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.