Fatherhood 1) Patience

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Everyone loves babies. And puppies.  And kittens.  And bassett hounds.  And everything that is small and alive and cute. Some sociologist must have done a study on why we love little things, I’m not here to argue that, it’s an axiom.

Loving your own kids as infants is even easier. Everyone remembers their child cooing and looking into your eyes with wonder and the feeling of those little tiny fingers wrapped around your index finger. You remember the magic the first time they struggled and finally rolled themselves over and then lay there in amazement at what just happened, not sure if it was good or bad. You remember the bouncing in a jolly-jumper. The laugh and giggle and excitement when you walk into daycare at the end of a crappy day. The first wobbly steps when you were sure they were going to face-plant. First words. First time you hear “mom” or “dad”. Dogs licking a food covered face.

You also remember them crying for food, in pain, tired.  Crying because of a stinky gross diaper..where did all of THAT come from???  How much tough love to apply so they learn to sleep on their own.  Saying no to candy when you know they are going to cry.  Temper tantrums in public places.  Incremental changes of letting them cry a little more each night, staring at a stopwatch.  Ear infections, doctor visits and the perpetual question, “Is that serious?  Should I call the doctor?”  Throwing food when they don’t ‘like’ it.  Breaking their toys.  Destroying something nice that is yours.  Destruction of electronics.

Those first few years are brutal.  You gain weight because you can never leave them for long enough to get in a workout, and after a hard day of work and the tantrums, who has energy anyway?  Relationships struggle because it is impossible to focus on your partner when 100% of your focus is on preventing household destruction or injury or general strife.  All you can think of is “Am I doing this right?” or “Why do people say this is fun?” or “How is this MY kid?”

I think the first few years as a phase can all be boiled down to the notion that your relationship to your child is that of providing basic care.  But the important part is that throughout this process of being a servant, you somehow have to find a way to have patience and let the love shine through all of the sleepless nights of heartache so that you build a foundation of trust.  The trust is key, because it is all your kids will take out of that part of their life.  They have no memories of the horrible things they did to you.  All they know is this innate sense of their ability to trust you as this parent-person who somehow brings them comfort, but they have no idea why.

The only way to get through this phase is to have patience and not let your deep down worst thoughts and first reactions and emotional response to whatever they are doing in your sleep-deprived haze, be the thing they ‘feel’ as they become toddlers.  Three years of patience is tough.  But that is what is needed.  You can screw up the pacifier, you can feed them too much of the wrong stuff, you can let them sleep with you so that they don’t learn to sleep on their own, you can throw off their sleep schedule, or eating schedule, or general routine.  But you have to do it with enough patience that enables them to evolve into a slightly bigger, mobile, smart mouthed kid that somehow still thinks you are the greatest thing on the planet.  Patience lets them love you, and respect you.  And with that, you can move on to the next phase, where you cash in the love-chip and they actually start to be able to listen and understand you.

I am sorry to have to ruin the surprise for all you wide-eyed people that are expecting, or have infants that you still gush over, the first three years are going to be rough.  Have patience, it gets better.  It’s what I tried to do.

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A New Style

In the past few years I have done a ‘year in review’ and goal setting exercise around the new year.  Let’s just sum this up in one statement: 2016 started off bad, got worse, and ended awesome, 2017 looks really promising.  So I am feeling pretty ‘amazing’ right now.  🙂  Rather than thinking of this as some new “start”, I’ve decided to coin 2017 as my new “style”.  And I am executing on that in a few ways.

For this blog, the most noticeable change will be that I am not going to write about politics for a while.  I figure that the president-elect is such a spectacular moron, that anything I write will only punctuate that fact, and I love this country too much to participate in any activity that would inevitably harm the office.  Besides, that asshole just makes me sad.

I listen to a podcast called “The Good Dad Project” and the host has a private FB group called “The Dad Edge.”  It’s a group of dads who are focused on sharing thoughts and supporting each other when one has a question.  It’s an interesting group of a few thousand men.  There is some good material I’ve read in posts and over the past year, it has spawned some refined thinking.  I’ve always felt that fatherhood is just as important as motherhood.  Further, the inherent societal bias to the mother, only perpetuates the stigma that fathers are by default, subservient and less important.  Think of it this way, the fact that there is institutional bias that a mother is exclusively critical to a child’s life, means that more and more fathers are actually discouraged from being equally involved.  And the automatic assumption that a mother is superior, is like any other form of prejudice.

There are good mothers and bad mothers, there are good fathers and bad fathers.  A father’s predisposition to teach grit and toughness and perseverance, is just as important as a mother’s predisposition to nurture.  Both are forms of love.  But a predisposition does NOT preclude the other approach.  Assuming that the motherly ‘bond’ is always superior is just as obnoxious as corporate America’s assumption that a man is better suited for a job than a woman.  The notion of which is what pushes pay inequality.  If that is intolerable, why is the same not true of parenting?  In the world of parenting, the mom-focus has created a society in which many fathers feel it is ok to shirk their responsibilities because the mom makes all the decisions and takes all the credit anyway.  Unacceptable.

[Except for Trump, who admits to being an absentee father but somehow is given credit for his kids turning out ok…ugghhhhh!!!!!!  OK that’s it, I promise]

The default rule has pushed many of us to accept less than what we might otherwise want.  Along with all the other injustices, I really think society should step back and think about what long term harm this one has brought about.  I’ll leave this sociology question at that.

I like to think I have a good relationship with my daughters.  I am able to talk with them, and for teenagers, I think they actually hear a fairly significant percentage of what we discuss.  I have never written a blog-series of posts here, but I am going to take the following posts to summarize what I think constitute the 6 phases of my parenting relationship so far.  We’ll see how it goes.

My 6 phases go something like this

  1. Patience – Basic care, unbridled love in the face of challenge
  2. Foundations – Talking, building a culture of honesty, setting tone
  3. Sharing – Finding mutual pursuits
  4. Connecting – Enabling growth with their own ‘thing’ and finding a way to build a bridge to it
  5. Cultivating – Coaching in a way that focuses on what they love
  6. Release – Setting them free

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The Giving Part of Thanks

Yesterday, Sara and I were invited by her friend Jackie and her daughter Julie, to join their church in serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless in Manchester.  I was both privileged and moved by the experience.

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Manchester Christian Church sponsored the event at the Salvation Army on Cedar St in downtown Manchester.  I got a little taste of the spirit of this church and all I can say is wow.  As we did at T-EH, the religious aspect was part of the event.  But I felt this was different.  Prayer of taking Jesus and God into your heart was very prominent, but certain things I felt were more subtle.  Like instead of playing only religious songs by the guitar players and singers, they mixed in pop songs that had uplifting lyrics.  And they let some of our guests sing.  I thought that was great.

A word about this church.  I really like that the pastor has built a theme around everything they do (“Pray for One”) and it is embedded in the activities and their SPECTACULAR web presence.  Including an “online campus”.  Now I may be getting a little “I told you so” on this one, but stroke of genius there.  If only someone at T-EH had thought of something like that say hmmmm…10 years ago. Oh and check this out.  I vividly remember a speech I delivered at an annual meeting advocating for more “community” instead of just religion and I used the ski lodge fireplace as a metaphor for getting people together and interacting.  Know what this church has????

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But I digress.  It was rewarding to me to do something that I knew would make me uncomfortable.  I heard this quote about presentations, “Get comfortable with the knot in your stomach.”  It applies to lots of things in life.  I never had a server or fast-food job as a kid so helping out at this event was new on several levels.  A few things really struck me.

  • We all wore name tags and our guests were comfortable addressing me by first name
  • The church had done an amazing job at organizing the volunteers.  Feeding 300 people is a challenge, but I thought we did well
  • There were designated volunteers who sat with the guests to make them feel welcome and spark conversation
  • They got more volunteers than actually needed!
  • Many people donated clothing so that after dinner, guests could go and fit warm clothes to help with the upcoming winter

What I really liked was that I got to sit with a few guests and talk to them at random times.  Having conversations with new people is always fun and exciting.  I really enjoy learning about people and their stories.  It’s part of my theories on respecting everyone.

  • I met David as I was serving coffee and we joked about how the only way to drink coffee is black, as he called it “John Wayne style”.  We laughed about campfire coffee and saving the grit as a snack for later
  • I met Michael who was proud of his 2 year medallion for being sober.  He told me a few AA jokes and we talked a little about getting to meetings.  His biggest problem was in transportation.  We’re talking about 5-8 miles, something you or I wouldn’t blink at.  Which got me to thinking that I wonder if you could donate cash to Uber and ‘free rides’ could pop up on drivers accounts and they could take people where they needed to go.  Michael wanted to go to church and AA meetings.  What more can you ask?
  • Jackie and I sat with Mike and Steven and talked for a bit.  Mike was a big gregarious story teller.  And while I know that he was exaggerating, it made me think of families sitting around the T-Day table telling stories.  Who doesn’t add a little color to make the story more interesting?  The point is to laugh, and we had a nice conversation.

A few days ago I received a thank you letter from Donors Choose for a gift I gave to a class doing the Lego Challenge up at FIRST.  I mentored a team a few years ago so I really like the program.

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As the Thanksgiving week rolls in, I thought it was good to remind people that there are a lot of ways to practice the “giving” part of this holiday.  I sent some money Friday to a charity started by a friend at work, to do research for Fragile X syndrome.  It’s so easy now to give back, all it takes is commitment.  As I am learning more every day, commitment is one of those core things that define who you are.  Say that you are going to do something, and then do it.  Don’t waiver.  Don’t change your plans.  Be true to your beliefs, don’t just say “thanks” this week, give something back too.

 

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BE-EPIC

I love the word “epic”. As a noun it portrays an image that some thing is so monumental that it is once in a lifetime, that it impacts history in a way that it adjusts the fabric of history itself. We’re talking about really major changes to society or to your view of the world.  “Dude that jump you just took was epic”

Ok so we use it as an exaggeration just a little bit. But the spirit is to convey your opinion that the scenario is really a big deal. 

As an adjective we use it in the same context to describe a noun of similar characteristics. “That is an epic piece of code you just wrote”

Everything we do, when we sit down to plan it out, should be epic. And why not?  Shoot for the moon on everything you do. Even if you don’t achieve epic stature you still gave it your all and probably created something pretty awesome. 

These two words have become kind of a life-philosophy for me. Give it your all. Do more. Don’t ever ring the bell. Be Epic

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Broken to Hopin’

Nothing actually happens instantly.  You just realize that it happens in an instant.  I broke last night, but I didn’t realize that I had been breaking for a while now.  The guy who always thought he could build anything, fix anything, save the world and foster peace and understanding had become the guy who sees everything incomplete, unrepairable, civilization that was dying and only killing itself with evil. The guy who wanted to suck the marrow out of every experience in life, who never wanted to specialize because it might mean passing up on some other new experience, had become the cautious, timid, cheap, recluse who just complained.   I even joked that I had become the “get off my grass” guy.   It made me sad and I leaked that sadness and negativity onto everyone around me.  With the last vestiges of thinking that I was still that old guy clinging to the belief that I was a visionary, I finally broke.

And I rolled around on the floor in a ball, a giant singularity of a hole in my heart, crying uncontrollably.  No that is not a metaphor.  Because that’s what it is to break.  I had failed me.  I lost to myself.  I don’t care who you are, think back over your life and if you say you haven’t come face to face with this wall then one of two things is true.  1) You are lying to save face or 2) You haven’t put yourself out there to embrace life.  I’m all done with the lying part.

Coach Divine talks about recognizing our negative emotions, interdicting and turning them into positive ones, which I wrote about on my birthday a few months ago.  It seems that I should have been doing this well before 44.  This chapter in my life is no exception and as coach says, I need to build this as a habit, which was definitely not the case before.  That ends today.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and don’t think I didn’t recognize the poetic irony of waking up to the pouring rain (and not just because the bus isn’t waterproof…yet).  But this morning I got my wits back and realized the “broken” part.  After some deep breathing I came up with the opposite target mind-state which is “hope”.  And paging through my notes I found a few corollary positive statements…

“One life in one day”

“Find a way or make one”

So I am putting everyone in my life on notice.  I am not drifting back to the way I was.  That is not me, and I am not letting you poison who I am and what I believe with your negativity.  I don’t want to hear about Hillary did this, or Obama is destroying that, or Trump is a xxxxx.  I didn’t watch the debate and I don’t care who said what.  I’m done with the politics of hate.  Let this be a guide about the cynicism of your social graph too, I will block it.  Write something positive.  Stop sharing stupid fake crap that someone else handed you.  Be your own mind, be original and make it productive or at least positive.

I’ve lost enough succumbing to my own pessimism, and while I started this process at 20X and my birthday, the ship was turning too slowly.  Today is a new day.  Hooyah

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Brand Recognition

There has been a lot of talk at work in the past year or so about personal brand. I have always used this blog as a mechanism to convey my brand, enabling a reader to see who I am. As part of her switching roles, my friend Anita sent me a note that she figured out what her brand is. In 4 words she boiled it down to a succinct statement that fit perfectly. If personal brand is a marketing concept, why not come up with your own tag line? It’s the one sentence statement you should use when selling yourself.

Extraordinarily Creative Solutions to Complex Challenges

That’s me. And in thinking through this statement, it has made a lot of sense why I have done well or poorly at the jobs I have held over the years. In general, I make a poor grunt. While I could do fund accounting, I was not good at doing a job where maintaining the status quo each day was paramount. Consulting at colleges was the same thing, they really didn’t want to be great; they just want things to work. The roles I have held at Fido have worked so much better when I am free to be creative in designing systems that balance customer need, process flexibility, future growth and rules driven code. There are a few really great examples of this.

While a role by definition can help bring out the best parts of your brand, a manager can just as quickly squash that. I have seen my share of this. The flip side is also possible. Regina C.B. gave me very broad authority to radically rethink how we did A/R at a college.  And so we were always way ahead of other departments in our system implementation. That’s what led to my national conference presentations and eventually being a senior consultant at age 27.

The reason I am spending time thinking about this is that I think it helps rationalize my approach to tailgate boxes. I have spent an absolutely obnoxious amount of time over the years, not only on the act of tailgating, but on building stuff to make that experience better. It’s who I am and the tailgate boxes are a metaphor for my brand.

Version 1 was all about eliminating the bins and the annoyance of having to pack up and remember all the crap we needed to bring in the back of the trucks. But each year new learnings and requirements spawned upgrades, like the extra speakers, second tv, and front fold down rack.

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We soon realized that we ‘needed’ bigger/more tvs, louder sound, better weather-proofing, quicker set-up & break-down time, a bar, and much more storage. In addition, neighbors started to hang out with us. Bigger seemed the order of the day. Version 2 solved all of those problems.

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But I soon realized that I wanted my truck back, we needed still more space and easier access, an inside space for changing and warming, I wanted to multi-use the vehicle for horse-shows and soccer tournaments, and set-up and break-down still needed some help. Hence: The Bus.

With each iteration, I role out MVP for the first game and then migrate point releases each week. Each season gets a major version upgrade. I am acting as community liaison and product manager talking to a number of fans who stop by to take pictures each week.  Most importantly, my boss empowers me to leverage my brand (and he’s devilishly handsome).

But the biggest takeaway, is that the tailgate box is a product that would only be created by someone with an end-state vision of a customer experience that not only exceeds expectations, but delights and incentivizes that customer to come back for more. I have a vision for what tailgating should be, involving food, drink, games, music, debate, video, and camaraderie. Building the box was certainly an over-the-top expression of solving that challenge and enabling people to share that experience. It’s ingrained in who I am and I definitely got it from my parents. Every time I called for advice on audio or how to wire something, my dad would talk me through the issues and mom would send more than we had discussed, because more is better. Now that we are all working on the bus together, there are details that will defy a rational approach to the simple act of tailgating.

Who I am, my brand, is about using all of that upbringing to assemble a team of experts to help me fulfill my vision. Spence and Sam have been there to push back on me when I lose focus on the in-person experience. Jen M had an awesome idea for stenciling the graphics. Haley came up with the design for her horse images. Mom long ago gave me a sense for esthetics perfection. You see that in what she did for balancing the colors on the changing room curtain and in my attention to detail on color, trim and ease of use. Dad taught me the need for execution perfection: I mean come on, we had been “rewiring it” long before Tool Time hit the air. How he was able to rewire the accessory panel is truly brilliant.

I am really proud of where the tailgate bus is going. It’s more than just a labor of love for me. This time I assembled a team and we nailed my vision perfectly. If you are thinking of me and how I might approach any sort of endeavor, think of the TAILG8R bus.

Watch the Safety Video

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The Shooting Arts

Today I participated in my first IDPA  (International Defensive Pistol Association) event.  It was a long day, longer than I expected, but a lot of fun.  It was really nice to make some new friends, be around people with similar interests and learn new skills.  Some takeaways…

  • I need a shotgun.  While IDPA is a pistol only discipline, the club usually sets up the patterns for multi-gun.  I shot under the IDPA rules/config.  But I could have borrowed someone’s shotgun, the guys are very generous and offered numerous times.  I just figured I would stay with a handgun for my first event
  • Shooting clay pigeons at 20 yards with a bullet is HARD.  I hit about 1/3
  • 2 magazines is definitely not enough for an event like this
  • I really like shooting my 45
  • Moving and engaging different targets is a lot of fun.  It’s like playing a driving video game with a steering wheel instead of a thumb controller: You are doing the same thing, but it’s so much more realistic
  • I need to practice speed on target and changing magazines from the hip
  • I shoot moving targets pretty well
  • Shooting from cover, to the left of an object is much harder than it looks (if done correctly)

After experiencing an organized match, juxtaposed to all the commentary around gun-control lately, I thought I would take a few minutes to address issues with specifics, that people never really understand in detail.

Why does anyone need more than one gun?  There are more guns in the US than age-eligible owners.

This makes sense only if you walk into a thought with the mindset that something is unnecessary.  I own 4 vehicles.  To someone living in NYC this makes no sense.  But one is for Taylor, one is for me, I need a truck for house projects and the bus is for football.  There is a reason and specific purpose for each.  Why do baseball players need multiple gloves and bats.  Taylor has 4 pairs of cleats.  Horse people have multiple saddles/bridles, bits, halters, crops, etc.  I own at least 10 hockey sticks.  I have 5 shovels and at least 5 rakes.  I own 3 cameras.  I could ask why you need more than 1 pet, or more than 1 kid.  Take this last one, if your definition of the purpose of having children is procreation, well then certainly 1 is enough.  Is that not preposterous?

Consider for a second that your definition of purpose might not be universal.  I own 4 firearms and each has a different purpose.  Honestly, I want 3 more to fill gaps in things I can’t do.  The guys on the range today all owned more than me.  One guy brought 2 shotguns and they were completely different for different scenarios.  He wasn’t sure what the competition set-up would focus on, so he brought both.  My 22 is great for leagues and practice, but it won’t knock down a steel plate target, and those are fun.  It’s the same fun you get from throwing horseshoes, bocce, cornhole or darts.  It’s an individual challenge of skill and accuracy with instant feedback.  The theory is no different.

Guns are unsafe and so we need to take them off the street, regardless of whether you are responsible or not.

Let me describe the safety process at the range.  A trained range safety officer (RSO) inspects each weapon in a metal 3 sided box with the owner, ensuring it is safe and secure.  He inspects the magazine slot, makes sure the chamber is empty, slide is closed and dry fired (de-cocks the hammer), safety engaged, then holstered.  No one touches their weapon until they are on the firing line.  We are 100% serious about this.  Everyone polices the waiting area and line. When their turn comes, all weapons are pointed down range (a dirt wall 20′ high on 3 sides), inspected again by the RSO.  They take their turn shooting while being watched by at least 2 people for etiquette and technique (I got some useful feedback from the scorekeeper).  When finished, the RSO goes through the same procedure.  Magazine out, slide back, chamber clear, cycle weapon, chamber clear, slide closed, dry fire, safety, holster.  Anyone who has ever gone to a range, knows the process.  We are those “law-abiding citizens” that you hear about but don’t believe exist.  We take it seriously.  We are responsible.  Remember when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh?  Not responsible handling of a weapon.  Just like some asshole drunk driver is not a responsible vehicle operator.

Gun laws do not place a burden on people who follow laws.

The problem with gun laws is that they include language like “at the discretion of “.  That is when we are troubled.  What that means is that we have no liberty and a “bureaucrat” has control over our rights and freedom.  If Obamacare had language like “care facilities can apply treatment for cancer at the discretion of the hospital’s CFO…” people would go insane.  Why is this different?  When I applied for my license to carry in Massachusetts, I took the required safety class, filled out paperwork, and got 3 letters of recommendation: One of which was from the city police detective who was in charge of processing and investigating the applications.  But it took the state 4 months to process and send me a 3×5 piece of paper.  That sounds like an awful lot of “discretion” no?

You don’t need an assault weapon for self defense.

At this very second, no I do not need a firearm for self-defense.  But if you can accurately predict the future with 100% certainty, then PLEASE, do something useful like manage my 401k or tell me who is going to win the SuperBowl, or tell the military where ISIS is going to strike next.  Until then, SHUT UP.  Did anyone predict that Putin would invade Crimea?  Or that Hitler would invade Russia?  You do not know what my self defense requirements will be under any future timeline.  So while you may conclude that a 6 minute response time from the police is ok for your family’s safety, I prefer that I have the capability to try to actually keep mine safe for those 6 minutes.

There is no such thing as an “assault weapon”.  There are weapons, and there are people that assault.  No weapon is inherently more “assaulty” than another.  When you use an adjective, it must have a reason for being used to describe the noun.  If the adjective has no meaning in adding to the description of the noun, it makes no sense.  If you don’t understand the difference between an AR15 and a semi-automatic rifle that fires Winchester 223, then you are ignorant (those words describe essentially the same thing).  That is the same ignorance I display when I pronounce that a first baseman or catcher doesn’t need a special catching glove.  It catches a baseball.  Why is one ‘special’?

If anyone wants to come to the range with me and learn how seriously law-abiding gun owners take their responsibility in handling a weapon, I would love to take you.  Target shooting is an art.  It is enjoyable, it is something you practice, it is something that takes skill.  I wish I had more time to enjoy it and I wish more people would give it a try before unilaterally berating it for no rational reason.

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