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Bad Ass Dads

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My adventures in parenting:

It's around midnight and I'm lying in a bunk on a tour bus somewhere between Madison, Wi. and Muncie, In. I'm texting with my oldest child, Morgan. He's 21 and a senior at Virginia Military Institute. In the morning, he will find out if the U.S. Navy has selected him to be a Naval Aviator. That's a pilot to you and me, but as I've learned over the years, the Navy calls them Aviators. Any pilot can land on the ground -- only an aviator can land on a ship in the middle of the ocean in the dark of night.

You see, Morgan declared his future at 8-years-old. And tomorrow, that dream will either be alive and well or over. As I lay in my bunk, I search for the words I may need in the morning. Words to console my boy in the event that his dream isn't going to happen. For the first time that I can remember, I'm stumped.

Instead, I text him back. "There will be plenty of time to worry about that, if it happens. And we will get through it. God will put you where you should be.Everything is perfect whether it feels that way or not." I learned this from my wife, Robbi. In my heart, I'm scrambling to see how I can call President Obama at midnight and pull some strings. Because, when it comes to my kids, I'm all in. I'm a badass dad.

I've always wanted to be a dad. And, for better or worse, it has been a job that has felt natural to me. Listen, I know I've made as many mistakes as every other dad has but, I always felt like I knew what I wanted to do as a parent. Don't get me wrong. My two children will have plenty to talk about in therapy when they're older, but between endowing them with generations-old neuroses, I think I might have gotten a few things right!

It doesn't take much to be a badass dad. Truthfully, when you're kids are very young, you are looked at as a deity. You really can do no wrong. It's in those years that you can establish the kind of relationship that will sustain you through the dark ages -- some refer to these years as puberty -- and beyond! My goal -- for my kids to be living a full-out life and that they still want to talk to me. Even if it's only for a few minutes to ask for money. Btw, texts count. #yolo. So far so good.

So, first of all, know that a little effort on your part -- young parent -- on any given afternoon, will be a memory your kids will hold onto forever. You don't have to be a superhero to be thought of as one. You don't have to spend a fortune to have your kids feel taken care of. You just have to play. And teach. And listen. And follow.

One of the earliest adventures I remember was with my son, Morgan, was when he was about 2 ½. My wife was busy and it was just "the guys" for the day. I'm selfish. I don't like to burn a day "babysitting" my kid. My goal has always been to do something together that we can both enjoy. I can't sit with a sack of tokens at Chuckie Cheese. Not working for me. Unless, of course, they have a Galaga machine. I'm awesome at that game. So, I pack my cargo shorts -- they were so hot back then -- with supplies. I brought the basic food groups -- juice boxes and string cheese. I also brought every parent's survival musts -- extra "pull-ups," a zip-loc bag of baby wipes. The basics. I'm like Bear Grylls going to Mommy and Me. I'm not doing a back-pack or diaper bag. Not how I roll, playa. Going rogue. Taking chances. I'm ready. We take the bus on the corner to the train station. I have a car. Buses are fun. Two-year-old boys like vehicles. Thirty five-year-old boys like them too. You just forgot. Don't get me started on construction equipment. That's for another day. We buy an Amtrak ticket from nearby Glendale, CA to Santa Barbara. Why? Because trains are awesome and that's two hours of looking out the window and solving the world's problems with my pint-size best pal and think tank associate.

And we do just that. We talk about trains. We count cows. We make up songs. We didn't color or pull out activities to occupy our time. We hung out. Two guys on a trek. It was an adventure because I had called it that. It's all about the badass attitude. I had empowered my 2 ½ year old son with the idea that he was my partner in an incredible journey. A journey that may be full of hardships. We're like Raiders of the Lost Crib. He's gonna have to be tough. We'll have to watch our supplies. There will be no whining here. We have to work together to survive. And... if we do, they will tell tales of us for eternity!

We make up jokes. At times, we get quiet and just listen to the train and watch the scenery. Keep in mind, my son at this age might have been a candidate for some medication to calm him down. At least, that's what relatives tell me now. I don't remember it that way. I just saw a little dynamo attacking life with eyes wide open and a brain like a sponge wanting to know everything. How is it that we feel we need to give our children something to suppress their natural exuberance so that they don't embarrass us at restaurants? All 2-year-olds make noise and throw food. Wild is good. Wild is alive. Manners will come. Appropriate behavior will be learned. This is the age to throw things and break stuff. It's the time to climb on top of stuff and jump off. Now is the time when things heal quickly. Polite is overrated. By the way, we get to revisit that same behavior around 70-years-old, if we're lucky.

But my Wild Child is calm and happy today. Were on an adventure. He's taking his signals from me because everything is new to him. We're a team.

The train pulls in and we disembark in Santa Barbara. I see this through Morgan's eyes. We might as well have been in Africa or Europe. It was a fascinating foreign land full of new sights and sounds. I rent a bike at the train station for 15 bucks. No plan here. Just going with what's in front of me. Plans are overrated too. When you're hungry, eat. When you're tired, rest. When you're done, go home. It's not so deep. The whole "my baby's on a schedule" thing is kinda silly. Life just doesn't work that way. It's about adaptability. Bloom where you're planted. Isn't it our main job as parents to pass along tools for future survival and happiness? I need to digress here for a quick sec. One of the greatest joys I've found, now that my children are young adults, is seeing the lessons my wife and I tried to teach being actualized. It's in those moments that we, the teachers, become the students. One of those lessons has come from watching my son process disappointment. My wife and I always say to move on and "get back on the horse," although personally, it takes me longer to get over a big loss. Morgan, is a Badass when it comes to processing rejection or failure. He gets angry or sad for a day or two and then moves on -- almost zen-like. He's weathered disappointments that have de-railed lesser men. The speed with which he lets go and moves on is remarkable. When we found out he didn't get into the Naval Academy, I sobbed. Not because I wanted him to go, but because I thought he'd be devastated. He was very upset, but for about two days. Then he changed his "course" and sailed on. Adaptability.

Helmets on, bike rented. To Morgan, it might as well have been a Harley and we were Hell's Angels. And the more I look through his eyes, the more fun it is for me. We ride a couple of miles to the zoo. He's getting a little pooped so I rent a wagon for 5 bucks and pull him around. Works for me too. I'm not carrying him anywhere today. No "daddy up!" Lewis never had to give Clark a piggy-back ride. We're adventurers.

We look at animals. Read the little signs and learn cool stuff. We imagine we're big game hunters. We eat string cheese. Why is string cheese so damn fun? It's like an edible toy. And don't get me started on juice boxes. Oh how I miss them now. It's not that we don't have bumps in the road. I'm prepared. I have extra "big boy" underwear in my pocket. Not for me. I'm good. We have sweatshirts that we can wear or make a shelter out of if need be.

After the zoo, we ride to the pier and sit for a long time staring at the ocean. Morgan never stops asking questions. And sometimes I have an answer. Sometimes my best answer is "I don't know. What do you think?" It's then that we begin to solve the problems of the world together. That's the stuff right there. "What do you think?" That's the one you want to be asking a lot.

As we get back on our "Harley," I can feel his head knocking against my back. He's out. I'm tired too. I trade my train ticket for a bus ticket. Nearly three hours back. We sleep and cuddle. Just us guys. I've always been very affectionate with both my kids. I used to make Morgan look me in the eye and say "I love you Dad." I'd tell him, "Be intimate." It's not cool to not be. I still get "I love you's" all the time. He's nearly 22. He kisses me when he sees me. I cry a lot. Mostly from joy.

So, we finally get home at dark. We're both exhausted. It was just a Wednesday that we decided to take to the badass level. I spent about 45 dollars. When my wife Robbi got home, we regaled her with stories from our journey. We slept like babies.

It's now 8:15 a.m. and the tour bus has come to a stop in Muncie. I'm afraid to look at my phone. You want your kids to get everything they want. I've been listening to Morgan tell me he was going to be a pilot since he's around 8-years-old. It comes down to moments like this. Wonderful, scary moments. I take a deep breath -- uneasy with the feeling that I can't fix this one -- and I have to trust. I've got 15 unread texts. The first one I read is a response from my 18-year-old daughter, Goldie. (Incidentally, my next blog will be all about her. She's a champion in a supermodel's body.) Her text? "This is so fun!" I quickly scroll up. Heart pounding. My son's whole life has built up to this one text. It reads:

"The U.S. Navy has officially selected me to attend the Naval Aviation School in Pensacola. As an aviator." Hoorah, Morgan. You are a badass kid. 