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During the course of the past seven years, my wife, Erika, and I (along with our kids) have made certain sacrifices in order that I might pursue full time ministry in a local church setting. As we have counted the cost of this life change, we have been, for the most part, happy – and, we are incredibly grateful. I work from home and take care of the kids and dogs, while Erika excels at her work as a Process Improvement Consultant at Group Health. I stay at home and my wife has a career outside of the house (where she makes way more money than the current zero dollars an hour I get paid for planting a church). There, I said it. That took some guts – cuz, I’m actually more than a little afraid that Mark Driscoll and his wife are going to storm my front door and Mark will scream “Infidel!!!” at me as his wife kicks my ass. But, I digress.

This familial arrangement of ours has one incredible drawback: I am in charge of dinner. The problem? I hate to cook. This problem is compounded by the facts that my wife loves to cook and my kids hate all food. Plus, I have the nutritional intelligence of a public school lunch lady (insert comment about pizza being a vegetable here). But, alas, Erika loves her work and she is incredibly gifted for this specific type of work and there is no way in hell she is going to quit. So, for the foreseeable future, I am in charge of dinner. And, I hate to cook.

that burger is bigger than his mouth!

Last night, I outdid my self. Feeling incredibly ambitious and energetic, I attempted to make a “complete” meal. By “complete,” I mean it consists of at least three items and one or more of them is a vegetable-like substance. Not only did I pursue the ever allusive “complete” meal, but I also tried to make it healthy. I passed on the frozen burger patties from Costco and made my own turkey burgers – complete with oats, raw egg, and seasoning. And, ya know, what? That meat tasted DAMN good. However…

My kids have gotten into that Food Network show Chopped! with Ted Allen. Andddd, cue Ione!

Ione: “Chef Jim. What have you made for us tonight?”

Me: “Turkey burgers, french fries, and corn.”

Erika: “Judges, what do you think of Chef Jim’s dish?”

Thelonious: “Chef Jim, I can feel the oats in my burger. And, it’s way too big. I can’t get my mouth around it.”

Ione: “Chef Jim, the french fries are nice in the middle, but the ends are a bit too… crispy. My burger is over done on the bottom. The “carmelization” is gross.”

Erika: “Judges, what do you like about Chef Jim’s dish?”

Ione: “Chef Jim, the burger is seasoned very well! It’s delicious!”

Thelonious: “Chef Jim, the burger is very moist and seasoned very well. But, I can feel the oats in my mouth.”

At this point, Ione took a commercial break. Then, Thelonious covered his plate with a napkin and asked rhetorically, “Who’s dish is on the chopping block?!?!… Chef Jim, you have been chopped!”

Always the optimist, Erika asked me what I learned from tonight’s meal.

  1. It is not possible to have all items in a complete meal be the same temperature at the same time. (Personally, I don’t mind cold corn, lukewarm fries, and scalding hot burgers)
  2. Johnny’s Seasoning Salt contains no MSG and kids love it.
  3. 1/2 pound burgers are way too big for most humans, especially children (unless you are Ione who ate the whole thing).
  4. I hate to cook.

Last week, I was lucky enough to take Thelonious to his very first live NFL game. I surprised him with a pair of tickets after school on Thursday. He’s been begging for me to take him to a pro sports game for a couple of years now and when he saw those tickets, I thought he was going to wet himself, have an aneurism, or both. I was a little nervous, though. Sometimes with things like these, the expectations can outweigh the actual experience (like the time he fell asleep during the Weezer concert). But, that Thursday night game was nothing but pure gold. Seattle Seahawks: 31 Philadelphia Somebodies: a lot less than 31. It was tons of fun – we won, there was lots of scoring, and Marshawn Lynch hit beast mode (more than once).

Of course, all pro sporting events are a cultural mixed bag. Something happens to humans when they are sitting with 60,000 other people dressed identically to them. Or, maybe it’s just that after you’ve spent $97 on a ticket, $12 on nachos, and $16 on a pair of beers, you figure you’ve actually paid for the privilege of abandoning all social norms, etiquette, and decent human behavior.

Let’s be honest: the 300 level of an NFL game is no place for small children.

Luckily, I had the wherewithal to warn T before we went in to the stadium. “Son, you’re going to hear a lot of things tonight. Yes. Many of them you have heard from your mom. But, many of these words, and their contexts, are going to be brand new. Be prepared.” And the guy sitting directly behind us surely did not disappoint. I don’t believe he was actually capable of expressing a thought or emotion without using the f word. If his sentence consisted of more than a single noun and single verb, it included the f word. Me hungry… Me effing hungry for some big a** effing nachos! Constantly. For three hours. It got old pretty quickly, but, ya know, what are you gonna do?

The game ended and we started walking the six miles back to our car. Thelonious and I were basking in the afterglow of a truly great evening and debriefing everything that had happened. I asked him how he felt about the guy behind us and all of us his annoying chatter. At that point, Thelonious turned to me and said, “after about 15 minutes, I really wanted to turn around and tell that guy to shut the fuck up.”

My mind was instantly filled with questions. How do I parent in this situation? Is there any soap in this alleyway that I can wash his mouth out with? Is it more important for me to reassure Thelonious that I am a safe place where he can experiment with expressing his emotions and thoughts – or that I correct his every misstep? If I don’t make him pay for that f bomb, do I “lose”? When I die, do I want my child to say “I was always safe with him. He could handle and accept anything that I threw at him. I never worried that he didn’t love me totally and completely”? Or, would I prefer that he say “that man could really discipline” ? And on and on and on. Finally, I just chuckled and said let’s not use that word anymore, mmmm k?

I know not everyone agrees with my parenting style. But, I don’t really care.

I completed the conversation with this: “I won’t tell mom you used the f word if you don’t tell her I urinated in an alley.”

Yesterday I received an email from my son’s teacher. It said something to the affect of:

“Thelonious asked a very good question during our Bible lesson yesterday that takes a higher level of questioning than I usually see in a 5th grader. He asked how we know God is real. And, how do we know the Bible is real and not just some thing the authors made up. These questions are a little beyond what the other 5th graders are asking, so I couldn’t get into it with him very much. I thought you might like to give it a go.”

Well, as a matter of fact, it just so happens that I do hold a masters degree in theology. So, I guess I’m actually fairly qualified to broach this topic.

As Thelonious and I lounged around last night, wasting a few minutes before bed, I laid down on his bed and we had a little conversation. “Your teacher says you’re asking annoying questions in Bible class. Stop it.” I kid. “I hear you’re having some pretty serious questions in Bible class. Want to talk about them?” See, sometimes, my kids bring up life altering issues at school but they don’t really care about the answers all that much. Questions of existence can simply be a passing fancy in the Fox household. But, he remembered the questions. How do we know God is real? And, how do we know the Bible just isn’t made up?

So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked him, “what makes you think that God isn’t real?” His answer was simple: if God is real, bad things wouldn’t happen. Great. 10 years old and I have to deal with issues of theodicy (the first of many vocab words he learned during this conversation). So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked probing questions that steered the conversation towards issues of choice. But, apparently, free will isn’t very important to Thelonious.” Why doesn’t God stop me from doing bad things?”  “Why doesn’t God stop me from being mean to Ione?” Pretty soon the conversation degraded into “why don’t you stop me? why doesn’t mom stop me? why doesn’t the playground monitor stop me?” Apparently, there is only one person who is not responsible for Thelonious’ personal choices – and, that person is Thelonious.

Our conversation went on and on. It was pretty fun to get inside his head and mess it all up and see how he thinks. The dialogue was far reaching and bounced back and forth from one corner of his cynical little mind to the other corner of his agnostic little mind. Every time I looked over at him, his little face was all twisted up and distorted. It was (literally) a look of pain. A look of deep, deep thought. His brain was working so hard that it actually couldn’t send messages to his face telling it to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look. I won’t bore you with all the details, just the conclusion…

“Dude, let me tell you about the only philosopher that really matters: Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said that when it is all said and done, we just don’t know for sure. You can’t know for sure. And, nothing anyone says can make you know for sure. Kierkegaard called it “the leap of faith.” Sooner or later, you’re just gonna have to take a leap of faith.”

I may have been a little too esoteric (another vocab word he learned last night). I may have been a little too ambiguous and non-committal. I may have been lacking in anything that could actually be called an answer. I may have been way too comfortable in the grey world of “I dunno.” But one thing is for sure. I kissed him good night and said, “I love you.” And, for the first time in a year and a half, he replied with, “I love you.” See, he gave up that little kid gesture of verbally communicated affection long ago. But, apparently, a parent who will sit with you in the unknown (and introduce you to the depressed Dane) is irresistibly lovable.

As I got up from his bed and started to leave the room, Thelonious wanted to ask me one final question… After the conversation at school, the teacher asked the rest of class: “class, what do you think of these questions?” One little girl raised her hand and said that she knew the Bible was true because what it contained was so amazing and wonderful that it was beyond human ability to imagine or make up any of  it. (Anselm… that line of reasoning is so 5th grade.) Thelonious continued: “but, ya know what? I think that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the stories in the Bible really aren’t  all that amazing.” Letting him read comic books was a very bad idea.

After many months away from “space monkey manifesto”, I am making my triumphant return. In my mind, this is accompanied by the Queen classic… “FLASH! AwwwAW! Saviour of the uniVERSE!” Why have I chosen this day to rekindle your love of my written word? One word for ya: It’s summer vacation.

It’s 3:48 pm on the first day of summer vacation and Ione is already thrashing on the floor, crying out in a pathetic little whine, “but, there’s nothing to doooooooo…” Thelonious has already been victim to several time outs as he learns the meaning of the words “respect” and “antagonize.” However, I am determined, I will stay resolute. My children will learn how to entertain themselves this summer – even if it kills all three of us.

To help the Fox progeny learn this valuable lesson, we took a trip to Target to get Wham-O brand TracBall and a big bouncy ball. While we were out, we stopped by Petsmart (there was an argument: is it “pet smart” or “pet’s mart”?!?!?) to price Budgies. In a moment of weakness, brought on by the ridiculously low P.E.T.Club member prices, I let Thelonious buy a parakeet.

As I sat down to write this post, I felt a warm breeze against my ankles. Actually, not warm… hot! “Why is the thermostat set to 82?!?!?” “Dad, the book says it needs to be between 75 and 85 degrees for my parakeet!”

Ione just threw a note at me from the Creation Station. It is written on pink, heart shaped stationary, placed in a matching pink envelope and sealed. The note reads, “I need mu suitcase and my sleeping bag Because there’s nothing else to do.”

I think I better go.

Erika left early this morning to go to her sister’s baby shower in Southern California. That means it’s the Saturday after Halloween alone with dad – this can not turn out well.

Ione cried for 27 minutes because she wanted me to go get her donuts for breakfast. I finally convinced them both to eat some waffles and sausages. The difficult part was convincing them that they did not need chocolate chips on the waffles or powdered sugar to dip the sausage in.

After breakfast, the kids were counting their candy and Thelonious said, “Hey, Dad, I got a joke book while trick or treating. Check it out… Why do gorillas have big noses?”

“I dunno.”

“Because they have big fingers. ha ha ha. What is the laziest mountain in the world?”

“Hmmm, I dunno.” 

“Mount Ever-rest!!! ha ha hee hee ha. Dad, dad, listen to this one… Who will everyone meet someday?”

(this is a weird set up for a joke) “I dunno, Thelonious. Who?”

“God’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Hey, here’s another… Will everyone go to heaven?”

“Wellllll…different people believe different things. Some people think everyone will go to heaven. Ya see, Jesus loves everyone –

“Nope! Says here: The Bible, God’s book says, ‘those who don’t believe and obey him shall never see heaven!'”

Ione laughs hysterically.

Thelonious continues, “Will the bad things I have done (sins) keep me from going to heaven?”

“Well, geez, son, these are kinda complex -”

“It says here: ‘YES! God hates sin! He will not allow sin into heaven! That means I’m in a lot of trouble!'”

Now I know why people think Halloween is evil.

Thelonious finishes with, “I’ve been wearing the same underwear since Wednesday.”

Why am I wasting all this time and money on grad school? Apparently, all truth can be learned by trick or treating.

Erika: Thelonious, you’re so smart, funny, handsome, creative, and fun. Who do you think you get that from – me or daddy?

Thelonious: (pause) Neither. I got them from that cool dude who’s name is spelled G – O – D.

Apparently, I have a deadly infection of dog butt and slobber coursing through my veins at this very moment. I just wanna warn you, this is going to be a long post. It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote and a lot has happened. I’ve got enough material for a week’s worth of blogs, but why tease? I’ll just give you everything I’ve got and let you sort it out.

On Saturday, I inadvertently stepped on Momo’s giant plastic chew bone. The plastic (sharpened by his constant gnawing) punctured my skin. Today, my foot is red and swollen and I can barely stand on it. Why? Dog licks butt. Dog slobbers on toy. Toy breaks skin. Dog butt slobber enters blood stream. Thanks, Momo. I love you, too.

For the second time during his brief life, my son has decided to “grow his hair out.” Through long hours of observation and experimentation, I have been able to determine that adolescent attitude in males of the species is directly related to the length of the hair. After snottily declaring that reading is “soooo lame!” and hurling a book across the room, I told him that if he didn’t change his attitude I would shave his head in his sleep. Last year he cut his hair once he discovered that after a certain length, frequent hair washing is required. Having long “stoner” bangs isn’t worth three showers a week, I guess.

It took me 13 minutes this morning to convince Ione that she really wasn’t allowed to wear a plastic dog nose at school. We compromised and she simply wore it from the car into her classroom so she could show her friend Skye. On the way in, a little boy sidled up next to Ione. “Hey, Donut.” “Hey, Dustin.” In her classroom, papers and art projects by the kids line the walls. Each one has a sloppily printed name in kindergartner style. Emma. Kate. Isaac. Donut. Her teacher actually said to me the other day, “I’m a little worried. She signs everything Donut. The kids are starting to call her Donut. I am calling her Donut. I’m afraid it’s going to stick!” I looked her in the eye and said, “Lady… nothing would make her happier.” I think her great grandfather, the carnival high dive artist, would be proud: “Come see Donut, the dog faced girl.”

I planned my first retreat – the 2008 VCC Men’s Retreat featuring David Ruis. It was a ton of fun and a huge success. We had meatballs, cheese ball, and beer. Joel Bratt did all the work and I got all the credit. I think I might be a natural at this pastor gig.

I don’t know what Erika has been doing lately; but, she is severely bruised. I worry about her.

I admit it. I haven’t exactly been super positive, super cheery, or even super nice as of late. I apologize. But, everything is changing. I’m over Hillary, the Lakers won a game, and today is Thelonious’ birthday. This morning, when he opened the Pokémon cards we got him, he actually hugged me (while screaming like a little girl) – so, how can I complain. I can’t guarantee happy pappy from this day forward. After all, one of the purposes of this blog is to allow me to dump my negative ideas instead of carrying them around all the time. But, I will do my best to at least be semi-edifying on a semi-regular basis. I promise.

Yesterday I picked Thelonious up early from school. I walked into the office at 11:50 and said, “I’m taking my son, Thelonious Fox.” It was so cool. I didn’t even have to make up an excuse. Which was good, because I was afraid the actual reason would result in the instant (and probably vehement) denial of my request for the early dismissal of my firstborn. Instead, the secretary just radioed to the playground and 5 minutes later a sweaty Thelonious strolled into the office.

“What’s up, Dad?”

“Ohhhh, I dunno. I just thought maybe we would ditch school and go see SPEED RACER!

I have to say, that was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Speed Racer was incredibly good. I had seen Iron Man the week before and truly enjoyed it – Robert Downey, Jr. was perfection as Tony Stark. But, I have to say Speed Racer was better than Iron Man. And, just because it’s the kind of mood I’m in, I’m going to break it down list style.

Top Five Reasons Why Speed Racer Is Better Than Iron Man:

5. Casting. The casting in Iron Man was reallllllly good – but, Speed Racer was inspiring. Matthew Fox as Racer X? Dear god, it’s the first role he’s actually been good in – ever. From soup to nuts the best cast film since The Big Lebowski.

4. Trixie vs. “Pepper” Potts

3. Visually, Speed Racer was the “best looking” film I have ever seen. And, I don’t mean, “dude, the graphics were over the top!!!” Somehow, the cgi managed to be seamless, realistic, and understated – perfectly enhancing the storytelling. But, more importantly, the Wachowski brothers were able to visually interpret the methods of the original cartoon through the juxtaposition of dead pan close ups of the characters commenting on the story with the action taking place in the background. Iron Man kicked ass, but it looked like every other action movie out this summer.

2. Speed Racer had more monkeys than Iron Man.

1. Speed Racer (the movie) was better than the original. It’s like the Chronicles of Narnia. Everyone knows those were pretty good books considering when they were written. But the first Narnia movie totally ruled! It was way better than the book! It was actually suspenseful and interesting and had real action. Speed Racer is the same way (except the original Speed Racer cartoon was better than the original The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe book to begin with) – its way better than the original. I don’t know if you ever watched the old cartoon, but they didn’t make a lot of sense. Fully one third of every episode was Speed gripping the steering wheel as if his life depended on it and grunting. Ughhh! Another third was recapping what happened before the commercial break – 3 minutes of car race and then 1 minute telling you they had just shown 3 minutes of car race. The final third was a mish mash of the Mach 5 jumping into the air, Chim Chim, and Pops jumping up and down. The Wachowski brothers kept ALL of that, and at the same time formed a surprisingly interesting story with a real narrative structure you could follow. It’s like everything you loved about the original PLUS a plot.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to see Iron Man. But, do whatever it takes, even if you have to pull your kids out of school early, to go see Speed Racer right now!