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As I try to gather my thoughts about what has happened in Parkland, Florida, I sit and imagine what it would have been like if that was my kid’s school. I wonder what our quiet suburban elementary school would have been like surrounded by police and news crews.

It’s an image that no parent should have to imagine, but in today’s world, as we drop our kids off at school, we are forced to hope that they come home safely. It’s just one more thing that I have to add to my daily routine when I am drop off William: we give each other a high-five and say, “I love you!” while I watch him grow up, hoping that I can see him continue to grow up as I watch him walk into his school.

Why You Should Teach Your Kids Empathy and Compassion

It wasn’t two days before the events in Parkland that I saw a Mass Mutual commercial with real-life stories about people standing by other people. You see a group of bikers bring a kid who has been bullied to school. You see a group of high school students who start a lunch club so that no one has to eat alone.

MassMutual “I'll Stand By You” 2018 Commercial - YouTube

It was then that I remembered hearing something that William had done on a recent field trip that I can only take the accounts from my wife who was there to witness this.

During lunch on the trip, my son saw a boy sitting alone at one of the picnic tables. He looked at his mother and said, “I’m going to go over and sit next to him, so he doesn’t have to sit alone.”

According to my wife, it looked as though they were having a great time and it was just what this boy needed. While I have no idea what they talked about, this was exactly what this boy needed, someone to accept who he is and be a friend, someone to “stand by him.” He didn’t want to feel neglected by his classmates he wanted to feel apart of experience of the field trip. But not only was it just over lunch that my son made this kid feel accepted. He walked with him during the rest of the field trip.

Over dinner that night, as my wife was telling me this, a tear started to run down my eye. During all of the trials and tribulations as a parent, it was then that I knew I was on the right track and teaching my son that it doesn’t matter who a person is, what is race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, or what have you, they should be accepted for who they are.

Events like what happened in Parkland, Florida hit home with parents. Every morning we drop our kids off, hoping, that we can pick them up that afternoon. In the back of our minds, we hope it isn’t the last time we hear, “I love you dad!” as he drops you off, full well knowing that eventually, he will stop saying it on his at some point.

It Starts With Us (The Parents)

As I hear the stories of the things that my son is doing to be accepting of everyone in his class and school, it starts at home. Tragedies like this can be prevented by teaching our kids that you don’t need to resort to violence to solve your problems. As parents, we can teach our kids that even they are not comfortable talking to us about their issues, they can at least talk to someone about them. We can help show them the people they can talk to when they need the help.

Parents are the starting point for changing the next generation of the world that we live in today.. We can teach our kids to be compassionate and empathetic human beings while standing up for what they believe in and not resorting to actions that will harm others, they can stand by you no matter what you are facing in life. We can set the example for our kids so that they are the ones who start a lunch club in their school, or they buy flowers for all of the girls in their school on Valentine’s Day, or they stop someone from being sexually abused.

While it might seem that we aren’t making any headway with our kids and it can be difficult at times raising them to be the people that we want to be, when you hear the stories about your son sitting with a boy at lunch who was lonely, or the time he stopped a boy from kissing a girl who didn’t want to be, you will realize that it is all the more reason to continue setting the example that you are setting for your kids.

It all starts with us to teach our kids that they too can stand by you.

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As I pulled into the driveway of our suburban Kansas City home, I was exhausted. The last four days that I spent in New Orleans were filled with emotion and coming to my senses as to who I am as a father.

As I unloaded my bags from the trunk of our Honda Civic, I was mentally preparing myself for the barrage of greetings that were waiting for me just beyond the door. I opened the door and walked up the stairs, and just beyond the baby gate, my family so excited to see me that the baby gate barely had room to open.

“Daddy!” I heard from both William and Joseph.

As excited as they were to see me, there was an equal amount of excitement for me to see them. I held both of them in my arms. It didn’t take too long for the memories of the Dad 2.0 Summit to fill me again and quickly remind myself that I am a good father despite the day-to-day drudgery that we all go through.

Growing Up Happens Every Day

In what seems like an everyday occurrence, I kiss my wife and say hello, catching up on what little small talk we can in between the endless amount of stories that William wants to tell us. I set my bags down and kneel down to be able to talk to William and Joseph who has been wandering around the house for the last day saying, “Dada?”

I can only wander what it was like seeing Joseph wander around the house asking for me from the stories that my wife was telling me through the brief conversations on Facetime that we were able to fit it, and even then, it was like having a dinner conversation that was entirely one-sided with William right there next to her on the phone.

But after my wife left to go pick up the pizza we had ordered just to make dinner easier for us that night, I had a chance to play with William and Joseph. While we were playing in the same manner of climbing all over dad as we had only five days prior, it felt like I had been gone for months.

I Saw My Kids Grow Up Right Before My Eyes

For a brief moment, I was able to catch both William and Joseph standing next to each other before they jumped on my stomach. As I caught my breath, it seemed as though my kids have grown up right then and there at that moment.

I had only been gone for four days (5 if you ask my wife) and there I was laying on our living room floor, and it seemed that my kids had grown up so much in those days while I was gone. Why hadn’t I seen this before?

What was it about those days in New Orleans that made it felt like my kids were suddenly teenagers? Sure, William has a girlfriend that he is afraid to talk to us about and Joseph finally started to sleep through the night consistently, but what was it that made them all of a sudden seem so much older than they were?

There will come a time that I ask myself this question again. It is a question that we all ask ourselves almost every day as parents. I remember when William was Joseph’s age and saying that I didn’t want him to grow up then. Here he is now a smart and funny 7-year-old, Granted, there are times that I think he is older than he is. Then there is Joseph, who seems to be learning something new every day whether it is new words or some new trick that he has learned.

Our kids grow up so fast, and it took those five days at the Dad 2.0 Summit trying to figure out who I am as a father to see just how fast they are growing up. As much as we all say that we want to have some time away from our children, when we do finally have that time, it seems that we want nothing more than to get back to see them.

I remember the first night I was gone; I wanted to get back to see my family. I not only missed my wife, but I was missing precious moments with my kids. I was missing that first night that Joseph started to consistently sleep through the night. I missed that all meaningful conversation with my son about his new girlfriend, even if he still denies that she is his girlfriend.

They were moments that I didn’t want to miss, but moments I needed to miss only to realize just how quickly my kids are growing up.

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I don’t know that I can deny it, I am a kid at heart. If I were to deny it, my wonderful wife would correct me… because nine times out of ten I’m wrong. This would be that one time I’m correct by saying I’m wrong that many times!

It comes with the territory as a dad though. We long for the feeling of playing catch with our kids in the backyard or playing tea party with them. It doesn’t matter how or what our kids want play, we want to be right there with them.

There is nothing wrong with that either. Just like dads long to bring out the kid in ourselves, our children long for their father to be involved. It is a win-win for both kids and dads when you think about it.

For me personally, there a came a point for me when the kid inside of me came out too strong and ruined the fun that my son was having one afternoon.

It was a unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in January. William, after attending the local boat show, had a sudden interest in archery. As we embarked to the backyard, I place our new red, blue, and yellow target next to the fence.

As we mark off our steps, I ask William if I can take the first shot. Looking back, I realize that this was the first mistake I made ruining the fun my son was about to have.

As I drew the bow back, I aimed towards the target, let go and watched as the arrow flew through the air. The closer it soared to the middle of the target, it started to climb, and climb, and climb some more. As if it were mocking me saying, “if you are going to ruin his fun… we will ruin his fun!”

As it flew over our neighbors fence, it reminded of the Sandlot without the baseball signed by Babe Ruth. I knew it was just an arrow and we can drive over to the sporting goods store to buy another. I’d even buy it for him rather than have him scrap together coins from the neighborhood kids. It just seemed like the right thing to do in this case.

He fell to his knees visibly upset. Here I went losing part of his new found hobby to the neighbors yard. I walked up to him to comfort him and tell him that it is OK and he has four other arrows he can shoot. He shakes his head that it’s OK and gets up to start his “practice” as he is preparing for the Olympics as he likes to say.

As he practices, I can see that he isn’t himself. The arrow that has stuck itself in our neighbors backyard because of me, is fresh in his mind. He cuts his practice short and walks in the house defeated, all because dad had to go and be the one to shoot an arrow first.

While throughout the day, after retrieving said arrow from our neighbors backyard, I kept thinking about that moment I saw the arrow fly over that fence. I couldn’t help but think that if the kid inside me hadn’t decided to show it’s ugly four-eyed zit covered face, my son and I would still be outside in the backyard, bonding over his new hobby.

It wasn’t just in that moment either, take the time I flat out ran over one of William’s baseball team mates on the last practice of the season during a parents vs. kids game while running from first to second. It was in that moment that the kid inside of me wanted to pull the best Rickey Henderson move I had and go on a full on sprint between the bases. Instead the moment I made my turn towards second base, I run right into one of his team mates, probably crushing his dreams of playing first base someday for the Kansas City Royals.

I guess one of the hardest things to keep in mind as the parent to two boys, knowing that eventually Joseph will have the same experience William is having with me, is that I need to take a step back, and let my kids be kids. There is a time and place for that kid inside of me to come out, the time in the backyard not one of them. The time we are playing basketball in the front yard, watching him take me to took the hoop and scoring the game winning basket, might just be one of them as I fall to me knees and lament my defeat.

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You have picked out your daycare (or maybe you still are looking) and the time has come that you will be making quite possibly one of the many “first” with your newborn.

Your Child’s First Day of Daycare

From experience, it isn’t easy. I’ve had to make the first drop off twice now. Many emotions are running through you as you leave your child with people you barely know. For the most part, nervs are taking over yourself.

You are hoping that you remember everything that your daycare provider needs on a daily basis: diapers, wipes, two sometimes three changes of clothes, a blanket, something to remind your child of home, breast milk or formula, and whatever else they want you to bring.

It’s difficult; you are wondering how your child will react to when you leave them alone with this person they don’t know for an entire day. You are wondering if all they are going to do is cry the whole day, and what is your boss going to think that you are an emotional wreck upon returning to work for the first time in weeks maybe months.

Daycare providers work with new parents all of the time to help make it easier not just for you but your child as well. Remember you aren’t the first parent to drop their child off at daycare.

In the end, the daycare you choose is going to be there to help you and your child through this challenging process.

But if you are still uncertain about this new part of your child’s life, there are some things that you can do to help make the transition to daycare more comfortable for your child.

Prepare The Night Before

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Make sure that you have all of the paper you need and everything that your child needs to succeed in their new setting. Your daycare provider will provide you a list of everything that they need to take care of your child. You can always ask if there is something that helps ease the first day.

Expect Tears

Your child’s first day of daycare is not only a big moment for your child, but it is a big moment for you as well. To your child, you are leaving them with a person they don’t know after being in your care for the last weeks and months. To a child, the only way that they can show their emotion, desires, and needs is to cry. It might not happen on the first day, but it will happen at some point while you are dropping your child off.

The best way to handle this might seem the cruelest, you just have to drop them off and leave. Lingering to help soothe your child is going to make it worse when you do leave. Make sure that you let your provider know that you are not trying to be mean but trying to make it easier for them.

Don’t do this on the first day though, let them know that they are going to be OK and give them hugs and kisses so that they know everything will be alright.

Help Them Take Ownership

If your child is older, help them understand that this new daycare is something they can call their own. Let them pick out what clothes they will wear on the first day, what blankets to bring, and what stuffed animals to help them nap.

Talk About It

Again with an older child let them know that they are going to be starting somewhere new. Build it up and let them know that they are going to make some great friends and learn some new things. Give them the opportunity to tell you their feelings about that first day and help them overcome any fears that they may have.

Help Calm Them

This is going to be if you have an older child starting a new daycare and it might sound obvious. But calm them as you drive or walk to the center. Point out landmarks and things that are familiar to them. We started our oldest a new daycare at about 4 or 5, and his dropoffs were a lot better as my wife pointed out things that he could always recognize.

Children Are Resilient

If you are a new parent, one thing that you are going to learn quickly is your child’s ability to bounce back from whatever is thrown their way. It will feel like at times that your child will not get through crying when you drop them off but eventually they will get over it and see just how much fun their new daycare is. If it becomes too big of an issue you are going to want to talk to your daycare provider, but eventually a couple of weeks to a month down the road they are going to get through it. At which time you are going to wonder why you were worried about it all in the first place.

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Full Disclosure: I was compensated by Duraflame for this post, but the thoughts and opinions of are my own.

For many of us from the Atlantic Coast to the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast, it feels as though we are stuck in winter. It feels like we are in an endless world of bitter cold, knee (sometimes waist) deep snow, and a hot drink next to our fireplace.

Our fireplace, has become the centerpiece of our home. While it might make for some design challenges (except Christmas) because of the sheer size and the odd roundness of our fireplace, it has become a meeting point for our family.

As we start to prepare our fireplace for the upcoming winter, It never fails though, I’m cleaning out the ashes of fireplaces from the year before. From about March to about October, our indoor fireplace becomes a second thought in our book, even though it is the center of our living room. And because of that, I stare at the ashes as they almost dare me to see how long they will stay there before finding their way to our compost pile (where they should have been 6 months prior)

The preparation of our fireplace doesn’t stop at the point the ashes leave and now as our family grows, and having moved into a new home with a new fireplace, we have so many other things that we need to do to keep our family and our fireplace safe for the winter.

4 Tips to Keeping your Family and Fireplace Safe This Winter

Inspect and Clean Your Fireplace… Professionally

When we moved into our home, in October, and having never had a wood-burning fireplace, we made sure that we had the fireplace inspected and cleaned. We don’t know exactly how much the previous owners used the fireplace or had it cleaned but it made us feel better about using it when the inspection report came back great.

Whether you have been in your home for 30 years or a year, it is a very good idea to get your fireplace at least professionally cleaned. The soot and creosote could cause a fire that could spread into the attic and other areas of your home. Not only that, but over the summer months, if your fireplace doesn’t have a cap on top, critters might nest inside your fireplace that could cause harmful gases to come back into your home or the nest might just catch on fire.

To locate a certified professional to clean and inspect your fireplace, head over to the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Use A Screen to Protect The Fire

Ok this might sound strange, why are you trying to protect a fire. But when you have little ones that are running the screen will help embers that might fly from your fire. Mesh screens are better than glass screens because the glass can break due to the heat build up and you might have a bigger mess on your hands than with the mesh screen.

If your fireplace has a glass screen, the best thing you can do is to keep it open while you have a fire going. Plus, if you have it closed, you won’t get the heat from the fire. Which is really the point on a cold winter’s night right?

Create A Barrier

When you have two kids that are running around the house, having a fire can seem like a HUGE hazard in your home that you might not be willing to deal with. But there are simple ways to prevent any sort of injuries that might come as a result of having a fire in your indoor fireplace. This is really easy when your fireplace is either in the wall or on the flat part of your wall. There are many baby gates or even screens that make for a great way to prevent your littles one from getting too close to your fireplace.

Our fireplace poses two problems: it is curved AND it is in the corner of the room. While, our fireplace has a wide brick ledge (which poses an all new set of hazards in our home) this leads me to the next tip to keep your fireplace safe during the winter months.

Talk To Your Kids

Letting your kids know that it is not OK to get close to the fire is key to keeping your fireplace safe over the winter. Letting them know about the dangers of it such as embers and the amount of heat that it puts off. In our case, we advise our oldest to not sit on the ledge of our fireplace because of those embers and that many times it is burning really hot and we do not want him falling back… into the fire.

Use Duraflame Logs

The reason is fairly simple, Duraflame logs are designed to burn in a controlled manner. The firelogs won’t snap and pop from the fireplace, like traditional firewood will. This isn’t to say that by burning with a Duraflame log you don’t need to use your mesh screen while using it.

The wood-wax components of the Duraflame firelog allow them to burn much more efficiently than firewood, so you only need one, 6lb firelog for a 4 hour fire compared to 25-30lb of firewood. That’s a lot less storage & hassle! That nasty creosote and soot buildup will be reduced as a well by burning with a Duraflame log, making your indoor fireplace even safer while you are staying warm.

Your fireplace can be safe when used properly, a source of heat when you need it, and still be a beautiful centerpiece to your living room when used properly.

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Leading up to the birth of your newborn, one of the most significant decisions that you will make as a mother and father is who will be taking care of your child. I say the biggest choice because let’s face it, not all of us can be stay-at-home-parents, and when you are working you spend 40 hours out of the week away from your children.

If you want to get down into the weeds of it, you have an hour on most mornings spent with your children, and even then it isn’t quality time spent with them. Then by the time you get home and eat, homework (for those school agers out there), showers, and your bedtime routine, you only get 2, maybe 3 hours with your children a night.

Who your children are spending the rest of the 8-hour working day is a choice that many of us have to make. This will be the person or group of people who are going to know your child, almost better than you do.

This is going to be the person that you are going to have trust, making sure that you can count on either your sitter or daycare center to tell you when something is wrong. These are going to be the people who will be speaking to you when your child isn’t feeling well when they (your child) are unable to communicate with you.

From our experience, as we looked for daycares now for two children there are several factors that you are going to want to look into when you are choosing that person or center that is going to take care of your newborn.

Start Looking NOW!

The reality of it is, depending on where you live, there could a waiting list longer than ten months to get into the center that you would like your child to go to. Yeah, that’s right ten months, longer than a pregnancy. It might seem that you have to get yourself on a waiting list before your child is even conceived, and in many cases that could be.

The center that our youngest, Joseph is in now, we waited close to a year for him to get into. I don’t want to say we settled because we did enjoy our provider before the center we are in, during the time that my wife and I went back to work but we needed to find someone who we could trust in the meantime while waiting who had a spot available for him.

Look Down

When you visit a center or someone’s home who will be taking care of your child, more than likely you will be focused on the conversation you will be having with the provider and the questions that you have a head time. By looking down, you will see how the provider interacts with the children. You will start to look at the toys that the kids have to play with and the amount of room that they will have to run around in when they eventually start walking.

This is where a good team approach comes in handy. Before walking into a potential provider, make sure both you and your partner understand that you need to look around and see what the provider has to offer for their child. You will both be looking at things differently and come away with seeing different things that could ultimately make or break your decision.

Security

Besides the feeling of your child is safe with the provider, you are going to want to make sure that the facility itself is secure. Be it in a home or at a center. Look around to see how difficult it would be for someone who doesn’t belong to get into the children.

In our experience, there are several different ways to prevent a stranger from entering a center. There have been places that would just buzz you in without knowing why you wanted to come (that is if they could not see you at the front door), we have had to enter a four-digit code to unlock the door, and at our current center it uses fingerprints to get check our child in and out that also opens the door. Not only that, but if you don’t have a child or work there, and have to be buzzed in the front desk is right next to the front door with a window so the provider can see who you are and ask what you are doing there.

While it might seem a bit overboard you certainly make sure that your child is safe when it comes to whoever your daycare provider is.

Programming

Without even realizing it, you are going to want to know what your child is doing all day. Are they just going to be playing with toys and crawling around, or will there be provider interaction that will stimulate their minds to help them grow? Is there a set schedule that your child will be following throughout the day? Is there time set aside to help them develop besides playing?

Many centers and even in-home providers will send you home with a paper copy of their daily schedule that will give you an idea of what your child will be doing while you are working away to afford for your child to go to the daycare.

Cost

This is a big one depending on your location. I’m going to our current provider and situation as an example. We are spending more than our current mortgage payment to send our youngest to the center he is at. On a monthly basis, when the tuition hits our bank account, we take a hit. And it hurts, but there is one thing to remember, this cost is short-lived relative to the time that your child will be alive. The first few years of your child’s life is crucial to their development, and you are going to want the best for them, even if that means you have to live paycheck to paycheck until your little one hits a school.

Reviews

The internet makes this so much easier. Most centers have a Facebook page that they make announcements on such as closings and special events, and Facebook has user reviews. But along with Yelp, you will want to take these with a grain of salt. While one bad review can ruin your thoughts of a center, you will have to bear in mind that whatever the reason for the bad review was, it could have been an extenuating circumstance that caused it. There could have been a misunderstanding between the provider and the parent which caused the parent to speak out.

But you will want to hear what other parents say about the potential provider if you either don’t know many people in the area that you can ask or are new to an area. This is an excellent way to hear what others say.

Overall Feeling

A lot can be said for your gut. What is your gut feeling about a place? Did you feel right at home when you walked in? Did you feel comfortable with the people that would be taking care if your child? Was their one thing that concerned you?

Picking out a center or in-home provider to be your child’s daycare is a lot like picking out a new home when you know, you just know. While there was one thing that concerned my wife and me with the center that our youngest is at now, we were able to look past it, and now it has become a non-issue. Go with your gut and if a place feels right… a place feels right.

Be Open To Change

There are going to be times when a daycare doesn’t work. Your child will be bullied, and the center won’t do anything about it. Or there will be times that a life event happens like a job change and you will no longer be able to afford the daycare and have your hands tied into looking for something that is a better fit for your family. Providers and centers change as well, and a change in management or a centers policy could change your thinking about the current place your child goes to.

While you may love a place, it is essential to understand that things change and sometimes you and your child are not a fit for your current daycare situation.

Many factors go into picking out daycare for your newborn. It is potentially one of the most significant decisions that parents make when they find out that they will be welcoming a new person into this world, and hopefully, you will find a place that works best for you.

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I’m breaking every rule as I write this. Or at least every rule that I have for myself the older that I get. It seems that the older I get, the later I can stay up and the less energy I have as a result of my extra sleep. And the days that I wake up after hitting the snooze button 10 times with an aching back and swollen ankles seems to be increasing.

Yet, here I am at 10pm writing this, getting that one moment of relaxation that I get during my day as a working dad.

In fact, I’m yawning as I write this because even though it is 10pm, it is my bedtime, and yes I am in my thirties saying that 10pm is my bedtime. I know that at the age of 33, I am young and that I might not come across as an “expert” when it comes to aging. I’m not even trying to come across as one.

The older I get though, I have started to notice that there are areas in my life that are beginning to change. In my 20s, I was able to stay up late… LATE! I mean like 3 or 4 in the morning doing mindless activities either playing video games on my computer or out partying with friends… I mean studying if my mom and dad are reading this.

It’s OK this is the last month paying student loans, and that apparently got me somewhere. But, after an all-nighter, I was always able to rally with just a simple cup of coffee and the night after pulling a said all-nighter, I was able to pull ANOTHER all-nighter. Now, that simple coffee cup has turned into three, sometimes four depending on how late I stayed up watching the Kansas Jayhawks play a game on the west coast. See, I’m really starting to show my age when I complain about my beloved college basketball team playing.

It isn’t just waking up tired and groggy every morning, it is also the aches and pains that I experience when I wake up that add to the 10 times I hit snooze. While I am doing everything that I can to make sure that I am staying up with my dad bod, there are times when I push becoming a dadlete too far. One would like to think that keeping my dad bod in peak physical condition would help to alleviate some of those every morning aches in my knees, wrists, and ankles but that is not the case.

I have the hardest time walking up the stairs to let the dog out, who much like my children seems to have the urge to go to the bathroom every hour… on the hour or right during dinner. Another example, as I write this, the dog was whining, right next to me, so I ran upstairs to give her food and water. That wasn’t what she wanted, so as I sat back down in my office to complain about aches and pains, she whined, AGAIN. This time I asked her if she wanted to go outside, and as if she was showing off just how athletic she was she ran up the stairs.

Me thinking I’m 25 again, I bolt up the stairs after her. For one fleeting moment though, I forgot that I am 33. I trip up the stairs and catch myself with my hands on our landing. This seems to be a reoccurring event in our home whether it is me tripping up the stairs or falling down the stairs, to which there is a scar on my left arm about a year old after taking a spill down them.

Another example in my 20s was that I rarely would get sick, which is still the case today. It seems to be slightly more recurring than during that time, but when that time comes, it seems that I am either held up on the couch or in our bed more than ever. In my college years, it always looked as though I was still able to find the energy needed to pull an all-nighter, cramming for a final that I should have been studying for rather than partying two nights before which was probably the reason I was sick in the first place.

But now, I have come to understand that the man-cold is a very real thing. This is where I’m probably going to start making some sense and relating all of this to fatherhood in that as a dad (and many of us out there), we are 100% most of the time. Very rarely do we take time to ourselves, and while there are those exceptions, we feel like we have to be on top of our dad game 24/7.

A cough or those aches and pains that we experience in the morning after being up till 10pm gaming on the Xbox won’t stop us from being the best dad that we can be. We want our kids and our partners to believe that we are there for our children and family no matter what. There are times that it means we muster through that cough and aches and pains. That is why when a cold hits us, the man-cold comes into full effect, and we are stuck there laying on what feels our deathbed.

While the aches and pains of growing older become stronger and part of my everyday life and many dads go through the same thing each and every day. For many of us, these aches and pains are from the everyday roughhousing that we do with our kids after a long days work and they serve as a reminder of just how much fun fatherhood is.

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You are going to be a dad!

For some new dads, it can be a scary thought. They haven’t changed a diaper in their life, they haven’t held a baby, they can’t even fathom where to begin becoming a dad.

There are those dads who feel like having a kid isn’t going to change much of their everyday life. They hold firm to a belief that they are going to be able to spend every night staying up until 3 am playing Call of Duty.

Then there are those dads who step up, and own being a dad. It becomes their identity the reason that they wake up in the morning.

I like to think that I now fall in in the latter of those three. I say now because it took me several years to finally realize what it took to be a dad. I wrote about here and I loved being able to call myself a dad. But that is where it stopped.

It wasn’t until the birth of our second, Joseph, that I had my ah-ha moment. I fell right into place as a dad. I became a better father to our oldest, William, after being forced to find new ways to spend time with him. While my wife was recovering from a difficult birth, I had to step up to do most of the caregiving for Joseph. Add that to making sure that my wife was recovering and the needs of a wild 5-year-old who was learning what it took to be a big brother, that was my ah-ha moment.

That is a moment most dads experience that ah-ha moment. Whether it is the time they first hold their child, give their kids a bath, or the first time their newborn falls asleep on their shoulders. Most dads experience it and I say most because not all dads go through this. They are either born with the talent that it takes to be a dad, or they want nothing to do with being a dad.

One of the most difficult things that many new dads experience is owning this strange thing called being a dad. It really is strange when you think about it. For many of us, our fathers were there to raise us and (hopefully) show us what it takes to be called a father, and while many of the principals and values that our fathers instilled in us that would give us a fighting chance to be a great dad, times change and so do the values that we need to keep dear to our hearts and what we need to teach our children

It doesn’t matter when you experience your dad ah-ha moment, what matters is that the moment you experience it, you take that moment and start to own being a dad. You start to enjoy the great responsibility that has been handed to you. The teaching you provide your children, the rock that your family can count on when times are tough, and the sense of comic relief that your family needs in our increasingly nerve-racking world.

Because not everyone can call themselves a father.

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Whenever I look in the mirror, I am reminded that I have not always looked this good. Before you ask, yes I do sometimes look in the mirror and say, “Hey Everybody! Come and see how good I look!”

I know that it might sound conceited but it really isn’t. If you have seen pictures of me 4 to 5 years ago, you would notice a difference. My dad bod was in full swing I was at the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I lived a sedentary life for the most part outside of the physical demands of my news photographer job that I held at the time.

It was then, when the Rookie was 2-years-old, that I decided that I needed to do something. I could no longer come on sit in my recliner, grab a beer, and watch TV all night without much interaction with my son and wife. Or if there was any interaction it was mostly me being grumpy.

At the time we were on a budget, as a news photographer and the husband of a school teacher, we weren’t exactly rolling in money. It didn’t help that we were also putting our oldest through daycare which can easily cut a families budget in half, if not more.

The easiest and cheapest thing to do at the time to fix my growing dad bod, was to lace up some old tennis shoes, and head out the door down the sidewalk to run away from my former self. And that is exactly what I did, I literally ran away from my old dad bod.

Many people would like to think that a transformation like that can happen overnight, or in a couple of months, and don’t get me wrong, it can, but when you are the parent of a young child, it is hard to make happen it that quickly. Whatever your children doesn’t eat, usually ends up on your plate, and even though it might feel like you are getting a workout chasing a toddler who has found their new freedom around the house, really it isn’t what is needed to offset the extra serving of dinner that your kid gave you.

The moment I stepped on the scale and saw I was down 40 pounds it hit me, I was a runner. I don’t know why it took me stepping on the scale in that moment to realize that but it did. But it was in that moment that I needed to make an investment in my new (I say new even though it was 2 years after picking up my new hobby) found hobby of running.

I had the shoes because when you whether you are a new runner or veteran you realize that your shoes are everything. They can really make or break your run. But what I didn’t have was the gear to run outside when the seasons started to turn.

When summer becomes fall, you never know exactly what kind of weather you are going to run (pardon the pun) into. It could be 75 and sunny or it could be 30 and snowing. In prior years, I would spend many of the colder days down in our basement on our treadmill, too scared to go outside because I didn’t really have the budget to buy new gear to do so.

Many mornings as I headed down to the basement, the only thing that I would have needed to run outside would have been a jacket. For the longest time, I thought that I was going to need something big and bulky in order to keep myself warm.

Neither cost nor bulk should have been an issue. It wasn’t until I discovered Russell Athletic’s Fusion Knit Fleece that I was finally able to take care of my dad bod during the cooler fall and winter mornings. The moment I stepped outside in the fleece I could immediately tell that I was going to be kept warm while it kept the Kansas wind out. Not only that but the Scuba hood has a mesh lining that stays on my head on those windy runs. But here is the key with these fleece jackets, there was no added bulk. They are easy to pack into my backpack to have at work when it gets cooler and I have the freedom to move in them as I rake leaves in our yard for the 100th time.

Russell Athletic Fusion Knit Fleece is available at Walmart and at Walmart.com in a variety of colors that are sure to help the dad in your life with his dad bod.

Full Disclosure: Russell Athletic compensated me for this post but the thoughts and opinions are my own.

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There is this bell that my son keeps in his room, and without sounding going too much Polar Express on you, only he can hear it. If you didn’t know better, it looks like it is a bell that came straight from Santa’s sleigh. There was a time when grandma goofed and didn’t realize that those of us who no longer believe in Santa can hear it. But what Grandma doesn’t believe in Santa when they see their grandkids opening presents on Christmas morning.

We have been telling William that we can’t hear it because we have long since stopped believing in Santa. It happens sometime in the early teens, maybe sooner for some. If you are the oldest child, your parents sit you down and plead to not spoil Santa for their younger siblings.

For many parents, Santa really becomes a thorn in their side. You are asking leading questions of your kids, wondering what they want from the jolly old man. Sometimes you have to remind your kids that Santa has to deliver presents to kids all across the world and that what they picked out is too expensive or won’t fit in the sleigh or down the chimney… even though Santa has our cell phone number and can text us when he is here to let him in the front door. Don’t dare get this wrong, or you will be out to make quick amends telling your child, that you talked to Santa about it and he decided that he must have heard you wrong and wanted to make it right.

While Christmas has always been a special time in my life, it has become that much more special now that I am a parent. There is a sparkle in my kids eyes as they walk to sit on Santa’s lap to tell him what they would like for Christmas. Standing back watching, you see the smile of your kids as Santa asks if they have been good or not. It never fails though, no matter if they have been bad, and if we have threatened to call Santa at some point throughout the year, they are always good… because they are our kids.

Seeing their smile come across their face, brings a smile to my face, reminding me of a time when I heard that bell that my son hears. Reminding me of the year that I got my first stereo, it held 3 CD’s, could play tape cassettes (remember those) and could pick up the games off of the AM radio from Denver, Colorado so that I could fall asleep listening to the Colorado Rockies at night. Yeah, I’m starting to sound old.

But that was the year that the bell started to fade into silence for me. My gift was late, apparently that was a hot item and Santa didn’t have enough to make it to my house that year. It was the year that my parents sat me down and told me not to spoil Santa for my sister, who still believed. For a couple of years, I kept the secret, until my sister stopped believing.

But these past few years, as I start to see the same excitement in my son’s eyes that I had in the month of December, that bell, I am hearing again. I know the truth about the man, and I could hold bitter feelings towards him because he does a number to our budget every year, and I have to think about how are we going to make it work when “santa comes to our house.”

Every time my son walks into the kitchen as I am making dinner, with Joseph right on his heels laughing, because he too thinks that daddy can’t hear the bell, I start to hear it even more.

You see as an adult, Santa isn’t so much about sending some Elf who stays on a shelf, doing “bad” things around your home to make sure that your kids are good. No, Santa is about the belief that despite the times that your children are bad, the majority of the time they are good. Santa is really the overall feeling that you are doing a good job parenting your kids.

At some point, I know that the bell William currently hears, will stop ringing for him, and eventually it too will fade for Joseph as well. But for me, the bell will still ring, just as true as the Salvation Army bell people in front of nearly every door this time of year.

The bell serving as a constant reminder of the good job that I am doing as a parent, even if I’m not feeling like I am great at it. But when I start to see my grandchildren hearing that bell, maybe just maybe, my kids will start to hear the bell, and we will share a smile knowing that no matter how hard our jobs as parents become, we are always doing a good job.

There may be a time, maybe this year, when William comes running through the kitchen with the bell, that I ask what the noise is, telling him that I too can hear it, and am now a believer.

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