Why I Won’t Be Doing the “Cleaning My Gun” Thing When My Daughters Start Dating

My most common conversation usually goes like this:

Anonymous Acquaintance: “Hey, How’s it goin?”
AG: “Going well. How are things with you?”
Anonymous Acquaintance: “Pretty good. Can’t complain.”
AG: “Good…good.”
Anonymous Acquaintance: “Your daughters are cute.”
AG: “Well, thank you. They are great kiddoes.”
Anonymous Acquaintance: “Good thing they take after their mother.” *laughter *elbows me
Ag: “Ha. Yeah. Good thing.” *refrains from mentioning that only one of them actually favors their mother while the other 2 resemble their grandmothers…but whatever…
Anonymous Acquaintance: “You’re gonna need a shotgun when those boys start coming around.” *more laughter *more elbows
AG: *laughter “That’s right. Gotta keep them on their toes”

And scene.

I enjoy this conversation. It never gets old. I hope this conversation continues because it means people see me involved in my daughters’ lives. There is always some variation but the same basic pieces are there. In my sphere of influence (and I would assume it is prevalent throughout fatherdom), there seems to be a common feeling or understanding that a man who has daughters approaching adolescence and dating is the chief defender of honor and must protect, with fear and threats of violence, her vulnerable young heart from the “boy who only has one thing on his mind”. I don’t disagree. A father should aim to protect his daughter and I would argue that the vast majority of fathers want to protect their daughters, especially as they enter the dating world. While I recognize the comical hyperbole within some of the shotgun comments, I think a father has to put more thought into his interactions. If he wants to protect his daughter as she navigates relationships with boys, he has to take steps to prepare her with love and understanding because he can’t prepare them with fear and intimidation. My oldest is just 8 and her sisters are 5 and 3. They are young now so you should know this is all theory, but I will turn around and they’ll be getting married. So, I’m tackling this now and I’ve come up with a few reasons to reject the gun-wielding junk yard dog brand of fathering.

  • I want my daughters to have a cohesive view of dating, not a combative one. The messaging throughout our culture is decidedly framed in adversarial terms of “Women vs Men”. Every movie, every tv show, every book portrays men as bumbling idiots in need of supervision. We are characterized as stumbling blocks to progress. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think males are biologically incapable of maturity at even the most basic level. But, I do know better. The truth is that everything works better when men and women share views of mutual cooperation instead of opposition. This flows through every facet of human connection, from money to dating to love to sex (And make no mistake, AG will most certainly talk with his daughters about sex. I am not afraid!) When the She-Gables begin to bring boyfriends/interested suitors into our interactions, they will find a dad who models a harmonious view of relationship. If I meet those young men with bravado and intimidation, I only set the tone for their relationship by showing her that she should be on the defensive.
  • Everything I do communicates something to my daughters. If I threaten and intimidate by making a show of firearms, my actions tell them they aren’t smart enough to decide for themselves. One of the things I always want to consider is how my fathering either builds up or tears down each of my daughters’ confidence. Confidence will keep her safe and guard her from potential danger but the gun thing wrecks that.
  • I never want to preemptively sever any chance of further influence in the future. I’m in this for the long game. If I start out by pounding my chest in bravado, I have cut off any chance of being that calm and trustworthy haven when her heart does get broken.
  • I want to protect them from the predatory guys (and the statistics on sexual assault paint a frightening picture), but the reality of the environment we’re in is that there are far fewer wolves out there than there are just dumb boy sheep. I know because I was one. Dumb boys don’t need Rambo. They need mentors. I want to model what it looks like when a man cherishes a woman and is sold out for her good.

So, if you are raising sons and one of them happens to take an interest in one of the She-Gables, fear not. I will not shoot your kid. He obviously already has impeccable taste. But he will be expected to treat my daughter a certain way and I have every confidence he will do so. If he doesn’t…well, I still have guns.

Special Needs Parenting – Apraxia

Parenting is the most fundamentally difficult thing most of us will ever do. It is a landscape of seemingly impossible choices with hazardous turns and irreparable consequences. On top of that, there are always voices crouching in silence, waiting for any perceived misstep so they can spring into action and shame a parent for whatever decisions are made. Being a parent is hard. Add in the complexities of special needs kiddoes and it can become overwhelming. For a special needs parent, there are additional worries, additional heartaches, and additional stresses.  Know that you will always find a friend, here.

 

My oldest, the Child of Promise (COP), is a remarkable and wonderful child. She was born early, spent her first month of life in the NICU, and had 2 separate brain bleeds which, although they were not severe, have led to multiple diagnoses and difficulties throughout her childhood. As a toddler, a name was attached to the delays and struggles we were already seeing. Apraxia. The best way I can explain apraxia is to tell you to imagine a disconnect between the motor movements your brain tells your muscles to make and the actual movements your muscles make in response. Imagine your brain telling your left arm to move to the left and your left arm moves to the right instead. This is hyper simplified but for the apraxic child, the muscles responsible for motor movements don’t work the way the brain tells them to work. The effect on speech can be devastating. Early intervention speech, occupationl, and physical therapies are critical but apraxia, for us, means that my daughter has to work hard for progress that just comes naturally and effortlessly for her peers. We work three times as hard for a third of the developmental results. We deal with things most parents don’t even have to consider. And we are most fortunate. COP is an amazing little girl with a kind spirit and a determination that cannot be taught. She is perfect.

 

To the parents of apraxia, hang in there. You’re not alone.

“Who’s the boss?” – Why Daddy is In Charge

 

 

“Anything without a head is dead. Anything with two heads is a freak.”
-Adrian Rogers

When they arrived as babies, I never thought my kiddoes would ever be able to do anything for themselves. Ever. But, as they have started to grow and mature a little, I have learned that there are things with which my children came equipped; things that were built into their DNA.  No one had to teach them or train them in these things but their skills are off the charts. They are exceptional at things like making messes and giggling. They also have an uncanny ability to sniff out hypocrisy especially regarding their father and the reason he can have two pieces of candy and they can only have one. But the most encompassing of their pre-loaded traits is their dependence on a clear hierarchy of power in every setting.

My children always, by their words and by their behavior, demand to know who is in charge. It is baked into their psyche. At all times, whether conscious of it or not, they are seeking out confirmation that there is someone leading. When they sense that there is a leadership vacuum, they will, by instinct, fill the void and take over. They cannot help it. They seem to be wired for this. In fact, my kids (and my assumption is that this is universal to all children) are always pushing the limits to gauge whether or not someone is in charge. They “test the fences” like Velociraptors trying to find a weakness. This does not carry any malice, it’s just what kids do.

The problems arise when the ones who are supposed to be, are not willing to be in charge for whatever reason. At this point, children always commandeer and occupy the leadership role. As soon as they sense an empty throne, they fill it, immediately. But they are simply not equipped for it and I would argue that they don’t want it and are relieved when they don’t have to do it.  We all know what it looks like when the kid is in charge.  It seems the grocery store is the most common place kids assert their kingship; a tantrum grows louder and louder until Mom/Dad gives in and buys whatever trinket the kid king demands of her subject parent. We see it all the time.  In fact, if we’re honest, we have all felt those times when our kids just seem to own us.  It is a dreadful and helpless feeling of failure.

As Dad, one of the chief responsibilities I have is to provide a familial framework of understanding, love, and safety, where every member of my family knows exactly who is in charge and which direction we are going.  The most convicting and devastatingly accurate complaint about modern men is that we grown men so often act just like little boys.  We are selfish, passive, and scared. (God help us). Being Dad is a hard road but it works best when he takes the reigns of leadership.

In our house, it looks like this at a high level.  Mom and Dad sit down together and set the vision.  We outline rules, boundaries, and limitations.  We enforce these things together.  Daily, we will run up against a situation or 3 and I will ask one or all of the She-Gables, “Who is in charge?” and the response will be “Daddy is”.  Other times, their desire to do something will clash with what they have just been told to do.  They will say, “But, I want to do this…” and my response “Well, what did Daddy say?”  What I want them to see from me, and what I want them to feel in this family is a constant understanding that Mommy and Daddy are in charge so they don’t have to be. I want that idea ringing in their ears.

This understanding provides a home environment marked by a few things:

  • When Daddy is in charge, they can relax.  Kids arrive with the imbedded desire to be in charge, but they don’t come equipped to handle the pressures of being in charge.  The framework of stability gives them freedom to be children.  As they grow and mature, they are handed small pieces of additional responsibility and they are able to learn how to be an adult without the harsh consequences of “on the job training”.  Let them be kids.  Train them to be adults.
  • When Daddy is in charge, they have a healthy view of authority.  Rebellion and resistance to authority are part of the air we breathe (at least here in America).  We are ever cognizant of “the man” and so on and so forth.  But with kids, a healthy view of authority is imperative.  Starting at a young age, authority figures are a large part of their lives.  I want the She-Gables to have a complimentary relationship with the authority figures in their lives, not a combative one.  If I show them at home what authority should look like, they will more easily find it in their teachers, and in their coaches, and in their bosses, and in their civic leaders. Beyond that, they will be able to exercise authority when it becomes their time.
  • When Daddy is in charge, his faults and mistakes are amplified.  This is a great and wonderful and terrible thing! The reality with which all families must come to terms, is that we are all capable of monumental failure.  All men fail.  All women fail.  We make great mistakes and we make a mess of things.  The great trouble comes when we think we can hide from our mistakes. Here’s a truth: the most free a man will ever be is when his mistakes and failures are exposed and his family loves him anyway.  When that happens, he can soar.  He can ask for forgiveness.  He can strive to do and be better.  He can lead.

So, who is in charge?

 

 

Good Friday – In View of Resurrection

Easter Sunday is in a few days. For our little family, this is the most sacred time of our year. So, I wanted to step back and share faith in this setting. These are the words I wrote last year at this time and they spoke to me as I read them again. Peace to you.

 

 

The basic notion of a man who was skillfully and mercilessly executed willing himself back to life is absurd. How can humans believe such a thing possible. For all the scientific advances we have made over the centuries and for all of our human progress, we know without exception that none of us makes it out of here alive. When all we know and all we experience teaches us that death is the one non-negotiable aspect of life, resurrection is simply unbelievable.

And yet…

For those who have encountered the Christ, who have been marked by His pursuit of them, who have been convicted by His Spirit, whose lives have been changed irrevocably, who have felt the life giving sweetness of His great mercy, who have found peace and forgiveness and freedom…for those who have known Jesus of Nazareth, belief in His rising is the most natural thing in all the world. How could we not believe this? We know He walked out from that tomb because we have felt Him bring to life, things in us that were long dead. We know that death could not hold Him because we’ve experienced the execution of our former selves and we have seen our own hearts revived to life anew, free of the old chains.

To the man and woman who are hopelessly and joyously devoted to the Christ; to the “Christian”, resurrection of the Messiah is the most fundamental of all beliefs. We cannot be separated from it. We cannot be Christian without it.

So, this Easter, if you have not encountered Him…if you have never been pressed by His Spirit…if you’ve not known Him, my hope is that He would hunt your soul (as He has hunted mine) and find one hungry and aching for life. His resurrection is a promise of abundant life to you. It is a gift. Happy Easter, my friends.

“Daddy Loves You” – The One Thing I’ll Never Stop Telling My Daughters

“A girl’s sense of self worth and personal dignity are directly linked to what she believes her father thinks of her.” – Dr. James Dobson

 

Some of our regular conversations around here:

 

AG: “Girls, guess what.”

She-Gables: “What?”

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

Goldilocks: “You always say that.”

COP: “…exasperated grunt…” (not very ladylike)

 

AG: “Girls, daddy heard a great story today.  Do you want to hear it?”

She-Gables: “Yeah!!!!”

AG: …dramatic pause…

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

She-Gables: “That’s not a story, silly Daddy.”

 

AG: “Girls, I heard the funniest joke today at work.”

She-Gables: “What is it?”

AG: “Alright, here goes.”

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

She-Gables: “Daddy! That’s not a joke.  You’re messing with us.”

 

 

I tell my daughters I love them a few dozen times a day.  They are reminded of this when they wake up and when they go to bed.  They hear it when we are in the car or when we sit down to dinner or just at random.  From the time each of them was born, the first thing to cross each of their ears was “Daddy loves you” and at any given time throughout the day, the last thing they will have heard me say is “Daddy loves you”.  At least for now, this is my mantra.

 

There are two books I recommend to every father who has a daughter, wants to have a daughter, or is about to have a daughter. Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker is one (phenomenal book).  The other is Bringing Up Girls by James Dobson. In Dr. Dobson’s book, he writes about a group interview he had with a room full of college girls where they talked about their fathers.  One of the girls in the group said something that shook me right down to the ground. “It is essential that girls get affirmation from their fathers, because that’s something I didn’t experience growing up.  This is the foundation of all my insecurities – the feeling that I wasn’t really loved by my father.  It is the root of everything I’m dealing with.”

 

I read this book for the first time when my oldest was a year old.  This one theme has stayed with me.  It has kept me awake at night.  It has framed my reactions to everything.  The most fundamentally amazing part of being a girl dad is the monumental impact he has on the entirety of his daughter’s life.  For me, this was the realization that my words will echo in their ears for a lifetime.  Even after I am in the ground, the impact of the things I say to my daughters will outlive me.  Not only that, the absence of words I should have said will resound for generations.  This is no game.

 

In light of this, a father must approach his fathering with the end in his mind.  He must ask himself, “When my daughter is grown and she looks back on her relationship with me, what is the one thing I want her to feel about me?” The reality is that, whether I like it or not, she will have strong feelings about me either way.  She will either ache for affirmation from a man who was emotionally distant, or she will display that special kind of adoration only seen in the best of father daughter relationships.

 

This is where I fail, and fail with great vigor.  When I am grumpy and angry, when I am short with them, when I am sarcastic, when I am too harsh, too impatient, too critical, when I am lazy and cavalier with my words to these little girls…in these times, I unwittingly load them down with baggage they are not meant to carry.   So, I take every chance I can to say “Daddy loves you”.  It is my hope that these candid affirmations will follow them wherever they go.  And when they leave my house, they’ll say of me “That man had some major faults but he never let me forget that he loved me.  I couldn’t pass him in the hallway without him saying he loved me.  I can’t remember a single car ride where he didn’t say it.”  I hope when they remember all the “Daddy loves you”s, the load from the harsh words of my weakest times will lighten just a little.

 

Make a point today to tell you daughter you love her. Let’s not make her guess.

The One Thing You Need for a Girl’s Birthday Party

Blue Cake Co. does great work

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

-Abraham Lincoln

 

Very few things can solidify memories in my daughters’ minds like a birthday party.  They remember all of it, even the most minute of details; who was there, what did they do, what did the cake look like, who got a bloody nose, etc. The locations that host their birthday parties become focal points they recognize in their internal mental maps of our town for years. Whenever we drive by these places, they always unleash a flurry of details, virtually reliving the entire party for anyone within earshot.  Like velociraptors, “They remembah”.

 

Something I’ve come to understand as a father of little girls is this: Birthday parties are important. In our little family, this is because they allow us to take a break from trying to teach our girls that the world does not revolve around each of them.  Instead, for a short time, each of the She-Gables feels she alone has our focus. Don’t get it twisted, though.  We shower the She-Gables with praise and affection and presents all the time.  But we constantly do battle with even the slightest hint of haughty and ungrateful attitudes.  Children who think the world revolves around them become insufferably awful adults (See Willie Wonka).  This is why birthday parties are so great.  They provide such a wealth of teaching moments while also providing each individual kiddo her own specific time to be celebrated.  These events are unique opportunities to be embraced.

I’ve been to a bunch of birthday parties; some great, some complete bombs.  There is one thread common to all the great birthday celebrations and missing from all the bad ones.  Planning. When throwing a birthday party, the cardinal rule is “Plan the party and then Party the plan.”  Here’s the truth: Great, memorable birthday parties are overplanned and the host sheds excess items and pares down as the party goes on.  You know what happens when you wing it?  Trains wrecks.  Train wrecks happen.  Always.

 

Fear not! I happen to have an effective and concise anti-train wreck blueprint for planning a world class birthday party.  And I share it with you for free because I love you.  The Party Planning Tree has 3 branches from which all details flow. I call them the 3 Cs. This tripod of effectiveness will help you plan every detail as each leg supports the other two.  Teamwork, my friends.

 

Crew.  The absolute first step is to decide the guest list as no other detail can be locked down until you have a relative number.  This decision alone can be daunting as many factors must be considered.  Total number of guests.  Gender (Easy there, Champions of Gender Neutrality. I’m not inviting boys to a sleepover for my little girls. Old-fashioned, I know.  Just breathe.)  Sibling invites.  Circles (School, Church, Soccer Team, Random street youths). Decisions must be made.

 

Cost.  The number one thing people say to me when they hear I have 3 daughters is “Save your money”.  While this is generally said through laughter, it is good all around advice and it speaks to the undeniable reality that little girls are expensive.  (I am told this is a trait they do not outgrow.)  In our house, the underlying financial philosophy is that we spend our money in 2 pursuits: (1)the uplifting of our family unit and (2)the benefit of our less fortunate neighbors.  For us, celebrating the births of our kiddoes is a wonderful time used to build up our whole family and shouldn’t be framed in stinginess. So live a little, Dad.  Daughters remember these things.  Budget the total cost of everything that would make this party perfect.  Then scale to what you have and the number of guests.

 

Concept. The final, and most detailed, piece is the theme.  I didn’t know this until I had daughters but the theme of the birthday party drives every detail.  It dictates the 4 vital sub-branches of the Party Planning Tree: the menu, the venue, the décor, the activities.  It is what makes Pinterest so Pinteresty.  Themes can be subtle or elaborate but they flow through each detail from the food to the attire. The theme is the railroad tracks of the birthday party.  And what happens when a train leaves the tracks?

 

Happy partying.