Watch that, before you read this…
I sat at the bar counter in our kitchen, sobbing.
My wife was at a work event, it was just me and the boys for dinner and, as is the case with a 5 and a 7 year old, it was taking them nearly an hour to eat a cup and a half of jambalaya. That was probably my fault. I know they don’t like their food touching, but I still insisted they spoon up their shredded chicken, tomato, sausage, and pasta. But it was taking forever, and there I was, sobbing, tears streaming down my cheek.
It wasn’t about the dinner, their glacial pace of eating would bring me to a rage, not tears, it was because of news I had just read from a friend.
We use that word loosely, “friend.” It can mean someone you knew decades ago in high school, it can mean someone you work with, it can mean someone whose hand you’d only shaken once and had shared but a dozen words with. That last example seems like a weak example of a friend, but when the real life seconds are multiplied by online days, weeks, and months, friendship can be formed.
Oren Miller was my friend. A few years ago, he saw a problem and, after waiting fruitlessly for it to be fixed, fixed it himself. Oren saw dad bloggers in pockets of the internet with no home base gather for support, ideas, networking, and camaraderie. So he created one.
At first, back in 2012, it was just a few dozen men. Now, in 2015, it is more than 1000 men of all political, racial, geographical, marital, sexual stripes. I’m part of that group and despite having only met Oren once trading but a sentence or two as I shook his hand thanking him for creating our Dad Blogging community, Oren was my friend.
Barely 9 months ago, after seeking treatment for back pain he thought was just the baggage of being a father in his 40s, Oren was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good. He wouldn’t have years to watch his kids grow, he’d be lucky to have months.
That diagnosis was in May, and while I had heard his health had recently taken a downward turn, I wasn’t aware of how bad it was until, frustrated at my kids complaining through another dinner and taking forever to eat, I broke the ‘no phones at the table’ rule and flipped through my feeds. I stopped on one from Oren, and it broke my heart.
“Long story short, I’ve ran out of options. That’s it, my cancer treatment days are over. It could be weeks, and it could be days, but in the end, I’ll be dead soon.
This is insane, I know. I can’t imagine the idea of months to live, and I can definitely can’t imagine the idea of days.
Ah, well, that’s all I know right now. They’ll be a fuller picture tomorrow, with some more blood work done. But in the end, I’m done.”
Oren was about the same age as me, has two kids about the same age as mine. In him, I saw myself and wondered if I would have the same bravery to be so noble while staring down a personal finish line. So I sobbed. And the boys stopped not eating and noticed. And this is what I love about my boys. They immediately came to my side to console me.
I explained to them what was going on, that my friend would likely die by Easter. And my 7 yr old, Zacharie, instantly got it. “I wish he would die on my birthday,” he said (Zacharie will turn 8 at the end of May). “Because then he would have more time. I wish he would have 5 more years, because then you would have more time with him.” And he side hugged me while Charlie, not really understanding what was going on, started to cry because daddy was crying.
That was Monday. On Saturday, after a rousing night of board games with my kids, I picked up my phone and flicked through my feed. “Oh my god, Oren’s gone,” read a note from Jeff Bogle. And there it was. Over.
As my wife and kids packed up the board games, and started to head up the stairs for baths I stuttered, stunned. “He died. Oren’s dead.”
Again, Zacharie ran to me to give me a hug. “I’m so sorry, Daddy,” he empathized. And then I lost it, and he gripped me tighter. “Don’t cry, daddy. He’s alive all over inside you. All over,” he reassured me before starting to cry himself. “I just really wanted to meet him.”
We all want to leave the world a better place than we found it. Each generation wants to break down a wall or two to blaze an easier path for those who follow.
We don’t just do it for our kids, we do it for each other.
The group of men that Oren cobbled together have one thing in common; we want to be better a dad. We gather in the Facebook Group that he founded and, once a year, we make a pilgrimage to the Dad 2.0 Summit where we hug, shake hands, do yoga, sing karaoke, drink, laugh, cry, and hug again.
At this year’s Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Dr. Michael Kimmel gave the opening keynote. The author of nearly two dozen books, Kimmel is a leading researcher and writer on men and masculinity. He is Distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.
He gave us a talk asking the question “Are Dads Men?” He traced old perceptions of masculinity. He spoke of privilege and of what it used to mean to be a man.
The old school, Marlboro Man-era rules of masculinity demanded no sissy stuff, bringing home the paycheque, being sturdy in crisis, and giving them hell when times got tough.
But that is no longer real life. “Its a false ideology that will not adequately prepare you to be the fathers and partners you want to be,” Kimmel argued.
“This is not Mars or Venus. This is planet Earth, where women and men are both parents.”
Kimmel finished by declaring the next generation of fathers, (millennials), already take for granted they will be involved dads. They assume it. They expect it.
I see it in my kids already. The way they support each other by when one is scared of the dark by holding hands to walk upstairs. The way they instantly rushed to my side and knew exactly the right thing to say when I was hit with terrible news. Zacharie is 7 and he gets it. He will be an incredible friend and father when he grows up. Immeasurably better than I could ever dream.
“Being an involved father is synonymous with being a real man,” Kimmel explained.
Part of the reason this is happening is because Oren pulled these men together. Because Dad 2.0 Summit pulls these men together. This change in attitude is happening because this generation of involved fathers, of modern men redefining masculinity, have found support in each other’s online arms and are standing on each other’s shoulders to reach higher and make deeper changes.
With apologies to Jack Nicholson, Oren, you make we want to be a better dad. We are all better for being able to have called you friend.
I’m not the only one writing about Oren today and this week. Many of my friends are too. Please click through and read them all and keep the legacy of this great man moving forward and be inspired yourself to be a better dad.
A Moment With Oren – Honea Express
The Fall of Life – The Daddy Files
Oren Miller: He Has Shown Me How To Live – DadScribe
It’s Not About Me – Dad N Charge
My Friend Oren – Captain Creed
I Missed The Most Important 9 Minutes of Dad 2.0 – Amateur Idiot, Professional Dad
The Weight Of The World – Being Aoife’s Dad
Thank You, Oren Miller – Australian Daddy Bloggers
Oren’s photo via John Willey