Boys Don’t Cry and Girls Really Shouldn’t Either

I’ve said it. And even it you haven’t said it to your son, he’s probably picking up on it. Boys and men are not supposed to cry.

Granted, when I’ve said it, it’s usually over something like an extra scoop of ice cream or a bonked head that he’s crying, so I rationalize my words, saying “don’t cry.” But no matter what it’s over, I do find myself cringing a little when he does. And deep down if I take a hard look, I don’t want him to be weak.

I recently ran across the blog Remaking Manhood, and the author, Mark Greene says in his video, “It is through our expressions of emotions that we connect in relationship to others. In fact, emotions are born in those relational spaces between people. So if we tell our children, don’t express emotions, what we are basically doing is limiting their capacity to form relationships. ”

Humans are social creatures. We need our tribe to survive, and we need relationships to feel value and connection. So am I basically making him weak by limiting his capacity to form relationships? Isolation can be deadly.

Remaking Manhood goes on to say that American men over the age of 45 are chronically lonely. Male suicides also outnumber women three to one, and they say it is because men don’t have a robust network of authentic relationships.

Researchers and even mainstream media understand the importance of emotional intelligence and being vulnerable. Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability has just under 31.5 million views as of this posting. Disney Pixar’s Inside Out made 857.6 million at the box office alone.

A person who is authentic, someone who can stand up strong and face difficult situations one day, but then next day, he or she can be sympathetic, understanding and vulnerable is someone who can lead and make an impact.

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Are You Enjoying Being A Dad?

It was picture day. My son even asked for, “hair stuff.” His mom picked out his best school shirt, pants and he even seemed excited. We were walking down the hall on the way to the morning club before school when he asked for a belt. Or maybe it was more of a whine.

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His pants were a little too large, and he wanted me to go all the way back home to get the belt. I’d be frustrated and want to whine about such a thing, too. Fortunately, the pant designers placed these elastic belt-like straps into the waist, so that they can be tightened with a matter of buttons.

I remember thinking he looked good as I knelt down to adjust the elastic around his waist. There was a certain humble pride (if that is a thing) coming off of him. I sure was proud of him. There was no elementary embarrassment–thankfully, we haven’t gotten there yet–about fiddling around with the belt-line of his pants.

Content and geared up for picture day, we were now on our way. Drop off was smoothly executed, and I picked up pace down the hall. That is when a teacher asked me, “Are you enjoying being a dad?” The question caught me off guard, but I answered with a yes that came out with a surprise, almost saying why yes, yes I am thank you.

“Good,” she answered. “I saw you with your son there, and it just looked so cute. I hope you are enjoying it.”

What a reminder. Life is busy. Work days involve being with the kids a matter of about two to four waking hours, depending on the day. What a simple, crucial reminder to enjoy life.

Happy fathers raise happy kids. Happy fathers and mothers for that matter. And happiness sometimes grows after pushing through the monotonous, daily activities like getting the kids dressed, picking up toys or reading books. These are the moments that make up lifetime memories.

Sure, we remember the big vacations and the milestones, too. And it’s easy to be happy when you take your picture with a graduating pre-schooler (or fill in the blank with whatever grade they are graduating from.) But it’s the daily “grind” that builds character. It’s the daily grind that lays the foundation for your kids.

Are you rushing around barking orders, keeping order? Are you frustrated that you have to deal with the kids? That’s normal. Just remember to take moments to enjoy the teaching, the building of relationships and the foundation for your kids to handle life. Hopefully the latter outweighs the former.

Boys, Knives, Rules & School

At drop off this morning, my son and I debated about bringing a wooden souvenir knife to school. I said it was against the rules, and he said he’d keep in in his backpack where no one would see it.

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The debate ended in sadness and a couple of tears as he placed the knife back into the car, and I felt a ping of regret wondering if I should have looked the other way to let him find out on his own.

How often have the rules been explained to you and wondered how to get around them?And when should a father just let his son push the rules to find out the consequences on his own? I’m with him, not against him. And by forcing him to put this toy knife back in the car, does he see me as protecting him from getting in trouble or as the enforcer of the rules?

I don’t recall a weapons policy in the the parent packet sent home with my kindergartner, but I’m guessing toy guns and knives aren’t allowed. Basic knowledge, right? Especially, “in today’s world.”

It’s disappointing to me that my five-year-old son comes home within the first month of school and has had two “lock-down drills.” I’m glad the muscle memory prep is there should such a horrid situation occur, but I’m sickened that this is even something they have to think about and prepare for.

The drill involves hiding behind the teacher’s desk, and if all of the students don’t fit behind the desk, they need to hide where they can’t see the window in the door. That way “the intruder can’t see anyone,” my son explains.

In a world of hiding from intruders, the logic of bringing a toy knife to school doesn’t seem very bad. Seems logical. Boys will be boys as they say. Take the toy weapons away, and they will find things to make “weapons” out of, whether that’s sticks, paper or their fingers.

This would be a good foray into a, “back in the day” story. A co-worker of mine made a Facebook comment recalling gun-safety training training that was given right at school. And guns were kept in lockers until classes were out.

He needs to make his own mistakes, especially if they are going to sink in and really be life lessons, but fathers are here to guide. I chose to guide him in the responsible direction and be the enforcer, rather than leave it up to school administration. Better than than having a suspension on his kindergarten record. And if that’s not enough for you, here are six other stories of students being suspended over toy guns (and even one incident is the act of shaping their hand into a gun.)

My opinion is that toy guns and knives are harmless when provided with guidance. “No shooting Nerf darts at people,” for starters. Focusing on respect, love and understanding overrides the natural impulse to “win” and shoot people. Start with conflict resolution, emotional awareness and forgiveness.

The muscle needed forgive those who trespass against us needs to be exercised and modeled. And trust me, your kids are watching.

Kindergarten: Sending My Boy Off into the World

My son hasn’t exactly had a sheltered stay-at-home upbringing. He’s been in full-time daycare since his 13th week of life. He’s been given two working parents that enjoy their jobs, and I also believe the foundation of the Bible-based pre-school has been beneficial to all of us.

But when I walked him to his kindergarten classroom door, I couldn’t help having that feeling of wishing I could have stayed home with him more. He is now entering more of his own world, a world that he may or may not always choose to share with me.

The photo I snapped outside of his decorated classroom door show him with one hand in his pocked, a fresh new Spiderman backpack over one shoulder, being held with the hand outside of his pocket, across his chest. My God, he looked like he should be “the cool kid” in a high-school stance or something.

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On one hand I had the feeling of shouldas, wouldas and maybe couldas, but on the other, I was proud. Here was this boy going from a small pre-school room to a large elementary school. He gets to experience more and learn more.

His world is opening up, and I get to see him grow. I get to see how this first five years of love, nurture and discipline have suited him for kindergarten. My wife and I have worked hard to give both out children a foundation to be strong, loving and independent. To trust but also ask questions.

I can only hope that we have provided a solid beginning that Proverbs 22:6 refers to. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. 

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to aim for perfection, but there is also a lot of pressure on kids, too. How do I know that I’m providing the beginning that is best for him? From the school we chose to two working parents to the amount of play dates and extracurricular activities he is enrolled in.

There are two things that help comfort me with these questions:

  1. He is being schooled 6-8 hours a day (if you count the before & after school activity club.) But at home, he is still being home schooled. He is still learning his primary perspective on life from my wife and I.
  2. Speaking and networking with other parents helps a lot. Asking how they are doing it? What did they do (if their kids are already in high school or out of the house)? Form friendships with parents that we cross paths with from his pre-school and kindergarten.

And one of the most important things to remember is that a parent who cares and spends time with their kids is going to raise kids that are more prepared for life than the ones who are raised the opposite.

The Ultimate Test of Spiritual Fitness: Family Tent Camping for Five Nights

We emerged from the seven day family road trip that involved five nights of camping in the Blackhills of SD, and the only person with clean clothes remaining was my wife.

An hour on the road with a five and one year old can seem like a half-day. Snacks are crucial, but can give way to jealousy and screaming in the seat.


I would be lying if I said there wasn’t moments when the music needed to be turned up over the crying. Or moments where I used the, “I’ll pull this car over” bit.

Or there was the moment when I looked up at the Milky Way at 2:30 a.m. begging for some sleep after my two year-old daughter woke up with inconsolable night terrors for the second night in a row. Did I mention we tent camped?

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention the seafood boil dinner that brought consistent visits by bees and flies. 

All of these moments were trying but not necessarily bad. Tough? Definitely, and there were times of frustration, but I found myself thinking about the Shakespeare quote, ” nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.” So let’s focus on the good times. 

There were the moments of majestic views from Needles Highway, a buffalo herd so thick over the road we sat and waited for almost 20 minutes. I will remember catching wild rainbow trout shortly after sunrise with my daughter.

So we have the attitude string to play. What happens is neither good or bad. It simply is. Don’t sweat the small stuff and all that jazz. Am I going to choose to let this moment affect me or am I going to stay spiritually fit.

There was laughter. There were tears. The family vacation was the way it went, and the memories I have will last a lifetime.  And the fact is is that I got to do it. Many people wish for such opportunities. 

May you remain in the get to attitude. 

Taking Time to Take A Nap

The day was a Saturday prior to an business trip. There was packing, prepping and organizing to do, not to mention family time that I wanted to soak up prior to departing.

But I decided to nap instead. My 16 month old daughter seems to be a little anti-nap when it comes to Saturday. She’s still at an age where she needs them, but she sits up and cries when we put her into the crib. So I held her while we slept.

This moment brought me back to a time when she’d sleep on my chest as a newborn infant, but my mind kept trying to pull me back to to-do lists and other things I should be doing.

But then I thought what option is more important than helping this toddling daughter of mine feel comforted and catch up on some sleep myself. The world slipped away and that hour-and-a-half felt like a day within a day. I drifted in and out, reclined in our Lay-Z-Boy and felt the weight and peace of my growing daughter.

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Every so often, I’m able to step outside myself and experience thorough gratitude, and this moment was just that. It would be five days away on business from my wife and kids, and I enjoyed the silence and warmth of her body in my arms.

We live in a face paced world, and I’ve always had the mindset that getting more done is better. Or that I need to do something just to do something. Add to the list, cross things off, get it done. It’s so easy to be sucked into such a mindset and such a pace that can continually make me feel like I’m on a treadmill while losing position.

It’s like muscle memory. If I don’t run for weeks or haven’t picked up the guitar in longer, my muscles forget what it takes to perform. Relaxing is a muscle. If I don’t keep it strong and remember to just be okay with sitting (or napping) for even just 30 minutes, life can get exhausting.

God wants us to rest. All major religions have a day of prayer or a day of rest, such as a Sabbath.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn fro me, for I am gentle and humble in your heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 28-29 NIV)

 

It’s almost embarrassing that I have to consciously apply myself to take a rest at times, but just like hard work, hard rest pays off.

Additional Reminders to Trust My Kids

My now-walking one-year old went for the cupboards under the kitchen sink. Soaps, garbage and a specific no play zone, I put my foot it front of the doors and said no, explaining that she can’t play in there.

The defiance stage has kicked in, so a mild tantrum ensued. And then of course, as I stepped away to prep something around the kitchen, she went back.

She’s quick, too. I watched as she opened the door and unveiled a fruit pouch top to throw away in the garbage. She nelt up and set it in the garbage, and then made her high pitched ooooha noise in approval as she looked up at me, as if to say, I just had to throw away some garbage.


The surprise and awe could have brought the palm of my hand to my forehead. I didn’t even think she knew the garbage is stored under the sink.

My wife and I work hard to model good healthy behaviors, but I still find myself doubting my kids’ decisions or motives. More often than not though, my kids surprise me with their actions taken.

This morning my wife and I were getting ready to meet friends for a play date. My five year old son was playing in his upstairs bedroom with his sister. And with her being one, I’m hesitant to leave the two of them together alone for very long.

This particular moment was maybe approaching 15 minutes, when I heard screaming from her.

The urge to shout at my son and ask what is going on up there surged, but I held back. I did skip steps as I went upstairs. Working to act casually, I strolled into his room and asked what are you guys up to.

She was still crying a little at this point but it had downgraded from the scream. Turns out my five year old son had only taken a small choking hazard of a toy away from her, and she was of course not very happy with him.

This moment served again to remind me that my kids can be entrusted to make good choices. He was only protecting her with the training I had preached since bringing a sleeping newborn home. And she was just helping to throw away garbage as she had probably seen us do hundreds of times.

God willing shall I continue to trust them, remembering these moments as they grow.

Trust Children When Engaging in Risky Play

Helicopter parents. We all have seen them at the playground, hovering around their child’s rear end as they climb a ladder. Or constantly reminding their child to be careful at various platforms throughout the jungle-gym.

I’ve been there. The last thing I want to experience is my son or daughter getting hurt, and it’s only parental instinct to want to protect them. Playgrounds offer a chance to explore, push limits and learn to interact, often without the boundaries of adults, depending on children’s age of course.

There is a nature center I visited recently where the rock has been sculpted and formed as the play area. There are caves, a climbing wall and various cliffs that can be scaled and stood upon.

But before entering any sort of elevation, if you want to call it that, there is this sign:

Let go

This is a tough thing for a new parent to learn. Again, I’ve felt the fear of my son or daughter hurting themselves, especially the first born. As a new parent, I knew absolutely nothing.

But what I’ve slowly come to realize is that this sign is true. As my baby girl, our second child, was learning to explore the playground, she approached a step head first. I began to make a move forward to stop her, when she stopped just in time, turned around and inched herself backward.

My five year old climbed up a side of a cliff and sat there. Legs dangling down and enjoying the view. Fortunately I wasn’t around when he decided to stand up and jump off. The ledge was probably four feet. And for a five year old, that would be like a six foot tall man jumping off a seven foot tall ledge.

The point is to trust, let kids learn their own boundaries and grow. Pushing my own fears on my kids, whether that’s about falling or acceptance by childhood peers, need to be kept where they belong. To me. A goal of mine is to allow my kids to develop and grow with their own fears, rather than share mine with them.

Watch the Struggle and Watch Growth

My kids are now five and 15 months. No matter how hold they get, it is hard to watch them struggle. Whether it’s using a fork to eat raspberries or working their way across the monkey bars, I have this fatherly urge to jump in and help them along.

I’m a fixer. This is what dads do, right? I’m here to help, love and support. But what if all this helping is actually doing harm.

There is an on going debate in the world of raising chickens whether a farmer–backyard or commercial–should jump in and help the chicken hatch.

I’ve read that helping the chicken along can actually cause death, whether that’s by ripping off skin with the shell or taking over for mother nature and not building the perseverance needed to break through the shell.

And let’s face it. Doesn’t breaking through the shell define so much of childhood, whether that is the first three years or the teenage rebellion?

My one-year old needs help in the water. It’s safety. She’d crawl in head first without even being aware of the consequence. But there are times where I should let her work on zipping away at her shell.

A Helping Hand

My five year old pushes her buttons, until she screams in fury. Typically, I jump in and help her, reprimanding her older brother about space and respect. But after reading about the chicks hatching out of their eggs, I wonder if I jump in a little too soon.

She’s coming into her own, and her own involves a big brother to navigate. Lord knows she is going to need perseverance to draw boundaries with him.

Let’s take shoe tying as an example. My son isn’t there yet, but let’s just say that every time he was to get frustrated, I jumped in and said, “here, let me help by tying these for you.” Would he really learn to tie?

Humans learn by trying and failing. Getting frustrated and pushing through. Asking for help after surrendering defeat. These are all natural ways of growing.

There is a balance I’m working toward lately, and that is to support my kids when they are struggling or going through a hard time. I care, and I want them to know I’m here to help guide them through their struggle. But I’m not here to make their struggle any easier.

Life is a struggle at times, and the sooner they accept it or even embrace it, the better off they may be.

Many backyard farmers watch their chicks struggle to get out of their shell for over 24 hours. I’m sure that can seem like a lifetime when you want your chicken to hatch. But if it wasn’t for the 24 hours or more of struggling to get out, they wouldn’t have the strength or confidence to grow into a healthy chicken.

Falling Down is Learning to Walk

Later this month my daughter will be 15 months old, and we are waiting for her to walk on her own. My thoughts swing from wanting her to be my baby forever to wondering if there is a developmental delay.

According to babycenter.com’s Baby Milestone: walking writeup:

“Most babies take their first steps sometime between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by the time they’re 14 or 15 months old. Don’t worry if your child takes a little longer, though. Some perfectly normal children don’t walk until they’re 16 or 17 months old.”

So she may be on the tail end of “most” babies, and I’m not (overly) worried, but the important part is her willingness to fall down.

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May we all learn from the youngest among us. Babies fall down hundreds of times as they learn to walk, but how many say, “Forget it. I’ll just crawl for the rest of my life.”

None. Unless of course there is an underlying developmental issue. Babies keep pushing through until they get it.

Whether you are in sales, engineering, farming, a full-time stay at home dad, making your way through school, or even if you’re taking on a potential hurdle in retirement, keep the walking baby in mind.

We can all benefit from keeping the walking benefit in mind. Fall down on your face. Get back up. Fall down on your butt, get back up. Repeat ad infinitum until you’re able to chase or be chased.

May there never be a time when you feel like staying down after falling. But let’s be real, there are those times. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. My daughter does that, too. Just reach out, let me know what you are going through that compares with learning to walk.