Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dads and Video Games? - Part 1

I have long written about the evils and dangers of video games, particularly with regard to inappropriate content and the possibility of becoming addicted to them. Far too often, I have seen adolescents and teens begin to play video games for fun and, before long, their sole focus in life seems to be video games. They can’t get enough; the content turns more sinister; and they disengage from regular life.

With all of that in mind, can dads become addicted to video games? OF COURSE NOT!! …. Or can they?? Well, after reading the details of my family’s Thanksgiving Weekend, you can decide!

After spending the entire day together watching the Detroit Lions and talking about life, we finally settled down for dinner at around 8:00 p.m. After the dinner, as I was contemplating going to bed for the night, my youngest child (15) tried to get the whole family involved in a simple video game, called “Mario Cart”.

My two older children (18 and 21) quickly took the bait and they began to get their controllers ready for the big match. As I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about actually playing video games, let alone trying to beat experienced whippersnappers, I tried my best to beg off. My kids would have nothing to do with it. Before I knew it, in an attempt to keep the Thanksgiving camaraderie going, I was involved in a “Mario Cart” game with my 3 offspring, each of whom was far superior in skill to me!

Needless to say, after several agonizing minutes of losing round after round, the game mercifully ended and I officially finished in LAST PLACE!

After that humiliating experience, I asked my kids if they had some type of sports video game. To keep the evening going, they all too eagerly indicated that they had "Sports Wii" and they would be happy to challenge me in those games, as well.

Well, back in the day, I was a halfway decent bowler (I averaged in the 180’s in high school), so I challenged them to a game of Wii blowing. Mustering all of the skill that I once possessed, as well as recalling my competitive nature to the forefront, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Wii Bowling game actually utilizes skills that are similar to real bowling! Trying to not foam at the mouth (after all, that would be a sign of video game addiction!), I used my old bowling style to BLOW AWAY my first competitor. I then proceeded to systematically and soundly defeat the other two challengers! YES, I was on a roll!

For the next 2-3 hours, I blew away all competition in regular bowling, power bowling, and spares bowling. There was no stopping me now!! Near the midnight hour, long after I should have been sleeping, I mercifully allowed my kids to play a different game without me and I quietly ventured to bed, sore right arm, both legs, and back barely intact.........

(Come back next Saturday for the exciting conclusion!)

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Son Has Surpassed Me!

Way back in the dark ages when I was a young whippersnapper, I spent an inordinate amount of time playing, practicing, and trying to perfect my artistry on percussion instruments, particularly the drum set. Of course, since this was in the days before videos, the Internet, and file sharing, I had to make due with recordings on vinyl!

Yes, every time that I got a few bucks in my pocket I would travel to the local store that had discounted jazz records and I would stock up. To this day, recordings of Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Butch Miles, Tony Williams, along with several more, align my shelves with records that have been substantially worn!

Through all of my diligence, attention to detail, and hours of practice, others believed that I had become reasonably decent on the drums. Attempting to imitate my drumming hero, Buddy Rich, while also fitting in with the group, I did my best to be the best drummer that I could be.

I always held first chair in the percussion section from middle school through high school; I was able to attain the same position in college for our trip to China; and I spent several years playing drums with some of the better musicians in the Detroit area. In fact, my drumming provided the necessary funds for all of my college expenses, including tuition.

Now, fast-forwarding several years, my youngest son showed an interest in drums at a very early age. Even before he reached a year old, he would sing tunes as they were written and then he would embellish the melody with jazzy nuances. He would also produce various percussion sounds with syncopated rhythms.

Throughout his childhood, my drum set was always set up and he would often hit the tubs to work out various rhythms with all four appendages. I often provided informal instruction to him to provide a more regimented routine and to ensure that only good habits developed.

At some point, it was time to join the school band and, of course, he chose to play percussion. He quickly excelled and rose to the top of the 5th grade! He even performed a solo in front of 500 people after being in band for only 2 months!

With his growing interest in percussion, I began to give him formal lessons. While the lessons propelled him even further, it was quite obvious to me that another teacher could provide a better level of instruction for him.

We managed to contact a gentleman who is considered to be one of the best percussionists in the entire region (this particular teacher was getting ready to graduate from college as I was entering the same college hundreds of years ago!). His lessons with this gentleman propelled him even further into the world of excellence with his drumming, to the point that was able to accomplish things on the drums at age 15 that I had not yet mastered at my advanced age!

Recently, he performed a drum set solo at the talent show at his high school. As I watched the tape of his performance, I could not believe my eyes and ears. Not only had my son surpassed my professional level of drumming, he had surpassed it by so much, that his favorite dad will never be able to catch up!

His rhythms are perfectly executed, his musical ideas (dynamics, phrasing, etc.) are top-notch, his speed is amazing, and even his level of hot-doggedness is as good as any (not that I was ever a hot dog, of course!).

So, at the ripe old age of 15 years old, how did my own son greatly surpass me in the world of drumming, a world that I used to own in our family? Practice, diligence, training, attention to detail, a natural knack for the tubs, constant hearing of songs and rhythms in the home since birth, and, well, who knows what else?

What I do know is this: My son has attained a level of professionalism that is not frequently seen at age 15. Am I bragging? Well, not on purpose. Am I proud of his accomplishments? ABSOLUTELY!!

As a final humbling note, my son actually credits ME with his drumming prowess. No son, I helped to get you there, but you are the one who made it happen. Keep up the great work in everything that you do!

As a final note #2, guess which drum set my son uses for his live performances? Yes, the Buddy Rich drum set that my parents gave to me when I was ...... 15 years old!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Performing With My Sons

Back on April 18, 2009, I wrote about the opportunity that I had to sing in church with my favorite daughter (actually, she is my only daughter, but she is still my favorite!). Even though I have been involved in professionally performing music for over 30 years, I had never had the chance to perform with my own children.

So, yes, the little girl who used to hug her daddy good-bye as he left the house on a Friday or Saturday night to play music, eventually grew into adulthood and, yes, finally shared a song with me in public.

Well, 2009 has been quite the year, as I recently had the chance to perform with both of my sons at the same time, making 2009 the year during which I first got to perform with all of my kids!

During a summer outdoor concert for which I was hired to perform, the organizers wanted me to showcase some “youth” for about five minutes during my performance. I boldly asked if I could have my own sons perform and, much to my delight, the question was met with a resounding “YES!”

So, after a few weeks of rehearsing a tune that I wrote for the occasion, we were ready to showcase our stuff to the world (well, at least 250 people). With me on vibes, my oldest son on guitar, and my youngest son on the drum set, coupled with pre-recorded piano and bass parts, we were ready to go.

About 45 minutes into my performance, I announced that the organizers had wanted me to showcase some youth. So, as we had a previously unused drum set on the stage, I asked if there was a youth boy/girl who would like to come up and play the drums. I looked around the audience and said, “Why, yes, we have a young man in the back who has volunteered.” The audience appropriately cheered. I then announced that he was coming up with his own drum sticks. The audience began to sense a scam! I then complimented him on his good looks and suggested that he must look just like his dad! The audience erupted in laughter and cheering as they realized that it must have been my own son who was making his way to the stage!

I then asked if any youth boy/girl wanted to play the previously unused guitar that was on the stage. A young man raised his hand and I said, “Why, yes, young man, please come up and join us.” The audience cheered. I then mentioned that he was also good looking and that he must look like his dad, too! The audience again cheered when they realized that I was just about to perform with two of my own children!

(Keeping it from a clean sweep with all of my kids was the fact that my daughter was performing music at a professional level in another state!).

At any rate, we started the nearly 8-minute tune (they agreed to “lower” their standards and play some Smooth Jazz with me), which featured the melody, a vibes solo and extended guitar and drum solos! Needless to say, my boys made me proud with their professional and prepared approach, their conquering of nerves, and their terrific performances.

In fact, when we finished, I told the audience that I had always told my sons that they would always have a place to live until they surpassed me in music proficiency. I then said that, based upon the performance that they had just given, they would be exiting the home right after we got home! The audience cheered wildly for both boys – deservedly so! They were outstanding!

Yes, their performances were terrific! But, even if they had performed poorly, it was a treat to FINALLY play on stage in public with my two favorite sons!

They each have terrific music careers ahead of them. And, even when I become old and frail (which will be about 150 years from now!), I will still remember the day that we shared a stage early in their careers! YES!!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rite of Passage

For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been the primary driver for my son’s guitar lessons. Yes, starting back when was 9-years-old, I faithfully drove him to his lessons every single week, ensuring that I would not stay late at work on Friday evenings, so that I could beat the traffic home in the one hour drive, just in time to race up to my son’s bedroom, listen to the lesson and perhaps make a few suggestions, and then fly to the car to make the 25-minute drive to the lesson.

After a few years, we added Art lessons on Saturday mornings, so we changed his guitar lessons to Saturday afternoons. Then, irrespective of the “tired” factor from the busy week, we would rise around 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, drive one hour to the 3-hour Art lesson (he studied Art while I caught up on work-related projects), stop at a new restaurant every Saturday, run a few errands, and then drive one-hour to his guitar lesson. We would finally get home between 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. to start the weekend around the house (As you might have guessed, our yard did not look all that terrific for a few years!!).

For about 9 years, nearly 50 days per year, for a total of about 450 individual trips of:
1) Beating traffic
2) Nearly breaking the sound barrier
3) Listening to my son’s last-minute attempts to improve his lesson material
4) Nearly breaking the sound barrier again to get him to his lessons (by the way, for my Law Enforcement friends, the “sound barrier” thing is an exaggeration – placed here solely for purposes of humor!!)

Yes, my schedule had to be grossly adjusted to fit my son’s Art and guitar lessons. Although my regular work schedule is already quite time-consuming, the extra driving to get him to his lessons left little time for relaxation.

Of course, as you might have guessed, I also used the time alone with my son to discuss a myriad of topics in life, including friends, school, future goals, his plans, etc. Yes, as busy as life was for all of those years, I would not trade those days for anything, as they allowed the two of us to spend many hours together with focused time – time that I heavily utilized to influence him toward making good and positive decisions in life.

I have often been asked how I was able to sustain those Fridays and Saturdays, week after week, for all of those years, seemingly driving a million miles a week to get my son to his lessons. From a physical standpoint, I have no clue. I simply started the car and we took off. From an emotional or parental standpoint, my answer is simple: How could I NOT have spent all of those years driving my son to his lessons?

Yes, as tiring as the driving came to be, not to mention the stress of rushing around, I realized that the weeks, hours, and years provided valuable time for us to be together. I also realized that it was a relatively short window of opportunity to be together. No matter how busy we got during the week, I could always count on several hours on Fridays or Saturdays to spend with my son to ensure that he was staying on the straight and narrow track of life.

And, sure enough, the RITE OF PASSAGE came last week. My son came in possession of the two items that will make any dad cringe …… a driver’s license and a car! Ouch!!

The possession of the license and keys led to the following RITE OF PASSAGE: On Saturday morning, as it was time to leave for his guitar lesson, my son loaded his guitar in the car, got in, started the car, and drove away to his lesson ….. while his favorite dad stood in the open doorway and waved good-bye – suddenly realizing that the 9-year window of opportunity had instantly closed. BAM!

Yes, the days of spending major drive time with my son while driving him to his lessons are now gone, probably forever. But, the memories of our discussions, sometimes serious and sometimes filled with laughter, will live with both of us forever!

As I have told parents over the years, PLEASE spend as much time with your kids as possible, especially when they are young and your influence is the strongest. Your children are looking to you for leadership, nurturing, love, and care, the types of which must be provided by you, so that they’re not provided by somebody else, such as a nefarious or ill-willed individual.

Spend time with your kids, drive them to where they need to go, go without sleep, etc. There will be plenty of time to rest on future Saturday mornings as they drive themselves off to a lesson, leaving you behind to sit and deal with a multitude of emotions, including sadness with the instant realization that a window has closed, but joy when you realize that you did your best and that you never shortchanged your children!

So, how about you? Do you spend a lot of time with your kids – sometimes to the point where you make sacrifices that you never dreamed that you would make? If so, write back and tell me about it – and keep doing it – it will pay off in the future!!

Paul W. Reeves