Author Archives: joejmedler

About joejmedler

Joe Medler lives in New Jersey with his wife, who is universally understood to be far too good for him, and his two young sons, who are far too smart for him. His work has been featured on MamaLode, The Original Bunker Punks and Sammiches and Psych Meds. You can find more of his work at https://developingdad.com/ and follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/developingdad

Taken for Granted

More than anything in the world I’m grateful that we will have pizza this week. And vegetables. Fresh and frozen, canned. Whatever. I’m grateful that we know with near certainty that we won’t spend a minute thinking about whether or not we can eat.

I don’t always appreciate how safe I am. I lie in the dark and wonder if I left a lock unturned. I wonder if that was someone downstairs. I think about what is nearby that i could use to club a potential burglar or worse. Then I wait and wait and I forget about it and I go back to distracting myself with pictures of family and tales of struggle and memes that make me laugh. I watch highlights and listen to comedians interview each other on podcasts that I hear on my phone which can access, essentially, all human knowledge. I do all of it knowing I am not likely to have war greet me at the door. My children are not likely to learn the worst of life until they are ‘ready’ and then they will do so through books and movies and lessons and not life. I know the further out I project the less sure I can be of these things, but I’m confident.

I see pictures of children who are being greeted by a world that is roiling with chaos and violence the likes of which I can’t even truly imagine without a sheen of Hollywood staging and two dimensional falsehoods that are stored in my brain as images of war. Then a picture will turn up in the news of a child, a toddler, old enough to process but not enough to understand, if there is such an age, why the men are killing everyone, why these bombs are coming for them and I fall to pieces. I question everything. I wonder why I’m not doing more.

I didn’t know the gut punch of these pictures, these images until I had my boys. Until I had the identity of a parent. I could Identify tragedy, yes, but I feel it so very viscerally now. I see the confusion and fear and courage and bravery on the faces of children enduring war and I shutter at what they know. No 4 or 5 year old should know what these children know. I fall to pieces.

I don’t appreciate how good I have it and I never will. But at times it becomes starkly real when I see the world I’m protected from. The world I continue to place safely out of view. One I care about, want to change but am determined to not see. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, relatively speaking. Relatively speaking I’m fine. But I’m also selfishly and honestly and determinedly invested in keeping my boys out of those pictures. Out of harms way. Safe in this place where even the greatest tragedies, thus far are little more than inconveniences and mild disappointments when seen in the grand scheme of things.

I wish I was better than I am. I wish you were. I wish anyone who could would walk into hell and walk these children and their families out. I’d be so incredibly happy to help them, from here.

The Boys on the Trampoline

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I can’t begin to express how much I love this picture. I love that the tips of the pine are a lighter green, early spring and new. I love the underbrush, rich, lush and untamed. I love the slide you so long ago conquered now used solely as a ladder to a bigger kids toy. I love the soccer ball alone under the slide. Mostly I love the two of you, sitting with your backs to the house, both looking out and talking without us there.

I know that you’re saying things of no immediate import. Maybe Teddy is asking a question of you, Charlie, something he’s curious about. Maybe Charlie is imagining your boundryless stories that you offer in real time, words barely outpacing your synapses as you get yourself excited by the places your brain can take you, Teddy. Maybe you’re just taking a breather. 

Part of what I feel when I see this is a certain loneliness. It’s mine. It’s the kind many men feel as far as I can tell. Many people I should say. It’s a little scary to me because I’m seeing the seeds of future states these days in ways where I can’t help but project onto you my experience. The truth is I look at this and the first feeling is hope. Hope that you both will know how much you are loved. Hope that you will love each other. Hope that you will endure whatever is out there that we can’t see, that you will have to figure out. Hope that you’ll have empathy for each other and for yourselves. 

It’s easy these days to lose sight of what’s important. We live in an area and I daresay a time when parents are a bit too involved in the process of raising kids. It’s not a criticism, it just seems that way. There is so much being emphasized on the important things that aren’t all that important. Homework in kindergarten seems a harbinger of a severely out of whack system. I want you to learn that love and kindness and empathy are the best protection you have. I want you to know how to be loved and how to love. I don’t really care if you aren’t hitting milestones or excelling in the way you should be. I want you to learn to look inside for validation. I want you alone to determine what makes you happy. I want you to have extraordinary lives, not necesarrily over or overtly successful one’s. I want you to know how much is enough and to be grateful that you have it.

As you sit there side by side I want you to know that that is home. When you are 18 and 16 and one is going to college and one is staying I want you to feel the pain of loss but know you won’t be alone. When hearts are broken in minor and major ways I want you to sit on a bench like you are in this trampoline and just be brothers. I want you to be better at family than I am and I think you already are. 

You are our little boys and we will be here to protect you for what feels like forever to those two little boys in the trampoline. But watching you there together I can’t help but yearn for a snow globe to descend from above, covering you and us and our home and our yard and stopping it all from moving forward. 

I remember fifteen years ago like it was yesterday and time is only slipping faster from this particular vantage point. in a blink you’ll both be in your 20’s and I’ll be nearing 60. I’ll give you all the wisdom I can mine within me and I’ll keep searching and scraping for more, but when it fails, and it will one way or another, always remember that you have each other. 

None of life is guaranteed except for yesterdays. Collect as many as you can and hold them as long as you can. For me I’ll add this sight of you two figuring out life together from the comfort of your backyard and I will feel very lucky that I get to know you. 

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Feeling the Love

Basketball player. That was the first dream.
More than anything I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I wanted it so badly that I played every day. All day. Not always easy for a kid from a top 5 snowiest city. Fine, I lived 20 mins from that city. Still, I spent a good many a days shoveling the playground courts across the street. braving wind and rain. Lighting up the court while running down car batteries.
I didn’t become a pro. That’s for sure. People who’ve met me as an adult might find it hard to imagine. I’m not really carrying a basketball players body these days.
I got pretty good. Real good. Good enough to make teams with guys who would make the pros. Good enough to run on the highest level court at any open gym. Not great, but pretty good.
By the time I got close enough to greats to know I wasn’t going to make it I got disappointed. Inertia kept me going. Inertia and the energy of youth and a deep love of the game. But I burned myself out. I was the kid that dribbled a mile or two to school and back, shot until my mom would make me come in as the sound of the ball on the concrete surely was keeping up the neighbors. I didn’t go pro, not even close, but I got a ton out of trying. I travelled, accomplished a good deal and even got in to college.
I was a failing student. Not a bad one, a failing one. You had to get 3 F’s to fail off the team in high school, so I’d carried two and came close with the rest. I’ve never liked school. But I’m very thankful I went to college.
I liked night classes. They tended to be populated by grown people, moms and dads going back to school or people looking to change careers, looking for a new direction. For me the appeal was that instead of 3 one hour classes a week there was 1 three hour class per week. I used to joke, ‘I can skip the whole week at once. Just think how much more efficient that is.’
In one of those classes I heard from the Executive Director of the local ARC who described what it was like to try to make a difference by helping others. It sounded great. I liked the idea of toiling for good. I liked the idea of waging a war on behalf of those that had been unfairly treated. I was in Human Services to that point because it was an easy course of study. That night would change that. I didn’t become a better student, but at least I was in the right place.
A senior girl who I knew in passing described an experience working at a summer camp. This camp was for adults, many of whom were ‘graduates’ of the Willowbrook state school. If you don’t know what that is (I didn’t) look it up.
Anyway, she described her experience, working morning to night in cabins and in pools and in music and arts and crafts classes, with adults with disabilities. Physical and developmental. Well, it sounded awesome.Truth be told, she struck me as the type of person that couldn’t do something so selfless. I was wrong, obviously. Both that she couldn’t and that it was selfless. Not at all selfless. It may be the place I’ve given the most of myself, but it’s also where Ive taken the most.
Over the eight years I worked there, starting a career in the field, I learned a thing or two about perseverance. Working with individuals who struggle day to day, but thrive through grit, determination and practiced indifference to the naysaying of others, I learned that it starts with trying. And trying starts with saying what you want.
As silly as it was to me to even think it, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write and get paid for it. I wanted to be a writer.
Turns out its not as easy as saying you want to. Unfortunately, you have to actually try. You have to try and fail a lot. Becoming a writer has made me learn that if a writer tells you, no, you don’t want to read this stuff I wrote, you should believe them. That’s how mine was for a long time. Now you STILL may not want to read my work, but at least it’s passable.
There’s truth to people who say all you need to do to be a writer is write. It’s true. But you can pass that hurdle and still not ‘feel’ like a writer. Until you feel like a writer you’ll never describe yourself as one.
I felt like a writer after I shared my work on a fateful winter morning on Medium and shared it with my facebook friends. I literally hit share and sprinted away from my computer and out for lunch. When I returned there were 20 or so amazing notes of encouragement. So many people who read it and liked it enough to tell me. It was unbelievable.
The next amazing feeling was being paid. I sold a piece to Mamalode. It was the sweetest and most impactful $20 I will ever earn. Someone not related to me, someone who didn’t even know me, bought my words. Breaking a big market, a Scary Mommy was amazing and a few bucks more. Being selected as a spotlight blogger for a dad blogger conference, well, I had no idea how big it was until I was there. I honestly didn’t know. It was great.
This past week it’s come full circle. I’ve written a book and I feel like a writer. Not in the way I imagined I would, I’m not retiring from the day job any time soon. I self published. It was not some bidding war. In fact, if you totaled the dollars I’ve earned and the dollars I’ve spent in pursuing my dream of being a writer you’d find a fairly decent sized number under the ‘break even’ line.
Something different started happening this past week. All these people I grew up with, in one place or another, at home or at camp or somewhere those places took me, they started buying my book and posting pictures of themselves with the book or of the book posed and lighted or in their hands. And they are saying the loveliest things. They are helping me, showing off my book and helping me sell it to people who don’t know me. Not sure anyone who doesn’t know me has bought one yet and I don’t care. I’d love if they did, but it’s not the point.
Book.SelfiesThese book shots and paperback selfies, they are amazingly touching. I can’t begin to describe to you how much they all mean to me. In a very real sense they are a literal dream come true. They are kindness and generosity and love I can feel. I’m moved beyond words and grateful to no end.
I never feel like thank you is enough. I start vomiting exclamation points. I start thanking so earnestly it might sound insincere, it might even read that way to me, but it couldn’t be more honest. I’m so very thankful.
If you are on my friend list it may seem silly that 10 or 12 people are doing this, it may start to seem silly, laughable or even annoying. I don’t care. I will love these pictures every day for the rest of my life. They are the product of so many kind and charitable souls celebrating a friend who is trying. To my eyes these pictures will ALWAYS be beautiful.
Thank you.

All This

All this. The writing. The fighting. The bailing and sorting. All of it is to fend off, to hold at bay that which I can’t honestly accept. I know it. I can tell you roughly when it will happen, but I can’t honestly accept that I will die.

My unwillingness is part of my process. I acknowledge it, consider it as often as daily. But still, I can’t accept it.

Perhaps that’s okay. Maybe that’s my way of feeling it. Perhaps the coexisting knowledge and the unavailing, unable acceptance are set in contrast to highlight for me the value of this beautiful, maddening, moving and exhausting existence. It’s possible that these countervailing internal realities provide propulsion and chip away at resistance. 

I’m more tired than I used to be and strangely more motivated to leave some essential mark on the landscape of my life. It’s possible this is the result of a desire to stretch my finite to infinite. I could be trying to extend my influence beyond my horizon. Seeking such validation nakedly is often viewed as shallow but I’m okay with the idea.

Problem is I don’t know that life will allow me understanding. It seems it will find new ways to slip my grip if I’m ever able to grasp it and wrangle it for so much as a moment. The meaning I give to the experience may be all I’m afforded. Might be all any of us are. If so I’ll know this, though wishing and wanting it ever to have been more, I’ll die knowing I’d never want it any other. I’ll know mine was a fortunate life. Were I to die before typing this line I can assure you it would be the passing of a lucky man who was given his share and then some of love and experience and challenge and comfort. 

I don’t know what all this is for and I don’t know what it is that pushes me. I know however that life is short and it would be if lived in triplicate. I can’t stop thinking and won’t stop looking for meaning I know will elude me. 

My Family at 50

My family turned 50 this past Saturday. My family is decidedly middle aged. My family threw a party and it was wonderful. There were husbands and wives and kids and parents and grandparents and all in all everything, it must be said, is wonderful.

Insofar as wonderful can ever be. Which, when looked at while trapped in a moment can be pretty great. On those moments when you can exist inside the amber, locked in the now with the wonderful thing, well, that’s just the meaning of life kind of blissfulness. That’s what this weekend was.

When I have the chance to see my kids with my parents, relishing their attention, showing off and sharing their pride with them, I get disoriented in a euphoric way. I get trapped looking at the past and the future in the same moment, at the same spot and I’m the fulcrum from which those states swing for a moment. It’s not a feeling that overwhelms or insists upon itself, it just takes over the air and settles in my nervous system. Everything coalesces and this distracted and distorted mass of confusion on which we work so hard to impose order on a day to day basis suddenly steps back and in it’s place is a harmonic convergence of a properly functioning human condition and purpose. Understanding settles in precisely my spot. I feel it viscerally and experience it in the moment, but I don’t recognize it until a beat after it’s stepped aside or moved to another host. Whatever it is, I would never pass up the opportunity.

We arrived late Friday night. The party wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. The kids had been in the car for most of the past seven hours and there wasn’t much that would keep them from bouncing off the walls, regardless of the hour. After some time to bounce and play, jump on beds and generally experience the child version of heaven that is a hotel room, we wound it down. Took a bit, even as we approached midnight. Now we aren’t good at the 7 or even 8 o’clock bedtime we hear so much about from other parents, but midnight is a bit crazy, even for us.

Shouldn’t surprise me though. I’m from a family of night owls and I’m in competition with my mom for the mightiest of the bunch. In fact my parents were just returning from Buffalo where they’d been picking up my older brother from the airport. I never see him and and since we’re all night owls, all jacked up on caffeine, after a few texts we decided it would be nice for me to drive five minutes down the road for us to all catch up for a nightcap of greetings. I had no idea I was going to get such a shot behind the scenes of the anniversary.

Shortly after arriving it struck midnight and my father wished my mother a happy anniversary. She noted the small gifts on the table and said she’d go get hers.

‘Tomorrow’s gonna be a big day, lot to do. I’d rather have this now.’ Said my dad.

The exchange was beautiful, the cards were warm and kind and loving. Filled with the evidence of the love that propelled them decades ago. The best part for me, for one who is only now getting a perspective on the relationship at the center of our family that sees them as real people, was my mother, reading a list of 50 things she loved about my dad. Things as simple as how he walks and as profound as how he cared for her, specifically, at the most needed times. It was profound for me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever fully grasp who these people were and how they did what they did. In fact for the first half of my life I’d have filtered all of it through the selfish, myopic lense that to some degree a child can’t avoid. But sitting there, listening to a moving and seemingly neverending list of personal sacrifice and of real, action filled evidence of love, I marveled. These people are giants. They are evidence that love is a bottomless pit, capable of sustaining itself in perpetuity if it is given generously, endlessly, always. I will treasure this small memory, hold close to my heart this profound lesson, forever.

The next day life returned to normal early. Charlie woke up with a fever of 103 and we were busy looking for local Urgent Care’s while also treating and hoping we could make it work. Thankfully the Advil took and he could join us at the winery for the lunch party filled with relatives he rarely sees and loves to be around.

Looking around at that party I was squarely in the meat of the sandwich with the rest of us who grew up together. My cousins. In there with us were our spouses and even some older kids who no longer really fit at the kids table. All of us a little greyer, a little more ‘mature’. Some of us, well me, a little doughier for the greys. It’s okay, it suits my bookish self identity. That said, there was a pro photographer and I will be sucking in in the future. I don’t mind it all hanging out, but no need not to put my best foot forward. Might as well hold that belly as tight as I can. These are the family photo’s after all that will be at my 50th.

Life is slippery. It’s one of the things I’m most struck by in my 40’s. I’m at peace with who I am and I’m aware that this won’t last forever. That said, when I see the residue of the love that propelled my family into existence I am able to see that the thread, the one that sews the generations of my family together.

The next morning, after checking out and before returning to our lives hundreds of miles away I was able to see Charlie read a book to my parents while Teddy sat with Nana and soaked up the same love I’d soaked up on that same lap forty years earlier. I saw Charlie beaming with pride as he impressed the papa who was the self same man who’s pride in me gave me the confidence I needed to be able to hold up my end for my kids.

For that moment the world was aligned and all was right in my world.

Notes from a Developing Dad

From the start this blog has been an art project for my kids. It was meant to be a place where I could document the process, from the start. I wanted a place where they could visit where they were before the memories were there own. A place to shade and fill in the memories they cling to years from now, when we are old and the world is there’s. To this day that remains the thrust of my writing.

Over time that initial idea has expanded. I want them to know who I was when they were little, but the further I went down that road the more I wanted them to know who I was when I was little like them. I want them to know who Nana and Papa were and why I think of them as heroes. I want them to have a place to learn the story of how I met their mom. I want them to read about the love we had for each other that lead to our family. I want them to read about how hard it all was as well as how fun and amazing it has all been. I wanted them to understand my flaws and see my imperfections. I want them to understand that I knew they were there and worried about how they’d be affected by them.

As you can see the sprig of that initial idea, to make an art project for them of our early family is at the root, but like any organic thing fed and loved, that idea grew and continues to grow. One way it grew was that it turned out that there was an audience for this kind of art. This project with a specific audience seemed to be relatable to many others feeling and experiencing the transformative nature of parenthood in a way that made others seek out some of my sotories. Some were funny and some tender. It was a huge day when outlets like Scary Mommy would accept these writings and publish them. I’m thrilled to have worked with amazing editors at sites like Mamalode, Good Men Project and Sammiches & Psych Meds, amongst others.

It’s been and remains a journey that I’ve enjoyed. It was only natural when I came to a point where I decided I wanted to collect the best of my writing, the most personal, the funniest, the most well written and turn it into a book. It was exciting to work on these pieces and in the process I started to see a forest amidst examining the trees. This process of growing into the dad I am now has been extraordinary and I’m so happy I have this place where not only they will be able to come to learn about us but Karen and I will be able to visit years from now when we want to visit this most vital and amazing time in our lives, when we are rich in memories and have time to collect ourselves and make sense of lives well spent I’m heartened to know this place will be here for us.

If you would like to purchase a kindle ebook or a paperback copy of your own with these stories you can find them here.