catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 8 :: 2008.04.18 — 2008.05.02


Dorm daze in the animal house

Now, as much as the title might suggest that I’m exploring teen sex-comedies, I’m not. For almost four years, my family and I have been living on college and university campuses in the residence halls—what students will forever call “the dorm.” In rural New England, urban Philadelphia and eclectic Austin we’ve called the dorm our home. To many this might seem strange but I assure you it’s an amazing job. It has its challenges as most any home does—but I find myself struggling mostly with social status quos, the chase. You see, most friends my age with a wife and children and undergraduate and Master’s degrees have mortgages, yards and cute pets. Not us. If you walk down the cobblestone path toward what appears to be a dead end nook, you’ll find our front door. Nestled outside is a sand-and-water table for the girls with three lawn chairs. One’s a bit old school—my parents’—and the other two are garbage gems. On our window sills, we’ve got some potted plants and herbs—mostly basil and cilantro. We love to pinch a smell of it as we leave the house. This is our home. 

My wife and two daughters, Cana (3) and Thea (1), have had unique experiences that I can honestly say few are privy to. Most are amazed to find out that we actually live in the residence hall. Our home, like any other, has its unique qualities. We have two bedrooms—the smaller one for us and the bigger for the girls. Our humble kitchen is small but meaningful. It merges with our living room otherwise known as Grand Central. We have a small nook near our front door for a desk and music equipment, a laundry room, and of course a bathroom. When we’re not home-cooking, we’re eating in the dining hall, fraternizing with students and staff. When we want to go for a nice walk, we take advantage of living only a half-mile from the state capital of Texas.

For those of you wondering what exactly my job entails, let me tell you. I basically mentor and spend time with students. I oversee the student experience and try to promote civility. That’s the super short version.  Contrary to the classic John Landis picture Animal House, which was based on the fraternity experiences of its screenwriter Chris Miller at Dartmouth College, living in our animal house is not quite as off-the-wall, but it’s unique to say the least. It’s not the Delta House but it’s not far off at times. 

Tucked away in a building of over 850 people, we maintain our home with three things in mind—faith, family, and fun. Faith is what we try to instill in our girls. We talk about challenging issues, we read incessantly and we watch a lot of movies. My almost-four-year-old has an affinity for musicals. We’ve watched them together since she was one. One of her favorites is West Side Story. We’ve had some interesting discussions about human nature and tragedy, the origin of her name Cana and ultimately how these two merge in the person of Christ. Never a dull moment!

We also prioritize family. When we moved from Philadelphia, we were essentially moving home. I was born and raised in Texas and my wife was raised in Texas also. Living just a few hours from grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles is special—better than the full days’ worth of travel and the money it took to visit from Pennsylvania. In addition to the literal blood family relationships, we’re developing relationships with our church family, as well as our students. They’re so sharp and mature—but lost. This is our opportunity to be a family to them while they’re away from home. It’s an opportunity for us to show our girls that life isn’t about simply living for the American Dream.

Last but not least, we seek to have fun! You can never have enough. It starts with the students. We have them in our home every week. We’re able to host movie screenings with discussions and have group and individual dinners with friends. As you can imagine, living on campus offers us what no housing development neighborhood ever could. We have access to beautiful fountains, ponds and parks. We can catch a football game across the street from our house with 100,000 people. Imagine going to a football game—or volleyball, basketball, baseball or track—and not having to pay for parking. We have a museum on campus, coincidentally named “The Blanton,” not two blocks from our front door. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Yes, our home is unique. I’m certain that my girls don’t comprehend the vastness of their experience—I know I don’t. Most of all, I’m thankful for this home. I’m able to host students from all different walks of life to chat about films, music, politics, religion, comic books—you name it.  Our home is about more than maintaining a clean living room when we host. It’s more than home-cooking and bath nights. It’s more than play time and family visits. Ultimately it’s a calling. It’s a way of life—a practice for an eternal extravaganza. It’s our animal house.

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