A Father is in Control but Not Controlling

In our class at the church house last week, we had a great discussion about parenting. One of the strengths of our little worship community is that there is an abundance of young parents in our similar stage of life as well as a great number of willing mentors who have been where we are now.  I learn so much from my peers about how to be a good father that I cannot imagine not having this resource available to me.  Anyway, the discussion came to a point where it was mentioned multiple times that the norm in our society is that there is a chronic lack of discipline within the family setting and that it has bled out and is now affecting society at large.

We’ve heard this before, right? There is a giant cross-section of people, in fact, most of a couple of generations, who will recount stories of their childhood where they will glowingly talk about how their parents wouldn’t hesitate to just beat the mess out of them. We’ll hear testimonies about how they never would have gotten away with things kids are allowed to get away with now because “Dad would have whipped my behind”. We hear these legends about how, as children, they were made to walk to a certain tree in the backyard and choose which branch Mom or Dad would use to work them over. These are stories of punishment that would be hastily labeled as abuse in our “modern sensibilities”. This is the kind of thing a lot of people mean when they bemoan the “lack of discipline” in families today.

And get this, I don’t think they’re wrong.

But I also don’t think they’re right.

The problem modern fathers face is not that we are no longer able to come off the top ropes  on our little ones, it is that it has become nearly impossible for us to exercise control of the family entrusted to our care. I think this is what folks are really saying when they refer to the widespread “lack of discipline”. Seeing a father in charge of his own family is such a foreign idea to us because we have been conditioned to think of dad as a buffoon to mock instead of an authoritative leader to respect. Every dad is assumed to be Homer Simpson and if he doesn’t fit the bumbling idiot role, well, then he must be a tyrant.

My contention is that a father can be, and must be, in control without being controlling. This is such an important point to me that it comprises an entire section of the book I’ve been writing.  I’d love for you guys to read the whole thing but I’ll give a little more detail here about what I think control looks like. And I think it will be a little different than what you expect.

Control

When we hear about someone being in control, the connotation automatically puts us in a defensive position. But, it should not. It should be the most natural thing in the world because when a father is in control, the whole family benefits.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t fail.  It doesn’t mean his children don’t go crazy and do things that no sane person would do.  It certainly doesn’t mean things are easy.  It means he takes responsibility for the field placed before him.  It means that he understands that there is no one else to blame.  The buck cannot be passed and it stops with him as President Truman would say.  There are some characteristic markers of a father in control but not controlling.

1. Father being in control is never to the exclusion of his partner. It is to her exaltation.  There exists this understanding…this feeling…this underlying belief that for a dad to be in charge and in control of his family, mom has to take a subservient role.    Call it patriarchy or traditional male dominance or whatever label our sociologist friends want to try to stick on it, but the notion is pretty pervasive. The truth is that parental leadership is never a zero-sum game. When dad exerts control, it does not preclude Mom from the same. To the contrary,  when dad is in control, his partner’s authority and leadership is supported. When a father is in control, a mother finds herself cherished and supported in her mothering. If his children give her grief, it does not escape his ear and he responds swiftly. He fathers in defense of her authority and guarantees respect is given to her.

2. Father being in control is more about self-control than anything else. Anger and frustration are the twin monkeys constantly on the back of every father I know.  In every community where Dads seek advice from other Dads, how to deal with anger is always one of the most common asks. We deal with it and we know we deal with it. A father who is in control understands that control of himself comes first. For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, this will be a lifelong, minute by minute, hour by hour battle.  Every man learns his own tactics for self-control and that control is an imperative for stability in each Dad’s home. Listen, man, I know. The struggle to manage that temper is a Herculean task even on the calm days. But the reality is that my 8 year old can act like an 8 year old and I don’t have the luxury of responding like another 8 year old. Being a father means you lay siege to the anger and frustration, and you maintain control of yourself. Angry words from dad are some of the most poisonous and memorable darts to a daughter. A man who can’t exercise self control can never expect to wield control in his family because everyone in his family knows he can’t be trusted with the responsibility.

3. Father being in control fills the leadership vacuum and paves the way for the entire family to be happier and healthier.  There is a natural place of leadership in every home. When parents don’t fill that place of leadership, there is a vacuum left and children instinctively fill leadership vacuums. They just don’t know how not to. Have you ever known someone whose kid just owns them? Dad, if we aren’t willing to be in control, our kids will set themselves up on that throne…and kids make terrible kings. But they were never meant to fill that role and it is a burden too heavy for them. However, your shoulders were made for this weight. When dad is in control, he removes the burden of being in charge from his kids so they are free to actually be kids.

 

Dad being in control certainly does not mean he is never wrong or never makes mistakes. On the contrary, we are all just trying to be the best we can. A father in control says “I don’t have all the answers but go with me while we figure this thing out”. Take control. You’ve been great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

Not An Afterthought

I read a little message written by the dad of a 6 year old little boy with autism. It was a short message to his friends about their lack of inclusion of his son. I’ve seen it described as a rant. The message is laced with profanity and sharply directed toward specific guys. If you have yet to see it, you can take a read here or over on Twitter, the young boy’s mother posted the message and it has deservedly gone viral. Within the short message is encapsulated exactly the feelings of the special needs father. Through his words, I found a strange kinship with the man. It is a mighty and powerful thing when humans can see themselves in the circumstances of another. I will never meet this man but I am irrevocably attached to him because we share a brotherhood of experience and I so identify with his frustration.

One line of his message specifically shook me. It broke me right down to the ground because of the profound truth in the words and in the deep cuts that produced them.

“…he is not an afterthought, he is my every…thought.

By far, the most painful reality and most prominent fear in the world of the special needs parent is that your child may never experience deep human connection. I can stand a great many things but the idea of the child that I love, with all that it is in me, being alone…isolated…friendless…disconnected, this is an idea that is simply unbearable. Even with a host of more emergent medical concerns that many special needs kiddoes and parents face, this is still the sharpest dagger that leaves the most vicious scars. This is the reason for the strong words of my friend, here. His message to “his mates”, the ones who should certainly know his heart the most, is a message of intense love and hope for his son. He cares nothing for vain shallow popularity. His only desire for his son is just one good friend; one friend to whom his son is not an afterthought. One true friend can make all the difference.

So, in light of this, may we train our children to be mindfully inclusive. May we teach them the habits of how to be a good friend. May we show them how to reject marginalization. May we help them identify opportunities for friendship. May we instill a genuine kindness in them. God help us.

 

P.S. – On occasion, we have encountered friends who have shown the most amazing love and inclusion to us and ours. They are like angels to us. Never forget the impact you can have by being a good friend.

How We Explained Grief To Our Kids

There are times in fatherhood when you have to allow your children to feel the pain of circumstances and all you can do is try to walk them through as best you can. In these times, you cannot take away the pain. You cannot make things hurt less. You cannot remove the grief. And, as much as you wish you could, you cannot take the pain for them. The only thing you can do is hold on and brace yourself. Whether it is physical pain from a necessary medical procedure or emotional anguish of some deep offense from a friend or that first broken heart all the way up to the death of a family member, these are the times that solidify a dad’s place of prominence in the hearts of his children. We cannot afford to be absent in their pain.

This year, my daughters have lost two of their grandparents. My Father In Law passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in January and my own mother breathed her last a week ago after a Brain Cancer battle. Both dealt with extended progressive illnesses before our eyes and we watched Cancer do its work. We have known illness and worry and grief and remembrance. And we have witnessed faith and courage and strength. It has been a challenging year.

Throughout these illnesses, as they progressed and got worse and then eventually led to two different funerals, we have been accompanied by three little girls who are all experiencing these things that they have never experienced and that the majority of their peers cannot yet fathom. So, we’ve got questions being asked and explanations that need to be made. But, no one tells you how to do this. They don’t have a class in Dad School about grief. I’m sure there are experts who have weighed in on this at some point but this kind of thing doesn’t really sell parenting books. The reality here is that, ready or not, we are now walking our young children through some very complex territory and I think we have already learned some general guidelines or things to consider when you find yourself in a similar parenting situation. My hope is that you will never need to even read this. However, if you do, it is my hope that this is helpful to you and know that I deeply empathize with you in your time of loss.

1. Be Honest But Be Careful – My kids know when I’m BSing them and they know when I’m avoiding their questions. They seem to have a highly tuned truth-o-meter especially when it comes to times of intense emotion. They may not know exactly what is going on, but they can sense when I am holding information from them or not giving them the whole story. The girls are 8, 5, and 3 now. Throughout all of this, I wanted to give them complete information without burdening them with adult problems and themes. So, at each stage, we sat them down and we told them what was happening in broad general terms. Then we answered their questions. That was our process. Most of the time, it was like feeling our way down a dark hallway hoping at every moment not to step on any unseen Legos. My dear wife has been an absolute gift and she has guided many of these conversations. The afternoon Mom passed away, we sat the girls down in one of their bedrooms:

“Girls, you know Hunny has been sick and we knew she wasn’t going to get any better. She passed away this afternoon. It is okay to be sad. It is ok to be upset. It is ok to ask Mommy and Daddy questions.”

Then, we sat with them. We cried off and on for a while. We talked about how she was in Heaven and she didn’t feel sick anymore. We answered some stunningly specific questions about souls and bodies and whether or not Hunny was seeing PaPaw and whether we thought she could fly now because she was obviously an angel. We were honest with them. When we didn’t know the answer, we told them so, and we asked them what they thought. We were honest and they responded with unexpected maturity.
2. Be Patient With Emotions – I am the father of only daughters. And in my short time as a father of only daughters, the most surprising lesson I continually learn is that the emotional complexity in even the youngest of girls is overpowering. All of them feel things in far more depth than I can understand and each of them feels things and experiences emotions in different ways and at different times. Throughout these challenging months, I’m being taught so many things by them. Their grief shows up at unexpected times and manifests itself in unexpected ways. We have been awakened at 3 AM by a crying 5 year old saying she misses her grandfather. We have been told by our 8 year old that her stomach hurts whenever she starts to feel the emotional loss. We have listened to a specific song in the car when we are driving along and one of them asks “Can we listen to the song that reminds us of Papaw?” We look at pictures more. We focus on memories more. In these times, a Dad must be patient and understanding. Although everything in me wants to stiffen my lip and push through the pain, there is no healing for them there. Let them cry and grieve and let them see you cry and deal with grief. My five year old sat next to me at my mother’s funeral. She watched my tears and she matched them with her own. She will never forget it.
3. Be a Safety Net – One of the things a father can provide for his daughters is a haven from a pretty harsh world. An engaged father who wants to connect deeply with his children will make himself the most reliable place where his kids can shed their armor and know they will be protected. When the difficult times come, I want these girls to know that they can go to dad and he’ll be ok with their tears and their questions and their anger. I want to be the place where they know it is okay to be sad about the things life throws at them. When they have a safe place to go, the unsafe places aren’t so frightening.

So, as you walk this road:
· May you find peace and comfort for yourself
· May you find strength in guiding your family through these challenging times
· May you draw closer to your children during your/their grief
· May you build a legacy worth remembering

You’ve been great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

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.