the flyin’ f**kin’ magic elves

every once in a while you need to challenge your children — in this case, i mean — challenge their understanding of how the world really works (at the core) and keep it real.

this was one of those times…

a few weeks ago, there was a storm brewing inside our house…and it had the normal warning signs…the rumbling, the growling, the flashes of lightning on the horizon, and the general feeling that something big was going to erupt — and erupt soon.

the reason for the ominous weather was pretty simple — it was because my wife was upset. note: she’s not prone to this, takes a while to get her there, but it was too much. *thinking back on this event, i’m literally surprised that she didn’t throw down some serious lightning bolts right then and there [i could swear her eyes glossed over with that milky-white haze you see happen when storm (from the x-men) lights up the sky — boom!]

regardless, she was upset because our kids were disgruntled and complaining about everything (it was non-stop) — and so then, as you would expect, it happened — my wife burst😊and shared with me, in an edgy-hushed voice (upstairs while the kids were downstairs), why she was so frustrated…she told me that she couldn’t believe that the kids were so unaware and most importantly — so unappreciative of all that we (but particularly she was doing for them) — this list is not comprehensive but it included: laundry, organizing friend visits, getting them to school, cooking a good dinner, and setting up the elf on the shelf every night…

after our conversation, i knew i had to do something…so, i went downstairs and called the kids over…when we were face-to-face i gave them a play-by-play of all that mom had been doing around the house and said, you need to go upstairs right now and tell her that you’re thankful for all she does for you…they nodded and were beginning to turn to go upstairs when i said, and there’s one more thing (my own storm was getting whipped up by now), do you think the magic elves come in at night and really bring you all this shtuff?! *in my head it sounded more like this, do you think it’s the flyin’ fuckin’ magic elves?! — but, i didn’t say that out loud…

[now, i know what you’re thinking — you didn’t but i’ll tell you, oh yes i did! it was on now, and mom needed backup — and mom wasn’t the only thing that was going to burst, we were going to burst some worldviews here and now…had to do it (and our kids are in fifth grade, it was time and it was the time!)]

after i asked them that question, they were like: uhmmmm…

so i asked them: who do you think does all this stuff, really?

(after a pause) they said: you guys?!

me: yes, but primarily it’s your mom — look, this stuff doesn’t just happen, it’s not magic — it’s because work is getting done. you need to see that, be appreciative of it. so, go thank your mom.

so they did.

and the storm cleared.

and the dominoes fell.

after the elves, it was santa.

after santa, it was the tooth fairy.

and so on.

happy holidays to you & yours!

God Smacked (Part II)

the second time it hit me recently (a time where i saw God in my daily life) was…

when i was driving to work a month or so ago…

well, it was a friday and i was happy as can be — until the flat tire happened. there i was, pulling through the drive thru for my regular friday morning coffee when the “tire pressure” warning light came on. i thought, ok, this is related to the patch i just got 2 weeks ago when a nail went through — but no, this was a new flat (and i heard it before i saw it). the dreaded hiss of air going out. and then i saw it. a piece of sheet metal embedded in the tire. honestly, i feel like mad max in fury road these days because there’s so much sh** on the roads with all the f**king construction (press play on “old man rant”)!  anyways, it was a slow leak — so, i paused and considered my options. and that’s when it started to rain. so, i checked the time and realized that i was already running late, so my next thought was: i could change the tire and be even later (and dirty, wet & grungy b/c of having to crawl around on the wet ground) or go to plan b. plan b won out. i drove on and made it to a tires plus close to work, ubered in, and got to school right before the students showed up. that was a blessing in and of itself. then, right around lunch time, as i was sitting there ruminating on the sh**-show start to the day – i heard a voice say, hey, mr. d.?! i looked over towards the door and saw a student from last year’s class (graduated already) standing there smiling. and she wasn’t empty-handed. she had randomly brought me in a milkshake from mcdonald’s — and it completely turned things around. funny thing, the student is somali (from a recent immigrant family) — and we couldn’t have more different life stories — but we both love us some mickey d’s!;) anyways, it was an unexpected kindness — and totally saved my day! thank you, muna!

God Smacked (Part I)

prior to this fall…it had been hard for me to see God, the higher power, the ultimate goodness — in the day-to-day — it was a significant non-God phase for me…where i definitely felt the absence of the Holy Spirit…but, then something happened…

and not once, but twice…

here’s the first thing that hit me…

it came out of the blue…two friends/families we’ve gotten to know through our kids’ friends randomly coordinated a double-sleepover for our kids, jack & grace. and they did this so that my wife & i could have an overnight together (without our kids around). when i first heard about the offer (through my wife) i was so overwhelmed by the gesture that it nearly knocked me off me feet. i had that reaction because it had been 10 years since we’d had a completely solo overnight without our kids! let me say that again — it had been a decade! pretty wild. have you ever been given a gift like that?! if you have, you know what i’m talking about — when it happens, it rocks your world (in the best possible way)…it was very generous and thoughtful — and my wife and i made the most of it! thank you, tanya & gretchen — for that little (but big) act of kindness — we are grateful for the gift you gave us — 100%! while i know there are those who may use this term to reference different experiences — in my world, what happened to us is what i’ve come to call being God Smackedto be loved with such a force that it bowls you over, right then and there! 🙂

*in retrospect, the most ridiculous part about this whole thing was my thinking as we were getting to know these friends a year or two ago – i was like, i’ve got my friends, i don’t need new ones, i don’t need to get my friends through my kids, etc…but then, i came to know them and like them (for sure) and pretty quickly overcame my silly resistance towards these new friendships — even before this amazing gift! 

**this event also ignited a memory — and i had flashbacks to when the kids were first born (we had twins) — and at that time, so many friends and family members showed up and loved us — and helped us through those early days…we wouldn’t have made it to today without that kind of love…

Mr. D.’s Graduation Speech 2020

I feel like the class of 2020 really deserves some encouraging words – so, here’s my run at a Graduation Speech. And while it’s not quite to the level of a George Bush Jr., Barack Obama, or Brene Brown, I still like how it turned out;) Press play on the audio on either link below — Dropbox (where you can continue to the audio) or Spotify — (which requires a free sign up, if you’re new) AND enjoy!



Show Some Love

life can surprise you sometimes.

several days ago i was surprised.

here’s what happened…

i was on “solo duty” (watching the kids on my own) for the night, because my wife was out having some fun with her girlfriends. i thought about making dinner (for a second), then decided we should stop off somewhere to grab a quick bite (there were a few things on the schedule for the night–dinner, homework, showers, etc.). and, my students at the high school had been on my case about the fact that i hadn’t yet been to “cane’s chicken” (like in a relentless, merciless way, like there was no other place on earth to think of getting some chicken)–so, i thought we should try it out.

after picking up the kids at school–that’s where we headed, to cane’s chicken. and, after navigating the winter wasteland of the twin cities area, we made it there. as i approached, i could see that the parking lot was jammed with vehicles–including the drive-thru line, which wrapped around the entire establishment. and, of course, the drive-thru line was where i was headed. i mean, i’m on solo duty, here–got to get this show on the road–no time to go in, sit down, and have a normal-paced dinner with my children.

so, i pull into the parking lot and make my way towards the end of the drive-thru line. as i cruise in, i see a red car parked to my right, as if the driver is waiting for something, but it’s not clear what (at least not to me and at that moment); so i cruise by it (her) and we exchange a quick glance and i settle into to my spot at the end of the drive-thru line. within 2 seconds, i hear a horn blast from behind me and i look around. then, i look at my side mirror. i see the woman in the red car “flip me off” and mouth some swear words at me.

my kids are aware of the horn, but can’t see the woman who is upset — so, I tell them “the woman behind us is unhappy”  🙂

then, i sit back for a moment.

i pause and think.

i’m agitated and annoyed that she’s pissed off at me.

i consider staying in the spot.

it’s what i would’ve done in my younger, more immature days (a couple of years ago 😉 )

[but seriously, it is what i would’ve done before. i grew up fighting. but, over time, i’ve tried to work on that response, that reaction–pick my battles, you know. sometimes i’m successful, sometimes i’m not–sometimes i realize that i still need to work on that shit (but, that’s a whole ‘nother story for whole ‘nother time)]

regardless, it’s not what i do now. at this moment–i don’t escalate, i don’t fight.

[it’s not what i do now because a thousand traffic incidents flash through my mind in a millisecond–times where people have cut me off–and i see myself, my reaction. and, it’s exactly like hers!]

so, i tell my kids, “she’s upset because i cut her off, though i didn’t mean to.”

and then, i do something i’ve never done before. i pull out of my spot in the drive-thru line and slowly go around the entire building. i circle back to the end of the line and come to the spot right behind her.

well, the line moves forward (slowly). after some time, we finally get to the speaker box and place our order. two chicken strip meals for the kids and the “big box” for dad. as we get past the turn we can see the woman in the red car in front of us. she is at the window where you pay. the kids and i are talking a little bit and we’re happy to be getting closer to getting our food. then, i notice something. the woman in the red car is talking to a cane’s employee and gesturing back at our vehicle…it seems like they’re in conversation “about us”. i mention this to the kids and the kids are wondering (like i am) what this could be about. i’m thinking, now what, is she taking up the incident with the staff?!

eventually, she rolls forward to the “pick-up” window and i pull forward to the “pay window”. i roll down my window and reach out to hand the worker my cash for the order. as i’m halfway there, he stops me and says, “you don’t need to pay for your food, she did” (and he points to the woman in the red car in front of us). i’m incredulous-what?!

the worker and i exchange a brief rundown of the situation, then i immediately put my hand up and wave a “thank you” to the woman.

she waves back.

with all five fingers this time 🙂

we get our food, head home, and enjoy some “really good chicken” (the high school students were right)–but, i’m fuckin’ jazzed–i can’t believe what just went down in the drive-thru line.

i know it’s such a little thing, but it’s fuel for life–it gives me hope, you know.

so, send out your love.

you never know what will come back.

Mentor Me

make the big time where you are.

-frosty westering, football coach, pacific lutheran university (1972-2003)

several months ago, i had the privilege to spend some time with some young men and women who were mentoring other young people (teenagers) through a local faith community (one of the most amazing faith communities i’ve ever had the blessing to be a part of — upper room community, minneapolis).  the young people they were mentoring were adolescent boys and girls.  for my part, i spent the majority of the time with the male leaders.  we talked about what it means to be a man in our world today, specifically in american society, and how to teach and guide young boys–so that, they will be great men one day.  it was a really great opportunity, to sit with these male mentors–to hear from them and to talk about doing life together in this way (they are a really awesome group of committed men, i can tell you–and the boys they work with are lucky have these kind of guys in their corner)!  as a part of the time together, we viewed the first 25 minutes of the video, tough guise 2–it’s about the challenges and struggles that men face today, the expectations and pressures imbedded in our society, and what it means to be a man in america–and what we teach all boys and men in our society.  what is the core message of the video? to bring awareness to mainstream society’s ‘tough guise’ posture–which teaches boys and men to never back down, to never show weakness, to be able to dole out verbal abuse at a moment’s notice, and to use violence as the “go to” for resolving just about any problem or conflict–shtuff that can be really damaging to the world at large–trust me, i teach criminal justice for a living 😉  the video is based on research done by sociologist jackson katz and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least.  all in all, good things to think about if you are teaching, raising, or guiding boys today.  especially, in a faith community, where the emphasis and importance in how you live your life can and should challenge the expectations and  goals of each individual–as well as the very fabric of our society--to the good!

after we watched the video clip and discussed some of the challenges of being a man in america–and being a christian man at the same time–one mentor asked…

how do we teach this stuff to the kids we mentor?

well, you’re probably doing it already.  by showing up every week, hanging out with a teenager, spending time talking to them, that’s huge right there…how many men do that every week?! 

then, i told them three things:

1. teach from what you know. in your twenty plus years of life, you’ve had experiences that can be meaningful to these young men.  you know the pressures and expectations that our society puts on boys and men–because you’ve lived it (at least in some way, shape, or form).  now, technology has changed the game.  because of social media and phones and instant messaging–the stakes are higher for these boys.  the pressure is more intense and unrelenting today.  kids can’t escape the shtuff that they once left behind at school (peer pressure, bullying, harrassment, etc).  it follows them, everywhere.  that makes what you’re doing every week even more important.  your ‘being here’ is big time.  and, the fact that you (a young, cool adult) are showing up in these kids’ lives every week is most likely because you know that there’s more to the story than what the world gives us, at least you hope there is.  so, you’re already heading in the right direction. run with that.

[teacher’s note: in my opinion, every single man in america should watch the video ‘tough guise 2’ (and read everything they can by jackson katz).  it gets at the core issues of how we teach some really harmful things to men in our world today, while still giving men room to think about things without thinking the worst about themselves.  importantly, to know that you can still be a tough, gritty man–without harming those around you.  from a faith perspective, a lot of what the world teaches boys and men, is pretty much the complete opposite of the life of Jesus–and in that space and tension, understanding and change is waiting to happen.]

2. don’t lie.  one of the quickest ways to undermine the rapport you are building, and ultimately, your own self–is to lie.  hard to recover from that.  be as honest as you can be within the bounds the experience–share as appropriate.

[teacher’s note: most kids can sense bullshit before most adults do.  and since we’re all human, we’ve all lied.  some of us are really, really good at it.  but, it can be really destructive.  so, tell the truth–as much as you can, as often as you can.

and, to be honest, some kids want to know more about you and your personal shtuff than is appropriate–just tell ’em: no comment, or that’s personal to me, or some things are just for my family — because, get this, they don’t get to know some things.  gotta have those boundaries.  at the same time, honesty and directness go a long way with kids.  especially, when there’s already so much bullshit floating around out there in the world.]

3. spend time around men who are older than you on a regular basis.  older than me, too, for that matter;)  i’m talking grandfather types. if we’re only relying on each other, people who are our peers, then we’re in trouble.

[teacher’s note: one of the ways men get into trouble is by just relying on themselves or their friends/peer groups for guidance.  if we are just around other guys who…look and act like us, who are the same age us, who just have the same experiences as us–then we reinforce those same things–and some of these things aren’t at all healthy for ourselves and the world at large.  and, because of that, we can mislead the young men we’re working with because we ourselves have been misled.  unfortunately and nowadays, we often think that our peers are the best ones to lead and guide us.  that is wrong thinking.  today, we are not often enough around our elders.  we intentionally and deliberately abandon and sequester them away in rest homes and care centers.  and, in isolating them–and us–we are missing out on some of the most important generational learning and wisdom that can be passed down and exchanged.  honestly, these people need to be around and among us–and we need to be around and among them, regularly!]

Last, I finished off by telling them that this job doesn’t require that they are perfect, that they are doing a really good thing for these kids–and that most of what we’re talking about with ‘men in the world today’ is about awarenessso, keep doing the good job you’re doing, but keep ‘what we talked about’ on the forefront of your minds as well!

Honestly, speaking with these men about this stuff was one the of the highlights of the past year.  Kudos to them and to the church staff for the chance to have this kind of conversation!  I wish communities everywhere could have these kinds of discussions–they’re big time!

*A special thanks to my friend, the Rev. Katie Sanders, for her great leadership of these mentors and for inviting me into this time and topic–thank you so much, it was an honor and a privilege!!!  How many years have we be talking about doing this?!  At least three?!  Additionally, it was a pleasure to team with my friend, Jeannette Vickman, a strong woman and professional counselor, who led the breakout time with the women (which, based on what I saw from the puffy-red eyes of the women in the crowd…was a success!;)–great to work with you!!!  Cheers!!!

Student Teacher

for seasoned teachers, it becomes easy to demonstrate mastery over their subject matter, answer any type of question, come up with lessons at a moment’s notice, and more…often times, their passion about the material drives their own continued curiosity about their field of study, and that is what keeps them sharp (and what inspires their students, too)…and over time, the mastery of their craft may even exceed their own wildest imaginations–to really know more than you thought you were capable of (and then) learn something new–again and again and again?! after all, it is absolutely crazy how much you can learn about one small part of the world!

at the same time, veteran teachers may find the opposite is true for their emotional mastery among their students…almost as if the interpersonal and ‘soft’ skills are worn and weary–brought down to the ‘bare bones’, if present at all–and, as the intellectual expertise and curiosity grows and thrives, this other force works inversely and develops along another trajectory.  it moves in this way…in silence and in shadows…until it doesn’t.  then, it arrives, brutal and raw and visible for all to see.  almost as if the time and energy teaching students has robbed the teacher of understanding, compassion and patience–or, to be truthful…it’s almost as if the teacher has intentionally and willingly handed these things over, through the years…

what then, shall a teacher do?

a teacher must become, once more, a student teacher.

[with emphasis on student]

how then, shall a teacher do this?

a teacher must leave the warm comfort of what they know.

and do something unknown to them.

only when a teacher leaves the safety and security that they have built can they become a pupil again. and only then can they see, hear, and feel what it is like to be a tenderfoot, a greenhorn, a first-timer once more.  this is true for me (and maybe it is true for other teachers as well).  this is the path that i am seeking–renewed compassion, patience, and understanding.  and the first steps are the hardest, because the only way to go forward is to submit, to bow, to acquiesce and to admit that you know absolutely nothing.

recently, i have started taking karate classes with my children.  it is awesome, difficult, and very, very frustrating (at times).  the other day, i watched one of my instructors show me a punch–and he gestured, now you.  i did what he did.  i felt good about it.  for a minute.  until he said, that was completely wrong do it again (and again and again).  in that moment, i was frustrated and impatient with myself and my instructor provided correction and encouragement.  he showed patience, compassion and understanding to a complete novice–as i fumbled along, my karate ugly, looking like a stumbling and clumsy oaf.  but, he stayed with me.

the process is humbling.  but, it can bring you back.  i think it’s doing just that for me–i can feel the start of it, you know…

maybe, it can stir something in you, too.

so, what will you do? what new thing awaits you on the horizon?  will you…

learn how to swim? paint a portrait? speak a new language? learn how to dance? write a book? take a trip? build a shelf? cook a meal? repair a watch? volunteer?

whatever it is and whenever it happens, i wish you good speed.

Another Revelation

one of the most profound observations from the book, “dark star safari” was on my mind as the 84 year-old master (sensei fusaro – 9th dan) was schooling us in karate this week. he had to sit down once or twice, but no one was bellyaching about having to work too hard or being tired or being frustrated with our inability to do what he was doing–not with that guy out there, no way! gall dang inspiring!

what all older people know, what had taken me almost sixty years to learn, is that an aged face is misleading. i did not want to be the classic bore, the reminiscing geezer, yet i now knew: the old are not as frail as you think, and they are insulted to be regarded as feeble. they are full of ideas, hidden powers, even sexual energy. don’t be fooled by the thin hair and battered features and skepticism. the older traveler knows it best: in our hearts we are youthful, and we are insulted to be treated as old men and burdens, for we have come to know that the years have made us more powerful and streetwise. years are not an affliction. old age is strength.  

-paul theroux

A Revelation

as a teacher at an alternative high school, i regularly find myself critical–or worse, cynical of young people and the choices they make every day. but, over the last couple of months i’ve seen something that is truly astounding–young people discovering their voices and finding their true power — standing up and speaking up — for what they believe in — their right to life. it is inspiring. and, no matter your social or political leanings, you’ve got to be moved by that, you’ve got to respect that. for me, it’s been a while, if ever, since “i looked up to a teenager”–but, that’s exactly the way i feel today. good speed and carry on, youngins! cheers!

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