Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blocked

Welcome to my blog, a public diary chronicling the writing and publication of my newest book, Daddy’s Little Girl: True Stories about Fathers and Daughters (HarperSanFrancisco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).

My purpose in keeping this diary is to give Story Contributors updates about my progress. If other writers should derive any benefit from reading of the twists and turns I encounter while working under a deadline, well that’s good, too.

What is a Story Contributor? A Story Contributor is someone who was willing to share with me an autobiographical account of his or her father-daughter relationship. I then use those stories in the writing of Daddy’s Little Girl.

As soon as my website, www.gregoryelang.com, is updated, there will be a new page for you to submit your own story. I’ll let you know when that update is ready.

Now on to today’s dairy entry…

The day began with me making breakfast for Jill and Meagan, packing Jill’s lunch, and then leaving for what was to be a brief orthodontist visit for Linley, but we ended up staying a little over two hours. Afterward, I had lunch in a Vietnamese cafĂ©, and then came home only to find that the dog had thrown up on the sofa cushions. It looked like she had had a miscarriage, eaten it, and rejected it. Very nasty. These are the times when I think of dropping her off on the side of the road in the backwoods, but somehow manage to resist the urge.

Later, I sat down to read comments on my AJC blog, a post about cultural diversity in our once sleepy little country town, and found that my readers have turned it into a lively, if not sometimes ugly, debate about illegal immigration, even though I explicitly pointed out I was talking about diversity stemming from legal immigration. Oh well. Some people – give em a soapbox and they will go on and on and on and on and…

I also reviewed and tormented over a memo I received from my Cumberland House editor who wants me to revise the introduction to the Why I Still Love You book (I posted it on March 23, “Sneak Preview”). I like it as is, but she doesn’t, so back to the drawing board. The editorial process is a creative one, usually characterized by a free exchange of good ideas, and then sometimes it’s just a butt ache. Today it is a butt ache because at the moment I just can’t see how to improve on what I’ve written. I’ll mull over it a few days and something will eventually come to me – at least I hope so.

As Tasgola has pointed out, I like dashes – perhaps a little too much.

Andrew, my agent, is writing a press release for the Publisher’s Lunch, a daily e-bulletin that announces to the industry insiders all the new book deals. I’ve been reading it for years and have never had news of my own deal included, so I’m eager to check the inbox to see what is said about the HarperSanFrancisco deal.

Speaking of inboxes, I got an email today from a man who, along with his wife and toddler son, has posed for me for several books. They recently purchased the Thank You, Mom and Thank You, Dad books that include their photos, and wrote to tell me how much the son likes seeing himself in a book. I get a kick out of returning to the model’s homes and finding they have the photos I took framed and hanging in a place of honor, and a book in the middle of the coffee table. Indeed, one of the real blessings of creating the Cumberland House book series has been meeting all the good folks who have become my friends.

Dang it! As I’m writing this I’m also printing a recently revised copy of a novel I’m working on, and I’ve run out of paper. You might think an author would have loads of that stuff lying around. Well, usually I do, but sometimes when I look away, Jill sneaks a few reams into her car to take to school. It seems she always goes over the monthly allotment the school provides for her.

Not wanting to go shop for paper, I decided to write the content for my new webpages where participants will be able to upload a document if they wish. Boring stuff.

OK, I’m officially stuck, or blocked, if you'd rather. I’ve pondered for hours on rewriting the Why I Still Love You introduction, and haven’t gotten anywhere. Signing off now to go have a glass of wine, and then dinner with the in-laws.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And the Publisher is...

Welcome to my blog, a public diary chronicling the writing and publication of my newest book, Daddy’s Little Girl: True Stories about Fathers and Daughters (HarperSanFrancisco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).

My purpose in keeping this diary is to give Story Contributors updates about my progress. If other writers should derive any benefit from reading of the twists and turns I encounter while working under a deadline, well that’s good, too.

What is a Story Contributor? A Story Contributor is someone who was willing to share with me an autobiographical account of his or her father-daughter relationship. I then use those stories in the writing of Daddy’s Little Girl.

Now on to today’s dairy entry…

I spent much of the day completing tax paperwork and checking off the To-Do’s on the list my wife and our kids always have for me: took out the garbage, cancelled a dentist appointment, bought groceries, unloaded the dishwasher, made dinner reservations, booked flights for the upcoming summer vacation, turned down an appearance on Wife Swap, e-chatted with my cousin Drew Brown a military reporter for The Washington Post, talked with my Atlanta Journal & Constitution editor (Tasgola) about my blog-column, corresponded with my original publisher, searched though Jill’s files (yeah, if that’s what you call them) for important documents, and took the dog out to poop. This writer’s life, it’s very, very glamorous.

The good news is that at 1:00 my phone rang. It was Cynthia, my editor with HarperSanFrancisco, calling for our first planning meeting about the new book. We spoke about twenty minutes and agreed on the general direction/concept of the book, its page length, their editorial and print scheduling process, and a bit about how we will work together. I thought the call went very well, and I’m excited about working with Cynthia.

So what is this book going to be about?

Daddy’s Little Girl will be a celebration of father-daughter relationships, a telling of true stories that share wisdom and inspiration for others who are striving to be the best dad possible. As I wrote in the proposal:

“Sometimes the lessons fathers should teach their children are obvious and rather easy. Other times, important lessons are abstract, if not elusive. Now and then the lesson isn’t a didactic exercise between father and child, but an example given by the father that the child will later emulate. Often the father must undergo change before he can be the example his child needs. Sometimes the child is the teacher. In all cases, certainly life is the classroom where the lessons learned can have benefit for both the father and child, for a lifetime.

What are the essential lessons a father must teach a daughter, either directly or by example, to assure she matures into a capable, well-balanced woman? What can she teach the father? What do they learn together? These are the questions to be answered by Daddy’s Little Girl.”

If you are a father or a daughter, I want to hear about your parent-child relationship experiences. For more information about becoming a Story Contributor, please visit my website, http://www.gregoryelang.com/ next week after the new Story Submission page is operational.

Author's Log: Day 1

I am writing a new book about father-daughter relationships, to be published by a major player in the book industry in the Spring of 2008. Beginning today, this blog is my live diary chronicling the publication of that book.

My purpose in keeping this diary is to give insight into what it is like to be an author, hoping that aspiring writers might learn something of value from my career experiences.

A little history:

I wrote my first book, “Why a Daughter Needs a Dad: 100 Reasons,” in November, 1998. That manuscript was rejected 62 times before it made it onto bookshelves in March, 2002. Since that time it has sold over 750,000 copies and has appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List four times.

In the last five years I have written 17 additional books; 16 are available now and the other will be released this Fall. These books were all published by a Nashville publisher, Cumberland House Publishing.

One day last summer I received an email from Andrew Stuart, an agent in New York. He had read the daughter-dad book, and liking it, asked if I had agent representation. I did not. We agreed on a meeting, I flew to New York, we had a great lunch at a Bobby Flay restaurant, and now he is my agent.

Believe me, I am fortunate, not only to have been able to publish so many successful books thus far, but to be found by a great agent. In fact, I have been turned down by more agents than publishers.

Andrew and I tossed around many ideas for a few months before we focused in on what we thought was a fabulous concept for a book about father-child relationships. I then spent a while writing a proposal for that book, one that included stories submitted to me by friends and fans who were willing to share their life events in writing.

That proposal went out to major book publishers across the country, and Andrew and I waited patiently for an acquisition offer to come in. We waited, and we waited. None came.

Undaunted, Andrew withdrew the proposal and asked me to tackle it again, revising it based on the feedback we had gotten on the first proposal. So I did; about four times.

Sometimes it is hard to move away from your first “fabulous” idea. At other times it is hard to become inspired, but you write anyway just to stay busy, hoping your muse will eventually whisper in your ear. Apparently my muse was on an extended vacation.

And then one day, she showed up.

Inspired at last, I wrote a new proposal, and loved it more than the first one. Andrew liked it, too. Optimistic, he sent it out for a second round of reviews. It generated lots of discussion, and finally an offer.

We had some hurdles to jump, but cleared them, and now the contracting process is underway. I don’t want to jinx the success of the book, so I’m waiting until I have a signed contract in hand before I announce who the publisher is. For the moment, let’s just say you will recognize the name, and I am VERY excited.

That brings us to today, ten months to the day since I received the email from Andrew.

This afternoon I have a conference call with my new editor; we are going to discuss her expectations about what the book will be when it is completed.

You see, book writing is a collaborative process – a little bit of what I think, what my agent thinks, and what my editor thinks. Even though I may be holding the pen, there are always several minds at work. If you think you have an infallible idea, you’d probably be the only one.

I hope you stay tuned as I document the twists and turns of writing what I hope will be my biggest bestseller yet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Almost there...

A few quotes from my latest book, “Thank You, Mom,” now in major bookstores:

Thank you, Mom, for…

1. always coming when I called for you, and for coming even when I didn’t think I needed you.
2. allowing me to grow up, even when you thought you weren’t ready for it.
3. loving me so much when it didn’t seem I loved you at all.
4. pushing me to do the things I didn’t want to do, but needed to do.
5. giving me your affection, even when I didn’t seem to want it.


…and a few other aphorisms for good measure…

At times, it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people wonder if you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Discipline your child with evidence of love and concern, not immaturity and selfishness.


…I found this review about “Why a Daughter Needs a Dad” on Amazon.com…

“The title really says it all. I bought this book for my father who just found me after 25 years. With each page turn, there is a beautiful picture and of course, a reason. I cried as I read each reason because I never had the father I needed. My favorite page is the last page. Before I sent him this book, I bookmarked the last page with a picture that was taken when we met for the first time. He loved the book and cried when he saw the picture of us. Now he knows that his daughter will always need a Dad.”

That book is five years old and still rocks!


…and finally an update…

The new book deal is only days away from being finalized, and I am seeing the beta of the new submission page for daughter-dad stories for my website later this morning. In other words, I am about to embark on my largest book project yet; it will keep me writing hours a day. Add that to the two regular columns I now write, and I am going to be a busy author. As a result, this blog will evolve into a live journal about the new book. That move should save me time and allow me to focus my creative energy on the project that actually pays. When I am able to announce the book deal, I will then give updates on the writing progress, as well as share samples so you can see the book as it develops. And, as I plan to continue living a colorful life, I may still include a story about the Lang household on this blog from time to time.

Thanks so much for your supporting prayers and words!

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Sneak Preview

This is the first draft of the introduction for my new book (it’ll be #18), titled Why I Still Love You, scheduled for release this Fall. It is a gift book that celebrates lasting love and all the things couples do and enjoy together over the years. I hope you enjoy.


“When I first began thinking about this book I planned to write about my long-term hopes for my marriage. I intended to weave a sweet story of how I imagined my life with my wife Jill and our love would evolve over the coming years.

In preparation for writing this Introduction, I jotted down notes to myself about my observations of how well she treats me. I particularly took notice of the things we do together that I wanted to make sure would remain a part of our repertoire.

In my mind I could see what habits I hoped would stick with us, like reading the paper together on weekend mornings, hitting the snooze for one more embrace before climbing out of the bed, and holding hands over the console while driving. I also thought of new experiences that await us, like caring for and spoiling the grandchildren we hope will come into our lives one day, working together to care for our parents when they begin to need our help, and eventually traveling to the far reaches of the world as two love-struck and graying retirees.

At the same time I had these thoughts, I also reflected on my earlier writings about family and romantic love. I have written that I learned much about love and family devotion watching my parents and relatives who raised many children and have enduring marriages. I planned to once again nod to them as I put into words what I imagined it would be like, years from now, to look back with Jill at our marriage and point to the experiences and events that composed our history together.

Had this plan materialized, I think I might have written a sweet book. But something happened that changed my plans – something that changed me. I saw something simply beautiful, something profoundly wonderful.

My aunt, my oldest living relative, died at home recently after a long illness. Her oldest son, another cousin and I, the first three grandchildren of our clan, stood at the foot of the bed and watched as my uncle held the body of his wife of 51 years. He stroked her hair, sang love songs to her, proclaimed her to be his best friend, and finally said, “I’m so glad you can now rest.”

His thoughts were not of the pain of his great loss, but of the absence of her pain, that which had gripped her for so long. In his heart, in his life, she came first.

In the thirty minutes my cousins and I stood there bearing witness to this remarkable display of unselfish love, I learned more about marriage than I ever had before. I saw the true and intended meaning of ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.’

We left the house that early morning and returned to our respective spouses, each carrying with us a new perspective on committing yourself to someone in marriage. And, I, with a new determination for living everyday giving Jill some evidence of my love for her.

When I next laid eyes on Jill, I saw her differently. I held her differently. I loved her differently – I loved her more. I also feared we may not get all the days we have dreamed of having together, and I pledged then not to waste an opportunity to tell and show her, “I love you.”

And so it is. I began with a few romantic daydreams of what it might be like to be married to Jill for many, many years. But instead I completed this book with the new understanding of how to assure we stay married for many, many years - she comes first in my life and in my heart. Likewise, I know that she, too, holds me in the same honored place.

At the very least, after what I had the privilege to see, I know this: if death were to separate Jill and I sooner than we hope, I know that in the last day we spend together, she will know not only why I loved her in the beginning, but why I continued to love her till then.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This is a pre-announcement...

Thoughts for the day

Whenever a man is ready to uncover his sins, God is always ready to cover them.

You can’t act like a skunk without someone getting wind of it.

Consider the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.

Don’t you hate it that you never look as skinny naked as you do when wearing your favorite outfit?

Book Report

This is an update on a new dad book about father-child relationships. My agent is in the last stages of negotiating a multi-book contract with a major New York publisher, a brand name you will recognize when I can make the official announcement.

During the negotiations we have agreed to slant the first book toward father-daughter relationships. Once the contract is signed, I will make you aware of the details about the new project, and ask for your contribution of father-daughter stories that, when combined with my own stories of being a father raising a daughter, will complete the book. We plan for the book to be available by April 2008.

Although the first book is going to be about father-daughters, keep in mind this is a multi-book contract. I will write follow-up books about other parent-child combinations after the first book is released.

If you are a parent or a child, or both, I want to hear about your parent-child relationship experiences, particularly those stories that share wisdom and inspiration for others who are striving to be the best parent possible. Feel free to email your stories to me, or visit my website, http://www.gregoryelang.com/. In two-weeks it will be updated to include an upload page where you can submit your story.

THANK YOU so much for your support. I could not write about life unless you were willing to share yours with the world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

For Pun Lovers

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again thatyou can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, "I've lost my Electron." The other says "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said," I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7. A woman has twiNs and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain ; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade"them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Weeds and Roses

My wife is a little quirky. She insists ice is a rock, asserting the evidence supporting her opinion lies in the bartender’s term, “on the rocks.” This best explains why I do all the cooking in our home; it’s for our own good. And in case you doubt, I cook quite well. I chop, sautĂ©, assemble and plate ingredients with such finesse our neighbors believe I was once a professional chef. In contrast, my wife reaches into the pantry or freezer, unwraps, nukes and serves prepackaged meals. I affectionately refer to her cooking as “heating.”

Jill protests my teasing and tells me she is famous for one recipe, something she calls Matchstick Carrots. I’ve never tasted this dish in our nearly three years together. Maybe it’s because we don’t own a matchstick carrot pan, or perhaps she needs those special hard to find kind of carrots. Whatever the reason, I think I’m better off not knowing what I’m missing, so I have never encouraged her to relieve me from my cooking duties.

Jill, on the other hand, relieved of her need to heat those gourmet meals, used her spare time to go back to school in pursuit of a new career. Wanting to be a school teacher, she immersed herself in her studies, leaving me to cook, much to the relief of all who sit around our dining table. Today, her heating skills have been replaced with her teaching skills, and in particular, the thorough manner with which she gives me my daily assignments.

Before leaving for work recently she gave me a list of office supplies she wanted me to purchase. She reviewed the list with me, pointing to each sentence making sure I knew which she was reading. She held up her fingers to make sure I knew how many of each item she wanted, she described its shape and color, and she gave me permission to call her if I had any questions. I think she’s forgotten I have a doctorate degree.

Although I thought I was adequately suppressing my smirk, I suppose I wasn’t because she told me if I didn’t wipe it off my face I’d have to stay after school and do extra homework. “Yes, ma’am,” I respectfully replied and then hurried her to her car before she could threaten me with suspension.

In spite of my best efforts to avoid trouble, I sometimes run into it headfirst. I think I have a dormant gene that kicked in after I got married. I’m supposed to feed Princesses, Jill’s beloved dog, at five o’clock each day. Once my wife arrived home and asked if I had. “Why, yes,” I said even though I had forgotten. I lied only because I feared my parents would be called in for a teacher’s conference if I confessed to my misdeed.

Well, Mrs. Crabtree decided to check for herself. Apparently she had marked the dog food and saw there was no less than the day before. Like I said, she loves that dog.

I poke fun at my wife because it makes her laugh, and making her laugh is one of the measures I take to assure our marital bliss. There are other measures; we spend time together walking in the neighborhood or hiking in the mountains, visiting with neighbors on the front porch, talking softly before going to sleep, and doing things or going places with our children. As you might have noticed, however, nowhere on my list of activities did I mention doing anything with Princess or searching for a matchstick carrot pan. We’re talking about bliss here, after all.

Speaking of bliss, a few nights ago several friends joined us for dinner and a conversation soon started about keeping the romance alive after the honeymoon is long over. “I think you have to pay daily attention to your relationship and take care of it if you want it to last,” I opined.

“Yes, it’s like a seasonal garden, you must tend to it,” one guest added.

“You’ve got to weed that sucker, too,” Jill muttered.

“I think I’ll save a bite for Princess,” I said as I squirmed and wondered if I was a weed or a rose. I shoved a few choice bites of prime rib aside on my plate.

“I knew you loved her!” Jill exclaimed.

I didn’t disagree with her. If there is one thing I’ve learned living with a teacher, it’s to never talk back.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Life Lesson #10

Laughter is Healing

The best way to postpone death by embarrassment is to be the first to laugh at you. Laughing at oneself is self-healing; it inoculates you for the suffering that follows when others are only seconds away from doubling over in knee slapping, screaming howls about something you’ve done.

We may not all share this philosophy, but I know we’ve all had embarrassing moments. Not as in getting caught with your zipper down, spinach wedged between your front teeth or a booger flapping around in your nose like a bed sheet on a windy day, but as in when your panty hose suddenly fall to your knees.

My Cub Scout Den Mother had a weird sense of humor. She decided a fashion show would be a good fund raiser, but she wanted us all to dress like our moms. When it was my turn to go on stage, I had to be pushed out. The safety pin holding my – er – my mom’s panty hose up popped open and down they went. I tried to run behind the curtains but my legs became entangled in the hosiery and I fell. That was when my wig flew off. I looked like a turtle thrashing on hot asphalt before someone helped me to my feet.

I may have raised $50 that night, but I was not yet wise to the merits of self-healing laughter. I suffered greatly under my runway ridicule. This best explains why I still won’t wear a dress.

I learned the power of self-healing laughter years later when as a teen I went on a camping trip with my cousin and our girlfriends. Soon I had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want my girl to see me squatting over a hole in the ground, so I waded into the lake. Too late I remembered something I should not have forgotten – poop floats.

For the next fifteen years when my cousin started to tell this story, I interrupted and embellished it to the point of absurdity, so I could keep laughing at myself. It saved me again and again from death by embarrassment.

Let’s all laugh together at ourselves and each other. We’ll feel better about everything, I promise. Now, who can top the bobbing poopy?

Lesson: Laugh at yourself now and then. And never mistake a lake for a toilet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Life Lesson #9

A Father’s Example

A friend once told me of a story about her father. He had lost his job, one he had held for almost twenty-two years, during a corporate makeover. Being in his mid-fifties and having had an upper level position, he found it near impossible to secure a new job. Most of his resumes were returned with the words "over qualified" in the rejection letter. Yet he continued to send out resumes and network every day.

There came a time when he just needed to make money, so he took what jobs he could get. He eventually found work as a "stock boy" at a hardware store and a “bag boy” at a grocery store.

Her father had always taken great pride in his executive job where he had his own office and a staff of people that worked for him. He knew he had skills that no one wanted to pay for, most likely because of his age, yet he went to work at these new jobs every day with a smile on his face. If asked how he felt about these jobs he would say he was happy to be able to support his family; he never complained. Instead, he made sure all knew he was proud to be making an honest living at jobs that presented their own challenges, whether they were how to keep from getting paper cuts or stand on your feet all day.

She admitted to me she had not adjusted to her father’s change of occupation as gracefully as he did. She had enjoyed telling people about his "big important job," and now was embarrassed about the new jobs he had. Her father, however, held his head high and answered questions about his new occupation without reservation or embarrassment. With that demonstration of character, she saw that her father would do whatever was necessary to support his family. “I came to understand what he must have really wanted to teach me,” she said, “no job was too small when it comes to taking care of those you love.”

Her story caused me to think of my own father and how he did everything he could to make sure I had the opportunities I wanted, as well as those he hoped for me and my siblings. He labored hard to provide for his family, even holding two jobs at times to make sure we were all well feed and clothed. At one time I thought he worked too much; now I realize he worked as much as he could so that we would never do without.

My dad complimented me one day for making sure my work did not take over my life and cause me to be an absent dad. He then told me he could recall only one weekend in his childhood that his father didn’t work to spend time with him. That was the moment I finally saw how much time he had given his children in spite of the long hours he spent doing what was necessary to support his family.

Indeed, a father’s major responsibility is to provide for his family. Sometimes when I feel stressed by my role as provider I succumb to the opinion the difficulties of that task go unrecognized and often without gratitude, but then I remember my family is only half the size of the one my dad provided for. That is when I feel most proud of him, when I remember what he did. He did whatever he had to to take care of us, and he made time to play with us. I saw what he did, and I got to know who he was. He set an example for what I’m supposed to do as a father, an example I still aspire to.

Lesson: Strive to give more to your family than to anything else in your life. Never let your life get so busy that you don’t have time for each other or your pride so great you lose sight of what is really important.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Life Lesson #8

Mending Fences

I received a letter from a fan who told me of a time years ago when he and a friend were playing pool. He missed a winning shot and in a fit of rage, thrust the end of the cue stick into the wall of a church youth center. He described how his father, the church pastor, got mad himself but helped patch the wall and turned it into a learning experience about taking responsibility for your actions. He went on to tell me of how years later, his teen-aged daughter had backed the car into a neighbor’s fence and knocked a section to the ground. Taking the same disciplinary approach he had once benefited from, he required his daughter to work with him to mend the fence, him showing her what to do just as his Dad had done. When the work was completed, the father and daughter went for ice cream and discussed how taking responsibility for our actions is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.”

This reminded me of the time when at a very young age I stole a toy from the isle of temptation at the grocery store. Spying it, my father asked me where I got it and then proceeded to coerce a confession out of me. After I admitted to the theft, he sent me into the backyard to find a switch. I remember wondering what I feared most, the fanny flogging that was about to take place or knowing that if I didn’t choose one sufficient enough to get the job done, Dad would select his own switch, one that was certain to make his point. I reached into the cherry laurel tree (I’ll never forget it), torn off a branch, and returned to the house to face my punishment.

When the crying was done, Dad loaded me and the ill-gotten toy into the car and drove to the store I had cheated. He walked me up to the store manager and made me return the toy and give the confession and apology we had rehearsed on the drive over. I remember the manager looking down at me; he seemed to be a hundred feet tall and on the verge of squashing me. He shook hands with my father and thanked us for our honesty, and thereafter said hello to me whenever I accompanied my mother to buy groceries. To this day I’m not sure if it was just his courteous manner, or a warning that he was watching me. Either way, I had learned my lesson. I am pleased to tell you I never stole anything again.

Lesson: When you are wrong, admit it. Facing consequences and paying retribution are necessary steps for living right.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Life Lesson #7

Window Serenade

While spending a summer vacation at a bed and breakfast in Booth Bay, Maine, Linley discovered she left something essential for living in the trunk of the rental car. I went outside to get it for her; it seems I was the only one dressed well enough for a public appearance. Standing on the street by the open car trunk, I looked up at the house and saw that all our windows were open in our rooms on the second floor. I could hear the girls’ laughter and a chatty exchange between the sitcom characters on the TV show Jill was watching.

Suddenly realizing I wanted to be an American Idol contestant, I started to sing “You Light Up My Life.” Soon Jill came to our window to listen and she called out, “I love my husband,” when I finished. One of the girls yelled, “You are such a dork,” while the other laughed so hard I’m sure she was on the verge of wetting her pants.

It didn’t matter to me that I had made a fool of myself and fellow boarders at the inn would snicker at me during breakfast the next morning. I had accomplished what I wanted to do – tell my wife I love her, and in the process made sure the kids understood it as well. They will remember my audition for a lifetime; I know because I’ve heard them retell the story to their friends. I wear my heart on my sleeve because I want to be an example that leads our daughters to set appropriately high expectations about how they should be treated, and hopefully to show them what they should look for, in truth what they should wait for, before they give their hearts and bodies to someone.

When I have these thoughts, I remember how I learned about romantic love watching my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and others close to me who had a way of relating that was unmistakable in its meaning, that an intense love was shared, enjoyed, and reciprocated. These memories compel me to be unfailing in my efforts to show Jill I love her, for I know that I am also teaching the girls a valuable life lesson, that is, what true love looks like.

Lesson: Wear your heart on your sleeve; never leave someone wondering if you ever really cared about them. Help others to understand how love looks and feels.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Life Lesson #6

Love Unconditionally

My new marriage produced a blended family; Jill and I each brought a child from another marriage. We had our share of concerns about combining our families; after all, each child had already lived all their lives as an only child. Both girls had their own expectations, which they expressed without reservation, about what parent-child traditions would remain in place or be replaced, who would get the bigger bedroom or the final say in sibling disputes. Jill and I braced ourselves on the day we all moved into the new house together. We hoped for the best and prayed we had not just boarded a train destined to run off the tracks and into a dark and murky swamp.

Sure, we went through an adjustment period, when at one time or another each daughter cried tears of frustration about something the other had done or said. But Jill and I stood firm, united and expecting our children to work it out for the benefit of our newly blended family. We were determined not to be two families under one roof.

This family philosophy of mine required me to think carefully about how I was going to conduct myself as a step-father. I could have looked at that role two ways. One way is “She’s not my daughter, so I’ll do only what is essential for her.” That’s not going to happen; that’s not how I’m made. The other way is “She’s not of my blood, but she is the child of the woman I love, thus I love her as my own child.” That is the stance I chose.

Step-parent, like adoptive parent or foster parent, is a legal term that defines rights and privileges under the law, not terms and conditions of the heart. It does not limit the role and responsibility I have as an adult who has a young one living under my watchful eye. I care for, provide for, plan for and attend to the needs of both girls under our roof in equal measure. One will not be treated as a lesser than simply because I did not participate in giving life to her. I will not fail to do for her what she needs and what she might ask of me. There is no bloodline that divides my assets, nor my love.

This is what a blended family is all about - one family, one roof, one love that binds. With this position I am not advocating to negate the broken marriage or family that produced the child, but I am saying there is no good reason to diminish the step-family simply because it came later. Likewise, there is no reason to introduce the girls as “my child, her child” rather than “our children” unless I am attempting to clarify under necessary conditions who is the legal guardian for which child, or trying to keep an arm’s length distance between me and the child my wife gave birth to. I assure you all, the latter will never happen. That is why in our wedding vows Jill and I pledged to take each other’s child as our own. You see, the word “our” isn’t about possession or progeny, but is instead about a loving collective, a home, and a family.

I take Linley to school each day. As she leaves the car I tell her I love her and she usually responds only with “Peace out” or “See ya Big G,” but then she stands there and waves at me with a sincere smile and a warm glance that means something. Sometimes she waves twice. We’ve never discussed what this means, nor do I dare ask, but I’m happy to witness it. Its funny how the heart works, isn’t it?

Lesson: Love others before you love yourself; love your children unselfishly and unconditionally. They will then love you more than you ever could.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Life Lesson #5

Today’s nugget: It is better to be guilty of saying “I love you” too often, than to be guilty of not saying it often enough.

Your Sins Will Haunt You

Meagan and I were out shopping for a prom dress one day. As I sat waiting for her to come out of the dressing room, another young lady emerged in her dress selection and turned in the mirror for her parents to see. She was absolutely beautiful. “I bet it seems like it was only yesterday when she was in overalls and asking you to pick her up,” I said to the dad.

“That’s so true,” he said.
Just then Meagan stepped out in her dress, looking equally beautiful. “There’s my little girl,” I boosted.

“They don’t stay little very long, do they?” he said.

“No, not long enough,” I admitted. We looked at each other, sharing in that moment the bond between two dads devoted to their daughters, struggling to balance pride in the woman she is becoming and longing for the little girl that used to be. He shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. I prayed I wouldn’t start crying. For a split-second I think he wanted to hug me in brotherly acknowledgement.

“Does this dress show too much of my boobs?” one of the girls asked.

He and I stared at each other, not saying it but daring the other to glance astray.

“Not at all,” someone finally said.

We finally grunted, nodded to one another, and turned back to our little girls, our machismo in tact, their dignities preserved, and our wallets only moments away from being purged. I looked at Meagan as she turned in the mirror to see how her rear end looked in that dress. She was hardly my little girl anymore.

I think the greatest fear a dad can have is to helplessly watch his daughter become a woman. While it is a moment he waits for, to see his child thrive as an adult, it is a moment he dreads. Dreads because he remembers what he was like when a young boy dating young girls. My dad was not one of those types who urged me sow my oats so to speak; he expected me to respect women, starting with my mom, then my sister. But I was once more selfish than I’d like to admit, and on this day I crossed my fingers and hoped my young woman would not be tempted as I had once tried to tempt. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I’m certain I would raise him the way my Dad raised my brothers and me, only with an even greater expectation he be a gentleman, and an unselfish one at that.

Lesson: Teach your son to treat women the way you would want your daughter to be treated, and vise versa.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Life Lesson #4

Little Miss Independent

Meagan’s displays of affection are not all that have changed over the years. There was a time when she needed me for everything. I taught her how to tie her shoes, buckle her seatbelt, and use the microwave oven. Soon she wanted me to show her how to make her own scrambled eggs and shuffle a deck of cards, and eventually drive a car and change a flat tire (she quickly determined she preferred roadside assistance).

As she mastered these tasks and continued to grow up, becoming more independent and less willing to turn to me for what she wanted or needed, I began to feel the loss of status as her caretaker. I had expected that one day I would no longer be needed to read her to sleep, walk her to class, or help her with her homework. But I had not braced myself for when she would no longer confide in me or allow me to accompany her to a doctor visit. I sometimes moped around and wondered if I would still have a place in her life.

I had been the facilitator, the guy doing all the things she couldn’t do for herself. Then one day I became her protector, training her for independence and giving her more freedom but not before issuing the appropriate warnings, like the time I once told a young man who had come to take my daughter on a date that I could leg press 700 pounds, quite enough to stomp the brains right out of his head (since then he has referred to me as The Warden). That, too, was a time limited role and soon I was admonished for not trusting her. One day she asked, rather, demanded of me, “Don’t you want to see if I’ve learned anything from you?” I really had no choice but to shut my mouth, leave her alone and hope for the best.

I had to allow what I had invested so much time in trying to raise, a child who could make the right decisions for herself, to prove her capabilities. I had to become a dad not too hovering or intrusive, but a dad who could take a step back and allow her to grow. I said a little prayer and took a step back.

Just a few days later I took her to the airport for her first solo flight. Along the way we talked about her turning eighteen in less than two years and leaving home to attend college. Once at the airport I got her bag out of the car and sent her off to check herself in, a task she was determined to do on her own. I hugged her and said my good-bye, and to my surprise, when I least expected it, she grabbed my head, turned my face toward hers, and kissed me on the lips. The temptation to follow her into the airport was great, but I kept my feet firmly planted and watched only until she looked over her shoulder to wave good-bye one last time. I drove off, confident she was checking herself in and finding her way toward the security gates. I imagined her boarding the train that would carry her to her departure gate, then loading her bag in the overhead compartment.

Twenty minutes away from the airport my phone rang; Meagan called to assure me all went well and she was about to board. Good, I thought, she made it. Now all I had to worry about was if she would fall in love with the handsome guy standing nearby who she hoped would be sitting next to her.

Lesson: Allow your children to explore and take risks; it builds confidence. Monitor your children closely, but at the same time, give them room to grow.