DJ’s College Essay

I’m proud of DJ, my senior in high school.  Even though she sort of cracks on her father in this college essay, I thought she did a pretty good job!  Hope she gets in!

When I was younger, my mom and I performed in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol. This play has been running each December for 40 years in the Raleigh area, and more than 25,000 people see the annual performance. It is a spoof on Charles Dickens’ book with musical numbers intertwined. We were two of approximately 70 cast members singing and dancing across the stage. 

What I enjoyed most about the play was that I got to spend time with my mom. It was special, just for the two of us. When she passed away from cancer in 2010, I decided my sisters needed to pick up where mom and I left off, experiencing the magic of performing. We dragged my dad along with us. 

We tried out the year after mom died and surprisingly, we were all cast in the show. Our first rehearsals were easy, we practiced songs that we already knew because they were regularly played around Christmastime at our house. The next week got a little trickier. We were required to put dance steps with our singing. My sisters and I picked up the choreography in a heartbeat, but my dad struggled; he has two left feet. We spent the next few months teaching him how to do a jazz square while simultaneously lifting his arms in different directions. It was a challenge, but by the end we had him flawlessly placing his hands and feet in the right position on the right words.

In addition to vocal tryouts, each year I also attended the dance auditions for more advanced dance numbers. I have taken dance lessons since I was three, and it has been a way for me to escape. The problem was that I had never tap danced before, and one of the main dance scenes required that skill. I didn’t even own tap shoes. I returned to the dance auditions three years in a row, but never got cast as a dancer. I was only put in the chorus along with the rest of my family.

This year, I decided to give it one more go. I’ve spent thousands of hours in dance studios throughout the years, and I wanted to prove that I could perform at a higher level. I’d been working hard on my tapping skills at home teaching myself steps as I walked through my kitchen each day. Determined, but not expecting much, I arrived at the audition. The choreographer quickly yelled out tap lingo that was unfamiliar to me. I tried to act like I knew what I was supposed to do, but I really had no clue. I put on a huge smile and moved my feet in the general direction I thought they should go. When the cast list came out, I was thrilled. I was finally going to be a dancer in five main numbers, and one was tap! My persistence and hard work had paid off. 

This December, I will be performing at the Duke Energy Center and the Durham Performing Arts Center for thousands of people, tap shoes and all. My passion for dance and the energy I have put toward it over the past decade and a half have paid off in ways too numerous to count. Not only do I find great joy in performing personally, but it also means a lot to be on stage with my family next to me.

40th Anniversary of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol

Sunday Post 195: Not too much, not too little

Parenting is hard!

I constantly struggle to balance being the cool dad with tough dad.  Last year DJ told me I was the most strict father in the world.  I asked her if she could remember a time that I had punished her.  She said, “No.  But I know if I do something wrong you’d kill me.”

She has no basis for that.  I have never, ever killed anyone before.

When Uncle Jesse lived with us, he basically told me I was a pushover – not requiring chores, doing too much for the girls, catering to their every whim.

I have friends who are really good parents but have really tough kids.  When I used to run summer camps, I saw plenty of great kids with parents who were seemingly worthless.

I still check in with DJ’s friends parents if she says she’s sleeping at someone else’s house.  I don’t really care that she’s 17.  I also don’t care that she has never significantly broken my trust.  I just think it’s a good practice.

My mom still wants to know the phone number and address of the hotels where I lodge when I’m out of town.  She doesn’t call my friends’ parents when I go out, but she probably would if she knew their phone numbers.

On the other hand, sometimes I let Michelle or Stephanie watch a movie or listen to a song that may push the limits.  I might raise an eyebrow when I walk through the room, but I’m not inclined to run up and stop Netflix midstream.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t watching R rated movies, but some of the TV shows that are on today, some that I really like, are not really appropriate for a 12-year-old Presbyterian.

I happen to enjoy a couple of Miley Cyrus songs.  She appears to be a tramp, but she got some good tunes!

I’ll never forget the time when Michelle was three and busted out singing, Mariah Carey’s song Touch My Body, in the back seat of our minivan.  I thought Lisa was gonna come upside my head.

“You let her listen to that?”

“Ahh.  Well maybe once.”

“Once?  She knows every word!  What if she busts out with ‘Touch my body, Throw me on the floor, Tussle me around, Play with me some more,’ during music time in Mrs. Wishon’s class?”

“Well, I never really thought about that.”

“That’s because you are a moron.  Turn on Barney!”

I don’t have the answer on how to best parent.  I think too strict could drive a wedge between a parent and a child and perhaps stop all flow of communication.  On the other hand, totally letting go of the reins can lead to behaviors that could bring about long-term, unwanted repercussions.

I think my mantra on life has been to steer away from excess.  Maybe that keeps me from being too passionate about anything.  Or, maybe it keeps me centered.

Knock on wood and say a little prayer (not too evangelical and not too progressive); my girls are doing well under the current regime.  For now, I’ll keep walking the line.

It’s Christmas Carol Time… Again

I think I'm singing on key...

I think I’m singing on key…

This is our fourth year performing in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol and after being cast as a dancer last year, I had a pretty strong inkling that my talents were fully exposed.  I assumed I would, from this day forward, dance on stage.  In fact, I was fairly certain that talent scouts from other shows would be after me and frankly, I have no more time to perform.  I was saving it all for the fortieth anniversary show of Charles Dickens’ play right here in Raleigh, NC.  I wanted to please my hometown constituents.

Much to my surprise, not only did other talent scouts not call, but I was not asked to shake my legs this year in our annual Christmas performance.  Oh, I’m in the big numbers with all of the other townspeople, but the second act party scene with leaps, jumps and herkies, will not highlight my abilities as was the case last year.

I was deflated.  I sulked for days after receiving the news.

I complained to the girls, “How could this be?  How could they not see my talent with movement?  I mean look at these jazz hands!!”

DJ reminded me, “YOU CANNOT DANCE!  You don’t even march correctly! Didn’t you learn that in preschool?”

“Have you seen me shag?” I protested.

“Did they shag in the 18th century?  Do you remember how long it took to teach you Shuffle/Ball/Change?”

“That’s a VERY complicated step!”

I guess they decided they wanted to focus on my vocals, or perhaps my acting abilities.

We are reminded to act like it’s cold in the play, it is set in December.  And I shiver like a pro!

I mean, I can sort of understand that perhaps they wanted to give others a chance to shine.  And, well, maybe I am better with all of my focus on shivering.  That’s really important.  Sets the entire tone for the show.

I won’t be in the second act dance number this year, but DJ will.

Bailey ACC 2014 2

In fact, after three years of trying out to be a dancer, she has been cast in five big show stoppers.  In one she’s wearing an outfit that is actually a bit revealing.  Thankfully she has a feather fan that covers most of her business.

I estimate that I’ve spent $26,000 on ballet and jazz lessons over the past 18 years for that child.  Incidentally, that is the average cost of a wedding in America.  I should have just taught her myself.

But I guess the investment has actually paid off.  She’s knocking it out on the dance floor this year.

I would strongly suggest that you come to see her.  This is the 40th year of the production, big things are in store.  And you might even catch me bustin’ some moves in a few of the big numbers.  I’ve been practicing!

40th Anniversary of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol

Sunday Post 194: Another One Down

I’ve attended two funerals for young parents since Lisa died.  One was last week.

In both cases I sat on the front row of the church balcony.  I headed up there assuming there would be fewer people around in the event I become a blubbering idiot.  I have a bird’s eye view of those beneath who are struggling with their grief.

Yesterday I sat and watched another father on the front row, his daughter and son beside him.  And I return to that day.

It’s weird what you remember.  I was wearing my light gray suit.  I saw a former employee who I had not seen for years in the hall as we entered the sanctuary.  I grabbed her hand.  Another guy I work with was standing under the stained glass window half way down the aisle.  He had given up his seat for an elderly woman.

I remember Michelle on one side of me, Stephanie on the other.  I could touch DJ with my hand if I put my arm on the pew around my middle daughter.  I felt it was important for them to feel my presence, physically and emotionally, since their mother seemed so far away.  I enfolded the other two up under my arms, crutches to keep me upright.

We sang four hymns because Lisa loved music.  She used to say, “You don’t need to talk at my funeral, just sing.”  We did both.

I stared at the cross hung above the choir’s heads, What a mess you have made. I thought to myself.

There was no talk of the beauty of God’s plan.  We didn’t pick bible verses that would make it all seem planned.  We just  sat and ached, every single one of us.  Our minister hurt too.

Over and over and over I wondered how this could be.  It just could not be true.  I felt like I was at a movie watching someone else in pain, and yet clearly it belonged to me.

It broke my heart to see that father last Friday.  I didn’t hurt for me – I’m through the worst of it.  But to think of what he has to face: the fear, the loneliness, the open wound in his heart.  As a fellow human being, I simply ached for him.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share the pain, if I could relieve him for two hours each week?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  It’s his journey to walk.  We can stand by his side, we can help hold him up, but he and only he has to take the steps.  One     at      a      time.

Sunday Post 193: Confucius Say

Last Wednesday I picked Michelle up from dance at 6:05pm, right after work.  We had another event at 7 so we were in a hurry.  Typical.

Michelle was standing outside of the studio when I pulled up.  She climbed in the car and looked me over, “Dad.  You have dark circles under your eyes.  You need to get some sleep!”

“Yeah.  I’m tired.  Late nights this week; early mornings.  It was a tough day.”

My first question when she gets in the car is always, How was your day?  On Wednesday, she beat me to the conversation starter.

“Tell me about it.  What made your day bad?”

“Well, if you really want to know,”

“I do.”

“I had an early meeting.  I hate early meetings.”

“Those are hard for you aren’t they dad?  It’s cause you go to bed too late.”

“Not by choice.  Anyway, I had to speak to a group of about 75 people at lunch today in Durham.  I was on a panel with three other folks talking about work/life balance.  It took me an hour to get there, find a parking place and get to the building.  And then, I spoke for five minutes.  They did table breakout groups after we each introduced ourselves.  An hour to get there, speak for five minutes, and then an hour to get back!”

“What else happened?”

“Then I had a meeting from 2:30 – 3:30 with these other two guys.  And one of them showed up at 2.  And then both of them stayed until after 4!  It took all afternoon!  And now I’ve got 80 emails I have to check tonight when we get home at 9:30!  Oh, and I spilled coffee on my shirt this morning.  It was just a bad day.  I have a headache.”

“Dad, did anything good happen today?”

“Mmmm…I didn’t get shot.”

“Dad!  I want you to think of ten good things that happened today.  Come on.  Think of something.”

I swear.  I’m gonna have to do this. Think     of      something.

“Well, Robyn who sits across from me at work came back to the office today.  She’d been on vacation.  And she’s fun!”

“That’s one!”  She seemed excited.  “And you just made it through that yellow stoplight!  That’s two.”

“Oh, and this woman who knew Uncle Matt came up to me after the meeting in Durham and gave me a big hug.  She said that she really connected with what I said.”

“See dad, in five minutes you made a difference.  You helped her, and then she made you feel good too.”

“Yeah.  It was nice of her to say that.”

“Dad, look at the sky.  I love the fall.  It’s my favorite time of the year.”

I looked up.  The pinks and purples were peering out from behind the clouds.  It was beautiful.

“Dad.  Did you eat today?”

“Yea.”

“You know, there are people right here in Raleigh who don’t have food.  That was a good thing that happened to you today.”

Good lord.  I’ve used those very words on her.  How dare her toss them back in my face! 

At least she’s listening.

“Ok.  Ok.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad.”

“Yeah.  Every day has some good in it.”

It’s like I’m raising Confucius.

 

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:Click here. And thanks!

Sunday Post 192: So Embarrassing

halloween

I know that at times I embarrass my children, but usually it’s intentional.  Nothing makes me happier than to walk out of the house with a teenaged daughter wearing black socks with my tennis shoes.  Yeah, in some circles that’s in…but only if the socks have the Nike swoosh on the side.  I got my swooshless socks from Walmart.

I revel in their pleas for parental normalness.  My office elevator has had rails on the back wall and mirrors from ceiling to floor.  When a kid and I enter, I prop both feet on the rail and break out in song!  “Dad, you’re so weird!  Stop singing Prince in the elevator!  Someone’s gonna come in here!”

It’s actually very cool.  You can see your performance from a bird’s eye view if you keep your eyes lifted up.

But the embarrassment is on my terms.  Not theirs.

On Halloween, I worked to get home at a decent hour.  DJ and Stephanie had an event at their school so I was prepared to trick or treat with Michelle.  I knew that my door to door days were waning, but I thought I had at least one more year.

As she put on her costume, I readied myself.  I put on a sweater, jeans and made a sign for our candy dish on an index card:  Please take one or two, we’ll be home shortly.  I taped it to a long pencil and stuck it in the middle of the M&Ms and Starburst Fruit Chews.

I put a can of beer in a koozie and called up to my 12-year-old Oreo, “You ready to go?”

She came downstairs and eyeballed the situation.  She was clear in her words, “It’s a little embarrassing to have your dad trick or treat with you.  I mean, I’m old enough to go by myself.  Ellen is only 11, and her Mr. Young said she could go with me – alone.”

Unfortunately there was no one around to remove the dagger that had been pierced through my heart.  I stood there, bleeding, pondering my options.  I knew it was time to let go.

“You got your cell phone?”

“Yes.”

“Dellwood Drive and Elvin Court ONLY.  If you want to go further, I’ll come meet you.”

“Thanks dad!”  She gave me a hug.

As she walked away, I yelled, “Be home by 8.”

I slowly walked into the kitchen and removed the help yourself sign.

It’s more fun to watch your kids grow up with your spouse. Fortunately Jesse dropped by and chatted while Michelle galavanted across the neighborhood. I wonder if they’ll be home for Christmas.

Sunday Post 191: My Eulogy

Last week I did my first eulogy.  Do you do a eulogy?  Say a eulogy?  I guess you eulogize someone.

I was honored to be asked by an elderly lady who attended my church and who was an avid exerciser at the Y.  She called me a month or so ago and explained that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  She felt like her time was limited.  She was making plans.

Sarah told me I was a good man and that certainly I could think of something good to say about her.  She was right.  It was easy to think of wonderful things about my friend.

It’s a huge responsibility to speak at someone’s funeral.  The opportunity only comes around once.  It is the single time that folks will outwardly, in front of your friends and family, talk about what you’ve meant to this world.

As I thought about Sarah last week, I also thought about the end of my life.  When it’s all said and done, what would I want someone to say about me?

I really spent some time thinking about this and have decided there are about five things I hope someone will remember when they give that 10 minute synopsis of my life.

1) He made us laugh.

2) He was a really, really good father.

3) He made a difference in this world (and be able to support that statement with several specific examples).

4) He lived his faith through his actions.

5)  He loved people – he loved all people, and it showed.

When I look through this list, there are a couple I think I’ll knock out of the park.  There are a few, though, where I’m currently coming up short.  That means I have to accept that I’m probably going to fail or I’m going to have to make some changes now.

Suppose I lived my life with those five goals in mind.  What if I considered my daily actions determining if what I was doing was moving me toward those goals or away from them?

Perhaps a little focus today, will ensure a more interesting and thoughtful message upon my demise.

Biff’s Biceps

university_banner

I applied to one college.

I did not visit multiple institutions.  I took the SAT once.  We didn’t even have the ACT that I can recall or any other test that required a number 2 pencil and an interruption of much needed Saturday morning teenager’s sleep.

Maybe I wrote an essay.  If I did, it wasn’t a big deal.  It was one.  Perhaps my dad proofed it.  But that was about all.

These days I truly think it would be less work to be confirmed to the Supreme Court than to get into an institution of higher learning.

Over the years, many dandy tools have been created to help you figure out which college might be a good fit.  You can go to a web site and look at a scattergram showing you little colored dots on a graph that tell you the average high school GPA of those who applied to get into each college.  The green dots got in, the red ones did not and the blue ones got in but went somewhere else.

It was one of these web sites that unveiled that the average GPA for the University of North Carolina is 4.58.

So to be clear, you can have straight A’s, a 4.0 average, and you ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT get into one of our state’s largest institutions of higher learning.  Unless, of course, you play football.

I have encouraged DJ to join the city league.  Certainly she could be a kicker.  She says that’s ridiculous, that shoulder pads are out.

My standards are not that high for DJ’s college choice.  There are two criteria:  She has to get accepted and I have to be able to pay for it.

Thus far in our quest for the right secondary educational fit,we have:

Taken the SAT twice

Taken one prep course for the SAT

Taken the ACT twice

Visited 11 institutions

Completed the common app (which most colleges don’t take)

Had 17 arguments

And she has written six essays which I have proofed.  There are many more to go.

Why is there a common application if more than half of the schools she is applying to refuse to accept it?

At NC State, which does not accept the common app, you have to enter your top ten extracurricular activities and explain them in 25 characters or less.  For UNC, you have up to 150 characters to share the same exact information.  Errrr.

Although DJ has done the lions share of the work, at times we will sit together, two computers open, trying to enter info onto one application by interpolating info from another application.  Working to add or pair down the 62 characters to 22 characters because some bozo decided not to use the common app.

At times we get a little punchy, and I’ll start answering questions like this:

Question:  Discuss any obstacle and/or hardships you have encountered and how you dealt with them.

Our Answer:  I was a breech baby.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  My toes were above my ears and the umbilical cord was wrapped around my chest.  I tried to turn but I simply could not.  I could hear the doctor going nuts!  I pressed on the lining of my mother’s uterus and bravely shimmied down the birth canal.  It was the most difficult day of my life.

There are some schools that really want DJ to attend.  I am not familiar with Mercer, but I feel like we have a special relationship.  They email me daily.  Right now they are, one by one, sending me the top 15 reasons to attend their school.  We’re on number 6.  I can’t wait to see what 5 will be.

I do fear that DJ might decide to go to a school for the wrong reasons.  A few weeks ago we toured the University of South Carolina.  When we got back into the car after walking around the campus for an hour and half I asked, “What did you like the most?”

She said, “The tour guide was HOT!”

All of this work, and she may make her choice based on Biff’s biceps.  Heck, the local community college has hot guys.  Think we’ll go there next week.

 

 

Sunday Post 190: Haters

A couple of weeks ago a fellow blogger left me a comment.  She wrote, “Your writing is tired.  I used to enjoy reading your stuff but not anymore.  You should stop writing.”

OUCH!  That one hurt.

I mean, she didn’t disagree with my take on things, she didn’t tell me she hated a particular post, she told me to stop writing.

Her comment made me think a bit about how I share criticism.  I know I am pretty outspoken and share my opinions freely, but I also think I’m pretty good at making sure I give feedback that’s constructive rather than just smashing folks.

I kept my niece and nephew for the day recently.  She is three, he is five.  They’re great kids!  He is, however, the loudest person I’ve ever met.  If there is an item in the house that might possibly resemble a drum in any way, shape or form, he will beat it.  Like, he’ll be the mess out of it.

His sister, my god-daughter, is a cute, sweet little one.  She’ll look at you with those beautiful big eyes, give you a huge hug, and then go hit her brother in the head with a stainless steel bowl.

It was then that I sort of lost my temper, cause she’d done it before just a few minutes earlier.  I do love kids.  I also love them to do what I tell them to do.  When she didn’t, she got the raised voice and a little time out.

When her five minutes were over, I pulled her into my lap and I said, “You know, I LOVE YOU!  But I don’t like it when you hit your brother.  It hurts him, you can’t do that.”  We hugged and headed to the den to play a sweet game of Monkey’s In A Barrel.

As I was talking with Kinsey after her infraction, two of my kids yelled down from upstairs, “Dad – we’ve heard that before!  You always told us you loved us after you yelled at us for doing something wrong.”

It’s not that I think you should hold back from expressing frustration or dolling out criticism.  But I work to make sure the person I’m criticising knows it’s their specific action that is causing me strife, not their whole self.

That being said, perhaps my fellow blogger was not saying she didn’t like me.  Perhaps she was just telling me my entire repertoire of writing is lacking.  That it’s only my writing that stinks.

If I the goal of my blog was to please her, I’d quit.  But it’s not.  I just enjoy writing – it’s a hobby like knitting.  I’m sure not all sweaters turn out perfect.

And by the way lady, it’s free.  You no likie?  Read something else.
Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:Click here. And thanks!

 

Happy Bday Little One

It’s Michelle’s 12th birthday, and she wanted to blow it out.  I’m guessing there aren’t that many 15 girl sleepovers left in me – but, as long as they’re willing to come to my house, I’ll have ‘em!

The girls and I got home around 5:10 on Friday.  The crew started showing up at 5:30.

Michelle was having 9 friends over.  Of course, that meant that Stephanie needed a couple as well which is fine with me.  The older ones sort of disappear for the most part and occasionally step in to help entertain the youngers.  I just check on them to make sure they haven’t smuggled in boys or started a fire.

At 5:50 Michelle ran out on the front porch.  I was under the carport with Stephanie trying diligently to hook my laptop up to a borrowed projector so that we could watch Netflix on the side of the house.  You know, bigger is better.

“Dad, can we open presents now?”

“Noooo.   You still have two friends who haven’t arrived!  We’re gonna do that later tonight.”

“But we’re bored.”

“Bored?  Bored?  Good lord child, they’ve only been here 20 minutes!”  This was clearly going to be the longest night of my life.

“What should we do?”

“Pretend.”

She looked at me as if she had never heard the word.

“Do you know what we did for my 12th birthday?” She braced herself for the “Walk Two Miles to School in the Snow” story, birthday style.

“Your grandparents blindfolded us, spun us in a circle and had us stick a tack into the sketch of a donkey which was hung on our paneled basement wall.  And you know what?”

“What?”

“We were thankful we had a basement with paneling that was soft enough a tack could penetrate it!”

“You’re the weirdest person I know.”  She ran inside with her iPhone in hand.

I’m a cheap sort of birthday dad.  I did spring for pizza – but not the restaurant kind.  I bought small circular crusts and let the kids make their own.  They at least acted like it was fun.

DSC_0860

We then headed out to the carport.  That’s when DJ drove up.

My oldest daughter looked at me.  “Dad.  You look tired.  Let’s project some music videos on the wall.  We’ll have a dance party.  Take a break.  I got the next 15 minutes.”

A quarter of an hour.  She is so thoughtful.

DSC_0855

The movie was a hit until it started pouring down rain about ¾ of the way through.  We grabbed all of our stuff and headed toward the basement door.  As the girls ran in, a snake the size of an earthworm squirmed passed the door.

From the noise that came out of the mouths of these children, I thought one had run into a chainsaw in motion.

The snake is probably in Montana by now.  Their screams no doubt scared the hell out of him.  He was slithering as fast as a serpent can slither.  I feel certain he will NEVER return.

At 10:30 we ate cake – well, sort of.  I rolled out cookie dough and etched a little pic of the kid ($3.69).  I figured after pizza and popcorn some fancy store-bought sugarfest would not be necessary.

DSC_0880

Look, if you’re gonna dress your children in Jack Rogers’ sandals, you gotta save somewhere.

Around midnight DJ came home from her adventures with friends, and she helped me settle the crew down.  I went to my room and began to doze off when I heard the back door open and a booming voice echo through the den.

“Happy Birthday Michelle!!”

Hayes at bday

The laughter and screeches began again.  Uncle Jesse had arrived.  He pulled out the family guitar and began strumming as he held court with the nine preteens.

His work was complete at around 1 AM.  He did the job of an uncle.  Rile them up and get out-of-the-way.

No stiches, no tears, no vomiting or fist fights.  Asleep before 2.  I’d say that it was a pretty good night.

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