Early impressions of single parenthood

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I was the child of a single parent for the first eight years of my life. Being a child, I naturally could not understand why my dad was always tired, frustrated and easily irritated. I couldn’t capture the challenge of our situation from a real-world perspective because I was looking at life through the eyes of the innocent—the inexperienced.

I have been around single parents my whole life, and although the math in my head certainly told me that one person doing the job of two must be difficult, I couldn’t really capture the feeling of being singularly responsible for other lives. All I knew was that I was determined not to find out the hard way what it feels like. Then the Army happened.

I am now two weeks into being a “single parent” and I am quite certain I have learned some lessons from this experience, but if you tied me to a chair and shined a light in my face I don’t think I could honestly say what they are just yet. I’m still processing through the lessons, but here are some of the circumstances I have faced so far:

First, there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I have a 12-year-old who is in constant need of—stuff.

“Dad, I need burgundy jeans for a party this weekend. Oh. And by the way, there’s a party this weekend.”

She’s also at an age where school projects are becoming a regular thing, so…you know that school supply list they hand out at the beginning of the school year? Yeah. No one told me there would be supplemental lists every other week throughout the year as well. She wears school uniforms, and in the infinite wisdom of the school she attends, the embroidered-logo polo shirts they wear are white. WHITE. Seriously?! So those have to be replaced about every other month and, of course, there is only one place to get them and they have to be pre-ordered.

My two-year-old is a human wrecking ball. Besides being roughly twice the size of a normal kid his age, he is also right in the jet stream of his Terrible Twos, which means I clean the house top-to-bottom, only to discover 10 minutes later that it looks like Fallujah in 2003 all over again. He is also in the beginning stages of potty training, and I admit I have no idea what I am doing with THAT.

So much to do and so little time.

Second, there isn’t enough energy to maximize what precious time I do have. I hated going to school when I was a kid, but as a parent I realize what a God-send it is. Daycare, too. Someone else takes care of my kids while I go to work and try not to fall asleep drooling on my keyboard in the middle of a teleconference or long chain of emails regarding some facet of my job. I love my children more than my own life, but I get a little anxious when it’s time to pick them up because I know the whole tornado of life circumstances will blow in again as soon as they are in the car. I also hated going to bed when I was a kid, but again, as a parent, I absolutely LOVE bedtime—for them.

Finally, the circumstance in all of this that grips me the hardest is fear. Fear that something will get missed and my kids will suffer for it. Fear that I will make bad decisions and we will all pay the price. Fear that I will let them down somehow by succumbing to my own fatigue and stress and act in a way that they observe and store in their memory banks for future use in their own adult lives. I know they are watching my every move and depending on my every action, and if I get something majorly wrong, what am I shaping them into?

I am not sharing all of this as a means of complaining about my life. I’m merely sharing what I have experienced so far (and it has only been two weeks!) as a way of saying…thank you.

To all of you single parents out there who are really working your tails off and doing your absolute best, thank you. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for working hard. Thank you for loving your kids enough to lose sleep, sacrifice personal desires and ambitions and life goals to make sure they have everything they need. Thank you for being the model of responsible adulthood that our children so desperately need to learn from.

I also want to say, don’t worry. You will make mistakes, you will falter and doubt yourself from time to time, and you will be hard on yourself. But don’t worry. If you are there for your kids and truly love them more than yourself, then you are already on the right path. Never forget that you are important and valued, and never forget that your children will always know who was there for them.

God bless you.

 

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frankvaughn@gmail.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

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True heroes that last

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True visionaries certainly look ahead as they walk through life. They are always thinking of the steps in front of them that take them to their desired destination. The goal, of course, is in front of you, but I submit that looking back can be useful too. While your future is in front of you, the lessons you learned and the people who have shaped you are behind you. They must not be forgotten, as they are vital to the person you are now, as well as the person you strive to become.

I had a ton of heroes growing up, but they were mostly disposable. I greatly admired the football genius of Joe Montana, the fluid poetry of motion that was Ryne Sandberg on a baseball diamond, and the sheer hurricane of personality and brutal ring efficiency given to the world by Muhammad Ali. Those athletes captured my attention, but the one that captured my imagination was Larry Bird. He was all I ever wanted to be…until I grew up and realized that both he and the others I mentioned were limited quantities of contribution to the worlds they represented. In terms of how lasting their contributions to the life of a little boy in Arkansas were, they were indeed disposable.

I am now a man in his 40s with a family, a job, and bills to pay. Every hero I had growing up is either retired or dead now, and while I can still relive their former glory on the internet, they simply have nothing further to offer that is of any use to me. I came to a point in my life where I began seeking heroes with a more lasting influence, and I have been blessed to find them. Here are just a few:

Bishop Imad Al Banna was the acting archbishop of Basra Province, Iraq when I served there in 2009. Needless to say, it took a lot of courage to be a Christian of common stature in a province that borders Iran to the east. Al Banna was a very public figure there, as he was not only the priest for that area, but he also owned two pharmacies and a school that provided services to the entire population, which is 97% Muslim. The previous archbishop fled Iraq for fear of his life at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Al Banna resolved to stay no matter what and provide the services and ministry to everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation. Though he endured much personal tragedy as a natural course of being who he was in the place he was in, he never lost his smile or his resolve to serve the people of Basra.

Pakistani Recycling Christians: I was tasked with doing a journalistic piece on the burgeoning recycling program in central Iraq, and I made the mistake of trying to conduct the interviews on a Friday, which is the Muslim day of rest. The day was not a complete loss, though, as I was able to meet with the director of the plant (an American). As we were talking, I noticed that there were four gentlemen who were clearly not American that were attending to the office that day. One approached me and, as he spoke absolutely no English, flashed me a 1000-watt smile and began making hand motions toward his mouth as though he were drinking something. The director grinned at the puzzled expression on my face and let me know that the gentleman was offering me a cup of hot Chai tea. He also warned me that it would be culturally rude for me to refuse, so I readily accepted. As he and the other three men were frantically bustling about, preparing my tea and cutting into a pound cake, the director told me their backstory.

“These four men are from Pakistan,” he said. “They were forced out of their country and found refuge—and a job—here.” I asked why they were exiled from Pakistan, and he said, “They were lucky. By all rights they should be dead right now for the ‘sin’ they were forced out for. That ‘sin,’ mind you, is Christianity.”

I was bewildered. I said, “I may be completely uneducated on this subject, but I was under the impression that there weren’t any Christians in Pakistan.”

“Well, there probably aren’t now,” he said. “Because these guys are here.”

They were not only living their faith in Iraq, of all places, but they were also working hard to improve the environment and enterprise of recycling programs of Iraq—and making American soldiers feel welcome in their area.

All of these men are heroes of mine. I have never seen them again since I left Iraq in 2009, but I will never forget the courage, resolve, and joy they all contributed to the world around them.

Athletes entertain us and amaze us with their physical gifts, but those perish over time and the people that had them fade into the collective memory of websites devoted to reliving the past. People like Bishop Al Banna and the Pakistani Recycling Christians, however, have given something to this world that can never perish: they have given inspiration.


Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frankvaughn@gmail.com
. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

A Soldier’s (Spouse’s) Life

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I have served in the U.S. Army for the past 22 years, and in that time I have deployed to Iraq twice and mobilized to Louisiana in support of relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I am used to saying goodbye to loved ones and getting on a plane to go do stuff for my country. I am saying goodbye again this week, only this time I’m not the one leaving.

We are still at war. We have soldiers deployed all over the world for various reasons, the most auspicious of which is the ongoing effort to defeat global terror. Our troops have been in Afghanistan for the last 15-plus years. We were in Iraq from 2003-11, but then left, only to return. There are many other places in this world our troops continue to serve in, including the place my wife is leaving for as you read this.

We attended a Yellow Ribbon Program event this past weekend, which provides soldiers and family members all the information needed to cope with difficulties of extended separation and deployment. The Army hosted the event at a hotel in our region, and all of the deploying soldiers wore their Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) while being accompanied by their spouses and children during the weekend of briefings. For the first time in my career, I was sitting in a room full of soldiers who were preparing to go do their thing in an operational environment, yet I was wearing khakis and a polo shirt.

I know the operational side of these things. You show up when you’re supposed to show up, you make sure you’re in the right uniform and that you have all of your gear ready to go, and you train for the environment and the mission that you are moving to. As a senior noncommissioned officer, I usually have the added responsibility of making sure the soldiers in my charge do all of the above and that they don’t get into trouble. I try to foster an environment that makes me accessible to them when they have emotional reactions to the separation from family and the fears about the job ahead. Yes, even the world’s most well-trained and battle-hardened warriors experience these emotions.

This time I could only sit helplessly and watch the range of emotions scroll across my wife’s face as each briefing passed this weekend and the seconds ticked away until she says goodbye to me and our children. I was sad, fearful and, honestly, a little mad even though I’ve done the same thing several times.

Mostly, though, I was proud of the strength and dignity that she has shown through this whole process. How hard she has worked to take care of her troops and get them prepared for what lies ahead. How they come to her with respect and depend on her to lead them.

When I returned home from the initial combat phase of Iraq in spring 2004, I was overwhelmed with expressions of gratitude for my service. My uncle gave me this huge speech about how he was treated when he returned from Vietnam and how he was actually grateful that we were being treated very differently.

I will admit that at times it got a little embarrassing, but after a while (and that stern speech from Uncle George) it became easier to appreciate the Thank Yous and Atta Boys that never seemed to stop.

Our troops certainly deserve our appreciation for all they do to serve our country and defend both it and our way of life. I have that perspective locked in firmly after all the trips I have had to take in this uniform.

However, this time I am gaining a whole new perspective on the sacrifice our nation calls on its citizens to make, because this time I am experiencing what this means to the families of the service members who have to go away to do their jobs.

If you make a point of thanking our troops for all that they do, please also remember the spouses and children who are sacrificing during that same time. If you see a service member out with his or her spouse, please remember to thank both of them for all they do.

It is easy to identify the heroes who wear combat boots. Please don’t forget the ones who don’t.

 

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

My view from the cheap seats

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I went to a concert recently that I had been dying to attend for years. When I found out they were coming here, I told my wife that we have to go. She wasn’t nearly as excited about this idea as I was, but I told her this really sad sob story about how I’ve been trying to catch them live for 25 years (which was absolutely true), but something always got in the way. Once I had permission to shop for tickets, I attacked the internet in search of the best seats I could find — for the price limit I was granted, that is.

I found what looked like the perfect seats. The website assured me that it was in the middle concourse, and a quick glance at the seating chart seemed to confirm that we were going to be in great shape. I couldn’t believe the deal I was getting for such a — well, such a sort of reasonable price. I bought those tickets, stuffed them in my Apple Wallet, and began wetting myself with excitement.

We arrived at the stadium on the night of the concert, and the place was packed. I hadn’t done my homework on this group’s history with where I live, but I figured there would be a decent turnout. Decent was a gross understatement. As we made our way to our seats, I noticed that we just kept climbing and climbing and … yeah. Turns out we were not in the middle of the arena. We weren’t exactly in the rafters, but I could hit them with a rock from where we were. I began complaining immediately when we reached our seats. My wife just rolled her eyes and went to sleep on my shoulder.

Funny thing about concerts: turns out you can hear them just as well from any seat in the arena. The concert was fantastic, and honestly, what made it even better was the fact that I could not only see the band from where we were sitting, I could see almost everyone in the arena. Seeing everyone having such a great time actually made the experience better.

My life has always been kind of like that. I didn’t grow up with much, which set me apart from most of the people I grew up and went to school with. It felt lonely much of the time, but looking back on it now, I realize that I had an advantage many of them don’t. Not being accepted actually afforded me the opportunity to take in the world from outside of it rather than having to figure it out from within.

I have always been in the cheap seats of life — mostly because that was all I could afford. Now I can do better, but I choose to take in the world from outside because honestly, the view is so much better up here.

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

Small gestures make a huge difference

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I’m going to ask you to do something that many people consider hard — sometimes even impossible. I’m going to ask you to take a look at the world that exists outside of the 3-foot radius around you.

We travel through this world with to-do lists rattling around in our brains. We have people to take care of that we call “family” and we have responsibilities such as paying bills, feeding the kids, showing up for work, gassing up the car. Life can get so busy that we sometimes forget that, besides our immediate families, there are also, like, 7 billion other people on this planet.

I went to the grocery store yesterday because my family needed to be taken care of. We already had a houseful of groceries, but what we did not have was liquid dish soap and laundry detergent. Since this was a quick trip for two items, the decision was made that I could be trusted with this task, so off I went. I hate going to the grocery store, especially when I only need a couple of things. I’m not sure if this is company policy or just the way things usually shake out, but the store around the corner from my house is usually packed wall-to-wall with shoppers all trying to negotiate two checkout stands with baskets full of …whatever they came to get. Sure enough, I walked in the door and the roiling sea of humanity in that place slightly nauseated me.

Because I am no good at shopping, it took me something like 10 minutes to find the aisle that contains the household items I came to buy. It took me another few minutes to wedge my way between the shopping carts randomly — yet impressively — arranged in the aisle in a crude herringbone formation as their operators jostled around each other to reach this thing or that. I made my selections and turned to go to the express checkout lane in the hope — futile, it turned out — that I could sail through there and out the door before the turn of midnight. That line was backed up from the front of the store to the dairy section in the back, so I guessed this was not going to be a good afternoon for me.

I almost did the typical guy thing, which is putting the items back and just telling my family they were out of luck on cleaning the kitchen for at least another day. This little voice (that sounded curiously like my wife’s) demanded that I continue this mission if I knew what was good for me. I chose a shorter line, albeit one in which the people had baskets overflowing with — I don’t know. Everything in the store? I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

As I stood there hating life, this lady in front of me with a full basket turned, saw me holding a bottle of liquid dish soap and a jug of laundry detergent, and frowned. I tensed up, thinking her facial expression was about to bring a world of pain between us. She moved a few inches to her right and motioned me to go in front of her. That move was so unexpected that I froze, not knowing what to do. I just stared at her, mouth slightly agape, and she motioned again for me to move in front of her. I looked behind me as though someone back there could tell me what I was supposed to do next. She sighed with the full weight of someone who is used to doing nice things for people and not being appreciated for it.

“Sir, you have two items and I have about 50. Please go in front of me.”

The sound of her voice restarted the feeling in my legs and they slowly began moving forward on their own. As I passed by her I mumbled a quick “thank you” that must have sounded like a smooth blend of confusion and shame.

Shame? As I trudged to the car after spending less than three minutes in a mile-long checkout line, I wondered why I felt that at all. Was I ashamed that I beat the system? No. I was ashamed that I did not take more opportunities to do for others what that lady did for me. She likely has no idea that her seemingly random act of kindness would appear in a weekly column the next day. I don’t know who she is or what has shaped her personal moral code, but I do know I have a lot to learn from her. I may never see her again, but I will never forget her.

My mission now is to make sure others benefit from her simple gesture in a grocery store checkout line. She did little more than expedite my afternoon and cure a simple bad mood. Someone else may need a kind word, smile, or simple assist that might make their lives a little easier — or perhaps save it.

The next time I have an opportunity to help someone in even the simplest way, I will remember this scene and pay her act forward. Will you join me in this effort?

 

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

Giving up: The only way to guarantee failure

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It was 28-3 midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI and the Falcons were feelin’ fine. For some reason, 28 points must have felt like enough to prevent Tom Brady from cashing in his fifth Super Bowl ring and making history. It wasn’t.

The Patriots, long accused of taking shortcuts and skirting rules on the way to success, had something that night that no one — myself included — thought they had. After looking flat and confused for 3½ quarters, they suddenly came alive and caught the Falcons flatfooted. Twenty-five points and the game’s first-ever overtime period later, the Patriots not only had a record fifth Super Bowl title for one quarterback and one coach, they also owned the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. How — why — did this happen?

Put simply, they refused to give up. They refused to roll over and accept the odds that were stacked against them. I read on a very well-reputed sports website that at 20 different points in the game, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance of winning. If my math is correct that means the Patriots had a 1 percent chance of turning that game around and rewriting history.

Sometimes, if you refuse to give up, you may only have a 1 percent chance of succeeding. That alone is enough to make most people give up before they even try. Let me hit you with another statistic though. If you do give up, you now have a 0 percent chance of succeeding. There is no guarantee of success in anything, but the best way to guarantee failure is to not even try. It is easier to put something down than to pick it up — gravity, you know — but sometimes it’s better to hold on to something rather than give up on it.

The Patriots also had the tools to win that game from the start. Whether it was a halftime speech that fired them up or in-game situations that gave them hope, they remembered that they were good enough to do it and they got to work.

There is an old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” They couldn’t score 25 points on one play, so they focused on getting a first down. Then another. Then a touchdown. Their defense focused on one tackle at a time, one play at a time, and the end result was Atlanta scoring no more points that night. As each play unfolded and New England slowly began to arise, the odds began moving in the right direction.

Is your house completely wrecked to the point it seems impossible to clean? Start with something small. Wash a dish. Do a load of laundry. Pick something up and put it where it belongs. Make even the smallest effort to get started and watch the successes add up — however slowly — over time. It may seem impossible, but once you start and you see even the slightest progress, the odds begin to slowly move in the right direction in your mind.

Maybe you are in a difficult relationship that seems impossible to fix. If it is safe to be in it and you know you love that person, then start with something small. Do something nice for them that they were not expecting. Talk to a minister — either together or alone. Go to one counseling session. Apologize if you know you were wrong. Do something to stop the cycle of hurt and disappointment and see if it creates any hope. If it does, then do another. A series of small successes over a period of time can eventually add up to a huge miracle.

Just remember this: 1 percent is something. As long as there is something, you have work to do. Giving up when there is work to be done is the easiest thing anyone can ever do, but it always leads to regret.

If you truly want to turn things around and enjoy the feeling of fulfillment and success, then do the work. Don’t let seemingly impossible odds talk you out of it. Don’t let fear of failure talk you out of it. Just do it. If you do fail, then figure out what you can learn from it, and use that to fight again the next time. Just don’t fail because you didn’t try.

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.

Forgiveness: Releasing yourself from your own pain

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We might as well talk about forgiveness today. Why? Glad you asked! If there is one thing I have learned in 41 years, it is that we all have a duffel bag of life issues that we like to drag around. We’re born, and from that point forward we just start adding stuff to it. Pain, bitterness, distrust, jealousy, anxiety and fear all fester and bloat in that bag until it is so heavy that it is all that defines our struggle as we try to move through life.

Yes, people hurt us. This is because they are people and, for some reason, we are all prone to do that and have that done to us. Humanity does not come with an organic ability to not do that, unfortunately. We are not necessarily born with righteousness, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and altruism preprogrammed into our hearts and minds. These are learned characteristics and developing and using them are a choice we all have to make.

For many of us, pain and bitterness are well-earned. Being hurt, in many cases, is not a choice—it is just something that is done to us and we are left to figure out how to process it and what to do about it. What if I told you, though, that there is a way to overcome what the world does to us…what people do to us, and still be an inspiration to others?

It starts with a shift in worldview. I know firsthand how easy it is to become completely wrapped up in my pain, and when I do my worldview gets so narrow that essentially all I can see is myself. I don’t see that others are hurting worse. I don’t see the need in others around me. I tend to lose focus of the things I am responsible for and I start dropping balls that people depend on me to carry. As a father, husband, and professional, I cannot afford to do that. Oh, sure. I can feel sorry for myself for a little while, but what I cannot afford to do is marinate in that pain to the point that the only scent coming off of me is what has happened to me. I have found that I heal faster when I focus more on the needs of others. That doesn’t mean that I ignore my problems. It simply means that I refuse to be defined by them.

It is also important to have perspective on the person or people that have caused me pain. Did they do so intentionally? If so, is it because of some issue in their life that I can help them with? Or maybe they are just hurtful people and will never realize—or care—what they have done. Does harboring bitterness and resentment toward them make me feel better, or does it simply prolong the agony of what I am feeling? The reality is that even if you are angry or bitter toward someone who has legitimately hurt you, chances are they will never realize it, or if they do, they won’t care. I once heard a wise quote about this: “Clinging to bitterness toward someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Think about that.

It does take time to process pain that is caused by other people. I have found that confiding in a trustworthy friend is helpful. I have even sought counseling from people who are trained at that sort of thing in cases where I knew that simply chatting about my issues was not going to help in the long term. Healing does not come overnight, but it does come if one can commit to the process. Nothing helps healing, though, like good old fashioned forgiveness.

I looked up “forgiveness” in my favorite dictionary (the Internet) and this is the definition I found: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense and lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

Intentional and voluntary. How do you forgive someone? According to that definition, you have to actually decide to. It doesn’t say that the offender asks for it; it says you have to be intentional about giving it. However, that comes after the hard part, which is the next thing in that definition: changing feelings and attitude regarding the offense. Once that is accomplished and the decision is made, you haven’t just set the offender free; you have set yourself free from the burden of what was done and you have released yourself from a lifetime of dragging that thing around in your duffel bag.

Truly forgiving someone is quite possibly the hardest thing we will ever do—especially if the offense was life-changing and destructive. I have had to do my fair share of pain processing over the course of my life, but until now I have not ever truly forgiven anyone. I am ready to do that now, because I realize this: I have hurt people too and if I ever hope to be forgiven, I must be willing to do the same.

Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at frank@fnvaughn.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.