t have bi-weekly meetings like we did when we started, we still get together nearly once a month to hang out, share a meal and reinforce our family bond. Next to our marriage license, the most important paper we ever signed was the one for the Beaumont Parenting Program.

And if you’re wondering, our high-flying dad had to receive seven staples to close his backyard basketball battle wound.

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

Do “North”

view on Mackinac Island

I’ve lived in Michigan for over four decades; my wife was an Air Force brat growing up around the world, but her roots were always in the mitten state. Together we ate in New Buffalo, swam in Lake Superior, and tailgated at our alma mater numerous times. So it’s amazing that neither of us ever hopped on the ferry to Mackinac Island. That changed in a recent family road trip “Up North.”

First off, let’s talk “Up North.” Where does it start for you? Past Midland? West Branch? Gaylord or crossing the mighty Mac? For our family, we consider “Up North” anything past the 45th parallel is north. We even make sure that everyone lifts their feet so no one trips over the imaginary latitude line that crosses over the highway.

We’re lucky enough to have family all over “Up North” which is great because it helps keep costs down, but more importantly gives us a little more time to reconnect with those we don’t get to see enough. And truthfully, it gives our girls the time to meet family for the first time and create a bond that can be built on for years to come.

One evening, my wife and I went to her class reunion (the reason for the trip) and had to leave our girls with family they don’t know very well and the plan was to go to a BBQ at another family member’s house they never met.

Our girls are OK at meeting new folks, but they have separation anxiety when we leave them for a longer period of time. But guess what? When we returned, our girls were running around like they’ve been there for years. They met cousins they never knew they had and a neighbor girl who showed them the ropes on the trampoline. The next day there was talk about coming to visit for a week next summer — without us!

Our trip ended on the mainland in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge. Beautiful part of the state; the mix of tacky shops and history is perfect. Nowhere else can you buy a Mackinaw Strong camo hoodie and learn about how soldiers lived watching out for redcoats. It sets the stage for a whole different world on the island.

The four of us didn’t know what to expect when we got on the ferry to Mackinac Island. We knew we were all going to experience something new as a family. We sat on the second deck of the boat to see the sights. We saw the bridge, buoys up close and personal, and the island itself.

I won’t give you every twist and turn of our Island adventure, but I can say it lives up to the hype. You are transported to a simpler time (if that simpler time had 24 different types of fudge). Our girls learned a lot about the history that is around every turn and they seemed to soak it in.

The point of all of this is that we all experienced something for the first time that we’ll remember for a lifetime. Our state is built for lifelong memories, you just have to go find them and make them.

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

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.

Location

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.

Boots

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.

Equipment

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.

Food

  • 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.

Clothing

  • 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 lnt.org. 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.


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