Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friendship - and other boats that sink when there are many people involved

I often have long talks with my kids.  Someone said to me one time, “You need to be the parent to your kids, not their friend”. 

That’s idiotic. 

Of course I want to be my kids’ friend.  I often think, about the good friends I have had, haven’t they always told me when I have done something stupid – or ignorant, or thanked me when I helped out. Haven’t they taught me boundaries in our relationships?  Being a parent gives me the opportunity to showcase to my child exactly what the best type of friendship should look like, and to teach them how to do the same with their children.

Now there is more involved because I am an authority figure in their lives, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be their friend.  My boy Brandon looked at me the other day and said “Dad, you are my best buddy” I looked back at him and said “Brandon I appreciate that, but I want you to know I am your parent first and can’t be your friend at all because I have to raise you and be stern and teach you to respect me which discounts any type of friendship that you may want to have with me.  Now, go make me some waffles.”

No I didn’t.  That would be stupid.  Well, not the waffles, cuz that would be awesome.

My kids and I spend time together.  I make sure each of them gets special alone time with Dad.  They can talk about whatever they want to talk about, and do things that they want to do.  Katie normally picks the library.  Brandon normally picks Game Stop and Collin picks the McDonald’s play land.  At the McDonald's play land he is allowed to run and scream through giant plastic tubes.  Best. Time. Ever.

I find the friendship I have with my kids very, how should I say this, unfettered of need.  Kids while they are young just want to spend time with you.  As you get older, we tend to develop friendships with those around us who either need things from us, or we have need of them.  Before the initial conception of the friendship occurs we use people for a purpose.  For no other reason that they fill a gap or a certain set of requirements when if we are honest enough we could see ourselves never conversing with certain people ever.  I understand networking systems and computers.  Many people who are friendly with me do so because they have a need for that skill.  We aren’t friends, but we may BECOME friends due to the fact that they initially have a need that needs to be filled.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  What is wrong, though, is when the relationship that people think they have with you is friendship when in reality they use you for the skills that you have.

I’ve been guilty of this.  I have a buddy of mine who is a gifted accountant.  But I see him once a year.  I’m sure you can guess why.  He is a great guy with a great family, but I only make time for our friendship during tax time.  That makes me a jerk.  How can I ever expect a friendship to grow if the only time I put into it is when I need something?  Truth is I can’t.

Most people bind together over an ideal, or a certain topic.  If you think about it, it happens a lot in religion (or lack thereof), politics, or sadly if you are Canadian.  The topic drives the similarities in two individuals forming a common ground and that allows the foundation for a friendship to be planted.  Circumstances also forge friendships over time.

But whatever the reason you become friends with someone, be it because you met at an event where you both had interests, you are both from Canada, or you needed the viruses from that porn site cleaned off your computer for the 4th time, we should make sure we spend some time maintaining that relationship without the pressure of some requirements that need to be fulfilled.

Reading through the Bible, Jesus surrounded himself with many people.  All of them he served.  Twelve of them he kept close.  But I am pretty sure one of the 12 was a Canadian.

3Jn 1:14 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why I never wanted a dog again, and why I now have a dog

I didn’t want a dog, ever again.  You see when I was little, I had a dog that was from a litter of puppies and it was the runt.  All the other dogs were given away but I was able to keep this one and I named him Critter. 

Critter was my super best friend; Critter would sleep with me and was MY puppy.  We lived on an acre of land and our dogs roamed free.  About 29 years ago there were no leash laws and our 2 dogs roamed everywhere.  Critter explored and did other type dog things.

One day, Critter went exploring and never came back.  I remember I stood at the top of the hill where we lived on Parker road, which was gravel at the time, with a little sign I made in crayon and stopped cars driving by at 30 miles an hour to show them my sign of my “missing dog”.  It was a great crayon likeness of my dog, but alas no one had seen Critter.  Hours turned to days, and then weeks, then months and my puppy never came home.

Fast forward to about 8 years ago when my then 3 year old daughter Katie was talking about puppies and kitties and fish.  Being all cutesy as a 3 year old can say those words.  I was speaking with my mom about owning a dog again, and regardless of the horrible dog smell that comes with them, didn't want to go through the possibility of losing an animal the way I did when I was just a wee lad.  Relaying the story again from memory to my mom during one of these “why not get an animal conversation” about my crayola endeavored hunt for my lost Best Friend she mentioned “Oh Critter, Yes, He was killed when he got hit by a car.  We found him on the side of the road but didn’t want to tell you.”

Let me take a break from this story real quick to stress the importance of closure and the annoyance of ambiguity.  Parents, please teach your kids that things DIE.  My parents would often buy me a kitten only to have the dog from next door to run off with it in its mouth.  They would then buy me another kitty, replacing it.  Obviously I was not perceptive enough to deduce that the cat was a different cat.  Shame on me, but still.  Looking back I laugh with such bitter, bitter tears.

WHAT?!  Killed?  Seriously?  Needless to say I was dead set against getting a dog.  And just a little more dead on the inside.  We had made it to 3 kids and still the level of pet we reached was 3 fish won at a Carnival event.

I didn’t want to be one of those families that got a dog and then got rid of it because it was to hard of a responsibility to take care of.  I also knew that a dog’s lifespan is 12-15 years tops.  Any dog purchased I knew, would grow to be such a part of the family that when either 1 or 2 of the kids were going to be going to college, we would lose this family member.

Pessimistic?  Sure.  Do things die?  Yup.  Have I seen people ditch dogs because they got tired of dealing with an animal they decided to take on?  Sure.  I wanted to avoid all those things.

Fast forward a few years to my son Brandon.  Brandon for all intensive purposes is the most content child I have ever met.  You can ask this kid what he wants for his birthday or for Christmas and he will list 1, maybe 2 things.  That’s it.  If people have dozens of presents to open around him but he has the 1 or 2 things he had asked for he is extremely happy.  Well, one year he asked for a puppy.  A puppy he could take care of all to himself and train and run and play fetch with and chase with sticks and setup obstacle courses and yadda yadda yadda.

Problem was Brandon was afraid of barking dogs.  He would wince and jump whenever a dog would do a “dog type thing”.  It didn’t even have to be a big dog; small dogs would spook him as well.

            I tried to sand bag the topic, told Brandon he was to young, the fence needs fixing, that dog poop smells, that dogs DIE, and finally that he should start researching dog breeds to find one he really wanted.  That last one I hoped would have bought me a few years; at least until he would outgrow the want for a dog I prayed.

Then one year it happened.  Brandon didn’t want 1 or 2 things anymore.  He just wanted a puppy.  A puppy is not a thing, a puppy is a living it.  And whatever it was going to be I could tell Brandon wanted it real bad.  So I finally made him a deal and said we would get him a puppy for his 8 year old Birthday.  We started looking at Golden labs and Border Collies and all sorts of good family Dogs.

I had one ace in the hole left.  Our fence in the back yard was in need of repairs.  I told Brandon that even before we thought of getting a puppy – the fence would have to be fixed.  I mean you wouldn’t want to lose your puppy the first day you have it Brandon do you?  It will run away and get hit by a car and then YOU will be standing with a crayon drawing of your puppy and thus the circle will be complete.

I’m not bitter.

Brandon understood this and I thought I had finally closed the deal on this.  Until one day Katie told me that a friend of hers said that the local animal shelter had closed down.   This animal shelter had been around in Homer Glen for 30 or more years.  I told Katie there was no way this shelter would ever have closed down without it being announced in the local paper.  But she said she was sure her source was right.  So I said to her we will stop by after we had some lunch during our Daddy and daughter time.

Looking back – I think this was a setup.  I am not sure how or why but I am almost positive.

Walking into the shelter there were some new puppies shipped in and none of them looked extra special, so we went in a looked at the older dogs in another LOUDER section.  I hate barking dogs, I hate the sound of it.  Nothing screams desperation like a barking dog, or a Mime.  I hate them; I don’t get what they are supposed to be? Are they a clown?  I don’t get it.
The older puppy section had large barking dogs, except in one cage was a Siberian husky named LoganLogan was a female dog – who gives a female dog a boys name?  Logan had a rule on her card.  Must be only dog in house.

My daughter and I stared at Logan.  She stared back.  She wasn’t barking, but she would sniff our hands and try and be petted.  We must have stood there for 3 minutes watching her.  We walked a few steps away and she did something I could never forget.  She howled.  I have heard coyotes howl and other dogs howl, but this was a different.  She sounded lonely.  I walked back to her and remember looking at her and thought instantly, you must miss your family.

I asked the shelter about Logan and sure enough she was there for only a few days and had come from a home with other dogs and a 3 year old boy who was her best friend.  She was dropped off with a note from her previous owner and you could tell the woman who wrote it was heartbroken for having to give Logan away.  It turns out Logan is very much the Alpha female and during feeding time struggles became the norm.  There was so much contention that separate feeding times didn’t resolve the issue and in order for peace to be maintained Logan had to go.

Must be only dog in house.

I came back to Logan again after talking to the Shelter owners and I looked her over again and knew right then, this is our Dog.  My wife knew it as well when she first saw her.

Logan’s been a part of our family for about a month now.  Every night she greets me when I get home, just like the kids do.  We play in the house and go for nice walks at night together.  She is already 5 years old, so I know in my heart, if all things go perfect, I have her for another 7 to 10 years.  But if they don’t go perfect, just like every other member of our family, we are all made better for having her in our lives.

The fear of losing something or someone shouldn’t keep us from loving them.

Was it some mystical bond formed back at the shelter?  Was it man and beast coming to understand each other?  No. 

It was a boy who wanted a dog and a dog who needed a family.

The odd thing was the boy who wanted a dog wasn’t Brandon

It was me.