ADHD Does Exist. It Very Much Exists.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How To Talk To Your Daughter About Sex

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·         “What does gay mean?”

·         Etc

·         Etc

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Our Core Values -“We will work hard”

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

 

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

 

  1. We will work hard.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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.

3 Things No One Tells You About the Daddy Daughter Relationship

From the first pregnancy announcement where everything was pink, there were always multitudes of friends, acquaintances, complete strangers willing to give warnings or advice about your upon my daddy daughter relationship.  I think it is part of our culture’s way of saying “Congratulations”.  We like to offer these words of wisdom or funny anecdotes about needing to save your money or buying a shotgun.  It is our way.  But, there are things that no one tells you.

 

Except me.  I’ll tell you.  Here’s three that completely caught me off guard.

 

  1. Good fathers, and I mean the really good ones, are made in times of complete exhaustion.  I suppose this isn’t exclusive to girl dads but, in my experience and from what I’ve seen, there is an additional level of tenderness dads reach at their most exhausted points with daughters, above and beyond those with sons.  Brother, hear me; if you are doing it right, you will be constantly worn out.  This is not to say it won’t be fun.  But, you’ll be tired.  In this exhaustion exists the crucible that will build in you a strong and lasting confidence as well as a secure bond with your little girl.  In the end, it is a gift.  This place where you feel drained of every ounce of energy and patience is one of the great opportunities you have at leadership. When you are exhausted, when sleep evades you, when everyone in the house is sick, when you have nothing left to give…dig deep and stay the course.  Your daughter will see it.  Your wife will see it.  There is a beautiful security developed ninth these moments. KBO, brother.
  2.  You will feel her highs and lows even more profoundly than your own.  Her triumphs will make you soar and her failures will crush you. The most surprising thing for me in the daddy daughter relationship is the depth to which I experience things vicariously through her.  When she is hurt, I am hurt.  When she smiles, I smile.  Things that are interesting or frightening or fun to her are somehow interesting and frightening and fun to me. I have an inexplicable love for Walt Disney World and zoos and friggin picnics. In fact, there are many times that I feel feelings more deeply through her feeling feelings than I ever did feeling my own feelings.  At my core, my daughters have been a conduit for stretching my heart in previously unimaginable directions.  I simply had no idea how to feel so deeply.  But, now, my fatherly affection has seemingly fused their emotional complexity deep within me, like Adamantium.  There is something magical in this bond that makes every moment pregnant with purpose.  My life is fuller, my heart is bigger, my eyes are more open, and my priorities are more focused because of this inseparability.  I don’t know how long this will last but I will not waste it.
  3. Daughters crave Daddy.  Look, I loved my dad.  I sought his favor from the time my brain could make decisions.  But, that innate seeking for my father’s love, affection, attention, and approval is microscopic when compared to the magnitude of your daughter’s almost ravenous desire to engage with you.  Regardless of the kind of father you turn out to be, your actions will have monumental impact on every stage and in every relationship and at every level of your daughter’s whole life.  Fight it and argue all you want, but the reality of your influence on that girl is pretty clear.  If you walk up to any woman at any point in her life and say one word, “Daddy”, she’ll be flooded with memories and deep emotions. She’ll either be filled with regret or gratitude or maybe some complex mixture of the two but she will never be indifferent and she can’t help it.  Brother, she looks to you.  This is a mighty and terrible and wonderful weight on your shoulders.  Take great care.

Embrace fatherhood. You’ll be great.

 

Passing on More than Genetic Material to the Next Generation

When COP (my oldest who we refer to as the Child of Promise) was a little younger, one of her doctors suggested we take her for some genetic testing. So, we did. For me, it was one of the more eye opening healthcare experiences we’ve had. Talking with the Geneticist (or whatever the nerds call themselves) after the results came back was humbling for me. I am, by all accounts, an intelligent man. Everyone says so. But this guy was a legit genius. We learned a ton of things about our daughter’s genetic makeup and I got a feel for the extent to which she is marked and even driven by genetic factors. The prevailing lesson I have learned is that my children are drastically and sometimes irreparably shaped by who their father is. And this is a worrisome truth that extends beyond physiological characteristics baked into their DNA; it goes all the way to behavior.

Along with their physical genetic make up, my children will absorb and inherit my behaviors, my habits, my preconceptions, and my weaknesses. The real difficulty in fatherhood lies in the hard work of self evaluation to put to death the worst things in me before those things have a chance to take root in the lives of my children. This is also my greatest source of failure.

So, how do we do this? How do we pre-empt the passing on of our worst traits to the next generation? How do we protect them from even ourselves?

  • Routine Perpetual Self Examination. One of the more pervasive traits of fathers everywhere is each man’s blindness to his own weaknesses. Fatherhood is difficult. It is even more difficult when you’re an idiot and still further difficult when you don’t know how much of an idiot you actually are. For the sake of our families, we have to be willing to confront what needs to change in ourselves. A practical way of examining self is to make it part of your routine. I have begun to set aside a few minutes every Thursday morning to specifically list out where I am most unskilled. During that time, I’ll make a list of 3 (that’s not to say I only have 3 areas of need. I just need to focus and I wouldn’t be able to do that on the 721 faults I currently possess). Once I have those 3, I think about one practice I can implement to correct each one just this week. Brother, if you can’t come up with 3, ask your wife. She’s got you.
  • Call Out Your Own Weaknesses. The worst thing we can do with our mistakes is to try to hide them or act like they don’t exist. Man, your kid knows you aren’t perfect and she loves you anyway, so why on earth would you fake otherwise? There’s a better way. If we acknowledge when we fail, and actually call attention to those failures, they can then be used as effective object lessons. Don’t waste teachable moments. Tell your kids about your mistakes and let them see how you work to make sure you don’t repeat them.
  • Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. Some of the most memorable moments in a deep father daughter relationship stem from the exposure of the behavior of one met by the tender forgiveness of the other. When a father recognizes his own faults and asks his daughter to forgive him for them, he draws her in to the process of his own development and solidifies a unique bond. He also provides her with real life experience in seeing how healthy adults resolve conflict.

My aim is for my children to be better humans than I am. They will have difficulties and face challenges all their own, but one of the greatest gifts I can give them is to see to it that my faults go to the grave with me. What are you going to pass on?

Mother’s Day – All the Things My Mother Taught Me About How To Be a Father

I grew up with only brothers in one of those homes they write books about, where mother and father loved each other immensely and provided an ideal, nurturing, and lovingly disciplined environment. My brothers and I have been gifted since before the cradle with a mother who possessed a driving desire to develop her boys into men; to see them thrive and not be hindered by anything. Throughout my life, I have witnessed and experienced what it looks like to raise boys. I know how boys think and why they act the way they do. I understand exactly what goes through their minds before they do something that doesn’t make any sense. I get the appeal of sword fighting with anything I can find. I know how boys process emotion. I understand their motivation for nearly everything. Boys were right in my parenting wheelhouse. So, when each of these little girls started arriving, I felt like I had no frame of reference for parenting. I assumed I was starting from scratch. However, now that I am a few years into fathering daughters, in my thinking, I share a kinship of understanding with my dear mother because she was the lone female in our home and yet her influence towers. I hear her words coming out of my mouth every day. I am reminded of lessons I learned from her and skills I developed because of her. The longer I do this and the older these little girls get, the more I recognize the vast influence my mother wields in how I raise these She-Gables. She was training me for the best job I never imagined I’d have.

 

Mom taught me gentleness. Roughness is in my nature as it is with most guys. We push and shove and tackle and dunk. Not simply from a physical standpoint, my emotional edges are jagged as well.  But my mother’s goodness rounded those sharp corners and dulled the spikes of my personality. She led me to understand a level of gentleness that serves my family well to this day. Because of her, my otherwise hardened hands and heart remain soft with regard to these little ones. I strive to give them an environment of gentleness, not because of any weakness of theirs but because it is a fundamental way to communicate to them that I honor and cherish them.

 

Mom taught me consideration. One of the hallmark differences between guys and girls stems from the ability or inability to consider the thoughts and feelings of the other. My default setting is to act on what I want and what I think. However, my dear mother infused in me from a very early age the habit of taking others’ wants and thoughts into consideration as well. Being considerate. When I interact with my daughters, the practice of thinking about how my words and actions affect them has been a wonderful filter for my parenting.

 

Mom taught me affection. Being able to display genuine affection is a skill most guys simply don’t possess and have a monumentally difficult time developing. My mother taught me, even as a little guy, that even the tiniest displays of affection have large impact. So, I am comfortable telling the She-Gables how much I love them. Every day. I hold their hands. We hug often. I complement them all the time. Because of my mother, I can pursue the hearts of my daughters. What a phenomenal and rare gift.

 

For you boy-Moms: You carry enormous power. The things you do today will mold and shape the kinds of fathers your sons will be. I make a ton of mistakes and I mess things up every day. I am in constant need of reminders to learn these lessons again and again. But, because of who my mother is, I am ideally suited to raising girls, and without her, I would not have gotten very far. Thank you, mamma. I love you always.

Friday with #16 – First Impressions

For me, President Lincoln is the most interesting and most fundamentally awesome man in our history not named Christ. We constantly incorporate lessons from our 16th President’s life into the molding and character shaping of our children.

 

Abraham Lincoln struggled mightily with first impressions because of his awkward lanky appearance. There’s a story about a man who came to see one of his early speeches.

“When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man.”

But after listening to Lincoln…

“Pretty soon, he began to get into his subject and the whole man was transfigured. I forgot about his personal appearances. Forgetting myself, I was soon on my feet with the rest, yelling…and cheering this wonderful man.”

 

Raising daughters in the modern West means we will constantly do battle with culture over beauty, body issues, and appearance. Women, before any accomplishments or merits are mentioned, are judged by their appearance. This is unfair but undeniably true. Media personalities, when talking to or about females, are far more likely to remark first about her fashion and only mention accomplishments or character if time permits.  So, while we fight to point out where our culture objectifies women, we also want to teach our daughters a better way. We hold character and values at a premium. And while they are most certainly adorable little ladies, we are vigilant in communicating that their character (kindness, courage, and compassion) is what Mommy and Daddy value above whether or not they are outwardly beautiful. We encourage them to see others this way as well.