Blocks and Brickers

This full-time gig we call parenting is no joke, y'all.

I am certain I did not always understand just how many struggles and challenges would come with being a parent but, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted nothing more than to be a Dad. We don't necessarily need to excavate all the reasons behind those thoughts, but rest assured my motivation to be the best parent I could possibly be comes from the most genuine, heartfelt place I can imagine. Quite honestly, I wanted to be a Dad more than I ever wanted to be a husband, just hoping to have the opportunity to lead our family history down a different path than in past generations. I wanted to be the one to "fix it," to make things right, and to help my kids understand and feel what a healthy, strong relationship is all about from their earliest days.

Seven years ago today, the dream of being called a Dad got very real when Carter Jameson Bricker joined our family, the morning after Super Bowl XLIX. As any parent knows, the days are long, but the years are so incredibly short, and it is ridiculous to think my little man is already seven and just a few months from finishing first grade. Slow down, buddy…for the love of God: Just….slow….down!

Carter is an amazing kid, truly, just a special individual who will someday make an enormous impact on this world. He has a heart of gold, possesses an insatiable desire to read everything from Dog Man books to articles about Ancient Egypt, he 100% has our family gene for sarcasm and wit, and his mind is always working, dreaming up new business opportunities with his friends, playing imaginative games by himself, or authoring his own novels & stories. I just absolutely love the kid and I have enjoyed every minute of watching his brain & personality develop, change, and grow over time! In fact, watching his learning process evolve is the single most impactful inspiration behind my philosophy of AweFull Learning and wanting to find the wonder and awe in all we do, both in the classroom and in life.

However, let me assure you it has not always been rainbows and unicorns for Carter and me.

You see, we Bricker men are emotional, passionate individuals who wear our hearts on our sleeves (those who know me aren't the least bit surprised in this moment) and, sometimes, that cocktail of feelings gets the best of us, and we get frustrated when things are too much to handle, and the ensuing emotions boil over. Carter most certainly got the full potency of that cocktail in his DNA, which at times has strained our relationship and left us both wanting nothing to do with the other. I have no doubt that all parents and their kids go though some level of this, more than likely at multiple points in the relationship. In our case, Carter, and I, while similar in DNA in many ways, struggled to connect as he grew from baby to toddler to young boy. I started to doubt that I could make a real connection with him, find common interests, or offer any piece of advice that would be received with anything other than, "Whatever Dad." He doesn't much care for sports, which to this day is the only connection my Dad and I ever had, and he is not super flexible nor spontaneous to just go for a walk, play out front, or as I often say to him just, "have more fun." In my struggle to find connection with him, all the while panicking on the inside wondering if I'd already missed my opportunity, I decided to try to meet him where he was and in turn came across a gem that opened a door to Carter's creativity and ingenuity and built a bridge, both metaphorically and quite literally, between my little buddy and me.

On a whim about a year or slightly longer ago, I asked Carter if he wanted to try playing Minecraft with me. Given our last name and my experience as a master Lego builder for most of my life, I should have considered Minecraft as an option much earlier in his life but that was not the case. In fact, at the point in time where I asked him, I was a Minecraft novice at best and wasn't even sure he would care enough to give it a try. Even as an Ed Tech Director of a Microsoft Showcase School, my belief in the power of Minecraft at that time was lukewarm, at best. I had gotten my certification as Minecraft Trainer and played a few times in group settings with other educators, but I don't think I truly yet understood the power of this game of building with blocks. Even with all the talk in my field about game-based learning, learning through play, project/problem-based learning and so many more, I had not yet found the avenue in my school to give Minecraft a shot, but I knew kids everywhere were absolutely loving it. I still wasn't sure Carter would love it but I embraced the challenge of living up the Bricker name and once Carter realized playing Minecraft involved getting technology time, he willingly agreed to give it a shot.

Carter may not ever be a football player or understand the excitement of the Hail Mary, but Minecraft was sort of that for me…a Hail Mary. I am fairly sure Doug Flutie would be proud of how this Hail Mary has turned out thus far.

As I mentioned earlier, watching Carter learn and grow through all the early stages of development has been such an eye-opening, transformational experience for me but watching Carter play Minecraft has taken things to a whole new level.

What started out fairly slowly, with Carter trying to get the hang of how to move up, down, left, and right with the W, S, A, & D keys using his left hand, while also managing the mouse in his right hand to build and destroy while fighting off tears and fits of saying he hates Minecraft and never wants to play again, has rather quickly morphed into him teaching me how to spawn, build a roller coaster with a Minecart, and experiment with how water, lava and other materials interact with one another. He has built his own house, explored dungeons and tunnels, and even inspired me to start building my own world. We even took part in the Hour of Code challenge this past year and spent several days in a row playing "Timecraft" to figure out all the different destinations and puzzles that needed solving.

However, his journey, while progressing at an impressive rate, has still been impacted by frustration, tears, and temper tantrums…no doubt this story is far from perfect. But his ability to bounce back from aggravating situations within the game, manage emotions by understanding that "failure" is really just a chance to learn or try a new approach, and unleash a level of creativity, creation, & design are things I never dreamed possible and it's in large part due to the power of Minecraft and the endless possibility of what could be when you are immersed in a Minecraft world. There is nobody there to judge his creation, tell him he messed up, or mark him down because the tunnel he built isn't uniform width all the way through. He gets to be just a boy, with his imagination and an endless canvas to explore, create, and learn.

Minecraft is now a part of our daily nighttime routine in the Bricker house. Dinner, shower, Minecraft time, bedtime snack, sleep. On the weekends he gets an extra session in the afternoon and if we ever miss an opportunity, he will absolutely let us hear about it. As I noted, he has also inspired me to start building as well, channeling my days as a Lego-obsessed kiddo of about his same age, and most nights we build "together" in my office, one of us occasionally stopping the other to say "Hey Carter…" or "Look Dad…." can you believe what I just figured out how to do? And we have one rule in Minecraft and one rule only: Only construction, not destruction. I don't ever want this to turn into just "blowing stuff up" so we made that rule to encourage that growth mindset and the idea of always moving forward. Obviously if he must tear something down to put something better in its place…we are ok with that. That is called progress, right? :)

As for me, my biggest and most impressive construction project so far was a water slide that I saw in a YouTube video. I must have accounted for half of the nearly 1.5 million views on that darn video trying to perfect every detail to try and impress Carter in every way imaginable. Now, because I don't have enough challenges and work to do in my life, I am on to an even bigger project that may take me until my last day on Earth to complete I am building a baseball stadium…to scale. That's right, I am building Petco Park, the home stadium of my beloved San Diego Padres, from the ground up and including every detail possible from the dugouts to the clubhouse, scoreboard, team store inside of the Western Metal Supply Building, and more! I am not really sure what in the heck I was thinking taking this on, but if impresses Carter even in the slightest and makes him think I am a cool Dad, it will be worth every bit of stress, frustration and time spent.

Truly the years are short.

Carter, I have no idea where the last 7 years have gone but getting to watch you grow up and turn into the amazing young man that you are today is truly an honor and a pleasure. Your Dad is always going to encourage you to keep showing grit and determination to overcome whatever challenges are thrown your way; whether that be in building piston doors in Minecraft, a tough relationship with a friend, or a job interview that didn't go your way. Thanks for teaching your Dad so many great lessons about how to make the most of quality time together and how to become an expert Minecraft builder…you are my hero!

Keep building buddy….always keep building.

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