Swimming along

Another graduate paper submitted. And I’m exhausted. Every week is another battle lately.

To start our class last weekend, and to commemorate the halfway point of our graduate program, one of our professors asked us to share something from a movie that ties to the feelings we’re having about the program. One of the girls in our class recalled the “Finding Nemo” line, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, which was a running theme of ensuing answers to the question.

Interestingly, I had a dream the other night where I returned to K-Town and visited some of my friends at the newspaper. After entering the newsroom, I immediately found my good friend Laura and just fell into her arms, sobbing. The result of being utterly overwhelmed and missing those older days when life didn’t seem so challenging and cruel.

My work is demanding. But I recognize it was my choice – Kates’ and my choice – to make a major change almost three years ago now. We saw the huge benefits of this opportunity, and, for the most part, we’re reaping them. … My only regret is the guilt I can’t shake of moving away from our family – or to put it more bluntly, taking my family away from our parents, the girls’ grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Literally, not a day goes by that I don’t feel at fault for some of the recent hardships of my extended family. That I feel at fault for decisions made or words spoken with the best intentions only to have them misinterpreted or taken out of context. That I wish I could be closer to family to offer comfort and assistance. That I wish we could be a part of the family gatherings and celebrations.

Amid the chaos and frustration, I hope all of them know they weigh on my mind every day and that they can be proud of the good work I’m doing …

I recently received an invitation to join an academic honor society that is exclusive to the top 10 percent of college juniors, seniors and graduate students. … It came as such a surprise that at first I wondered if it was legit. I’ve never been invited – nor had I ever imagined being invited – to join an academic honor society in my life. Turns out it was definitely legit, and I’ll be inducted as an official member in November.

Amid the shock and aftermath of our student’s death two weeks ago, I wrote the president’s weekly message to the university, as I’ve done every week in my nearly three years on the job. I finished the first draft late last Wednesday evening and sent it to him. He told me later that it made his eyes well. And in the 24 hours that followed, we traded and debated a number of revisions, and scrutinized nearly every word, before the message was published Friday morning. The process was agonizing for me, but there’s few pieces I’ve written since joining the university of which I’ve been more proud. To hear the president publicly acknowledge my work in our debriefing session last Friday was powerful.

Then there was the glowing email he sent to the university’s board this week, in which he thanked those of us on the team that worked through last week’s crisis, acknowledging our “dedication, professionalism, coolness, compassion and genuine strong leadership,” and complimenting us as consummate professionals.

On Tuesday, the president was scheduled to give testimony to the state committee on higher education at another state college. I got the task of accompanying the president and one of our state representatives to the meeting – and I was designated to drive the car. It was another one of those surreal moments that I never could have imagined when I was attending the university as a student 15 years ago: Driving the president and our state representative halfway across the state for a luncheon and testimony to a state legislative committee.

The trip kept me out of the office for the work day, but the day was hardly finished at the strike of five. That evening, the great Herman Boone, the legendary football coach made famous by “Remember the Titans” – one of my all-time favorite films – was scheduled to give a lecture on the campus. Whenever we have a guest lecturer visit the campus, it’s part of my duty to greet him or her prior to the lecture and mediate our pre-lecture news conference. But what made this lecture experience especially neat was that I had met Coach Boone before. He also visited our campus about 10 years ago – with his assistant coach, Bill Yoast – and I was a student journalist covering that lecture. It was a privilege and an honor Tuesday night to walk into the staging room, shake his hand again and recall that time a decade ago. I then stayed with him for another hour as he met with the media and special guests, recounting his coaching days and experiences with civil rights.

And yet, for all of the compliments and pinch-me experiences, there was none more heart-warming than the one that occurred last Wednesday night. I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink when Kates and the girls returned home from their Wednesday evening church activities, and Phoebe came bounding through the door to greet me. After a few moments, Kates prodded Phoebe to tell me something she said during the car ride home. Phoebe looked at me and said, “Daddy, I want to marry you when I get older!”

There’s a line in Peter Cetera’s sweet song, “Daddy’s Girl” – one of those meaningful songs on Phoebe’s playlist – that goes “Then she puts her head upon your shoulder / Says she’ll marry you when she gets older.” … Truly, it’s a moment I’ve anticipated, and now it’s happened. My heart melted. And I think my eyes welled. It was reassurance that I’m doing OK at this fatherhood thing.

So I’ll keep swimming some more.

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