The Dad Story Project

Encouraging fathers, one heart at a time

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And if you have come here as a reader, we hope you find the following posts encouraging, uplifting, and entertaining. And if you come away inspired to be a great dad, or eager to help someone else become a great dad, then we have succeeded. And perhaps these stories have even inspired you to write your own story and send it our way—we would love to hear from you! Please go to the submissions page to see how you can join the TDSP movement

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Why I raised my daughters like boys

By Gary Moore
Editor’s Note: Gary is a full-time follower of Christ, a husband and father, and a pastor. His meditations and musings on doctrine, ministry, family, photography…and humor, can be found at We were delighted that he agreed to pass on this wonderful bit of father-wisdom.

My daughters are all drop-dead gorgeous and I don’t know a single person in their right mind who would disagree with my unprejudiced assessment. I suppose that most people think being a natural beauty is a great blessing, but it has been my observation that stunningly beautiful women may actually be severely handicapped. It is an easy thing to create jealousy in other women and most men do not appear to think all that clearly around them, so, why not just rely on that God given gift to make your way in the world? Unfortunately, women who rely solely on their beauty may be prone to more frequent brain cramps. Personally, I have found that the women who are the most interesting and fun to be around are women who don’t mind competing with men intellectually and physically. They are far more interested in taking a hike in the woods than sitting around a table in a sewing circle. They would rather go SCUBA diving in the Cayman Islands than lay around on the beach all day reading “50 Shades of Gray.”

I bPicture
ring this subject up because as my daughter Carrie and I were driving back from an “open mike” musical event in Concord today she brought up the subject of how so many women were boring to be around. A case in point involved a very short “hike” some of the women in her church took and the subject of their conversation as they laborious trudged long the two-mile trail was, “What is the best detergent to use for washing clothes?” Poor Carrie she is made of sterner stuff. When she was 7 years old I insisted she hike the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail with me. It was a short 10-mile hike to Indian Gardens and back, and as the temperature was only a shade (of course there was none) over a 100 degrees I didn’t think it would be too strenuous. I assured her that this was normal healthy activity for a young girl. Her ruggedness only increased from then on. In college she went on a 5-mile run with a guy who wanted to court her but when he complained about a pain in his heel the entire way she dumped him. Later, when she discovered that he had been running with a toothpick jammed in his heel you would think that she might have shown some remorse for her presumptive action, to the contrary, her comment was, “Well, dad I think he really was wimpy—all that whining over a little toothpick.”

Megan, my youngest beauty is far and away the strongest—in more ways than one. I recall that as a young girl she was at a 6th grade birthday party for a friend and when she came home she was astounded at how wimpy all the girls were. Some of the boys were trying to impress the girls by demonstrating their strength lifting barbells. One of the boys failed to curl a 65 pound weight and Megan went over and innocently picked up the weight and said, “Is this what you are trying to do?” and proceeded to show him how it was done. To this day she out performs and out works any three people I know. Beauty, faithfulness and compassion—what a lady.

PictureI suppose SAM got the worst of it in that she wasn’t born a boy and I insisted on calling her by her initials (Stephanie Adina Moore). She, unfortunately for me but perhaps fortunate for her, has her dad’s assertive, self-willed stubborn streak. Though I was already in the habit of calling her SAM she wanted to affirm her identity as a girl, so at the age of four she confronted me about this inappropriate sobriquet. She said, “Dad, SAM is a boy’s name and I am a girl. If you like you may call me Steph, Stephy or Stephanie but not SAM.” I was floored! Yet, I was persuaded then, as I am now, that a person should be called by whatever name they want (I have a friend whose name is Jerry but he goes by the name Mason—that makes sense to me), so I relented. Seven years later, after her identity as a girl was clearly established I approached the subject of her nickname again. She was 13 years old and, as with Carrie, I had taken her out of school for a week’s adventure to celebrate being a teenager. So at just the appropriate moment, while we were being flooded out of our tent one night in a torrential rainstorm on Prince Edward Island I asked her—“What would you think about letting just me call you SAM?” She thought for a moment and then gave her consent. Incidentally, like any good camping buddy, she never uttered a word of complain about our discomfort in the rain and eating soggy food—“what a guy!”

Well, there you have it, three gorgeous women who are now all smarter and tougher than their dad and who don’t bore men to tears with dull talk about what’s the best detergent to use for getting their faded T shirts “sunshine bright.” Of course, the downside of all this is that I have to do my own laundry, but it was worth it to have fun daughters to pal around with. Besides I just throw all that stuff in wash together—eventually they all come out one color and I don’t have to worry about my clothes matching.

Changing the oil with Dad, then and now

By Christopher Dudley

Chris_Dudley_car_legsMany years ago, as a young boy, cars were commonly worked on by the average person. They were relatively basic and the tools to work on them were not complicated or expensive. If you had the knowledge and mechanical aptitude, you could do a complete tune up on a Saturday afternoon. I clearly remember my father changing the oil diligently every 3000 miles on our family’s vehicles. He would let me “help” too, which is a memory I cherish to this day.

Flash forward 35 years and I have my own child, a daughter who is currently 12. I was a stay-at-home dad for the first year of her life, and so we have developed a strong bond. Where this oil change idea connects, is what is going on in middle school currently. They all take a “Tech” class which goes over various concepts like engines, motors, electricity, solar power, etc. The other day we were talking about how I needed an oil change and how when I was a kid I helped my dad change his oil. I asked her, “Do you want to help me change the oil in the truck?” She exclaimed, “SURE!”

Now, in today’s world, we stop in at VIP Auto or some quick lube place and 20 minutes later we drive away for $25 with our oil changed and pay a little extra for air filters and such. We stopped at the local NAPA Auto and I handed them a list of what I needed for filters and I grabbed oil off the shelf that was on sale and some windshield washer fluid. I figured we would do it all! Then he told me how much it was, $55!! (Good thing I had the proper wrenches at home) I paid the bill and we left. We got into the truck and I said, “Sammy, please know that you better be all excited Friday afternoon when you get home from school to change the oil, because we just spent WAY more than I normally spend on an oil change and WE ARE DOING ALL THE LABOR!!!”

At 3 p.m. my daughter got off the bus and from halfway down the driveway, she exclaimed with great excitement, “DADDY!!! I CAN’T WAIT TO CHANGE THE OIL IN YOUR TRUCK!!” And then she said much quieter and with a little sarcasm, “Was that excited enough for you?” Isn’t she a riot? So she went inside and changed all on her own into old clothes (it seems she might actually be listening to us here and there!) and we headed out to change the oil. She settled right into being under the truck, once I killed the spider that dropped on her shoulder. I gave her the task of finding the filter and drain plug, after she popped the hood of course. I let her loosen the drain plug with a little help from my muscles. She got to learn how to properly adjust a wrench and had the pleasure of taking the drain plug out and getting oil all over her gloved hand. That was funny really.

Once the filter was off and all the oil drained, I taught her how to smear clean oil on the filter gasket. Then we installed the filter and the plug and went back up top. I had to get a ladder for her to see in the engine compartment and she filled the oil without spilling any! Wuhooo!! Then she filled the windshield washer fluid and we went for the air filter replacement.

Chris_Dudley_miceThis is where things got really interesting and a bit gross and maybe a little sad as well. After struggling to get the air filter cover off, immediately we noticed chewed acorns and a mouse nest!! And the gross and sad part, 6 dead baby mice. “GROSS!!!” was the response of course. To my surprise, while I was retrieving the shop vac, my daughter had reached in and removed all the baby mice. Good thing we had surgical gloves on. She then chucked them in the woods.

The only thing left to do was fire up the truck to make sure it worked! And it did of course. Phew! I’m pretty sure I let her do way more than my dad had let me do back when I was a kid. Not much you can break or mess up on a Ford F250 pickup though. After we finished, the best part was when she asked enthusiastically, “Dad, can we change the oil together every time you need it done?” I must say, it’s probably worth the extra $15-20, the time spent, the messes made, and the learning going on under the truck. How else would a 12 year-old girl learn that when the hubs are not locked in, you can turn the drive shaft in front, but not the one in back?

Christopher Dudley describes himself as: married, saved at 40, one daughter, love hunting, fishing, hiking, etc., and build custom furniture for a living

Vignettes from a thankful pastor’s wife


EDITOR’S NOTE: The following little stories were sent to me by my dear friend Sarah Slyman, who began her message with this:

“sorry! (sic) We are going non stop (sic) over here. Literally, (sic) non-stop!! now (sic) summer breaks is here already and maybe things will slow down for us! I haven’t been able to sit down and make this sound good, but here is my outline:…”

And she ended her message with this:

“OK….so those are the two stories I have. I just don’t have time to polish them or make them sound good…but that is what editor’s (sic) are for, right?”

As you can clearly see, Sarah is very sic (sic) – which is just editor-speak for “this is the way they wrote it, so don’t blame me.” My guess is that Sarah was being chased by bees as she frantically typed this with her thumbs. Such is the intense life of a pastor’s wife with two energetic children and a husband who is constantly smiling. The accompanying photo may help explain things a little: there is Sarah, a glowing beacon of calm serenity, standing among a throng of happy chaos.

By the way, her husband, Patrick (the third child in the photo above, click for larger version), happens to be my great friend and one truly gifted preacher! He is the lead pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, WA. Here is the church website, and you can watch past sermons here.

And now, onto the good stuf (sic)—which I’ve edited, BTW.

By Sarah Slyman

Patrick planned an elders’ retreat and was an integral part of the entire thing. Then we find out that the school pops concert is that same night. There was no around it—he was going to miss it. The girls were very disappointed, but understood. The night of the concert, Patrick hurried through his meeting, and as soon as it was over he jetted over to the school and slipped in next to me in the second row. Lexi saw him first and then Maddi and when they saw him their faces just lit up and you could see the love they had for their dad all over their faces. They didn’t think he was going to come, but he did, and it made their entire night.

I am not a morning person, but Patrick is. He has faithfully gotten up with our girls every morning since they started going to school, five years now. He has fed them breakfast and made sure their teeth were brushed. He has packed their lunches and even gives a morning weather report so they can dress accordingly. My job is to stay in bed and brush hair and advise on outfits. I love to lie in bed as I wake up, and I can hear my two girls and their dad rushing around the house. Then I hear…”Girls! Time for breakfast!” I hear them all sit down and everything goes quiet. I hear him pray and then begin a morning devotion with them. He will read the Bible to them, ask them questions and have a conversation about that day’s topic. It doesn’t take long, maybe five minutes or so. I just love this because I know that my girls have a dad that not only feeds them their breakfast every morning and gets them ready for the day, but he is also feeding them spiritually and preparing them for life.

He is always in my heart

By Surjit Singh Flora

He is always in my heart. I will always love him forever…and I have so much pain in my heart.

I couldn’t believe I lost him, just like that. My heart will never heal. Underneath the calm and happy mask, pain and turmoil continues to churn.

As this weekend on Sunday June 21st we celebrate Father’s Day, the pain of having lost my father overwhelms me.

As I remember my father, tears well up in my eyes and stream down my face.

My dad always wanted to move to Canada so he could provide better education and a better life for his kids. He applies for the Canadian Visa, but it was a visitor Visa only.

After reaching Canada he sent us letter that he’s fine and happy. That letter and its many fellows down the years– all with the same content– kept coming to our doors for 11 years. Yet, even as he lived on here in Canada, his health was failing him– but fearing we would worry he never let us about his ill-health.

He spent these years in Canada as a refugee; finally after 11 years when he got his landed immigrant papers, he wrote us saying he is coming to visit us and that all of us will be moving to Canada. The day never came… but we were not to know it then. We were all happy that we would finally be together. It was to be a huge family reunion. Sadly my father did not live to see his family together as he suffered a fatal heart attack. We were shattered, in pain and in tears. And we were starving for our dad’s love.

After dad passed away, my mother sacrificed all her life to take care of us and give us everything we needed. I’m 42 today, and it’s going to be 26 years since we’ve been living here.

Yes, Canada is a wonderful country. I continue to learn new things and find new challenges, new experiences in this new life. But still so many times I can’t help thinking it was here that my dad was taken away from us. When I miss him, I want someone to hold me, give me a hug. And when I see how everyone simply dotes on their dads, gives them gifts on Father’s Day, wishes them a long, happy life, I want to do the same– but to whom can I give my Father’s Day gift and card to? Where can I get a warm loving hug, a kiss?

And it hurts, that life is so short, all too short, and the ones we love and who sacrificed so much for us are taken away from us so very early. So early, in fact, that we couldn’t even get round to telling them how much we love them.

But I guess they are the ones whom even God loves so very much.

Surjit Singh Flora lives in Toronto Canada, has been writing since he was in 8th grade, and has been published all over the world in more then 100 newspapers and magazines

A father, a daughter, a weekend

By Emily Alexander

I grew up pretty sheltered in a retirement community in Arkansas. The average age of the person on my street was about 60 years old. Blue hair, yapping small Chihuahuas, and corny yard ornaments littered our corners.

I was my parent’s “miracle child.” My mom, an American, met my British father while she was teaching music in college in Australia. They had me late in life, when mom was 40 and dad was about 50. The generational differences between us caused the occasional tears, slamming doors, and screaming matches, especially during the tumultuous teenage years, but overall, there was little drama. I never doubted the all-encompassing love I had for my parents, or their undying devotion for me. They may not have understood my wild whimsies, my carefree clothes, or my lazy language, but they loved me totally and entirely.

After high school, I went to a small, private Christian college. The most exciting thing to do for fun in this town was catching people on Lover’s Lane or going to the dollar theater for a late-night movie. This was definitely not a normal, wild college town, full of boisterous bars and rowdy co-ed dorms.

I loved being away from home, even though the town was so small it had a volunteer fire department. I didn’t have my parents there to impose my curfew, grant approval of my clothes, or give the “ok” to my dating. I loved being able to decide things for myself, and I took full advantage of my freedom.

Whenever I told one of my college friends about my upbringing, it was very hard for them to understand the tie I had to my parents. Yes, life had been strict with them; but while I loved my freedom, and I didn’t agree with everything my parents did or said, I cared deeply about what my parents, especially my dad, thought of me. Their approval was something I still desired, and their pride in me was essential.

One day, my senior year of college, I came down with the flu. I was student teaching at the time, living by myself in an apartment off campus. I was already lonely, and all I wanted while I was sick was for someone to take care of me-to crawl into my childhood bed, relax into the familiar smelling sheets, and smell my mom cooking my favorite chicken noodle soup. During a phone call with my dad, I mentioned how much I missed them and how hard it was to take care of yourself while you were sick. And lo and behold, the next day when I got home from teaching, there was my dad, smiling his crooked smile with his English cap on, waiting to come inside and pamper me like I was his little girl again.

I think most people would have been annoyed-they were young adults, proving to themselves that they could make it on their own. But me? I just wanted my dad. I wanted to be taken care of, tucked into bed. I was tired of being stressed out, of being alone. I only had a few months left of being a student. After that, you don’t get a break from life anymore, and I was going to take full advantage of the break I had.

Dad stayed through the weekend, and we had a wonderful time together. He cooked for me, met the boy I was dating, walked the halls of my campus, dropped in on my English class, and I showed him the many “famous” sites of my tiny college town. It was the last time dad and I would really spend quality time together alone for more than a few hours.

Almost a decade later, married and pregnant with my first child, we found out my dad had a brain tumor. He made it almost eight months; thankfully, dad got to see his grandson at only two weeks old. When my son was four weeks old, we were able to make it back to Arkansas three hours before dad passed away—a total miracle. I couldn’t help but feel like he was hanging on for me to get there. And as I sat holding my dad’s hand and staring at my newborn son, the only thing I could think of was that weekend: how glad I was that we got to spend it together, how glad I am that I didn’t care what my friends thought of me and how others viewed me as a spoiled daddy’s girl that was too reliant on her parents. That weekend was special, and means even more to me now. As I watched my dad take his last breath, he let out a contented sigh. And I wondered if he was thinking of that weekend, too.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is published with permission from Benjamin Watson, an NFL tight end who played for the New England Patriots (winning a Super Bowl ring in 2004), and currently plays for the New Orleans Saints. The story first appeared as a blog post on his site, and I am delighted and grateful that he has granted us permission to republish it on The Dad Story Project website. Watson’s story, Water, draws a powerful parallel between the relationship of children with their earthly fathers, and all of us with our heavenly father. Here are some useful links: Watson’s Wikipedia page; his personal website; and his convocation address at Liberty University.

BW-the-family-man20130905_0770_1By Benjamin Watson

“Wa-da Daddy, Wa-Da!” Hearing my “name” I look over to see my 2 yr old son laying on his back on our bed, his head hanging off the side upside down, his eyes staring out of the bedroom window and his finger pointed skyward. I walked over to the window and gave the obligatory, “yea buddy, water” response but I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Sensing the lack of understanding in my voice, he repeated himself, more emphatically this time. “Wa-Da Daddy, WA-DA!” I peered through the window again, intently trying to solve this mystery. Looking upward in the direction of his pointed finger, it suddenly dawned on me what he was trying to tell me. It was a beautiful 70-degree day. Other than a few high wispy cirrus clouds there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And the sky was crystal blue as far as the eye could see, like when the horizon meets an ocean of…..WATER! “Oh, Water, buddy! Yeah”, I Confirmed excitedly. He looked at me as if to say, “Duh Daddy.” I went on to explain to him that while the sky may be blue and look like water it is much different. This is a fact he definitely knows because when we are outside playing he and his brother go absolutely crazy at the sight of each passing airplane. His problem, at that moment, though, was that he was upside down. And because he was upside down his perception of the world was as well. It seems silly to an adult with decades of life experience, but his conviction that the sky was the sea was just as honest, heartfelt and in his mind, truthful, as mine that it was not. Our respective feelings about the location of the sky were irrelevant. As sincere as they may have been, they had no bearing on the truth that the sky is above the earth, encompassing the globe.

At times many of us, whether we know it or not, find ourselves on our backs staring at the sky screaming “Water!” In our family, political, occupational and even spiritual lives we make decisions and take stances based on bad theology, personal benefit, convenience or political correctness. We think that the right thing to do is whatever the majority thinks is right at the time. Like a ship without a sail we are tossed to and fro by the prevailing trends and latest stances of our cultural leaders, anchorless in a storm of popular opinion. In a moment of misguided sincerity, absolute truth is what my baby boy needed. Contrary to popular belief, Absolute Truth is what we all need. Proverbs 14:12 says,

“There is a way, which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

No doubt the man in this passage is sincere in his beliefs. He may even think he is doing what’s best for himself, his family, and his country. Unfortunately, sincerity, by itself, is never an accurate indicator of right and wrong. Many decisions we make collectively and individually that we think are good, are ultimately leading us down pathways of destruction. In fact many of us deceive ourselves by thinking we are wise, or as we sometimes express it, “evolved or enlightened”, in this present age.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”
1 Corinthians 3:19,20

Our human pride leads us to believe we know better and that we can actually improve, amend, or edit what God has laid out on the eternal pages of scripture. How foolish! Should the created teach the creator? It is nothing but our sin nature that leads us to audaciously believe we know better than Him. How can we, who on average enjoy 75 years on this terrestrial ball, foolishly turn our backs on the word of the everlasting? May it never be. Finally the prophet Isaiah issues a warning we can all take heed to. He says:

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20

Please understand, that God does not look upon this lightly. It’s not okay that everybody else is doing it. It’s not okay, that our sin “isn’t hurting anyone else”. As much as we would like it to be, Truth is not subject to personal convenience. Before God, relativism is not something to play with. Don’t be a cultural casualty shunning the existence of Absolute Truth. Collectively we are upside down in our thinking and only Christ can free us from the bondage of a depraved mind. We all confuse right and wrong at times. It’s in our gene pool, passed down all the way from the first people!

But like God, His word is timeless, unchanging, and forever practical. It is living active and sharper than any double-edged sword. It is profitable for doctrine, reproof and correction in righteousness. It reveals the wretched heart of man, unclothing our iniquity, and our needs, giving us hope on our darkest day, wisdom in our most foolish hour, truth in a world full of lies. God’s word is the ONLY word by which life truly makes sense. In fact his word is the only way we know what life truly IS. It is the standard by which all other standards must be compared. Our worldview should always be grounded in scripture. Who are we to think we know more than he?

Even though those white cirrus clouds may look like foam on breaking waves, the heavens will never be the raging sea. When I took my son off the bed and placed him upright on his little feet, his view of the world was corrected and he realized the folly of his ways. He had been seeing and thinking upside down. I, as his father, knowing infinitely more then he, would not let him wallow in his wayward thinking. How much more, will our Heavenly Father, the omniscient, take us off the bed, stand us up and correct our sight, if we truly WANT to see. The bed can be quite comfortable and warm and rest assured you will be in the company of many.

Sadly some of us don’t even know we are ON the bed and some that do, for various reasons don’t want to get off. Instead we’d rather keep looking at the sky, upside down, with our fingers pointed, yelling, “WATER!”

The joy of airbags and new neighbors

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story, the second by my friend David Rath, must come with a disclaimer. The pyrotechnic activities depicted are not necessarily normal, or recommended. Yes, the story is funny, but it’s the kind of funny that borders on something else. Something else like sledding off the shed roof or hunting for snapping turtles, or using sling shots in the house or any number of things that I did with my kids and later regretted only because we got caught by mom. Us dads are always getting caught by mom, and we always have to take the responsibility because we’re the ones who are “the grownups.” Just once I’d like one of my kids to have to take the fall for getting me into some kind of ridiculous (and ultimately harmless) trouble. Anyway, I’m sure that Dave and his kids learned a valuable lesson from this, and in the end I imagine all the Raths became BFFs with the traumatized neighbor, who appears out of the dispersing smoke at the end of the story. He’s really a decent guy, Dave is, and his kids are turning out fine. It’s just experiential learning, right? Of course, they’d all be lost without mom.

We moved into our house in the Adirondacks in 2008. Isaac my son was 10. He and I tend to be slightly adventurous, often crazy, and sometimes downright dangerous.

We had just moved in and there was lots of unpacking and tons of sorting to do. You know, the usual boxes of clothes knick-knacks, etc. Isaac and I were moving things out to the barn from the garage. (For some reason, my wife thought her car was supposed to go in the garage). As we moved box after box of tools, tent poles, roller blades, and what have you, Isaac found The Box. The one marked DAD’S STUFF. It weighed about 1,000 pounds and it took everything we had to move it out to the Barn.

“What’s in this Isaac asked?”

“No clue,” I said.

I believe I’d packed this box when we lived in New Hampshire and was left untouched for the last year as we were renting a house in New York before we purchased this one.

“Let’s take a look,” I said.

I grabbed a screwdriver and used it to cut the tape on the top of the box. As we opened it, it was like a bright light shown on both our faces.

“What are those?” Isaac asked.

“I forgot I had those,” I said.

There in front of us were three unused air-bag apparatuses from some vehicle that I had worked on at some point in my life as an auto mechanic. I explained to Isaac in a nutshell the theory of how they worked, and as soon as I mentioned how each device had an explosive charge to deploy the airbag, his face lit up.

“Let’s make them explode!” he said.

His eyes as big as hub caps.

That’s when I realized the day I had always hoped for had finally come. Me and the boy were going to make things go boom.

“Where is your mother?” I asked.

Isaac ran around the house looking as inconspicuous as possible, trying to scope out where his mother was. As he did this, I procured an old car battery and about 50 feet of wire. He came bounding back grinning a grin like he was about to do something slightly illegal, but his dad was there which made it okay.

“Well?” I asked.

“She is way up front talking to the neighbor,” he said.

“Perfect!” I exclaimed.

We took the airbag devices, the car battery, and the wire out behind the barn. I placed the first device on a barrel. I had to cut the wire in half to make two leads, which meant we only had 25 feet between us and the explosion. Should be fine right? I hooked up the wires and made Isaac hide behind me, just in case. I attached the first wire to the negative then quickly touched the positive. PFFFFT pop…. It was a dud. Isaac sighed.

“Well, that was exciting” he said, disappointingly.

“Let’s try the other one,” I said.

I hooked up the second air-bag device on the barrel and stretched the wires as far as I could, Isaac crouching behind me. Negative wire set. Ever so gently I touched the positive lead. KERPOW!!! A flame shot about four feet up off of the barrel and a shard of metal shot over my head. I felt my hair move. Isaac giggled with glee.

“Do the next one!” he shouted, neither of us realizing we had almost died.

“This is the big one,” I said “It came out of the steering wheel of a Cadillac. Hopefully it works.”

Boy did it! The air bag explosively inflated and launched about 30 feet in the air. It sounded like a shotgun blast. The concussion threw Isaac and I back a bit. Isaac’s younger sister, Emma, came running.

“What was that? She said.

“Nothing to see here,” Isaac shouted as he ran after the airbag, which had landed in the woods.

“Be careful! It might be hot,” I shouted after him.

“Sure is!” he yelled back. “I spit on it and it sizzled.”

He and Emma ran off, Isaac dragging the deflated bag behind him. I stood with pride at the destruction my son and I had wrought. I stood in the glow of this accomplishment for about two minutes, then I headed around to the front of the house.

As I turned the corner around our house I saw my wife looking very sternly at me, while holding the hand of our neighbor who was as white as a ghost and looked a little shaky. Apparently Isaac’s and my experiment caused her pacemaker to skip a beat and shortly after that Isaac and Emma ran up to both of them and spit on the chunk of molten metal in Isaac’s hand to show them how it sizzled.

“Uh Hi!” I said.

Grace, our new neighbor, clutching my wife’s hand and holding her chest, looked up at me with a haggard look.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” she said.

Jelly Bean Sprouts & Whopping Amphibians: Sticky Sweet Memories

EDITOR’S NOTE: For reasons of full disclosure, the story that follows is from my daughter, Amanda. That’s us, above, during a trail run when she was a junior in college. Her story was unsolicited. No, really. I was going to ask her and my son to write guest posts, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. She dashed it off while in the midst of getting her second college degree. I have no idea where she found the time to do this. One of the key parts of the story has to do with rescuing amphibians on country roads at night in the rain in the spring—this is totally legit, and it’s called Big Night, and it happens all across the northeastern US. You can find our more by clicking this link to the local organization that helped us learn all about it. And even though Amanda has been away from home for the last four Big Nights, I still go out, for old time’s sake…and just because it’s really cool. The best thing about my daughter’s story (although I could be a bit biased) is that she somehow credits me with helping her become a confident and competent adult by burying candy in the yard. Hmm, all along I thought I was just being her dad. Can it really be that simple?

By Amanda Lewis

From a very young age, I remember playing alongside my father; he was always working hard. He was tilling for the new garden, helping my brother build some contraption, cleaning out the old shed, building me a playground, re-doing the green house for mom etc. I remember him always covered in wood shavings from sawing things and he always smelled like damp dirt. He would constantly be storing a pencil behind his ear, measuring something, losing his pencil, muttering about the measurements, taking his narrowly-molded baseball cap off [see photo above], wiping his hands on his jeans, getting frustrated about losing his pencil, putting his hat back on his head, and finding said pencil right where he had left it—behind his ear. This may sound like any typical hard-working father, constantly on the go while his daughter watches, idly playing nearby and seemingly bored. But let me tell you how my dad was different.

My dad wouldn’t just work hard, he took breaks hard too. In the middle of building me my “castle” [a big, complicated playground gymnasium thing] he would take breaks to take me fishing. And by taking me fishing I mean he fished, let me haphazardly cast, and hold the fish after he took it off the hook. He also let me take a couple home so I could swim with them in my kiddie pool. (Don’t ask what happened to them. I guess swimming in the mud caused from the overflow was not their forté). There were many days he would take me down to the creek so I could wade in and try to catch “swimmer bugs,” those weird bugs that seem to float and swim on top of the water at the same time.

One day, after handing my dad screws and nails while he worked on the greenhouse (I could be remembering this wrong, I was probably about five) he asked me for help with a couple of flower beds in the front near the driveway. I remember looking at his hands covered in black soil with black lines in the creases and under his nails and then looking at my smaller ones to see a matching set. He went into the house and came back with a bag of jelly beans. He said we were planting “magic jelly beans.” I remember just wanting to eat them, but he told me if I was patient, my hard work would pay off. So we planted the “beans.” The next morning I woke up and he asked if I had checked on the flower beds, because something might have grown. I raced outside to check, hair sticking up in all different directions, barefoot in my Little Mermaid pajamas. And what do you know; our “magic jelly beans” has sprouted—into HUGE lollipops! It was magical.

Fast-forward seven years. I am twelve, and despite being a middle school girl, I still enjoy playing with snakes and frogs. There was an ad in the paper about an “annual amphibian migration” followed by “how you can help.” My dad thought it sounded “Wicked cool!” so “We have to go!” We went to the volunteer meeting, where we were told what conditions were needed for this migration, how to help the salamanders and frogs cross the road to get to their mating grounds, and how to handle them properly. My dad, a friend, and I were so psyched! My mother thought we were all crazy. Then finally the night came—perfect conditions (frost out of the ground above 55 degrees, raining, sometime roughly around April). We set off with our flashlights, driving slow, squinting hard, hopping out at every possible sighting (even if it was only a leaf), finding “whopping” [large] spotted salamanders, and measuring the really big ones. This continued the next year (with another friend and her adventurous father manning the tape measure), and then continued just the two of us all through high school. The first year I was a freshman in college my dad still went out, partly for tradition’s sake, partly to beat the “whopping spotter record” from last year, and partly because I know he missed me. I kept getting picture messages on my phone, making me wish I was there to see the “whoppers” he had recorded this year. I showed some friends, having to explain our “tradition.” They thought the whole thing was rather weird. I just scoffed, rolled my eyes, and said, “You just don’t get it.” And they didn’t; they still don’t.

My dad has been many things. He has been my father (in my opinion, the best father in the whole wide world), a father to many of my friends, my teacher, my spiritual adviser, my biggest fan, and my role model for my future husband (As you can imagine this weeded out a large number of prospects. I now have extremely high standards because I was raised knowing I deserved only the best. I know, I sound like an uppity snot, but hey, blame him, not me). But among all these roles my dad has played, my dad has always been, and will always be, my best friend—my partner in crime. It’s nice knowing that if mom is going to scold me, I won’t be the only one getting scolded (usually).

So thanks dad, for always taking time out of your busy day for me, for always taking care of me. Thanks for planting those “beans” with me when I was still very small, so they could sprout and take root so I can now stand on my own, and enjoy the “lollipops” I’ve worked so hard for. And thanks for not only steering me towards an amazing guy, but also being there for that amazing guy once I found him. I love you so much. P.S. I know, I know—there’s probably a whole bunch of misplaced commas, and it’s over 800 words, but at least you taught me how to use semi-colons and em dashes. Deal with it!

Bringing a shovel to a snowball fight

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve known the author of this story, my friend Jim, for over twenty-five years. We worked together in the newspaper business a long time ago, and although we have barely kept in touch, it doesn’t seem to matter (and now, in the age of social media, it will be much easier to stay connected). This story was not written specifically for The Dad Story Project, but began its life as a simple Facebook post—just a brief celebration of shoveling, Jim told me. And I think that’s the thing that gives the story such delicious charm. Jim wasn’t committing a deliberate act of journalism which would neatly fit this little dad-encouraging niche in the internet that I’ve created (although he is a journalist); he just wanted to let his corner of the world know that he liked the winter and enjoyed shoveling snow. And yet, he is not just a joyful shoveler, but a dad, too—enjoying his daughter right along with the flinging snow. Fathering made seemingly effortless by just being there in the moment and realizing that the moment is precious.

By Jim Graham

Call me crazy. But I realized today that there’s a part of me that loves all this shoveling. Or, at least the ritual of it. Even after this storm. Even though my back’s sore, too.

Taking a breather, heart pounding in my ears. Listening—no, feeling—the unearthly power of a wind that makes the whole woods shutter with every gust.

My daughter, 10, bundled up in her downhill ski clothes and goggles, making a sled run and popping up over the snowbank now and then to throw light, powdery snowballs at me that disintegrate on contact, covering me in a cloud of tiny, sparkling shards that sting as the wind whisks them to parts unknown. The late afternoon sun at that just-right angle that tinges everything gold.

One snowball hits me right at the hammer loop of my old flannel-lined Carhartt’s. And my daughter laughs, and ducks down behind the snowbank.

The hammer loop, which I told her and my son years ago was sewn on there so that kids could have something to hold onto when they were walking around with their dads. Which they did. And she still does for a laugh now and then. And my old Carhartts, stained with resin from when I built a wooden kayak, spotted with oil from chainsaws and brush cutters and cars and kids’ bicycles, thin at the knees, tattered at the cuffs. Old friends, those pants. And still warm.

Shoveling hard, throwing it high in strong rhythm and—what’s that?—a barred owl interrupts, hooting from the woods behind the house. Man, they’re tough little things. And somehow, they get through this every year, don’t they? To the great annoyance of the crows down the hill.
Even with just the thin pullover, I’m working up a sweat now. And I can’t help but wonder if I could still make a living with my back at age 55. I think I could.

And I think back then to my first heavy job, when I was 13, stacking and loading big buckets of hoof packing and horse liniment for an old guy down the street, who made the stuff in a shop in his barn. I remember the yellow labels on the hoof packing: Net weight: 26 lbs. Hefting and stacking them high was hard work for a scrawny kid. But then, pretty much all the kids I grew up with had jobs like that. Some of them still do. Rugged, good people with strong backs. We don’t get fazed by storms.

The old Sorel boots are my dad’s, maybe the best of his things I kept when he died three years ago. They have a lot of miles on them, too. But good miles, I know, and still warm as well.

So, I shovel in that meditation-in-motion way for 2 hours or more. And smile to think I ever became one of those people who goes to a gym to stay strong. No need for the weights and treadmills and gizmos now, though. I catch my breath, admire the world for a few seconds, and then dig back in, working hard and throwing heavy. Giving it everything I’ve got. Feeling right at home. Talking. Singing. Swearing at the big chunks of ice. Sweating. Even in the windy single digits.

Tossing a shovel-full of light powder every now and then over the snowbank where my daughter is. And she shrieks. And laughs. And I laugh, too. And get back to work.

I can’t see her back there behind the snowbank. But I know it’s coming at some point. So, I shovel away. Listening to the roaring wind and my pounding heart and waiting for another of her snowballs to hit its mark.


How to bury a frozen bunny

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some stories I can just publish. Some stories need a disclaimer—this is one of the latter. I’ve known David Rath (the author) and his family for a very long time. They are normal…more or less: Wife Kristie and daughter Emma are more, David and son Isaac are less. As soon as I saw the title of Dave’s story I realized we were all in trouble. Perhaps not legal trouble, but still on shaky ground. How to bury a frozen bunny may sound cute and innocuous to you, triggering no alarms, but to me it was like someone had pulled a fire alarm at a Barry Manilow concert.  So brace yourself. In Dave’s defense, despite the mental image of the man that may creep into your head as you read his tale of lagomorphic internment, he is nevertheless stable and reliable, a great husband, father, and friend. When in a crisis, the Bible encourages us to seek wise counsel, and Dave is very high on my list—although I would preface any advice-seeking conversation with, “How much Red Bull do you have on board?”  I found Dave’s bunny story hysterical, in part because I can just see the entire Rath family playing their parts perfectly: Kristie as the rational wife, always trying to maintain control but often feeling like she is juggling flame throwers; Emma (daughter), adorable, sweet, sentimental, but prone to spontaneous weirdness; Isaac (son) the typical adolescent boy with tremendous energy, no common sense, and a fascination with pyrotechnics; and Dave (husband/3rd child), who just isn’t quite right in the head (and I mean that as a compliment). The dialogue in the story, as odd and perhaps fictitious as it may sound, is totally believeable (I suspect Kristie records these things, just in case), and there is clearly a life-lesson at the end:”Don’t freeze a rabbit the long way.” This will make sense shortly, so on with the story (which isn’t for the squeamish, but remember…the rabbit started out already dead).


By David Rath

We thought it was a good idea to keep the bunny in the barn. Apparently a raccoon disagreed with us. This was on a Wednesday. I came home from work to dispose of the carcass. My wife (who had fled the scene with my distraught children), called me.

“What are you doing,” she asked?

“Throwing out a dead bunny!” I said.

(This is where I learned that one should ask if they are on speaker phone before discussing dead bunnies.) My 8 year-old daughter was not amused.

“You can’t throw it away!” my wife exclaimed.

“What?!?” I said, secretly hoping she had the same idea that I had of four lucky rabbit’s feet key chains!

“We have to have a funeral,” my daughter Emma sobbed in the background.

“Seriously!?” I said, a little too unsympathetic. “A funeral for a bunny? Can’t we just order pizza or something?”

Again, bad Idea with a speaker phone.

“I like the pizza idea,” my son Isaac shouted from the background.

My wife then said, “Honey, just keep it until Saturday, we can have a funeral then.”

Isaac asked, “Can we still get pizza?”

“WHAAAHHH,” Emma cried into the phone.

The call ended.

“How do I keep a dead bunny for three days in the middle of summer,” I asked myself? Then it hit me, “AHA!!”

I placed the bunny in a plastic bag and threw it in the garage freezer and returned to work. No harm, no foul. The next few days went by without incident. I returned home from a church event Friday night. I decided if I was going to bury something in the back yard the best time to dig the hole was at night when no one can see me. However, as I opened the barn to acquire a shovel, I found myself face to face with the raccoon! We lived in the most northern part of NY at the time. They tend to breed raccoons the size of dogs up there! That being said, the next thing I knew I had cleared our half-acre backyard in two seconds flat. My heart was pounding in my throat, and yes I think I may have peed just a little. At that point I decided to dig the hole Saturday morning.

I awoke Saturday and slowly scoped out the barn. There appeared to be nothing of the raccoon sort lingering. I grabbed the shovel and dug the hole. I went into the garage with the cardboard box allocated to be the “rabbit coffin.” My daughter was up in her room preparing a eulogy. I opened the freezer and there was the rabbit, stiff as a board. Then it hit me, I had laid the bunny in the freezer long-ways. She was too big for the box! I looked everywhere, but we only had one box! I had burned all the others. “Curse my redneck-ish infatuation with fire,” I said to myself. “What to do,” I wondered. Then it hit me, “I’ll have to break the rabbit!”

I quietly closed the garage door and placed the frozen remains of our family pet on top of two logs with a fair amount of space in between them. I grabbed my daughter’s softball bat and raised it over my head and swung as hard as I could. “CLANG!!” Once you hear the sound of an aluminum bat contacting frozen rabbit flesh, you are just never the same. However, the bunny didn’t break. So I hit it again, harder this time. It dented the bat!! I hit again and again and the stupid thing wouldn’t break. By this point I had caused quite the ruckus. My wife sent our son out to see what was going on. He walked into the garage and saw me mid-swing.

“Holy cow Dad, can I try!?” he said with all the excitement of a 12 year-old who just caught his dad beating a frozen bunny.

“AHH, what are you doing here? No you can’t try. Go back inside!”

At this point he smiled with that smile that means I can’t wait to tell Mom!!

“Isaac,” I barked, “you saw nothing!” I said this with all the authority I could muster under the circumstances.

He slyly smiled and said “Pizza!?”

“Yes we can get pizza after the funeral,” I said. He knew he had me cornered.

“Cool,” he said and ran away.

Needless to say, the bunny wouldn’t break. I ended up wrapping the box around it and camouflaging the uncovered parts with brown paper and duct tape. We had our funeral. We sang and swayed. Emma spoke of her lost friend and I closed us in prayer and covered the bunny. It was done; we had buried our frozen pet. Time to move on, and how do we do that? We go out for pizza.

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