Author Archive

The Reverse Hit-n-Run

February 21, 2011

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Here’s a funny little interaction between a father and son:

Dad: Didn’t you promise to behave while I was gone?

Son: Yes, Sir.

Dad: And didn’t I promise to discipline you if you didn’t?

Son: Yes, Sir, but since I broke my promise, I don’t expect you to 
keep yours.



Tears of a Warrior

August 23, 2010

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It’s the rainy season. It may look warm and dry where you are, but take a closer look at the faces of parents with college-aged children and you’ll see what I mean. Tears by the bucketful are being shed as parents all across the country entrust their students to less hospitable institutions of higher learning. Mingled in the parential downpour of tears are my own and those of my wife, Anna. Having just returned from releasing our third child into remote collegiate settings, we know the rainy season well: the goodbye embraces, the contemplative silence on the journey home, the sense of sudden disconnection, and the what-if worries for their future. Empty place settings at dinner, vacant rooms and unfamiliar family dynamics are daily reminders that it is a rainy season and not just a storm.

This rainy season is a powerful force of transformation for parents and students alike. For them, it brings new friends, new learnings and new opportunities to hone their mettle. For us parents, this season is a reminder that children are our arrows. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.” (NIV) Like a warrior, we are meant to powerfully release them into the world and not hold them selfishly in our quiver — even if it means wading through our own torrent of tears to do it.

Your thoughts? What are ways you’ve found to powerfully release your student?

This post was originally posted as a Thought for the Day on Leary’s personal blog.

Connecting With Your Kids Series: #4-Connecting the WWJD Way.

March 26, 2010

As a father of four, I’m feeling the shortness of days that are left while my children are at home. It won’t be long before Anna and I are on our own again. My oldest is already launched and her three younger brothers are not far behind. I’m feeling a healthy pressure to make the most of every opportunity (Eph 5:16) while we’re still doing life together at home. In fact, seizing those opportunities, becoming more “connection-aware,” is one of my “Year of Living Courageously” goals for 2010.

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Yet, one of the challenges to creating quality connection time with young adults and teens is that they are constantly on the move. They’re forming social connections of their own, exploring the world of friendships through Facebook, texting, video games and the more traditional means of sports activities and hanging out. So I began to ask myself, “How can I break through the day-to-day activity clutter and create a special time with them?” For years we’ve had “date nights” with each of them; one-on-one time with just Anna or me. While we haven’t executed date nights religiously or flawlessly, it’s something each of them have responded to very well. But this year I wanted to do something different—something even more intentional and memorable.

Joshua at the St. Louis Arch

So, earlier this year I suggested to each of our children that we put date-nights on steroids. We’d do a WWJD—“Weekend With Just Dad.” We’d plan together how we want to spend our weekend getaway, just the two of us. They were thrilled and so was I. Immediately, Joshua, our third-born suggest that our WWJD be a college road trip to St. Louis and Waco to check out a couple of colleges he had an interest in.

Last week, we completed our WWJD spending nearly 40 hours on the road. It was more like a week than a weekend, but it was also invaluable for connection. Sure, we could have flown, and we would have been less tired, but we would have also missed out on a lot of captive time in the car container. We would have missed out on a lot of laughs at funny road signs (“Bizarre Cattle Crossing”), Garrison Keillor’s Iowa jokes on CD, and the surprising results of the top ten silliest college mascots. Mostly, we would have missed out on the deepening connection that comes with just being with each other for an extended period of time. While we returned home exhausted, we both couldn’t wait for our next WWJD.

For discussion: What WWJD or extended one-on-one experiences have you had with your children and how did it affect your relationship?

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No Waiting! Aisle One.

November 27, 2009

Black Friday. Today millions of shoppers hit the stores, hoping to snag a one-of-a-kind deal for Christmas. Some have stood in lines formed overnight anticipating the 4 a.m. store openings.

Yet, you can’t rouse that kind of motivation to get up early. Perhaps for a 10-point buck or a walleye, but not for crowded shopping mall. Nope. Instead, you’ll happily remain at home while the rest of the world tramples through mazes of over-promoted product only to return with the hollow satisfaction of saving money on something they may not have otherwise purchased.

Your satisfaction is so much sweeter. There are no lines in the living room, and there’s a whole roster of games and movie marathons to take in. Welcome to Slack Friday. Where there’s plenty of turkey sandwiches, pumpkin pie and the TV remote is king. It’s time to plug in and tune out. Way out.

Then you hear it. “No waiting! Aisle one.” You look around. Must have just been a commercial. What a relief, you think to yourself, to not be out among the maddening crowd. Back to the football action.

There. Again. Once more. “No waiting! Aisle one.”

You realize now that it’s not merely a voice you hear. It’s a prompting. And it’s coming from that leather bound best-seller sitting on your bookshelf. Suddenly you become aware of other voices, too. Familiar voices—those of your children. Yet, strangely, they are now somehow more than your children. They are hungry souls. That’s when it hits you. You are hungry too.

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The Allure of Beauty

October 17, 2009

The allure of a beauty. It’s driven men since Adam. And it’s driven women, too. In Esther’s time, a girl would undergo twelve months of beauty treatment before being presented to the king (Esther 2:12). That’s a lot of investment. Today, the model of beauty can be achieved in minutes. Except, it isn’t real.

A few years ago, the folks at Unilever, the makers of DOVE personal cleansing products, launched the DOVE Self-Esteem Fund in partnership with the Girl Scouts to raise self-esteem in girls ages 8 to 14. Below is one of a series of videos aimed at reminding young women that today’s popular images of beauty are not what they appear to be.

Take a look and use it as a discussion starter with your daughters. Remind them that the best image of beauty is their reflection of God’s delight through them.

Following the initial publication of this post, the referenced YouTube video has been removed. You can find the referenced video by clicking on the “videos” link provided above and selecting the video “Evolution”. Unfortunately, there is no way to link directly to that video or embed it into this post without, apparently, violating acceptable use by Unilever Corporation.

What are some of the other ways you see beauty distorted today?

The Subordination of Terra Firma Man

August 6, 2009

A confession: I’m terrified of heights. Seriously terrified.

On a ladder, I’m good until about the fourth rung. That’s when my knees start to weaken and my mind is filled with thoughts of tumbling backward and landing on my head. My kids think it’s funny. They like to poke fun at me about it. Vacationing at the Grand Canyon a few years ago gave them ample opportunity. The view for me was enjoyed a comfortable ten yards from any rail, lest I might uncontrollably launch myself into that great American abyss.

I don’t know what trauma gave birth to my acrophobia. Perhaps it was long ago when I was power-washing the cedar shakes on our roof to rid them of the oak saplings that had taken shallow root there. Slipping on a wetted tile, I nearly slid off the roof, clutching a corner of the house at the last moment to avoid a fifteen foot plummet. Or maybe I blocked some childhood trauma of being dropped on my head. Regardless, there’s no doubting it. I’m a Terra Firma Man. I prefer both feet solidly planted on the ground as God intended.

But Terra Firma Man met his match last week. Vacationing at Lake Tahoe provides a lot of exciting activities: hiking, biking, jet skiing, swimming and, gulp, parasailing. Nope! There’s no way you’d get me up there tethered to a rope 450 feet above water held in suspension by lawn chair straps. No way.


Joshua with yours truly, Terra Firma Man

No way, that is, until my boys started to work on me. That’s when I learned that parasailing was on Joshua’s “bucket list”—you know, like in the movie, the things you must do before you kick the bucket. As a 17-year old, I explained, that he had more time to do his list than I had to do mine, and parasailing wasn’t anywhere to be found on my bucket list. It was impeccable logic.  It was settled. I would remain grounded.

Until…something inside me spoke up. Something about creating memories that my boys will cherish. Something about loving them uncomfortably. Something said, “Yes. I’ll do it.” Once the words were out, there was no turning back. When Jonathan, my 15-year old also wanted to go, I said, “Sure. All three of us can go up together in tandem.” It wasn’t until the boat was underway that I discovered we would exceed their weight limit for a three person tandem. That’s when our “helpful” captain suggested that I could take turns going up with each of the boys separately. Terra Firma Man was a goner.

How was the experience? It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Yet, it was also highly (sorry) bonding. Viewing a sunset on Lake Tahoe from a parasail is spectacular. Viewing it with your child, and showing them you’re there because you love them, is priceless.

Yes, Terra Firma Man met his match. He loves his kids more than the ground beneath his feet. And for a time, that sent him soaring.

What uncomfortable ways have you found to tell your kids you love them?

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“Yes, you can.”

July 6, 2009

I love to give permission for my kids to do things they enjoy, particularly in the summertime. The season goes by so quickly in Minnesota, it’s tempting to pack as much activity in as possible. “Yes, you can,” is heard a lot at our home. I suppose you could call me an enabler.

upset boy against a wallBut I prefer being another kind of enabler—one that says “Yes, you can!” when they feel uncertain about their abilities. One of the greatest challenges they’ll face is their own self-diminishment. Taking thoughts captive and replacing untruth with truth is one of the hardest skills to master. As their dad, I want to help them recognize early the symptoms of stinkin’ thinkin’ (as Zig Ziglar calls it) and encourage them to say to themselves, “Yes. I can.”

These suggestions may help you become that kind of enabler as well:

  • Be a detective. It’s likely your kids are harboring self-defeat in some form. Like a detective, look for evidence of stinkin’ thinking. But tread lightly. You don’t want to push the culprit back into hiding.
  • Inquire about new experiences. Has your child picked up a new friend recently or started a new activity? The start of any new endeavor is often filled with self-doubt. Ask about their new experiences and listen carefully to their responses.
  • Explore abandoned experiences. Has your child recently abandoned a sport, hobby, or other social activity? Not every activity is meant to last forever, but sudden loss of interest may be a clue that your child has hit the internal wall of self-doubt.
  • Encourage replacement challenges. Find challenges that stretch and don’t break. If possible join them in it and encourage them along the way.
  • Pray for break-through moments. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of detective work to discover self-defeating thinking in our kids. Saying, “you shouldn’t think that way” is usually not effective. That’s when it’s best to pray for a break-through moment. These are times when a shared experience becomes a teachable moment. A shared experience affords the opportunity to talk about the experience together and share how you worked through your own self-doubt.

What suggestions have you found helpful for enabling a “Yes, I can” belief in your children?

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Father’s Day Fast Forward: Top 10 Ways to Know Dad Loved You

June 21, 2009

leary_gatesThis is the third and final post in the Father’s Day Fast Forward series- things the DadPad authors would like our children to remember about us when they write their Father’s Day memories years from now.  This installment from Leary Gates.

My beloved children, in your early years David Letterman, a comedian, made famous his Top 10 List direct from the Late Night Home Office in Omaha.  Well, here’s your Dad’s Top 10 List direct from the home office in Eagan that you can pull out after I’m long gone.

How to know your Dad loved you (even when it may not have seemed that way):

#10. He prayed for you often. Though he couldn’t be with you always, he prayed that our Father, who could be, would bless you greatly.

#9. He made your mom his best friend. You may have felt second, but hopefully you got a glimpse at how good a great marriage can be.

#8. He pursued what he believed God was telling him. We may not have had the most lavish lifestyle and you’ve had to make lots of sacrifices, but hopefully you’ve learned that God is your very great reward.

#7. He told lame jokes. Yes, you groaned, but hopefully you gained a perspective that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

#6. He grew more in love with God each day.  As a result, he grew more grateful for the miracle that you are.

#5. He yelled – on rare occasions 🙂 – because he cared.  That’s only half true. He cared, but really he yelled because he wasn’t perfect, and that gave you plenty of opportunity to learn to live with imperfect people.

#4. He worked hard. Some of the hardest work he did was to stay sensitive to your need to hang out together and just chill.

#3. He gave you lots of hugs and kisses. Yes, that should be an obvious sign, but it wasn’t something he learned growing up.

#2. He wanted to be just like you. You have so many gifts and opportunities that he was thrilled to watch you in action and imagine what God would do.

#1. He misses you already and is waiting for you to come home. He’s standing on the sideline cheering you on to finish strong.

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Father’s Day Memories-a series Pt 3: Lollipop Dad

June 16, 2009

“What would you like for Father’s Day, Dad?”


“Oh…an all-day sucker.”


“Ah, come on, Dad. Isn’t there something you really want?”


“An all-day sucker.”


learysdadEvery year as far back as I can remember my dad would give my sisters and me the same response. We surmised that he wasn’t really a fan of lollipops, or “all-day suckers” as he would call them. I don’t think we ever saw him eat one.  Instead, we reasoned, it was his way of deflecting us from knowing what he might really want for Father’s Day. We confirmed our theory one year by giving him a huge “all-day sucker” only to see him set it aside with a polite “thank you.”  To this day, I’m not sure if he even ate it.


Like many men from his generation, he was taught to be strong by being the silent type. There’s much I don’t know about my father.  We lived in the same home, though physical proximity is not the same as intimacy. His inner world was a fortress that none could penetrate.  And when he finally surrendered that fortress to the grave, he took with him the hope of a son to know first-hand his father’s accomplishments, aspirations, disappointments and beliefs.


Why is it that we often don’t know the questions to ask when the opportunity is best?  I didn’t have much interest in exploring my father’s inner world when I was young.  But, as the years went by, I felt my longing increase.  Like the tension on a kite string, it grew as it was let out.  Eventually, the pull became so great, its presence could no longer be ignored.


That string broke on April 19, 2000.  In the days that would follow, as distant relatives came to pay their last respects, I would learn more of the man who wanted only an all-day sucker. Stories of his sacrifices as a soldier and as a provider to his extended family warmed me.  There was much more to this man than I will ever know.  Embarrassing things, I’m sure.  But also things that would have made me proud.  Yet, only God knows them all. Through my extended family, God gave me the glimpses of my father’s life story that I needed to lay him to rest in the earth—and in my heart.

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Is Pixar’s “Up” about giving up?

June 9, 2009

Imagine a guy carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Family, work and the unexpected turbulence of life call for repeated sacrifices of time, energy, finances and passion. Dreams of youth, embraced with the vigor of certainty, over the years gently give way to a hopeful longing. Until, with the passing of his wife, they turn into scornful remorse of promises unkept.

Were the story not so pervasive, Pixar’s latest movie, Up, might just be another overly marketed animated film. But it’s not hard to see something of a Carl Fredrickson, the crotchety old widower, in each of us. [Warning: If you haven’t seen the film, what follows may be a bit of a spoiler.]

Ellie, Carl’s wife, meant the world to him. After her death, when faced with eviction from the home that held her memories, he sets out finally to pursue the dream they once shared; to have their home on the edge of Paradise Falls somewhere in South America. And he’s taking his house with him. Thousands of balloons affixed to the chimney turn it into a floating fortress for him and an unexpected stowaway, Russell, an enthusiastic young Wilderness Explorer seeking to earn his “aid the elderly” badge.

Eventually they hover within eyesight of Paradise Falls. Reluctantly, Carl drafts his tag-along to help him pull the house on foot, like a hot-air balloon in a parade, toward the distant fall’s shore. And therein lies a symbolic juxtaposition of a modern dad. Here’s a determined man—going somewhere—pulling everything he’s built with everything he’s got. Alongside him, a distractible and often irritating boy, far more interested in what’s around him than the destination. Watch a short scene from the movie.

I was that boy too often for my father. Like Russell, my restlessness and desire to explore were a source of consternation on our hunting and fishing trips. I’m that man too often now for my children. On excursions, like Carl, I frequently lock in on my timetable and have difficulty adapting to my family’s pace or their interest in enjoying the moment.

Fortunately, as with Carl, we can change. His change came when he discovered a note written to him in his wife’s dreambook. “Thanks for the adventure—now go make a new one.” Though Ellie never saw her dream of living on Paradise Falls, she nevertheless had her adventure fulfilled in the life journey she shared with Carl. That realization made a difference, not only because it changed Carl’s perspective on years gone by, but also because he could now be more present for a young, overly enthusiastic child, in need of a father. Do you have any of those living at your house?

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