Mentors

Mentor defineA big brother. A father. An uncle. A grandfather. A best friend’s father. A youth leader from church.

Every person, but young men especially, need an older man to pour into their lives. We need someone to help us learn how to be a man. In our society, we put a lot of pressure on young women but there is also a lot of pressure put on young boys to become manly men. There are certain things that men must know. Things it is expected as a man we are aware of. There are also expectations for men which will dramatically change the world all of the men on the planet would get it right. Once these boys develop into men and then as they take on the roles of husband and father, the expectations only get higher.

How do boys learn to be men? How to boys learn the critical ‘man-stuff’ they need to know? The same way any of us learn anything – someone teaches us.

We need someone who will teach us how to treat women. Women are to be treated with dignity and respect, not as objects for our use and abuse. Boys and young men need someone to teach them the proper way to speak to a woman. The proper way to treat a young woman. I am not necessarily a supporter of the whole idea of courting, but certainly something has been lost in the way our youth and young adults are approaching dating. It has lost the special-ness and wonder it once had. It is now a commonplace, ordinary thing and not something that is special. We have lost to excitement and mystery of entering into a relationship with the opposite sex. There are a myriad of societal issues that could likely be traced back to this… that is a discussion for another time! As boys we need someone to teach us how to treat girls and ultimately women.

We need someone to teach us the mystery, wonder and exhilaration that is fire. This is essential to being a man. Other men will immediately gauge the usefulness of a man based on whether he can build a fire. Whether you use raw elements, a flint stone, lighter fluid or straight gasoline a man must be able to make a fire. This ties into a man’s overall outdoorsyness. Men are supposed to skilled outdoorsmen, too. How good of an outdoorsman can you be if you can’t start a fire.

We need someone to teach us how to properly grill meat. Any meat. Dead animal cooked over open flames is quintessential manhood. Without this ability, is a man really a man? Grilling is more than utilitarian preparation of food, it is an art form. It is something special.  Magic happens when meat is grilled.

We need someone to teach us sports. Almost without exception, it is not possible for a group of men to arrive at a park, field, friend’s house or church without some sports equipment. It could be as simple as a football, soccer ball, Frisbee or a baseball and glove. It would seem as though men are hardwired to play sports. In a group of dudes, even the ones that aren’t ‘athletic’ will find themselves getting drawn into the exhibition off sports. While we seem to be inherently keyed into sports, we still must have someone take the time and interest to cultivate the athlete inside of each of us.

Who teaches us these critical life lessons? It is often our father. Sometimes it is an older brother. It can be an uncle. Maybe a grandfather. Maybe it is your friend’s father. Or it could be a youth leader from church. Or maybe it is all of the above. As boys and young men we need someone to teach us important skills and lessons we need in life. We need someone to mentor us.

We all do. We all need someone to pour into our lives and help us to grow. It doesn’t have to be a perfect mentor. It just needs to be someone who cares about us enough to walk through life with us for a season. Mentors change. Seasons and times of our lives change and what we need out of mentors change. But, no matter the season of life we are in we need mentors.

Who has been a mentor to you? What have they taught you? Who have you been able to mentor?

The Beginning of Another Year.

As we begin another school year, we have a fifth grader, fourth grader & a kindergartner.

We also have a safety patrol.

This is the only year they will all be at the same school.

These little dudes rock! So happy to be their dad.

I find as I get older, it is the little things in life which bring me the most joy. Sending the dudes to their first day of school for a new year. Celebrating the little things in life that make them who they are. Getting excited about our safety patrol in the family. I joked with my parents, that we all have to be on good behavior because we now have law enforcement in the family.

Noah had a pre-season soccer tournament this weekend. His team ended the tourney 1-2. He was a little disappointed, but happy for the win. Ronda and I saw a lot in Noah over the weekend and we spoke with him a length about playing the best soccer he can. I know he thought we were coming down hard on him, the reality is we see something in him and we want others to see it too. I told him (and his bros) I only push him for more, because I know he is capable of more. I know he has more inside him. I have seen it. He agrees. In the midst of our discussion, he conceded Hayden (our middle child and Noah’s arch-rival) was putting out more effort in soccer than he was. I asked how he felt about that… he said he was glad for Hayden and a little disappointed in himself. He said he was going to do better. He was going to put more effort into it. He left the house with a soccer ball today, to spend time at recess and in his free time working on his skills.

With all the boys, we are pushing them to work on the skills/drills each of their coaches assign them as homework. Additionally, we are trying to play more pick up games and encourage them to practice juggling the ball to improve their footwork and touch on the ball. We are trying to make it fun again. This is one of those little things I spoke of. Making soccer fun. Making it a friendly competition between them and me to see who can improve themselves quicker. I have decided I need to practice my ball skills too. I try to do the drills they do also in order to improve myself, but to also model the commitment they need to see.

Commitment. It hit me this weekend, we are asking our boys to commit to touching a soccer ball for 20-30 minutes everyday. Using the argument, the people who really want it, who want to be the best, who want to get better do this. You have to be committed to putting time in everyday for this. If you love it and want it, you will do it. As I gave those words of encouragement and instruction, I felt convicted there are many aspects of my life I give lip service to their importance but don’t follow through with any real commitment to them. I felt convicted to be serious about my life and the things which are important to me. It felt a little hypocritical to be asking them to do something I wasn’t willing to implement in my own life.

What does this mean for me? I hope it means I will take stock of the things in my life, identify those I wish to excel at, and them implement a strategy to excel at those endeavors. I want to take my own advice and become a father and leader they look up to and follow because they see me modeling in my own life what i am asking of them.

When Parenting Happens and We Aren't to Blame

boysAs a parent, each day is full of moments where you are sure you are doing it wrong. On occasion, there is a moment when you know you have done it right. And then there are moments, when it is right and you know it wasn’t that you had done it right as much as the character you have been working so hard to instill in your children shows through their actions.

Recently, our oldest son has been having a bit of a philosophical dilemma with friends at school. He is finding himself in need of locating new friends. As we inquire as to what is going on, we have discovered the ‘cool kids’ are being mean to the ‘uncool’ kids. My son typically falls into the cool category, but he is having a problem with the way his friends are treating other kids. So he had started to hang out with others at school, because he doesn’t want to be cool if it means being mean to others.

As a dad to three boys, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to instill a sense of justice in my little dudes. As brothers do, they constantly fight and argue and get on each other’s nerves. They love each other, but they also love to fight each other. What inevitably happens, the youngest and smallest gets pushed around (although, in all honesty he can hold his own… he doesn’t know the phrase dog eat dog yet, but he is aware of the principle!). When the little guy gets pushed around, I try to instill in the older boys a sense of the injustice inherent in picking on the little guy. It really irritates me. I want them to know that it isn’t ok the push the little guy around just because you can. As a side note, this is an important lesson for them to learn in my kind because I want to ensure as husband and fathers, they don’t use their size to push their families around. We call those men batterers and abusers. If I teach my dudes nothing else in life, I will teach them not to abuse or batter their family. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have an inflated or big sense of justice, but I would say I want justice to prevail as much as I can help it.

So when my popular, athletic, electric, outgoing, tons of friends oldest son says he is struggling with his friends because they want to pick on and be mean to the less popular or cool kids, my heart is warm. It’s not that I did it right as a parent, as much as my son is becoming the man I have prayed and hoped he would be. It’s not that I have done it right as much as he had the character of a man who has a heart after God’s heart.

And the icing to this cake of awesomeness is when you realize the other two boys are walking through the same struggles with their friends too. When they are also beginning to see and understand it isn’t ok to pick on kids to be cool. For one son to demonstrate the character I hoped for is great… for all three of them to demonstrate that kind of character is indescribable.

I’m not some super parent who is awesome… but I am happy with who my dudes are becoming as men.

A Decade of Experience

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Something happened to me today. My oldest son (of three) turned ten today. TEN! This means I have been a parent for a decade. I have ten years worth of experience at something (well two things, my wife and I have been married for 16 years). I love my boys. All of them. Each individually for differing reasons. They are awesome dudes and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them. Rather than sing the praises of my boys, which I could do all day long, I want to share a few things I have learned over the last ten years. Might be a bit of a stretch to say these are parenting tips or advice, but either way these are things I have learned as a dad.
1. Unity. Always. Ronda and I need to always be on the same page when it comes to the boys. This becomes even more critical when there are more kiddos than adults.Children are manipulative can artists that will use whatever they can to their advantage and divide and conquer is one of the most popular tools to use. As long as the parents are unified together dive and conquer won’t work.
2. I’m not always right. This was kinda hard for me to realize because I am the parent and therefore i know better or more r at the very least I can beat you up. Having said that, I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I make mistakes and mess things up. One of the greatest parenting lessons I learned from my dad growing up was being able to own up to being wrong or being out of line. When I mess up, I ask the boys to forgive me… same as I expect from them.
3. I am always right. This may seem like a contradiction to above, but there are times when it is appropriate to say to your kids, ‘I am dad and therefore I am right!!!!’ Growing up the lamest reasoning my parents ever used for anything was ‘because I said so’. Reality is, this is often the most relevant, best answer in almost any scenario, especially the ones where I don’t feel as though I owe my boys any more explanation. This doesn’t sound right? Well it is, because I said so.
4. Sometimes it is better to just walk away. There are times my boys make me so mad I wanna wring their little necks (something I think my parents also threatened). The right choice here is to just walk away. Calm down and let cooler heads prevail and then we can all work towards resolving this matter in a way that would society proud of our civility. We use time out in our house, but I have also realized its ok for mommy and daddy to take a time out. There is no discipline or situation that has to be handled immediately, unless there is blood and that’s another story, so it is ok time catch your breath and come back to it.
5. Patience. It takes way more patience to be a parent than I have on my person on any given day. It is only through the grace of God I have made it this long. Suffice it to say, God is patient with us so it only seems fair for us as parents to be patient with our kiddos. This patience will never be tested more than when you go out to eat. Going out to eat is a thing of the past… for the next 5 years. It. Just. Isn’t. Worth. It. Which leads me to my next lesson:
6. God is awesome. Not because of the awesome things he does, or the ways he works out the mess we create or how he does any of the other things you may want to insert here. But because of how much I have learned about my relationship with him by being a parent. So much more of how he interacts and relates to us as humans makes much more sense now that I have kids of my own. The depth of his love and commitment to us is mirrored in the parent-child relationship. If God loves/cares for me equal to or greater what I do my kids then his love is much greater than I could have anticipated prior to having kids. This realization has shed some light on why my prayers don’t always get answered the way I wish they would. Sometimes I ask for stuff that wouldn’t be good for me or wouldn’t make sense if I got them from him. Same is true of being a parent. Kids ask some ridiculous stuff acting as though it sounds perfectly reasonable to their little minds. What doesn’t sound right about ice cream for breakfast?
7. Each child is different. This sounds novel, but it is true. Each one of my boys is a human being. An individual. I have three little men running around my house. Three very different people with different needs, wants, ways of communicating, ways of showing affection, ways of laughing, things that make them sad, things that make them angry and ways of processing life. What makes me think there is one size that fits all parenting? There isn’t. Each of my boys needs a little bit of a tweak to the way I interact with and parent them. Still the core approach to parenting, but a slightly different application to each one. The sooner this is learned the better,
8. Kids just want you to be engaged. It doesn’t matter what you do with these little animals, as long as you are doing it with them they are happy. Kids want our time. They want our attention. They want to know they matter and are important to us. They want to know we care about them. It doesn’t take much effort to show our kids they matter to us. This is probably one of the most important things I have learned as a dad. What my boys want most out of me, is me. They want me. They long to be with me doing menial stuff. There is something much more valuable or electric about being in my presence than I could have guessed. Give your kids time. Give them you.
9. My parents put up with a bunch of crap from me. I learned this little tidbit very early on as a dad. I came to understand what kind of people my parents must have been to have put up with my brother and I. We were off the hook and so are my boys and now I have a greater appreciation for all my parents went through and did for me growing up. Wow. Which really leads me to my last lesson or thought…
10. Parenting is hard. Like many things in life worth doing it is hard. You have to give up everything for these little terrorists. (When my boys are pitching fits, that’s my favorite thing to say to them – “Your fit is hurting my ears, you are terrorizing me and I don’t negotiate with terrorists. So when you can talk calmly we can negotiate, but I refuse as long as you terrorize me”) Our lives cease to be our own in many ways. We now have to think in terms of our family in terms of the needs of our children. Everything about schedule, routine and everything you do is shifted. Your circle of friends changes. Your routine activities change. Hobbies change. Priorities change. You now have to consider everything you do with them in mind. And the strange thing is, this doesn’t feel like an inconvenience to you. You do it gladly. You look forward to doing it. They are the joy you never knew you were missing. Having said all that, it is hard. It is not easy. You feel like you got a new complicated toy and when you open the box the manual was left out. Its terrifying. You have no idea what you are doing for like the first 20 years of being a parent. You never sleep, there’s always a poopy diaper to change. It just isn’t easy. You constantly fear making the wrong choice and doing something that will warp them forever. You wonder what’s the return policy if you break it? It is hard. Don’t be fooled into thinking this gig is easy. It isn’t.
There you have it. Ten lessons I have learned for each of the ten years. Not an exhaustive list, but a few that come to mind. Being a parent has been the most difficult and most rewarding thing I have ever done.

We are going camping

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We have reached a new level of crazy today. We are going camping and we’re taking all the kids the dogs the kayaks everything.

This is insanity I feel like I’m going to go crazy and we haven’t even started packing things up to leave for the trip yet.

I fancy myself a reasonably intelligent individual although if I continue to do things like this I will question that.

This is very decidedly going to go one of two ways it’s either going to be epically awesome or an epic fail. 

This may sound crazy but I’m actually kind of looking forward to figuring out if it can be epic awesome epic fail. I’m not saying I want epic fail but that certainly would be something if it was epic fail to see how that would look and turn out and become.

My intention is for me to take some pictures on my iPhone because I call myself an iPhone photographer and then I’d like to share some of those along the way over the next few days.

We will see what these next couple days hold for us but I kind of would like an opportunity to write a little more about some of the things are on my mind and spend some time with Jesus but I will have to see I would have three dogs to give me three kids two dogs and a wife with me camping.

I’m excited the rest are going to be doing something this year for spring break last year we didn’t really get an opportunity to get out a couple day trips planned but it didn’t really work out the way that we had liked.

So hopefully you can join with me in over the next couple days you can see the adventures it is a life of Eli Westfall the one and only.

The Battle Hymn of Parenting

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I have three awesome boys. They really are great. Most of the time they are the light of my days.

Some days they are not. Today is one of those days.

Today is a day where everything is a battle, especially with our oldest son. He is fighting us on everything. Everything. For no reason at all.

I suppose I have come to accept the reality there are some days that are going to be battles. All day long. All day long.

It continues all day today. He is fighting about everything and accepting no responsibility for his actions at all. I don’t expect him to accept responsibility like an adult, but he is old enough he can accept responsibility for his actions. Nothing is his fault. We are the bad guys.

Again, some of this comes with the territory of being parent and I accept that. But this is going beyond what is to be expected as normal.

I accept I am not the world’s greatest parent, but I know I am not the world’s worst either. I’m somewhere in the middle, nestled in mediocrity as a dad who does good sometimes but also drops the ball sometimes.

My wife and I have tried tough love today, we have tried cuddly love today, we have tried ignoring, we have time out, we have tried spanking, we have tried restriction, we have tried it all to no avail.

It’s days like these that cause even mediocre parents to question themselves and wonder whether they really are bad parents. I’m not a bad parent, but I sometimes wonder what am I doing wrong. The question “why do they hate me so much?” does come to mind sometimes. Gentle reminders and encouraging words between each other parents help to keep us on track remembering we are good parents.

Honestly, these battle days are the days I realize I am a good parent. Despite all the frustration, I did not beat or abuse my child. No matter how he acted or responded to me, he was treated with respect and dignity. I never humiliated or made fun of him. I did not cut him down or degrade him.

He is still my child. He is still my son and I love him more than he will ever know. He has captured a place in my heart that can never be taken away. From the first moment I laid eyes on him (and all my boys for that matter) he nestled his way into my heart and can never leave it… no matter what he does. He will always be my son. He will always have my love.

He may push the limits and test to see how far my love extends, but what he will find is he can never reach the end of my love. He will never push beyond its limits.

I love him without measure, beyond comparison.

I have the greatest boys a dad could ever hope for.

Even on days like today, where everything is a battle.

Being sick could be worse

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I’m sick.

I hate being sick. It is the worst thing.

Ronda was sick for the entire Christmas break. It sucked. And now I am sick. I hate being sick. Ronda is out of town until tomorrow afternoon. She’s been gone since Wednesday evening. I came over to my in laws house because my boys are really annoying me. I can’t believe how loud they are. And their farts really stink.

I want to do nothing other than sleep… or maybe die. Either would be fine. I almost didn’t get the boys from school today. I woke up 3 minutes after their school let out. Luckily we live close.

I realize I’m sorta rambling & not really discussing much, but I want to keep my commitment/challenge to write 500 words everyday for 30 days. I can do this.

In reality, being sick right now most frustrates me because it is keeping me from running. I have a race in nine days. A marathon. I need to make sure I am ready and taking a couple of unplanned days off from running doesn’t help my anxiety level when it comes to ensuring I am prepared. I’m sure I will be fine, but I still am a little perturbed I couldn’t run eight miles today. Just makes the next few days busier with miles.

I am very excited about the race, it’s going to be awesome.

But being sick really sucks.

I ache from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I’m coughing, sneezing and wishing I was dead. No fun.

I am glad I have family living close enough to me they can help in a situation like this. If we lived away from family and Ronda was gone it would be all out lord of the flies at my house with my boys. There is literally no telling what they would do. I would wake from a medicine induced coma to find rodents and small woodland animals in various states of consumption and taxonomy in my living room. The dogs would have war paint on them. The whole house would be a giant fort. They would be hopped up on Mountain Dew and donuts. It would be epic levels of awesome manliness by three young men. Awesome.

I can see Ronda now, she comes home and wonders why the house looks like a warzone. She’ll wonder why the dogs have war paint. The boys would probably have war paint too. How do you explain that? Uhh, honey I have absolutely no idea what happened… that would work about as well as if you admitted you knew exactly what was happening. You’re screwed either way. Nice.

Lucky for me, this isn’t the case because I have family close. Family I can run to for help. Family who can handle the boys while I sleep in the next room. Family who will tame the savage beasts and choke on the farts that smell like dead wildebeest.

Turns out being sick could be far worse than it is.

Parenting Tips from Curious George

Most of the time I consider myself a hack as a dad. I feel like I fumble through and do an ‘ok’ job of being a dad. Every now and then I will have a stellar moment where I am an epic dad, but honestly I think I thrive on mediocrity as a parent.

It seems like I am always reacting my boys rather than being proactive and thinking ahead. It’s almost like they are always one step ahead of me. I know the right things to do, I actually possess the skills needed to be an epic parent all of the time. I am certified to teach the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting & the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.

So why does it always feel like I’m behind the gun?!?

I don’t know the full & complete answer to this question, but part of the answer is attitude.

My attitude.

I sometimes look at parenting as an inconvenience that I’m stuck with. There is truth to this – I am stuck with it… however, I am here thanks to choices I made with regard to engaging in potentially reproductive activities. I only have myself to blame.

Parenting is not an inconvenience. It is in fact one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges we could ever have. Being a parent isn’t synonymous with having a fulfilling life, don’t hear me saying that. I am saying if you are a parent it adds fulfillment to your life, though.

So where does Curious George fit into all this? One thing I’ve noticed about the man with the yellow hat is that he expects George to do something crazy, off the wall, destructive and troublesome. He is a monkey after all. And when George does whatever crazy things George is going to do, the man with the yellow hat is always like, ‘George, you can’t work on the plumbing for the apartment building!’, or ‘George, you can’t direct all the trains!’, or ‘George, pigeons are not allowed in the house’, or ‘George, this painting (all over the walls) is spectacular!’.

The man with yellow hat expects George to make a mess, break stuff and get into trouble… he’s a monkey. The man with the yellow hat loves him anyway & gently guides him in the proper direction.

Herein lies the lesson, our kids are kids and they should be expected to NOT act like adults and to make messes. They are kids. My response needs to be more like the man with the yellow hat who has appropriate expectations and gently guides George along when those expectations are met and there is a BIG mess to clean up.

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Leg 2 – Roan Mountain State Park

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As we prepared for Father’s Day this year I was excited to be able to spend it with my dad – I can’t remember the last time I did that. We had roast beast for lunch and I enjoyed being able to see my dad on Father’s Day. After lunch, we loaded up the car and headed out of town for the camping expedition.

It was not without excitement.

What should have been a 4.5 hour trip turned into a 6 hour trip. We only got lost once. My consolation in getting lost, was that my dad also got when he came to meet us on Monday. We finally rolled into the campground a round 10:30 Sunday night.

Our new tent went up without incident and we were setting up camp like pros. We got camp organized and ready to go for Monday. We went to bed, electing to set up the canopy over the table when we awoke the next morning.

Yep, it rained during the night. Yep, that means everything got wet. Chairs, table, canopy, everything. Not too worry, it never got warm enough Monday to dry stuff out. It’ll be ok, it’s suppose to rain more on Tuesday.

Our canopy went up easy as well and we had a good day. Dad showed up a little before supper and we got things going & grilled steak. Its time to wind down and get ready for bed. We have one last run to civilization to make to get a cell signal to check on our house situation and post this.

Lesson for today – it is fun sharing your childhood with your kiddos.

Leg 1 – Athens

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Well we made it.

Friday saw us completing the first leg of our journey and rolling into Athens, Ga. We left, later than we planned, on Thursday and made it most of the way stopping in Ashland, Ga. for the night at a hotel. Ronda as pretty adamant about us stopping and not going the whole way to Athens due to how late we left Thursday. We got to the hotel at around 1 am, after I had been withholding judgment as to whether we were going to stay somewhere or not. I would have gone the whole, if I had thought I was able to stay awake to get us here. Around midnight, I decides it was going to be a better move to stay the night. So we did. As it turns out, Ronda was right.

So we got up Friday morning and the boys and I ate the continental breakfast while Ronda got ready to go. We grabbed her some Waffle House to go and headed to my parent’a house arriving just in time to eat breakfast for lunch. Honestly, it was considerably better than the breakfast we had eaten. We hung out at the house enjoying my mom & dad, my bro & his kids and one of my sisters.

My parents live about a half mile from my elementary school, and it has trails behind it in some woods so Ronda and I squeezed in a brief trail run before supper. These woods hold a special place in my heart because I used to walk on them while a student at the school and after undergrad we used to ride our mountain bikes back there. There was a crazy storm Thursday that obliterated several of the trails. I always enjoy sharing my history with my wife. It was great fun to run with her back there.

After the run, we enjoyed mom’s famous tacos followed by a fire & s’mores. After baths, we headed over to Ronda’s sister’s house for the night. I got to hang out with my bro in-law, Justin, and my bro some more.

Now it is way past my bedtime and I should be asleep, but I am sharing my journey with you. Tomorrow, we are going to a park I used to frequent whirl growing up in Athens. So far, this trip has lived up to my expectations & hopes of being epic… and the camping hasn’t even started yet!

Good night.