Kids,  Parenting

Happy Birthday Lukas! with Kenny Rogers’ “The Greatest”

Sorry Mikey I’m borrowing the “Songs in the Key of Life” idea again!

If you’re not familiar with Mikey, or the “Songs in the Key of Life” idea, well slide on over to PopBlerd! Just wait until you’ve read my post, okay?

“Songs in the Key of Life” was a PopBlerd! favorite of mine, a column that uses the title of Stevie Wonder’s epic album from 1976, and allows us, the wannabe writer, to compare a song in our life to a moment in our life. In the past I used Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella” to cry about my sweet daughter, and I used Rascal Flatt’s “Skin (Sara Beth)” to talk about my wife’s battle with leukemia.

Today, in honor of my oldest son’s 10th birthday, I’m using Kenny Rogers’ “The Greatest”.

“The Greatest” was released in 1999, and tells the story of a little boy out in his backyard playing baseball by his lonesome – except to him he’s not alone. Back in ’99 a friend of mine said that the song reminded her of me. I could actually see that, as I had opened up to her about my 10-team imaginary baseball league I had during the mid-to-late ’80s (Oh who am I kidding, it lasted until about ’94 and then the Imaginary Strike of ’94 occurred and well, so did the start of my senior year of high school, so it was time to retire).

Like the boy in the song, I was in the backyard playing baseball by myself recreating box scores that featured myself, some of my friends (without their written consent), and my stuffed toys (some of them signed off on it – thanks Dapper Dan!). Don’t judge me! My grandma on my dad’s side was loony, so there!

There are certain hereditary things you notice more easily than others (excluding that aforementioned looniness). My eldest has his mother’s mouth, my freckles, and my sensitivity. My daughter has her mom’s brown eyes, my family’s little mouth, her dad’s knack for being deathly afraid of the dark and needing her younger brother to sit outside the toilet while she goes No. 2. My youngest son has his mom’s demeanor, my body shape. Poor dude!

You wouldn’t think something like imaginary baseball and scorekeeping for your imaginary tournament, would be hereditary. But it most certainly is!  Unless I’m wrong and your 9-year-old recreates a 16-team bracket and then plays out the contests in his backyard much like his father did some 28 years earlier. Didn’t think so.

It’s not like I taught him this either. I didn’t go outside and show him how to swing at an imaginary curveball, or sink a fadeway against an imaginary defender. I also didn’t catch imaginary touchdown passes from a quarterback that looks just like me. Nope, I wasn’t even into football back then.

Which brings us to Rogers’ song:

“The Greatest”

Little Boy, in a baseball hat
Stands in the field with his ball and bat
Says I am the greatest player of them all
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball

And the ball goes up and the ball comes down
Swings his bat all the way around
The world’s so still you can hear the sound
The baseball falls to the ground

Ten years. Time flies when you’re raising three kids, battling cancer, attempting to figure out where you want your career to go, and every other imaginary curve life throws at you.

I’ll never forget the camping trip my parents coaxed us into joining them on. It was Saturday, October 16, 2004 and a nearly 40-week pregnant Lis was walking the streets of the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. Afterwards my parents’ would drive their motorhome into the middle of some campsite, in the middle of nowhere, for a night of supposed relaxation. After all, she still had about nine days before her real due date. Little did we know that (close your eyes all two of you men that read this) the doctor had stripped the membranes the day before, and all that walking and wiggling was enough to make an in utero Lukas realize he was ready to see the light of day.

Shortly after midnight the contractions started, shortly after 3 a.m. I’m pleading with my parents that I think Lis is actually in labor, and shortly after 3:01 a.m. my mom is behind the motorhome, using a flashlight to wave my dad through pine trees, like an airport runway worker guiding a loaded 747 for take-off.

We entered the hospital in the late-morning, and tried to get her checked in, but thanks to Lis’ calm and cool demeanor, the nurses didn’t believe Lis was actually in labor. They tried to persuade us to go home and comeback later but we chose the “Let’s Just See” option. The nurses hooked Lis up to some sort of seismometer and realized, “Holy smoke! You really are going to burst!”

Dad's first walk with BabyHours later we were introduced to low platelet counts, the chance of Lis bleeding out if having the baby naturally, and the chance of death for her, and possibly Baby Lukas. Deciding that we’d like her to survive, we chose the C-section, and months later wondered if all this was a precursor to what would later be known as Lisy’s Battle with Leukemia.

We watched as Lukas sucked up too much fluid, thus causing us to freak when he stopped breathing and they had to suck goop from his lungs, then wondered, along with the nurses, if he was okay because he had this low, barely audible, scratchy cry. Years later and he still has that quiet, scratchy cry. We were so blessed through those baby years. Unfortuntely, blessed is not what I’d call still hearing that barely audible cry on a regular basis 10 years later.

I had the honor or walking Lukas from the operation room to our hospital room and introducing him to his grandparents and his uncles. Perhaps the greatest moment of my life.

Now the little boy doesn’t say a word
Picks up his ball, he is undeterred
Says I am the greatest there has ever been
And he grits his teeth and he tries it again

And the ball goes up and the ball comes down
Swings his bat all the way around
The world’s so still you can hear the sound
The baseball falls to the ground

I was extremely tough on Lukas through the way-too-early-to-be-tough-on-him years. I tried to be the perfect father and instead ended up being the worst possible father I could be. Not only was I attempting to be that perfect father, I was dealing with stress from work, and the inability to control my anger and patience. Oh, to be dumb, angry, and 27 again. No thanks!

As first-time parents we tend to do, and put, too much on ourselves and our kids. We’re harder on that first child, because we think we’re supposed to be, when in reality we have no idea what we’re doing. I guess that’s why the first child usually ends up being the responsible one. What?! Look it up!

I battled through some rough times. Lis was patient with me. She and Lukas forgave me A LOT! I went through classes to help control it, but ultimately what has helped the most has been my faith in God, continuing to ask Jesus for forgiveness, and continuing to pray and work on my attitude, using scripture and older age to guide me.

It makes me cringe thinking about how I reacted to some silly things. I still remember the first time I watched him, when Lis returned back to work. I freaked out! He wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what to do. Was he hungry? I fed him. Did he need to be changed? I changed him. I ended up rolling the stroller around in circles in the garage for hours until he finally fell asleep.

He makes no excuses, He shows no fears
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers

Hard to lose a battle with cancer when you have a little guy like this inspiring you!
Hard to lose a battle with cancer when you have a little guy like this inspiring you!

Flash forward a few months, and all of a sudden it’s just me and him. I’m forced to take care of him every night for 30 days, as his mom lay sick in a hospital bed 25 minutes away. When we leave the hospital that first night I tell him that we’re going to have to step up our game. That I’m going to need him more than ever. From the back seat of our car, as if he knew what the heck I was saying, he gives his dad a smile. Cementing what will forever be one of my favorite moments that we will ever share.

Flash forward a few years. I have a six-year-old, two-year-old, and a newborn. And I’m handling it like a champ. While Mom is at work the two older kids and I make crafts, or play games, while the newborn lies next to us watching, before falling asleep on the floor. Kid can still sleep anywhere, anytime (that’s also a hereditary thing, but from his uncle). Makes me laugh at Young Stupid Kevin. He tried so hard, thought he knew what he was doing, and ended up losing his patience, and mind.

We all learn from our mistakes – most of the time.

Little boy, he adjusts his hat
Picks up his ball, stares at his bat
Says I am the greatest the game is on the line
And he gives his all one last time

Lukas’ first few years were nearly perfect. Always smiling, always laughing, easy to take places (high school basketball games, fantasy football drafts, etc.). He was a good sport (I still remember the clueless excitement when he won his AWANA Grand Prix at age 5 – video below), and a good older brother. Then he turned five and became a bit of a pain…or what we call, a boy.

At around age 7 Lukas became a sports fan. What I thought was going to be a nasty trick God was playing on me, turned out to be an awesome blessing. Sure I’d be happy if he didn’t like sports, but if you’ve read my blog long enough you know that I love sports, and I have no one that rivals my infatuation with it in my family.

IMG_20140914_130903Every Sunday we sit on the couch and watch football. I can take him to a baseball game and he’ll sit and watch the entire game with interest. No more trips to the playground, or walks around the stadium to past the time. This summer he joined me in his first live fantasy football draft, and he did well, with his cheatsheets and highlighter, looking like he stole a page from his dad’s handbook. His team is 2-3 in the 16-team league we’re a part of (he’s battled injuries), but in our little 6-team league we joined with some Youth Group friends, he’s still undefeated, 6-0, recently crushing his father, and moving two games ahead in the standings. It’s been fun, and I look forward to future days attending games together, talking sports, and life together.

And the ball goes up like the moon so bright
Swings his bat with all his might
And the world’s so still as still can be
And the baseball falls, and that’s strike three

He’s a good kid. Sensitive (every year either we warn the teacher, or they warn us about his sensitivity in class. Weird, I remember being picked by my peers as the class representative in fifth grade, then crying to my teacher because I didn’t think I could handle it. Sometimes I look back and think, “Wow, how cool for them to choose me!” and wonder where my life would’ve gone had I chosen to continue to be the class rep. Overthinking? Maybe. Hereditary? Unfortunately.), intelligent, caring, competitive, loves to pick on his sister (ARGH!), creative in both constructing LEGO creations, and – my favorite – writing stories. He seems to have a knack for writing, his words are descriptive, and he throws in amusing sentences that keep his readers both entertained and involved. As someone that grew up wanting to write, but never had the motivation or push to do so, I look forward to helping him with his writing. Don’t make the mistakes I made. Heck, you’d rather write than sell insurance, that’s what I tell him.

I look back at the time I was too tough on him (and myself), but remember the time he helped Lis and I get through her cancer fight. I remember the time he slammed his sister’s finger in the door, but remember the time he sat and read to his newborn sister. I remember the time he fumes at his younger brother for smashing his newly constructed LEGO set, but I remember all the hugs, and how much his little brother looks up to him.

I remember the time he had no idea what he was doing on the soccer field (see video), and the time he did his best to will his basketball team to their first victory (they lost by one!).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our love for Star Wars. After all, we named him after my boyhood hero, Luke Skywalker. I’m proud that Lukas says his three favorite Star Wars characters – Han Solo, Boba Fett and Chewbacca – are all from the original trilogy. We’re already looking forward to the midnight showing of next year’s Episode VII.

And now 10. Double-digits! Just years away from becoming a teenager and passing his mom up in height. Ten years later and he’s still my best bud, and I am his. I think about that day when he’ll have a real best friend, and his dad is just the old dude that he talks sports with. I think about the day he may have a girlfriend, and he’ll have no need for his dad. I hope that he is open with me about his life. That we can continue to have that strong relationship, strong communication, something unfortunately I don’t feel I’ve had with my father. I had a friend of mine tell me about how his son asked him to be his best man and I thought, “How friggin’ cool is that?!” That’s my goal. Maybe not to be his best man, but to be someone he feels comfortable coming to for advice or just chatter on school, girls, religion, and fantasy sports.

Ten years! It’s been a learning experience, a lot of fun, some ups and downs, but to this day, if someone asks me what my greatest accomplishment is, the answer is simple: I’m a committed, involved, loving and funny (added that one for effect) father of three. Happy birthday buddy!

Now it’s supper time and his mama calls
Little boy starts home with his bat and ball
Says I am the greatest that is a fact
But even I didn’t know I could pitch like that