A Friend of Mine Chose Not to Vote & I Admire His Tenacity

On the eve of election day, I asked a friend of mine if he had voted already. For some reason, I knew what his answer would be. Something inside me said that he was going to opt out of going to the polls at all.

He didn’t see “any God-like qualities in either candidate,” so he chose to abstain. He told me this with such conviction, admitting that he is absolutely powerless against people places and things, so he wasn’t even going to cast a ballot.

I sure didn’t agree with staying home from exercising my constitutional right, but I admired his tenacity for standing up for his beliefs. And his right not to vote. He then went to mention a section of the Bible that previews dark days before the second coming of Jesus.

Maybe we’re on our way? Or maybe things have been dark for some time. Just turn on the news or your favorite social media network to see the racism, inequality, poverty and hate pouring out of people.

voting-ballot

My friend wasn’t alone. Only 51-52 percent of registered voters turned out in this recent election. Maybe they too were handing it over to God?

I do know that this friend of mine is one of the most generous, caring and self-less individuals I know. He teaches music to kids and volunteers countless hours in service to others.

I’m so torn. It’s not the fabric of my upbringing to not participate in an election. I want to raise my kids with the idea that they can make a difference. That getting active in democracy will contribute to the greater good, but how do I do that when I don’t see it from the election results. How is building a wall contributing to the greater good of humanity?

We don’t need a physical wall to keep U.S. from its neighbors to the south. We have enough invisible walls shielding us from neighbors and potential friends. Whether you voted or not, we can demonstrate kindness to our children, so they can build the relationships of our future, not tear them down.

My neighbor across the street is a very quite man. His wife is disable and his two adult children live in the home, too. He took me by surprise the other day as I was playing with my son when he asked, “Before you throw out your pumpkins, can you save the stems for me?”

I did a double take and asked him to repeat himself. Turns out his wife does crafts, making ornamental pumpkins of some sort, and he asked us to save the stems for his wife. So I involved my son in giving the stems to him. It’s a small act, but my four-year old and I crossed the street together and brought the stems to their house.

I don’t care about his political beliefs. I don’t care who he voted for. I just know that my children remember these small steps of action. Joy was spilling from my son to visit their house and deliver the pumpkins stems.

And hopefully, someday my kids can stand with tenacity for what they believe in to break down walls, either physical or invisible to help their community.

 

Oh No! I’m Afraid That I May Be a Helicopter Dad

A recent article in the New York Time’s about Playborhoods has me thinking about many roles I play as a dad, and one that I am concerned about is being a “helicopter parent” a term used for the parent that can’t let go of providing guidance to their child.

The root cause of such helicoptering behavior is fear. Fear of falling. Fear of being kidnapped. Fear of getting in a fight. Fear of fill in the blank with something my brain sees as wrong or dangerous.

So, a Silicon Valley father decides to build his yard and play areas for kids to welcome such freedom as jumping from the top of the playground onto a trampoline, climbing onto the roof of the house and eating at the picnic table edged up to the front sidewalk, engaging community.

I get it. Kids need freedom. Kids will take freedom, eventually. And with or without my help, my son is going to grow up. Why not let him build independence and self confidence from a young age?

biking-away-from-me

There is nothing wrong with taking risks. In fact, encouraging such risks builds self-esteem and prepares them for life, according to this article by The Guardian. This article was published in 2008, and I’m sure researchers had a grasp on this way before then.

But why then am I hesitant to allow my four-year old to play three houses down at the house with a large rope chained to a tree littered with climbing attachments?

Fear. Fear of him getting exposed to what? Last time I went over there, the five-year old neighbor was jumping off a trapeze hanging from a tree in the backyard onto a trampoline. So you don’t need to be a high-rolling millionaire from Silicon Valley to expose your kids to such risks, but that didn’t stop me from thinking this kid is going to break his neck.

I had to talk myself into leaving my pre-school son at the house for even 15 minutes.

God, when did you allow me to become a helicopter parent? I guess it’s only part of my growth. Letting go and letting God again. My kids will be stronger and build character faster. I’ve referenced being “saved” by my dad at the roller-rink, and how I think parental bailout can cause a lack of self-reliance.

Kids will be kids, and they’ve been growing up healthy and well without the need for helicoptering generations before us.

I believe the less fear I can project on them, the less fear they will have. Being a father to me means being a figure the kids can lean on while they are young. Showing them that they are trusted, providing boundaries and letting them push against them is just part of growing up.

My work will be to land this copter and fly on an as needed basis.

My Son Is Crying Over Ketchup: But is that bad?

There is a Chinese Proverb that goes something like this:

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “How should I know? We’ll see.”

Now, bridge the gap and apply it to fatherhood, taking this stoic parable as how do I know what is “good” or “bad?”

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My recent application of this in response to my son’s behavior at dinner gave me a glimpse into the potential power of such reaction. Tonight, he was touchy about the inevitable blending of food on his plate. Tears shed when pieces of ground beef were not sticking to his fork the way he wanted.

Every step of the meal he was irritated about something. This is traditionally “bad” behavior in my mind. Where I would normally feed into this and try to forcefully encourage stopping and good behavior, I focused on enjoying my meal.

“It won’t stay on my fork, and I don’t like the potatoes,” he whined out through the tears. And I’d respond calmly, “You just have to keep trying. Is there another way you could get them to stay on your fork without stabbing?”

Calm. Collective. “Don’t show how annoying and ridiculous his actions are,” I thought to myself.

I don’t know exactly why he does this, but I do know that at four years of age and change, he knows the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I also could see the difference in his response when I showed a stoic concern vs. frustrated response.

There is a number of different reasons that could explain, but I don’t really need to know. He may not even know. But I hope he knows that I’m there for him, doing my best, whether that is good or bad.

Why I Try to Shelter My Kids From Trump

Television is a reward for my four-year old son. After acknowledgement of deeds well done, good behavior and self control, he can turn in the six reward coins for a walk to the park, special play time with mom or dad, or choice of his favorite TV show.

These coins, “special” coins, not from the piggy bank, are given throughout various random moments in the week, but could be earned even once or twice a day.

coins

So the other day, he chose to cash in and reward himself with some TV. While the TV warmed up, a news show was covering the latest Donald Trump footage with audio of him degrading women and speaking as if he owns them. (If you really haven’t seen it and must.)

It’s like a car wreck. I admit that I did watch the video on my phone, but I found myself asking my wife to hurry up and switch on the children’s version of Netflix as the video of the bus rolled and the sound of the bleeps echoed out of our family-room.

Family. My wife and I put effort into raising a family, with the goal of supporting children who contribute kindly and respectfully toward the world. My daughter is only six month old but I can only pray that a man like Trump doesn’t attract her future. I find I don’t even want my son to hear “The Donald’s” voice.

I grew up with parents who very much allowed me to form my own political opinions, to the point that they didn’t even share who they voted for, but this isn’t about swaying my son or daughter to the left or right.

This is about the basic incentive system we are trying to teach my son by allowing him to choose TV as a reward. With good behavior, rewards will come your way.

My son receives coins for controlling his temper-tantrums. When he normally may throw a fit when being picked up from school or being told it’s bath night, he could earn a coin if he reels it in. We’re not asking him to enjoy the transition, just rein in the kicking, screaming and rock-solid defiance.

He can also receive a coin for taking responsibility for his actions, say telling the truth. Picking up his toys and respectful dinner time behavior will also earn coins.

So to Trump I ask, how does your behavior, current and past, reinforce these behaviors that I am trying to plant in my children? I don’t see you controlling your temper-tantrums, taking responsibility or telling the truth.

The President of the United States of America should be someone who can teach our sons and daughters principles of healthy behavior and leadership. 

Rewards, Discipline and Empty Threats Working Toward Negotiation

Fatherhood is a challenging job. Or at least I find it challenging as my four year old
learns what buttons to push and negotiates to get his way.

He’s a good kid. Don’t get me wrong, but I find that I have to be firm with him at times. I become so stern he seems afraid of me, as he puts his fingers in him mouth. And he’s never been a thumb sucker.

Is this what it means when Christians mention putting the fear of God in your child?

I believe they are probably referring to teaching the word of God. I believe in a loving God, who unconditionally cares for us, so why should I be afraid of him? I am more afraid of being without Him than of Him.

I’d be afraid to come to he end of life and have that be it. No heavenly ascent. No peace and contentment. I’d be afraid to put my faith in humanity. Humans have done a lot of great and remarkable things, but we’ve also done some pretty awful and horrific things, too.

As a father, I work to motivate my kids through reward, acknowledgment and disapproval. The disapproval is the piece that I feel is a living example of the fear of God. I don’t want God to be disproved of me. He forgives for my faults, but he’s also disappointed if I don’t try to work in them.

So rather than scaring my kid to the point of sucking his thumb, I hope to move into an area of communicating disappointment.

My goal is to share when I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of him constantly, and when he acts in ways that make me angry, I will share disappointment.

Many times when I’m fed up, my response is to walk away. There were many times in my childhood when my dad would scare me with his anger. And rather than share my anger, spread it down the line if you will, my goal is to walk away.

Getting Back Up After Getting Knocked Down: A Lesson From My Pre-School Son

My son has been to many of weddings for someone a little over four years of life under his belt. He is at the perfect age for running around the reception, dancing, getting hopped up on sugar and entertaining people of all ages.

He’s slow to warm up, but my four year-old eventually joined a group of various aged children throwing glow sticks and generally enjoying the camaraderie of the wedding reception.

kids

I looked over to admire him and his new found friends, when I saw a boy of twice his age push him down. I did a double take. On one had I wanted to run over there and threaten this boy.  I didn’t even know his parents, but I was going to wring his neck. The other hand told me to let my son navigate this on his own. The other hand won. I let go and let God.

I waited for the tears and for him to come running to me. I rejoined the conversation I was having with eye contact anyway. Mentally, I was still waiting for my son to come running.

He never came. There were no tears. There wasn’t even any pushing back or a fight that I could see from my vantage point across the room. By the time I looked back at the smattering of youth, they were continuing their game of God knows what.

He handled things and worked through them on his own without my interference.

I remember being in the sixth grade, when the roller-skating rink was the place to hang with friends, jam to various (late 80’s and early 90’s) rock, and flirt with girls. I also remember a particular incident where I was pushed down. Actually, I don’t remember being physically pushed. I remember being threatened to the point of being scared that I was going to be physically pushed and worse.

I called home. My dad answered and came to the rescue. He bailed my friend and I out, so we didn’t have to face the “bully” on our own.

There is a big difference between being four and being 11 years old, especially developmentally. But I feel habits develop early, especially habits in how we handle difficult relationships. My son jumped right back in and stood his ground, eventually he and this older kid were playing around in what looked like to be a respectful and enjoyable manner.

My hope is to raise a boy with the foundation that he can handle difficult problems with his own resources.

He didn’t run for his father to bail him out. (I hope he knows that I would have been there to bail him out.) But he was self-sufficient. I don’t know whether he was quick to forgive or if he had what was coming to him. My son never actually brought this incident up to me and doesn’t even realize I saw what happened, but he moved on. He let it go, and I feel like that’s a good set up for growth.

Road Trip ROI to Honor Mother and Father

Twelve hours on the road, approximately six hours packing, three blowout diapers, one overnight hotel and a car that needs fumigation was the price I paid to spend 26 hours with my parents and siblings. I’m not even taking into account tenting in 43 degree weather. Conventional marketing return on investment (ROI) analysis may say the return isn’t worth the effort for the amount of time spent (subtract sleeping and loading while there).

drive

But how do you value time spent with growing family and three new babies (one of my own)? I think it’s an example of the cheesy American Express ads:  Priceless.

I’m barely three months in to a new job. My wife is slammed with administering to a new school location for her grade 7-12 special education facility, and our rusty Honda CRV 2000, with 200k miles in sight, is packed when hauling camping gear for my infant daughter and four-year-old son.

We had declined the invitation previously because of the stated above, and then all of a sudden my sister and her family, with my 11 month old niece, were able to attend the cabin excursion.

I couldn’t say no. Maybe it’s because I don’t see my out-of-state siblings often, maybe it was getting the new cousins together with their grandparents, maybe God was at hand imploring me to change my mind. So we packed up and headed out.

The wind blew and it rained with temperatures in the low 60’s 75 percent of the time. There were several temper tantrums (one of these being executed by yours truly), and my sister and her feverish daughter were not feeling well.

And through all of those experiences fun was had by all. No regrets. Stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, campfires, brats and plenty of baby noises with pictures to prove it. 

I can feel what I think God is getting at in Ephesians 6:2 (NIV) when he says, “Honor your father and mother–which is the first commandment with a promise.”

If I had not forced myself to go, I would have held ill will every time I looked back on the memory. My mother said she understood why we couldn’t make it, but I could feel the joy in their eyes watching the chaos of their children raising their grandchildren.

The verse right after in Ephesians 6:3 (NIV), says the reason why. “that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.”

And you know what. I do feel well about the journey. Every up and down that came with it. As far as the long-lived part, that’s up to Him.

Maybe by modeling this for my kids, the ROI will be visits and time with their grandchildren when I’m old and gray. 

Forgotten Matchbox Cars and losing My Sanity with My Parking Ticket

I write about the the necessity of God in my life to be a good father. And I believe it, after all that’s what keeps me writing about it over and over.

However, there are times where I feel like an absolute fraud, wondering why anyone should even take my advice. There are times when complete irritation takes over, and I lose my connection with God.

Like when I found myself trying to exit the parking ramp and I scream out the window in frustration at 9 a.m. I felt I should have been at work. I shouldn’t have forgotten my son’s show-and-tell in my car. And upon exiting, I somehow find the parking-ramp ticket sliding between the windshield and dash, and I’m unable to retrieve it. (I still haven’t been able to retrieve it.)

Now, if I would have been in the moment with God, I wouldn’t have felt the need to holler out the window.

I find that there are certain things–often very little things–that God likes to continue working on with me. Now, in the past I may have gotten to work and chose not to drive the 20 minutes back for my son’s show-and-tell. But I love my son, and what better way to show him my love than to bring his tin of Matchbox cars to school. I know he was overjoyed to show his fellow friends.

Little things like being forgetful have been a notorious reason for me to validate negative self talk. Maybe this is His way of working that out, and showing me just how useless such behavior is.

My son is only four. He’s not going to remember me stepping in to save his pre-school show-and-tell. But if this at least touches the core of his being and verifies his trust and faith in my never-ending love for him, then maybe he will have faith in Our Father as he matures. Thankfully, he wasn’t present when I acted like a fool in the parking ramp.

The saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” is one of the hardest things for me as a dad. Walking on the floor with dirty shoes. Snagging two cookies right out of the box instead of one. Threatening with a tantrum over Star Wars Marshmallow Cereal (yuck). Screaming bloody murder when I know she’s tired and just needs to fall asleep. This stuff can be frustrating, but really, it’s all small stuff.

OnlySmallThings

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” –St. Mother Theresa.

 

Letting Go, Letting God and Letting the Baby Eat Her Socks

My life is busy. Two kids under the age of five, a full-time job, a wife with a full-time job and all of the grown up responsibilities that come with running a growing household.

I could easily say I’m tired. I can easily say I’m tired. Everywhere I look there is a floor that needs to be wiped, a pile of clothes to be washed or some sort of toy to be put away. But today I didn’t do any of that. At least at the normal after-work chase-my-tail-just-to-keep-up maintenance pace I operate from getting home until the kids are in bed.

I laid down in the middle of the toys, with the dirty dishes still on the stove and on the table, and played with my baby girl. She just rounded the corner on five months. I read her a book while she stretched her arms to bring the board-book pages to her lips.

She sat propped in a Bumbo seat eyes wide, exploring the world with amazement. She would endlessly knock over the stuffed blocks I set up as she worked her limbs to explore what exactly these blocks are all about.

bumbo

Okay, I did get up once to bring something into my bedroom, and by the time I had returned she had flipped to her stomach, grabbed her pair of socks and was giving them a taste. How quickly things can happen. I was grateful it wasn’t the art supplies my four-year-old had brought home.

But I’ll never get over the amazement and wonder for life kids have. Untarnished by the car’s make and model we are driving. Amazed by the first car wash, and immediately saying, “let’s do that again,” when the wash is finished. Completely accepting of the clothes they wear (at least until their about four or so).

The words of Jesus in Matthew 18:3 (ISV) says, “I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom from heaven.”

Because when I was laying on the floor with my baby, or reading a new batch of library books with my four-year-old son or even staring into my baby’s eyes as I change her, I find these little children are the closest to God I’ve ever been.

Yes, they can also drive me to the gates of hell at times, but that is if I don’t change. If I change, and look at the world through children’s eyes, humble, forgiving and with amazement, I can feel the presence of God. I can even let go of the fact that the dishes are piled at the moment. I’ll get to them later, when the baby is sleeping.

 

Sharing Toys, Tattling and Supporting Kids to Traverse Their Own Battles

The number one rule at my son’s pre-school is:  “Do everything to the glory of God.” I could get used to this one pretty easily, as I am a man of faith and put effort towards working this rule in my own life.

He’s been attending this school for about 18 months, but I’m just now starting to get used to their second rule: “no tattling unless someone is getting hurt.” I wondered how do they expect this young kid who blows up over getting the wrong kind of cereal to ever solve problems independently.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the course of getting to know the teachers and hanging around for a solid five to 10 minutes during drop-off and pick-up, I see this rule in occasional action. During one particular pickup, I witnessed a boy push a girl over while they were both standing. Her impulse was to run to the teacher and tattle. The teacher calmly comforted her until she was willing to approach the boy.

The victim of this pushover collected herself after roughly one minute and went over to the boy and expressed herself in words how this hurt her. I recall him trying to deny that he in fact pushed her, but guilt was pouring from his nonverbal cues. (Pre-school kids may be able to lie out of their mouth but their little bodies always give them away.)

The educator then coached the boy to say I’m sorry, and the girl said I forgive you. Now, he was taken aside after all this to discuss the situation further with the teacher, but this entire scenario went completely against everything I had previously been taught and how my immediate reaction would handle things.

I would want to jump in and say that the pushing behavior is unacceptable and punish the boy, but what does that accomplish? Further tears? Gratitude for justice? Empowerment?

If my goal as a father is to empower my son and daughter, I realize that there is no better time than now to start practicing this. Practice now when a grown up can hover in the background to guide, rather than practice when the grownups are peers.

Let’s face it, how does running and “telling the teacher” work in business? How does tattling work in the neighborhood? In family?

I find that I grow the most by taking time away from the difficult situation to meditate, pray and be with God. Then I can receive guidance for the next right action to take, whatever difficult conversation that needs to be. And usually it’s the conversation I most fear.

It’s taken me over thirty years to have the courage to have these conversations. I spent most of these years cowering from others. That is not what I call spiritual progress.

So now, when I walk over to the neighbors and my son comes running to tell me how his friend ripped a toy from his hands, I tell my son to work it out. I simply say take turns, and let him work through the situation on his own. Yes, I am hovering in the background, holding myself back from jumping in, but I can at least hope that I’m doing everything I can to build a strong foundation.