Oren Miller: He Has Shown Me How to Live

Give Foward

Oren Miller has made me a better person and a better father. He is my brother. I will always tell his story.

We want context at the end. We want order, or some sense of purpose. We want it to matter. We want to tell our stories, and we want them to make sense.

It helps with the pain. It helps with the sadness. It helps to remind us that the reason we cry is because once, we were oh, so glad.

We have been glad to know Oren Miller. We have been proud to call him friend, to call him brother.

We all have stories to tell.

We have stories to tell about Oren Miller.

Today, and for the past few months, these stories have been nourished with tears. We knew it was bad, then worse, and now we are at the end and we want context. We want to add our patch to the quilt of Oren’s life, or his digital life, I suppose.

We were brothers, Oren and I. As his brother, as we come to the end, I am compelled to tell my story. This is right. This is good. Will it make sense? I don’t know. But my pain demands it. My tears require it.

It matters.

My story of Oren is about hope. It’s about the human capacity to shape the world for good.

It matters, all right.

We found out the worst of bad news before Father’s Day – lung cancer had spread to his brain. Nothing could stop it. We set out to help Oren’s family in a small, but meaningful way.

We came together to raise money for a dream trip, a vacation for a lifetime. We figured $5,000 ought to do it. Disney, maybe. Someplace nice before treatment began. Someplace Oren and Beth and their beautiful son and daughter could go and laugh and love and just be, if only for a while.

Our brother Brent Almond posted the online fundraiser on the crowd-funding site, Giveforward.com, at the suggestion of another brother, Jim Higley. These are remarkable human beings. These are my brothers. Oren’s brothers.

Brent posted it late on a Thursday night, the Thursday before Father’s Day, with no fanfare or social media promotion. By mid-morning Friday, the goal had been eclipsed and the total pledged was approaching $10,000.

Eventually, it would surpass $35,000. That was the power of this brotherhood, the power of a group of creative fathers from around the world whose primary connection was a Facebook group started by an unassuming, quiet, Israeli-born Marylander named Oren Miller.

“So crazy, it just might work.”

That is the group’s tagline. It started with about 30 fathers in December 2012. I was among them.

As of this writing, there are 1,047 members from nearly every state in the U.S., nearly every continent on the planet.

There are stay-at-home dads, single dads, old dads, young dads, married dads, divorced dads, gay dads, granddads. There are dads who draw, dads who paint, dads who create video, dads who make crazy lunches, dads who take photos, dads who write and dads who sing.

There are conservative dads, liberal dads, black dads, Asian dads, white dads, and dads of just about every ethnic and religious persuasion you can imagine. We fight and cry, love and learn from one another.

Once a year, we get together at Dad 2.0 Summit. That’s where I met Oren in person for the first time, in Houston. I can’t believe that was only two years ago.

He and I had exchanged excited messages about how we were going to try to expand the Facebook group while we were in Houston. Could we reach 100 members? Who did we want to ask?

Anyone and everyone. That’s who. All were invited.

Are you a dad? Do you have a blog?

You’re in.

One thing, though: “Don’t be a dick.”

It’s Oren’s only real rule for the group. Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.

Now, two years after he wondered if we could reach triple digits in the group, a scholarship fund bearing his name enables some of his brothers to go to Dad 2.0 every year. Six bloggers were awarded the scholarship this time around. It is a powerful, permanent testament to what he means to our community.

And so, the group of brothers who came together out of that initial experiment rose up when Oren needed us and raised tens of thousands of dollars for his family. I wish it could be more. It should be more. Please help make it more by donating here: Give Back to Oren.

One day this past summer, Whit Honea and I were talking on the phone about Oren and the group and how sad it was that Oren had cancer but what an incredible thing it was to see the group come together for that cause with such effect.

If we could do that for one of our own, looking inward, we thought, why couldn’t that energy and spirit be turned outward? Why couldn’t we band together, brothers from around the world, and try to make good things happen everywhere?

And so, thanks to Oren Miller and his loving brothers and all of those who contributed to the fundraiser, Dads 4 Change was born.

All we want to do at Dads 4 Change is make the world a better place, to help our kids develop an appreciation for volunteerism and giving, to model good citizenship for them and hope they carry that message into the future. That’s all.

That’s Oren’s legacy for me. It also is a legacy of community, which is peace. In peace, our best selves emerge. Just don’t be a dick.

Context? Purpose? Order. There is none. What is happening is too sad and pointless, as meaningful as a flower, as full of purpose as a single raindrop, as random as a stalk of wheat in the breeze.

But he has shown me how to live. He has shown us all the meaning of grace and dignity. Outwardly, his humor has remained intact and as sharp as ever. He is Oren. Then, as now, my brother.

There is no context for this. There sure as hell is no purpose. It does matter, though. Oren Miller made me a better person, a better father. That matters. And I will always tell that story. Always.

Oren Miller

Oren Miller (far right) with some of our brothers at Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, January 2014. Also pictured (L to R): Aaron Gouveia, John Willey, Fred Goodall, Vincent Daly.

I’ll leave you with this: a dancing chihuahua. I saw it first on Oren’s blog, a Blogger and a Father, and it was one of his favorites. I smile every time I see it. So does Oren. I hope you will, too.

happy dance

Creative Minds Podcast Appearance with Chris Read of Canadian Dad

From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris' Creative Minds podcast.

At Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans this past February. From left: me, Chris Read of Canadian Dad; Kevin McKeever of Always Home and Uncool; Whit Honea of the Internet. I spent an hour Tuesday rambling about baseball, storytelling and other things on Chris’ Creative Minds podcast.

One of the best things about publishing this online … whatever it is … journal, I guess … is the chance to develop friendships with people all over the world. One of my favorites is Chris Read of Canadian Dad.

Chris was kind enough to feature DadScribe on his Dad Blogs Exposed series about a year ago. And Tuesday, he was kind enough (again) to invite me to join him for an hour-long conversation on the Creative Minds podcast he produces with fellow Canadian Mike Reynolds of Puzzling Posts. Mike was out Tuesday attending to under-the-weather family members (get well soon, Mike’s family!), so it was just me and Chris.

Chris indulged my rambling about baseball writing and storytelling and parenting and other topics, and I enjoyed every minute. We name-dropped a few of our favorite fellow online writers and I made a few lame attempts at jokes about how Canadians occasionally add a “u” after an “o” in inappropriate places.

It was a good time, and I hope you get the chance to listen. Here is the link to the podcast, which is  also available through subscription on iTunes.

Thank you again, Chris and Mike, for the invitation. I’d love to do it again sometime.

 

A Look Back at Dad 2.0 Summit in NOLA

CoverSaturday night on Bourbon Street – neon green and red and blue and colors of indeterminate hue, a gathering Louisiana mist, free (FREE!) entrance into the Lipstick Club. Old Absinthe House for a round, then off again down a tunnel of light and music and grime and the smell of cigarette smoke.

So good. Regretfully, I could not hang.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

This band of Dad 2.0 Summit attendees, these brothers and sisters of the digital world, wandered inexorably through one more night together, inevitably toward the Cat’s Meow karaoke bar.

When that realization dawned, when I knew that the clouded group-think had coalesced around the Cat’s Meow as its destination, I knew I didn’t have the energy. As much as I wanted one more chance to build memories with these beautiful friends, my hotel bed beckoned. I began to fall back. One friend after another drifted by, new faces and familiar, buddies and confidants, fellow writers and parents – I slowed my pace and let them slip past me through the Bourbon Street crowd.

Until at last I was at the end of our line, swallowed on all sides by unfamiliar faces and revelers whose nights were just getting started. Then I stopped, watched the heads of friends old and new bob through the gathering French Quarter fog until the last of them was out of sight. I walked back to the hotel along quiet, glistening Royal Street. A lone street performer sang an unfamiliar blues piece in a darkened doorway.

Another Dad 2.0 Summit was done. All that remained was to write the epitaph.

So … what now?

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

That was the question we were asked on Friday morning as the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit got underway at the J.W. Marriott New Orleans. The question, significantly, was asked of us by a brand representative. Actually, by THE brand representative as far as the dad blogger community ought to be concerned – Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

The two-time title sponsor of Dad 2.0 Summit champions the concept of accurate depictions of fathers and fatherhood in TV ads. It’s a start, and Dove is a welcome and influential ally, but as Dad 2.0 co-founder Doug French says often about the larger picture: “We still have a lot of work to do.”

But … what now?

An informal study of 2013 commercials depicting fathers conducted by dad blogger Zach Rosenberg of 8BitDad revealed that, for the most part, things are moving in the right direction. Derogatory depictions of bumbling dads are not nearly as prevalent as they were. That’s progress.

Still … what now?

Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, touched hearts and likely moved product with the latest incarnation of Thank You, Mom ads associated with the upcoming winter Olympics. It seemed … odd … that they ignored the roles of the respective fathers of the athletes depicted, but an argument can be made that emphasizing the contributions of mothers does not necessarily de-emphasize those of the fathers. Of course, an argument also can be made that omitting dads from that advertising conversation was short-sighted on the part of P&G, but listen – at least they tried with the Dad’s Way and Modern Dad campaigns this past summer (disclosure: I was a blogger ambassador for both of those campaigns, which included a Father’s Day excursion at Brooker Creek Preserve).

Pirate's Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Pirate’s Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Perhaps what’s next, then, is for giant brands like P&G to follow the example of consistency demonstrated by Dove Men+Care and truly embrace what’s happening with this community of fathers who also happen to be talented, innovative content creators – and with engaged, enlightened fathers throughout the country. XY Media Group, parent company of Dad 2.0 Summit, is leading the way in that conversation and in the search for the answer to Candelino’s question. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. What’s most exciting to me about it is that I have the opportunity to help shape that answer, as do all of the bloggers and brand representatives who made New Orleans home for the past four days.

Speaking of which, listed below are a few personal highlights of the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit. I can’t possibly list them all here, because the weekend gave forth far too many memorable experiences and insights. The highlights:

  • I was honored to be asked to conduct a round table workshop on journalism and storytelling. The participants lifted me mentally and – in one notable case – emotionally throughout the hour-plus session. Jim Higley made me mist up when he reminded me about an image I used in a post about our family’s trip to Tropicana Field to see the Rays and Red Sox in October. So, yes … during a weekend of emotional gut-punches, I even cried during my own workshop!  If you were there – or if you were not – and would like to chat about the topic and techniques of purposeful observation as a means to breathe life into your writing, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you to all of those who attended, and a huge thank you to those of you who have since given me a kind word about the workshop itself and about how it already has affected your approach to storytelling.
  • Blogger Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna and the New York City Dads Group earned a standing ovation for the greatest show of courage I’ve witnessed in two years of attending Dad 2.0. His willingness to confront his own depression-anxiety disorder in that very, very public setting – and his brilliant turns of phrase and use of imagery in the post he read “Do I Really Like What I Like?” – gave me strength. It was likely the moment most people who were there will remember years from now when we talk about Dad 2.014.
  • Hanging with my fellow DadCentric bloggers, Kevin McKeever, Michael Moebes and Whit Honea, as well as fellow 2013 Spotlight Bloggers McKeever, Honea and Chris Read was another highlight. As I say, I could not hang Saturday night, but part of the reason for that was I made the rookie (or sophomore) mistake of hitting the Quarter a bit too hard on the first night and never quite regained full equilibrium. I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, though, as well as all of the friends I met in Houston in 2013 – Jim Higley, Mike Adamick, Jay Sokol, Jeff Bogle, Creed Anthony, Charlie Capen, Andy Herald, Jim Lin, Amy Windsor, Sam Black, John Pacini, Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider, Chris Lewis, Oren Miller, Adrian Kulp, Jason Greene, Kenny Bodanis, the guys from the National at Home Dads Network, the guys from Life of Dad, the guys from the National Fatherhood Initiative, and on and on. Then there were the first-timers, people I had met online only, who now I can include in my personal, ever-growing web of true, “in-real-life” friends who share an interest in parenthood and the creative impulse – Jess Sanfilippo, Lizz Porter, John Kinnear, John Willey, Brent Almond, Eric of Dad on the Run, Justin Aclin, Buzz Bishop, Vincent Daly, Scott Flax and so many, many more.
  • Listening to Jim Higley and Parenthood creator and show runner Jason Katims talk about parenting, the creative process and other important topics on Friday was a privilege. I was fortunate enough to run into Jason during that night’s cocktail party and he was kind enough to answer two questions: Is the message about authentic portrayals of fathers in media resonating in his industry (short answer: slowly, but surely) and what were his favorite TV shows as a kid (he mentioned All in the Family and Taxi as influencers, along with several other half-hour sitcoms that I didn’t quite catch).
  • I also appreciated hearing Josh Levs share his parenting journey and announce the publication of his new book in front of the Dad 2.0 audience. And it was interesting to see closing keynoter Peter Shankman displaying his pair of Google Glass (Google glasses?) all day Saturday at the J.W. Marriott. The future is here.
  • The folks from Dove Men+Care were amazing, as usual, and I would be remiss if I failed to thank them for the Movie Night on the Couch prize pack that I won and the framed photos from the Real Dad Moments campaign. We appreciate all the other brand representatives who did so much to make the experience great: Cottonelle (for whom I blogged — thanks to XY Media — during the Let’s Talk Bums campaign in the fall); National Geographic Animal Jam (hence, the skunk in the photo above); Jamba Juice; Kraft Cheese; Lee Jeans; LEGO Friends; Microsoft Surface; the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Little Remedies; and the savior, Starbucks Via.
  • I’ll never forget Whit Honea’s remarkable reading of Two Busy’s Spotlight post, By Such Swift Currents. It was a fitting swan song for DadCentric, as well as a wonderful way to honor the work of one of the finest writers in our community.
Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

I’ll wrap it up with a special thank you to two of my all-time favorites in this community, my New Orleans roommates David Vienna of The Daddy Complex and Aaron Gouveia of the Daddy Files. The weekend flew by far too quickly, my friends. I appreciate everything you did to make it memorable for me.

So, what now? For the community, for society, it seems clear XY Media Group and other prominent dad groups will continue to consolidate and build on the efforts that seem to have made headway over the past three or four years.

But what about for me, personally? What now for this journal? That’s simple – I’ll just keep telling stories as well as I can, and try to make this online journal/whatever it has become something worth the time of its readers. I will also answer the call, when it comes, to help tell stories that depict fathers and fatherhood in an authentic light. It’s the least I can do for a community that has given so much to me in such a short amount of time.

Seconds to Check, a Lifetime of Moments to Savor

I’m trying to remember how I thought about things when I was seven. I carry a few foggy memories from that age of an awakening awareness of gonads, girls and God. I was on the verge of knowing a few things, but I was still working out the details.

For instance: I knew older boys were terrified of being hit in the ‘nads. That’s what we called them: ‘nads. Or, I suppose I should say that’s what the older boys called them, and we first graders followed suit.

Because that’s what first graders do. They emulate. They’re mostly undifferentiated human templates, absorbing and assimilating the qualities of those around them. What they hear, see, smell, touch, do and dream at that age combines with nature to give them form and substance for life.

At seven, I don’t recall if I had the slightest idea that ‘nads were properly called testicles (and even more properly called testes, but we’re not really sticklers for propriety). I do remember that I didn’t know what purpose testicles served. I only knew they were my constant companions, and that it hurt like the dickens when I they got hit or kicked or smashed by the pointy tip of my bicycle seat, and older boys wore a cup during baseball practice and games, and I wanted to get a cup, too, because it would mean I was a big boy.

So, now, I’m the father of a seven-year-old first grader. In preparation for this piece about testicular cancer awareness, I thought it would be good to start with a lesson for my older son. I thought I’d begin with the generalities then move on to the specifics.

During the drive from Tampa to Walt Disney World Saturday, I asked the back seat the general question, “Hey. You guys know what testicles are?”

Silence. Then …

“They’re, like, well … um, no, not really.”

Turns out my older son knows approximately what I knew almost 40 years ago at that age. Only, instead of ‘nads, he and his buddies call them balls.

(A quick aside here. I envy the years of rich discovery ahead for my sons. The lessons they’ll learn. The colorful vocabulary they’ll acquire. Oh, to relive each and every moment when life served up a new testicular euphemism. It’s all ahead for them: nuts, eggs, huevos, danglers, scrotes, cojones, rocks, stones, the family jewels. And oh, so many more. Use them well, boys. Use them well.)

After our brief chat Saturday, my older son knows now that the proper name is testicles, but I’m still not sure he’s ready to process the concept of testicular cancer. I’ll save the specifics for later.

Not much later, though. One day soon, I’ll explain to my sons that testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among boys and young men aged 15-35. I’ll explain that catching it early is vital, because 99 percent of those diagnosed with testicular cancer respond well to treatment and can lead normal, active lives. My wife and I will talk to their pediatrician about teaching self-examination, and then we’ll reinforce the importance of vigilance. We won’t be shy, because it’s too important for awkwardness.

All of those details are a bit much for a seven-year-old, I think. But what we can do now is instill the zest for life that will convince him that it’s well worth the few seconds it takes to check for signs of testicular cancer.

So we savor the moments. Saturday, with my wife laid out by a nasty head cold, I piled the boys into the car for the hour-long drive over to Epcot. The annual Flower and Garden Festival has begun, and that means topiary! You might be surprised at how fascinated young boys can be with wired shrubbery shaped like Mater and Lightning McQueen, or like a family of pandas.

We spent a couple of hours Saturday wandering the pavilions, chasing the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, enjoying the mild weather, relishing each other’s company. It’s the Year of Disney for our family, and this was the first time it was just me and the boys. They’ll remember these days of Disney, I’m sure. I know I will. Perhaps one day they’ll look forward to days like these with their own kids.

With that hopeful thought in mind, we’ll remind them occasionally when they’re older to self-check for signs of testicular cancer. And then, if necessary, we’ll remind them of why. Hopefully, they’ll already know. Hopefully, they won’t need to be reminded that we check because those few seconds could buy them and everyone who loves them years, decades, a lifetime of moments to savor.

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 SingleJingles-Logo-spot

It’s Man UP Monday!

I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM!

Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable if detected early?

Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?

What can you do?

Stop by the Single Jingles website for more information on Testicular Cancer.

Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions — it just might save a young man in your life!

And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!

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Thank you to Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad for inviting me to participate in this great series. Here is the first installment, written by Whit Honea and published last Monday at his personal blog, Honea Express. Here’s another entry by Paul Easter, and another by Andy Hinds (aka Beta Dad).

Epcot

Topiary panda family at the China pavilion, Epcot.