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.

The Weight of Fatherhood

Mary Poppins will always be near the top of my favorites.  In recent years, the characters and interactions have taken on new meaning and I’ve been surprised at just how much I relate to George Banks.  He is rough around the edges (me) and a little chauvinistic (not me) but, whether he holds it well or bears it shakily, he carries the weight of fatherhood.  In what has become one of my favorite scenes in any film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) shares a profound bit of truth with the children and speaks to the heart of a father.

 

Jane: Oh, Bert, we’re so frightened.

Bert: Now, now, don’t take on so. Bert will take care of you. Like I was your father. Now, who’s after you?

Jane: Father is.

Bert: What?

Michael: He brought us to see his bank.

Jane: I don’t know what we did, but it must have been something dreadful.

Michael: He sent the police after us, and the army, and everything.

Jane: Michael, don’t exaggerate.

Bert: Well now, there must be some mistake. Your dad’s a fine gentleman and he loves you.

Jane: I don’t think so. You should have seen the look on his face.

Michael: He doesn’t like us at all.

Bert: Well now, that don’t seem likely, does it?

Jane: It’s true.

Bert: Let’s sit down. You know, begging your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is, in that cold heartless bank day after day, hammed in by mounds of cold heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.

Jane: Father in a cage?

Bert: They makes cages of all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of them, carpets and all.

Jane: Father’s not in trouble. We are.

Bert: Oh. Sure about that, are you? Look at it this way. You’ve got your mother to look after you and Mary Poppins and Constable Jones and me. Who looks after your father? Tell me that. When something terrible happens, what does he do? Fends for himself, he does. Who does he tell about it? No one. Don’t blab his troubles at home. He just pushes on at his job, uncomplaining and alone and silent.

Michael: He’s not very silent.

Jane: Michael, be quiet. Bert, do you think father really needs our help?

Bert: Well, it’s not my place to say. I only observe that a father can always do with a bit of help.

 

 

It is almost taboo in our culture for a man to even mention how difficult it can be to juggle all of his responsibilities. There is a great deal of silence surrounding a very real truth here and it is that modern fatherhood, a large part of the time, feels like a man bracing for the weight while a thousand strangers and a dozen loved ones take turns stacking another ten pounds on his quivering shoulders. Very little is ever said about it but the young Western father is immersed in stresses and pressures. He is encircled by the responsibilities and there is a constant weight he carries. If he wants to be engaged in all aspects of his life…if he wants to “man up” (as the ridiculously cavalier saying goes), the price of admission is a sore back and an ever increasing stack on his broad shoulders. Don’t misunderstand me, Mom’s job is very difficult as well. But that doesn’t negate the fact, or reduce in any way, the fundamental struggle of the father.  From a societal perspective, whenever there are negative sociological trends, the first explanation (whether true or not) is always a lack of fathers in the home.  In our justice system, mom gets preferential treatment every single time and the father is relegated to the margins as if the State deems dad a less suitable parent simply because of his gender.  The stay at home dad, even today, bears an enormous weight as he fights for legitimacy from a culture that still hasn’t gotten used to the idea. Regardless of his specific situation, there is a heavy weight every engaged father bears.

 

Every single measurable marker signals a declining trend in the overall health and well-being of this specific demographic.  Statistically, more and more fathers are feeling the strain from the weight.  The two most eye-popping trends are in the large scale abuse of prescription opiates and the staggering suicide rates among our demographic.  There are a thousand different variables that feed into these trends.  But, the undeniable reality across the board is that men in the years mostly associated with fathering are experiencing vast increases in various societal pressures.  He lives and operates under a great weight.

 

The good news is that the father was made and designed to specifically withstand this pressure and to stand up under the weight of it.  But, he was never designed to do it alone.  He is not a lone wolf.  He is not an island.  He is not the rugged individual.  A father needs help.  There are relationships he must foster and grow that will serve as pillars to brace him as he bears the weight of fatherhood.

 

Partner – Perhaps one of the most valuable byproducts of the committed covenant relationship for a dad is the constant unwavering support of his partner day after day.  When I say “support”, I do not mean agreement.  I am describing the very practical consistent aid in load bearing tasks.  My wife, the mother of these little She-Gables, not only mothers our daughters effectively, she also aids me in my fathering of them.  There are days when I am tired or I’ve had just a crappy day at work and I am…we’ll say “grumpy”.  In those moments, my partner is quick to lovingly address, in language and tone that she knows I will most likely accept, that shortfall and how my grumpiness could affect my daughters.  In very real ways, as I am bearing the weight of fatherhood, she upholds my arms, corrects my form, and eases the burden.  She is a great gift.

 

Friends – The vast majority of dads have a grand total of zero actual deep friends.  Look man, if your “friend” is not involved in your life enough to recognize when you’re being an idiot, and he cannot or will not step in and help you correct those things causing your idiotness, then brother, you have a drinking buddy.  You do not have a friend.  That previous statement should be staggering to you.  You are friendless.  Most of us don’t take the time to develop deep friendships with other dads because we either don’t know how, we don’t see the value in it, or we think we have it all figured out.  We are wrong and we only hurt ourselves.  Dads who have even one solid deep friend are able to withstand far more than the lone wolf dad.  One good friend can mean the difference between being a good father and being a statistic.  Get after it.  Press in to other dads.  Get involved in their lives.  We cannot afford to be friendless.

 

Mentors – Every year of fatherhood that goes by, I am amazed at how much smarter I am at the end of the year than I was at the beginning.  In fact, by the time my children leave my house, I’ll be the world’s most knowledgeable dad. (I’m going to put that on a coffee cup.) Good engaged fathers are learning new things every single day.  They can’t help it.  So, why on earth would we not want to tap into such an abundant resource?  A good mentor, in all aspects of life but especially with regard to fathering, can help guide you toward decisions and behaviors that will bear fruit in your children and steer you away from some of the more damaging ones.  Learning from him will lighten the weight of fatherhood because he can advise and keep you out of situations that could cause crushing heaviness.  Find him.  Boldly tell him you want him to mentor you.  Then, give him authority in your life.  Actually listen to him.

 

Dad, you were made to stand up under this weight but not by yourself.  Build your support.  You’ll be great but “a father can always do with a bit of help”.

Dad’s #1 Wish for Father’s Day

Father’s Day has undergone quite a transformation in my life.  For several years, I had a bit of an adversarial relationship with Father’s Day.  I lost my Dad in 2003 to Pancreatic Cancer and every Father’s Day following was just a surreal reminder that that wonderful man always put up with my childhood and teenage nonsense but never got a real shot at enjoying his son as an adult.  When you’ve had a good father, and he has been taken from you seemingly prematurely, Father’s Day can feel like an old wound or injury that still causes some intense pain if you tweak it wrong.  If I’m honest, there are still days where his absence just owns me but Father’s Day was a guaranteed downer.

 

From there, the holiday kind of took a shift.  Having grieved, I was able to temper the painful reminder of Father’s Day with a pride in the legacy he left to me.  The sting was still there but it was now coupled with some deep appreciation for the opportunity to be molded by a good man, which I have come to realize is a gift not everyone gets.

 

Then my daughters began arriving.  Suddenly, and without warning, the meaning and significance of this holiday started to expand.  Father’s Day took on so much depth where I was simultaneously feeling the regret of no longer having my own father, the pride in who my late father was, and this new joy in being a father myself.  And this is where I currently reside.  Father’s Day is an emotionally exhausting balancing act but it has become a day I relish.

 

In light of this transformation, there is only one thing I want for Father’s Day.  All I want is for things to slow down, just for the day.  Shirts and ties and BBQ accessories and things are cool but if I have 1 wish, let’s spend the day at a mozying pace.  Let’s sip coffee, good coffee, and watch the sun find its way  above the horizon.  Let’s get to church with some time to spare and get everybody settled.  Then let’s worship, really worship.  Let’s feast on good food, not fast food.  Let’s find a golf tournament on TV and doze our way through the course or sit on the porch and read a book just for the sake of reading or sit by the pool and watch the kids smack each other with those noodle things.  Let’s laugh.  Let’s turn on some music and let the girls dance around.  Let’s allow the sun to set and the sky to darken without a thought to Monday’s tasks.  Let’s breathe deep and take it easy.

 

The only thing I want for this holiday is to slow it way down.  Because, it won’t be all that long until these girls are walking through Father’s Day without me and the slow times are how I want them to remember me.  Dads, take the holiday as an opportunity to imprint memories in the minds of your little ones.  Happy Father’s Day, guys.  You’ll be great.

Giving My Daughters the Gift of Confidence

We had a 5th birthday party for our middle daughter, Goldilocks, a few weeks ago.  She is a bit of a horse freak so her party was at our local stables where the kiddoes did horse activities like painting horseshoes and then actually rode some of the calm horses for quite a while.  One thing my golden haired daughter has taught me is that, for some people, fear can paralyze and make it impossible to get anything done, but building confidence will banish that fear until it is just a distant memory.  She vividly displayed this at the party when it was time to saddle up.  Her mother got her little helmet situated and then got her placed on the horse she had chosen to ride.  As soon as Goldilocks saw how far above the ground she was, that fear grabbed her and she panicked.  There were tears and wails and pleas for us to put her back on the ground.  When this child gets worked up, it takes a great deal of effort to get her calmed down again.  She was terrified.  But I know this girl.  I know she would stew with regret later if she didn’t ride these horses at her birthday party.  And I know that when she is able to grasp just a little bit of confidence, she possesses a natural boldness that we certainly want to nurture.  So, I walked over to the horse she was on and we had a conversation that lasted longer than I wanted it to, but one that eventually led to a great deal of joy.  I was stern with her as I explained that not riding was not an option.  As I showed her the pommel for her to hold onto, I explained that I would walk beside the horse until she was comfortable.  By the fifth step, that little girl forgot I was there.  Four steps on that horse and her debilitating fear had turned to soaring confidence.

 

Success in most aspects of life is dependent on being able to build confidence.  I’ve seen it over and over and over again in these She-Gables.  From their first wobbly steps to playing on the playground to learning to read to any development in math to Taekwondo…whatever they do, progress requires confidence.  And, dad has a monumental role (I would argue he has the most powerful role) in developing confidence in his young daughter.  A little girl, by her nature, looks to daddy for these building blocks.  If he is lacking here…if he is cold or harsh or absent, his lacking has lasting impact on her ability to build confidence later in life and seems to be an ever-present obstacle to her self-esteem.  However, if he is encouraging and if he makes her progress a priority, he gives her the great gift of being able to build confidence in herself.  This will help her across the spectrum of womanhood.

 

So, practically, how does he do this?  How does a father plant seeds of confidence in the mind of his daughter?

 

  • Engage.  My daughters are constantly using me for testing ideas and thoughts and feelings.  They tell me jokes, see if I laugh, and then ask me “Is that funny, daddy?”.  They tell me stories and gauge my reaction.  They will show me pictures they’ve drawn or painted and then point out each specific part of the picture while watching to see whether I like that piece or not.  They will pick flowers and ask me if they are pretty.  To them, I am a sounding board, comedian, art critic, florist, basically an expert in all things.  In their eyes, if daddy thinks something is funny/pretty/awesome/important, then it is funny/pretty/awesome/important.  Every second of every day, I am teaching about life through my reactions to even the most mundane things.  If I am dismissive, or worse, completely absent, it communicates to them that their thoughts and their jokes and their stories and their accomplishments are unimportant.  It is virtually identical to telling them “You do not matter”.  Dads, we have to engage.  Laugh at her jokes and tell her your own.  Listen to her stories and tell her specifics about which part you liked or which part was silly.  Your detailed attention tells her that she is important and that feeling is the bedrock on which she will build every confidence.
  • Push.  None of my daughters understand the far reaches of their own capabilities.  This is what seems to be a comical opposition to their boy cousins who each carry a delusional belief that they can do far more than reality would dictate or gravity would allow (boys, SMH).  For the She-Gables, regardless of their individual level of development, there are many times none of them think they can do something until they are shown they actually can do it.  Whether it is riding a horse or jumping off the diving board or going into a classroom full of kids they don’t know, fatherhood means that sometimes I have to push them.  One of the hardest parts of being a dad is deciding when to push and how much force to use.  But, every single time I’ve had to push one of them, the end result has been a surge of confidence.  After I pushed Goldilocks to ride that horse, for the next several days, everyone we met would hear her story…”I got to ride a horse all by myself”.  The fact that she completely forgets the part where I had to push her a little, signals to me that it was the perfect amount of force.  She beams with pride when telling her horse story.  Dad, your gentle nudge can sometimes be a necessary pathway to building her confidence and without it, she may never expand her capabilities.
  • Release.  Finding Nemo is one of my favorites because I relate so strongly to Marlin.  The first time I saw the movie, there was one scene that shook me and still gets at me every time we watch it (which is only 3 or 4 times a day…only 7 fewer than Frozen).  Close to the end, Nemo has a plan to save Dory and all the dumb fish caught in a fishing net.  In this scene, Marlin undergoes a pivotal change in an instant and it shifts everything.  Until now, his entire parenting experience has been one big attempt to protect Nemo from danger and pain.  But after crossing the ocean and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, Marlin learns to give up the delusional goal of engineering a hedge of protection around his kid and he has to let go.  At this point, he is able to release which tells Nemo he believes in him.  It is one of the more profound scenes in the Disney vault and it captures reality so vividly.  Listen, dad, there will be times you have to let that little girl do her thing all on her own.  You have to let go of the bike.  You have to walk away from the horse.  You have to release.  She may succeed.  She may bust.  But the truth is that both the victories and the scars will build her confidence.

 

Good parenting is successfully weaving an engage/push/release strategy.  Get after it.  You’ll be great.