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Sometimes I crack myself up, and this weekend was one of those times. Not because I’d made some witty remark or observation, quite the contrary. On this occasion, I unleashed my inner knucklehead.

For several weeks, my youngest daughter has been asking me if I could build a tetherball pole for her. Nothing fancy, just your typical portable model made from and old tire filled with concrete. We’ve all seen them. You roll it out onto the driveway to play, and roll it away when you’re done. It’s a pretty simple piece of engineering.

Determined not to let this turn into another treehouse episode, I said “Sure, no problem!” and made a mental note to follow through this time. Last week, I was at the tire shop for a rotation and balance, so I asked if I could have one of their throw-away tires for the project. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll bag one up and leave it in the back of your car.” Our project was officially underway.

On the way back from a soccer game Saturday afternoon, my son and I made a detour to Home Depot to pick up the remaining items – a section of pipe for the base, another section of pipe for the pole (removable for storage), some miscellaneous hardware and of course, concrete mix. The tire they gave me was pretty big, but I figured four bags of concrete would be about right.

Back home, we started right in. The first task was to cut a section of plywood to act as a “plug” for the underside of the tire. Once that was in place, we were ready to start mixing the mud. After hand-mixing and pouring all four bags of concrete, there was still room left in the tire, and the embedment of the pipe sleeve was less than I wanted. I needed two more bags of mix. We made a mad dash back to the hardware store, and were able to return before the concrete started to set. Those last two bags made all the difference. With the tire filled to perfection and the sleeve securely in place, there was just one last thing to do. As any kid will tell you, no concrete project is done until the handprints are made. Check.

We left it overnight to cure, and went out to inspect it the next morning. I have to say it was a work of art – a quality project, just like we’d imagined, delivered on time and on budget. I was feeling good, and my daughter was brimming with joy and anticipation. So . . . what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that I failed to do a little simple math: Tire – 15 lbs. Six bags of concrete – 360 lbs. Twelve gallons of water to mix the concrete – 96 lbs. Steel pipe – 10 lbs. Grand total – 481 pounds! I can’t move the damn thing!

Like I said, it’s a piece of art.

My Saturday began on Friday, strategizing with my wife about how we were going to conquer the events of the next day. By any measure, the itenerary was nuts – 3 soccer games, 2 parties, and a planned outing with my daughter’s volleyball team to watch the ASU-Stanford volleyball match – but not far from ordinary for a family with active kids. We could have taken our usual approach, to divide-and-conquer. That would have been a slam dunk. But with just enough time between events, we embraced the challenge to stick together and do it all as one big, happy family. We went over the start times and locations, factored in drive time and necessary stops, and plotted our course. 

Saturday morning, I was in charge of packing enough food and drink to get us through the day. What’s faster than fast-food? Easy, PBJ in the car! By 8am we were out the door.

Game 1: My son’s soccer team had been struggling against higher-caliber competition all season, and morale was sinking. This game was more evenly matched, and the boys played hard. As the game progressed, we could see some of the training and teamwork start to show through, and my son scored on a great offensive run. The game ended in a 3-2 loss, but some confidence had been restored, and we looked forward to the afternoon game.

Game 2: The final game of the season for my youngest daughter, and honestly, we were all glad to see it come to an end. She’s a great little talent and usually plays with heart and passion, but her enthusiasm was squashed this year by a coach who really just had no business leading a little girls team. He was loud, scolding and intimidating, and he’d lost the respect of the girls (and most of the parents) a long time ago.

I actually missed most of Game 2. My son wasn’t feeling well after his early game, and I had to make a run to the pharmacy. We’re still not sure what the underlying ailment was, but I had a feeling that dehydration was probably a factor.

Party #1: We wrapped the birthday gift in the car on way, and dropped our young soccer star off for a sleep-over party on the way to the next game.

Game 3: My son’s afternoon game was in serious doubt. He’d improved slightly in the past half hour, but wasn’t moving quickly and said he just wanted to go home. Knowing that he’s really good at acting miserable, I did my best high-wire act, suggesting that he at least come down to the field and make an appearance. If after warm-ups he wasn’t feeling any better, I told him we’d go home. As it turns out, I’d played the hand perfectly. Come game time, he was revved up again, and ended up scoring in that game as well. By the time it was over he was completely spent, but I could tell that pushing through was a great confidence-booster for him.

Party #2: We gathered with my older-daughter’s volleyball team for an end-of-season BBQ. Since I’ll be taking over as head coach for the upcoming season, I saw this as a unique opportunity to carry some momentum forward into the new season.

And finally, the big-girls game: Most of the girls had never played volleyball before this season, and it was great to see how far they’d come in just a couple of months. It’s one thing to teach the technical skills of how to pass, set, and hit, but how does one teach awareness, anticipation, and strategy? I seized this opportunity to drag the girls out to see ASU’s final home game, against #6-ranked Stanford. I was hoping the girls would benefit from seeing what it looks like when a team has all the pieces in place – positioning, movement, communication, focus and intensity. It’s possible that it was too much to comprehend. Volleyball is a very different game when played “above the net,” so they may have been confused by much of what they saw. Even so, it was a great night out, and a fun bonding experience. Our first practice under my supreme rule is tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

So there it is, a busy day in the life of me. I came home exhausted, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I’m really digging this family thing.

I hate this song. Not because it’s a crappy song, but because it messes with my head. First released 35 years ago, this Harry Chapin classic is about an aging father who reflects back on all the missed opportunities he’d had to bond with his son. The pattern comes full-circle when the son, now grown up with kids of his own, can’t find the time to visit his father.

I don’t know why this song haunts me the way it does. It’s like a little parasite that found its way inside my brain, where it lurks in the background. It feeds on my insecurities as a father, and rises to the surface whenever I’m feeling torn in different directions. Sure, in some respects I was the kid from that song. But I’m no different than the millions of other kids that grew up in a broken home. You dig deep, pick yourself up as best you can and move on.

Truthfully, the song never got to me until I became a dad. Now, it’s like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face every time I hear it. My Pavlovian response is to self-analyze and critique my own actions as a father. How many times have I said “no” when I really could have said “yes?” What will my kids remember from their childhood? What opportunities am I missing?

It’s not about spoiling them, it’s more about being present and engaged. Honestly, I think I’m doing a decent job – far from perfect, to be sure, but I’m pretty involved in just about everything that they do. But when I hear that song, I can’t help but wonder if I’m falling short in some way. I suppose it doesn’t help that my first child really did learn to walk while I was away.

And deep down, I also know that I’ve become the grown-up kid from the song. My dad’s been hitting me up for a fishing trip for years now. I’d really like to go.