It’s In His Blood and There is Nothing We Can Do

The scene was one of laughter and joy, reading the Berenstain Bears Go To School book. Sister goes to get on the bus, and my son imagines himself being in her place.

“What if I just stood there and didn’t get on the bus?” he asked.

Go To School

“The bus driver would say, ‘come on,'” I said, waving my arm. My son repeated the question.

“The bus driver may honk his horn and ask you to get on the bus,” I said in reply. I could feel my sons tension build, as he didn’t seem to be liking my answers.

This back-and-forth continued until my four year old used all his strength to squeeze my arm. I laughed in confusion, which only escalated his anger. What did he want me to say? That the bus driver would leave him behind?

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Looking back I know I could have taken an alternate route. I continued to smile, laughing at times, and even told him that his punches tickled. Yeah, who’s the father in this situation?

I ended up having to leave the room, so he could cool down, which did not go over well. I’m not sure exactly where this fit came from, and I’ll probably never know. I do know that I can relate to being frustrated when things don’t go the way I envision.

But I ask anyone reading this how does a father best hold himself in such a situation? I don’t want to just accept that this, “is in his blood” or something. Yes, alcoholism runs in families. Poverty runs in families. Abusive fathers are often followed by abusive fathers or abused mothers. But goodness and love also run in families.

I learned of a study published in 1915 by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, when a member of the New York prison board recognized that there we six family members serving in one of the prisons.

Max Jukes, born in 1720, was known as a…let’s just say he wasn’t exactly a role model. He had six daughters and two sons. From there, 1200 of their descendants were studied, 341 were alcoholic or drug addicts (and not of the recovered variety), 310 were homeless, 150 criminals, seven of them committed murder.

Both of these examples bring up the environment and lineage forming a child’s future. Is it nature or nurture? Is my son or daughter set to repeat my mistakes? Maybe, as long as they repeat my strengths and positive characteristics, too.

Another family around that time was also studied was John Edwards, born in 1703. He was the president of Princeton University. He was a family man, had 11 children. 1400 of his descendants were studied. Among these, 13 were college presidents, 66 were professors, 100 were attorneys, 85 were authors, 32 were state judges, 66 were physicians, and 80 were holders of public office, including three governors, three senators, and one vice president of the united states.

Now, I haven’t dug deep into the many contributing factors of each of these blood lines. Granted, there is a lot at play when we are talking about life influence, but I know which one I’d like to guide my son and daughter toward.

Now, if I could just pinpoint how my son developed his quickness toward anger.

 

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Rerouting Expectations and Surrenduring to the Lesser Splashpad

The family and I set out to enjoy a July summer day by heading to the newest neighborhood pool. Not just any pool, the first in the country to be filtered by natural plants rather than harsh pool chemicals. Pretty cool.

Even cooler is the fact that I can put the four year-old in the bike trailer and get there in 20 minutes, the entire route a paved bike trail. 

So we arrived, locked my bike and headed into the free community lagoon when the lifeguards asked everyone to exit. We hadn’t even entered the pool deck.

And the pool wasn’t even open for more than a half hour. My son, and I’ll put myself in this catagory right along side him, wanted immediate gratification and to get wet. Before we could pick out our spot for fun in the sun, a lifeguard informed us that someone got sick in the pool. Yes, throw up.

The news came that it would be at least an hour, probably longer, before they would be letting swimmers return to the water. There goes my expectations of a relaxing Sunday summer afternoon by the water. And because I biked and our time was limited, I didn’t have the luxury of zipping over quickly to a different pool in another part of the city. But I did know of a splash-pad. You know one of those zero-depth entry type of wading pools with fountains to play in. 

I found myself angry at the person who threw up in the pool for ruining my plans. I was also angry at the pool for allowing this to happen, the second time in three weeks according to my knowledge because this is the second time my family has been affected. I managed (I think) to hide my frustration from my son but my wife brunted most of this for him. 

I resentfully obtained directions from a mother with several kids hanging around and jumped back on my bike to meet my wife and our baby at the next stop:  a neighborhood wading pool.


The wading pool we ended up dipping into was in the heart of a community where 82% of the elementary school students receive free or reduced prices school lunches. 

Just today I was receiving the messages from my readings and our visit to church to keep praying and to stay grateful. It’s as if this afternoon was designed for me to put this into practice.

I didn’t want to be at this pool. I wanted to be at the glamorous pool. Or at least one with depth and updated fountains, with lush grass to sit on (inside the fence) where I don’t have to hear what I am sure is cursing in a foreign language. 

But as I rested on my blanket with my four month old daughter, I started to regain perspective and count the gifts I’ve been given. I recalled my four year old son say, “It’s okay dad, I don’t mind,” when I apologized for someone throwing up in the original pool. My wife is supportive. My kids are healthy and we are up to date on the bills.

We even had a few good laughs together as we surrendered to the events that unfolded. 

Thank you. Thanks for the afternoon in the sun. Thanks for the time at the playground. Thanks for the delicious meal and our health. Thanks for the abundance and ability to give to those families receiving free and reduced lunches. Thanks for reminding me that it is key to stay grateful. 

And I’d really appreciate a dip in the new pool one of these days. That is if it is His will. 

Cleaning and Scrubbing Can Wait ’till Tomorrow

I am someone who pushes themselves to get as much done as possible in a waking 16 hour day (or often more). Work, home, writing and relationships. How much can I “get done” today? A busy full day leaves me with a sense of accomplishment.

However, this outlook also can lead to frustration because much of my day is preparing for and supporting the growth of two small children under the age of five.

My mother, who is the type of person that could stay calm in a forest fire, shared with me this little poem that I try to keep in my head when dishes are dirty, the floor hasn’t been wash in I don’t know how many weeks and there are toys to be picked up:

cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
for babies grow up
we’ve learned to our sorrow
so settle down cobwebs
dust go to sleep
i’m rocking my baby
and babies don’t keep

Cleaning&Scrubbing

(I found this image on AuntSistersPicks Etsy’s page and it is a spitting image of the one my mom had hanging in our house growing up and now passed to my brother, as he is new father. Mom, if you’re reading this, they consider it “vintage.”)

When this enters my mind, as I am seeing the piles of clutter to  donate, sort or give-away, as I’m working my way through the stack of snail-mail, as I am pitching piles of receipts and notes on my dresser, I am reminded that I need to cherish these early months of her life.

When I am fully present and not checking my iPhone, or trying to accomplish something, I need to remember that I am giving her support and building trust.

My daughter is turning four months old officially next week. She is smiling, reaching out and grabbing things and even talking back to me in a droning arc of a sound that is mesmerizing.

When I look back, it’s not going to be how clean was my floor. I’m not going to need to prove to God that I kept my physical house in order. He’s not going to judge me on the polished tables or the organization and cleanliness of my garage. He is going to look at my relationships.

Especially my relationships that support or tear down my immediate family. If I am putting the physical world before the spiritual, I find that the relationships in my life aren’t in a satisfying state. I end up with some sort of dialog in my head that tells me I’ll be happy when ______________. (Fill in the black with whatever needs cleaning or organizing.)

So this post is a reminder to me, and to anyone who comes across it, to cherish the moments when the little ones are up, begging for a bike ride or an extra book before bed, and we just want 10 minutes to ourselves. I’ll miss it when they’re gone.

Which is more Fatherly? Parenting So They Like You or Giving Them What They Need

I’ve written before that I‘ve always been a little more of a pushover than someone who stands up for what they believe. At least this has been true up until my mid-thirties.

I’ve recently heard hindsight as described as 10K rather than 20/20 vision, and I am feeling like that is true. I can now see the value in being able to stand up for my views, saying no and not always making decisions on whether I think I’ll be liked or not.

So keeping this hindsight in mind, what position do you think I should father from? The position of wanting to be liked by my son or the position of doing what is best (however you define best).

food-city-theme-summer-ice-cream-large

Recently, my four-year old and I pulled up to a soft serve ice-cream stand. I ran in to grab three treats, so the they could be shared by my son, myself and my wife. My son proceeded to whine and cry about wanting to get out and eat at the picnic table.

This was a beautiful day outside. The type of day in Minnesota that should not be ignored. However, bedtime routine was approaching, and I wanted to include my wife, who was stuck at home with the infant, on this occasion. I wavered, and there was a part of me that felt it would just be easier to eat outside than to put up with the whining and crying.

And then he resorts to, “You’re a boring daddy.” How can this three foot tall pre-schooler drive an arrow through the very goal of my fatherhood? By pushing this very button. I fear being a boring daddy. The growing culture of disrespect is discussed well in this Fatherly.com blog post from July 14.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t give in. I came close but held strong. Which is what I find I have to do when I am doing something that is worth teaching or something I feel is in their best interest. I need God’s help in this because I want to please my son.

God always hasn’t given in when I’ve thrown my tantrums. My world slowly got smaller and smaller until there wasn’t much remaining for God to take away. And then I came around.

Stay strong, guide children the best you can and they will respect you for it. (This is me talking to myself, so I can continue to not give in.)

I recently had coffee with a new friend. He told me about his upbringing as an immigrant family in Chicago during the 80’s. They experienced many challenges and didn’t have much. He told me how his father would assign book reports to him and his sisters. Yes, book reports, outside of school assignments, from a father who didn’t even know English very well.

My friend told me how he hated his dad for this. But knowing my friend in his late 30’s. Knowing how sharp, intelligent and successful he is. I can see this paid off. (I also picked up that his sister is a successful doctor making a quarter million a year.)

All money aside, look at the impact this father had on his kids. He wasn’t liked for it, but the lesson he taught in valuing education spread through to his children.

Race, Violence and the Perception of A Child

Two nights ago, I watched the video Philando Castile’s girlfriend posted after he was shot and killed by police July 6. And just the day before before, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police. Racism is alive and well in the subconscious of certain individuals.

This is something that needs to be talked about, otherwise how will we as a community ever get through to change perceptions? It’s easy to get caught up in the anger and violence in the world and feel that there is an race-war undercurrent happening.

Fear breeds fear. Fear of the police. Fear of the black community. Fear for our youth. But violence feeds off this fear, too. Without getting into the cause or reason, or the history of race in America, my heart goes out to the youth of our nation.

My young kids are sheltered from this for now, and therefore I am sheltered from such conversations, but I can’t help but think about the day when they are surfing through their own Twitter feed and expressing their points of view. My prayer is that their point of view is one of love and compassion, because our youth can continue the movement of change we have made for the better in the world.

My prayer is for them to keep their perceptions open wide and keep their child-like view of the world. I see my young children at the ages of four and three months wide open to anyone who may come their way. Sure, my pre-school-aged son is developing a healthy awareness of stranger-danger, but that doesn’t stop him from telling the usher at a major league baseball game his name.

As Jesus said “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.” (Good News Translation US, Mat. 18:3)

This says to things to me:  1. That a child-like view of the world is a gateway to heaven. 2. That my children will grow up to become adults that need changing.

I am broken. I have to stop and keep my perception open to ensure that I am not being altered by biases, either learned from adults growing up or media.

Biking home on my five mile commute, I roll through a part of the city that is not known for it’s wealth, safety or lack of drugs. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a NYC crack-filled skid-row of the ’80’s. But just yesterday, my commute was interfered by police tape surrounding several blocks. The primarily crowd of onlookers were black. The media and police were primarily white.

lowry

I reached for my Twitter feed to pick up any live updates and learned about a drive-by shooting that was being reported by various civilians in the area.

I felt fear creeping in and gave myself two choices in this instance. I could either get on my bike and pedal madly to get the hell out of there. Or I could connect with an onlooker to see if they had any additional info. Being curious, I opted for the latter.

A large African American man shared with me that there was in fact a shootout with a mini van and he shook his head in distress. I shared that it saddened me, too, and offered up for the Lord to help us. He echoed, “We need it. Take care brother.”

For that brief minute-and-a-half, we weren’t black or white men. We weren’t comparing our situations in life. We were simply offering our condolences and prayers to those who choose to express their pain through violence.

I can only pray to not let fear drive my actions and show my children that those who are expressing violence are a minority, whether they are a police officer or civilian.

 

Jelly Bean Pools & Sitting Around Doing Nothing

My oldest is now almost a year from kindergarten, and his personality is in full swing. His stories are also becoming more and more elaborate.

Like the time he told us that his school’s gym was made out of candy and that they jumped in a pool of jelly beans.

Or the continuous story that he tells everyone about grandma and grandpa allowing him to watch Star Wars. The stories go on and on to a point where I’m not even sure what is real or what is a story.

Is my pre-schooler already lieing? Or is it just early developments into his sarcastic personality? 

Looking at myself, I thoroughly enjoy sarcasm, at least being in the giving end. Like the running joke he and I have about his days at school where they sit around and do nothing. It all started with me trying to pull out a discussion at the dinner table after a day of school and work, jokingly asking, “Did you sit around all day and do nothing?”

And now he comes home from a day at school and after being asked what they did all day, he’ll say, “we just sat around and did nothing.”

There’s also my classic sarcastic joke asking, “Do you have a broken leg?” when he is “unable” to walk when defiantly opposing getting into the car or leaving a place he is happy about being.

Thinking about my use of sarcasm, it’s usually in spots where I am frustrated and wanting my son or wife to see things my way. And used on my wife, the manner of the sarcasm can be taken positively or negatively. But she’s an adult and can figure out my truth.

I am at a point of my life though where I realize anything I do that’s based in self can do harm, either to me or others and usually both. I wondered if my young pre-schooler can figure out my truth hidden underneath the sarcasm. 

So I looked up the meaning of sarcasm to start with and Merriam-Webster says this:

1 : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

2 : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

Oooooh. Wow. Give pain? Caustic language directed against an individual. Looking at these two definitions, I definitely do not intend to inflict either on my children or my wife for that matter. My whole objective as a father is to create a loving and supporting home where we can all grow in spirit, wisdom and love. And those two definitions don’t appear to support this objective.


However, I also want to have fun. God doesn’t keep me here to be stoic and serious all the time.

So keeping in mind where a young developing mind is, I pray to keep my mind aware of any harms I may cause by using sarcasm. And of course to have fun with language in other ways.

Signe Whitson LSW writes in Psychology Today that children under eight years of age don’t quite understand how to take sarcasm because they can’t pick up the necessary recognition of subtle truth. And that it can actually get in the way of forming positive relationships with our kids.

Turning to the golden rule:  treat your neighbor as you want to be treated. I really only want to be treated sarcastically by those extremely close, those that I know and have built an established relationship of trust.

My kids are forever growing, and God willing so am I, but I want them to trust me. And until they really understand sarcasm, I am going to work to try to keep it among adults and speak through the heart to my young children. 

How’s that for sitting around and doing nothin?

Getting Back on the Horse

My four-year old has built the confidence to ride his two-wheel bike with training wheels. The joy and confidence on his face that grows during this accomplishment is priceless.

We are two days into the “training” and I swear I can see the power of his pedaling increase.

We are blessed to live less than a block from over 30 miles of trails winding through Minneapolis. After about 3/4 of a mile one way, we turned around. A small downhill faced us, which he had no problem going up, and I internalized the decision to let him take his confidence to tackle this hill.

biking

I won’t describe in detail how it exactly happened because I could speculate in a number of ways:  a narrow path, an oncoming biker with a trailer, me biking too close or just plain nervousness when biking too fast. He fell off, face first.

I am very much a helmet advocate, so he was wearing his brain-bucket. But from behind I pondered if there were going to be teeth leftover on the concrete after this incident.

Layers of skin shaved off on his cheekbone underneath his eye and ran down his cheek for several inches. I jumped off my bike and picked him up, sitting him on my thigh. A mix of panic and anger swirled inside of me.

There were no broken bones and all of his teeth remained in his head, so I calmed myself, squeezing him and telling him he’ll be alright.

My first reaction was to set him on the cargo carrier of my bike, leaving his in the bushes and roll him home as fast as I could. Then I recalled again that this wasn’t life threatening and maybe this is a chance to teach. That and I didn’t want to have to come all the way back for his bike.

I lifted him off of my bike, gave him a squeeze and told him he had to get back on. I received a screeching, “Noooooooooooooooo,” in response.

After more blood, tears and crying, he remained on his bike as I rolled us home. It was quite a site, me bending down to pull the handle bars on his small bike while keeping hand on mine and rolling us both home.

It’s hard for me to look at his scab but easy for me to be grateful the accident wasn’t worse.

The old axiom of needing to get back on the horse after falling off rings true on so many levels. Whether I fail at work, a side project or fixing something at home, I need to continue to bring this with me. He continues to teach me as long as I am open-minded.

Seven hours later, my son was asking to go back out on the bike.  So we went back out. Sure, we avoided the hills, but he got back on the bike. And showing up is half the battle.