The 5 of us were biking along the canals behind the palace at Versailles when my 8-year-old followed my detour off the main path to see where a hilly dirt path that went into the nearby woods might lead, as it seemed more exciting than the wider main trail.  He looked ahead at the dips and turns ahead of us and yelled, “You’re the best Daddy in the WORLD!”

June 15, 2017, the penultimate day of our French vacation:  the day I became the best Daddy in the world to the only boy whose opinion matters.

We’d taken off from Atlanta on Monday, June 5.  Originally, the discount fare I’d found went from Miami, so we’d bought a one way ticket down there (planning to get off the plane during a layover in Atlanta on the trip home), but when I called Delta to see about an earlier flight (since 1. our traveling companions were already at the airport and had an earlier flight to Miami than we did, and 2. I was worried about approaching bad weather), I learned our flight from Miami to Paris had been cancelled.  Luckily, the agent was able to get all 10 of us on a direct flight later that evening, and since I happened to be on the phone with him when the flight was cancelled, we beat the presumed throngs of folks trying to get on the same plane from Miami upon learning of their flight’s cancellation an hour or so later.

We landed on June 6, securing the beachhead at Charles de Gaulle airport, leaving only a carseat behind.  Kia sent one of its troops who, armed with an ipad with my name on it, led our squadron to the local motor pool, and issued us a fine utility vehicle:  the Carens.  Once I returned the necessary requisition paperwork, we set off for our quarters on Rue Leonard de Vinci.  After grounding our gear, we walked a few blocks to where my once fraternity brother/now DEA agent lives with his family and had dinner.

My family then set off to explore the Arc de Triomphe, stopping to allow me a Royal with cheese, and concluding the evening by scoping out the macaroons from Laduree.

The next morning–June 7, 2017–I turned 42.  I walked a few steps outside our apartment to Cafe Victor Hugo (which would be how we’d start every subsequent morning we were there) for coffee and then led the family on a long walk through Paris in search of what I thought would be a great place for breakfast but turned out to be a good place for dinner that just happened to open early (note to self:  select “brunch” on Yelp when looking for breakfast, not just  restaurants open at 9am).  Instead, we stopped by a patisserie and had macaroons for breakfast (and, since it was my birthday, I also had a chocolate chip cookie–one of the best I’ve ever had).

Then, we walked to the Rodin museum. I enjoyed learning how he created his bronze statues from molds so that they could be replicated in varying sizes.  We saw the Gates of Hell, the Thinker (and the Munch painting of it), the Kiss, and his other famous works while learning about his relationship with Camille Claudel and how he designed his future museum while still alive.  It was a great first museum for our trip; I loved that it was both indoors and outside and gave us insight into the artist’s life as well as his work.

Next, we went to the Eiffel Tower for our pre-purchased lift ticket to the observation tower with our travel companions, the McAllisters.

Then, we had lunch and visited the Army Museum, which was called National Residence of the Invalids (I could make a joke about the French army here, but I’ll refrain; it’d been used as a military hospital at one point).  Next to it was Napoleon’s tomb.  I loved seeing the WWII exhibits in the Army museum and how Napoleon’s tomb was basically an enormous matryoshka doll of metal and wooden coffins. The building that housed it featured an enormous rotunda that our U.S. Capitol mimicked.

Shortly after that visit, we dropped the children off at my DEA agent friend’s apartment (his oldest is in high school, so she could watch the youngsters) so the adults could have a delicious steak dinner at Sacree Fleur.

And such concluded a great birthday and our first couple days in Paris!

I flew to Orlando for the Mom 2.0 Summit on Wednesday morning, saw some old friends, collected an Iris Award for our Dads4Kesem walk across England, and reminded Andrew Shue of his 1-episode stint on “The Wonder Years” before meeting my family late Friday night at the Loews Royal Pacific for 5 hours of sleep before hitting Hogsmeade early Saturday morning.

Our hotel included an extra hour in Universal’s Island of Adventure, so we were there at 7:30am and riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey just after 8.  After a couple more rides there, we rode the Hogwarts Express to the sister park, Universal Studios, at its opening time of 9am and got on the Escape from Gringotts ride by 9:20am.  We then spent the rest of the morning in Diagon Alley, and it was amazing.

As you may recall, we visited the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio last summer in London, and we loved it.  This was even better, because it included interactive rides, wands that “did stuff,” and shops + restaurants from the books and movies!  We had meals at the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks; we bought candy and fudge at Honeydukes; we peed in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom; we disappeared behind the wall at Platform 9 3/4; we bought wands at Ollivander’s; we talked to the shrunken head aboard the Knight Bus; we got souvenirs at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

When Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley got too crowded, we explored Jurassic Park, Marvel Superhero Island (where I rode my favorite ride of the parks, “The Hulk” roller coaster), Seuss Landing, Springfield (home of The Simpsons), etc.

It was 2 incredibly fun and full days. We had “express passes” (also through our hotel) that allowed us to get into a special faster lane at each ride, so we never waited more than 15 or 20 minutes, even for the most popular rides.

Other tips to make a visit to Universal nice:  download the free app, which will let you know wait times for rides and includes a map of the park, information on where to eat, etc.  Also, buy this guide book.  That was the most valuable investment we made before or during this trip. And, read this informative article.  And lastly, see if you can get a military discount on the park and lodging (or a blogger/PR one), because this stuff is expensive otherwise!

On the 3rd day, we used our early admittance to ride the Forbidden Journey by the Hogwarts Castle again and enjoyed the 2nd track of the Dragon Challenge there; we then rode the Hogwarts Express over to the other park and then back again, so we could see it from both directions (which was totally worth doing!).

We spent our last couple hours before checkout (we got an extra hour, until noon) on Monday enjoying the enormous pool at the hotel and the on-site restaurant by Emeril’s called “Tchoup Chop,” which was, by far, the best meal we had in Orlando.  Then, we set off on the long drive north (my family had driven down Friday, so my flight down was one-way) toward Atlanta, stopping to charge in Ocala, Lake City, Tifton, and Macon.

This was our longest family roadtrip in the Model X, and while it added 2+ hours to the 6.5 or so hours Google said it’d take to get home, it made the drive a relaxing one, wherein we didn’t worry about where to stop for drinks or a restroom.  Frankly, we probably would have spent the same amount of time stopping for restroom breaks even in a gasoline-powered vehicle, given the 3 small stomachs and bladders in the rows behind us, and the superchargers are always located by malls, restaurants, and/or airports with lots of amenities (except Macon, which is by some museums and a bus station, so stopping there late at night is kinda scary, as nothing nearby is open).  We plan to take an even longer electric roadtrip in July to south Florida.

Everyone loved our trip to Universal and wants to go back when the shorter two children are tall enough to ride some of the more intense rides.  It made for a great Mother’s Day for my bride and was a wonderful way for 5 huge Harry Potter fans to spend a weekend.  Y’all should check it out.

20 years ago today, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force through ROTC.  I remember how spending the next 4 years serving “active duty” or the next 6 years in the Air Guard or Reserves seemed like an eternity of commitment to “pay back” the entity that’d covered my tuition and books for the previous 4 years.

Today, I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF Reserves. After 11 years in the Air National Guard, I’ve spent 9 in the Ready Reserve or traditional Reserves.  Since that commissioning ceremony 20 years ago, I’ve had many, many early wake-ups and sacrificed weekends.  I’ve missed a few weddings I wanted to attend.  I’ve had to forego the chance to grow out my hair, see if I could cobble together a beard, or smoke weed when we were in Denver a few years ago. But I honestly think I’ve gained more than I’ve foregone.  Here’s why.

I finished law school and a 2-month bar prep class without needing loans, thanks to the GI Bill.  Know many attorneys with no school debt?  Neither do I.

We were able to buy a nice house several years ago, thanks to a VA loan.

My bride and I are self-employed and don’t have 4-figure health insurance premiums, thanks to Tricare.

We get discounts at theme parks, museums, and hotels.

I’ve been to all 50 states.  I’m pretty sure I’d still be missing Alaska, Vermont, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine without the help of the Air Force KC-135s and C-130s.

I’ve had great experiences–“bucket list” items–thanks to the Air Force, like playing blackjack in Las Vegas, camping in Denali National Park, learning to surf in Honolulu, eating fresh lobster in Maine, hiking a rainforest in Puerto Rico, skiing in Park City, having Valentine’s Day dinner in Paris, driving 600km across olive groves in Spain, touring the Tower of London, driving a BMW 325i 135 mph across Oklahoma, sharing a NASCAR “ride along” with my dad at Dallas Motor Speedway, and flying a Cessna 3,000 feet above the ocean cliffs of Molokai.

I’ve made great friends, like Shane, whose wedding I officiated 10 years after we’d spent 5 months together in Iraq.

I started blogging because of the Air Force, as I was lonely and bored while working solo Saturday shifts during a deployment to Andrews in 2006.  Then I started another blog while in Iraq in 2007.  And then started writing for other sites (like DadCentric, City Dads Group, and Humor Blogs) upon coming home in 2008.  Blogging has led to hundreds of new friendships, numerous travel opportunities, and even an Iris award after an epic philanthropic project. Last year at Dad 2.0, I moderated a panel focused on military service.

The above paragraphs are why I’m a little embarrassed by the occasional “thank you for your service” comments I get from civilians who learn of my time in the Guard or Reserves.  If all I’ve benefited from the military were weighed against all I’ve contributed to it, I think I’d get a great view of Lady Justice’s forehead, not her knees.

But you know what?  I’d wager most of my fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines would say the same.