I Am For You

One of the worst parts of fatherhood is the exhausted feeling of turning around and having no one in your corner. Having a tremendous partner in parenting is perhaps the greatest gift a father can be given. She is a great help to him and the source of immense strength. But even with a great partner, there are times a dad feels isolated and in need of support from brothers. To a very real extent, every dad faces those times when he is alone. When reinforcements aren’t coming. When everything around him seems intent on laying siege. When it feels as if everything is against him. Brother, when those times come, remember me. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.

To the new dad. The one who is, by now, well acquainted with that overwhelming sense that you have no idea what to do next. The one who is deprived of sleep and whose exhaustion is only exceeded by the nagging sensation of imposter syndrome. The dad who wrestles every minute of every new day with the internal question “Do I have what it takes to do this?”. The dad who feels an amazingly deep connection to his brand new baby but simultaneously feels so far from being up to the task of raising her. To him I say “Relax, brother. You can do this. You’re not alone. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the stay at home dad. The one who shifted his entire outlook to give his kids the best shot he can give them. The one who is isolated by a social culture that still doesn’t seem to get him. The one who deals daily with all the difficulty of raising young children while, at the same time, defending against views and comments of normative ignorance from seemingly every side. The one who craves significance and deep purpose but feels run down by the daily monumental tasks of raising children. The one who is exhausted. The one who has to fight for the respect of other guys as if fatherhood is of secondary importance to a man’s “vocation”. To him I say “I see you, brother. I acknowledge the work you’re doing so well. Keep going. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the single dad raising kids on his own. The one who works tirelessly to fiercely protect his son or daughter. The one who nurtures and disciplines, constantly trying to find what feels like a shaky balance between strength and gentleness. The one who is forced by circumstance into parenting roles for which he feels wholly unequipped. To him I say “Don’t get weary, brother. Keep fighting. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the dad dealing with infertility. The one whose fervent prayer is to experience the fatherhood journey. The one who quietly hears the complaints of other dads and inwardly mourns over and over again for the loss of the joys others take for granted. The one who comforts and upholds his girl with a graceful and uncommon strength throughout her most trying time. To him I say “Keep your head up. Do not let this make you bitter. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the dad fighting for custody. The one who battles against a legal system that has an unashamed double standard. The one who is completely devoted to his kids but is held away from them out of sheer spite. The one who focuses every ounce of energy and every available dime to the goal of being able to be the father he knows he can be. To him I say “Do not give up. Do not quit. Keep fighting. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the Special Needs Dad. The one who loves his kids regardless of circumstance. The one who celebrates every tiny triumph and is devastated by each failure. The one who faces down the most frightening things medical science can throw at his kid and still somehow provides a safe place for his family. The one who comprehends struggles that most men can’t and who puts in hours of effort that most men won’t. The one who would take all the pain and difficulty on himself without hesitation if it eliminated the struggle of his kids. To him I say “You are not alone here. Do not back down from this fight. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the working dad. The one who pushes himself to exhaustion and still feels like he can never get ahead. The one whose job takes him away from his kids for significant periods of time but whose mind is never far from them. The one who chases after excellence in order to show his kids that they can do anything if they are willing to work for it. To him I say “Stay on track, brother. Your work will pay off. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

To the every day dad. The one who does all he can for his family. The one who takes the responsibility of fatherhood seriously. The one who brings smiles to the faces of his kids in times when smiles are rare. The one who guides as best he can, provides as best he can, protects as best he can, and loves as best he can. The one who faces the struggle of parenting day after day after day. The one who sets the stage for the rest of his kids’ lives. To him I say “Keep getting after it. Remain engaged. You bring honor to all of us and you are not alone. Take heart, my friend. I am for you.”

When everything feels like it is against you, I am for you. And I’m not the only one.

Kneel

This weekend saw another flare up of social tensions highlighted on Sunday at NFL stadiums across the country. You know what happened. Last season, a mediocre but marginally successful (by league standards) quarterback in San Francisco, fed up with the treatment of young black men by several law enforcement officers, would kneel in silent protest during the national anthem. Earlier last week, President Trump unwisely decided to speak up on the topic saying, in monumentally unPresidential language, that NFL owners should fire players who chose to protest in similar fashion during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to each game. Of course, Sunday came and there were protests across the league at every stadium and every team. There were displays of solidarity from players and various statements from owners addressing the situation. The reaction from fans as well as formerly disinterested parties has been as vibrant as it has been varied. From supportive posts on social media outlets to passionate vows to never watch NFL ball again, folks responded. This issue that had been relegated to the backburner and almost become stale, has been revived and now it’s all we can talk about.

In light of this, I’m struck by the reality that my daughters are completely unaware and virtually unaffected by any part of this issue. None of them show anything more than a passing interest in watching, much less playing, the game of football. None of them have been affected by the words of a President. None of them have experienced anything other than fun and trust in the presence of police officers. Every bit of this would be foreign to them. But, yesterday as I watched the late games, I started to think about my own reaction to this. What does a Dad do with this? What can I teach my daughters through this? I started thinking about the next few years. As they grow and mature and come to an understanding of the complexities of adulthood, what kind of training can I provide them that will help them navigate these kinds of things? What must my reaction be?

As I read responses in my news feed and listen to radio and television interviews and coverage of this story, I hear passionate stances on all sides; all with merit and validity. But, I cannot help but notice our propensity to weigh in on specific circumstances with complete opinionated clarity while having incomplete knowledge of these specific circumstances. We are unquestionably comfortable with allowing our preconceptions to fill in whatever gaps exist in the facts. We do not jump to conclusions. We cleverly construct them out of feelings and biases, and then we lean so heavily on them that they become our truth. We are quick to make judgment and quicker to pass sentence. From the comments about players needing to be made to remember that they get paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living to the calls for police officers to be completely disarmed to opinions about the employment decisions of professional sports team owners, our decisive judgments are characterized by haste and ignorance. We are quick to throw our stones and my guilt in this is shameful.

Regardless of how I feel about the manner of the protest, I can teach my daughters the habit of empathetic listening. I can frame each side of this current scuffle with honest conversations.

I can talk with the girls about what it must feel like to constantly have to watch your back when encountering law enforcement officers. I can highlight for them the fact that I can drive hundreds of miles passing dozens of cops without even a second thought of being pulled over but I have dear friends who seem to be stopped every single time an officer drives by. We can talk about specific instances of police brutality. And we can talk about very real racism. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.

I can talk with the girls about how unbelievably difficult it must be to work as a police officer. We can discuss the constant scrutiny and pressure thrown their way every minute they are on the job. We can talk about their compensation and about how it does not come anywhere near matching the value they provide. We can think about what it must feel like to do everything within your power to be light to a dark place and then, if they make it home, go to bed at night feeling like nothing is good enough. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.

I can talk with the girls about how the combat veteran must feel as he or she watches all this play out. We can discuss how the memory of all they sacrificed still works many of them over on a daily basis. We can think about how they visit the graves of their friends who didn’t make it back. We can try to put ourselves in their place as they deal with what must seem like an ungrateful nation. And we can imagine the deep sense of betrayal they must experience when they see our national symbols disrespected. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.

I can talk with the girls about how Colin Kaepernick must feel. We can imagine the scenario where regardless of how much money he makes or how much notoriety he garners, he seems to want to use the only platform he has to attempt to call attention to mistreatment of folks who don’t have his platform. We can think about how he must feel to have perfect strangers hate him for it. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.

I don’t know what the solution is, here. It seems we have a long way to go. But I do know that, of all the things I want my girls to see in me, the most important lessons are that I am helplessly devoted to their mother and that I always treated everyone with empathy. I want them to see their father walking miles in the shoes of others.

 

Our Core Values – We Will Show Toughness in Mind and Body

My daughters are all different people. There are some similarities, but for the most part, each of them is a complex little dude in her own right.  All three of them are as different as they look.  This means that my parenting tactics have to adapt based on the various strengths or weaknesses, attitudes, abilities, and aptitudes of each individual. Knowing this, recognizing their differences, we have developed a set of core values we want to infuse into the lives of each of our daughters.  These are the values we want to teach and live and model regardless of the differences of personalities or abilities.  They are the essential principles around which we center our parenting philosophies and they are non-negotiable.  Each month, for the rest of the time they are in our home, we will focus on one of these core values.  For that month, it will be the focus of our conversations.  We will point out stories and writings and examples that display that particular core value.  In a very real sense, we will immerse our daughters in these 8 principles.  They are simple statements now because the She-Gables are still young but the concepts supporting each will continually develop as they get older and gain maturity.

 

2.  We will show toughness in mind and body.

 

There exists an undercurrent of assumption that coats nearly every conversation about, and interaction with younger generations today. This attitude of general understanding assumes every young person resides in perpetual weakness. The great put down of late is to call someone a “special snowflake“. This is no secret. Much has been written/discussed about the participation trophy children. We’ve heard about and witnessed the emergence of “safe spaces” on campus at the most elite houses of post-secondary education. Recognition of this general weakness has even sparked a burgeoning revolution surrounding the concept of “grit” as a desirable principle. Everywhere we look, there is another example of the perceived weakness of young people. It is almost overwhelming.

Whether we agree with the sentiment or not, the trend as a whole cannot be swept under the rug. What I have witnessed is that this is not necessarily a problem with young people (although it is very difficult to argue its prominence in that age group) but a characteristic that haunts members of every age.  What we see today, are people all around us who are ill-equipped to handle the pressures of life and the suffering that is a definitive marker of being a human. We see people who bail on their commitments at the first sign of difficulty.  We see folks lose their friggin minds over things like coffee and turn signals and cotton.  We see over-indulgence (looking at you credit card debt and complex carbohydrates!) and lack of discipline.  For far too long, far too many of us have been far too willing to let our relative wealth insulate us from the responsibility of toughness.  I am guilty.

So, what does a father do?  I am not comfortable allowing this legacy of weakness in my mind and in my body to find its way into the lives of my daughters.  What I want for them is toughness.  My desire is for them to learn mental and physical toughness, but not to the point that they become calloused.  The specific brand of toughness I want for them is a beautiful and inspiring trait.  It is the toughness I have witnessed in my dear wife over and over and over again and it is a defining characteristic of what I think of as “feminine”.  It is a tolerance for pain, both physical and emotional, driven by and built upon deep contentment and strong truthful perspective.  Building this toughness presents a new level of difficulty in parenting.  It’s not like playing the guitar where you simply continue to expose your fingertips to the strings until they harden.  This isn’t toughness.  It’s callousness.  In order to develop an internal toughness in our daughters, I think we need to focus on helping them build positive defense areas within them through specific practices.

Practice Repetitive Empathy.  Empathy is the most effective way to maintain perspective because it requires an individual to remove himself from his own reality and inject himself into someone else’s.  And when you have entered another’s reality, especially a more painful or more difficult reality, it is hard to complain about your own. Empathy expands our reference points for pain and suffering.  When we truly empathize with the suffering of others, it creates a new high water mark for us and encourages us that we can face difficult days ahead because we’ve witnessed difficult days in the past. Whenever we witness someone having a difficult time, we do not shy away or hide it from the girls. We take the opportunity to have unique conversations. We highlight and explain the difficult situation and we walk them through the normal emotions they would feel if they were in the same place. Practiced empathy shows our daughters how to look beyond themselves and consider the plight of others. When we are able to empathize with painful experiences, that experience teaches us how to handle the same situations as they come up in our own lives.

Practice Memorial Celebration. Being able to look back and remember where we started and then survey all the ground we have covered, is a skill most of us simply do not have. For the most part, we are always looking forward to the next thing while disregarding where we came from and where we are now. Especially in parenting…”I can’t wait until they can walk”…”I can’t wait until they can play independently”…”I can’t wait until they can drive themselves”…

The reality is that before too long, we will “can’t wait” the kiddoes right into adulthood. And we will have missed it. In doing this, I think we communicate to our daughters that we love some future version of them instead of the present one. When we constantly look forward, we miss out on the pride of accomplishment of remembering just how far we’ve come. In our house, we aren’t purposefully reminding the girls of the ground they’ve covered. Each step of progress is framed by first looking back and thinking about who we were before that step was made.  Practicing memorial celebration keeps our daughters’ minds in tune with their past. Remembering their victories and their previous struggles provides them with a base of confidence to face current difficulties. This is a key component of toughness.

Practice Helpful Response. One of the aspects of toughness we are trying to train into our daughters is a habit of immediate helpful response. When pain and suffering arrive in their lives, I want them to automatically be looking for ways they can help ease the suffering of those around them. Action, in the face of pain, is a remarkable way to anesthetize against that pain. Engaging difficulty with a helpful response also defends against becoming bitter which happens often. Whenever we see a difficult situation, we very simply ask the girls how they would respond…

“I wonder, what would you do in this situation?” This easy question gets them in the habit of immediately thinking about responding in a positive manner and provides creative suggestions for moving forward.

 

This is world can be cruel. The path my daughters will walk is full of hazards and dangers well outside of my control. I cannot prepare the path for them but I can work to prepare them for the path. Be tough, girls. Daddy loves you.

Growth Is Slow

I have written previously about my involvement in the handful of Facebook communities geared toward men who want to be better. Better husbands, better fathers, better in business, better in life. I have also talked about how a few of these groups (specifically Ryan Michler’s Order of Man and Larry Hagner’s Good Dad Project) have really been a great support for me personally. What I have found was not what I expected to find. My expectations were that I would find some guys talking about cars and steaks and sex and football. You know, because we are told those subjects represent the outer limits or the extent to which men are supposed to be able to use their single track minds. To my shame and eventually my great delight, my expectations were shredded immediately. What I have found are vibrant communities of guys discussing tactics to be better husbands and better fathers. I’ve found thousands of men who have a driving desire to be these amazing beasts of familial leadership and provision and nurturing. Thousands of guys just like me who crave depth of purpose and who are willing to put in work for self-development. Dad, man, if you aren’t a part of these communities, get over there and join up while I drop this hot paragraph break.

One of the things I have noticed through many of the interactions in these communities is that we are conditioned to view personal growth in short burst intervals instead of long, slow development. We all seem to be looking for that next book or that next podcast that will turn some switch in our brains and suddenly everything will fall in line. In marriage, we want that one thing that will automatically make our relationship this vibrant, passionate, marriage full of love and respect. In parenting, we want that one trick that will convince our children to be obedient. In fitness, we want that one exercise that will get us “ripped” in 2 weeks. In business, we want the one tactic that will turn on the money faucet and provide that job we love. It seems we are all looking for that Oprah lightbulb “Aha” moment. What we seek is the one great life hack.

And yet, for most of us, that moment never comes. We read a thousand books and listen to a thousand podcasts and we still feel the same. Life still continues to work us over. Our marriages are still difficult. Parenting is still hard. Our health and fitness goals stifle. Our businesses struggle. We get even more discouraged and we become disillusioned with a long list of programs that “just didn’t work for me”. We get stuck in the quicksand of self-doubt; broken men who give up on the hope of ever being healthy, happy, or fulfilled.

Brother, we have been suckered. The cold hard reality of personal development is that, for the vast majority of us, progress comes at a monumentally slow pace. There is no hack for manhood. Growth in specific areas and personal disciplines is a long, slow, crawl. It is not a sprint. The will to better yourself is not a lightning strike moment of change. It is a daily, minute by minute, hour by hour, struggle requiring commitment and recommitment over and over and over again. The “Aha” moment fallacy is particularly destructive to a great many of us because it is not the difficulty of the road of personal development that breaks us. We can handle the workload. We have not found this road to be too hard. We have found it to be too long. We’ve been tricked into the expectation of being able to feel immediate results. But, personal growth is a lot like your kids’ growing up. You can’t see your kids grow. In fact, most of the time, being a parent feels like they are never going to grow up! However, with day after day of the right nutrition and sleep, one day you turn around and your kid is going to Kindergarten…getting behind the wheel…going to friggin college. Expecting your toddler to suddenly have this lightning bolt epiphany and start dropping Calculus on you is absurd. But, this is exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect out of our own personal development.

I have to remember to take the long view. When frustration gets after me and I feel stuck, I have to be equipped for patience. I need the reminder that I’ll be better a year from now and I’ll be a lot better 10 years from now. I have to celebrate small victories and let the defeats motivate me, not control me. This is a long, slow, crawl. It is not easy but it is worth it. Keep at it. You were great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

Rules for My Daughters

 

A few weeks ago, I saw a post making the rounds on the FaceSpace called “Rules for My Son” ( over on AaronConrad.com ) I enjoyed the list he put together from a larger source list. And it set me to thinking about the rules I want to have for my daughters. So, I compiled a list of my own.

 

  1. Work twice as hard as the boys. In this present reality, sometimes boys have an easier road. Prove you belong. It’s not fair. It’s not right. Your effort matters in spite of the circumstance.
  2. Kindness is real beauty. Everything else will fade.
  3. No one disrespects your mother, especially you.
  4. If the question is “Would you like bacon?”, anyone who answers “No” is not worth your time. Shun that person. Be kind to them, but keep your distance.
  5. A bathing suit should allow you to move freely in water without being displaced, protect you from the sun, and be comfortable. A bikini serves none of these purposes.
  6. Refuse to be a victim. Be aware of your surroundings. Be careful who you befriend. When injustice or violence appear, always fight back. When your heart is broken, forgive.
  7. Grammar is important. The aim is not for perfection but for competence. Maintain the integrity of the Oxford Comma.
  8. “I can’t” is a monumental lie. Don’t believe it. I know you. You most certainly can!
  9. A good friend can carry you through a world of heartache. Hold on tight when you find one.
  10. Our country is a wonderful gift. Patriotism and pride in your homeland are virtuous. Celebrate this nation and never let her flag touch the ground.
  11. Marry the boy who dearly loves his mother. And then commit to your relationship with her.
  12. A man who cannot grow a beard is no less of a man; just like Fredo is no less of a Corleone.
  13. Your words are immensely powerful. Always build up.
  14. Do. Not. Whine. “The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
  15. When you get the chance to travel, take the chance. Every time.
  16. I hear shopping is fun. Go easy on the credit cards. Spend less than you make.
  17. Wherever you are, whether it is school, or church, any other setting with your peers, make sure nobody is alone. If someone is by himself, immediately offer your friendship. Repeat every day.

Well, there you go. Remember: You were great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

Why We Encourage Disney Princess-ism With Our Daughters

One of the things that has surprised me most about fathering little girls is the extent to which I enjoy Walt Disney World in sunny Orlando, Florida. This year will be our third trip in a handful of years. I love everything about that joint and when we go, we get after it and leave it all on the field. We open and close Magic Kingdom multiple days, which is something I think your family should do at least once per trip. When it is time for us to go home, we are exhausted because we have wrung every last drop of magic out of that mouse. It is a phenomenal place. Obviously with 3 little girls, our trips to the Disney campus take on a decidedly Princessy theme. This is my reality and we unashamedly dive head first into the Princess culture. We dress up. We meet and greet them all. We marinate and simmer in those stories in those settings with those characters and we pay good money for it (as anyone who has been there, well knows). Now, before I had daughters, I held strong opinions about a great many things. I knew for a fact that my children would never be allowed to disobey me in public. I knew they would sit quietly at restaurants and eat their food without making any messes. And I knew for certain that the Disney Princess universe was responsible for a lot of self-centered, overly dramatic behavior and that my children would never be involved in such things.

What a fool. As I write this, I marvel at just how much my thinking has been changed by these little ones. Like I have said a thousand times before: “There was a way I imagined my life turning out, but then I got daughtered and nothing has been the same.” My girls regularly disobey me in public, restaurant meals are a friggin circus, and those Princesses are a tremendous aid in the task of raising young girls. We embrace and encourage Disney Princess-ism for a host of reasons. And you should as well.
1. In parenting, and specifically within the realm of body image stemming from the overt media messaging that bombards girls from a young age, I will take help from allies wherever I find them. Sadly, today, the overwhelming tide of females in the public eye only gain traction or attention by relying heavily on their willingness to wear fewer and fewer clothes. It is not that we don’t have a great many wonderfully strong and brilliant women. We just don’t regularly spotlight them and that must be offensive to women and a disservice to girls. Parents who want to show their daughters great female role models have to go search them out and overwhelm their daughters’ ears with their inspiration in order to drown out the ocean of negativity that covertly and expressly tells her that her value is measured in her ability to turn heads with her body. For the engaged dad, the battle for his daughter’s eventual view of herself begins in her infancy. And he has to be relentless and willing to use every resource available. The princess characters throughout the compelling stories in the Disney vault universally value character over beauty which makes them a fantastic tool for parenting.
2. The Princesses exemplify certain traits that we highlight and exalt in our home. They give us specific, easy to understand examples to which we can point and say “Do you see this? This is how you are to act.” The best parents I’ve ever seen have this magical ability to make memorable lessons out of everything that interests their children and they do it in such a way that their kids don’t even recognize they are being taught. It is an amazing thing to behold and a talent I am trying to build in myself. So, when the girls are watching one of these movies, we are in constant communication. This is one thing I’ve learned about these little girls. Watching movies is an interactive experience for them. They ask questions so much that we can’t even hear the movie! “Daddy, did you see that?” “Daddy, are you stronger than Gaston?” “Have you ever eaten a grub?” “Why is the beast so mad all the time?” and on and on and on they go. For me, if I’m not careful, this is positively annoying. However, these times when they are engaged in these stories are custom made opportunities to infuse character training into their minds by calling attention to observable traits in these Princesses with whom they already identify.

“Girls, look at how Snow White is so kind to all those little guys even though she just met them.”
“Girls, did you see how Anna was willing to protect her sister even when she felt bad and needed to take care of herself?”
“Girls, do you see how focused and determined Mulan is?”
“Girls, do you see how Belle is so devoted to her father? Isn’t that awesome? You should all be like Belle”
Disney Princess-ism provides clear, and surprisingly rare, representations of many of the character traits we want to impress upon our daughters.

Most dads are not comfortable with the pomp and circumstance that comes with their daughters’ affinity for Disney Princesses. I know I wasn’t. And there are still days where all the different dresses and the glitter and the crowns and tiaras and the living room dramatic re-enactments and magic wands that play music are just too much. I understand. Believe me, I understand. But, dad, there is a great deal of value in your daughter’s fascination with those Princesses. Use it to your benefit and hers. You’ve been great today and you can be great again tomorrow.

Anti-Bigotry Parenting

Over the last several days, I’ve seen a bunch of different quotes and sayings about how children are not born knowing how to hate. My favorite is from Denis Leary (who I think is an underrated actor and a remarkably funny man).

Naps. Classic.

When I watch coverage of all those young men carrying torches and acting foolishly in Virginia, it angers and saddens me. However, it also forces me to think about the things I can do to make sure we see less and less of this kind of bigoted garbage. I am driven to the hope that my daughters’ generation will look back on history with a sense of wonder and say “can you believe people ever thought that way?”. I want the concept of human inequality to be such a foreign idea to them that they cannot comprehend that bigots actually existed at one time. I want racial strife to be something they only read about in bygone era histories. I want them, and all their peers, to know freedom and to cherish it.

But, I am aware of the uphill climb this will be. Especially without specific action, these quixotic hopes seem like dreaming the impossible dream. There is unreasonable hate in our country and racial hate is the most unreasonable. It simply does not make sense. And yet, Charlottesville happened. So, now, a father is confronted with the reality of this evil and he must do all he can to stamp it out in the longshot hopes of providing his daughters a world free of it. My desire, as a loving dad, is to foster continuous opportunities to turn my daughters’ hearts away from bigotry toward grace and peace.  Our little family has undertaken this in a few simple ways and I would invite every dad I know to come along and expand on these.

We highlight our history and exalt those heroes who fought for equality and peace long before us. A fundamental weakness I see among my dad brethren is that we shy away from explaining things to our young children, especially if those things require sensitivity in our cultural setting. But, as my dear wife reminds me, this is the first time my kids have lived on this planet and they won’t know things unless we teach them. They do not come prepackaged with a set of understood skills. So, we talk about our history. We explain slavery. On our most recent vacation to Charleston (phenomenal city, by the way), we visited a plantation and we had a few long talks while standing in the slave quarters. Conceptually, there are things my daughters cannot yet understand and the idea of someone owning another person still doesn’t compute in their brains. But, we discussed the evils of slavery as well as emancipation and the fight for civil rights. All of my daughters know, without question, that President Lincoln is daddy’s personal hero.  We tell about the abolition of slavery and I’ve read the Emancipation Proclamation to them multiple times. We’ve talked about Dr. King and Medgar Evers and William Wilberforce and Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman. They know that there have been men and women in this country who have perpetrated evil against other men and women simply for their skin tone. Now, there are times when they ask offensive and embarrassing questions when trying to process these things but that should never suppress our willingness to teach to our kids the true history of racial strife in America. We’ll just have to ask for grace and forgiveness while our kids learn love and respect from our past instead of hate and bigotry. Dad, our children need to know our history, the beauty or our triumphs, and the ugliness of our failures.

We identify bigotry and racism before their eyes and we highlight how ugly and unattractive those things are.  One of the things I relish most about this time is how much influence I still have on my daughters’ thinking. As they continue to grow and develop, I am aware of the truth that they are looking to me for cues on what is and is not attractive. From a very early age, daughters learn from their fathers what to look for in a future mate. This is just the way they are. As a matter of practice, I refuse to waste this time. When footage of the tiki torch vigil in Charlottesville appears on our television, we show it to the girls and we characterize it as ugly. We explain that boys who think and act like that are ugly and not worth our time and attention. To the one who would argue that this is akin to “brainwashing”, I would say, “Brother, refusing to influence your kid means you are the only person not telling your kid what to think”. I will not abdicate my rightful throne of fatherly influence for anything. My aim is to ensure that any young man taking an interest in one of the She-Gables better have a habit of treating all people with respect. The behavior and worldview of those supremacists in Charlottesville is rancid and it will turn their stomachs as it turns mine.

With an eye toward peace, these are the foundational parenting steps we are taking to bring about the extermination of bigotry in the world our daughters will inherit. These are just the beginning and there is, of course, much more to be done. Dads, we can continue to push racism out of this world in a thousand different ways. You’ve been great. You can be great again tomorrow.

ADHD Does Exist. It Very Much Exists.

The most toxic habit we have as parents is our willingness to shame other parents without mercy. There’s Mom-shaming over vaccines and breastfeeding and circumcision and a thousand other things. There’s Dad-shaming over another thousand things. It seems there may be no limit to the vastness of things being used to make ourselves feel superior to other parents. As a matter of common decency, I think we have to knock this off. We have to be better to each other. We must extend just a little measure of grace. For the most part, I like to mock people who try to shame other parents. But there is one arena that gets beyond my armor of confidence and just attacks my soul. When other parents make broad sweeping assumptions in this one area, it is a source of so much deep emotional pain (also called anguish) that I stew on it for days.

 

Every few weeks, I’ll read an article or see a headline or hear a comment about how Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not real. It is usually accompanied by generalized statistics about the growth of use of stimulant drugs and always carries a judgment on the parents and doctors for this increase. I cannot speak to the increase in volume of the various diagnoses and prescriptions on the whole. But I can tell you my own experience as an engaged father of a little one who carries the diagnosis and I can relay a few truths from our family’s reality with ADHD and I’ll include some words for the critical voices…

1. This disorder is about brain chemistry and function and has nothing to do with parenting style. The idea that my daughter’s attention difficulties are a result of lazy parenting or too much screen time or some other such judgmental junk science nonsense, is both offensive and lacks any measure of understanding. In reality, brain trauma in utero is the source for us and there are dozens of other causes contributing to the disorder. Assigning blame at the feet of parental behavior for a great many of us is like a final kick in the stomach at the end of a long day of hard fighting.

2. Medication is a last resort treatment and a decision made only after much research, trepidation, and a good deal of heartache. Most of the criticism surrounding ADHD focuses on the widespread pharmaceutical treatments available, particularly stimulant drugs. Statements about “drugging your kids” and “making them zombies just so they’ll behave” are as unfair as they are pervasive.  The reality is that a parent comes to this decision only after exhausting all options (even the crazy ones) . Even further still, the truth of stimulant drugs is that sometimes they are the only way for these kids to feel actual relief. Oh, is that something you never considered? Yes, for a great number of children, ADHD is something from which they suffer. Imagine never being able to slow your own brain and focus on things on which you desperately wish you could focus. For many, there is no escape from that reality outside of pharmaceutical treatments. Perhaps there are many children for whom a good dose of discipline would go further than a few milligrams in a pill. I don’t know about that. I do know that these drugs help millions and I would argue that stimulant drugs have their place in treatment of this disorder (even in spite of your judgment).

3. There are hours of coaching and training that no one else sees. Maybe the worst thing that comes out of the “ADHD doesn’t exist” crowd is the reality that their criticism kicks a weary parent when they are already on the ground. What you don’t see in their statistical darts is any data pointing to the hours and hours of additional work and training they are walking through with their children. The truth is that kids who suffer from ADHD, many times, must expend exponentially more effort for a fraction of the progress other kids make without having to try at all. There are hours of math drills, and training social skills, and coaching situational awareness, and a hundred other disciplines. No one else sees these hours because parents don’t complain about the extra work (and it is work). They just lower their heads and keep driving ahead for their kids. And then you accuse them of being lazy. Shame on you.

 

Before you paint with such a wide brush over a disorder you have not experienced first hand, it would be wise to sit and listen to those who live their lives in the midst of it. Perhaps you could even try to muster a little grace and empathy for them. Maybe walk a mile in their shoes before you level criticism that is neither helpful nor based in any kind of real understanding. Maybe, just maybe, you could try to be helpful. There will certainly come a time in your parenting when you will need grace and understanding. When that time comes, I hope others are more willing to show that grace than you have been.

To the mom and dad who are well acquainted with the ADHD life, know that you are not alone. Do the best for your kid that you can with the resources at your disposal and the information in front of you. You were great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

How To Talk To Your Daughter About Sex

I’m part of a few Facebook groups specifically designed for men to build up and seek advice from other men.  These groups are amazing little online communities that fly in the face of the common stereotypical assumptions that men are loners.  On the contrary, I’ve found tens of thousands of men across the world who seek community.  This is a phenomenal development and these groups have made me a better man and father.

 

Anyway, a few days ago, in one of these communities, one of the guys asked what others thought about a “friends with benefits relationship”.  The answers were all over the map but as I read through the 300+ comments, there were 2 things that took hold of me.  The first was a comment by a young guy saying that he had “bagged several girls” using this tactic.  Upon reading it, I immediately broke my own social media rule of moral non-intervention…and I lit him right up. It wasn’t pretty.  The second thing that struck me was the vast ocean of opposing and competing views on sex.  More than any other individual concept, sex and sexuality carries an unbelievable amount of cultural baggage.  It is a jungle out there.

 

In thinking through this, I wandered into the inevitable consideration of how to talk to my daughters about sex as they get older.  My girls are still young but I can unequivocally say that, for a multitude of reasons, this subject is the most terrifying to a young father of girls.  He is painfully aware of this culture’s conceptual neurosis surrounding sex.  He sees the consistent hyper-sexualized messaging making a relentless assault on the mind of his young daughter.  He feels an intense desire to protect his daughter’s innocence.  And, as much as he tries to forget, he can vividly remember himself as an awkward, hormonally charged teenager.  Couple all these factors with a media driven society that tells him he is a buffoon who is incapable of understanding the complexities of human sexuality beyond his own primal drives, and the end result is a massive number of fathers who walk in immense amounts of confidence in other areas of their lives but are petrified at the thought of engaging their own daughters in deep meaningful conversation.  Even the greatest of fathers for generations have been hamstrung by this same fear and these conversations have been relegated to the realm of the mother/daughter relationship, or worse, daughters have been left to figure things out on their own.

 

Brother, listen to me.  It would seem to me that there is too much at stake for fathers to be uninvolved here any longer and I would argue that we simply don’t have the luxury of shirking this responsibility.  In this area, this culture is toxic.  I think a Dad has to engage in this conversation in order to provide his daughter with the confidence of a comprehensive conceptual framework surrounding sexuality before hormones, peer pressure, and cultural messaging rob her of that confidence and replace it with vulnerability.

 

Here are some general guidelines on how I plan to do just that.  It will be difficult, monumentally so.  And there will certainly be awkwardness.  But I have to try.

 

While they are still young (too young to grasp the meaning), I am training and teaching the importance of modesty and privacy.  I’m not talking about crazy prudish stuff so calm down.  I do, however, make a point of teaching basic self-respect and decency.  One of the ways we do this is by explaining to each of our daughters that there are appropriate ways to wear clothes and there are inappropriate ways to wear clothes.  We do not pull our dress up over our head.  When we wear dresses or skirts, we make sure to sit in such a way as to not reveal our unders.  I want these little girls to gain an understanding from a young age that they have a responsibility when it comes to the way they dress and the way they behave with regard to their clothing choices.  We make it undeniably clear that our daughters’ internal value is in no way derived from their appearance.  However, we drive the point that the way they present themselves communicates a great many things about how they view their own self-worth.  There is a standard and defining this standard early paves the way for an easier road later on when the stakes are higher and the consequences greater.

 

 

As they get a little older and a little wiser, I am perpetually initiating conversations designed around the prime reality I want to communicate to them about sex.  With regard to sexuality, everyone holds one central viewpoint that dictates everything they say and everything they think.  The radical feminist views sexuality through the lens of liberation.  The fundamentalist Christian holds an altogether different view.  The strip club owner subscribes to yet another basic reality.  Each of us possesses an underlying truth that drives our viewpoints regarding sexuality.  It is a father’s job to clearly explain to his daughter what his prime reality is and why he believes it is so.  Dad, this requires work.  It won’t happen in one quick conversation.   Sitting down with her for 10 minutes when she is a teenager and giving her “the talk” is a ridiculously short-sighted approach that will leave her ill-equipped and vulnerable.  We have to do better.  I’ll give you my prime reality and a few examples of conversations we have had and will continue to have.

Intimacy has been created by the Creator God and gifted to humanity as a privilege of committed covenant relationship, not a meaningless cavalier recreation.

This is the whole of my view on human sexuality and the theme that undergirds every conversation with my daughters in this arena.  When they are grown, they may come to reject this.  But, until then, my aim is for the clarity with which they will understand this view to provide for them the confidence and strength required to keep them from being easy prey.

 

Some of the conversations are ones where we talk about the idea of commitment.  Some conversations are the ones where we talk about biology.  Some conversations center around their protection.  Some conversations don’t fall into a category but support the main reality.  In all conversations, I am trying to tell them the truth without sarcasm or embarrassment.

·         “Girls, I love your mother very much.  She is my wife and I am her husband and that means there is no other person who gets to be as close to me as Momma does.  We share a relationship with each other that we don’t share with anyone else…”

·         “Girls, what does marriage mean?  I’m married to Mommy, so what does that mean?…It means that Mommy and I are connected to each other through our hearts.  And it means we aren’t connected to anyone else in that same way.  Mommy is the only one for me and I am the only one for her.”

·         “What does it mean to be faithful?…”

·         “What does divorce mean?…”  (We can’t shy away from things they need to know.)

·         “Where do babies come from?” “When a Mom and Dad love each other, they decide it is time to have a baby.  That’s when the baby starts growing in the Mommy’s tummy.

·         “Girls, no one is allowed to touch you without your permission…”

·         “What does gay mean?”

·         Etc

·         Etc

 

In each phase of their maturity, I am establishing and clearly communicating the reasoning behind various boundaries.  There is now a common practice in parenting where Moms and Dads abdicate their authority in exchange for friendship and approval from their kids.  Rarely do I criticize other parents because parenting is a monumental task.  However, giving up your responsibility in this way is, at best, lazy, and, at worst, dangerously destructive.  In explaining and enforcing boundaries around sex and sexuality, a dad is communicating loudly with his daughter that she is vitally important to him and worthy of his time and attention.  Boundaries also keep them safe and limit situations that can cause long lasting irreparable harm.  Each dad’s boundaries are different but I’ll give you mine.

 

·         Dating – The She-Gables will be dating sooner than I would like.  It is inevitable.  They will be able to go on group dates when they turn 13 and solo dates when they can drive on their own.  A young man who wants to take one of these girls out will need to have met and introduced himself to me or my dear wife.  Information surrounding their whereabouts will need to be transparent.  And there is always a curfew.

·         Social Media/Cell Phone – You don’t have to search for long before finding stories and reports of young girls getting into all sorts of situations that would never have presented themselves without access to social media and smartphones.  There is danger here.  Our response is a tiered responsibility scale.  Before they are 13, my daughters will be provided basic phones (not smartphones) as we think they have need.  These are simply tools for communication with their parents.  Prior to 13, the girls won’t have access to social media sites. (The fact that this may be considered a radical boundary should tell us something about our culture.)  Anyway, once the girls turn 13, we’ll take a significant step here.  At this age, we will upgrade their phones and set up with them whatever online accounts we think are appropriate.  In this time of transition, I will be active in monitoring their interactions online while continuing to have conversations about the many dangers that arise from technology.  This is when the girls will be included in our family’s “open media policy”.  In short, there is currently no online account or application where my wife doesn’t have the username and password for my accounts.  There is no online activity to which she does not have direct access.  Once the girls reach the age of 13, they will also have access to view my online social accounts.  In our family, there will be no online closed doors.  They can see my interactions and I can see theirs. Their text messages and other messaging apps will fall under this policy. (I’ll write more about this in other posts).  During this phase, I’ll be active in monitoring their online activity and their mother will as well.  As they turn 16, if they have proven themselves able to interact online without losing their minds, my monitoring will take a step back.  They will always comply with our open media policy but this will be a turning point where they can trust that their father will respect their privacy.  This is a fundamental part of growing up…and it already makes me queasy.  So, at 16, their phones will be theirs and their online activity will be private.  They will have had 3 years to earn that privacy and our conversations along the way will build their understanding of their personal responsibility.

·         Parties/Sleepovers – I remember all the shenanigans I got into during parties and sleepovers so I am especially wary here.  Our simple boundary surrounding parties and sleepovers is that we must know who will be there and who will be in charge.  If we know them and have no reason to doubt their responsibility, the girls will probably be allowed to go.  If not, they won’t.

 

However you want to go about it, talking to your daughter about sexuality is your responsibility.  Dad, I think we have to be candid and truthful and understanding and clear but we can no longer be silent. Have no fear.  You’ll be great.

Our Core Values -“We will work hard”

My daughters are all different people.  There are some similarities, but for the most part, each of them is a complex little dude in her own right.  My oldest, the Child of Promise, deals every minute of every day with the effects of a couple of brain bleeds she had in utero.  She has Apraxia, attention issues, Visual Processing Disorder, and all sorts of executive function difficulties.  I could go into each of those individually but they all cause difficulty in academic and social settings.  She is a special needs child and every step of progress is earned by intense effort. But, she fights for that progress; like no one I’ve ever seen, she fights. By contrast, my middle child, Goldilocks, just understands things without having to work much at all.  She will breeze through school with ease.  She is also a highly emotive girl who feels everything. She is wonderful. To contrast further, my youngest, Dimples, has her own completely different set of strengths and personality points.  She is amazing. All three of them are as different as they look.  This means that my parenting tactics have to adapt based on the various strengths or weaknesses, attitudes, abilities, and aptitudes of each individual.

 

Knowing this, recognizing their differences, we have developed a set of core values we want to infuse into the lives of each of our daughters.  These are the values we want to teach and live and model regardless of the differences of personalities or abilities.  They are the essential principles around which we center our parenting philosophies and they are non-negotiable.  Each month, for the rest of the time they are in our home, we will focus on one of these core values.  For that month, it will be the focus of our conversations.  We will point out stories and writings and examples that display that particular core value.  In a very real sense, we will immerse our daughters in these 8 principles.  They are simple statements now because the She-Gables are still young but the concepts supporting each will continually develop as they get older and gain maturity.

 

  1. We will work hard.

 

Simple enough, right?  Wrong.  If you’ve never tried it, teaching children an appreciation for the disciplined sustained effort called work is a monumental goal.  If I’m honest, most days it feels like the only thing I’m developing in them is the ability to conjure up new creative ways to complain.  However, we persevere.  We will not be deterred.  This principle made it into our core values because of its basic importance and impact in our actual lives.  We are working hard to clear hurdles from their paths so that they have no excuse to not excel in their lives.  They are not, and will not be, hindered by poverty or societal expectations based on their gender or any kind of obstacle beyond their control.  In a very real sense, my daughters will be able to rise as high as their effort takes them.  The only thing holding them back will be their own unwillingness to put in the work required to chase their dreams.  Additionally, I want them to value that strong work ethic in the young men they will choose to marry.  Very few things can crush a woman’s spirit more than being connected to a man who will not work.  On the other hand, a man willing to work himself into exhaustion, when he keeps it from turning into obsessive workaholism, affords his wife greater and greater measures of freedom. I want this for each of them.

 

So, how does a dad do this?  How does he build in the heart of his daughter a fixation on perseverance?  How does he develop in her an appreciation for personal effort to the point that she is the source of it even when he is no longer around?

 

Well, I’ll tell you what I think.  Tactically, dad has to portray the effort and then he has to praise the effort.

 

  • Portray the effort.  At the most basic level, she’s not going to know what work looks like unless she sees it at home.  She won’t see it on TV.  She won’t see it in celebrities.  She won’t see it in her friends.  She won’t see it anywhere unless she sees it at home and a large portion of that is a conscious effort on dad’s part. In fact, a dad in our culture has to swim upstream with regard to work ethic due to the prevailing nonsensical stereotype of the lazy buffoon father we see every time we turn on the television.  When what we see constantly from every angle is the definitive father figure as a lazy idiot sitting on the couch falling asleep with a beer and a bag of Cheetos, the cultural image of a dad with regard to strong work habits has been turned into a gag with a laugh track. I don’t find it funny at all. Dad, you must make a specific concerted effort to portray what it looks like for a man to put forth significant effort because your example has to drown out the Homer Simpson stereotype. Your daughter has to see you work.  When my girls leave my home, I want them to see that TV dad with all his buffoonery and for there to be a disconnect in their minds. I want them to say “That’s not my dad.”.  I want them to see a better way.
  • Praise the effort. This is one I’ve been really trying to work on lately in myself. A little while ago, I was listening to a podcast from Larry Hagner  at the Good Dad Project and it stopped me cold. (Larry does some phenomenal work highlighting what it means to be a good dad and also equipping guys to actually be good dads). In this specific podcast, the guest was a guy named Larry Yacht who is a Navy Seal with a business that teaches different things surrounding mindset. One of the more compelling things he said was ” You need to praise your kid’s effort, not the results of the effort”. When I heard him say it, I immediately disagreed. One of my main jobs as a father is to prepare my kids for adulthood. As adults, we are judged and measured by our results, and rightly so. This is basic, undeniable reality. So, in my mind, expecting and praising the results my kids produce seemed to be preparing them for the real world.  But, as he explained more and gave actual evidence, my mind changed right there. In the course of a few minutes of listening, I recognized that in praising results instead of effort, I was actually training my children for future failure. If my kid excels academically, and one day she brings me one of her little math quizzes and shows me how she got all of the answers correct, my immediate response has generally been to praise the result. “That’s terrific, kiddo! You got all of them right! You are so smart!” That has been my response. However, if this is what I praise, I’m telling her that I value the result and not what it took to achieve that result. In her mind, she starts to think of herself as a brilliant mathematician. But, what happens when she hits higher math; math that requires real struggle? What happens when she doesn’t make the grade? In her mind, she is no longer smart and daddy is no longer proud of her. Then the downward spiral begins. She hates math and gives up. Dad then compounds the problem when he’s upset by her slumping math grades. But, if, from the beginning, my praise consists of recognition for the work she put in, then a whole different set of circumstances becomes possible. Now, when she shows me her perfect math quiz…”Great job, kiddo. I know you’ve been working really hard at math. Way to work.” This time, her mind realizes that dad values the effort, not the grade. So, when Algebra comes, and then Calculus, and then things get difficult, she’s not driven by results and she doesn’t rest on her laurels that she’s smart. Her drive is motivated in the value of the effort required and the final grade is just a byproduct. This will serve her well throughout her adult life.

So, dad, get up. Show your little girl what hard work looks like. And praise her efforts when she follows suit. Keep getting after it. You’ll be great.