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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There Goes The Neighborhood:  Come on Over

A half-dozen liquor bottles were in view on their three-season porch, cigarette smoke wafted and the f-bomb was was dropped at shouting volume while I played in the backyard with my five and one-year old. There goes the neighborhood.

The next-door neighbor of mine for the past nine years sold his house. Then the rental sign went up, and the new neighbors just moved in.

My son wanted to “see” where the noise was coming from. Rather than peer over our fence, we introduced ourselves. Only the grandpa came to greet us, and he appeared genuinely warm through red eyes. He even has a grandson on the weekends who is the same age as my son.

The grandson was encouraged to come out, and he hit it off right away with my son. I’m a pretty understanding guy, and I understand the drive to indulge. I also understand the insanity that can proceed rounds of drinking. There are also certain behaviors I’d rather not expose my kids to at this age, but I said yes when my son asked if the grandson could come over and play. You could also bet that they were within my view the entire time.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Jesus in Mark 12:31. But these aren’t the neighbors that I want to love I think to myself in response. I was hoping for a quieter family, with two kids the same ages as mine, maybe even going to the same school. Heck, throw in a dad that I can relate with and invite over for BBQ.

He wants to teach me something else. Sure, these neighbors act differently that I choose to in my life now. They even look different than my family. So in order to help me find what He may want me to learn with this change, I think of what I’d like my son to learn.

Learn to respect people. Learn boundaries. Learn that underneath various shapes, sizes and colors, we are all really after the same thing. Learn to hand over the fear. We can love our neighbors without being close friends.

The thing with fear is that it is learned. My son wasn’t afraid of the f-bombs, the smoke or the drinking. Kids aren’t born afraid of people who look different than them. Even when you think your son or daughter isn’t watching, that’s probably when they are watching the most.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to go outside of my privacy fence to introduce myself. But I hope I my kids learned something from the action. I know I did.

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.

knife

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.

If the Problem Isn’t the Problem Then What is?

Screaming about not wanting me around at the breakfast table, and then continuing to say Daddy help me over and over as we were approaching t-minus ten minutes before departure to morning drop-off.

Antagonizing his one-year-old sister with mussing her hair and picking her up until she screams with frustration.

Lost keys. Missing shoes. Arms wrapped tight unwilling to let go at daycare drop off. A hand digging in her own diaper early in the morning when it desperately needed changing. And by desperately, I mean poop-filled.

All of these problems are enough to make me want to scream at times. And I have to admit I have. I can be one of those brute force you-better-stop-it-right-now kind of dads. Sometimes. Sometimes I can playfully laugh off the innocence of kids expressing their independence or exploring the world.

Sitting in church, the idea was presented that the problem is not the problem, but it’s how you approach the problem. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the problem of how to stop my five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter from fighting over snack. (Each had a different dried cereal and each wanted to dig their hands into each others.)

I can’t say I handled the above snack situation real well, so I decided to try handling a different problem not as how I wanted to react, but rather by responding in a manner that turned the “problem” into something else.

Every Monday night, I have a 7:30 meeting, and my wife puts our two kids to bed. On this particular evening, my son and I were wrapping up an impromptu sorting of his approximately 200+ marble collection when it was time for me to head out.

marbles

He then proceeded to turn it into a flick-the-marbles-down-the-hall game as I hugged him good-bye. Marbles began flying everywhere across the hall and into the guestroom and bouncing off walls. My problem alarm started sounding inside my head.

But rather than say, “don’t” or “that’s not how marbles are supposed to be played,” I used a string to make a circle across the hall and turn it into a game. He didn’t really buy the game idea, but he continued to enjoy flicking the smooth pieces of glass everywhere.

I calmly walked away thinking to myself, “He’s having fun, and they’re just marbles. Let him have a good time entertaining himself with them.” (You could say I didn’t lose my marbles.) “We can pick them up together later, or I’ll just do it.”

I let it go and really didn’t even think about it again, until my wife mentioned the marbles when I got home. And guess what? My son picked up the marbles.  Without even being asked. Without. Even. Being. Asked.

What I perceived as a problem didn’t even become a problem. Our problems are of our own making, and I chose to not make this one a problem at all.

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. 

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.

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.

Ninety Percent of My In-Person Time with My Kids is Happening Now

Raising young kids takes up time. Lots of time, as an understatement. So much time is spent feeding, changing, cleaning and playing with them that when I rented The Force Awakens from the library, the DVD was never even inserted before the week loan period expired.

Time. We are here for a short time. You hear it all the time. But recently a blog title Wait But Why popped up in front of me with an article titled The Tail End.

He uses visual charts to display how many months, days and weeks are given to a person who lives to be 90. The charts also display things like how many more times he will see The Red Socks play or how many more chances he will have to swim in the ocean or eat pizza.

The thing that stood out to me was his stat that by the time he left for college, he had used up the 93% of his in-person parent time.

This stat applies to me in the fact that I’m 37 and the majority of my in-person time with my parents has been used up. But applying this to the time with my own kids, this big picture perspective makes me want to spend more time with them.

Time with the kids

My wife and I do a good job putting the kids before dishes, reading to them every night and taking things slow on most weekends.

This idea that 90% of the time I’m going to have with my kids in-person is happening right now makes me want to shut off the phone more, drop what I’m doing when they ask for something, and play. Just follow them around and play. This precious time–as stressful and chaotic as it can be at times–is just that:  precious.

My son is five. My daughter is one. We are in the thick of raising two kids. In the thick of constantly running the dishwasher, tears being shed regularly, short nights of sleep. Sweeping the floor at least five times a day, wiping butts and the inability to have a grown-up conversation for more than a minute and a half.

But we’re also in the thick of the 90% of our time with them. God help me be present and content with our time together. And thanks Tim Urban for writing The Tail End.

An Eye for An Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

There are many things I didn’t prepare myself for when I became a father. Among these is the great wonder of what I did with all of my free time prior to children.

I also didn’t prepare myself for the fact that children can bring the worst out of you. But the idea that I am focusing on is that I can stop certain behaviors from moving down generations.

There are certain things that I know I said I would never do that my dad did. Now, my dad is a very good man in many ways, but we all have flaws. Whenever I would be upset at a friend, my dad would say don’t get mad get even.

This “tooth-for-a-tooth mentality” built up many resentments within me over the years. I never really sought revenge but rather wished ill will towards people who I felt had done me wrong. What kind of good does that do?

And just yesterday, I’m in church hearing that I should love my enemies, especially my enemies. For everyone loves their friends and family, but how many people can say they love their enemies. Simple basic Christian stuff, right? Sure, but far from easy.

A recent example of this that comes to mind is the representatives from Charleston who forgave the assassin after the Charleston Church shooting in June of 2015. Here are church members who lost loved ones in an act of pure hatred, and they are forgiving the shooter.

I can only hope to model such behavior some day. I know I am no where near capable of this at this time, but I can sense the concept that forgiving others is relief to ourselves. There is something about freeing up my headspace from those negative thoughts.

We are currently experience a strong test against listening in our household, both with our pre-schooler and the almost one-year old. And when I’m in the throws of such defiance, I am one to hold threats like, “please do not talk to me like that or you will need to go to your room.”

This came up just the other day when my pre-schooler was in my face and antagonizing the baby. I had asked for space and he continued.

Drawing the line, I carried him upstairs after numerous threats. I’m pretty sure he wanted to see if I would in fact follow through. (History shows that I can be a pushover a times.) So I did. I set a timer for three minutes, and he took time in his room to think about listening.

I made sure to provide a loving boundary rather than a stomping foot of judgement to make my point. He is obviously not my enemy but there are definitely times where fatherhood can feel like a battle. And in those times, be sure to love your enemy.