Fatherhood 4) Connecting

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I would guess that at about age 11, kids start to figure out what they really love.  They’ve done the sampling thing and you start to see something rise to the top.  They also think they know everything, which means that you are no longer going to directly teach them squat.  You become a facilitator of their lives.  You chaperone to events and practices and you answer homework questions when they pop up.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to help them understand a challenging concept, but all in all, they don’t want you for much.

Hormones start kicking in during these years too, and so good luck finding any way of guiding them through life.  They are on their own path, they know people smarter than you, so stay out of the way.  “You’re not funny, dad”.  This is a time that really tests your sociological skills in parenting.  I call it “Connecting” because you are just looking for ways to build a bridge to the things in their life that get them excited.

For Haley, this meant I had to learn about horses.  Now I don’t know much, but I know some.  What I can do is listen to her talk and generally ask an intelligent question here or there.  For me, horse shows are great because everyone has dogs, and I can talk bassett-speak to them.  And the bigger shows have tractors.  Tractors are cool.  I try to understand as much as I can and by embracing the community, they take pity on me and give me lessons.  Finding parallels to the horse world, let me enjoy the experience at the same time that Haley did: It didn’t matter that it was for a different reason.  Special hat tip to Lucy, Miranda and especially Julie for helping me understand leads and diagonals (which I learned are not wire cutters) and ABC.

With Taylor, soccer was a little easier to understand…there is a lot more commentary and content out there.  Talking about a game, positioning and what the coach was asking her on the sidelines, was a lot easier.  We were always driving all over creation for a practice or a game.  I took particular pride in embarrassing Tay from the sideline when I would try to get in a workout.  Hell yes I brought my sprinting parachute!  I even threw a boulder around once.  Her team got a kick out of that.  Exercising at the same time that they did, let me razz them on their lack of intensity for working out and warming up.  And they felt comfortable giving it back to me.  It broke the tension.  I was able to build a bridge based on the simplicity of athletics.

Building a bridge is not easy.  I would guess that the most successful and empathetic politicians are ones who are close with their kids at this age.  You have to find common ground with someone whose interests are completely different than yours.  You might even disagree with the very notion of what they love (why can’t you use your hands to touch the ball, and isn’t that mean to sit on the back of an animal?)  Regardless of your opinions, you find a way to break through the wall they create – because clearly you don’t know anything – and find a connection to their heart.  In my case, you might even come to love something new too.  Kids are great, they help you see the world in a whole new way, sometimes they even change what you believe.

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Do the Right Thing

There is a great scene near the end of the movie The Family Man when Nick Cage engages Don Cheadle.  Cheadle plays an angel of sorts and takes the form of a convenience store clerk.  He intentionally gives an extra $5 to a woman as change for her purchase and you see her waffle over the decision to return the excess.  She does not, and later he says something like, “For 5 bucks, really?”  It’s a great scene to illuminate the choices we make in life and when to do right.  In that case, someone really was watching.

This past Saturday morning I was heading to Taylor’s JROTC drill team meet at Pinkerton.  Looking for a spot in the lot, all of a sudden a green and silver Subaru backs out of a spot on my right and hits me broad side.  I’m already running a few minutes late, so I’m kind of pissed. We get out of the cars and I see a very young girl, probably Taylor’s age.  She walks over and apologizes 20 times, “I was just following someone and I didn’t look!”

In the past, my first inclination would have been to be mad and make a big deal.  But given her age and sincerity, I felt guilty instantly freaking out and I stayed calm.  We walked over to the right side of my car and by some miracle, there was absolutely no body damage.  It was a soft bump and so she must have just hit the tire with her bumper.  What a stroke of luck.  No harm no foul.  We shake hands and go our ways.  There is a nagging voice in my head and so I write down her license plate number, just in case.  I head into the meet.

As I drive away from Pinkerton, I instantly notice that my steering wheel is set up crooked: The car is out of alignment.  Great.  Later in the day, I am driving on rt 28 and am startled when the ABS system is randomly kicking on and pulsing the brakes at 50 mph.  Nice, the accident must have messed up a sensor.  Checking the tire, I notice a new scratch on the rim.

On Sunday, I go to the Derry police station.  I have little faith that anything can be done, but I have to try.  The officer explains that since they weren’t there, he can’t investigate anything.  It’s her word vs mine.  “Can you send her my information and see if she contacts me?”  Nope.  No accident report, means I can’t file a claim with insurance.

On Monday I called Pinkerton campus security.  They don’t give out student information.  Yeah I know that, I would expect no less.  But I was hoping the school could reach out to the student and her parents’ good nature (assuming she goes there and they have her plate on record for the parking permit).  Because as pathetic as this is and goes against everything I believe about self-reliance, the lesson I learned is to always call the cops.  That is no fun and a waste of time and resources.  I am hoping that maybe I can reach out to Pinkerton’s PTA and appeal to their sense of what is right.  Because it is not ‘right’ for what will certainly be me eating an approximate $200 + repair for a student’s carelessness, and my civil naivety.

So I will send this post, and a nice note to Pinkerton, in the hopes that someone will at least make a good faith effort to, even anonymously, do the right thing on their own.

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(Picture of the rim and scratch that I didn’t notice because my phone screen is messed up, and the site of the collision.  Taken just after she drove off)

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Fatherhood 3) Sharing

Skiing 2009

I still remember sitting on a quad once with the girls and someone making a comment about skiing with them when they were so young.  I re-used a line that I always found funny, “Yeah I had to create people that like skiing with me.”  Sharing your passions for life is more than just trying to get your kids to do what you do, it’s about showing them that there are myriad options for having passion, you just have to find one that fits.

Somewhere around age 6, first or second grade, kids start enjoying something for the experience itself, and not so much about going just because we make them.  I think it has to do with telling their friends about an experience in school.  Regardless, as a parent, you are the primary arbiter of new experiences.  I always thought it was best to expose them to as much as possible and see what sticks.  I have done my best not to push one thing or another and we dropped something when it was not enjoyable anymore.  You can’t put your passion on them, as much as you may hope that they will love it too (see “Skiing”).  But finding things to share, makes child-rearing more of an exercise in building a life together and less of a life as a chauffeur.

We tried a number of things, each one beneficial in its own way…

  • Dance.  Did not go well, Haley hated wearing tights
  • Rock Climbing.  I bought a cute little 4-point harness.  I bet they would still enjoy it.
  • Soccer.  Originally, Haley showed a lot more promise than Tay, but then one summer it all switched.
  • Hiking.  I don’t care what is going on, we still have the best conversations when on a trail.
  • Skiing.  Some of my best memories with the girls were skiing together.  I started them both when they were 3.
  • Baseball.  I even helped asst coach a team, but yep, my kid (Tay) was one of a few doing cartwheels in the outfield.
  • Gymnastics.  It was fun to watch them both and I still believe it builds great balance.
  • Swimming.  We have always been in water, weather it was the lake house or the pool.
  • Snorkeling.  Always fun to explore the ocean.  Tay and I both want to get certified to dive.
  • Zip lines and ropes.  Should definitely do this more.
  • Watching movies.  Movie nights have been a staple for years.  I pride myself that the girls love both The Holy Grail and Maximum Overdrive
  • Reading books.  I watched Haley plow through a 600 page book in one weekend and be able to tell me the whole story. Crazy.
  • House projects.  Well I tried at least:)
  • Horses.  Taylor, not so much.  Haley? Yeah well you know.

I’m sure there are other things we have tried.  As I started thinking them through I figured I would write as many as I could remember.  I think it’s a good representation of all the experiences we shared together and how various ones played out to affect who they became.  We all know that Taylor is soccer.  I remember years ago when she started explaining to me the beauty of the game and how she likes being part of all the pieces working together.  I can’t imagine I need to say anything about Haley and horses.  I see adults that are passionate about their chosen profession and wonder how young they knew it.  With Haley, there is no doubt.

Shortly after the picture above was taken, I started wearing a helmet too.  After all, sharing means that I share in the experience with them too. I can’t insist on wearing a helmet for safety’s sake and then not show that I am committed to safety too.  The girls shared that concept with me, and I am better for it.

 

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Fatherhood 2) Foundations

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The girls and I have a series of #1 Rules.  The one I cite most often is “The number 1 rule of [blank] is to always do #2 first”.  I use it with tailgating, soccer, horse-shows, or generally any long road-trip.  We have other #1 Rules like “DBD” – Don’t Be Dumb, or “Be like the Mace” or “Always make your bed in the morning” (h/t to Admiral McRaven).

But without doubt my number 1 #1 Rule with the girls has always been “Always tell me the truth, and I promise I won’t be mad”.  I’ve been drilling it in since they entered the second phase of childhood, which I am dubbing the Foundations stage.  It sets the tone for all of our interactions and has created a culture of honesty within the walls of our home.

From ages 2-3 until about 6, you are in a process of building a strong life-foundation with your kids.  It’s that stage when they are learning to talk and think and reason.  They are exploring that basic trust that you asked of them when they were in the Patience phase.  There’s not really much about life you can teach them in these years.  They are so fascinated with the world and the idea of exploring it, that they are already getting hit with a fire hose of stimuli on a continuous basis.  Nothing you say really gets through.  Certainly punishments never do.  And to a lesser extent, positive reinforcement is largely ignored in exchange for whatever pleasure they got on their own.  Your best shot here is to work on a few broad themes that will only have benefit later in life.  That’s why I call it a Foundation.  They don’t really have the attention span to actually be taught any lessons, so you subconsciously reinforce themes that hopefully form the basis for who they are as persons as they grow older.

I’ve been pretty good over the years of perpetuating the themes that I think work best…

  • Always tell me the truth
  • Work hard and put in 100% effort in whatever you do
  • Learn, read as much as you can

Telling the truth, even when uncomfortable or painful, has made the most difference in our relationship.  I know they have told me things that were really difficult to share with a parent, and true to form, I am pretty sure that I have not freaked out once.  I even try to remind them of this fact when they are skittish about letting something out.  “Have I ever yelled at you or punished you when you told me the truth?”…  “No, dad”… “Same thing now, just talk to me.”  I must have said the expression “Just talk to me” at least a thousand times.  In their defense, even I am sick of it.  🙂

The truth between the girls and I has been the foundation of pretty much everything that has evolved as they grow up.  I am honest with them, and I ask them to be honest with me.  I admit it is hard, and the message has to be 100% consistent, even when others are pushing them in opposing directions.  But I believe that it is critical to keep building a culture of trust and closeness.  The staying calm part is key.  But in the big scheme of things, I have always felt that a long term investment in their trust and honesty, is much more important than a punishment or anger in the short term.  People always compliment on how the girls have turned out and how they are maturing, I always think of the Foundation as the key.  That’s where it all started.

 

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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

haley-horse-1 tay-soccer

 

 

 

 

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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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