“Let’s grab a beer sometime.” It’s a staple saying among guys.  A common phrase between me and friends.  We use it often to wrap up conversations.  

It conveys our connection, but obligates us to nothing.  Because really, who wants to add more to their to do list?

On a recent family vacation, I reflected on how great it was to travel again after so much was cancelled over the last 14 months. I thought about friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  I missed those connections.  

At dinner one night, I told my crew that I had an idea to throw a reverse surprise party for myself.  It was pretty simple, send a message out to my “let’s grab a beer sometime” list with a date, time and location.  Tell them not to respond, but just to show up.

“We should grab a beer sometime”

In other words, surprise me. 

My boys had little confidence anyone would show up for the old man.  My wife was a little more optimistic.  In fact, she saw the fun in the unknown.  She even offered up the perfect subject line for the email:  “Sometime”

So, a few weeks later after the weather warmed, I picked a date and sent the blast out to about 15 scallywags whom I’ve exchanged the phrase with at some point.

Just about everybody played by the rules.  Except one guy, who couldn’t keep from playing the death in the family card.  I’ll give him a pass.  But only this time.  

Before I rolled out, the family placed bets on number of attendees. Let’s just say my boys thought I’d be looking like the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away.

But they’d be sadly mistaken.  I didn’t make it out of the parking lot before I saw my first familiar face.  I hadn’t picked a table before two more emerged.  Then as I was scrambling to add chairs even more showed up.

We were into double digits before I could say, “Wilson!”.  The evening was off and running. 

We agreed all conversations were covered by the Circle of Trust criteria, you know like the ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’. 

The night covered the usual ground: family, college tuition, little league umpires and Swedish au pairs.

It was my kind of crowd (Heck, it better be. I picked it!).  A posse that mixed well and everyone still had enough of a fastball to keep the laughs rolling.

By the time we called it a night, we were the last table on the patio. We’d connected and allowed ourselves a few hours of that underrated pastime of “guy talk”. 

It was good to see friends.  To slap each other on the back and give each other a hug goodbye.  And with each embrace, one of us invariably offered up, “Hey, we gotta do this again…sometime”.  

Go. See. Be Do.

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The Lunch Table

Since they were little, I’ve tried to send myself an email whenever one of our boys has one of those moments. You know, the kind that makes you laugh or just roll your eyes and wonder ‘did we leave the hospital with the wrong kid?’

And sometimes, well, sometimes it’s just something you want to remember.

Blake – 15 years, 4 months

Both boys went back to school today for the first time in a year since quarantine started.  Before they left, I gave them a challenge.  When I was in 10th grade, I transferred schools and went the entire first day without lunch because I didn’t want to sit alone in the lunch room.  Since it was their first day back, I told them there would probably be kids in a similar spot and they should reach out and sit with them. 

As luck would have it, I was headed back from an errand and drove past the high school and happened to see Blake sitting at a picnic table eating with a kid wearing a red shirt.  

I texted him when I got home and the following was our exchange:

Go. See. Be. Do.

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Lead Me, Follow Me, or Get Out of My Way

My two boys were playing in the empty lot next door with some of the younger neighbor kids.  They were doing things like exploring, throwing rocks and gathering sticks to build things.  As I’m standing in my driveway talking to a neighbor, my younger son, Bo, with a shovel in hand declares:

“Hey dad, guess what? We’re digging for dead bodies,” (offered in an ‘I’m brushing my teeth’ matter-of-fact way).

General Gravedigger and a couple of his minions

Knowing that he was unlikely to find Jimmy Hoffa’s remains there, I thought there was a truth that might interest him.  I told him that the remains of a horse named Shadow are actually buried on the lot and it’s how the two streets in our neighborhood came to be called Shadow Bend and Shadow Court.

Without skipping a beat, he nods, raises his shovel and loudly declares “Guys!  New plan! We’re digging up a horse!” and marches off like General Patton.

My neighbor and I looked at each other and just laughed.

Man, kids are a wit.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

First campout climbing partners

“Nooot a big deal!”

My 11-year-old, Bo, went on his first Boy Scout campout to try rock climbing at Sand Rock in Alabama.

The outfitters gave all the boys instructions and then they lined up to climb several different top ropes that were set. Despite Bo’s bluster and bravado that he couldn’t wait to climb, I knew when the time came there would be some pushback.

After some procrastination on his part (stuff like “I’m gonna head back to camp to brush my teeth” or “Can we go do some homework first?”), I encouraged him to give it a go.

Bo climbing3

Dear Life, this is me holding on!

He strapped on a harness and tied onto one of the ropes with an, “On belay?” to the instructor belaying him, followed by “Climbing!” as he started up.

Shortly into it, he ran head-on into a lack of confidence moment and let his fears lead to tears. Those were followed by head shaking, which I knew to be his saying, “I can’t do this so let’s call it a day and grab lunch.”

I sat back, watched and tried to be removed from his moment. However, about the time I could tell he was going to give in to his emotions and desire to quit I calmly said two things.

“Stop crying. Take a breath.”

Bo climbing

Now, we’re cookin’!

He went silent. Then did both.

And then, like a clear sky after a storm, he started to progress up the rocks. It wasn’t easy, as I did it with my own hesitations shortly thereafter. Several minutes of concentration and effort later, he made it up the rock face and kissed the top carabiner to signify completion of the task.

After he repelled down, he came straight to me. He put his arms around me for a hug of validation. He’d overcome his fear and accomplished what he set out to do. He later climbed it again for good measure. It was a good experience for him. And for me.

I like days like that.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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You Missed That Spot Over There

I got stung by the travel bug doing a semester abroad in college. From then on, I made it a point to visit new countries often. It was usually with my wife, sometimes with friends or even alone. Then about 12 years ago something changed.

Two little guys arrived and Blake and Bo became our hobbies.

Two Vikings arrive!

The prospect of discovering new tastes in Tokyo street food got replaced by a medium, cheese only, at Chuck E. Cheese. The Eurail pass with the promise of yet another capital to tour upon morning arrival morphed into drives around the neighborhood to induce naps in car seats.

When our oldest was an infant, a friend told me how he took each of his five kids on a father-son/daughter trip when they were ten. He wasn’t finished before I ordered “two 10-year trips on lay away, please”.

My oldest took his two years ago so this year meant it was time to discover somewhere new with my youngest.  And the country of Iceland was our winner.

On trips, I generally try to keep arrivals simple.  Get there. Check-in. Explore.

There’s something about Bo…

However, this time I did what dads do and tried to impress.  How many forms of transport could we use on day one while keeping a razor tight schedule?

I’m here to confirm we knocked out four (i.e. plane, bus, car and boat), however, it wasn’t without a price. The last mode was the ferry to take us to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) where my viking companion gave his lunch back to the sea before debarking.

Never met a stranger.  Bo and his Iceland posse

No lasting effects so we were free to explore. We summited Eldfell volcano, found a black sand beach and even got to see the awesome Puffins.

The highlight for him though was meeting a bunch of Icelandic kids by doing Fortnite dances he learned watching YouTube (I know, I know! Don’t ask.). To this day, he’s never met a stranger. His social fearlessness is inspiring.

Back on the mainland, we put our Chitty Chitty Bang Bang like rental car to the test as we took in amazing Iceland.  We experienced a geysir, waterfalls, geothermal pools and even took part in the Viking Clap as we cheered on the team from the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup. It was a packed week where we never saw nightfall.

Gulfoss was worth the drive

Beyond the sites, what I enjoyed most about traveling around was the time together. In his first decade, we have had our moments. A lot of times the knucklehead things he does make me think he’ll always live in our basement. With many of his shenanigans though, he’s a reminder that I’m looking in the mirror at my younger self.

Just typing that last sentence was a revelation. Cathartic even. Every parent worries what the future holds.

Hey mon! No worries!

And maybe that’s the takeaway from the trip. Sure, I agonized about connections and he had a brief bout with seasickness. Worrying didn’t change anything. In the end, it all  worked. He and I found our way. Even if I had to endure a few of his Fortnite dances along the road.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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Why You Wanna Move So Fast?

It’s been a chilly Spring in Atlanta. Watching little league games wearing ski goggles just doesn’t seem right. The weather feels like it’s never going to change, but we know it will.

This slow change of seasons reminds me of our kids when they were little. As infants, it was hard to envision them walking or talking when rolling over wasn’t yet in the realm of possible. As toddlers, it was hard to imagine them organizing a backpack for school when drooling on the head of a Pez dispenser was the day’s only priority.

Your call, Blake. College or this car?

Now, my oldest is only a couple of years from high school!

As they say, ‘time waits for no one’.

The last year and a half or so there’s been a noticeable change in my kids’ interests. I won’t give the complete inventory turnover, but right near the top of the list is cars. More specifically, they like anything with an engine that looks cool and goes really fast.

So when that Dodge Charger nearly takes my front end off cutting over three lanes of traffic at high-speed without signaling, they notice.

“Awesome, Dad! Did you see that car?”

“Um, hell yeah I saw it. I was about to take a tour of his trunk!” On the plus side, at least he’s getting full use of the road my tax dollar helped pave.

la dolce vita

Our latest outing of the Dads’ Bucket List crew got our kids up close and personal with cool, fast cars and awesome driving. Don’t worry moms, we pulled it off in a much safer way than weaving in and out of Atlanta traffic.

We lined the kids up with ride alongs in exotic cars (think Lamborghini, Ferrari, GTR) on a course driven by professional drift racers.

The kids piled out of the minivan when we arrived. It was like they couldn’t create enough distance from the loser cruiser fast enough. “Just remember who brought you to the dance, you ingrates!”, Special K yelled after them.

Already on the course was a Ferrari taking squealing turns while smoke came out of the tires. It was so much like The Fast and The Furious that I half expected Vin Diesel to emerge from behind the wheel.

It wasn’t hard to figure this was going to be a very cool experience.

Their tastes have become a weee more expensive than Happy Meal toys

Just before one of the kids was ready for his ride in that same car, the driver blew out the right rear control arm on a turn. I figure the repair bill on that was about one and a half semesters of college. Tuition fees are pretty much how my mind does math these days.

The kids who signed up for the Ferrari had to settle for the Lamborghini. Hey, life’s rough.

Needless to say, not one of them complained with riding in this piece of Italian art. In fact, they all had a blast as evidenced by the delight on their faces when each emerged from the ride.

The change in plans was another reminder that whether slowly or rapidly, in life, things do change.

Just like the interests of two little men who still live under my roof.

Go. See. Be. Do.


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Who Said You Could Drink That?

I’ve been trying to work off the lazy days of summer by getting my boys up early a couple of mornings each week to run at the local track.  I’d love to tell you they greet those days with enthusiasm, but why lie?

“I’m telling you I had Bolt’s time beat until my hammy gave out…”

I hope to benefit by doing the same things I ask them to do.  That includes doing sprints, which apparently for a middle-ager isn’t too smart.

You see, one morning not too long ago while slightly ahead of Usain Bolt’s record 50 meter split time I felt a strong pull in this little muscle called a hamstring.  Apparently, it’s kind of important for running…and getting around on your feet in general.

I’ve been dealing with it ever since.  As a result, rather than covering the track like a middle-aged Ferrari I’ve been lapping it like a medieval-aged donkey cart.

As luck would have it, fellow hockey dad and proud Canadian, Andrew Clark, presented me with an opportunity to take our troops on an expedition to what he said was “the fountain of youth” that was purported to even have hidden gems at the bottom of it.  Wherever it was, no matter how far, my hamstring and I committed right then and there.

Reporting for duty, Sir!

It was at that point he revealed it was a two-day hike that would cover over 16 miles through a dense forest teeming with bears, Copperhead snakes and plenty of poison ivy.

It was shortly after that I sent word out to our Dads’ Bucket List crew about this wonderful opportunity and got exactly zero takers.

And so, the renegotiation began.

He caved immediately when I suggested that a shorter hike would allow for more time at camp to enjoy gourmet cuisine and plentiful amounts of cold beer.  What can I say, I speak Canadian.

Let the whining begin!

Our intrepid crew of 16 met mid-morning on a dusty, deserted forestry service road near the Tennessee-Georgia border.  Once we dropped supplies and fueled up with lunch, it was off in search of said fountain and gems.

Two minutes in we got our first “how much longer?” inquiry.  Surprisingly it was from a dad, Pilot Robin, who’s apparently used to machines taking him places rather than humping it with his own two feet.

We endured several more queries from him before finally making it to this awesome waterfall that flows into a small pooling area where we could wade into the chilly, invigorating water.

Captain Clark delivered us to the fountain of youth

Led by Clark and his adventurous son, every dad made it along the rock wall and through the rapid falls from one side to the other.  As each dad came out he was greeted with a high-five and a hug.  I’ll be honest, it felt like a rite of passage.  And it was a bonding moment for six guys that, other than me, didn’t really know each other.

It was a great time at the falls.  We stayed just long enough for Cousin Mike to ensure that each kid had contacted Giardia before heading back to camp.

Who’s not having any fun?

Once there, we settled into camp life.  Kids played, explored and listened to Knoxville Pete’s dissertation about why Charmin is a superior alternative to pinecones.

The other dads attended to our specialty areas. That’s to say our buddy, Vince Ho, took over as kung fu master of the grill while the rest of us got lazy by the cooler while needling each other.

We capped a full day with roasting marshmallows and campfire stories.

“Ok, before I start, everybody promise not to tell mom…”

The following morning we packed up camp, hiked back to our cars and dads who were mostly strangers to each other just over 24 hours ago all hugged it out with promises of doing it again soon.  We then hit the open road.

The scorecard on the trip back looked something like this: 3 bee stings, 2 knife wounds, 1 live rat that found its way into a car, 2 cases of trench foot, 1 broken slingshot and 5 hangovers.  But hey, no fatalities!

Once home, my boys and I told my wife all about our weekend.  We had lots of laughs to share with her and she said, “Well, it sounds like it was a great trip.”  Indeed it was.

Kung fu master of the grill

She asked me later, “Not knowing each other, were you worried that all the dads wouldn’t get along?”  Her question gave me pause and I thought about it a fair bit.

It could have been a Lord of the Flies moment.  But it wasn’t at all.

You see, we may not have found the actual fountain of youth or any minerals of value, but during our weekend in the woods we discovered new friendships.  And in life, those are the real hidden gems.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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Admit It. We Know You Did It!

Bo, just be sure to hold on with two hands

Lately, I’ve found myself talking more frequently to my boys about personal accountability.  You know, things like owning their mistakes and taking responsibility for their actions.  I’ll admit, my efforts getting through to them are having mixed results.

Consider this recent exchange while I was driving:

Me:  “Guys, I noticed that my laptop now has a crack in it.  I want to remind you that when you’re carrying one of the computers that you need to be careful and carry it with both hands. “
Boys:  (silence)
Me:  “I don’t know who did it so I’m not blaming anybody, but please be careful.”
Younger Son: “It wasn’t me! When I dropped the computer it didn’t break.”
Me, Wife & Older Son:  (stunned silence from his admission of guilt followed by laughter)
Wife:  (laughing) “Bo!”


His unwitting admission took away any mystery about how it got cracked.  So you see, sometimes admitting what you’ve done really isn’t that tough to do.

Flip it around though, and think about admitting things you haven’t done that you wish you had.  That list!  Wow.  Now, that list of regrets leads to deep introspection and some soul-searching.

Hey hey, looks like we made it!

On a lighter note, I have to admit that until recently I’d never been to a top series NASCAR race.  As a transplant to the deep South nearly 25 years ago, that’s borderline sacrilegious. Well, Southern sinner no more because our most recent outing took our Dads’ Bucket List crew into the belly of the beast – a trip to Talladega Superspeedway.

I rode co-pilot with Special K who took the cover off his baby parked in the garage so we could ride in style.  I can confirm there’s no more fitting way to match the power and energy of a race at Talladega then rolling to the track in the family minivan.

Upon arrival, we had our minions set up to take part in a driver meet ‘n greet with 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson.  Once there, he answered a question from each of the roughly 25 kids present.  His answers weren’t canned, but sincere.  He signed autographs and talked about his job.  It was easy to see why he’s a star.

Our crew’s questions couldn’t trip up a pro like Jimmie Johnson

From there, it was on to some tailgating, people watching and then the race itself.  None of it disappointed.  The sound and energy of the cars is something that needs to be experienced.  If there’s a sport that has actual feel, auto racing is it.

Before, during and even after the race we spent our gas money home on a bunch of Jimmie Johnson die-cast cars for the kids.  It wasn’t long before one of them threw out the line, “ok, my johnson versus your johnson.” And the hilarity ensued from there. Fortunately that ongoing punchline provided enough fuel to get us all the way back to Atlanta.

Through the laughs, I thought about how Jimmie told us he got into auto racing.  His words stuck with me.

“I grew up going to races with my dad – the biggest race fan on the planet. We traveled all over California going to tracks. I loved going to the races with him. I turned it into a career.”

Kings for another day

If asked, I’m guessing his father has no regrets about all the time he spent at racetracks with his son.

And so I often wonder, will I have regrets about things I didn’t do with my kids?  At this point, I have no idea. But I’m doing my best to make that list as short as possible.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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Why do they say ‘Heads Up’ when I say ‘Duck!’?

I’m often amazed at how people can see the same thing very differently.  Consider for a minute the difference in perspective between parent and child.

Just the other day I said to my boys, “You guys don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.”

Not your average band of kale eaters

“Yeah we do. We had french fries for lunch AND dinner,” was their response.

I jabbed back that I meant like leafy green vegetables while they counterpunched with a reminder that their Big Macs had shredded lettuce on it. These point counterpoints usually go the full fifteen rounds with no winner declared.

As you can see, their skills of persuasion while not great are offset by the perseverance of sticking to a point of view.  Hopefully that trait will serve them well in life even if it means having to purchase two seats on a plane because they each weigh 500 pounds.

And so it’s with this theme of perspective that we planned our latest outing of the Dads’ Bucket List crew to attend a minor league hockey game on a night that a portion of ticket sales would go towards funding cancer research.

As we lined up who was going, it was interesting to get perspectives on who was excited about what:

‘Will there be fights?’, ‘How cold will the beer be?’ and ‘You think we’ll see a fight?’ were the common questions from the dads.

‘Can we drive the Zamboni?’, ‘Can I order a Coke every time the ref blows his whistle?’ and ‘Does cotton candy count as a vegetable?’ were common questions from the kids.

Connor McMahon, one tough hombre

As for me, while I was interested in catching up with friends and enjoying the action, I was really looking forward to supporting a young hockey player who was being honored at the game.

Connor McMahon is a 15-year-old goalie who has already been diagnosed and beaten cancer three times.  I know hockey players are tough, but that’s next level stuff.

My wife met Connor and his family several years back and she has chronicled his battle through several stories on TV, one of which was shown at the game.  I’ve also met Connor’s dad, Don, and even did a little coaching with him when our youngest sons played at the same rink a few years back.

As a result, I’ve been taken with Connor’s story.  Maybe it’s because he’s a hockey goalie like I was as a kid.  Maybe it’s how well he’s played a tough hand.  And maybe it’s that he’s somebody’s son and the realization that any family is vulnerable.

Heneghan’s new hairdo. Good look or bad? Depends on your perspective…

I’m glad he’s winning the fight and was happy we were able to marshal a solid group of nearly 40 people to join us to hear his story, support the cause and enjoy the action on the ice.

On the way home with my youngest sound asleep in the back seat, I considered some of the stuff that’s been on my plate along with Connor’s journey and I was reminded of the title of  Richard Carlson’s book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff.”

Even the leafy green vegetables.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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“What’s Our Vector, Victor?”

Like any imaginative kid, my boys picture themselves as movie characters.  My youngest with his glasses and guile thinks he can channel the wizardry of Harry Potter.  And when his other side kicks in I could swear he’s Mr. Hyde.

Crew ready for takeoff! "We have clearance, Clarence."

Crew ready for takeoff! “We have clearance, Clarence.”

My oldest summons his inner Avenger and imagines he can shoot arrows like Hawkeye.

Similarly when I was around their ages, Robin Hood was my favorite archer and do-gooder, even if he was an animated fox.

As I grew older, on-screen character portrayals were replaced by an ability to memorize great movie lines.  This skill lives on today with movies I haven’t seen in close to 40 years.  Can you imagine how useful this memorization ability would have been if I’d extended it to something useful, like say, the periodic table?

You see, I may not be able to remember how many proteins are in Boron, but I could tell you the nickname Bill Murray gave Rudy in the 1979 comedy Meatballs.

And so it is that our latest outing of the Dads’ Bucket List crew would rekindle memories  and quotes from the 1980 classic – Airplane.  “Surely you can’t be serious?  I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.”

Harry Potter at the controls.

Harry Potter at the controls.

Our experience was hosted by Special K, who set up an opportunity for our posse to see what it’s like to pilot a plane.  He planned a day for the kids to get behind the controls of a real flight simulator at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport.

The sim lessons were conducted by ExpressJet pilot Dave Lin, who graciously showed up in full effect early on a Sunday wearing his pilot’s suit.

Each child was able to sit in the copilot’s chair as Dave let him or her take off and land from the airport of their choosing.  The kids flew from locales like Atlanta, Zurich and many places in between.

Despite different personalities and high energy levels, Dave was the steady teacher throughout. As one dad rightly pointed out, “the man has the patience of Job.”  He was incredible and made sure every kid’s experience was uniquely personal.

As I watched one of my boys at the controls, I caught myself thinking, “is this something he could actually do for a career one day?”.  It’s the kind of thought I expect to encounter more and more in the coming years.

Dave Lin and the crew, "the man has the patience of Job"

Dave Lin and the crew, “the man has the patience of Job”

Maybe one of them will become a pilot.  Then again, maybe he’ll settle for being a wizard.

Whatever career they end up choosing, I’ll be sure to grab some popcorn and tune in for their premieres.  Because, who knows, maybe they’ll offer a couple great lines along the way.  And if so, I’m gonna do my best to remember them.

Go. See. Be. Do.

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