Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Jon Part 3

I can remember the reaction of my father in-law when Anne and I told him we were going to get married. I don’t recall whether he screamed or definitely had this look of total shock on his face.  I was stealing the one daughter who he knew had missional aspirations after college. I know that our wedding was rather a hodge podge of traditional; we had a 100-voice choir sing Great is Thy Faithfulness and Jesus Freak, we had 10 of my college friends sing Jesus song. As we approach the wedding of our Jon I am quick to admit for myself that no one is ever totally ready to get married, grow up and be responsible for yourself or another person.

I know that it is never easy for a father to show his true love and affection for his son. There are some testosterone issues happening that make it difficult not to be competitive. I recognize that Jon and I are very different in a lot of different ways. I know that he won’t necessarily have the theological awareness as I do or passion for community development nor will I have the most recent stats for the Phoenix Suns or L.A. Lakers ready to recite. Yet, the amazing blessings is that I do enjoy sports and he also enjoys helping and being around those who don’t have the fortunate of having a mom and a dad. He has played basketball in the hood and has the scares to show for it and the absence of a few cell phones.

I know that it is easy for parents to want to put their kids in a certain box that totally defines life, success and how to handle life issues. My hope and prayer is that through our testosterone battles over the years that my Jon can both feel and hear my love and admiration for him. I know it isn’t easy to have parents who love academics and seem to give the impression that unless you get at least a master’s degree you aren’t going anywhere. I know from running a few marathons the focus isn’t on how fast you cross the finish line but rather whether you cross the line.  

I want my son to know that I am excited to see the adventure of his life unfold before his eyes and those of his wife to be! I can remember not too long ago helping him with his LinkedIn profile. I can remember as a kid growing up into a teen and then college student thinking that I really wanted to be a scientist that helped find a cure for cancer or heart disease. Looking back I’m rather amazed that my dad did give me more input about life choices when it came to career and education. I’m proud of the fact that Jon chose a path for his college education that ultimately will serve his passion in life – sports, leadership and communication.

I will often say to my New City youth and adults that what matters most in life isn’t strictly what you say but how you live out your life. You can say you love someone but if your actions don’t show it then the person is still going to feel on the outside when it comes to relating back to you. Much as it is so essential to show your love and concern for someone in a tangible way it is also key to say to my wife of 39 years I love you to her face or as I kiss the back of her neck. Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to kiss my son in this fashion but seek to express my love to him in ways that are on his level.
I know that as a kid growing up it is so easy to think that winning is the only thing that matters in life! I can remember winning a little league championship where I hit 3 home runs in a row. My mom made this out to something that I heard her talk about for years after that Saturday in Glasgow, Montana. My hope for my Jon is to help him see that winning is important but what is even more important is learning how to be a gracious loser. I know that few if any understand what this truly means. Few of us will graduate number 1 in our class, especially if your class size is more like 9,000, like at ASU. Much like my wife’s younger brother who is a doctor would tell the same silly statement, “What do you call the person who graduates last in their medical class – DOCTOR.”

I know that it is my job as a dad to figure out my kids and love them for who they are today not for who I would like them to be in the future. I am excited to have my Jon and his Jodi live literally minutes away from our house. I know that in the future they will most likely have little Jon’s and Jodi’s that Anne and I will have the blessing to spoil and love even against their parent’s wishes. So how do you show your love to you son or daughter? How do you rise above the status quo when it comes to be both a friend and parent to your adult kids?

I know that I have a tendency to be competitive and quick to judge so I can’t promise that I will totally stop being this way but I will try. I am thrilled that my Jon will have an opportunity to have a job that can turn into a career with a future. I also know that he might work at this new career for a few years and decide it is time to pursue his real passion sports. I won’t be surprised if this happens.

My prayer for my Jon and his Jodi are that they can journey together through their lives together and discover the heart of God for them. I can’t promise that their lives together will be easy nor always fun but one where they have parents and a faith in a God who is more than able to meet them today in their present circumstance. I know that as my Anne would say that initially it was the lust of the flesh that brought us together but ultimately we became real friends that choose to walk together and learn together. The most important life goal for my son and his wife is to choose to always be more than roommates but true partners in their life journey together. So I’m excited for them regardless of whether they have a son or daughter or 5 kids. I know that in today’s setting will see both of them have many different jobs but the constant in their lives I pray will be their love for one another, their parents and family’s love for them and God’s love for them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fair Fight?

I have lived in the ‘hood’ over the last 7 years and now better understand the importance of defending and protecting yourself from the real evil around you. I was blessed to have been raised in a relatively secure environment with a mom and dad that always stood up for me. I can’t ever remember having to defend myself because of someone just deciding they didn’t like me. Yet, I know that many of my teens and little kids have to figure out the mechanics of how to defend themselves in a way that they don’t show any weakness.

Last night we had our mentor group and dinner gathering. Some of the purpose of getting together was celebrating Stick Boy’s 16th birthday. We had hamburgers cooked by our own culinary expert, Chalino, along with the help of a few others’ hands. The highlight was the birthday cake and ice cream for most. My highlight was hearing from a good friend her journey with understanding the dynamics of how to fight and forgive in the right way.

We always end our time together with discussing a topic that has true relevance for the group. I began our discussion on how to fight fare by highlighting numerous examples of spats in our group over the years. I started off with the most recent fight between two sisters in the back of the van as we are driving to the snow and Flagstaff. I mention one of the first fights at the skating rink was over someone calling someone else ‘chicken legs’. I highlight a few other tiffs that saw a girl beating up another guy.

The tension which all understand is how to deal with my own anger over the injustice that happens around me. I know that few want to stand back and let someone else get the upper hand or last word. So how far do I go in getting even or making sure that my revenge hurts the most? I had one of our older teens share why he felt that one of his best decisions last year was learning how to forgive and not keep going to get even?

I have one of our older interns, Nancy; share a little about her story with being in the Army and now working at a big company. She mentioned that in the Army you talked about watching someone’s back. Her point was that in the middle of real life circumstances you don’t allow petty things to get in the way. Once someone else has watched your back you are more likely to step up and not worry about who is right or wrong.

One of my good friends, whose dad’s house we painted 4 years ago, now shares her story about her sister. Sandra was the baby in the family who floated between her siblings as she went to Jr. High and High School. Eventually she becomes her dad’s special helper after the death of her mom. Sandra is a true fighter that wouldn’t take any crap from anyone, especially her sisters or brothers. I had come to love and admire her dad, Al Sanchez, after painting his house and then visiting him on a weekly basis for years.

It was just as difficult for me to watch Al slowly lose his battle to many ailments over a period of a year. He had put me in his cell so there were a few times I ended up at the hospital with him before most of his family appeared. I knew that his failing health would cause big issues with end of life decisions and the bigger questions of who would get his house, truck and little left in the bank.

Sandra shares about her older sister who tries to take control over everything. She makes life miserable as the decisions of whether dad should die at home or hospice is really a joint decision not a choice of one. So after Al’s passing the war continues. I knew that Sandra would be in the middle of this. So Sandra shares her deep displeasure with her sister for going after her in ways that are hard to comprehend. (Her sister turns off the power, water and phone after her dad dies at his house.)

The war had started and didn’t end with the other sister’s help. I tried to connect with this one sister and only got a religious justification for her actions that were so far from being the truth or God’s heart. I knew that Sandra had gone to counseling for the last year because of her sister. So as I joked with her attending a conference at a mega-church I had no idea that God would set her up to reconnect with her sister and put things right.

Sandra shares in rather graphic terms her way of dealing with life. She didn’t spare any words. So as she sees her sister helping out at this conference she takes the advantage of this opportunity and they do coffee together. Sandra, not his sister, takes the initiative to set things straight. It’s clear as Sandra shares this story that she not her sister is the one pursuing reconciliation. I am so proud of her because I totally understand the heartache she has experienced over the last 5 years with her family. The sad fact is that her sister didn’t acknowledge her part of the mess or problem.

The teens were taken back with her energy and life experience. So is there a fair way to fight? I know that as an advocate for many at times I have to be a bull dog and scare someone into doing what is right instead of watching, waiting and doing nothing.  This is very difficult topic to address and there isn’t an easy 1, 2, 3 type of response. 

My Jon Part 2

I know that as I grew up with a dad that flew B-52’s, I’m not talking about the band, that we were blessed to take family vacations all of the time. We would always go visit the relatives in St. Louis but would strategically visit different State and National Parks on all of our travels. So I have memories as a little guy visiting the Grand Canyon and getting an Indian Warrior Outfit. I know that in today’s sensitive culture you probably couldn’t find this same outfit. So as I think back on the story of my Jon we are now visiting the Grand Canyon.

I know that looking back on our various family vacations that each had a special element that stands out. I know that our 5,000-mile Montana trip will go down in the annals of Bennett history. We drove between AZ, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, CO and New Mexico in the space of 14 days. We were still living in Walnut Creek and had decided to visit the Grand Canyon before attending the wedding of my Anne’s younger sister. She had been our Julie’s Kindergarten teacher. We were rather optimistic that we could actually camp on the edge of the canyon. I should have known that there would be significant wind issues.

Never the less we camped along the edge of the canyon. The winds do a true number on our tent for the few days we saw the big hole in the ground. It was good as a family trip because it was the first time as a larger family that we were together. I do remember Jon getting one of those Indian Head Outfits and a tomahawk. He was really cute because he was rather short and very playful. The challenge was that we were headed to San Diego eventually for Ian and Siri’s  wedding. Just as we were getting ready to drive for the day Jon is playing around and does a head plant on the asphalt in the parking lot. I can remember as a kid attempting to tight ropewalk on the curb or something else. Today Jon is the jock who can balance anything but on that day he ends up scrapping the side of his face and gave both his mom and I a heart attack.

Jon didn’t say much for the rest of the trip but I did take one picture that showed the huge scab on the side of his face. He was a true warrior who has suffered on behalf of the family tribe! I know his memory might have included me pushing or shoving him as the cause of the incident and his injury. I know that when he has kids the same type of thing will happen when his little guy will be too adventurous and end up doing a nosedive onto the concrete patio. I laugh looking back because it was truly a Kodak moment.

I will confess looking back on having a son I was probably a little bit tougher on Jon then his sisters. I knew that ultimately guys have to pay the way for their families and that there isn’t such a thing as a free ride or some type of divine handout awaiting you at the age of 18. I admit that Anne and I have high standards when it comes to school and spiritual tings. It isn’t easy to relate back to someone who doesn’t fit into my box, especially 20 plus years ago. I was raised in a context that my mom and dad would praise me when I did something extraordinary not something that was typically expected, i.e. taking out the trash, cleaning my room or getting good grades.

I know that my brother would always say that mom and dad gave me everything and that he didn’t get anything. Yet, I know the truth deep down inside, ha ha. So I know if I were to have Jon’s sisters assist me in writing they would tell a different story. Neither of them got a clunker car in high school from the parents or other helps that looking back were given more as a selfish way to help us not have to drive him to a new school farther away or help with gas money or insurance.

I can remember the year that Jon decided to go from I hate sports to being a sports fanatic. I had a mom who was a sports fanatic. She would always embarrass me at my little league games or basketball games in Jr. High School. She would go out of her way to highlight the game and where I rocked. I loved baseball and was good because I started playing at the age of 5. My Jon on the other hand resented that I forced him to play soccer at a young age. So when Jon asked if he could do little league I was elated! This was something that I loved to play, coach and watch.

The season that Jon joined the baseball team was a growing experience. He had never played baseball before and didn’t realize that the pitchers might be seven feet tall and throw fastballs that could kill you if the ball collided with your head. I don’t think Jon had really played a team sport where everyone else had done it for years. So the first few times he was at bat I could see his knees tremble and the reality that he couldn’t swing his bat fast enough or in the right place to connect with the ball. I don’t remember much of that season but knew that Jon wanted to dive in and improve.

The next couple of years Jon went to a different school that was forced upon him by his parents. I know that there is a huge difference between going to a school with 3,000 students instead of a new school with only 100. Regardless of the size of class makeup Jon was able to play all sports and because of his love of running he rocked! He became the superstar that year playing football and basketball. I never thought that his love for the sports would grow and become his life passion.

As I fast forward to the last 5 years I have seen Jon go out of his way to volunteer and coach at many different schools. He has gained a wealth of experience that positions himself to be a real coach in the near future. What truly impressed both Anne and I was Jon’s pursuit of getting an internship at a local sport talk radio station. It was through his own initiative that he sent out letters of inquiry. His stint at KTAR became a life changing decision. Yes, he worked with some well-known sports celebs but most importantly he met his wife to be at the station. She had been at the station as an intern and worked for a short time.

I know that all dads have spats or tension with their sons when it comes to figuring out what you are going to do when you grow up. I was the oddball son that ended up never using his Biochem degree and pursued a Philosophy degree and eventually seminary and church work. If I truly had understood the business climate in the 70’s and early 80’s in the Bay Area I would have worked at Apple or Intel and been a millionaire by now. So I can’t say anything about Jon’s choice to pursue broadcasting. I know we had many discussions about what matters the most in pursuing a career. Ultimately I know that he would agree that experience, an education and whom you know is all important.

What stands out the most as I think about my Jon is his unwillingness to let circumstances around him stop him from pursing his goals. I’m proud of his achievements but know that I could have said more as he was growing up and praise him more in a way that he understood. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Son - Part 1

It’s always amazing how on occasion it seems as if time comes to a stand still and then before you know it time seems to race past you. It seemed like yesterday that we were living in Walnut Creek. Anne and I had been married 16 years and we had the munchkin daughter Heather who had survived a miracle birth. She had spent the first year of her life in a pre-historic neo-natal ICU in San Francisco. Now we are in the middle of doing a church plant and have the arrival of our new son and daughter, Jon and Julie.

You have to understand that Anne and I don’t do things in the most normal fashion. Just as Heather came a little early with complications, now we have an instant family with our newly adopted daughter and son. As I flash back to the week of hearing that their social worker will fly them up to Walnut Creek we are excited and scared. I truly wanted a son and in some ways had considered our present live in college student, Freddie, as my first son. Julie was 8 going on 16 and Jon was 4 going on 2 years of age.

I can remember how excited we were to have them officially be ours. We had been visiting them over the last year but the complications of paperwork and the social services department in San Diego County and Contra Costa County made it seem like the adoption wouldn’t happen. We had gotten their rooms ready or I should say that Heather sacrificed half of her room to Julie and Jon would have his own room. We had been the perfect 1 kid couple and knew that life would never be the same.

My first memories of Jon, actually his name was Jonathon or Jon Jon, go back to this shy little guy who was a little afraid of his new dad. Anne and I initially reacted a little bit to Jon and Julie calling us mom and dad but we knew that the social worker, Anna Palid, was correct in having them call us not Dave and Anne but mom and dad. Just as they didn’t have a choice in their being adopted we did become their parents. If we were to make this work it was important that they sense our commitment, care and love from the beginning.

My real first memories, of my Jon, were at his foster mom Connie’s house. We had gone to a birthday party and between this small dog that looked like a beached whale and our son to be was actually dwarfed by Connie’s dog. Jon was your cute little guy that was small for his age. His smile and look would grab at your heart. Their grandma Mary had just spent the last few months persuading us that we should adopt her grandkids. I was excited to see Jon and Julie and have a chance to hear more about them from Connie and Grandma.

I have to admit that I didn’t take any classes on parenting or how to be a father with a new son. I understood the family history of our two new kids but really didn’t have any sense of the impact it had on their lives. I was born into a family where my mom and dad stayed together and provided consistency in my life. I couldn’t fathom what it would have been like to live in a car with a mom that was gone most of the time and then be placed in foster care. I say this not to demean my son or daughter but to highlight how special they are to Anne and I and our larger family, Yet, I know that the first couples of years that they lived with us was a transition for them and for us.

I will be the first to admit that I loved being able to play with all of my kids. I know that it is easy at times to put them in situations where they have to stretch a little and learn about normal life lessons. I will always remember Larky Park, which was across from our house. It was a great little park that had a swimming pool and a special Wildlife Refuge Center that consumed many families’ attention on Saturdays or weekday afternoons.  We spent many hours at the park both with being involved with the Walnut Creek Swim Club and also learning how to ride a bike without training wheels.

I’m afraid that I probably scared all of my kids by forcing them to ride a bike without training wheels. I will never forget that Saturday afternoon that it was Jon’s turn to ride his bike down the grassy hill that was just above the swimming pool. We had fixed up Heather’s first little bike for Jon. We painted it blue and replaced the handlebars. I knew that Jon was a little scared but believed that as my dad challenged me to step up I would do the same. Little did I know that my little push down the hill on his newly painted bike would see him collide with a bush or little tree. I don’t remember any sirens or ambulances coming to his rescue but he crashed and was psychologically damaged according to his own words for the rest of his life.

Years later Jon would reflect on that day as not one of his best. I’m hoping that today he would laugh at himself and realize that as he walks down the aisle and has kids in the near future he probably will do the same thing with his son or daughter and most likely will be a tougher coach then his dad had been on him. I know that our Julie and Jon ended up participating on swim team because of some close friends whose kids were all on the team. Our Julie was at an age where she loved to swim and did really well. I know that with Jon there was always a question a to whether he could swim across the lane without drowning.

The next 5 years of our lives in Walnut Creek saw us survive one of the worst earthquakes in California and the world. All of our kids were in school when the big one hit. Anne was in the City working at the Foreclosure Company and I was in downtown Walnut Creek finishing some brochures for our new church start. I can remember the sensation of feeling this high-rise building start to shake. I will always remember watching the BART track shake and the inbound train actually makes it to the station. I quickly made it back home and got our kids and waited word to see how Anne was doing. Remember this was before the day of cell phones.

What I will remember was the following couple of weeks when we had aftershocks where all of our kids would quickly run out of the house into the backyard. We lived in a 2-story house and didn’t really have any structural damage but the quake knocked over a few of our bookshelves. It wasn’t funny while these quakes were happening but looking back it brought together as a family. I quickly realized that our family was now Heather, Julie, Jon, our dog Penny and Blackie the cat.  

I know that Jon truly believed that God had cursed him and that he would be stunted or a midget for the rest of his life. I know that Anne’s dwarf like stature frightened him because you can’t be a NBA superstar if you are less than 5 feet tall. The real hope for Jon was that his special friend Freddie was an amazing basketball player but he was barely 5 feet tall and could still make all of the moves. The great news is that Jon did eventually catch up with most of his friends.

I was pressured by my close friend Skip or George to do soccer with him. So whether my Jon had a choice or not I can’t remember. The Pfeiffers were a sports family so between soccer and swimming they were busy 24/7. So I became an assistant coach and Jon ran around the field like the rest of the massive sea of little players. I’m not sure whether Jon developed his dislike for soccer in Walnut Creek or after we moved to Chandler. I had fun coaching and watching our little guys get exercise and have what appeared to be fun.

I have many memories of watching our Freddie walk Jon to first his pre-school and then to his elementary school, Pleasant Hill Elementary. I have no clue whether Jon remembers much of this but I know that our Heather has detailed memories of all of her teachers and schools from kindergarten to high school. I have this picture of our little Jon riding on Freddie’s shoulders the few blocks to pre-school and eventually to his kindergarten class.

I will close this portion of my Jon blog with a story of my sons’ expertise as a painter. We had just done a father-son project working on his bike. We had painted it a bright blue and used a few cans of spray paint. The bike looked awesome and I truly thought Jon liked it. The following day I come home from doing church work and I see little Jon with blue paint all over himself. At first this didn’t really bother me until I saw the imprint of a piece of plywood on the chimney of our house. The difficulty was that the chimney was red and the outline of this piece of wood was blue. I quickly asked Jon if he had any idea of how the blue paint mysteriously ended up with the chimney?

I remember laughing at Jon as he attempted to persuade me that he had nothing to do with painting the chimney. The unfortunate thing for Jon was that he was covered with blue paint. Jon would reflect on how his dad had attempted to burn down the house a few days latter by emptying the barbecue into the trash not realizing that the ashes were still capable of burning not just the plastic trash bin but also the bush next to it. So I can laugh at Jon’s blue paint and he can chuckle at his pyro dad.