Leaving Your Mark (Even If Your Mark Is In Grandpa’s Bushes)

A lot of you read my blog at http://www.theradnation.com which is a very important site to me. It celebrates awesome dad’s and great kids alike. A lot of the time we focus on or hear  negative things and it’s good to have a place that builds up the positive. I thought I’d take the time to share with you the raddads I met in my life, my father and his dad.

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My father and his dad around 1952

Let’s start with Ernest Bott Sr. My grandfather was a really remarkable and complex man. I didn’t know him all that well but I do remember he was a man who commanded respect. I’d definitely say he was a Stern father when it came to my dad’s childhood. I definitely remember being a little frightened when I was a kid that I may get in big trouble with grandpa if I did something wrong. There is the story of one summer in Florida (yes my grandfather moved to Florida when he retired just like everyone else from Jersey) when I got fussed at repeatedly for letting all the  a/c out. I was only three and so scared that I’d get yelled at for going in and out of his house  that I didn’t come inside to use the bathroom. Instead I plopped down in his bushes and decided that was a good place to number two. While I cried to my parents and confessed they could barely hold the laughter in and told me they wouldn’t tell grandpa. The next day my granddad said some choice words while cleaning up the mess from a neighbors dog in the bushes. About 11 or 12 years later he heard the story himself and had a good laugh.

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Grandpa, Mary, my sister and I probably the same week I crapped in his yard

When I got older I learned my grandfather was a pretty nice guy. I really enjoyed the time I had with him and he was the only biological grandparent that was still around when I was born. It’s apparently that he did a good job with my father. My dad I can definitely say is one of the most decent, loving and honorable human beings I’ve met. Even though he can be hard on himself he definitely is a great man. A greater man for having to deal with the likes of me. I’m sure part of the reason he’s tough on himself is the high standard my grandfather set.

My dad often tells me how tough his father was when he was a kid and in ways my dad was tough on me growing up. That toughness made a bond between them though as my grandfather was my dad’s best man at his wedding. I think at the time of his passing my grandpa was truly my father’s best friend. I know he misses the talks they had immensely. It really shows that you can be tough as a parent and command respect and still have a strong relationship with your children. You can do what it takes to mold your children into good people and still be friends with them and have a strong bond.

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Haircuts Christmas 2014

My father and I didn’t always see eye to eye. When I was young he was my hero but once I hit my teenage years I became a nightmare of a son I’m sure. I had trouble with the law. I had trouble with drugs. If there was a trouble you didn’t want a teenager to have I had it. I saw my dad as my enemy then and I know it was hard on him. I know it frustrated him and he often didn’t know what to do, but he stood his ground as a father and kept at it. Now days my father is my best friend. I know he would do anything in his power to protect his boy and do what’s right even today. Just because I didn’t always understand what he said or did I realize now there was a reason for it. He wanted to hold me to that same standard his father held him to. I truly thank him for that.

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I don’t know what life has in store for me and my little minions. I’m sure there are tough times ahead. I try to have as much fun as I can with them but I also try to be strict. My job is to raise them to be adults that hold value and integrity. I want them to know that you have to work for what you want and that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Hopefully I continue the great job my father did with me and his father did with him. Hey at least my kid never took a poop on grandpa’s yard, but there’s still time for that.

Like Father, Like Son

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Fred Rogers

Some days I just have to marvel at the masterminds my children have become. Yesterday my son told me that he went to Toys”R”Us and got the lizard man from the “Amazing Spider-man” movie. He proceeded to tell me how I could get the Spider-man toy for myself. That way we could play together. It always makes me happy when my son wants to spend time with me, and that he still thinks of me coming home to play while I’m gone.

Then reality set in. It dawned on me that I have been duped by the greatest criminal mastermind of our time since Lex Luther. He knows that when daddy gets his Amazing Spider-man toy that daddy will play with it for a week with him and then leave for another trip on the boat. That’s when The Amazing Spider-man becomes Coleman’s new toy. That diabolical little genius. Julia would never scheme like this. (Ok that’s a lie. She stole $200 out of my wallet at the ripe age of two years old and placed the money in her princess piggy bank.)

There is only one thing to say about this… Well played son! After I’ve worked thirty-five days on this river away from you I’m thrilled to buy a ten dollar Spider-man for a few hours of hanging out in your room just so you can steal it from me later. Of course this means I’ll have to buy my own Barbie or some other girl toy to play with my little princess too. It’s only fair right? With under a week left I’m just happy to get back home to make up for lost time.

It gets hectic after you’ve been gone. Lots of catching up to do at the house. A honey-do list that may have gotten a little lengthy. Just remember the most important thing you need to catch up on may be a tea party with a couple teddy bears or a vicious battle between the Transformers and the X-Men. Just don’t go back to work wishing you’d just said yes to a playful little boy or girl instead of saying “we’ll do it later”.

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Sugar High

“Daddy I want chicken nuggets!” This is one of the most repeated sentences by my son. Followed by pizza or candy or a million other foods chock full of enough unhealthy crap that if consumed on a large enough scale it would kill a horse.

It’s tough to get kids to eat good, whole, unprocessed foods. Sometimes it seems impossible. The best way is to lead by example. Well that brings us to the diet of a tugboat captain. It’s not any better than my sons. In fact it’s based on the four food groups: coffee, cigarettes, fats and cake. It may not be that bad for most but we aren’t the healthiest people on earth. That doesn’t help our jobs much since the coast guard gets increasingly strict on our health by the minute.

I myself was no different when I first made it to the captains chair. I was consuming mass quantities of garbage on and off the boat. My diet consisted of frozen pizzas, hot pockets and honeybuns on the boat. At home it was a combination of Five Guys, Sonic and Ben and Jerry’s. I remember looking over on this very boat while I was training and my captain laughing as he watched my waistline grow at an epic rate.

Then there was home. My eating habits were becoming my kids eating habits. If daddy gets Sonic then we must have it also!! It’s only fair right? It made me think back to my childhood. None of us were pressured to eat healthy and that leads to some fairly poor eating habits later, a trend I didn’t want to set for my children.

Well for us out here it starts on the boat. Face it this is our home usually at least 2/3 of the time. That doesn’t make it easy. We can’t hop in the mini van (I don’t have a mini van) go to town and buy chicken breasts, grass fed beef, baby spinach or other healthy choices if we run out. We can’t go to a gym so exercise can be difficult. We all just have to remember to do what we can, take whatever steps we can take, and lead by example. It’s not always easy but it’s not impossible and when you give your kids these healthy habits its something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives, probably improving their health as adults. You don’t have to force a bunch of crap they don’t like down their throat. Just cook more lean meats and vegetables. Let them eat fruit for snacks instead of that bag of M&M’S.

So the next time you call that deckhand in the galley think twice. Don’t ask for that pizza topped with Swiss Cake Rolls, sprinkled with skittles and a side of candy coated hog cracklin’s dipped in deep fried Hershey’s syrup topped with whipped cream. Get something that you won’t regret later. We already sit on our asses 12 hours a day. We don’t have to try and make them wider at the same time.

Surrounded By Turkeys

You all know the scene on Thanksgiving. Mom and the ladies are all scrambling around the kitchen preparing enough food to feed an entire army battalion. The men are gathered around the television watching one of the many football games on today while they wait to destroy every bit of food prepared by their wives and mothers. The kids are all together playing. It’s a gathering that reminds us why we are thankful and what this day is all about.

Well that’s the scene if you’re not stuck on a tugboat. Things are different here. Everyone is a little grouchy because we’re stuck here away from the families we love. The deckhand cooking today is glazing a ham with a concoction that only Jesus himself knows the contents of. I’m pretty sure the sides will be stovetop stuffing and Kraft mac and cheese. God forbid someone make some cornbread or mash an actual potato. We would have a turkey but some dummy forgot the last grocery order covered Thanksgiving. (Ok I’m the dummy that forgot but we don’t need to point fingers) Needless to say things aren’t the same. At least it’s easy to eat healthy through the holiday when you can’t get Mom’s pumpkin pie.

It’s hard having to work on a holiday and even harder to work away from home. We all miss our families and I’m sure my kids wonder why I didn’t get off the big boat when clearly mommy got off her job. It isn’t all bad though. I’m extremely thankful for the job I have. It’s hard being away from my kids and family but I find my work rewarding. I’m thankful that I know even when I’m not home my children are well taken care of. I’m thankful that I can cook my own meal today and not eat the train wreck of dishes prepared by Chef boy this sucks. All I’m trying to say is that even though we can’t eat with our families and loved ones we should all still be thankful that we have them to come home to. That’s what’s important and what really matters.

So everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that when Christmas comes if I write one of these I’ll be doing it from my house with my kids close by probably bugging the crap out of me to assemble some monstrosity my mother bought them with the intent to drive me insane.

Wandering Minds of the Mississippi

For the most part our lives at work are pretty hectic. Not much time for personal thought. Whether you work in an office, in retail or some other professional setting you quite often have time for just your work with barely enough break to catch your breath. That isn’t always the case for the captain of a tugboat.

I once had a fellow wheelman describe our job as 95% boredom and 5% sheer terror. That’s pretty accurate and I find this job is often quite relaxing and to me rewarding. I like what I do and often enjoy the quiet days alone in the wheel house. I’m sure we all think about different things. Sometimes it may be important, stressful things at home like bills or family problems. Often times its trivial, idiotic ramblings of our minds like the threat of the zombie apocalypse. Maybe all of the apes will escape zoos and labs and get injected with a genetically engineered virus that makes them smart and they take over the world while the virus simultaneously kills all the humans? It could happen.

I myself think about the loved ones I have at home. I most often think about my children and most of all my daughter Marie. She’s the one I mentioned in my first post that is 15. I haven’t seen her since she was just a baby. She didn’t even know that I was her dad until five years ago when she was ten years old. Until then she thought her mom’s husband was her father, and he is. A very loving father from what I understand and they are both extremely close. It’s something that I’m very thankful for because she deserves to have someone like him in her life.

Losing her has put an almost unbearable weight on my shoulders over the last 15 years. It’s caused me to be extremely depressed at times and has left me full of regret. The last five years her mother and I have become friends again. I would even say that in my eyes we are very close friends which is amazing since I thought for years that if we ever spoke we would both need to be heavily armed to defend ourselves at any moment. She knows that I have never forgiven myself for losing my daughter and insists I should. That every thing happens for a reason and that this is no different. She says when she is ready Marie will want to know me and I hope she’s right. I love my daughter with all my heart whether I know her or not and I can’t wait to be able to tell her that someday. Even with the hope that this will happen there is a fear that overwhelms me. What if she never wants to know me? What if she hates me for not being there, for leaving her? I may feel this way forever and I accept that. If my punishment for my actions is this empty place in my heart then maybe I deserve to feel this way as a reminder of what I’ve done.

It’s hard to deal with losing someone you love so much due to your mistakes. Just remember the next time you have one of those days, as you think about the important people in your life, make sure you do whatever it takes to never lose them. Take it from a man with few regrets that the things you do regret can possibly cause you and others pain and sadness for the rest of your lives. Feelings I hope nobody lives with. If you are do whatever you can to make things better. Remember there’s only so much time before that zombie apocalypse happens. Then it will be too late.

Daddy’s Home!

“The stress of discipline is not fun,

but that does not mean that there is not

a happy home”

Everyone that works on a tugboat, offshore or any other job that keeps you away from home for a prolonged period of time knows this feeling. You get home and the kids tackle you like they were a 260 pound middle linebacker chasing down a quarterback without a chance of escape. They are more excited to see you than they are to open presents on christmas morning. “Daddy’s home!!!” is what you hear being yelled as they come running. It’s a wonderful and rewarding feeling to say the least. You’ve come home from a hard couple weeks away (or maybe longer) and it makes you feel like what you’ve done is appreciated. Daddy is the greatest for a change! (HA! Take that Mommy!)

Well don’t get to comfortable being the hero. In about thirty minutes, or less, after the dust settles it happens. Your six year old daughter hits your five year old son in the head with some sort of toy that the manufacturer obviously developed with the sole purpose of incapacitating a small child by the child’s elder sibling. Now that mom has had to discipline the kids for the last 14 days or so it is your turn. Daddy will no longer be the favorite after he has to punish somebody. No longer the hero you have now become the one who delivers a punishment that the kids don’t want to hear. In my house they would both get some sort of punishment because the were both probably involved in the altercation no matter who came out on top.

This can be rather tough sometimes. You don’t want to spend your precious days at home being the bad guy. You want to have that quality time with your family that you missed so much. Nobody wants to yell at their kids or punish them and you really don’t want to when you only have a few short days at a time with them. I’m not here to tell you how to discipline your kids or how I discipline mine. I will tell you what i do after the dust settles that makes things a little better and easier to get on with your quality time at home.

No matter how mild or severe the consequences I always do this. When every thing is done I give them a chance to think about what happened, what they did and what happened after they did it. I then go into their rooms separately and talk to them. Ask them if they understand why they got in trouble and if they say no I explain it to them. If they say yes I ask them to explain it to me so I’m positive we’re on the same page. Then I talk to them about why they shouldn’t do that and how it effected the people around them. After a calm talk they are very likely to understand and then everyone can move on having learned a lesson. A lesson you’ll have to teach them over and over again because they have an extremely short and selective memory.

Just remember that just as kids make mistakes so do we as parents. Sometimes we overreact or don’t always say the right thing in the moment but if we take a minute to sit down with our children and talk to them they will have a better understanding of why we do what we do, right and wrong, and they will understand why they got themselves into trouble in the first place. Then when daddy leaves to go drive the big boat he’ll be a hero all over again, but they’ll probably like mommy more by that time.