Happy 12th Birthday Buddy

Hi Levi,

Wow, little dude…you would be 12 today.

Well, you are 12 today. But you’d be here and with me and 12, rather than up there and 12. 😉 Either way, I can’t even believe it. I’ve got two stories for you today on your birthday. Sometimes I have a hard time getting your sisters to get chatty with me; if you were still here you’d be watching me in the sometimes-struggle to engage with them you’d probably just look at me and shrug your shoulders and say “Girls…”

But between those moments, I still get more than my fair share of magic with them. On New Year’s Day I took Royce and Zoe to a coffeeshop in a small mountain town in Colorado. When we sat down I had them put down their bad weapons (phones) and I pulled out my good weapons (pen and paper) and gave each of them about 20-minutes to write down some of their goals and objectives for the year.

After we were done we all shared with each other. Without too much detail, one of the goals Royce shared with me was that she was hopeful and prayerful that she could minister to people that she doesn’t know, and to develop a relationship with them. More specifically, in her words, to share God’s love with them in an environment that doesn’t really encourage it (high school in general, but add to that Silicon Valley…).

As she was sharing with me so animatedly and expressively, with such a heart for people, I felt this surreal displacement. I’m listening to this amazing kid share with me a love and compassion so deep that I was just overwhelmed, to the point that I kept pulling my baseball hat down lower over my eyes.

Overwhelmed enough, that finally Zoe blurted out “DAD, ARE YOU CRYING AGAIN?!?!?” 😉

(I rarely cry, other than with things related to the three of you…and movies…)

Later that week Zoe and I were talking while lying at opposite ends of the couch. I was watching the gorgeous blue Colorado sky with huge, billowing cottony clouds drifting by and enjoying the gift of hearing her talk away, where she went on to share with me an issue at middle school where she got into a pretty heated fight–when I asked her why it came down to an incident where someone was bullying a mentally disabled student, who she befriended and defended.

And, yeah, a few minutes into the story she blurted out “DAD, you gotta get a hold of yourself!” 😉

You have two really amazing sisters, they would’ve been the BEST big sisters to you. And while I’m forever sad you’re not here, I also feel like I get little glimpses of you–and who you’d be–in the magic moments that I still have with Royce and Zoe, like during those two stories above.

This year I felt a huge wave of peace come over me regarding you, which doesn’t make me miss you any less. But it does mean I have healed a lot more. I still think about you all the time. Happy Birthday Buddy, I hope this years was the best yet.

Love,

Dad

*This is my annual birthday post for Levi. The prior years posts are here: Happy 11h Birthday Buddy, Happy 10th Birthday Buddy, Happy 9th Birthday BuddyHappy 8th Birthday BuddyHappy 7th Birthday BuddyHappy 6th Birthday BuddyHappy 5th Birthday Buddy, and Happy 4th Birthday Buddy.

RoZo

Happy 10th Birthday Buddy

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This is my annual birthday post for Levi (though a few days late). If you’re interested, the prior birthday posts are here:  Happy 9th Birthday BuddyHappy 8th Birthday BuddyHappy 7th Birthday BuddyHappy 6th Birthday BuddyHappy 5th Birthday Buddy, and Happy 4th Birthday Buddy.

Hi Buddy,

This one is late by about ten days, for reasons you already know. Sorry. 🙁

We celebrated with a quick dinner out on March 26th. Said a prayer for you. Thought about you. A lot. Talked about what you’d be like if you were here, and what we might be like. Better. The answer is better.

Another year goes by, and this one felt like two years. Maybe three. Over the last 12-months I felt like I lost a lot of your sisters, Royce & Zoe. Something flipped. Partly it was me, and some distance I probably created. A lot of it was work and some of the ridiculousness required in running a start-up. Some of it was selfishness. And, finally, the remainder of it was likely them and the reality of life, and getting older as girls had something to do with it. It’s just not the same when I used to be able to walk around with both of them latched onto my arms.

Especially because of this bridge from Tweens to Teens, you are, by far, my littlest dude now. And if you were here I’d have only another year or two left before the same thing would happen to you. This year would’ve been a really nice year to have you around.

Though, any year would’ve been nice to have you around. Or any day…any moment.

Three months ago I spoke at an event on a topic related to “Lessons Learned in Running Start-Ups”, it was totally unrelated to any personal stuff–or specifically you. But after the event some guy comes up to me and says to me in this great Spanish accent with perfect English, “My friend, you know, I have this feeling that you have this story, and you’re supposed to tell it…and I do not know what it is, but I can just tell. I am supposed to be here, to tell you to tell your story. Maybe you know what this is about, I do not, but you shouldn’t wait. You should not wait to tell this story.” And that was it. He walked away.

This happens to me every three or four months. And has for years. I’ve written about it before, including to you. Someone comes up to me, oftentimes someone I don’t know, and they tell me that I’m supposed to write this book, but they don’t know about what. When this happens, I feel like I can see and hear God. So, I keep working on your book. Not for anyone else, as I can’t even imagine anyone else reading it (save for perhaps a few of my sisters and parents). But I have this feeling I’m supposed to write it for you and me. And, likely, that’s it.

Anyways, I don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten–I haven’t, I’m still plugging away and updated a few chapters in the last month. I just need more time. Give me a little more time, little dude.

There’s a gift you’ve given me that I enjoy throughout every year, if it weren’t for you I’d never enjoy it like I do, and in some way it’s as if it’s the moments where I get to experience you vicariously.

When I go running, one of the things I dislike most is to interrupt it with a walk. Usually, I see it as a failure in my run.

However, there’s one time I almost always do it without hesitation–and I enjoy every minute.

It’s when I see a dad playing catch with his son, often off in the distance when I’m running by a park–or around a track. Usually it’s a baseball or football they’re throwing. Sometimes they’re playing hoops. And when I see this from a distance, my running pace turns to a jog, and then a slow walk…and I slow further my steps until I’m still. Turn off my Pandora. Pull the earphones out. Then, I crouch down, hands on my knees, take a deep breath in of the smell of eucalyptus with the dry California air blowing over my sweat. And through the stillness of the air I listen to the two of them in the distance, the dad playing with his son. Sometimes they’re talking smack to each other, in a playful way. Other times the dad is  encouraging his son, or giving coaching. And when I observe the son, he’s usually working hard to please his dad. And he’s enjoying his time, I can tell. I can feel the vibe, and it’s really really cool. I’m envious. And happy.

I sit there for sixty seconds, and I just watch. Nobody else is around, nothing is distracting me, I just lose myself in the moment of watching some guy and his son play ball from a distance.

And, as soon as I came upon it I’m off again. It’s like a sixty second time lapse. I’m always grateful for the experience. Sometimes a little saddened. But usually happy, and gives me a moment of contentment amidst missing you. Wish we could play catch, right now, for five minutes. I’d take five minutes. And wouldn’t even ask for more.

Happy Birthday Buddy. Ten years later…I love you, no matter what.

Still miss you all the time.

~Dad

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Happy 9th Birthday Buddy


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This is my annual birthday post for Levi; if you’re interested, the prior birthday posts are here:  Happy 8th Birthday BuddyHappy 7th Birthday BuddyHappy 6th Birthday BuddyHappy 5th Birthday Buddy, and Happy 4th Birthday Buddy.

Dear Levi,

As I’m writing to you every year I never have anything planned to say. I used to give a lot of talks to audiences and often had a mental archive of anecdotes or stories lined up that I’d pull from, either coordinated in advance or ready to use spontaneously. With something like your annual birthday, I always think to myself “This year I’ll totally have something lined up to share with Levi for his birthday!”

But it never happens, and today is no exception.

I’m never ready for this day, and when it finally arrives I always want something magical to happen. I’m not sure what, but it never quite plays out like I envision or hope. The only real message that I really want to get to you is that I love you. And we miss you. There’s probably a lot in my life that I hope you don’t see, but this is one of those moments where I hope you get to look down and read my annual birthday letter to you. So, here’s a quick update, followed by a story.

Mom did homeschooling for Royce and Zoe all the way up to this year, then we decided to put the kids into school–for a variety of reasons–and they both seem to be doing well. I’m super appreciative of her hard work over many years to teach RoZo. She thinks about you all the time, and I remember just how heartbroken she was–we both were–ten years ago today.

Royce is doing great, she made the middle school soccer team as a 6th grader which was a really big deal! Few kids made it at all, and even fewer 6th graders. She’s such a sweet kid, and is the one who always prays before every meal (even when I sometimes skip it), always organized and on time, never misses a homework assignment (her grades are awesome!) and always less then thrilled when things don’t go according to plan–she likes structure and predictability, and might–MIGHT–have a slight tendency to worry at times. 🙂 Which would make her the big sister that would always be watching out for your every move, and would keep you from ever getting in trouble. She’s beautiful, so responsible and trustworthy, and so incredibly passionate–you would be so proud to have her as a big sister.

Zoe is doing fantastic and is equally beautiful. She’s going to a different school than Royce and has made so much progress–we’re really thrilled. She loves creative stuff, entrepreneurial passions, and cooking shows as her go-to activities. She could watch cooking shows on a Saturday for hours on end without pause–and sometimes does. And is the only ten year old kid I’ve ever met who would look at me after tasting a dish I made and would say “Dad, I think this needs a little bit of caper juice, a dash of garlic salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon” only to be followed minutes later while preparing some vegetables with an off the cuff statement and say to me “You know Dad, Jimmy Fallon is definitely one of my favorite comedians–next to Ellen Degeneris.”

Zoe’s pretty hysterical, and would be the bigger sister saying “Go for it!” while Royce would be saying “Levi, I really don’t think this is a good idea…” You’d have one sister with expertise on how to get you into trouble, and the other with expertise on how to keep you–or get you–out of it.

So here’s my one and only story for you this year: IMG_0999

A few months ago all of us went away for a weekend to try to get a retreat from the chaos of work and everyday life. One night whilst sitting outside around a fire pit we were talking about a particular issue which escalated and ended in an argument amongst the four of us, though mostly it was just me, Royce, and mom. The argument got pretty intense, and while I don’t think it was altogether different than some arguments and issues that most families deal with, it was one of the more intense and frustrating moments we’ve had in the last year.

Zoe was walking around the outdoor fire pit, and along the edge of the pool, somewhat aimlessly. I didn’t even think she was listening. She was kicking the soccer ball on her knee, dropping it, running off to get it, seemingly completely disengaged and disinterested during this 20-minutes. Finally, when no progress was being made, and the intensity of the argument kept escalating, she decided to jump in.

Zoe turned around to all of us and opened her arms and interjected with a quiet, and gentle voice saying “Okay everyone? Please stop. For a minute. Just stop. Can I say something?”

Surprised, we all turned to her and didn’t say a word. We were all kind of shocked she interjected. Zoe’s fiercely independent, wildly creative, witty as all get out–but rarely interjects and generally doesn’t editorialize. So as we all looked at her she decided to deal with me first and walked over, placed her little hands on top of my big hands, and looked in my eyes and continued.

“Dad, I know you’re stressed out. I know it, and I can feel it.” As she’s talking involuntary tears start streaming down her face, but she didn’t let her emotions phase her for a second and she barely paused for half a second.

So she kept going. “Dad, sometimes when you get home from work and you’re stressed out and you still have tons more work to do, don’t put the stress on other people. And Dad, I know why you do this…Because I do it too. I go to school, and then I have a bad day. I come home, and I’m upset and tense and I get frustrated with people. Or I want to blame someone, or I point the finger and I get angry at people. And then it creates tension. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you. Or me. Everybody does it. It’s part of being a human. We all do it.”

“So Dad, I want you to be happy. I want you to come home happy. I want you to leave home happy. And I know it’s hard, because you work so hard. I worry that you are always working, and I am afraid someday all the work will beat you down. But then, I know you usually love it and do a good job. So they give you more responsibilities. You get bigger jobs and you run more companies. But then it keeps getting harder and harder, and more stressful.”

“Now you’re working so long and gone so much. And I know it’s going to get better. I know you have done lots of start-ups, and that they always get better and things work out. And when it gets better I know you’ll make more money, you’ll have more people to help out, you won’t have to work so much, and things will be easier. But Dad, even though I know it’s going to get better…I really just worry if it’s going to get better fast enough.”

At this point tears are pouring down her face, not just one or two, but a constant stream. She kept going, without flinching or pausing to even recognize her emotions, and with a steady voice while looking in my eyes continued. “Dad, I believe everything starts in the home. If we can make everything good in the home, then everything else will be great. Work will be great. Your workouts and running will be great. Our time off will be great. Dad, I really mean it. I believe everything starts in the home.”

Then she paused for the first time, and took a breath and raised her expressive eyebrows and said emphatically “And Dad, I KNOW they say that on all the cooking shows. But I really believe it’s true.”

Levi feetOf all my moments with our kids, this one will be among the most memorable. Partly because there was a level of gravitas to the conversation that exceeded anything which I’d ever experienced with her. And partly because it was such an obvious testament to what kids can teach you.

Which pretty much is a metaphor for how I feel about you. I don’t fully recognize, and in exactly what ways, but I know you’ve had this amazing impact on all of us in manners that I can’t fully express or even begin to understand.

Am I bummed you’re not here? Yeah, beyond words. If I could, I’d change it in a heartbeat. But also in my heart, I’d know that wouldn’t be the right thing. I’m certain and trusting that the right thing happened. And that as part of this, I’m still learning something throughout it.

Even if I don’t understand it. Even if I don’t like it.

Levi, my friend…I love you. We all do. No matter what.

Happy 9th Birthday.

Love,

~Dad

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Happy 4th Birthday Buddy

img_34831The reason I write in my blog is to connect with people. Not just from one segment of life, but from many.

And as part of the thread of stories I try to share experiences and observations in leadership, volunteerism, wellness, as well as some stories that are simply personal experiences that fall in none of those particular categories and, might, at times, be more personal.

Today’s entry is one of those. So if the personal aspect is too much, please skip this one today.

I write tonight sitting 3,000 miles away from Erica and my girls, celebrating in spirit the birthday of our son Levi. Who, five years ago today, was born and also died several hours later due to prematurity and a systemic infection that could not be avoided or treated.

Levi, my little friend, I’m not sure if Heaven is wired with Web 2.0, social networking, and blogs along with 802.11N Wifi. Maybe up there you’re on Web 10.0 and we’re just catching up. I’m not sure if you’re yet able to read, if you’re learning to read, perhaps someone is reading to you, or whether you’re even still a youth or not. Somehow, though, I think you will get this message in some way.

Raz Fam celebrating Levi's 2nd Birthday
Raz Fam celebrating Levi's 2nd Birth.

Today I just wanted to acknowledge my appreciation and love for you–especially because I’m on business travel and away from the rest of your family on this special day. I wish you were here so we could celebrate, even if remotely. And if you were here tonight I would call you on a Skype video, sing Happy Birthday to you, tell you how proud I am of you…I’d tell you how I’d take you out for cake and ice cream when I got back home, and we would do the things that dads and sons do–things like wrestle and horseplay on my return visit. We’d probably even break something valuable in the living room. 🙂 But it would be okay, because you would be with me–and I would be with you. And mom would look at us and smile with a look of “You boys…” and Royce and Zoe would be cackling and laughing in the background, all while trying to wrestle with us as well. Levi, we would have had a lot of fun–and I miss you.

Yet, as strange as this may sound, I am certain that God’s got all of those fun activities figured out for you–and more–right where you are.

It is rare that I can look at our family and see only four people; it generally feels like you are missing, and while some of the days that pass make missing you–and what I never got to know of you–easier, never will it be forgotten or a substitute for what a life with you in our family every day could have been like.

So, today’s posting is a simple one.

It’s just an open letter to you wishing you a Happy Fourth Birthday. To let you know that we all miss you so much, and I know we would be so proud of you on this day, yet we also have a sincere contentment that everything works out according to a plan.

It’s just that today, and at this very moment, I really don’t like the way this plan has worked out–even though I know it is for the best.

Happy Birthday my little friend, we miss you so much and I will see you someday soon.

-Dad

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