One Year With the Big Little Guy

I spent a lot of time working from home last week because, unfortunately, our daycare provider was recovering from a lingering illness. That meant balancing all my newspaper business and this rambunctious little boy named Grant, who turned 1-year-old on Saturday.

Last week showed me how incredible it is that I’ve watched my son age and grow, both physically and intellectually, from birth to his first birthday. It seems like yesterday that we brought that snuggly little 9-pound, 2-ounce baby home from the hospital.

Grant has since transformed into a walking, babbling, wheels-always-turning waddler, and nothing in our home is safe. Especially our dog, Noodle, who’s still coming around to the idea of Grant.

When Grant embraced walking about a month ago, we knew nothing would ever be the same. The baby days were over. The toddler days had begun. Noodle, to his credit, has found that his only real safe space in the house is perched atop furniture or locked in his kennel.

As I worked from my home office in the corner of our basement, I tried desperately to balance watching Grant with assigning stories, checking pages and writing the occasional brief.

What started out as a somewhat clean area — his play zone is supposed to be in the opposite corner of the room — quickly turned into a minefield of toys, stuffed animals and books. There was no use picking them up or sorting them, either. Grant’s mission seems to be to play with every toy in his collection for a short time and then move on to the next.

When he found the 18-gallon plastic tote full of children’s books, his first thought was to remove each, glance at them for a couple seconds and then toss them aside for the next. Much of that pile is still sitting there on the floor as I write this.

His favorite books, appropriately, are from the “Bizzy Bear” series, which only makes sense since he has become an incredibly busy boy. We’re incredibly grateful that he has embraced books and already refuses to accept bedtime without mom and dad reading one of his “Bizzy Bear” books to him.

While Grant has changed, so has our little family. We wake up earlier, we work less, we take more time to eat together and we make sure that family — especially Grant — comes first.

It’s been a crazy but amazing first year as parents for Sarah and I, and like every other parent, we’re still learning on the job each day. But it’s worth it, just to see Grant’s big blue eyes light up and hear him laugh every single day.

My Generation’s 9/11 Memories Are the Next Generation’s History

Every one of us has our own 9/11 story. Even those of us who grew up on a farm 1,700 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

I’m 32 years old and haven’t met a person my age who can’t tell you exactly where they were when the World Trade Center was hit.

I was in bed. When my dad woke me up to tell me what happened that morning, the tragic event was in its fledgling moments and most of the world assumed it was some terrible accident.

Minutes later, we all realized it was something so much worse.

I was only a few weeks into my senior year of high school when the towers fell. It was a strange time.

During our seven periods of school that day, we had one actual class. (Apparently, math couldn’t take a backseat to the biggest event of our lifetimes.) We watched TV in every other class and discussed what was happening. The teachers didn’t want to teach. The students didn’t want to learn. We all were content to watch as history unfolded before our eyes.

The guys in our class — as 17- and 18-year-olds — wondered what was next. War? The draft? Did World War III just start? After all, the last time America was attacked like that, World War II started and many of our grandfathers ended up being drafted into military service.

Thankfully, there was no draft. But there was certainly war, and some of the young men and women in our school that morning would go on to serve nobly during the Global War on Terrorism by their own choice. Some are still serving, including one of my best friends.

Every one of them who came back returned unharmed. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for every American family — including some in our area.

This weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our country.

To coincide with the anniversary, Dickinson is hosting its first Veterans Appreciation Day at 11 a.m. today at Memorial Park, the site of the new Stark County Veterans Memorial.

Another 180 names have been placed on the memorial’s 11 granite tablets since it was erected last year. Post-9/11 veterans, active military and their families will the special guests today, and there’ll be a tribute to first responders as well.

Though I’m relatively young, it’s crazy to think that 9/11 happened so long ago that this year’s high school freshman class wasn’t alive for it. That means basically no high school student today can recall 9/11. To them, this is actual history.

That makes my generation’s role in relaying that history so significant. It doesn’t matter if you watched the events unfold live on TV halfway across the country, were in New York City that morning, or went on to fight in the wars. We owe it to the younger generations to tell them about this world-changing event from a personal perspective, and how significantly it changed our society.

They should know about the never-before-seen show of national patriotism and unity in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, and how that unity slowly broke down as the country seemed to split down the middle ideologically with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The world has changed so significantly since that day. In some ways better and in many ways worse. However, despite our nation’s persistent troubles — many of which trace back to that fateful Tuesday in September — it’s our duty to honor those who lost their lives that day, or fighting in the battles after it, by telling the story from our personal perspectives.

And, as we all said in the days, weeks and months after 9/11 — we should “Never forget.”

The Big Little Guy Who Changed My Life

My outlook on life completely changed nine months ago.

The reason was Grant Bennett Monke. He came into our lives last September as a 9-pound, 22-inch newborn baby.

Now he’s a 31 inches, 22 pounds and is a speed-crawling cruiser who leads us on many chases around the house.

Grant is a smart little charmer who loves to laugh and smile, enjoys taking apart his toys, having books read to him and then flipping through them himself.  

The news business, as some of you probably expect, is stressful. Days can be long, busy, and equal parts infuriating and invigorating. But everything changes when I walk through the front door and Grant looks up at me, smiles and says “DaDa!”

As I celebrate my first Father’s Day today with Grant and my wife, Sarah, it’s amazing to reflect on the changes we’ve had to make in our lives because of this big little guy.

The first three months went pretty well. Aside from a couple get-thrown-in-the-deep-end moments, Grant was great as an infant. He even flew on an airplane like a champ over the New Year’s holiday.

After that, things got more interesting. We watched as his personality started to form and he lit up the lives of everyone around him.

Now, as he starts making that transition to toddlerhood, we’re able to incorporate him into the lives we lived before he came around.

Going to events like Friday’s Bakken BBQ are still fun. They’re just a different kind of fun. I ran into some of my single buddies who were drinking beer and carousing, while I was on the hunt for baked beans and one of the juicier porks being served because, well, that’s what Grant can eat at a BBQ.

Though my industry works on daily deadlines, there’s times when I have to drop everything and rely on my wonderful staff because Grant needs to be taken to an appointment or picked up from day care. (Special shout-out to Holly for doing an excellent job!)

Then there’s times like last week, when Sarah had to go on a four-day work training trip and I’m left trying to balance work in an election week and being a dad to a teething 9-month-old. Thankfully, Grandma was available on Election Night to help pick up some slack.

But it’s all worth it, because being a dad is fun. Though there are some nearly sleepless nights — including a couple last week — and some very, very costly purchases that go along with having a kid, especially one that has grown nine inches in nine months, being a father is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

The most exciting stuff is what you learn along the way.

I’ve discovered “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” or “Paw Patrol” and a remote control without batteries, or even a water bottle, can create a perfect 30-second distraction.

Sarah has taught me the beauty of strategic interior decorating, wherein a brick fireplace can still work for the room despite being covered with padded alphabet tiles, and how arranging our couches just right can create the perfect play area.

I know now that if I want to make my son laugh, I only need to spin him around, or bust out a rhyme or a funny word. For some reason, the word “explosion” said in just the right way makes Grant double over with laughter.

Grant doesn’t stop learning, either. He started talking a couple months ago and knows a few words.

He’s learned that Go-Go Squeeze, Cheerios and pancakes are pretty awesome. Almost simultaneously, he found out that his dog, Noodle, will eat just about anything he drops to him.

Everyone says having a child changes your life. And it obviously does. But really, it’s how one chooses to raise their children that determines what kind of a parent they really are.

Me? I choose to be the best dad I can, whether that’s running to Wal-Mart at 10 p.m. for diapers, working until midnight on a Thursday so I can spend time with Grant on the weekend, or simply being there for him when he needs me or getting him the things he wants and needs.

Because I cannot imagine a life that Grant’s not a part of.

Burgum Showed North Dakotans Want to Get Back to Business

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Color me shocked that Doug Burgum defeated North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem so soundly in the state’s Republican Party gubernatorial primary.

While we all knew it was possible, I never thought Burgum — a millionaire businessman and entrepreneur — would carry nearly every North Dakota county.

A friend, who is a huge Burgum supporter, asked me on Election Day how I thought it would all play out. I told him there’s no way western North Dakotans would vote for a Fargo tech millionaire to be their governor.

Boy was I wrong. And I wasn’t alone.

Few predicted a Burgum win, let alone a Burgum rout.

From the moment Burgum announced his candidacy, he just seemed to me like a guy with some good ideas who wasn’t going to get the chance to act on them. Sure, he had the money to win an election, but were small-town North Dakotans really going to turn out for this guy at the polls?

Perhaps the answer, in the end, is Burgum simply wanted it more.

He by no means ran a perfect campaign, but he did what North Dakotans wanted him to do — he went and talked to them.

He loaded up his crew in a 1974 bus and visited as many people in the state as he could. He went to places like the Dakota Diner in Dickinson to tell voters his vision for North Dakota. He made visiting small towns a priority, even going to Amidon (where he just happens to own a nearby ranch).

And he spelled out his vision to North Dakotans, who it seems clearly aren’t happy with the Republican Party’s wish for the status quo in the days following the oil boom.

Stenehjem — one of the biggest political faces of the oil boom as a member of the Industrial Commission — didn’t even come close to equaling Burgum’s campaign presence either in person or in advertising.

To his credit, Stenehjem should be commended for taking his job as the state’s attorney general seriously during campaign season and not shirking his duties to endlessly campaign.

Though if he wanted to be governor, perhaps he should have.

The biggest shift from this election, though, was that Democrats crossed the aisle in droves and cast votes for Burgum, who has many moderate to libertarian viewpoints. What that means for the general election, we don’t quite know yet, but signs sure seem to point to a Burgum landslide.

As Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely put it Wednesday, Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson isn’t finding $8 million in a ditch in Rolette County anytime soon.

Sorry Marvin. But he’s right.

Republicans and Democrats came together to send Burgum on the general election, giving one of the state’s top politicians in Wayne Stenehjem a collective thumbs down and signaling a return to a business leader in the same vein as former governors John Hoeven and Ed Schafer.

Remember, neither Hoeven nor Schafer had political experience prior to taking over as governor, but were both well-known business leaders.

So now it’s time for Burgum to do what his Republican outsider counterpart on the national level can’t seem to do — unite his party (and others outside of it) behind him.

Then, should he win in November, he needs to make sure his money was spent wisely and actually do something to help North Dakota.

 

 

After all these years, Garth has still got it

Garth Brooks performs Thursday, May 5, 2016, at the Fargodome. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Garth Brooks performs Thursday, May 5, 2016, at the Fargodome. (Dave Wallis / Forum News Service)

There’s nothing quite like a Garth Brooks concert.

The energy, the sounds, the crowds and, of course, the man and his music. The reason why thousands of people are all there, screaming and singing along.

For my generation, there are only a few iconic performers who absolutely must be seen live. Garth Brooks is near, if not at, the top of that list.

For me, it was a 25-year wait to see the country music legend live in concert — perhaps for the final time — last Saturday when my wife and I went to his third of four shows at the Fargodome with a group of friends.

Regardless of if you’re a huge country music fan or just know his songs in passing, there’s no denying the man is a showman. At 54 years old, you’re afraid he’s going to have a heart attack the way he runs around the stage and mixes his energetic character into his musical performances.

 

I had been to a Garth Brooks concert when I was very young and shortly before he became a worldwide superstar, though I obviously don’t remember it well.

When I was 13, my family had tickets to one of the four sold-out Garth Brooks concerts at the Bismarck Civic Center. I was obviously excited and even though I was fighting the flu, told my parents I was going. Unfortunately, the illness got the best of me and, thanks to some nice security people, I ended up spending the concert sleeping on a couch in someone’s office in the bowels of the Civic Center so my family didn’t have to miss the show.

That tour ended up being one of the biggest in music history and came at the height of Garth’s fame. The Academy of Country Music has named him entertainer of the year six times. The  Country Music Association has awarded him the same honor three times. One of those years was 1997, mostly because of the Garth Brooks World Tour that spanned three years and shattered concert tour records.

Needless to say, I was ready to finally see the man live in concert.

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Sitting behind and to the right of the stage, we were obviously a little worried about the seats. Our friends told us not to worry. They’d been to a different concert on this version of Garth’s tour with his wife Trisha Yearwood.

Of course they were right. The show was second-to-none, with 2½ hours of music and an intimate encore acoustic set that changes every night.

One of the most touching moments in ours came as Garth sang one of his biggest hits, “The Dance.” During the song, he pointed the house cameras toward two people in the crowd who had signs for their mom, Joyce, who was a huge fan but had passed away. Their signs said “Thanks for Being a Part of Joyce’s Dance” and had a picture of Garth and Joyce together. Garth got choked up as he sang.

I get goosebumps again just writing about it.

Today’s country music stars should watch a Garth Brooks concert and take notes. Few artists today have the ability to mix poetry and gravitas in their songs and lyrics like Garth, who doesn’t write all of his songs but co-wrote many with a select group of songwriters over the years.

Unfortunately we’re listening to a generation of country music seemingly hellbent on being pop and hip-hop stars — something Garth Brooks, ironically, was accused of during his rise in the 1990s — and singing more about pretty girls, big trucks and drinking beer rather than than putting a little substance and meaning into their music.

I’ve been to those concerts too. They don’t hold a candle the legend that is Garth Brooks.

Keep on Ropin’ the Wind cowboy, and we’ll keep coming back to see you.

 

Will some Democrats please step up?

Southwest North Dakota is by no means some bastion of political divisiveness. Though, we are absolutely blood-red Republican on the political map, there have always been Democrats willing and able to step up and take a shot at winning local and state elections.

Sometimes — and it wasn’t even that long ago — they won.

It begs the question: What the heck happened to the Democrats?

Last Tuesday night, southwest North Dakota’s Democrats held their party meeting in the conference room at Players Sports Bar and Grill in Dickinson. It was supposed to be part-Super Tuesday watch party, part-nominating meeting for District 36 candidates in the 2016 election.

Not a single candidate emerged from that meeting. No one stepped up as willing to seek the nomination for the district’s three legislative positions up for grabs this November. Instead, the district’s executive committee will likely nominate — i.e. appoint — candidates at the party’s state convention on April 1.

This lack of enthusiastic participation among Democrats is disconcerting to those of us who love the political process and, worse yet, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a common theme across the state.

On Thursday night, three Republican candidates for governor held a statewide televised debate. The Democrats haven’t even put up one candidate.

Kylie Oversen, the state’s Democratic chair and a Killdeer native, has said numerous times that the party plans to roll out its governor candidate either before or during the state convention.

By then, it’ll already be too late. The Democratic candidate, barring some miracle, doesn’t stand a chance against a fired-up Republican base ready to hold on to the governor’s office for a 25th year and beyond.

So, have our state’s Democrats become defeatists when it comes to statewide positions, or is it something different?

The last Democrat to hold the governor’s office was George Sinner. He beat Dickinson’s Leon Mallberg in 1988 — his final term — with 60 percent of the vote. Since then, the only Democrat to garner more than 45 percent of the vote was in 2000 when our current U.S. senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp faced off, with Hoeven emerging the victor.

Still, until 2010, all three of North Dakota’s U.S. Congress seats on the left side of the aisle in Washington.

The past few election cycles have made for somewhat shocking turn to the right for a state that once prided itself in bipartisanism.

Now, Heitkamp is the only remaining left-wing politician who holds any major national or state office. And how did she do it? Simple. She has occasionally sided with the pro-oil and pro-coal crowds, often distances herself from President Barack Obama’s most liberal viewpoints and speaks not only to her party’s base, but to moderate swing voters.

So where are the Democrats’ future Heidis? Are they out there and just bad at getting their message out? Are they unelectable because they’re not willing to play the same political game Heitkamp does? Do they even exist?

We’re three months away from June primaries and just under 250 days from the Nov. 8 general election.

Democrats need someone — anyone — to step up soon if the party wants even a fighting chance at winning the state’s gubernatorial or congressional elections. Remember, Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer are up for election too. So far, no challengers.

Republicans have been in charge of state government through good times and bad for nearly a quarter-century, and it seems obvious that Democrats have no real plans to challenge that.

It’s a lack of action that’s frustrating.

As a media member, it’s obviously not fun to cover unopposed political races. More importantly, it would represent an unfortunate step backward in our political process.

Where’s the North Dakota pride and spirit?

North Dakota Democrats need to get their act together, rally their base and find some candidates who can make this a legitimate election. And they need to do so quickly, otherwise the defeatist attitude will translate into exactly that.