Tag Archives: Parenting

My Dad, Part Two

For two summers when I was in college, I worked as a materials inspector for the Kansas Department of Transportation. It was one of the few summer jobs around at that time and a place where I could do some science. I got to be honest, my dad got me the job. He was the Field Engineer Administrator for the Kansas City KDOT office. Basically, he was the big cheese.

What I’d did as a materials inspector was going to concrete plants and test the sand and gravel they were using that day for state highway jobs. I’d also have to sit in the concrete plant as long as the contractor was pouring concrete that day and check the calculations of materials the batchman used for each load of concrete. If the numbers looked good, a signed ticket was filled out and given to the driver to take to the job site.

Whenever I went to a new concrete plant, I was treated as an outcast. The inspector. Nobody really likes having an inspector hanging about their business. On top of that, I was a college student, a double whammy in the construction world. College boy. This was the greeting I walked into on a regular basis. I’d enter a plant being the enemy until they saw my last name. Hays.

“Are you Joe Hays’ boy?” always followed a few thoughtful seconds after giving my name. In the first post, I talked about how different my dad and I were physically. These workers in the plants had no clue who I was until I answered that I was, indeed, Joe Hays’s boy. 

Everything changed with that piece of information was revealed about me. I went from being the inspector to having serious credibility. All because I was Joe Hays’ boy. That’s the kind of man my dad was.

You can’t talk about my dad without talking about him as a civil engineer. He went to tiny Findlay Engineering College in Kansas City, Mo. My dad is a testament to the philosophy that it’s not where you get a degree, it’s what you do after you get your degree. He was a bridge-builder in more ways than one. He was meticulous. He knew his stuff. He was a good co-worker and a great supervisor. He distrusted computers because he saw young engineers use them as a crutch instead of as a tool. He was respected throughout his profession. Even though I’m a molecular microbiologist, I’ve tried to emulate his example in everything I do. Often, I’ll look back and try to figure out how dad did it. I think I’m starting to figure it out.

When I first started at K-State, dad would come to Manhattan every year for a civil engineering conference. Before he moved to Texas, my oldest brother, Pat, also a civil engineer, would come to the conference. I’d find an hour or so during the workday to walk across campus for a quick visit. I was always amazed to see the admiration, the camaraderie, and the way the throng of civil engineers would treat dad. He was respected. It was almost like he was ten-foot-tall when I’d seek him out in the crowded Union during a break. As we’d walk together, people would stop and say hello or ask him questions. It was pretty damn cool being his son.

What did I figure out about dad’s secret? I’m still working on that one but I think it has to do with being trustworthy and being consistent. More important, that trust and that consistency have to be built on a foundation of ethics. A moral compass and rock-solid ethics. This is what dad stood for. 

  • Do the right thing at the right time and do it every, single day.

  • Be the rock everyone can rely on.

Early in my microbiology career, I was struggling trying to find a foothold to stay in my career of choice in my place of choice with a young family at home. Dad was never a man of many words, especially with us kids, but he gave me something I still hang in a plastic cover in my lab today. It was a simple photocopied cartoon of a stork swallowing a frog while the frog reaches out from the beak with a stranglehold around the stork’s neck. “Never Give Up” is the caption.

A silly, somewhat stupid cartoon that was poorly photocopied made a difference. It was my dad’s way of telling me to quit whining and get back to work. Things would be okay. Things would work out. Do the right thing at the right time and do it every day. Never give up.

Growing up, I guess I never realized or even thought about Dad as a professional. He was just my dad. It wasn’t until I got to see from a first-hand viewpoint just how great he was at what he did. In life and in death, his legacy endures. He touched so many lives in a positive way. Many of these people came from near and far to tell us this fact at his funeral. Dad was a rock to many people through good times and bad times. We were lucky kids.

(NOTE: I’m writing a few memorial pieces about my Dad to celebrate his life. Part One is here. With each piece, I’ll try to post a picture that helps tell the story of who he was. Most of the time, the actual monetary value of these things is nothing. The memory value, however, is priceless.) 

The T-square. Years ago, Dad gave me his old t-square and his drafting board. These, along with his drafting tools in a purple-velvet-lined-case, are marvels from his early engineer days. He kept these things at the house, stored in his closet. Every once in awhile, he’d get them out for us to see. They were magnificent tools. We kids felt like giants whenever we got to use them.

I don’t really know why or how it came to be me who is in possession of the drafting board and the T-square but I am. He might have thought they’d come in handy for my drawing work. I just know one day, they were with a box of my memorabilia stuff he sent back west with us when we left KC. Dad never was a big arts kind of guy. He used to draw some cartoon stuff with us and was able to hermetically seal a Christ The King School textbook in a brown paper sack cover that they are probably still trying to unseal forty years later, but that was about it.

He was all about the function. Drawing for the sake of drawing was not in his DNA. It was in mine, though, and he helped me in my youth to get started creating. He was always there to help with school projects and the like. From using coffee cans as a circle template to draw planets to using the T-square and drafting board to lay out a grid to plan a drawing, he’d always get me started down the right path. Creative work is creative work and not often thought about from an engineer’s perspective. Dad taught me a lesson early on for both writing and drawing. He taught me to look at the project not only from an artist perspective from also as an engineer. Design the framework and build a creative idea around it. Simple but beautiful. 

Here’s the T-square. It hangs over my work desk. I still use it to frame up drawings and templates. It comes in handy more than one would think. Plus, it still looks pretty magnificent—even in its old age. Thanks, Dad!

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My Dad, Part One

If you didn’t know our family and saw my dad and I standing in close proximity, you never would never have guessed he and I were related, let alone father and son. We were different people in many ways. He was tall, light-skinned, and thin. I’m a bubba, Husky-sized, dark, and strong. He was 100% engineer. I was 100% life sciences.

(True story to illustrate our differences. Once, my sister’s dog died after being hit by a car, he put my sister’s dog into a Joe Hays sealed plastic trash bag. Me, the biologist, tried to explain decomposition and why this was a bad idea. The engineer wouldn’t listen. Later in the day, when the trash bag started to…well, you can probably guess what happened, I silently enjoyed one of the few true “victories” I’d ever enjoy over my father. Biologist over Engineer for once.

For all these outward differences, we are the same in the core. Honest. True. Headstrong. Resolute. Good friend/Terrible enemy. Faithful. Family. Problem-solving. Economic (and not just with money). Humorous. Plus many other things. 

In late July of 2015, he was in the hospital for a last-ditch surgery to fix his stomach. It was my turn to go to KC and help my mom and siblings. Looking back, the times I got to spend with him one on one over that summer when he was hospitalized were a gift. You don’t get much one on one time in a big family, one of the very few drawbacks of a big family, so it was special.

When I arrived at the hospital, it was transfer day. A medical transport service was scheduled to pick Dad up and take him two blocks away to the rehabilitation clinic where he’d been for most of the summer. I have to admit, Dad looked rough. He was already weak from not being able to eat for a while and the surgery to implant a feeding tube took a deep toll on him. 

During the move out of the hospital, I did the best I could to help the driver. We got Dad moved and set up in his room at the rehab center. The driver left and I thank him. He tells me he’ll leave the wheelchair there and the hospital will pick it up later. Dad settled in and I sat down. We talked for a few minutes before he fell asleep. One of the wonderful rehab center nurses came into the room, checked Dad’s charts, and then noticed me sitting in the corner. She took a quick look at the wheelchair, looked back at me, and said, “We got him from here. It’s okay to leave now.”

I stared back at her in complete confusion. I looked at the wheelchair. I looked back at the nurse. Then just about the time she is ready to call security, it dawned on me. 

She thinks I’m the guy from the medical transport company.

She thinks I’m hanging around for a tip or something. I immediately break out in a huge smile. “I’m one of Joe’s sons.” I get up and shake her hand. “I’m Mike. The fourth kid.”

Her 100% badass, this-is-my-patient-and-you-better-not-mess-with-him facade broke into shock and embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I thought you were the—” She pointed at the wheelchair. Long story short, she apologized and I told her it was no big deal because it happened all the time. 

I had forgotten about it over the next few days of sitting with Dad in the room.

Dad died five-years-ago today. August 1, 2015. It was a Saturday. As sad as we are, our family was lucky. We got bonus time on Earth with him. Dad almost died of esophageal and stomach cancer in 1986. He had a large portion of his stomach and several inches of esophagus removed in a sort of crude surgical solution to a desperate situation. He made the most of these almost thirty bonus years. We were lucky to have this extra time. My only regret is he didn’t get to meet my grandson. Dad was an awesome grandpa. He and my grandson would have hit it off royally. 

My Uncle Ed was a priest and presided over the funeral. He called the Sunday after Dad died and asked if I’d talk at the funeral. I immediately envisioned how mad my Dad would be to have someone stand up and deliver a eulogy for him. Besides, I told my uncle, nobody wants to see a 250-lb man become a blubbering pile of emotional goo on the altar of his dad’s funeral. Anyway, Uncle Ed’s homily, where he worked in the Judgement of Osiris, was the most spectacular way anyone could have remembered my dad. It was the perfect match for the event where people came from all over to honor Joseph Hays. 

One of the best parts of the funeral for me was when that nurse from the rehab center came through the family receiving line at the front of the church. First of all, how awesome it was for these busy nurses to take time from their schedule to pay their respects to dad? When she came through, she apologized again and we told everyone the story about how she confused me with the transport worker. The assembled in the church pews must have thought we were all crazy as we laughed about the mistake. This laughter and the shared stories from the people Dad touched in his life was the perfect eulogy. Nothing any one of us kids could have said would have wielded the power of memory and tribute like the people who gathered, either in person or in spirit, at Christ The King church that August morning. Mom, his two brothers, us six kids, our spouses, his beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren, friends, coworkers, friends of us kids, and caregivers were the true eulogy to Dad.

That is perhaps the finest lesson I learned from my father. The final lesson he left us. 

The power in a well-lived life is not what you take with you; it’s what you leave behind. 

(NOTE: Now that I might be past the 250-lb blubbering son stage, I’m writing a few memorial pieces about my Dad to celebrate his life. With each piece, I’ll try to post a picture that helps tell the story of who he was. Most of the time, the actual monetary value of these things is nothing. The memory value, however, is priceless.) 

This picture is of a wooden goalpost Dad made for us when we were kids. We loved playing paper football on the living room table. We fought a lot while playing. The recurring argument that usually resolved into a full-out brawl across the living room carpet, was cheating (mostly by Tim Hays) making a goal post for the opponent with your fingers. One could slightly adjust the width of your goal and/or slightly move it before, during, or after someone “kicked” a field goal or extra point.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention so Dad invented. With six kids within a dozen years of each other, we can say that he invented often. A piece of plank board, some dowel rod, felt on the bottom to avoid scratching Mom’s coffee table, and a few hours work yielded virtual fight-free hours of paper football joy for the Hays Boys.

That’s who my dad was.

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New Year, New You (Sports Parent Edition)

Oh, parents, we are ruining youth sports. 

Every level.

Everywhere.

Every day.

The adults are making the players not want to play, coaches to not want to coach, and officials not want to officiate anymore. That’s sad, people. 

I don’t know all the reasons. I don’t know all the justifications behind the behaviors. I just know we adults are strangling youth sports by making them into something they are not…mini professional sports.

Fixing this requires a fresh approach at the grassroots of the youth sports system. Changing parent behavior. 

New year, new sports-parenting outlook.

The Three Breathe Rule.

  1. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “Follow my kids lead.” Breathe out.
  2. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “I can’t want this more than my kid does.” Breathe out.
  3. Breathe in. Tell yourself, “It’s a game.” Breathe out.

Repeat as needed until your focus is back on the important task at hand, being your child’s biggest fan.

The Three Breathe Rules

“Follow my kids lead.” 

Pay attention to what your child is doing. If they are having a good time and enjoying the sport, let them. If they are not having a good time nor enjoying the sport, let them find one they will enjoy and have a good time playing. The future success we all dream about for our kids will only happen in a positive fashion if the kid develops the internal drive to do the work.

“I can’t want this more than my kid does.”

This is a big one. It’s not about you. Swallow your ego. Place your pride in Johnny someday winning the Super Bowl into a trunk, lock it, and bury it six feet underground. If by chance, Johnny does someday win the Super Bowl, you can dig up that trunk and display your pride for the whole world to see. Until then, don’t add the pressure of ungodly expectations upon your young athlete. 

“It’s a game.”

No need for explanations here. It is what it is. A game. 

These three rules helped me through years of coaching baseball and football and youth basketball. I think they can also help a parent enjoy the youth sports process while their kids enjoy participating in them. At least that’s my hope for the future. I love youth sports. From the playground to the sandlot to the driveway to the local stadiums and fields, sports are great and awesome things. Let’s not ruin them.

If you’re having trouble as a sports parent, I understand. I’ve been a bad and a good sports parent. We’ve all made mistakes. Let’s work in 2020 to make fewer sport-parent mistakes. 

New year, new you. We can do this.

If you missed part one of this series, New Year, New You (Coaching Edition), you can find it here.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

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“Are you proud?”

I was doing my best to be a badass. It was working pretty good. Well, it was working well enough to keep second graders in line at their fine arts visit to the university. It was the class of second graders that my eldest daughter teaches. I walked across campus on a brisk, cloudy morning to help corral and keep the kids in line. A job right up my alley? Perhaps.

For you folks with no experience in the art of elementary school field trip duty, let me tell you a 30 minutes cello + piano concert is an amazing cultural opportunity for these kids, but…it is not the easiest thing to get an auditorium full of 8 & 9-year-olds to behave and listen to a 30-minute cello + piano recital. Not an easy thing at all.

The kids were awesome! They paid attention and listened; really listened to the music. I only had to pull out the Coach Hays death glare a couple of times and even had a productive discussion with the supposed “naughtiest” kid in the class who I had the pleasure to sit next to.

After the show, the class waited for their bus to arrive on the sidewalk outside the venue. Classic elementary school style of single file line order. My daughter leads the line and my job is to bring up the rear and not to lose any kids. The precision spacing and order of the line begins to break down as soon as we quit walking and start waiting. Kids start nervously moving around and telling “interesting” stories about their cat, their little brother, or their mother’s current boyfriend. Herding goats is actually easier to keeping these kids in alignment, but we survived.

A group of girls drifts back to the end of the line and the spokesperson of the group slides over until she is standing directly in front of me. She looks up with an angelic, second-grader face and asks, “Are Ms. Hays’s dad?”

“Yes.” I begin to wonder where this is going as the throng of girls collectively inch closer.

“Mr. Hays, are you proud of her?”

BANG!

I was stopped in my tracks. My badass failed me. My cold heart melted.

Yes. I am extremely proud of my kids. One teacher and, in a week, two college graduates. I am beyond proud the way they’ve started their lives outside the nest.

“Yes, I am.” was my simple answer. Three words that easily could have blown up into a thousand words (and possibly with colorful language not appropriate for second-grade ears). The little girl’s face lit up and her smile almost made me break down in tears. The bus soon came and I said goodbye to all my second-grade friends.

As I walked across campus a proud dad, I hoped each of the little girls, and the rest of the kids in the class, had someone in their life to be proud of them. I wished the people in these kid’s lives appreciated their potential and will help them grow into something they can take great pride in.

It’s a great feeling having kids turning into adults, especially when they are turning into much better adults than their “badass” old man.

It feels kind of like…

WorldSeriesTrophyKSU

Every single day.

 

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New Year’s Eve #1

New Year’s Eve. Boy, howdy! I’ve had quiet ones and I’ve had crazy, insane ones. I’ve had snowy ones, ones with big crowds, ones with small crowds and ones I cannot for the life of me remember (and paid the price of a miserable January 1.).

The top of the list, New Year’s Eve Numero Uno, is by far one of the quiet ones, one of the ones spent at home with my young kids. I tried to recall the year and the age of the kids but can’t seem to pinpoint the details. It really doesn’t matter, they were around elementary school-aged.

As usual, the Mom went to sleep by the end of the 10:00 news. She, by habit, usually celebrates the New Year with the people of the Nova Scotia/Atlantic time zone, while the rest of the family celebrates in our resident time zone, the Central Time Zone. The kids and myself made a pact to stay up as late as possible with ten minutes after midnight being the dad’s preferred target.

Lo and behold, we turned on the television and TCM was running a all-night Marx Brothers marathon. We spread blankets on the living room floor, the kids got their various Disney character sleeping bags and pillows and we settled in for the night. We watched the Marx Brothers. We giggled. We laughed and laughed until about 3:00 AM when members of the crew began to nod off. It was the greatest of times.

As a parent, those are the times you never forget. Even these many years later, I still flashback to that New Year’s Eve whenever I see the Marx Brothers. The giggles and the belly laughs still ring sharp and true.

I know there’s the big deal in Times Square, I know there are loud, wild and woolly celebrations that go on around the globe to bring in the new year. But, to me there will always be one favorite New Year celebration, the New Year’s I spent sitting on the floor, surrounded by giggling kids, being completely entertained by Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

Here is the famous mirror scene from the classic, Duck Soup.

Happy New Year!

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Plinko

When I was younger, I viewed life as linear function. Sort of like the board game, Life. Move down the path, forward only. Get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and then make your pink, globe-shaped head, uber-thin wife sit in the back row of the sleek, blue roadster as the fam cruises the plastic landscape. Linear. Set a goal and go do it. Simple.

With age and experience I have come to find that life is not really like the game of Life at all, it is more like the Plinko game from The Price Is Right. You know the game. The contestant climb the stairs to the top of the vertical Plinko board and drop big round plastic chips down slots. The board has bumper pins spread over the surface to block the straight path to the targeted money slot at the bottom. Gravity pulls the chip down into collisions with the pins and it moves randomly down the course. Sometimes it glances off a pin and only slightly knocked off course. Other times the chip has a full force, head-on collision with the pin and gets knocked straight backward until gravity wins out again to start down another path. Plinko.

Doesn’t that sound more like real life?

Hey, I’m not complaining one bit. At age 48, with my wife, my three kids, two dogs, maybe two cats, great friends, a house in a cool small town, job(s) and never ending chaos, I welcome the Plinko-life. It is a grand adventure climbing up to the platform above the Hays family Plinko board, aiming our chips at the intended goals at the bottom of the course, and then letting go. Yeah, we fret when the chips glance off pins and veer away from their intended course. We feel the pain when a chip hits a pin head-on and gets knocked backward. Sure, it hurts and is a bit disheartening to see the chip plink further and further from the big prize.

That’s where the fun begins. We laugh as the chips dances down the board. We learn to enjoy the journey and try to get the most out of the new directions. These surprise changes of direction become moments of great joy, truer and more real than any plastic scenery can match.
Sure, I’ll miss my cool, blue roadster, but I kind of like my chances getting knocked around on the Plinko board.

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Parenting Legacy

One day when I am gone and people are considering my life or pondering as they read my headstone what type of person I was, I hope they ask one question:

What kind of parent was this person? 

Maybe then, through some advance in graphical interface headstones technologies, I am able to program a visual answer to this question, a question which speaks volumes of the joy a person experiences in their lifetime.   Below is the picture I  choose.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this one is worth an infinite number of words to me. And yes, that is how we rolled.

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Five Things I’ve Learned: Parenting

These are five things I have learned (and am still learning) since becoming a father, with some things learned from the wise mother.

1. Watching your own kids is NOT babysitting, it’s called PARENTING.

2. The dining room table is one of the most effective family-building tools.

3. The kitchen, household and laundry appliances are unisex in design and engineering. Go figure.

4. Not much beats a good family game or movie night, especially when the Dad wins the game or John Wayne and/or Star Wars and/or Indiana Jones is the movie.

5. If you give them a good base and allow them to be them, your kids will become better human beings than you. (Just as you wished for the day they were born.)

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Blame it on Mr. Rogers?

Rest Day Read (SR-31)
Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled
by Jeffrey Zaslow, The Wall Street Journal
“Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were “special” just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes form working hard and having high expectations for yourself….”
…The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”

I don’t know if you have to blame it ALL on Mr. Rogers, maybe just a little bit. But you have to blame this entitlement attitude on the ” ‘special’ just for being whoever they were” approach our society seems to have adopted. If you work with youngsters, especially young athletes, you have seen an explosion in the prevalence of this attitude. It is a struggle and a fight to convince kids they will reap greater enjoyment, confidence and self-esteem by working hard toward obtaining the goals they set for themselves. Mom and Dad cannot do the work for you. They can complain and moan and groan on your behalf to make things easier for you, but it doesn’t do you a dang bit of good in the long run. There is no way around it, hard work is the magic.

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