Worst of the Week: Children of the Corn

Welcome to my regular Friday feature, Worst of the Week. As a white, suburbanite husband and dad of two kids, there’s a lot that can go wrong and this entry is all about how to fix it. I hope you enjoy it!

This past weekend our family along with 4 other families went to the local farm to visit their Corn Maze. It’s a wonderful setup complete with three difficulty levels, hot cider, donuts, Smores and two bonfires.

The younger kids (along with a few parents) chose to go into the beginner maze while some other kids and parents went into the expert one. It turned out that Patty, Patrick and Erin all went into the former when I thought they were following me into the latter.

The report I got from Patty after we met up was not a good one. First of all I didn’t go with my family. I’ll cop to that one and take full blame and will go sit in the doghouse. Secondly, and this is even bigger, was that on several occasions Patrick ran ahead thus getting lost a few times and driving Patty absolutely crazy, especially because she had to help keep an eye on the little ones. She had to yell out his name constantly, but he always came running back. All this mind you, was happening the same time the sun was gong down and the local teenagers were coming out in droves making the mazes very busy.

Thankfully nothing serious happened and afterwards we had a good talk with him about staying with the group. Patrick does know better then to do what he did. He was just very excited and anxious to solve the maze on his own. He is a growing boy and wants more and more responsibility and freedom every day. But with that comes a price. He must follow the rules.

A lost child is one of the big fears we as parents face on a daily basis. Has something like this ever happened to you? As a parent or even as a child yourself?

Photowalking with kids

Photowalking is fun. Especially with kids! All you need are at least one kid and at least one camera.

If you’re not familiar with the idea, photowalking is just a fancy way to say, “Go play outside!” There’s really nothing more to it than simply walking around an interesting area, and taking lots of pictures. Kids love this. For a while, anyway. There are some drawbacks to photowalking, though. Foremost among these is the time/familiarity paradox. You probably don’t have a whole day to blow on driving to an interesting mountain trail that you’ve never been to before, yet those streets around your house aren’t very interesting because the kids have already been there. This is where dads can employ their formidable powers of observation (which, interestingly, often seem to fail near dirty dishes).

Walk the familiar streets, but look for the unfamiliar things. Looking up is cool, and you can find some good shots up in the trees and blue skies. But I think the real action for kids is closer to the ground–look down! Notice the crazy roots on that old tree that you pass every day. Check out the moss growing in the roots. Find the bug that lives in the moss and take his picture!

Here’s a little montage of my guys on a photowalk. We went out on a rainy day and noticed where all the gutter water goes. Luckily for us, we had a waterproof camera and some string. We tied the string to the camera, hit the timer, and lowered the camera into the storm drain to see what we could see. Ever wonder what the inside of a storm drain looks like?

Teens and Driving

Warning: Some of the content in the followng commercials will be disturbing to some of you. They are graphic in nature on purpose as they are trying to share their message about the dangers of driving too fast, driving drunk or driving without wearing your seatbelts. Mostly, these spots are focussed on young teen drivers but they obviously apply to everyone that gets behind the wheel of a car. I know that these videos have changed my life. I think of them every time I drive and it forces me o be extra safe and careful.

Ironically enough, despite all of my safety efforts, a few weeks ago I got involved in a six-car pile-up! Fortunately, as you can tell, I lived to tell the tale. It was a scary ordeal but I’m so grateful that I survived.

What got me thinking of these harsh commercials was a beauiful song with a similar message about teens and driving called “From Where You Are” by LifeHouse. The lead singer was inspired to write the song for a friend he lost in an auto accident when they were only 16.  However, this video is NOT graphic or disturbing at all. It’s still just as powerful and just as haunting as you watch all of the beautiful young people driving in  long line of cars (symbolically like a funeral procession) into the horizon. So many of our children perish needlessly on our roads. Anyway, watch this one first then the eight commercials.

OK, here are the eight extreme TV commercials that were made to shock you and make you remember its message. Please try to watch them all. Share them too.

Domestic Blitz

vacuums suck My family has been away for a few weeks. In fact, they’ve been away for enough weeks that I legitimately miss them deeply. Even the kids. I’m picking them up on Friday, which is a couple of days from now. Doing some back-of-the-Chinese-food-delivery-bag-left-on-the-table-for-days math, I realized: holy cow! That’s two days from now. Now, when I go away, I like coming home to the house being reasonably tidy, including cleaning up of blood stains, removal of Thomas trains from under my feet, a sense that I can see at least a corner of the kitchen table. Crud. I bet she’ll want the same thing waiting for her when she gets home.

I was raised to be the kind of guy who does chores, and that there’s no such thing as “women’s work.” I’m modern in that regard. But I’ll admit something: I don’t really remember the last time I used the vacuum cleaner. There’s not a lot to it. On/off. Suck/stop sucking. I get that. But there are, shall we say, rules, about what goes into the tube. I forget the nuances of those.

You see, both my children (6 and almost 3) believe that popsicle sticks (they eat a lot of those sugar free fruit bar things) belong wherever they finished the popsicle. So, even as much as we do the whole “clean up brigade” with them (my daughter prefers me hanging her upside down and bonking her head on the things she needs to pick up to just wandering around picking them up as requested), it turns out that there were at least four popsicle sticks on the floor when I started cleaning.

Have you ever heard a vacuum cleaner try to eat a popsicle stick? Cool! I did 4 of them.

I knew enough to lift the rugs up. We have about 200 rugs on our floors, which are poured concrete (we live in a factory loft space). Okay, not 200, but it feels that way. That’s because Kat’s sure that my son will split his skull open at any moment. (He probably would.) Under these rugs are some interesting things, including what looks like beach sand. It’s almost November. Oh well, I can get that, too.

That rattling/hissing sound is very satisfying. It’s like the difference between vacuum cleaner commercials where they’re always sucking up a spilled potted plant and typical vacuuming, where guys go for those perfect carpet lines that show you did your chore. (I wish they sold carpets with those lines in there, like a permanent crease in pants).

I did a bunch of those other things we’re supposed to do, like run the brush around the inside of the toilet, clean up all my Chinese food bags and diet Coke cans, and put all the bills (3,471 and counting) in a neat pile on the bookshelf.

It’s what we’re supposed to do, right? It’s what Dads/husbands do to show that we really missed someone. I’m trying to think of all the other things a Mom/wife would do to welcome me home. I guess I can make my own crayon banner and pretend someone else’s kids did it.

What else would you do?
Photo credit, Robbie1

What are your video game rules?

A delicious irony exists in our household. It’s the irony where a) we own every current game console, portable or otherwise, and b) No Game Playing Shall Occur During on School Nights, except on very rare, special occasions, say, being stuck home sick from school on Wednesday because someone has contracted a Medieval Bubonic Plague. You know. The big stuff.

I’ve often held the belief that games are indeed the new movies: a storyline or narrative (although oftentimes a weak one), actors, thematic elements, genre, and sound, mixed with interactivity. This is showing to be truer over time, with blockbuster releases challenging the Hollywood box office, and even more recently– becoming an outlet for escapist entertainment.

Part of my own personal interest in video gaming (outside of the relative Career Things and being an avid gamer myself), is the conceptual ‘reverse engineering’ of game concepts and elements as applied to education and curriculum, and bridging the gap between parent/educator and kids/gamers. Games like Sim City, for example, can be awesome tools for issues related to social studies and geography.

That’s not saying, ‘oh, just throw out all those pesky textbooks and buy the children Nintendos!’. Not at all. It’s also not saying, ‘turn every waking moment into an educational experience’ either. Moderation is always key, regardless of the pastime. Kids need their space to play, explore, compete, win, and lose.

This is where I turn the mic over to you. While not everyone embraces video games the way some of us do (read: turn it off and go outdoors (even if we might hate the outdoors ourselves)), games are quickly becoming a commonplace reality for today’s generation.

What are the video game rules in your home? Possible thoughts that may elaborate on your answers may include the types of consoles, games, and ratings (do you bend a bit on ratings higher than your kids’ ages?) associated with your family’s game time. Do you play video games with your kids or watch them play?

Jump into the conversation below and share your wisdom and experiences!

"It's nice to see a man take an interest in his child"

About 13 years ago from right about now, I was a proud new dad. Four months earlier I was blessed to enter the world of fatherhood with the birth of my son Connor. Having a little bundle of joy that totally depends on you is one of the most wonderful things that can happen to a man.

What I’d especially love to do is put Connor in one of those pouches and place it around my shoulders and go on with long walks with him. Just the two of us. Of course, now he has no recollection of this, but it moments like those I’ll never forget.

But I also will remember something else that was not quite as pleasant. It wasn’t horrible, but it was telling.

New babies often bring out warm feelings from others as I’d saunter down the street. Many people would stop and talk and ask me all the requisite questions…all of which I was proud to answer. Then – and this happened to me at least half a dozen times – some would say…

“It’s so nice to see a dad take an interest in his child”.

I thought, WTF?

While I fully appreciated the sentiment, it was both complimentary to me but somewhat insulting to fathers overall. I see plenty of dads enthusiastically hanging out/playing with/taking care of their children. Whether the child is 13 weeks or 13 years old. I didn’t feel ‘special’ as if I was being different. Heck, many of the people I’d enthusiastically get in conversations with were fellow new dads.

Because a decent amount of the people that were impressed that I had taken an interest in my child were women who were a little older, I looked back to my childhood and remembered how much my father loved me and how much he “took an interest” in me. He was my role model and he’s why I love my son so much.

So then I thought of the other fathers that were in the neighborhood that I grew up in. Granted, not all of them were as affectionate as my dad, but the vast majority of them were loving, involved parents. Maybe not as much as the moms. But they certainly took a strong interest in their children. A solid majority. Period.

When I would try to explain this to some, they will try to explain back to me that not all dads are loving, are involved. Yes, I know that. I understand that. I get it. It isn’t necessary to explain to me that “not all dads are as affectionate as you”. But it is those that try to explain this to me, not I, that are missing the point.

The point is that a relatively small percentage of fathers (but, alas, too many) aren’t involved in their kids lives – by choice. We all have seen this and all have heard of this. But those are the exceptions and not the rule. As far as I’ve often been able to see, most dads aren’t second string parents, grudgingly going along with changing an occasional diaper or taking care of the little ones while the wife is out shopping. (I’d hear that too. I’d be with my infant son and someone would say in a well-meaning but ultimately condescending tone, “Giving mommy a break!”, positioning my actually being with my child as simply acting as filler).

It’s easy to automatically characterize us in a negative light because we often don’t ask for praise as being fathers. Or expectations start out too low of us because of a few bad apples. So when we do what we’re supposed to do, we are sometimes praised by those who are surprised that we actually show that we really love our kids and want to take an active role in raising them.

And there should be nothing surprising about that. We’re just being dads.

Protecting our children online: What software do you use?

Our children are more proficient than we ever were with the digital realm. Their social lives, education, shopping, and entertainment often revolve in the online world. But how do you protect them?

Yes, working with them and watching over their shoulder is best – but rarely practical. What software do you use to:

  • Ensure your children don’t see pornography or other inappropriate graphic images
  • Protect them from dangerous people and ensuring children don’t place personal information online
  • Limit your kids time allowed online
  • Secure that malicious software is not inadvertently downloaded

What is your favorite solution(s)? Bonus points for easy to use software and opensource software!

When you respond, please include the ages of your children, as this will likely benefit the readers.

Taking care of mom

In our house full of boys (One dad, two sons, two boy cats, a boy dog and a rotating menagerie of bugs of indeterminate gender), we hold one truth to be self-evident: mom is special. Mom doesn’t get much “girl time” at our place, but she does have seemingly unlimited opportunity to be hassled, annoyed or otherwise rebuffed by one boy or another. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to ensure that mom gets respect from her sons.

Our boys, aged 4 and 7, understand at a basic cellular level that mom is to be loved and cared for. The opportunity occasionally arises (or, put another way: not a week goes by) for me to have a little chat with one son or another. It usually goes like this, with me on my knees for eye contact, and real close to them, so they aren’t embarrassed by other people hearing our conversation:

Dad: I heard you were hassling mom.
Son: Yeah/I guess so/Yessir
Dad: Who is the most important person in our house?
Son: Mom.
Dad: Right. What do we know about mom?
Son: We love mom.
Dad: How do we show it?
Son: We don’t talk back to her.
Dad: What else?
Son: Snuggle her.
Dad: What else?
Son: Be kind to her.
Dad: Anything else?
Son: Take care of her.
Dad: Were you caring for mom when you did ‘X’?
Son: No.
Dad: Okay. You better go give mom some love.
Son: (shuffles off to hug mom and say sorry)

This probably qualifies as a bit of a rant, but I swear, one of the most important parts of raising boys is to instill in them a strong respect for women. And it starts at home. Even if your boys don’t have a mom in the house, I bet you know at least a few female candidates who’d appreciate the positive attention from your son(s).

Moms really are special. Don’t save the love for Mother’s Day.

The Cat's in the Cradle

Every dad knows this song, Harry Chapin’s classic “Cat’s in the Cradle”. It was a number one hit in 1974 and originally written as a poem by Harry’s wife Sandie who received credit as co-writer of the song. Incidentally, she didn’t write it about Harry’s relationship with their son as commonly believed but actually about the relationship her first husband had with his ultra busy politician father. Still, the message of the song is eternal and extremely important for all fathers.

As a father of three kids ages 9, 5 and 3, I continue to remind myself every day that they are the most important things in my life. It’s not my job, or writing or anything else. I also do my best to savor as many of these precious moments as I possibly can. I already know how fleeting all of this is. I look at my oldest boy Nicholas who’s almost as tall as me at age nine and I am in shock because I swear that I remember holding him as a newborn at the hospital just yesterday! I know it’s a cliche and it’s been said countless times, but it’s worth repeating. Time does fly, whether you’re having fun or not! You might as well choose to have fun with your family and enjoy as many of those moments as possible.

The song always gets me. I’ve always included it in every CD that I’ve created for each of my children. I’ll never forget the night Nicholas asked me to explain the song while I tucked him into bed. He’d heard it for years but he was old enough now to understand it more. By the end of the song we were both in tears and hugging each other tightly. We didn’t say a word cause we just knew how we felt. We still play that CD a lot and just smile when that song comes on.

Listen to the recorded version and download the MP3 here
Cat’s in the Cradle

A child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s ok.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
Said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?”
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.

Investment Tip

I only post here once a week, but I read the blog daily. For me the best post this week, if not the best ever post on here was written by Paisano – Sins of the Father. He uses the song by Everclear Father of Mine to relate the sense of abandoment, confusion and frustration felt by a child of a family where the Father leaves.

I have the dubious “honor” of being able to relate to this post from both sides of the equation.  My Father left when I was 6 years old.  My last memory is of slapping his face because he laughed at me when I was trying to ask him why he had to leave.  I tracked down his address a few years ago and wrote to tell him how my life had played out, to let him know he had two wonderful GrandDaughters.  I made it clear I wasn’t looking for anything from him, only the opportunity to catch up.  I never heard back. I never tried again.

I left my children when they were both very young.  Four & Two.  It is not something I am proud of but at the time it was something that I felt I had to do.

That was 16 years ago.  The nature of our relationship has changed over that time as it does for all parents.  What I have come to find is that, no matter how much we might beat ourselves up for the things we think we should have done for our children, the things we think we should have said, mostly that is self-indulgence. 

My daughters are not the sum of the union of their Mother & I, they are much greater than the sum of their parts.  They are growing into two adults that I am fiercely proud to be called the Father of, but more than that, they are growing into two young adults that I am humbled to be called “Friend of”, not just in the Social Networking, Facebook kind of way, but real friends.

I have never believed in the being friends with your children type of parenting, but of course being a remote parent changes the equation.  You get less choice about the type of parent you want to be.  You can choose to leave your children, but only they can choose to let you come back.  You have to give them reasons, you have to earn that rebonding.  You can’t buy it with gifts, treats, less strict rules than their care-giving parent.  Of course your children know that, and they will, in various ways try and play one against the other, threaten to withdraw from you and even punish you by withdrawing.  What has kept me sane in those times is to remember that this is not a short game.  That it is a long run game and that to truly develop a relationship with anyone, child or not, takes a lifetime. 

I am now closer to my children than at any time in their lives.  Even though I live 5000 miles away. I can wallow in regret over the moments lost, I can feel sadness that in a few weeks my youngest will turn 18 and I wont be there.  Or I can do all that I can do to be there in as many ways that I can.  Invest in those moments that I can be physically with them and the find inventive ways to close the physical gulf that exists by narrowing the emotional one.

I know that I have a very long way to go to close that gap, especially with my younger daughter, and I am aware of that constantly.  Whilst her older Sister ends her phone calls with “I love You”, my youngest daughter does not.  She is by her nature more reserved, but I know that I have a long way to go before she will feel comfortable enough to trust me with those words.

So my advice to Fathers, absent or not.  Forget the stock market, forget your job, forget the latest Internet craze, if you want an investment tip that will pay you back more than you can ever imagine, invest in your children, in your relationship with them, in your understanding of them and in your respect for them.

Image from Rodney Mullins The Power of Forgiveness

Your iPhone Can Save Your Child's Life

CPR Baby by Zoomar

CPR Baby by Zoomar

I’m always searching for new apps for my iPhone, I was thrilled when I recently found a free version of PacMan. As I searched through the iTunes Music Store free apps section, I came across an amazing app that’s so much more useful than killing ghosts.

Phone Aid serves as a quick guide and support system should you need immediate instruction on how to help someone in a medical emergency. There are terrific illustrations and audio commentary that walks you through the steps to administering CPR, assist a choking victim and more First Aid.

I highly recommend you download this free app. I hope to heck you never have to use it.

This is the part that I add that I am not a medical professional, and that you should probably call 911 before you mess with any iPhone app.

Fangs For The Memories!

The picture of my “Vampire Weekend” above was taken on Halloween probably 16 years ago. The two little bloodsuckers with me in the photo are now 20 and 18 years old. Time flies when you are having fun, and we were definitely having fun! Halloween may be a scary time, but I think that as a parent you should never be scared of acting silly in front of your kids. On the contrary, I believe you should act silly in front of them at every opportunity you have, because those are the things they will remember forever… those are the memories that will last.

GOOFY IS NOT JUST A DISNEY CHARACTER

Did it make me feel goofy to to don my tuxedo and wear more make-up than Tammy Fay Baker? Absolutely. Did it ensure that my sons had “the best Halloween evah”? Absolutely, and that made all my potential embarrassment worth every look, stare and giggle from the mere mortals in the neighborhood. As parents, your kids give you the unalienable right to do anything and everything in your power to make them happy, and that includes dressing up in costumes, singing out of key, making funny faces, dancing when you have less rhythm than a slug in quicksand, standing on your head, sticking out your tongue, speaking in tongues, belching, farting (only after they pull your finger, of course), and anything else you can think of that is guaranteed to make them smile. Doing silly things for your kids lets them know that the most important thing is them, and the world you share together. You don’t care what anyone else thinks if your kid smiles and laughs.

THE TRICK IS THE TREAT!

The joy you see on your child’s face when you do something silly just for them is one of my favorite treats of parenthood (and trust me, I’ve done some awfully silly things in my day… but hey, that’s how I roll…)  The special bond between dad and child transcends all rules of decorum and leaves an open exception for all things silly.  I believe as parents, it is our duty to occasionally say “doody” if that’s what it takes to get a laugh.  To this day, I know that if you were to ask my kids to name some of the “highlights” of their childhood some of my sillier moments would definitely make the top 10 (especially the time I trudged screaming through knee deep snow in nothing but my boxer briefs from our front door to the mailbox and back, on a day we were all snowed in from work and school – they laughed to tears watching me face frostbite just to entertain them).

How about you?  Do you agree that silliness reigns supreme?  Are you dressing up with your kids for Halloween?  Do you do silly things just to get a heartfelt and heartwarming smile?  Come on, share some of your silliest moments in the comments!

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 20, Ethan, 18 and Olivia, 17).  He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast.  You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab.

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Worst of the Week: “Dad, dinner sucks!”

Welcome to my regular Friday feature, Worst of the Week. As a white, suburbanite husband and dad of two kids, there’s a lot that can go wrong and this entry is all about how to fix it. I hope you enjoy it!

As a stay-at-home (and in desperate need of a job) Dad, it’s my job, among thankless other tasks, to get dinner ready. Occasionally Patty clips out recipes from the woman’s magazine du jour or the weekend paper, yes, I still get a paper.

One of them she clipped sounded on the surface to be pretty good and one that everyone would like – Pasta with Creamy Dijon Sauce. I set up the table well in advance, I followed the recipe to a T and I had even bought a nice loaf of bread, the kind you bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. I served it up and then like a ton of bricks – the kids hated it. Now I have to say I kind of agreed with them, to me it was just OK but very bearable. Patty on the other hand scooped it up and even had seconds. Not only that but she made suggestions on ways to make it even better like adding chicken, mushrooms or green and red peppers.

Back to the kids. Nothing we could do would make them eat it. Not even a threat like, “This is dinner and that’s it.” Nope. Nada. Nothing. I felt really bad considering that even the chef didn’t think it was all that great. I caved in and made them Mac ‘N Cheese (of which I hoarded down a big spoonful).

Now this isn’t the first time the kids refused dinner, nor the first time we got them something different like a pizza because Dear Ol’ Dad burnt the last of the hot dogs on the grill, but this particular time it just really took me by surprise. I also find it amazing that if one kid doesn’t like it, the other kid doesn’t like it, too. How does that happen? Osmosis?

What do you do when the kids don’t eat their dinner? Run to McDonald’s?

Our Kids Can Handle a Lot More than We Give Them Credit For

When my 12-year-old daughter wanted to read my latest book, I discouraged her, because it addresses adult subjects, including organized rebellion against government (just the thought of which these days can label you a traitor), and it depicts sex and violence.

My 12-year-old. This is a girl who watches Bones and The X-Files, then switches over to The Learning Channel for Jon and Kate Plus 8, and dreams of becoming a forensic anthropologist like Temperance Brennan. I wish I could get her to read some of the original Tempe Brennan novels by Kathy Reichs, though. And if you’ve ever read any of them, you’re probably asking yourself…

Exactly why don’t I want her to read my book?

I don’t even actually do blood and gore like Kathy Riechs. My thing is deep characters and character interaction. I aspire to the utter revulsion that Kathy Reichs produces by her writing. I almost got it, I think, in Episode 4, Chapter 4, because while I was editing that chapter, I actually seethed with rage at the villain. (This is a villain that I myself dreamed up from my own demented psyche.) He literally tortures the hero in a violent rape that almost claims her life. But one reader told me “thank you” for stopping short of describing the entire ordeal in detail.

Little Brother, Who’s Watching Our Kids?

Then I read Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. It’s published by Tor Teen, and of it Neil Gaiman said, “I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart thirteen-year-olds, male and female, as I can.” Like my book, Little Brother is also a story of rebellion against government. And it depicts sex in at least as much detail as I have. And it depicts violence perpetrated by government officers in more detail than I have. And it depicts torture, and it doesn’t leave out the gory details of the ordeal.

This is a book being marketed to children almost as young as my daughter. And I don’t feel I should be outraged.

Rather, I feel like there must be some other reason why I don’t want my own daughter to read my work. Am I ashamed of the values I’ve communicated through my story? Am I afraid she’d see a side of her old man that I don’t want her to see? Am I really afraid she couldn’t handle it? Do I think it would make her uncomfortable? Or maybe I’m afraid it would make me uncomfortable. Am I afraid that she’ll want to try some of the things I’ve portrayed, things she maybe isn’t ready for? Or that she’ll fear the horrors I’ve portrayed? Am I afraid that she won’t know the difference between reality and fiction? Or that she won’t understand the words I wrote? Maybe I’m afraid that she’ll ask me questions. Or maybe that she won’t.

There’s a thread throughout these possibilities, however. It’s about me, not her. Shouldn’t it be about her? If she takes an interest, shouldn’t I support her in that interest?

Did I mention that we also watch Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on DVD together? (And not the cleaned-up Wal-mart DVD’s, either.) That’s definitely a together thing, because I don’t agree with every view they have. And there are definitely some episodes I don’t want her to watch alone–or even yet–because they’re bound to bring up issues. And now, you’re definitely wondering, Exactly why don’t you want her to read your book?

Growing Up with Sex and Politics

They say you should begin talking with your kids early about sex. And we have certainly done that. My wife and I, between the two of us, we have freely and openly answered any questions our daughters have asked. And they both are growing up, fast, and asking some adult questions, not just about sex and romance and love.

Wednesday, my younger daughter, 9, asked me about the presidential election. Apparently, they’re having a mock election at school. And I freely and openly answered her questions, filling her sponge-like mind with ideas that might have made her teacher want to call the DSS. Basically, you can’t believe a word either McCain or Obama says on the campaign trail, because it’s illegal to sue a politician for breaking his campaign promises, and the people who write the laws–politicians–are quite happy with that arrangement. I think somewhere in there I even got a jab in at Bill Clinton, because Paula Jones sued him while he was in office. (But not for breaking a campaign promise.) But my girls are too young to remember that. I’m not sure I clarified things for her or confused her further, because I seemed to be challenging notions she picked up from somewhere.

But then she did say: “Do I have to vote?”

“No,” I answered, “because you have a right to abstain. About half the people will not vote in the election.”

“Good, because I don’t even know anything about either one of them!”

Profound. That probably puts her one up on most voters.

(I’m not a cynic. Really. As Sir Humphrey said, “A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.”)

She’s also been bugging me to finish a not-so-top-secret project I’ve been working on, People Stories, because she says it sounds like a good read. It’s a collection of short stories (fiction and true stories) and other works, all revolving around characters. I’ve already told her it will contain “Love Through the Eyes of an Idiot” and “Carolyn and Amanda in the Dark,” both of which she loves. She’s very much a people person.

But most of the stories, I don’t think she would get, because she’s only 9. One of the stories is about falling in love for the first time. In another, the main character has a very adult quirk: When he asks a girl out on a date, he first establishes that there’s a promise of sex involved.

I’m actually thinking of letting her read it.

-TimK

How Do You Deal With Rejection?

230920081660 This week we experienced a moment of heart wrenching sorrow.

Our third little one is heading to school next year. Already, as the Mums and Dads wait for the older kids to get out of school, she has a posse of friends. They play and carry on.

She has a special friend, whose name I’ve heard a lot. Our third often refers to her as her "best friend".

So when this girl turned to Lucy and said to her, "Stop following me!", It was for us very painful. Our little one, being rejected.

Of course, the reality is that this is what happens in life. Siblings fight and are mean. Friends are mean. Kids and Adults alike are mean. I remember myself as a kid, man alive.

So is there a line? What do you do? How do you respond to this, when it will continue to happen throughout life?

How Do You Deal With Rejection, To And From Your Kids?

Gift Ideas and Travel Tips from Dads

One of the things I love the most about my job – the travel – also has a huge downside as a dad.  Whether it’s a day-trip that begins with waking up at 4:30 a.m. and then not getting home until after 9 p.m. or a multi-day trek across time zones, I miss those daily in-person debriefs on my daughter’s day over dinner.  I miss cooking dinner together as she’s now old enough to seriously help in the kitchen with stirring, scooping, and setting the table.

But on the flip side, it does give me a chance to bring her back all sorts of fun tchotchkes, whether it’s a t-shirt from the Great Wall of China or a model of the Statue of Liberty (both grossly over priced for sure) that lends a great deal of additional excitement to walking in the door.

If you’re a dad who travels, please tell the rest of us:

What’s your approach for bringing things back for the family when you travel for work?

Do you bring something back for every trip? Only when it’s overnight?  Only when you’re gone a certain number of days?  Only when you travel a great distance or to a new locale?

What do you seek out for your kids?  Do you put any cost parameters in place, especially in light of today’s economy?

Do you keep any extra “gifts” around the house just-in-case you forget?  A dress for her favorite doll or an action figure perhaps?

The Sins of Our Fathers

“Father of Mine” by EverClear is an extra special song for me because it truly hits home for me on a deep personal level. I relate to the words so much because my father left our mom with four sons in a strange new land when I was a toddler and I never really got to know him. I wanted to become a successful young man before I had my man to man conversation with him where I would learn more about his side of the story and ultimately I would find a way to forgive him if for no other reason than for closure on my part. Well, I never got that chance because he passed away tragically at a young age.

It took me a long time to deal with his death, the second time he would leave me without saying goodbye or any reasons. I eventually made peace with him when I made a pilgrimage to his grave in Miami, Florida a few years ago. I had that man to man conversation and had my cry and forgave him. I swear, a massive burden was lifted from my shoulders that day and I was never the same again.

As for this incredibly poignant song from EverClear (such an apropo name too), the lyrics and the music video truly move me because so much of it describes how I felt. Much of it is so similar to what happened with our dad and our family.

The part that gets me the most is “I was just scared white boy in a black neighborhood” because we grew up in Newark, New Jersey. We were one of the few non-black families in the neighborhood and school.Ironically though, I’m grateful for my childhood and growing up where I did. I didn’t learn about racism until much later in life when I moved down south but that’s another story.

The other part of the song that’s eerie is about the five dollar bills he would get from his dad which is what I’d get once a year or so. This passage really touches me:
I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame
Now Im a grown man
With a child of my own
And I swear I’m not going to let her know
All the pain I have known

Anyway, men can decide to be just like their dads or they can choose to be even better. I’ve chosen to be the father that I never had. I cherish each and every day with my three children and I know that they love their old man. I’ve chosen to learn from the sins of my father and I believe it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Sadly, too many of us men choose to repeat the same mistakes that our dads made. Still, it’s never too late to change for the better. I know I would’ve forgiven my dad if he came to me and asked for forgiveness, even after I grew up without him. Ultimately, I did forgive him anyway.

Here are the words

Father of mine
Tell me where have you been
You know I just closed my eyes
My whole world disappeared
Father of mine
Take me back to the day
When I was still your golden boy
Back before you went away

I remember blue skies
Walking the block
I loved it when you held me high
I loved to hear you talk
You would take me to the movie
You would take me to the beach
You would take me to a place inside
That is so hard to reach

Father of mine
Tell me where did you go
You had the world inside your hand
But you did not seem to know
Father of mine
Tell me what do you see
When you look back at your wasted life
And you dont see me

I was ten years old
Doing all that I could
It wasnt easy for me
To be a scared white boy
In a black neighborhood
Sometimes you would send me a birthday card
With a five dollar bill
I never understood you then
And I guess I never will

Daddy gave me a name
My dad he gave me a name
Then he walked away
Daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
My daddy gave me a name

Daddy gave me a name
Daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
Daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
My daddy gave me a name

Father of mine
Tell me where have you been
I just closed my eyes
And the world disappeared
Father of mine
Tell me how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat

I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame
Now Im a grown man
With a child of my own
And I swear Im not going to let her know
All the pain I have known

Then he walked away
Daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
My dad gave me a name
Then he walked away
My daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
My daddy gave me a name
Then he walked away
Then he walked away
Then he walked away

Start A Dad's Group

Having started a Father’s Group (Pop Culture) over three years ago I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done as a father.  At the time I was freelancing and was essentially a SAHD (Stay at Home Dad) and desperately needed some dad-bonding where I could get advice from other guys trying to love their kids well.  There were not many books out at the time, although a number of blogs (Rebel Dad is one of my faves) featured dads talking in real voices about raising their children and authentic issues they faced.

I wanted our meetings to have some structure.  For one thing–no kids allowed.  Some of the guys have done things with their families (golfing, bike trips) but the group has lasted largely because we can’t find other agnostic settings (meaning non religious settings) where we can discuss specific fathering techniques where we are not judged by what we do, but simply provided a platform to bring up issues we’re dealing with and people who can lend advice about what they’ve done in similar circumstances.

So here’s how we run our meetings:

  • Introductions.  Name, our job, how many kids we have.
  • Issues.  These can be concern focused (“my three year old daughter doesn’t respond to time outs” or positive reports (“my son is now potty trained”)
  • Round Robin.  We go around the table talking about our issues in more detail and fellow dads offer up perspective on how they’ve handled a situation.

I always stress as group moderator that we offer perspective versus advice.  Meaning, it’s not my place to say, “Whoa, pal, you spank?”  However, I can say something akin to, “I spanked my daughter a few times and besides the Herculean guilt I felt at doing so I realized it doesn’t change her behavior.  Plus the irony of me spanking her because she’s just hit her brother is just too intense.”

I worried at our first meeting that guys wouldn’t open up and we’d wind up talking sports (which I suck at).  We didn’t.  Within twenty minutes we were discussing everything from breast feeding (which wives didn’t and did and how long guys felt wives should do so before it was too long) to discipline, to wondering how we could balance spending time with our wives (and partners – we have a few gay dads in the group) and kids, maintain a full time job and have ANY time left for ourselves.

On a sidenote, our group caught the attention of some press, which makes me think (hope) that the general public has caught on to the fact that guys really seek out fellowship and camaraderie when it comes to specific advice on how to raise their kids. TIME wrote an article  (Fatherhood 2.0) whose opening question was “does being more of a father make you less of a man?” You can read the article to see what the authors thought.  My answer is pretty short – no.  Being invested in your kids and seeking out ways to be a better father means you’re stepping up to the plate for the best job you’ll ever have in your life.  The next article was a video piece by BusinessWeek TV called Dad’s Get More Involved which was mainly focused on shopping habits for dad but ended with the host quipping that our group featured dads who “traded recipies.”  (Apparently he did not feel being a more invested dad made you more of a man).

Long story short, I simply know I need as much advice as I can get from other guys on how to be a good dad.  It’s why I’m thrilled Chris has started this blog, why I often talk to my dad to get his perspective, and why I lean on guys I’ve known for years who I can go to with tough issues that typically don’t get tackled on Oprah or in magazines.

So if you have some buddies and you can get to a good diner (ours is fanastic – (The ParkWood Diner in Maplewood, NJ) get some chocolate cake and beer and start comparing notes about what really counts in life – your kids and how you can best love them in the context of a crazy, busy world.

Kids on the Web

Computer Family My dad got into computers in the 1970s. Sometimes, he’d take me to work and I’d play this Star Trek game on a computer that had to print out the “screen” on paper. Sometimes, I’d destroy reams of paper chasing a Klingon around. I had no idea how much I was underfoot, but my Dad was so loving, he didn’t tell me. I got my first computer in 1984, the first ever Apple Macintosh. My brother and I loved it. We composed music, did art, wrote stories, played those rudimentary (crappy) Apple games.

My daughter is six, and my son will be three in January. She’s been on the web since before she knew she was on the web. She can navigate to PBS Kids and Nick Jr. and whatever. She can help her little brother get to Thomas the Tank Engine’s site. They play together. Oh, and she goes to Webkins World, too. It’s weird when she’s more concerned about doing chores there than in real life, but otherwise, it’s fine.

When she wants to watch YouTube, I’m right there watching it with her. There are too many wrong turns inside YouTube, too much ‘splainin to do, if she veers off.

At some point, she’ll try to steer her browser out into the larger web, and I’ll have to be ready to explain this all. I’ll have to help her understand stalking, porn, trust, media literacy, and much more. It’s almost overwhelming when you think of it. But the key word here is “almost.”

I had a great talk about this with my CEO. We both feel the same. NOT teaching your kids about the web, and NOT getting in there deep with them from the start is the wrong choice. Learn at home. Learn with intelligent parents who can share perspective, explain the importance of privacy, can explain how confidence games and trust works.

I’m thinking of launching a series of one day events on the topic: educating parents on how to talk with their kids about the web. I want to bring this out to as many people as I can. I think it’s important. I think this is education that we’re equipped to provide.

What do you think about it? Does it make sense? What’s your policy at home about kids on the web?

The Halloween Costume – It'll Give You Nightmares

I’m going to admit it: I hate Halloween.

There, I’m out of the closet, and for the record:

  • I don’t like chocolate, or what having a sack of the stuff laying around for a few days does to my sugar junkie kids.  Heck, by election day I’ll need to send them to glucose rehab.
  • How is it otherwise God fearing parents allow their kids to dress up as devils, witches and the like?  I’m not the most religious guy around, but I do want my kids to get a clear picture and the oxymoron that is Halloween is no help.
  • We don’t have nearby neighbors, so I have to drag the kids to the nearest development so they can beg for candy.  It makes me feel like a carpet bagger.

Okay, that stuff I can probably live with.  By far, my biggest problem with Halloween is the costumes.  Every year the stuff at the costume shop seems to take another step towards Fredricks of Hollywood.  As a father, I am compelled to draw the line.  Which is really fun in my house, where the oldest has Asperger’s Syndrome, which manifests in an utter unwillingness to compromise.

A few rules to live by for girls and Halloween:

  • Halloween is cold, so no exposed skin.  When it doubt, wear a leotard.
  • If the costume would display your belly button, you’re wearing a leotard.
  • Halloween involves a lot of walking, you should wear appropriate shoes.  Spike heels have no place on young girls.
  • If the costume is too suggestive, as defined by your dad, you’re not wearing it.
  • If you’re over 10, you need to make your own costume, at home, with stuff from the house, and yes, all of the previous rules still apply, possibly even more so.
  • Even in costume, you still are a representative of this family, and will act accordingly.

With those rules, Dad won’t be needing a costume himself.  Everyone is already going to see him as an Ogre, but when you get right down to it, it’s the right thing for a Dad to do.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get these rules in place this year before the kids got their costumes.  This is the first year I wasn’t there and hadn’t set the ground rules.  Luckily, mom handled it exactly the way I would have (and probably better), although she did have to invoke the “You’re wearing a Leotard” clause.

Hope this helps, let’s hear your Halloween stories.  And yes, as much as I dislike the holiday, I’ll be dressing up and taking the kids out.  Because that’s what Dads do.

Practical: Party On

300820081376 It seems that once a child reaches School, or Daycare, that Kid’s Parties become both a bane and a blessing.

Parents, in my experience, put on a good show for their kid’s celebrations. Grinning through the crazy, you can see the glimmer in their eyes. Looking forward with bated breath for all the other parties throughout the year where they can drop and run!

We’ve opted for a different road, mostly.

 

OURS:

All our parties are the same. Ours and the kids. We’ve been blessed with great friends, and doubly blessed that all our kids are friends.

So far, and I know this will change in time, the parties we’ve thrown have been fantastic gatherings of friends and fellowship, for all ages.

THEIRS:

Not always, but more than a few times, we’ve attended other kid’s parties. At least one of us, but most of the time it’s both of us and the other kids too :).

I’m not sure how long this will last. But while it does, we’ll be making the most of it!

 

How do you deal with Parties, both Adults and Kid’s?

 

Stu Andrews is a Husband and Father of Four. He can be found on his personal blog and on Twitter, amongst other places. Please drop him a line, he LOVES to meet people.

Advice for Expecting Fathers from a New Dad

I have only been a dad for 3 months.  My wife and I welcomed Franklin Phillip Lewis to our family on July 4th, 2008 at 7PM.  He is my pride and joy.  Since that day I hate leaving the house to go to work in the morning and I have found myself doing everything in my power to get home early to see him – even if that means missing a Red Sox game or two.  While it has been an absolute joy being a dad the change to our lives has been dramatic.

Expecting dads, here is a list of the five biggest changes I have noticed since I becoming a new dad to help you prepare for what is coming soon:

Change #1: My lifestyle, as I had known it, is over
When the baby comes your lifestyle is the first thing to change.  “B.F.” (before Frankie), my wife and I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, going out to eat, taking impromptu vacations, going to the movies and lived a generally spontaneous lifestyle.  After Frankie, our priorities completely shifted, as did our lifestyle.  While the sudden change in lifestyle was a big surprise, the biggest shock to me is I really don’t care. What I learned is that there is absolutely no comparing the kind of love I have for Frankie with the love I have for any other person.

The point is be prepared for your world to change but also be prepared to love someone more than you ever have which completely overshadows the lifestyle change.

Change #2: Dad, you are no longer the only man in mom’s life
You will quickly realize that your relationship may get strained because of the time spent with the baby.  Before Frankie, my wife and I spent a lot of time together and that completely changed when Frankie arrived. The focus of everything thing we did quickly revolved around the baby. We barely have time to sit down and have dinner together, never mind doing the things we did as a couple before the baby came.   Spending time together as a couple has become a challenge and I began to feel like “the other guy” in my wife’s life.

After doing some research I discovered this feeling this way is very normal for new dads.  My advice is to try to spend some time with your wife every day, even if it’s only for a short period of time, talking and sharing time together.  We make a point of doing this every night after the baby goes to bed.

Change #3: The Baby Hangover
Be prepared to be exhausted… constantly. I affectionately call my constant state of exhaustion the “Baby Hangover”. No matter how hard we try to get him on a sleeping schedule, it changes. Some nights he sleeps, some nights he doesn’t and no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to catch up on my sleep.

I still haven’t adjusted to the sleeping patterns but I have adjusted to going to work exhausted and catching “naps” when the baby is sleeping.

Change #4: Got pets?  Don’t let them get the shaft
From the moment we got home with Frankie, our pets quickly moved to low man on the totem pole.  We have two dogs, Teddy and Larry, which my wife often referred to as her “kids”, “soul mates”, or “best friends”.  Needless to say, that sentiment changed very quickly.  Before Frankie, they got 100% of our attention, now they are lucky to be allowed to be on the couch while the baby is feeding.

I quickly noticed a change in their behavior.  They were becoming depressed very quickly knowing that they were no longer the “babies” in the house.  My advice, make time to play with them, give them attention while including them in baby related activities.  We found that by including them on things like feeding and playtime helped them to accept the baby and give the attention they need.

Change #5: Mom is going through some major changes
For some reason I believed that once the baby came my wife’s hormonal mood changes would end.  This doesn’t happen, in fact for a time they may become more intense.  There is so much change going on at home that it’s tough to remember the amount of change that is going on within her body.

My advice is to be patient and encouraging.  I like to try and schedule nights we can spend together and leave the baby with his Nanny.  While being away from the baby will cause stress for Mom it’s good for her to have a breather away from the little guy.

Times, they are a changing…
I completely underestimated two things before coming a dad.  First, I didn’t realize how big the changes would be.  Second, I didn’t realize how little I would care.  Having a son has been the single greatest gift in my life and it’s worth any amount of change.

When things seem to be changing too fast and they start to get overwhelming I try to remember to go with the flow and have fun.   The changes in my life may be frustrating at times and I may not have been fully prepared for them however I have a feeling that in a few short years I will miss this time.

Did I miss anything?  What other changes do I have to look forward to?

Reach me by email at michael.lewis@thebmaboston.com or on twitter @bostonmike

Autism, dealing with the diagnosis

In my most recent (and for that matter only so far…) post I talked about recognizing the signs that your son or daughter may have autism.  In this post I want to talk about dealing with the diagnosis.

As I mentioned previously, we had suspicions about our son perhaps being autistic.  Well we finally got to see a pediatrician who said that our boy probably was autistic.  He then said, to our faces, that this can be caused by mothers who are too emotionally distant from their children.  Now, I am a psychologist, and while clinical stuff is not really my forte I had read much of the recent literature and I knew this was an outdated Freudian notion (like most all Freudian notions) and it was offensive as hell.  I was speechless (and if you have ever met me you will know that is a pretty rare thing for me).  When we got back to the car I told my wife that it most certainly was not our fault, and that she should not blame herself.  Autism is likely a complex genetic disorder.  Scientists still do not really know the cause for sure, though many things have been ruled out.

When we got home I sad for a bit.  I mean, I am disabled (albinism, which caused my vision to be about 10 percent of normal)  and I did ok, but I had my brain to fall back on.  My son’s brain is wired incorrectly.  What was I to do?  Well we met a few parents of autistic kids in town and went to a few support group meetings.  These put things in some perspective and allowed us to see that our boy had a future (quite a bright one I think), and that families do cope.  I was surprised to learn that often times one parent or the other does not believe that their kid has autism.  Indeed, it turns out that is usually the father.   Ignoring the issue is not going to help your child.  What helps your kid is being realistic, and advocating for him or her.  Don’t despair. 

In my next post I will talk about advocating for your kid, it can be annoying and frustrating, but it is so worth it.

Are adult children still our kids?

Holding Hands

Holding Hands

Being the father of two older children, especially when they don’t live with me presents a lot of different challenges.  I live in the US, they live in the UK.  I haven’t lived there for 7 years, it has changed over that time.  My daughters were 13 & 11 when I left the country, now they are 20 & just about to be 18.

The country has changed while I have been away.  So have my daughters.  Our relationship has evolved.  Legally they will both be adults in a few short weeks.  Suddenly I feel ancient.  I will be the father of two adults, does that mean I am no longer the father of children?  Certainly from their perspective they are no longer children, they can vote, drink, get married without parental consent, buy a house, get a job, choose to live anywhere they want.

What I have come to realize is that parenting doesnt stop at a particular birthday.  My fiance has wonderful parents, she is 37, they are in their 60’s and yet when they are all together they are obviously parent and child. Not in an intrusive way, but in a way that shows respect.

I have realized that not only has my method of communicating with my children changed – email, Facebook, IM & phone, but that the content has changed too.  My youngest daughter is still in High School, so the “how is school?” question is valid and still elicits the same response – “Oh fine”.  My eldest is taking a year out from University, I wasn’t wowed by this choice, but I had to learn to respect the fact that she can make her own decisions and that perhaps my role was more to help her find something useful to do with her year out. The way in which my daughters need me has changed, the need is still there, but the manner in which it is expressed has changed.

This summer the two of them came to visit for a few weeks.  I was very challenged, what was I going to do with them?  Its one thing for us to communicate electronically and for me to be included in their lives via pictures and videos on facebook, but what where was I going to take them that they wouldnt be bored to tears.  Again, it struck me that they were young adults, capable of making decisions.  We sat down together with a guide book to Austin and picked out things that we wanted to see.  Turns out that they had such a good time my eldest daughter has since emailed me and asked if she can spend part of her year out with me here.

So what is the lesson that I have learned?  That they will always be my children, that I will always be the parent and want to protect and provide, but that the manner in which I do that has to evolve as we all grow older if we are to grow together and not grow apart.  That decision making becomes advice provision, that direction becomes suggestion, that discipline becomes guidance.

Emploment opprotunities

We were driving today when we passed a sullen man on a corner waving an arrow back and forth.

“Going out of business sale,” his sign said.

I asked six-year-old Zachary, “Do you think he likes his job?”

“No,” he answered.

I told him I felt sad for the man. Sad that he wasn’t able to do the kind of work that he would like to do.

I told Zachary, “It’s very important that you find out what you want to do in life. Then focus on it. And get it.”

He understood my point.

What do you think of this example? The man might actually be thrilled to have the job.

I could have talked about how great that man was for doing that job to support his family. I chose instead to suggest that he could have been more than “a guy holding a sign,” and “you, Zachary, can be more than a guy holding a sign.”

Did I teach the wrong thing? Did I miss an opportunity to instead teach empathy? I look forward to your feedback.

Let’s figure this one out together,

:: Joe Hage

Related Posts:

Dad’s Life Lessons: Rule #1

Dad’s Life Lessons on the Wall

Mom and Dad on Strike

Lullaby

Hey everyone,

Kathie and I are not yet parents. Fetus Wilder isn’t scheduled to make his debut until November 27th. Happy Thanksgiving!

So at week 34, Kathie is getting pretty round and she’s loving every minute of it! Yeah, it hurts to sit too long. It hurts to stand too long. It hurts to be in the minivan too long. But she’s taking it like a trooper and trying to enjoy every moment of ‘creating life’.

As for me; there’s not a whole lot I can do until the baby makes his debut. I do more chores around the house and do my best to make Kathie comfortable. But as far as substantive participation in the baby’s nine months of mommy time; I’m lucky to be around the moment when the baby starts moving around.

But since I’m someone who really enjoys writing, recrding and performing music. I thought I would share a lullaby that I wrote for the baby that will be included on the CD project that I’m currently in the process of recording.

Here’s the Link to Download the MP3

Feel free to give feedback/criticism here in the comments or email me: mrscott168 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Scott Wilder – The Geek Dad

Dad-o-Matic Quick Tip: Getting Kids to Say Thank You

I’m sure (I hope) most of you will agree that teaching our children manners is crucial.  Here’s a simple way to reinforce your children saying, “thank you.”  

This Dad-o-Matic Quick Tip works best with younger children.  When you hand your child something that they have asked for, don’t let go. Keep your grip on the object–be it a toy, a juice box, a book, or anything else–until the child says thank you.  

They may give you a puzzled look at first, but they’ll catch on fast.  Let go as soon as the magic words are spoken, and say something to reinforce the behavior like, “wow – great manners; you’re welcome.”  If they won’t say “thank you,” don’t let go.  It works like a charm.

When Did Daddy’s Little Girl Become a Woman?

I have three kids.  The two oldest are boys.  The third, and youngest, is my daughter, Olivia.  From the moment of birth, boys and girls are different.  At least that has been my experience.  As infants and toddlers, the boys were into everything, climbing on furniture even before they could walk.  Bumps, bruises, burns and broken bones were the norm (at one point, Zach visited the local ER so many times the staff knew him by name!).  And then there is Daddy’s Little Girl.  The instant she opened her eyes it was clear that she was different.  Calmer, more alert, to steal a line from JERRY MAGUIRE, she “had me from ‘hello.'” – ok, from “ga.”  It is amazing how quickly and easily a Dad can be wrapped around a little girl’s fingers.  I was smitten.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS.  GIRLS WILL BE… MYSTERIOUS!

Now, of course this doesn’t mean I was any less taken by my boys, it is just that little girls are different.  The boys didn’t care about “spinning dresses” and things in their hair.  And, after all, I had been a boy.  I knew what they were thinking and how and why they did what they did.  But a girl?  I had no clue.  She was (and still is) a mystery.  For that matter ALL of you women are!

FAST CARS AND SLOW BOYFRIENDS…

Suffice it to say we survived the infantry, and successfully tackled toddlerdom.  It is the teen years that have been fascinating for me, and it has been the tweens and teens that has really solidified for me some of the innate differences between males and females that have led JOHN GRAY to place us on completely different planets.  We live in Florida where you can get your driver’s permit at 15 and an ACTUAL DRIVER’s LICENSE at 16.  I grew up in New York and had to wait for age 18 to legally drive.  From the age of 14 my sons monitored the calendar as if their lives depended on it.  The nanosecond they turned 15 they were all over getting their permit, and after that, their licenses.  My daughter turned 17 last month and she has yet to get her permit.  On the other hand… she now has “a boyfriend!”

IT IS TEMPTING TO BE A JERK!

One day in the past year, I am not entirely sure when, I woke up and discovered that my little girl had miraculously turned into a young woman.  How did that happen?  How did she acquire hips, and breasts and a fashion sense? Who has been secretly adding “tampons” to my grocery shopping list?  When did she start speaking to me as a peer and engaging me in normal, LOGICAL conversation?  When did she start making so much sense?  When did Daddy’s little girl become a young woman???  I have to admit, it sort of snuck up on me.  So when the time came for me to “meet” the boyfriend I was tempted to be the classic jerky dad you see on TV… to go up to him and stare at him and say, “I got my eye on you, boy” (or some other wanna be clever but actually inane cliche).  I wanted to instill the fear of all monsters in him, so that he would never dare even think about saying or doing anything that might upset, annoy or take advantage of my darling little girl.  I wanted to be “that guy.”   But of course, I couldn’t.  When he confidently shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Mr. Sass, it is a pleasure to meet you,” how could I return the favor by glaring at him?  I could not.  When I looked at my daughter and saw how beautiful she has become, and how happy she is, how could I do anything but smile in return and engage in friendly, encouraging conversation.  After all, if I have done my job right as a parent, she knows how to behave, and make good choices, and ease her way through the awkward and exciting transition from girl to woman, from child to adult.  I have to have enough confidence in myself to have trust and confidence in her, and in her choices.

POOP AND VOMIT ARE EASY.  LETTING GO IS HARD.

Wiping tushies, and swabbing spittle is dirty work, but easy as compared to watching your children become adults, and letting go to to let them go.  Holding back the desire to control, and letting them have the freedom to make their own choices and decisions, and risk having to suffer their own consequences accordingly, has been for me one of the hardest parts of being a Dad.  I don’t want to let go.  I want to nurture and protect them forever.  I want to warn them and stop them from getting hurt.  If they don’t start “dating” and having boyfriends and girlfriends they can never know the hurt and pain when it ends or doesn’t work out.  Of course then they would also never know the joy and excitement when it does work out.  So, it is with pride that I watch my little girl become a woman, and it was with pride that I watched my little boys become men.  The joy I get in being here to witness their first wobbly steps into adulthood is every bit as exciting as the joy I got from watching their first wobbly steps across the living room floor so many years ago.

And besides, my daughter will ALWAYS be Daddy’s little girl!  Always!

How about you?  Are you ready to watch your little girl become a little woman?

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 20, Ethan, 18 and Olivia, 17).  He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast.  You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab.

Worst of the Week: Sons of Anarchy

Welcome to my regular Friday feature, Worst of the Week. As a white, suburbanite husband and dad of two kids, there’s a lot that can go wrong and this entry is all about how to fix it. I hope you enjoy it!

Our family lives in a great subdivision. The neighbors give back your rakes, tree saws and power tools on time, everyone seems to take a walk at dusk, and year round we have great outdoor parties like movie night, in which a family friendly film is projected on the side of someone’s garage.

The kids are all great too. There’s even a group of kids (about 12) who ride their bikes to the elementary school (also located in our subdivision). Patrick (8), or The Boy as I affectionately call him, joined the group this fall. We got him a lock, taught him how to use it and filled out the correct forms with the school. Patty and I was not one bit worried about him because we know all the other kids and their parents. All was good and The Boy was learning on his own.

That is until Patrick came home and told us that one of the kids, Billy (10), told him that in order to officially join the group, Patrick had to complete a number of “Biker Challenges”, the first of which was that Patrick could not ride his bike for one full week. I chuckled when I heard this and brushed it off as no big deal because Patrick is friends with Billy. Both of them have been at each others birthday parties and have even played on the same Little League team. Patrick took this very seriously but as parents we ignored this “Challenge” and Patrick rode anyway. We thought all was OK until we learned of the second and third “Challenges”.

Patrick let us know this week that Billy told him to run around the entire school then he had to climb a tall tree and touch the highest branch. Patrick told us that he did the first one but couldn’t complete the second – thank goodness for that! Patty and I had a family talk and included Erin (6) in on the conversation. We talked about “bullying” and what makes up a friend. After dinner, that night, I took it to the next level and The Boy and I went down the street to straighten everything out with Billy’s parents. Billy’s mother was home and to say that she was embarrassed was an understatement. She assured me that she and her husband would talk this over with Billy and to include their fifth grade son who is also in the group.

It’s been a few days and all things are back to normal. Patrick is riding and the hazing has stopped. We know why Patrick did the “Challenges” in the first place – to be accepted and he didn’t want to let his friend down. He’s a tough kid who wants more responsibility and wants to take care of his problems himself and we are also proud that he came to us when things got too heavy.

Summary: When the going gets ruff, sometimes parents have to step in and help out. The hazing can wait until college.

Our Children's Friends: Encouraging Positive Friendships

Picture Courtesy of chartingnature.com

This past Sunday our church pastor was doing a sermon on friendship.  The title? “When your backs against the wall…..You have to have friends”.   Without going into a sermon of my own, the gist of the lecture was that you’ve got to have “good, solid friends.”  These friends are the ones that listen and comfort when you are down, share in your joy when you are up, and hold you accountable when you’re falling off the beaten path.  These friendships are essential for everyone.

 

Well, this got me thinking about my daughters.  Although I’m a few years off from having to worry too much about whom my girls spend their time with and play with, I thought I would generate some discussion for those of you who have to deal with this now.

 

As your kids go through elementary school, middle school, and into high school, how do you keep “tabs” on who your kids are hanging out with?  Better yet, how do you help encourage your kids to choose their friends wisely?  How do you encourage them to build positive friendships that will help make them better human beings, while also encouraging them who to avoid?  Or, is it better to let them go their own way, and learn from any mistakes or successes they have?

 Please share your stories/insights/advice, as I’m sure many parents in this great community we have built here at Dad-O-Matic have contemplated the same questions.

Kids and Time

Time

Time

How much time do you spend with your kids?  No, this isn’t a lecture, it’s not meant to be condemning – it’s more of a “note-to-self”.   Because I struggle with the same balance you do – spending time with my children vs. doing work that needs to be done.  I’m busy, you’re busy – we’re all BUSY.

 

Most of you are probably like me – hours of work to be done and yet I hear those special words “Daddy, will you play with me?”  How do you answer that question? 

Kids desperately want you to enter their little world.  Enter it with no strings attached.  They want you to be their “little friend” for a while.  Do you?  Sure, I know it’s hard to play some of those games.  Sometimes I think I would rather be at the dentist than play “dolls” with my daughter.  However, when you look into the eyes of your children – it’s not really about what you play – it’s about understanding how much it means to them for you to be in their world.  If you don’t enjoy playing “dolls” or “whatever” – enjoy the fulfillment of what you’re giving them.  Remind yourself of the real reason you’re playing dolls.   

Also, give them your full attention.  Turn off the cell phone, television, etc. and move away from the computer.  There was a time when I thought kids wanted cool toys and “stuff” from me (and they still do) – however, I’ve learned that no toy is cooler than Dad hanging out in their world.

So, spend time with your kids.  In fact, spend as much time with them as you can possibly justify.  There will come a time – in the not too distant future – when they’re not interested in spending time with you.  They’ll be too busy texting their friends and doing “teenage stuff”.   By then, it might be too late.

'Weekend Dads' Should Still Be Parents

So The Darling G and I were in Yo! Sushi on Saturday, and sat opposite us was a father with a somewhat uncooperative teenager. A bit of eavesdropping over our makis indicated that what we were seeing was a Weekend Dad.

They finished lunch quickly – Dad trying (and failing) to communicate, and in doing so showing a woeful lack of understanding of his son’s life and activities. They then rolled off, with Dad asking directions to the cinema. I suppose the cinema made it easier for him – after all, one doesn’t have to talk when watching a movie.

This is, I would imagine, a scene repeated in burger bars and tourist attractions across the country every weekend. And it got me thinking – does it really have to be like that?

I am one of the many Weekend Dads in this country. But I don’t believe that being a dad at weekends means you have to be a Weekend Dad.

I see my son every Thursday evening to do bedtime stories, and we have him overnight for three weekends in every four. Additionally, we also take my former stepson, as his father only visits once every five weeks (if he’s not doing anything else) and let’s face it – every boy needs a regular male influence. Both The Darling G and I (and, I’m proud to say, the rest of my family) make a point of ensuring that Josh and Jay are treated absolutely equally, and both are referred to and treated as my sons. (But that’s another post).

I think it’s important, though, that weekend visits and the like don’t descend into the ‘easy stuff’ – cinema, wildlife park, McDonalds and so on – because in doing so, the Weekend Dad is making it easy for himself, not his child.

Rather, I believe that it’s better to take the harder route – involve the children in the normal minutae of weekends, with the normal treats that would come to a child in a normal relationship. For us, this can mean taking the boys to Argos to choose some new bedding for their bunks, then to buy some new shoes for Joshua, and stopping for a drink in Mostly Books in Abingdon rather than a fat-laden snack at Burger King. We do Jason’s homework together and in the evening we eat together at the table, with no TV (and no multiple-choice dining either, there’s only one choice). They get a joint bedtime story, with Jason helping me read to Josh, and they don’t get outlandish bedtimes.

We keep to the same rules and discipline as anyone else would, with the same consequences.

Instead of the guilt-trip overload of expensive substitutes, the boys get regular love and affection as a child should. They get stability, a degree of routine and the ability to talk about things normally rather than, as Mr Weekend Dad was doing, an interrogation on what’s happening devoid of emotional understanding.

Being a Weekend Dad is not an easy thing to do (it’s even harder when one of the children has no biological link to either of you at all). I wouldn’t profess to have all the answers. But I do think that by creating a family unit for the times you see the kids, rather than making every time a special occasion, you get to know your children better and establish a more stable, lasting and positive relationship.

Talk to Your Kids About the Poor

October 15th is Blog Action Day 2008 and the emphasis this year is on poverty. Bloggers from around the world are participating and, hopefully, increasing awareness about those who live in poverty in our own communities and around the globe.

I have found this event to be a particularly good opportunity to talk to my own kids about those who are less fortunate. Don’t get me wrong, we have been dangerously close ourselves to not being able to pay the bills on a few occasions. Fortunately, a new contract or a new client would come through right in time to avoid real trouble. And, even more fortunately, we always had family to lean on if we really needed them.

According to Alan Graham, of Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas, having a family support system is most often the key to avoiding actual homelessness. Talking with Alan, I learned that many of the stereotypes associated with being homeless are exaggerated or just plain wrong.

For example, veterans make up a very large part of the nationwide group who have no place to call home. Only about 25% of the homeless population in the United States actually suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. Hardly anyone actually wants to be homeless. Most would change their circumstances if they could.

Hiu_banners

After discussing it with my kids and getting their full encouragement, I’m going to join Alan Graham, Bob Carlton, and a small group of volunteers, for a 24-Hour Street Retreat Immersion with the homeless. It’s a no-frills, sleep-on-the-street, experience.

We’ll be twittering (I’m @MikeChapman) and sharing our observations throughout the day. A bigger group of supporters will be blogging, podcasting and doing video segments during the same time period.

The goal is to put a face on the homeless by actually by getting to know them in person. We want to develop actual relationships with real people that will last beyond Blog Action Day.

I know I’ll only be on the street for 24 hours and then I’ll be back in my comfortable home, with my kids, in time to spend the evening with them. I am very fortunate.

Hopefully, though, it’ll help me to remember what the truly poor and homeless go through every day in Austin and around our country and the rest of the world. Alan tells me it’ll change me. I believe him.

I’m especially hopeful that my children and I will always remember that the homeless are real people, with hopes and dreams of their own, and who need our love and support.

The montage of ‘hunger is unacceptable’ photos above is courtesy of the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin, Texas. The Food Bank is also leading the way in Texas to address these critically important issues.

Our Favorite Bedtime Books

My wife and I have always made it a priority to read to our children–I’m sure most of you do the same, and yes, I do the voices. I would like to think that this habit has helped lead to our second grader’s ability to read at a 5th grade level.  Every night, before bed (unless someone has misbehvaed), we gather on the bed and read.

reading a bedtime story

We recently finished reading the book, The Tale Despereaux (soon to be a major motion picture that doesn’t resemble the story we read) which took several weeks. “Despereaux,” with its lack of pictures and abundance of chapters, was a departure from our usual bedtime fare.  Overall, the book was very good, but had some very dark themes for younger children.

This got me thinking – what are some of your, and your kids’ favorite children’s books?  I’ll start the list off with some of my family’s favorites, and encourage all of you to add your favorite books and mini-reviews in the comments.  Our very own book club.

Our favorite family books in no particular order:

Your turn – what are your family’s can’t miss bedtime books.

The Gummy Bear Song

I feel SO behind the times!
Not only do my 2 and 3 year old LOVE this song…I caught my 3 year old moving the mouse by herself to replay this about 5 times in a row.  Do your kids know this one?  The Gummy Bear Song and it’s been on YouTube for a year, with combined views from various sources of 20 million plus (and that’s just in English).   The source of the video doesn’t allow this to be embedded, but click on the picture to start the fun – and make sure your young ones are close by when you do!

The Gummy Bear - 20 million YouTube hits combined

Stand Up for Yourself… no, Walk Away

My son was recently hit by a fellow classmate after the aggressor was warned by his teacher. It wasn’t a serious issue, just the typical elementary school kid that had some misplaced energy (or aggression).

At night I talked about it with my son, investigated some options on how to handle the situation in the future, and even did some roleplaying.

I found there is a difficult balance between the clichés: “stand up for yourself” vs. “fighting doesn’t solve anything”.

Standing up for yourself is obviously bigger than just this scenario. It’s fighting for what you believe in, protecting oneself, and standing up to adversity. It’s essential for life success.
However, walking away from an unnecessary fight however can show maturity, and is essential to character-building. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi aren’t shabby role-models.

Fathers are often relied upon for these types of issues. When do you think it is appropriate to fight back? When do you think it is right to walk away? What else should be considered?

Tips for Roadtrips with the Kids

The difference between success and failure when traveling with kids is a mix of luck and planning

7 hours in the car with the kids is pretty much a recipe for disaster, but with a little planning, and even more luck, you can turn it into a memory that will last a lifetime. I had just that opportunity last week and the ride turned out to be an absolute joy!

My grandmother turned 100 last Saturday, so I drove from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania with my 9 year old and 10 year old daughters. My wife wasn’t well enough to make the trip, so instead we drove down with my mother, which made me all the more anxious for things to go right.

A few suggestions to help make a trip with kid a success:

[Read more...]

Staying in touch with teens over time & distance

I have two daughters. One 17 the other just turned 20.  We have lived apart for 16 years.  Over those years our ability to remain an active part of each others lives has faced many challenges.  When we were first parted, I lived in the next town, I saw them every weekend, and sometimes during the week.  Then my life took me further away.  I was a 7 – 10 hour drive through three countries away.  Yes we all lived in Europe at the time.  Visits became a monthly thing. Technology, in the form of the phone insinuated its way into our relationship.  I traveled a lot for the company I worked for at the time, sent postcards from around the world but of course that wasn’t the same as being able to share the experience with them.  Then I came to live in America.  We became even more reliant on the phone and then increasingly on email and Instant messaging.  The problem with the phone & Instant messaging and mixing that with what had just become teenage girls was tying them down to specific dates and times that they were available.  As they developed socially and increased their activities so there was less room for being tied to a specific time and place that we could set aside for just us.

The situation deteriorated until a few years ago I just stopped hearing from them.  Emails went unanswered, no birthday cards, no christmas cards.  It was a year of complete darkness.  I continued to communicate. Sent emails, cards & presents but none were acknowledged.  I wondered what I had done wrong.  Of course the big answer was everything, but the specific answer was nothing. They were simply busy, they had other things going on and they just forgot.

Then suddenly I got a birthday card out of the blue, what a great birthday.  Things developed from there.  Emails and then one day, an email from Facebook.  I had joined the site but at that time had invested very little time in it and had only 2 friends on my friends list.  The email from facebook told me that  my eldest daughter wanted to add me as a friend.  I accepted immediately.  Then her sister added me.  Suddenly I was hooked. I had a window into their world.

Jesse Stay wrote in his article here on Dad-O-Matic that some parents might think that having their kids as “friends” on facebook is a form of stalking.  I can certainly see that perspective.  I think Jesse had some good advice regarding that point of view.  For me stalking is the act of observing someone that is unaware of your observation and that the observation takes place for the purpose of developing an imaginary link between the observed and the observer.  In my case I get to see slices of my daughters lives.  I am with them at birthday parties, rock concerts, sleep overs, dinners out, and any other occassion when a camera is present.  Thanks to the “tagging” feature in Facebook, whenever one of their friends “tags” them, it appears on my home page.  Immediately I can see a snapshot of the latest event in their lives.

With this connection comes responsibility.  It would be all to easy to comment on pictures or status updates for which I am probably not the intended audience.  Just this morning I watched a video clip taken at a recent birthday party, a friend of my youngest daughter.  It made me laugh, both to see her and her friends having such fun and to remember what it was like to be that age.  But by commenting on it, I would have been intruding.  Other times it is perfectly acceptable to comment.  My younger daughter recently had a status that read “..is off to Tesco” (its a supermarket chain in England). I added the comment that she should buy my favorite brand of cookie and eat one for me.  Instant connection.  She also recently changed her relationship status, when she and her boyfriend of 18 months broke up.  I included in my next email the opportunity for her to talk to me about it and to make sure she was ok.  It is very unlikely she would have told me in an email that she was no longer seeing him.  But because we are connected, I was privy to that information.

Chris Brogan recently posted his thoughts on how different media reaches us.  He makes the great statement “Reaching people isn’t a linear business. Connecting isn’t a single effort.” Going on to say “Are there other means to connect than the ways you’ve already tried? What else might you find in common with someone?”  My experience has shown me that not only isn’t it a single effort but that the method that you use will evolve over time. Whether you live in the same house as your children, the same country or even just on the same planet, being active, being involved in, and taking the effort to really find out what interests them will always be the key to great communication with your children. Without the benefit of Facebook and other social media tools, I would have a very one dimensional relationship with my daughters.

A Quick tip for Fathers of New Borns

Reading Dave Delaney’s post about Tip for Expecting Daddies got me thinking about what got me through the first couple of months.  It is a great tip.  My tip is for fathers whose child is already born.  Some might not agree with it but it worked for me.

When my daughter, Danni, was born my wife and I agreed that she would stay home and I would work.  I worked two jobs to keep our family afloat.  I worked first job from 8a-5p, Monday through Friday.  I waited tabled from 6p-11p, Monday through Friday, and weekends.  As much as I was gone was the amount of time that my wife spent with our daughter.

Danni was/is an energizer bunny.  That meant when I got home from waiting tables she was up.  This worked out great for me because I actually got to see my daughter.  It actually meant that she had been up since 7a and had maybe taken a nap.  The problem with this was my wife had reached her ropes’ end (rightfully so) by the time I had got home.  My wife wanted an hour or two away from Danni.  So I had a brilliant idea.

I would take Danni out of the apartment.  I would go for a drive and take her somewhere.  I would load Danni up in her car seat.  She would scream the whole time.  I would start the car and before I got out of the apartment complex, she was knocked out.  I would drive around for ten minutes and come back.  As soon as turned off the car, Danni woke right back up.  I needed a new plan.

I decided to drive around for a little longer.  Driving around at midnight is not fun.  So I decided a new tactic.  I would drive around until she was asleep and then drive around for 15 more minutes.  Driving around at midnight is boring.  I needed something to occupy me and keep me awake.

I know a lot of people hate Wal-Mart for a lot of different reasons.  I am going on record that Wal-Mart saved my sanity and my marriage.  I would drive to Wal-Mart, park by the shopping carts in the back, and unload Danni in the car seat very carefully.

I would walk slowly and steady to the front door.  Be sure to remember to lift the front and back wheels as you go over the tracks of the automatic doors.  I would put up her canopy of the car seat to block the bright lights and shopping I would go.

This is not me

This is not me

I did this for a couple of months.  I became a Guitar Hero God!  The staff knew me by name.  I listened to all the music I could ever want.  I read all the new magazines and new books.  Every night I would spend a hour or two in Wal-Mart.  Danni slept, my wife got some mommy-time, and I got me-time.

I recommend this to any new daddy.  I finally stopped going to Wal-Mart because Danni stopped sleeping.  She was awake and wanted to play when I got home.

What would you have done different? Any suggestions?

Photo Credits – Wal-Mart: Dystopos – Flickr.com, Guitar Hero: Pinachina- Flickr.com

Being A Story Teller

The job of Storyteller has a long and worthy history in this country and is, I’m happy to say, an old tradition that in recent years has been resurrected – and rightly so. However, I don’t think it’s just the role of an official storyteller, or that of teachers, to introduce children to the wonders of the written word.

To me, teaching our kids to read and instilling them with a love of books and literature is, quite simply, one of the best gifts of love a parent can bestow.

We have the chance to show them whole new worlds inhabiting the pages; to enhance their imaginations and creative skills by showing them how characters can come to life inside their minds; to instil in them a love of the knowledge they can find within books; and to teach them that they need never be bored while there’s a library nearby.

We’re blessed in that we have such a vast range of authors and genres which we can use to do this. From Dr Seuss to Roald Dahl, from AA Milne to JK Rowling. It’s all there for us to read to, and with, our children.

I’m not fortunate enough to be with my two boys 24/7, but I’m luckier than many in that I have plenty of access and I make time to spend with them as well. And for me, the best part of that time is reading with them, which I do every Thursday evening as well as at weekends.

With Josh, who’s just three, it’s mostly bedtime stories and Dr Seuss – but to see his eyes light up when we read ‘The Cat in the Hat’ together is just amazing. I’ve also started introducing him to poetry – today, for example, we were walking around the living room to AA Milne’s ‘Lines and Squares‘, stepping in time to the rhythm of the verse, both of us shouting, “Bears!” at the appropriate moment.

Then there was the wonderful moment of reciting ‘Jabberwocky‘ – chasing a screaming Josh around the room, being ‘the jaws that bite, the claws that catch’. He loves it, and he doesn’t even know he’s learning.

Jay, at 10, is more difficult, however Roald Dahl is always a winner. His characters are so vibrant and rounded, his goodies so good and his villians so vile, that it gains and holds the attention of even an older boy. And of course, the graphic descriptions of baddies meeting sticky ends is always popular. We’re doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and we share the reading, so he both learns and is entertained at the same time.

I’ve also started bringing poetry to Jay – he needs a little help with his reading at the moment, and the cadence and structure of simple poems seems to aid both his concentration on the words and also on his expressiveness when reading. The choice of subject matter also helps – I find that snot-related verse seems to have the desired effect!

My best friend Loudmouthman recently wrote an excellent piece on the Duty and Responsibility of being a Dad, which I urge you to read. However, I believe that a big part of that responsibility is very simple.

Read with your kids.

You never know – it might even be fun.

Kid's Books: Do You "Do" The Voices?

It’s such a simple thing, with great rewards.

 

When we are reading at night (the night’s that I read, which go in spurts), depending on the book, doing the voices of the characters creates another level again of story-telling.

 

Requirements:

  • Be over the top!
  • Try all different kinds of voices. The kids will quickly pick up if you forget and swap them around.
  • If it’s a story the kids know, get them involved too (this is something I’ve only just thought of, and will be trying out presently).
  • Be over the top!
Results:
  • Adds more “theatre” to the story-telling.
  • The kids minds are further exercised. They’re pretty awesome at spotting differences, and remembering the voices, attaching them to the characters.
  • Provokes your own mind to be more creative, imaginative and passionate.
I’m sure as our kids get older things will change. Age though is not a problem. A few years back I read the Harry Potter series (the four of them at that time) aloud to my better half. I “did” the voices. It was awesome, according to the audience :)

Choices and Consequences

A big part of being a good Dad is arming your kids with the tools they’ll need to understand and navigate the world successfully as adults. When I first became a Dad, I took some time to reflect on the adults I knew… on what the ones who were doing better seemed to understand, and on what the ones who were doing worse seemed to have in common.

I uncovered a few insights that seemed important, and now as I await the arrival of my fourth child, I’m pretty sure about the most important lesson I’ve had for the first three.

It is this:

We make choices in life, and those choices have consequences. Growing up means accepting the consequences of your choices, and dealing with them in a responsible way.

Pretty obvious, right? So why is it so important?

Different Outlooks, Different Outcomes

Do what I did… think about the happiest people you know, and about the most miserable. Pick a few real people in your life from each category, and visualize them in your mind. Ready?

Dollars to donuts, the happiest people you know aren’t necessarily the richest, the best looking, the most talented, or even the most loved. They are the people most in touch with the truth – the truth of who they are, the truth of their relationships, the truth of the people and circumstances around them. Look closely, and you’ll see that these people interpret themselves to be more or less in control of their lives. Not in the sense that unforeseeable, bad things don’t happen to them. They do, just like everyone else. But these people tend to respond to life’s inevitable setbacks and tragedies by accepting them as an objective reality to be dealt with, and focusing on the choices that will help them best address that reality.

Happy, well adjusted adults understand the nature of personal responsibility. They neither avoid the entanglements real relationships entail, nor burden themselves with worry over that which is beyond their control. Robert Frost called them “easy in their harness,” about the best distillation I’ve come across.

Now come back to the most unhappy people you know. When you talk to them, when you ask how they are, what do they say? I bet it’s some variant of this: Their boss did this to them; their wife did that to them; the whatever isn’t fair because of the <blank>; X screwed them out of Y because of Z. These people conceal the truth of their personal responsibility from themselves. They don’t hold themselves accountable, don’t see their lives as the product of their choices. They see themselves responding at the margins to circumstances beyond their control, and drift with the current toward destinations far from their hopes and dreams.

And where did these people learn to function this way in the world? Sadly, more often than not, they learned it from their parents.

What are your kids learning from you?

Right or wrong, I have a worldview I’d like my kids to start with, even if they reach different conclusions as adults. I believe our lives are what we make of them – through the good and the bad we all face, the failures and the triumphs that make up a life worth living. I believe their lives will be the consequences of their choices, and that recognizing this early on will dramatically increase their odds of being happy, productive adults.

So how do you get that message across? I’ve found that what works best is giving your kids a little more choice and a little more consequence as they go, pointing out the connections between the latter and the former at every possible opportunity.

Some examples: We’ve all seen people fight with their kids about eating this or that, or rise from a full dinner table to make macaroni and cheese for poor Timmy who “won’t eat anything else.” This drives me pazzo, and it doesn’t happen in our house. The reason is not because we’re great parents, or because our kids are better than Timmy. It’s because we use this as an opportunity to reinforce an important lesson.

After toddlerdom, we don’t argue with our kids about eating dinner, or make them something else if they choose not to eat what’s being served. We establish the rule that whatever’s been prepared is what’s for dinner, and – after advising them to eat, and clarifying the consequences if they don’t – let them decide if they want to eat or not. Easy enough, right? Well here’s the hard part: If they choose not to eat, despite our best advice and encouragement, they can’t eat anything else until breakfast. Period. Each of them has chosen not to eat dinner a couple of times, and later complained later that they were “starving” when they went to bed. Please. Each survived this “starvation” just fine, and now – for the most part – they know the deal, and they eat without complaint.

Same with bedtime. In the summer there’s the inevitable appeal to stay up until 9:00, or even 9:30. We let them decide whether they want to do this early in the summer, on the absolute condition that there’s no whining or complaining when they have to get up for camp in the morning. As long as we hold the line on this, everybody wins, either way. In order to maintain the later bedtime they work hard to get out of bed, dressed and downstairs on schedule in the morning. If they start to find that too difficult, they are the ones who choose to hit the sack early in order to get the sleep they’ve learned they need.

The consequences of bad choices obviously get more harmful as kids get older, but that’s kind of the whole point. Before your kids reach the stage of life where bad choices can have lifelong consequences, you’ll have taught them an important lesson within the relative safety of the world you control on their behalf.

What lesson do you think is most important for your kids? Why is it so important to you?

He Didn't Have to Be

One thing I’ve learned through experience is that raising a child makes you a father, not simply the act of procreation. Far too many men can do the latter but a precious few ever even try to be the former. I respect and admire anyone that accepts the sacrifice and challenge of raising a child these days. I have even more admiration for those parents-especially dads-that choose to share the responsibilities of raising a child that another man fathered. It takes a special man to understand that these children need father figures no matter whose DNA they possess. 

I know as a fact that there’s no difference in the way you love a child whether they are blood or adopted. My son Nicholas was adopted at birth and I love him as much as my other two children that we had. Honestly, I never think of him as “adopted” and even saying this is surprising because I think of him as my own flesh and blood. 

The following song called “He Didn’t Have To Be” by Brad Paisley tells a wonderful story about the powerful impact a man can have a child’s life. He talks about this man who came in his momma’s life when he was a boy and not only made her happy but also her boy by being a wonderful father. It’s a beautiful sentiment that isn’t as common as it should be. Too many men shirk their duties or avoid responsibilities, especially if the child isn’t their own (what a horrible expression!). 

I want to thank all you dads out there, especially those that are loving and raising children that share another man’s DNA. It’s the greatest calling in life, being a parent. These little girls and boys just want a dad to call their own. The guy who tucks them in at night, plays with them and love them unconditionally. 

Here are the lyrics

“He Didn’t Have To Be”

When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new
It always winds up feeling more like a job interview
My momma used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone
Who wouldn’t find out about me and then turn around and run 

I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old
He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go
A few months later I remember lying there in bed
I overheard him pop the question and prayed that she’d say yes 

And then all of a sudden
Oh, it seemed so strange to me
How we went from something’s missing
To a family
Lookin’ back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be 

I met the girl that’s now my wife about three years ago
We had the perfect marriage but we wanted somethin’ more
Now here I stand surrounded by our family and friends
Crowded ’round the nursery window as they bring the baby in 

And now all of a sudden
It seemed so strange to me
How we’ve gone from something’s missing
To a family
Lookin’ through the glass I think about the man
That’s standin’ next to me
And I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be 

Lookin’ back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be 

Yeah, I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be
Because he didn’t have to be
You know he didn’t have to be

Are You Following Your Kids?

pd_using_facebook_070710_ms.pngSocial Networking can be a great tool for any Dad or Mom for that matter to get where their kids are and know what they’re doing. Some of the most successful people in the industry use this same method to network and grow the number of people they come in contact with. A tip I leave many in PR or Marketing is that in order to get a Blogger or Reporter to take interest in your product or story is to get where those people are, interact with them through those means, and truly show interest in them, and they’ll eventually reciprocate. Then, when they know you and you are friends, it’s easy to share something with them and have them actually listen. Not only that, but you’ll know them better and you’ll know how to approach them in the future because you know what they like and dislike.

Bloggers are Like Kids (or was that the other way around?)

Yes, it’s true (and I’m one of them!). Isn’t it funny how this same approach could be used with our kids? Social Networks like Myspace and Facebook provide a unique means to getting to know our children. Too often we think of these places, or the latest fad of network as “childish”, or just a place for our kids to hang out. (Well, perhaps unless you’re a geek or early-adopter, but that’s besides my point.)

The best recommendation I could give any Dad with teenage children (I’m not there yet, but I’m getting very close!) is to follow your children on Facebook, or whatever Social Networks they belong to. Some might say, “but that’s stalking them! My children will never let me follow them on Facebook!” You’re approaching it wrong if your children give you that reaction.

With Social Networking, Famous People Aren’t so Foreign After-all!

I like to compare our kids with some of the more famous people you’ll come in contact with on Facebook or Twitter. For instance, how many of you follow Robert Scoble? How many of you have had him talk to you? How about Chris Brogan (who runs this site)? How about Louis Gray? Or Jeremiah Owyang? Of course, those are the easy ones, but similar strategies of trying to get to know each person, becoming friends at the locations they are, and showing interest in them can get any individual to reciprocate the attention you’re giving them. You’d never get to talk to these people if it weren’t for Social Networking.

With Social Networking, Kids Aren’t so Foreign After-all!

The same principle you can apply to “non-approachables” that are adults can also be applied to our kids. If you show genuine interest in your kids, go where they are, join the social networks they are on, all of the sudden you become human to them, and they become human to you. You know what’s going on in their life, and they see you truly care. They’ll share more with you and learn more of who you really are.

If you’re looking to build a stronger relationship with your children, know who they are, and what they’re doing, join up and add them as friends on the Social Networks they belong to! You never know what relationships can be forged ahead by doing so. In the 21st century, this is the best way you can listen as a Dad.

I’m considering doing more of these on Fatherhood and Social Networking. Let me know if this is of interest and I’ll keep sharing more!

Jesse is a father of 4 children, living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He blogs regularly at http://staynalive.com

Photo courtesy http://wesleying.blogspot.com/2007/08/helicopter-parents-use-facebook-to-f-up.html

How to Take Compliments

Violette There are some things dads have to teach their kids, and I think one is how to take compliments well. One of our fine readers (if I could find your twitter DM, I’d call you out by name) asked me to address this, because she has a wonderful and amazing teenager who happens to be a bit shy. When said scallywag gets a compliment, he (she? I forget the gender, just like I forget who asked me. Senility, ah!) kind of turns in on himself and seems almost rude and surly instead of grateful. I thought I’d share how I’ve been helping my daughter take compliments.

Here’s the typical scenario: someone will say, “Oh, I love your funky outfit!” (Violette has a style pretty much all to her own. She’s the only kid I know who’d willingly wear a rain boot and a flip flop and not see anything weird about it.) She usually wouldn’t know what to say, and thus, would look down at her feet a while, and then wander off.

We started getting her in the habit of saying “Thank you” to pretty much anything anyone said. The way we did it was like this: Person says nice thing. Violette makes strange, awkward faces. I’d lean in and say, “When someone says something nice about us, what should we say?” Violette would follow up with a floor-staring “thank you” that only dust mites could hear.

After about 300 times repeating this, she got into the groove a bit more. Now, at six and change, she says “thank you” fairly loud and proud. Why? Because she’s not fond of repeating herself, and because I’ve drilled it into her that if she doesn’t say it loud enough, I’ll just make her do it again anyway.

As a kid gets older, things get a bit more complex. If someone says to your son, “You’ve really got a way with words,” your son has to parse this for sarcasm, for hidden negative meanings, and he’ll also throw all his autobiography onto the statement to decide whether this could possibly true based on his own vision of self-worth, etc.

My counsel on this, and it comes from my own experiences, not because I have teens (because I don’t, unless someone hasn’t come forth yet), would be to help your son by saying, “no matter if it’s intended as sarcasm or otherwise, if you just say ‘thanks’ and act like you’re grateful, the interaction closes faster, and everyone goes back to what they’re doing. The silence just drags out the interaction.”

That’s what I came up with. Hey, parents of teens: what do YOU think?

where r u dad? dnr is rdy!

Texting on a keyboard phone

Image via Wikipedia

If you have kids over the age of 10 it is highly likely they already have their own mobile phones.  If you have kids with their own mobile phones, it is highly likely that they use their phones for a great deal of “texting” (sending text messages).  How about you?

According to a new consumer survey commissioned by AT&T, parents send the majority of their text messages to their children.  This comes as no surprise to me.

Among the findings of the study:  Seventy-three percent of parents believe their children are more likely to respond to a text message.

This also comes as no surprise to me.  My kids and I exchange text messages all day long, and when we are not together, it is the number one way we keep in touch, and the first thing we think of doing when we want to reach each other.

In truth, texting has woven its way into the daily routine at Chez Sass.  As my daughter has to be at her bus stop at 6:30 am, the first thing I typically do when I wake up in the morning is grab my phone off the nightstand and text her “r u up?”  It is only if I do not get a text message back that I have to drag my sleepy behind across the house to knock on the door of her room to wake her.

A REBEL YELL?

Texting has replaced yelling in my home.  We no longer scream from room to room or across the house.  Hollering “DINNER IS READY” is a thing of the past.  Texting “Time 2 eat” is the new dinner bell.  Texting is the new intercom.  Is it impersonal?  I have no idea.  It is certainly less taxing on my throat, extremely efficient, and serves to keep us connected and “location aware” almost 24/7.

Face it – this is the way our kids are being weened to communicate.  Thumb typing is second nature, and vowel free abbreviations are a second language. Long before the advent of Twitter our kids were already living by 140 characters. (Nvr mnd. r u ROTFL yet?)

Do you txt your kids on a regular basis?  Pls lv a msg in the cmnts!

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 20, Ethan, 18 and Olivia, 17).  He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast.  You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab.

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A Toddler Taught Adversity Lesson

My name is Eric Peterson and I’ve been given the opportunity, by Chris, to be able and participate in this wonderful writing project.  First, let me say “thank you Chris,” and second, let me say it’s an honor to be able to share with all of you.

With that, I thought I would actually pull an old post that I had written for my “home” blog about a year ago (actually, it’ll be a year tomorrow).  This post is about one of the many lessons I have learned from one of my daughters, who was 2-1/2 at the time.  Please remember that this text is verbatim from a previous post that was written a year ago. 

A Toddler Taught Adversity Lesson!!  You know….sometimes children can make the best professors!!

The Story (written 10/11/07)
My wife and I had a scare a few nights ago. After putting our 2-1/2 year old daughter into bed for the night we retreated downstairs for a movie. About 30 minutes in we heard a large crash come from upstairs. I ran upstairs to find my daughter standing at the foot of her bed screaming in pain. At the time I was sure that she had fallen off her bed, but I wasn’t sure what exactly had happened (a day later we figured out that she was jumping on her bed in the dark and fell off).

When I picked her up by the armpits she began to scream hysterically. I knew something wasn’t right, but all I could get out of her was her neck hurt. We called my in-laws to come over and watch our 3 month old. Upon their arrival we left for the ER (this was around 10:30 pm).

To shorten the story a bit (and to get on to the “adversity lesson”), after some x-rays, some Tylenol with codeine, and 2-1/2 hours in the ER, it was confirmed that my daughter had broken her collarbone. Luckily, it is “cracked” and not broken all the way through, so we hope the healing time will only be a few weeks instead of upwards of 6 weeks.

The Lesson (written 10/11/07)
Fast forward a couple days now! Watching my daughter, I have really seen how she has been able to adapt to her situation. Life has thrown her a minor league curve ball, and she is handling it quite well.

See, she loves to play. She is a very active girl. She is also a very smart girl, and she has figured out how to do some of her favorite activities without inflicting pain onto her left arm. It’s neat to see her figure out how to stand up and sit down, get off the couch, color, play with her dolls, play in her kitchen, all her favorite activities, and doing them with a temporary disability. A little adversity has come her way (in the form of a broken collarbone), and she has dealt with it and been able to accomplish the very same things she was accomplishing before “The Fall.” Needless to say, it is a pretty proud moment in her mother and father’s eyes (of course, along with the sympathy we have for seeing her in pain)!

Children can be so inspirational. It’s neat to see how they grow and develop, and even teach adults important lessons. So, that was my toddler taught adversity lesson. Or maybe it was actually a lesson on “independence” or “perseverance” or “toughness.” At any rate, it’s another valuable lesson from a special child! Do you have any “lessons learned” from your kids? How about from others in general?

These Times are Great

With all the crap going on with respect to the economy, I felt it would be the perfect time to expand on something I have always thought  . . .

It can cost absolutely nothing to have a good time with your kids, yet and can be more rewarding than an all day spa trip with AIG!

Don’t get me wrong, I have taken the trips down to the sunshine state and had a wonderful time. I highly recommend it if you can afford it. However, I am postive that we would have had just as much fun without taking that trip. And my point is, that there is no linear relationship between your children having fun and the price you paid to have it. In fact it may be quite the opposite.

Way too often, whenever we find ourselves home with the kids, it has been the inclination of my wife and I to go to a movie or an indoor playground when we are looking to have some fun. Sure my 9 year old daughter and my 7 year old son have fun, but was it really worth it. After about ten minutes or so, I find that they are usually bored or want us to spend even more money to get something they most likely will lose or break before we even get home. What everyone really needs to know is that it is not the PLACE that gives our children the enjoyment, it is something much more valuable – our time. Just spending the time with your children is a gift that can not be beat. Not even Mickey Mouse can beat that one. In addition this gift is a two way street.

As an example, my son and I had a recent Saturday all to ourselves. Being the 7 year old he is, 10 minutes after my wife and daughter left for the day, he was bored stiff. Of course my first thought was to see what movies were out (after reading the previous paragraph this should not be a surprise to you). Luckily nothing good was playing so I decided to be creative. I am lucky enough to live near Lynn Woods in Massachusetts so I thought he might like to check that out. (those of you who do live in the North Shore of Massachusetts should definitely check it out sometime – http://www.flw.org/). Three hours later I had the best ride home with a little chatterbox who was exploding with enthusiasm about his day. Here is what we did.

  • We walked in the woods.
  • We threw rocks at a stick in the pond.
  • We talked about everything and anything.

Pretty complicated huh? It was an unforgettable time. Nature has so much to offer these little minds and we often over look it. There is so much for them to take in that they never get bored. It was like there was no one else on the planet for the moment. I had his complete attention and most importantly, he had mine. It gave me the opportunity to literally stop and smell the flowers (though my allergies did not like that one). So fellow dads (and moms) what free suggestions do you have that we all could try to help alleviate the stresses of the dollar?

Thanks

I’d like to say thankyou to Chris Brogan. Since this place went live, a few weeks back, I’ve been reading and commenting with great gusto. 

It is really encouraging to hear other “internet” (for want of a better word, nerd, geek, computer guy, ..) Dad’s writing about what matters to them. Love. Sacrifice. Presence. And not just in the posts, but the comments too.

Even though it’s only been a short time, there seems to be a great sense of community already developed/ing. 

Kudos Chris! Thankyou for the opportunity to join this wonderful group of Dad’s giving forth voice.


Detoxification

I’m not a dad yet. Kathie is due to deliver our first baby around November 27th. So I’m in the position of anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby boy.

As we draw closer to Thanksgiving; I’ve instinctively begun the process of re-evaluating my time. Am I using it well? Am I being effective? Is there enough down-time for me to maintain my own sanity? Will I be available enough to my wife and child physically, intellectually and emotionally?

In the pursuit of evaluating my stewardship of time; I’ve come to the conclusion  that I’ve allowed deadly toxins to invade my schedule. Toxins in the form of people and activities that impare my ability to lavish love and attention on my bride and forthcoming child.

I’m terrible at trying to ween myself into better habits. Like a drug abuser; I tend to slip back into bad habits through a horrible process of guilt and self-justification. Always looking for ways to be helpful and revlevant to the people and world around me.

So it’s time to check myself into detox. Time to go cold turkey and make the decision that if a person or activity doesn’t fall into a specific category of personal or family growth; then it is time for that person and activity to get flushed out.

So does that mean that I will become a hermit and never interface with the outside world ever again? As evidenced by this posting; I will certainly still be engaging with the world. But the use of my time, talents and treasure will now be more focused. With the needs of my family trumping all other considerations.

If you’ve been through a similar detox process; leave a comment and let us know some of your strategies to win back time for yourself and your family.

Volunteer At School

I love being a Dad. It’s given me so many opportunities that I would never of had if I stayed a bachelor. I’ll be touching on many of those hats here at Dad-o-Matic in the upcoming weeks and months but for now let’s start of with something that every single dad can do and that is being a volunteer at your kids school. This doesn’t mean every week at 2:30pm like I do. But it can be just once a year at the school picnic or helping to make productions sets for the school play or being a “room dad” for an afternoon project when the teacher needs an extra pair of hands. It’s a wonderful feeling for me and it can be for you, too.

Now then, I volunteer every Thursday from 2:30-3:30 (including a quick stop at Starbucks beforehand). What I chose to do was to help out in Erin’s first grade computer lab class (all of them Macs). Each week they march in single file to the library, sit down in their seats and then the teacher gives them basic instructions on what ever simple project they have for that day. It can be using a Paint program or cutting and pasting or even keyboarding. I’m mostly there to keep an eye on the kids and answer questions like, “What does this key do”? or “Where can I find this”?

Like I said it’s real rewarding and I get to watch Erin interact with other students and see her progress in the school setting, not to mention the fact that I get to be a “Geek Dad”, which I savor.

Do you volunteer at your kids’ school? If so what do you do?

Mom and Dad on strike

Four-year-old Lukey got in trouble today.

Hitting at school. This after yesterday’s “pushing game” at school and the day before’s “spitting at school.”

Now his mom and dad are on strike. And we kept him home from school today.

Going on strike

Lukey gets what “going on strike” means. It means he’s drained our energy.

— He has to prepare his own food.

— He has to clean his own dishes.

— He has to put himself to bed.

When Mom and Dad are on strike, we make a clear (and very important) distinction between [Read more...]

Self vs Unself: The Ballad Of True Love

Hi, my name is Stu Andrews. I’ve been a husband for ten years now, and a Dad for seven of those. Four kids so far.

The idea of “Self” is prevalent in our society today, just as it has been throughout the ages. Philosophers in the first century thought up spheres of thinking that centered around our Selves. Companies today pour millions and billions of dollars into advertising and marketing and branding that orbits and centers and hones in on our Selves.

The idea of “Unself”, or as it is really “Unselfishness”, is a stark opposite to “Self”. It is not just putting others first, but putting yourself last. It’s about a change of heart, and a change in action.

Love inspires us to be unselfish. To drag yourself out of bed in the chill of early morning to cover one of the kids with the blanket they’ve kicked off. To stand and rock the baby to sleep, because they have an inbuilt accelerometer that goes off any time you *think* about sitting down. To say goodbye to your child on their first day of school when every fibre of your being wants them to stay with you, to not begin that journey away. 

The battle between Self and Unself will not, I’m sure, end before we die. Each day it’s hard. Hard to snap out of a thought-process to look at the latest drawing. Hard to put back up the tarpaulin tent in the back yard. Hard to read again at bed time, to brush everyone’s teeth. These particular actions will fall away, but I’m sure (and there’s plenty of you out there with teenage and older kids) others will take their place.

Every Dad makes bad decisions. Every Dad will get angry, or turn away, or neglect at some point. But every Dad *should* battle his Self and grasp hold of Unselfishness. He should fight his Self to apologise to his children. Not every Dad does this. You probably know of people, maybe you are one yourself, who had a terrible childhood.

But if you are a Dad, then you should know intimately about the battle between Self and Unself. 

When I think about my kids, despite my failings, it’s true Love that fills me. It’s like a never-ending well. It sings, sometimes to bursting. And this fills me with hope. That I can be a better Dad, a better Husband. That my kids will be raised in Love.

 

Technical Issue: Apologies, am having trouble with the wordpress editor, it’s not remembering any “style” vars. Will investigate further.

Limitless Love

I’ve always loved this piece called “Loving Two” by an unknown author. I was moved when I first read it many years ago long before I became a dad and it touches me even more today. I understand it so much more now. It’s such a profound and emotional experience to be blessed with one child and all the more so when you are  fortunate enough to have more.

What you never expect and what shocks you is how you start to feel a little guilty about having to spend more time and love on the new addition to the family because it means taking time and attention away from the previous child. In time you realize that your capacity to love is far greater than you ever realized before. That’s when you learn that your capacity to love is indeed limitless. For example, when a new baby arrives, you don’t love your other children any less, just differently.

I’ve always thought this same principle could apply to husbands and fathers.  When a married couple has a child, it’s natural for the wife to start evolving into her maternal role. Where the man was once her main focal point, the new born supercedes him. It’s a monumental task for every man to accept this harsh reality. “I will never be her only true love of her life ever again!” Every man must learn to share his beloved bride with the new born child. Give up their precious time together, attention and to a degree, even the love and affection that was once in abundance. It is like the death of one life but the birth (in more ways than one) of an entirely new and better life.

Slowly, in time, the shock and awe is replaced with sheer joy and wonder. You’re both amazed by the radical changes of emotions that transpire between the both of you. Soon you learn that the heart is an amazing muscle that can love more than one and not sacrifice the depth and meaning of it all. You both begin to love each other in entirely new ways as you learn how to raise this child you’re raising and loving together. As the size of your family grows with each new addition so too does the heart. You learn that the heart has no limits when it comes to love.

Here is something you will never forget…

 

Loving Two

I walk along holding your 2-year-old hand, basking in the glow of our magical relationship. Suddenly I feel a kick from within, as if to remind me that our time alone is limited. And I wonder: how could I ever love another child as I love you?

Then he is born, and I watch you. I watch the pain you feel at having to share me as you’ve never shared me before.

I hear you telling me in your own way, “Please love only me.” And I hear myself telling you in mine, “I can’t”, knowing in fact, that I never can again.

You cry, I cry with you. I almost see our new baby as an intruder on the precious relationship we once shared. A relationship we can never quite have again.

But then, barely noticing, I find myself attached to that new being, and feeling almost guilty. I’m afraid to let you see me enjoying him – as though I am betraying you.

But then I notice your resentment change, first to curiosity, then to protectiveness, finally to genuine affection.

More days pass, and we are settling into a new routine. The memory of days with just the two of us is fading fast.

But something else is replacing those wonderful times we shared, just we two. There are new times – only now, we are three. I watch the love between you grow, the way you look at each other, touch each other.

I watch how he adores you – as I have for so long. I see how excited you are by each of his new accomplishments. And I begin to realize that I haven’t taken something from you, I’ve given something to you. I notice that I am no longer afraid to share my love openly with both of you.

I find that my love for each of you is as different as you are, but equally strong. And my question is finally answered, to my amazement. Yes, I can love another child as much as I love you – only differently.

And although I realize that you may have to share my time, I now know you’ll never have to share my love. There’s enough of that for both of you – you each have your own supply.

I love you – both. And I thank you both for blessing my life.

Talking Politics with your Children

I grew up interested in politics.  And it has to come as no surprise when you consider I was born on the date of the very first televised presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon. It was October 21st, 1960.  I just had to be a political animal with that birthday.

I remember very clearly sitting at the dinner table and listening to my parents discuss and cuss politics during the late 60’s and early 70’s.  The Vietnam War was going on then.  And of course there was the election of 1968. I was only 8, but I remember it clearly.  Then there was Watergate and the resigning of a president. Politics for the most part is not much different now as it was then.  The only thing that has changed are the names of the players.

Fathers, sons and politics

As you may remember from my first post here on Dad-o-Matic, I have 4 wonderful children. Four sons to be exact.  And they range in ages from the oldest who is 25 now and married.  The twins are 23 and my youngest is 15.  From as long as I can remember back in their childhoods, I have always encouraged them to discuss their own political views. And I always tried to not sway them to my way of thinking.  What I have always demanded from them was one thing. If you are going to take a position for either a conservative or liberal political view, educate yourself on the issues. Know what each side stands for by doing your own independent research and learning.  Don’t just read and listen to what the mainstream media has to say. But actually pick up a book, yes god forbid an actual book, and read what people have to say.

This election season has been interesting in the Griffiths household to say the least. My youngest is perfect of course and sees things the same way I do.  So does one of the twins.  The other twin, just looks at the TV and says what a bunch of crap.  You know, I think of the 4, he is probably the only one who actually gets it.  The oldest, sees things completely different then I do.  That does not upset me nearly as much as a statement he made a week or so ago. I asked him a question in an effort to get him to consider the issues and facts. And he simple said, “you know I don’t really watch the news and don’t really know what I am talking about or why I feel that way.”  I felt like I had failed as a parent. Not that he disagreed with me. But that he was an uninformed voter.  We discussed that very issue again and he promised he would do better.

I know my oldest has had a very busy year with graduating with his Masters. Getting married and moving to Florida. Getting settled into a new home and new life with his lovely bride. But, there is still that responsibility we all have, and that is to not just take a position and vote for the sake of voting. We have a responsibility to be educated voters.
There will always be disagreements in every household over politics.  And there will always be heated discussions.  But, keep them as discussions and not as a division between any of the members of your family.  If there is one thing I can leave all you fathers with on this subject. Encourage the discussion. But even more, encourage, no demand, that your children be informed. They will be better voters for it and the discussion will be so much better.

The Joy of Football

As a proud father, I continue to be amazed at the development of my children. I was worried for awhile, I must admit. Two years ago one of my daughters struggled to say “TOUCHDOWN!” on Sunday afternoons. Perhaps this was because I was expecting too much of her. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a Kansas City chiefs fan and we all know their offense doesn’t see the end zone too often. At least my Tigers know offense, so I’m having a good year so far.

My favorite Mizzou fan
My favorite Mizzou fan

OK – getting off the point. Back to my daughter.

This past weekend was a joy. Not only has she mastered the cries common with scoring in football, she is learning names of players, offensive schemes and the assistant coaches of the teams we watched. OK, so she knows some of the players names… (Sorry, the Bragging Daddy in me got carried away.)

Anyway, we were watching the Sunday night game, Steelers vs. Jaguars. There I lay, body on the floor, head resting against the foot of the couch. My 3 year old grabs her blanket comes over to me, lays on top of my legs, puts the blanket over both of us and kicks back watching with me. Dream come true. It really was. Until we got into a verbal altercation about the team names. She was convinced the Steelers were actually the Bears. Go figure.

I guess the point I’m making is this: involve your children in the things you enjoy as well. Us Dads quickly learn to appreciate what they like. It beats listening to unhappy cries, right? Well, just don’t forget to combine your joys and introduce them to each other. Daughters and football. Ain’t nothing better.

Got any good stories about your kids and sports?

When I’m not writing at DadOMatic or being a Dad, you can also catch me at my other hang-out.

How To Tell A KILLER Scary Story!

Boo!

With Halloween around the corner, this is a good time to address the art of scaring the bejesus out of your kids!  As someone who worked as a camp counselor for many summers, and who has three kids of my own, I feel I am highly qualified to share some tips on telling a great scary story.  My experiences working on low-budget action/horror films in the late 80’s doesn’t hurt either!

MAD PROPS!

One of my “tricks of the trade” is to use props to bring a story to life. A simple squirt bottle filled with water and a laundry bag or pillow case can all go a long way toward making your scary story memorable. When my oldest son Zach was in the Cub Scouts I volunteered to tell a story around the campfire on one of the overnight camping trips. (Full disclosure: I am a natural born ham and I’ve done a bit of stage acting back in the day.)  My first scary story went over so well that soon my “Sasstales,” as the Troop called them, were a staple of every camping trip. Now that I had an eager audience I was determined to make each new story more elaborate and more scary than the last. Thus, I began to use props.

In the hallowed spirit of Halloween I shall now share with you the ingredients of one of my favorite scary stories, as originally told to Cub Scout Troop 160 in Davie, Florida. Please feel free to take these tips as a recipe for the makings of your own killer scary story. Embellish and elaborate at will…

THE TALE OF THE POISONOUS SPITTING PYTHON…

Required Props:

  • 1 Large Pillow Case or Laundry Bag
  • 1 Plastic Bottle (filled with water) that squirts when you squeeze it.

Preparation:

Before your audience arrives, place the water filled squirt bottle inside the laundry bag/pillow case, and loosely tie the bag shut.  Have the bag in your hand when you begin.  As you tell the story, without drawing too much attention to it, occasionally shake the bag, and grab it, as if there is something “alive” inside…

SCARY TIP #1:
I have always found it quite effective to localize a scary story and make sure the horrifying tale you are about to tell took place in exactly the location you are situated in when telling the story… many years ago…

The Premise:

(I am giving you the basics – it is up to you to spin a long and winding yarn, for as long as you think your audience can stand it!)

“Many years ago, in this very spot, there lived an odd old man who had a strange hobby of collecting all varieties of vicious, venomous, deadly snakes. His wife and family were none too happy about his odd preference for the slimy and slithery, but they eventually got used to it. In fact, everyone in the town was familiar with the terrariums full of snakes, and the old man even had to have them registered as “deadly weapons” with the local police. His prized possession was the rare, and highly poisonous “spitting python.” This rare, rabid, reptile could spit its venom across a room with uncanny accuracy… and if just a few drops of the deadly dew landed on you, it was over. You had about 30 seconds to live…

One day, nobody had heard from the old snake man and his family for about a week.  Concerned, some distant family members called the Sheriff and begged him to come to the house —  right here where we are tonight —  to check things out for himself.  When the Sheriff arrived, he found a gruesome scene.  The old man and his entire family… were dead!  Poisoned.  The Sheriff looked around, but it appeared that all the snakes were in their proper terrariums and cages…  all but one, that is.  The Sheriff checked the inventory of the registered deadly snakes, and found that indeed there was one snake missing — the infamous Spitting Python!  The bodies of the poor family were removed and the remaining snakes were sent to the zoo…. but they never found the culprit.  They never found the deadly Spitting Python… Until TONIGHT!”

STAGE DIRECTIONS:

At this point you should hold up the laundry bag and shake it and struggle with it as you explain that you found the snake tonight, just before the kids arrived… and if they don’t believe you, you will prove it!  With as much stage presence and drama as you can muster, swinging and shaking it all the while, slowly untie the bag and CAREFULLY reach inside “grabbing” the snake (a.k.a. water bottle) by the “throat.”  Slowly start to withdraw your hand, as if you are going to bring the snake out of the bag.  Walk toward your audience, at the same time making sure you are gripping the unseen bottle with the spout toward the opening of the bag…

“You wanna see the snake???”

With a sharp yell, point the opening of the laundry bag toward your audience and SQUIRT A FEW KIDS RIGHT IN THE FACE!!

As screams, laughter and Halloween mayhem ensue, smile, and show them the water bottle!  (At this point, you will either love me or hate me!)

What is your favorite scary story?  Do you like to tell the stories, or do you like to be told?

Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 20, Ethan, 18 and Olivia, 17).  He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast.  You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab.

Photo Credits – Storyteller: Howard Sandler – Fotolia.com, Snake: Brenda A. Smith – Fotolia.com

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What Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Brogan Have in Common

miniwheats First, we both love superheroes. Second, we both love cereal. Third, we both asked Bill Gates to do the robot. Okay, well those first two are true. I’m writing this while eating a bowl big coffee mug of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats BLUEBERRY flavor. Yes, you heard me, blueberry. Okay, the label says “blueberry muffin,” but that second part is a lie. There’s no part of me thinking about muffins.

Now, I happen to be a big fan of the other flavors of mini wheats. I buy strawberry all the time. Well, only when my daughter goes with me so I can pretend that I’m buying it for her. When we get home, I tell her, “If you touch a single fiber in that box, it will make you poop for WEEKS!” So far, my secret’s safe. But this blueberry? Man, it’s tasty.

You might not have put this all together in your head, but Kellogg’s is pulling a fast one on General Mills by introducing this new blueberry flavored Mini Wheats to go with strawberry. Now, all they need is chocolate, and they’ve come up with the “mini fake Brillo pad” version of Boo-Berry, Count Chocula, and whatever you call the strawberry guy. I’m on to you, Kellogg’s. I’m watching your every move.

count chocula booberry

There, so the next time you’re hanging out at the grocery store, because hey, that’s where all the dads are, right? Just check out delicious, tasty, potentially healthy Kellogg’s Frosted Miniwheats Blueberry (it’s not really muffin tasting) flavor.

(Man, I wish Kellogg’s paid me to write this, but it’s for passion).

The one thing Jerry Seinfeld and I disagree on? WHICH superhero to love. He loves Superman. I’m a Batman guy. So there.

A Duty and Responsibility.

I had one of those conversations today that not only gives me something to blog about Dad but to also raise a question for the readers.

I went with Sharon to the Family care clinic to get  Harry ( now 1month old ) weighed and checked up and generally assessed for health. I was not that surprised to walk into a room that was basically lots of mums with babies and toddlers  and a few of the care staff bustling around. However there was at least one other Dad there and we gave each other that look which said ‘okay now I am not totally surrounded!.

I am a fairly hands on Dad for no other reason than I believe that is what your supposed to be. I’ll change nappies (  Americans will say diapers ), I will do feeds ( though I find the breast feeding a challenge! ) and I  will check with Sharon if she needs a drink or something to eat or just a break all round. All the while  corralling Alyssa who is now 4 and frankly louder than her father. but I digress.

What caught me out was the level of delight and praise that was being lauded upon me for ‘taking part’ for giving Harry his bottle and for being at the clinic with Sharon, I was encouraged to feel proud that I was an active Dad. Now it might just be my British sense of embrassment or possibly ( more likely ) my general stubbornness to accept praise but I had to take issue with the comments.

Whilst I am very proud to be a Father, and frankly a relatively inexperienced Father at that, I felt that there was an unjustified view that ‘Men’ in general do not take part in their childrens care and management.  I know that my own Father ( for whom Harry was named ) was just as involved in my own and my Sisters upbringing as I am with my children.  I wonder if there is a  myth about men and child care that goes right up there with women in the workplace if some of the ‘traditional views’ are more misplaced than real.

When Jeff Pulver spoke to me a week after Harrys birth he asked me how I was doing. My response at the time suprised me. Rather than make the usual remarks about sleep and energy levels I responded.

“Im running on duty and responsibility”

A duty to my wife and my family and a responsibility that comes out of that. To be there and to take part in the  care and provision of their wellbeing. These things dont make me feel ‘proud’ or seeking a sense of approval but they feel like things which being a Father simply should be.

How about yourself ?

Dad, the Cleaner…(part 1) – Diaper Confusion

The all to familiar diaper section.

I guess you never notice diapers (except for making the occasional Depends joke) in drug stores and super markets but when you have a child, diapers become mission #1 and all of a sudden you’re faced with buying ‘em, changing ‘em and what ever else you do with ‘em.

So, I made a trip out to the drug store last week for diapers and that’s all I was told…. NEVER tell a man general information! Be specific, otherwise we’ll come home with something nowhere near what is actually needed. When I got to the store, and finally found the illusive “diaper” area, I was presented with (probably) a million different brands, sizes and absorbency types. Needless to say I was completely clueless, and contemplated quietly turning around and wrapping her up in a bath rag or paper towels. What size? Huh?

I guess I took for granted that the amount of diapers we got at our baby shower was enough. Who knew a thing so small could sh*t that much. I’m blown away with the sheer amount of #2’s my daughter is capable of in a day. So anyway, I thought I wouldn’t have to do this, because of the massive stock from the shower, but low and behold, here I am…sigh…the day has arrived, the baby shower stock is GONE!

Now Sylvia has been home for about a month, give or take a few days and – I’m so exhausted from being on standby, the day job, domestic homework and lets not forget to mention my wife; who resembles more of a walking zombie woman of the dead [read: Sleep, Sleep, NO SLEEP!] trying to make sure she’s supported the best I can – some of these diapers are listed in weeks, months and weight, WTF? How do I know where my daughter is? I overheard that while at her two-week stay at the hospital she managed to grow two diaper levels (whatever that means). How do I know when she has upgraded? There has got to be an easier way. But wait there’s more?!

This is today’s Trials of Being Dad!

Michael J. Carrasquillo is a NYC musician, filmmaker, speaker, organizer of NYC Media Makers & new father. He blogs at Issue De ‘Quillo and produces a podcast called “The Trials of Being Mike” and an upcoming podcast called “moments”. You can follow him on Twitter @mjcarrasquillo.

The Elephant Song

Today our daughter turned 1 year old. She loves music and there are two people/ groups that seem to really have figured out how to create musical experiences that kids – well our daughter – love.

The first is Eric Herman…the creator of the famous Elephant Song.

The Elephant Song

This is a fun song and video that kids must love, given that it has been viewed 2.5 MILLION times. Eric has a number of CDs and MP3s that you can download from his site. But it is really cool that he gives this song away…and its a smart marketing idea. Give away a song that kids go cookoo for cocopuffs over and the parents are more than likely to buy a CD or MP3 down the road. As a side note, the Elephant Song is the best of his songs…in my daughters opinion.

The second group isThe Music Class . It is an early childhood music education company designed to unleash the musical potential of young children. Featuring our award winning music, engaging activities, CDs, teacher training, and curricula, we are proud of the high standards we set in the field of early childhood music education.

This is a far more interacting, social class that allows kids to play, sing and dance along to the music and the instructor. It is not fancy…but it feels authentic.

Both of these musical finds have really helped our daughter enjoy music.

Parenthood Will Change Your Life

I’ve been a dad for almost a decade and proud to have been blessed with three angelic babies in that span. I still get choked up when I read this piece that I’m about to share with you. The message and meaning becomes deeper and more profound as the years go by, especially if you do indeed become a parent.

Yes, it was written by a woman about motherhood but I believe the sentiments hold true for men and fatherhood just as much. We dads feel the same way so this amazing piece of writing should move all you guys just as much as it does for women. I think it’s beautiful and so very true.

Here’s me and mini-Pai Matthew who’s Five now (But I still see him like this)

by Dale Hanson Bourke

Time is running out for my friend. We are sitting at lunch when she casually
mentions that she and her husband are thinking
of “starting a family.” What she means is that her
biological clock has begun its countdown and she
is considering the prospect of motherhood.

“We’re taking a survey,” she says, half jokingly.
“Do you think I should have a baby?”

“It will change your life,” I say carefully.

“I know,” she says. “No more sleeping in on Saturdays,
no more spontaneous vacations…”

But that is not what I mean at all.

I look at my friend, trying to decide what to tell her.
I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth
classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of
childbirth heal, but that becoming a mother will leave
her with an emotional wound so raw that she will be forever
vulnerable.

I consider warning her that she will never read
a newspaper again without asking “What if that had been my
child?” That every plane crash, every fire will haunt her.
That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will
look at the mothers and wonder if anything could be worse
than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit
and think she should know that no matter how sophisticated
she is, becoming a mother will immediately reduce her to the
primitive level. That a slightly urgent call of “Mom!” will
cause her to drop her best crystal without a moment’s
hesitation.

I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she
has invested in her career, she will be professionally
derailed by motherhood. She might successfully arrange for
child care, but one day she will be waiting to go into an
important business meeting, and she will think about her
baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of
discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure he
is all right.

I want my friend to know that everyday routine decisions
will no longer be routine. That a visit to Mc Donald’s and a
five year old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather
than the women’s room will become a major dilemma. That
right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming
children, issues of independence and gender identity will be
weighed against the prospect that danger may be lurking in
the rest room.

I want her to know that however decisive she may be at the
office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.
Looking at my attractive friend, I want to assure her that
eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but will
never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so
important, will be of less value to her once she has a child.
That she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring,
but will also begin to hope for more years, not so much to
accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish his.

I want her to know that a cesarean scar or stretch marks
will become badges of honor.

My friend’s relationship with her husband will change, but
not in the ways she thinks. I wish she could understand how
much more you can love a man who is always careful to powder
the baby or who never hesitates to play with his son. I think
she should know that she will fall in love with her husband
again for reasons she would never have imagined.

I wish my modern friend could sense the bond she will feel
with other women throughout history who have tried desperately
to stop war and prejudice and drunk driving.

I want to describe to my friend the exhilaration of seeing
your son learn to hit a baseball. I want to capture for her
the laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog for
the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real
that it hurts.

My friend’s quizzical look makes me realize that tears have
formed in my eyes.

“You’ll never regret it.” I finally say.

by Dale Hanson Bourke
from Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul

Here are some links about Dale Hanson Bourke

MomSense Interview
Another interview about her book Turn Toward the Wind

SecondCalling website for her book of the same name

Heroes Overcome Humiliation

The PLUNGE

Hey, I’m the New Dad on the Block.  Sort of.  After 37 years of living “Me-ness,” I took the plunge.  No, I mean I TOOK THE PLUNGE – not only did I get married, but I inherited the insta-family, four daughters from my wife’s previous marriage.  Being the glutton for punishment, we added two more children to the mix – girls as well.  So we have Hillary, 18; Courtney, 16; Haley, 12; Caitlyn, 10; Olivia, 3; and Sophia who is 2.  Oh wait, our dog Holly – yeah, she’s a girl, too.

THAT PURPLE DUDE

I hope to share and compare many valuable lessons as a recent father, but my favorite is one I thought I’d never write or think about.  It involves a purple dinosaur named Barney.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.The first time I came home and my wife was viewing Barney with Olivia, my stomach turned and I couldn’t help but laugh.  Watching Barney then felt like a rite of passage, kinda like the Man Called Horse movie where Richard Harris gets his nipples torn to prove his manhood.  I got through the first showing and as I went to flip the input on the TV from DVD back to cable, I quickly realized my TV viewing habits were about to change.  Drastically.  Since that episode I would estimate we have over 30 Barney DVD’s and we’ve watched them all over 50 times a piece.  At least.  And now Barney has become a dear friend.

Yep, they're watching Barney

Olivia & Sophia watching Barney - what else?!

BE THE HERO

There are many times I now turn to Barney to pacify the little ones from time to time.  My 2 year old is rarely seen without carrying her Barney or Baby Bop doll.  And one of my most memorable fatherhood moments involved Barney even.  On a family vacation to DisneyWorld, we upgraded our trip budget about $500 and included a day at Universal Studios because we learned Barney was a feature show at the park.  I’ll save the Visa/priceless cliches for you, but I have to admit that when my Olivia saw Barney for the first time and her little face lit up, the tears started streaming down my face.  If I needed any proof of my love for my children, that moment clarified it all.

For all fathers with kids over 1, you probably know what I’m talking about.  So, for those new fathers, trust me.  Pick up a Barney DVD.  You might endure a little humiliation at Target.  But you’ll become a hero with your child.

How Well Do Your Children Know You?

The proof copy of my dad’s memoir arrived today: Can You See God in This Picture?: A Letter to My Sons Making Sense of 25 Years as a Pastor.

Because I’m an author and publisher, my father asked me to read through and edit the manuscript, written as a letter to me and my two brothers. Naturally, I knew many of the stories already. I knew he had started out pastoring a church in West Cape May, New Jersey, before I was born and that we had moved to Western Pennsylvania when I was very young. I remembered him refinishing our upright piano in the basement, yelling at me to stay out because it was dangerous, and then ending up in the hospital from breathing the fumes because he wasn’t using proper safety protocol. And I remember, even more vividly and emotionally than he, leaving tiny Burgettstown, PA, and moving 76 miles away to Sharpsville, and then again 588 miles more into the Boston area.

Reading his book, however, what captivated me and surprised me was all that I did not know, even about experiences I myself had lived through.

  • I did not know that when we had moved from New Jersey to the Pittsburgh area, he had made the decision unilaterally, in order to pursue his dream, without first discussing it with my mother! Maybe you’re tsk-tsking him about that, but you don’t know Dad. I do. And I wouldn’t believe it had he not said it himself, written it down in his own words. I still don’t know if I believe it to be true.

  • I knew my grandfather had died before I was even born. What I didn’t know was how close he and Dad were, and how traumatic an experience his passing had been to Dad.

  • When he refinished the piano, I didn’t know that he was doing it to escape depression. I didn’t know he was immersing himself in this almost useless project because of the stress he was under. I didn’t know he had been planning to leave us in the morning and make an unannounced trip back to New Jersey. I didn’t know that his ending up in the hospital was God’s way of keeping him here with us and showing him how important we were to him.

  • I knew first-hand that most churches are filled more with politics than with nice people who love Jesus. What I never really understood was how poorly Dad dealt with conflict. He very much reminds me of a fictional character, Mira, I created for my novelette series. She does things for many of the same reasons he does. I created Mira before I understood this about my own father, and reading his memoir switched on a lightswitch somewhere in my heart. Like, suddenly, I understood.

  • As I said, I remember leaving Burgettstown. That was an emotionally difficult time in my life. What I didn’t know was how difficult it was for Dad, too. Nor did I really understand why he left a friendly, thriving church to become General Secretary/Treasurer of the denomination. Back then, I didn’t really think about the reason. And today, in retrospect, “It’s just time to move on” doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. “I still had a lot to learn” does, however.

What your kids don’t know…

As a kid, there was so much about my father I didn’t know. Even into adulthood, we’ve continued to be a close family. And still there were so many things I didn’t know, so many things he had never found the words to tell me.

Are there things about me that my kids don’t know? And should they know them?

Would I have been better off had I known back then what Dad was going through?

On the one hand, childhood is a time for running and playing, free from the burdens of adult life. We parents protect our children from concerns they can’t do anything about, because that would just make them worry. We grups are crotchety, not because we’re old, but because we care.

On the other hand, childhood is a learning time, and I’d like to think kids can absorb what happens to their parents without becoming overwhelmed by it. As long as your child knows that you love her, she can probably take a lot more than you give her credit for. And telling her and showing her that you love her is probably just as good for you as it is for her. Besides, maybe they have a right to know what’s wrong with their daddy.

But letting our children in on these things requires vulnerability. And that’s what I saw most in my dad’s memoir, vulnerability. He told me that of all the people he mentions in the memoir, no one really comes out looking bad, except for him. After reading it, I agree. But as a writer, let me tell you, vulnerability is where passion and poignancy come from.

And I’m thinking now that maybe it’s also where wisdom comes from. What if you had to reach down into your soul and explain to your kids why you quit your job to pursue your dream? Or why you work at a job that keeps you away from them? I’m not saying that either A or B is the right or wrong choice. I’m only asking: What if I had to reach down deep into my soul and explain my choices to my kids? What wisdom would I end up imparting to them?

I’m not sure I know the answers. But I do know, I’m glad my dad imparted that wisdom to me before he ran out of time, because it’s at least nice to know that he didn’t know what he was doing back then any better than I do now.

-TimK

Requesting your Presence

The 10-year-old me would disagree with the 30-something me, but we have a tendency to overindulge our children with things, when in fact what they really need is our presence.

While catching up with a friend recently, who has three kids of his own, we discussed the everyday challenges of being a father.  We both have similar work lives, with frequent travel and work hours that stretch well beyond 9-5 and Monday through Friday.

Personally, my dad worked for weeks at a time away from home while I was growing up, (the topic for another post), so I’m familiar with the strains this type of life can put on the relationship between parent and child.  And, having lived through it myself, I can now say that the challenge is harder on the parent than on the child.

Knowing the similarities between my friend and I, I asked him what truisms he’s happened upon that offer balance between work dad and home dad.

He said that the gift that he now gives his children and himself is the gift of presence.  Whenever he is with his children, he is with them completely.  He isn’t checking e-mail while waiting in line for lunch.  He isn’t talking to a colleague while driving to the beach.  He’s present for his children every minute they’re together.

Try giving your children the gift of presence the next time you’re with them, and you might find that you’re the one who gets the reward.

"You must change your attitude by the count of three"

Reading Joe’s post about making family first got me thinking about some of the life lesson’s that I’ve been trying to imprint on my kids…    And one of the secrets in our family is having kids who have control over their attitude.

My guess is that most parents can relate to having a two-year old who goes from having a great attitude to a miserable, whining mess in a matter of seconds… But can your child do the opposite? Can you get a two-year old to go from a miserable, whiny mess to a decent attitude in just a few seconds?

So, here’s how we approach changing bad attitudes into good ones in my family:

1) Start young (like the very first time they throw a fit!)
2) Make a threat that has actionable consequences
3) Give them time to get control over the situation
4) Consistently enforce the consequences if they don’t change their attitude

We do that by “counting to three” in my family and being very clear of the consequences if our children don’t change their attitudes by the time we hit three.   To give you an idea, here was an exchange between me and my two-year old after he lost his temper because he didn’t want to wash his hands before sitting down at the dinner table.

Me: “If you don’t change your attitude and start walking to the bathroom to wash your hands by the count of 3, then I’m going to stick you on the couch and you will miss out when we start dinner.”
Result: He continues to flail about like only a two-year old can.

Me: [deep breath] “One… ”
Result: He’s continues to go nuts

Me: [deep breath] “Two…”
Results: Whines turn to sniffles

Me: [deep breath] “Three…”
Result: him: “Okay, dad… I’m okay.”  And then he went into the bathroom and washed his hands.

Had he not taken control of his attitude, he knows I would have sat him on the couch and insisted that he not get up until after we had started dinner and he had a good attitude.  (The consequences of getting off the couch are that he gets sent to his room, which I’ve only had to do once in about 6 months ago)

Climbing a Tree

With a two-year old boy who seems to channel Curious George at every opportunity, these episodes where I have to lay down the law are pretty much a daily occurrence…  And especially early on, I had to consistently deliver on my threats of consequences.  Nowadays, I probably only need to sit him down on a couch until he changes his attitude about once a week.  By comparison, his 8-year old sister is able to get control over her attitude on the flip of a switch and I can’t remember the last time I had to actually enforce consequences.

I’ve got no child-psychology training whatsoever, but from practical experience, I can tell you that having kids who have the self-discipline to take control over their own attitude feels right… and it’s a life lesson I’m pretty sure will serve my kids well into the future.

Dad's Life Lessons: Rule #1

In Dad’s Life Lessons On The Wall, I shared an easy and loving way to teach your child important life lessons. Perhaps one of my lessons is one of yours?

Rule #1: Family comes first, starting with your brother.


I have two personal experiences that make this Rule #1.

I’m proud of neither. One has a happy ending.

The Ghostbusters video

Remember Friday Night Videos? For those of us who didn’t have cable (thanks, Dad), NBC aired this 90-minute show featuring music videos, a new concept back then.

I loved it. I would sit there with my VHS recorder and tape all the videos.

This was important stuff; sacred time. There was no reasonable excuse to interrupt me. (I still have my tapes.)

Finally, one of my very favorite songs came on. Ghostbusters! A bonus feature: it even had a scantily-clad model I recognized running through it. And I was taping it all!

In walks Dad. He has something to say.

My reaction was visceral and fierce. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!!” That didn’t go over so well.

He was maaaad. “That’s just a television show! I am your father!!”

Moral of the story: Family comes first. More important than things. Zach can relate to this story. (Luke doesn’t really understand Daddy’s stories yet.)

Cranky after a nap

As a high schooler, I wasn’t very nice to my family. Plenty of smiles and energy for my friends. Cranky and selfish at home.

One day my dad challenged me: “Why are you so nice to your friends and so mean to us?”

Without a pause I answered, “Because you have to take it. If acted like this to my friends, they wouldn’t be my friends anymore.”

I told you I wasn’t proud of it.

In a lesson I never forgot, Dad told me that “friends come and go, but family remains.” And while I’ve clearly had and have some exceptional and supportive friends, he was right on most occasions. Many friends were transitory. We were close while we were in school together, or worked together, or some such thing.

But family remains. Which is why Moral #2 is family comes first. More important than friends.

I add in “starting with your brother” because, God give us long life, I hope the boys will outlive us both. I want them to be best friends forever.

Oh, and the happy ending I promised. When I thought I was going to lose my 83-year-old father two years ago (he’s still ticking), I apologized for what I said. I told him how important the lesson was to me. I told him how it became Rule #1. And I was happy that I had the chance to apologize face-to-face in this lifetime.

Good luck from a fellow Dad,

Joe Hage

Other posts from Joe Hage:

Mom and Dad on Strike

Emploment Opprotunities

Dad’s Life Lessons on the Wall