Archive for the 'Dad’s Corner' Category

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?

abby-in-hospital

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.

Welcome to the family

Two girls and a dog dressed for Halloween

We have a new member of the family — a terrier/hound mix we recused from a shelter near our house. We’ve been thinking of getting a dog for sometime, and by “thinking” I mean our oldest daughter has been pestering us for nearly a year to get a four-legged friend she could snuggle with.

It’s been a few months since we welcomed Belle into our home and she’s fit in like the princess she’s named after. She loves belly rubs, randomly lays down for one wherever she can fit … and not fit in some cases. She knows what’s allowed and not allowed and has been a great addition to the family.

I think she’s such a great fit because she isn’t perfect. She had a couple of teeth pulled because she was trying to bust out of the cage she was in to tend to her 12 puppies. She has a scar near her mouth from the arrow some heartless person shot into her before she was rescued. With all her flaws, she’s family.

We went to three different shelters and found her at the last. She wasn’t the 30–40 pound dog we were looking for, but she somehow won the heart of our oldest first and the rest of us soon followed. She has a bark that can scare the paint off the walls, but she has the heart of a mother and I know she’ll protect our little ones if she’s ever called upon to do so.

Sure she sheds like she gets paid to do it (she’d be a millionaire if she did) and there might be an extra hole in the side yard, but the pluses outweigh the minuses and bringing her home is one of the best family decisions we ever made.

Pet ownership is teaching our girls a bit about responsibility too. They’re on water bowl duty; they take turns feeding her and hopefully one of these days they will help me on clean up duty (OK, that’s funny… I digress) in the backyard.

We’re lucky not to have any dog-related allergies in our house and she’s helped us understand not everything goes according to plan … and that’s just fine. I’m never going to call her a fur baby, but she’s just as spoiled as the other two princesses in our house and that’s alright by me.

So I’m supposed to have a parenting tip in these blogs, so here goes: Take the leap and get your kids that pet they’ve been asking for. It’s a hassle sometimes and it can get a little pricey, but when you see your kids smiling, laughing and playing with their new pet, all of that other stuff seems to disappear. Heck, it even gets them away from electronics and gives you some quality time when you take your version of Belle for a walk.

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

Pull up a chair

Closeup of a set dinner table

Cropped image. Jamin Gray, Flickr. CC license.

Growing up, we had an open invitation to go to my Grandma’s for dinner on Sunday evenings. It was a time for everyone to get together and share what happened at work, at little league or just hang out knowing that the people in that room always had your back, no matter what. You’d learn who got a promotion; you found out where your cousin was going to college. Big or small, what you learned around that table meant something to everyone.

Sadly, times change; people change. Everyone started having their own families and moving away from Grandma’s house. Sure, there were dinners, but they didn’t have the same feel. You had to rush off to get to work, or home to do chores to get ready for the week. All valid reasons, but that dinner table got lonely, even lonelier when Grandma passed away.

She could make one meal, feed everyone and somehow everyone came away full – even the picky eaters. It’s on record that I was Grandma’s favorite; we had a special bond because as my real mom slipped from the picture, Grandma picked up the slack. It gave us time in the kitchen that no one else in the family got, and I also picked up on some of the recipes that she never wrote down. And when she passed, people asked me to write some of those down, which I did.

But you know what? They never tasted the same. Not because I missed on one of the amounts, or forgot an ingredient. It was because those meals weren’t shared around that dinner table with a houseful of people. Meals taste that much better with the company you share it with.

Recently I’ve been cooking Sunday dinners with my daughters. We go to the store, pick out what we want to cook, then come home and I teach them some of the tricks Grandma taught me. No matter what we cook, it tastes a little better knowing it was cooked with both love and tradition.

Start a new tradition this Sunday and share your favorite meal from when you were a kid with your kids. Even if you burn the whole thing, they’ll have a story to tell future generations.

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

Class of …

Young girl holding a "Class of 2025" sign

My wife is crafty. Not in a shifty poker player “crafty,” but more of help with wedding centerpieces kind of “crafty.” So it came as no surprise when she put together a project when our oldest daughter headed to kindergarten four years ago.

It consisted of poster board, glue and construction paper — pretty much what my daughter used to create her masterpieces in class that year. But much like my wife does every day, she surprised me with what she created.  It was a sign that read “Class of 2025” that she wanted my daughter to hold in front of the house on the first day of school each year (which she has done, more reluctantly with each passing year; say a prayer for us as we inch closer to those teenage years).

OK, so maybe a poster board sign won’t hang at the DIA in the years to come, but did you see that? Class of 2025!

I’m a child of the ’70s. I lived through Y2K when the world was supposed to end because of a computer glitch. But now I’m reading a sign that is two-and-a-half decades past when the 1s and 0s were going to be our demise. It’s hard to wrap your mind around.

I’ve learned to come to grips with her world differing totally from mine. She learns in totally different ways than I ever did, and I’m OK with it (except for the math! Different blog…). I know she’s going to be smarter than I am, and in some ways she already is. When I played football, I was an offensive lineman; I made space for others to go on to do great things. I’m trying to do the same thing by clearing a path so she can do her own great things. I have faith she’s going to change the world; it’s up to her on how big her impact is.

This year my wife will get out a new piece of poster board, glue, letters and numbers for our youngest as she starts kindergarten.  That sign will read “Class of 2029.”  Please help us. Not that we feel even older (we do), but we’re unleashing one of the sassiest 5-year-olds on the world. She’s quick witted, understands sarcasm, has a heart of gold, and will somehow wrap you around her little finger in a matter of minutes as she sizes you up for one of her patented jokes. She too will change the world somehow, but I won’t have to help cut her path. If I tried all I’d hear is “move.”

As we enter a new school year, I want to thank the teachers in advance for all of their hard work; it doesn’t go unnoticed. And if you’re lucky enough to have our youngest in your class, it might be good if we set up a safe word just in case she tries to take over the class with one of her comedy routines.

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

Put your best foot forward

Close up of feet walking on a colorful lit floor

Cropped image. GPS, Flickr. CC license.

I’m stubborn. I learned from one of the best — my Dad. He and I are very different in so many ways, but way too similar in every other way. My inherited stubbornness recently nearly led to my downfall. Let me explain.

First, I was in a job that I dreaded going to each day. So much so that I went to the doctor (which is a big deal, more on that later) because I got physically ill nearly every morning. Why? Because I didn’t want to go in to work. It just wasn’t for me, wasn’t the right situation for me, and because of a number of varying factors, my self-esteem was at an all-time low.

I allowed people to get in my head, which made me second- and third-guess myself on everything I did. Seriously, I questioned every word, every comma for nearly a year — which isn’t a good thing for a writer. I had trouble looking for a new job because I didn’t have the self-confidence needed to interview. I became a shell of my former self.

We parted ways finally, and I found myself having to find those bootstraps people always talk about and start pulling. I found them at the gym and went nearly every day for a few hours to clear my head. Everything was going well until I formed (and popped) a blister on the ball of my foot. I tried to “play through the pain” but it was too much, so I went to the doctor to get it looked at.

Everything was going fine until our insurance went away after the job loss. We looked into getting different types of insurance, but by the grace of God and the help of an old friend, I was able to get a great job with a great company … with even better people!

The foot was OK and got better for a bit, then unfortunately it got infected and I had to see a specialist. Treatment was fast and swift, but the foot wasn’t responding to the treatment. That meant going to go see another specialist. Remember, I’m stubborn and hate doctors; but when one mentions “amputation” you drop the stubbornness. After getting a second opinion, I’m working with a new team of doctors who haven’t used the “a”-word and I’m on the mend.

So what do my trials and tribulations have to do with a parenting blog?

Simple. If you find yourself in a situation — be it a horrible work situation or a bum foot — you have to take care of yourself and do what’s best for you, because nine times out of 10 the best thing for you is the best thing for your family.

Take care of yourself and you’ll take care of your family.

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


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