Encourage a Lifestyle Change

OK, moms, we need your help. We’re pleased to be receiving feedback from you because you read the lifestyles section of your local newspaper and have seen us there. Or you’ve come to one of our workshops on helping your husband make better connections with your teen. But you have to help us reach dad. We suggest that you pull out our column or copy our blog and ask dad to spend a couple of minutes reading. We appreciate hearing from you—honest we do. We’d also like to hear what’s on his mind.

We know that dads grab the sports section and maybe scan the headlines in the main section. We also know that dad isn’t going to gravitate easily to lifestyles where we usually appear and where he can pick up tips on gardening, making banana bread and cleaning the garage. So, Mom, you’ve got to steer him in our direction. Maybe he’ll slowly but surely recognize himself in some of what we have to share.

True Confessions

When we sat together over lunch years ago, we didn’t just start spewing out our frustrations about our teenage sons and daughters. It was a gradual discovery because we felt self-conscious and maybe even a little guilty about our feelings. We were pretty sure we were the only dads who thought their teenager ought to show more gratitude. That didn’t feel right; yet that’s how we felt. We wanted to hear “thank you” more often because, doggone it, we’d sacrificed a lot.

When we confessed that sentiment to each other over gyro salads, we each immediately perked up and admitted we sometimes felt the same way. We were pleasantly surprised to know that there were two of us in the universe who felt unappreciated. If it was a show of insecurity, at least we were no longer shouldering that burden alone. We were equally insecure. We were beginning to like our lunch chats.

This Ain’t No Bull

After talking with other fathers, we discovered that there are a lot of dads out there who would appreciate some show of gratitude from their teenagers. Our focus groups reminded us of those bull sessions we used to have in college when the guys would gather in someone’s room and no subject was off limits. The conversations and confessions lasted into the wee hours.

That’s why we launched our enterprise. Grown-up guys don’t have a dorm room to gather and shoot the breeze. There just aren’t many opportunities for dad to let his hair down and speak frankly with other dads. He may not have time. He may not want to. He may want to but not know how to express what he feels. He may not stop long enough to think about what he feels.

Mom, we appreciate you. Keep reading us. And if you don’t see our column, ask your paper to carry it. And encourage that guy in your life to read us, too. We’d like to know what’s on his mind.

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By dads2dads

Am I Going Deaf or Did You Get Your Tongue Pierced?

Half of all sounds that come from our teenage offspring is unintelligible. At least it seems that way. Hey, dads, imagine the gems we may be missing. “Dad, I really do love you.” “Dad, you’re right.” “Dad, let’s be pals.” If you’re like us, what you hear is muttered under the breath and only slightly audible. It must, therefore, be snide and sarcastic. We know — we’re jumping to unfair conclusions. Come on, kids, speak up— quit biting your mother tongue!

Hearing Loss

Here’s what we think. There is a period of time, ranging from a few years to a few more years, when teenagers purposely mumble! I dare you to hear what I said, dad. We figure it’s a form of rebellion. They may have to speak when spoken to … but they’ll keep the volume low. Their strategy works. You’ll be forced to say, “I can’t hear you.” You’ve just given them their cue to blast you off the sofa. “I SAID, I DON’T THINK I’M GOING TONIGHT!”

“You don’t need to shout.”

“Well you said you couldn’t hear me.”

“I didn’t say to yell.”

“I wasn’t yelling!”

“There, you just yelled again!”

And the conversation finds itself between a rock and a hard-head. (We won’t identify who’s who.) You wish the conversation could return to where it all started — a mere whisper.

Drive-Thru
We’re pretty sure that the reason you pull up to one of those speakers at the fast-food drive-thru and hear a combination of Martian and McSpeak is because at the other end of the intercom, wearing a headphone and speaking into a mouthpiece, is a conniving and spiteful teenager! “WehdlcomnrtoMgsbifhndourhsbtoday?” Smile, you’re on camera, too, which gives Mumbles the extreme pleasure of watching your face contort as you try to decide if you should respond with a “Yes,” “No thank you,” “No, I don’t wish to make it a combo,” or “Huh?”

Conspiracy Theory

We have a theory. A reason why teenagers choose to speak without making a coherent sound is because they think dad is going to disagree. If dad can’t understand what is being said, he can’t say no — and life will be much more pleasant. Of course, we walk right into the trap. We ask son or daughter to repeat it.
Here it comes loud and clear! “Dad, I just told you.”

“No, sweetie, you told that piece of lint on the rug by your shoe.”

“Whatever.”

“Please repeat what you said.”

Big sigh. Big inhale. Big huff. “Never mind!”

“Thanks, dear. I’m glad we cleared that up.”

It’s None of Our Business

Finally, maybe our teenagers mumble because what they have to say just isn’t any of our business. We don’t have to know because they have it handled. It’s under control and we’re just in the way. We’re not sure who promoted them to independence, but we’d like to take advantage of that growth spurt and hand over their car insurance premium. That will really make them incoherent!

By dads2dads

Ghostly Dads of Divorce

We appreciate the feedback from readers. One query asks, “How do you deal with the feelings of being a ghost when you’re a divorced dad? It seems like those feelings are even more pronounced when you’re a single dad. Where can you go to get help or answers while you sit on the sidelines because your son or daughter lives with mom?”

Being invisible in a divorced relationship takes on a new dimension. When Bill picked his younger son up from third grade one day, he seemed unusually quiet. After some silence in the car, the youngster finally told about a classmate who had raised his hand and announced that his parents were getting a divorce. Soon, six or seven other students raised their hands and shared a similar story. Each was bothered and had thought he or she surely was the only one in that situation.

Families Can Break Apart

Discussion in class quickly changed from the subject at hand to the feelings of the children in these separated homes. This was startling news to Bill’s son. It hadn’t occurred to him that parents could separate, that families could break apart. He took it for granted that his friends’ parents, as well as his own, would always be together.

But divorce is a prevalent part of life. Most estimates place the divorce rate in America between 40 and 50 percent. Most of us can quickly identify a family member or friend who is divorced.
So how do you deal with the feelings of being sidelined when you’re not with your child?

A Few Keys for Dad

If being on the sidelines means you’re not around your teenager, try to maintain contact through e-mail, letter, phone or social media. Try to establish some kind of presence in his or her life (making sure you are following stipulations of the divorce). Certainly the emotions and the desire to connect on both sides depend on the specific circumstances of the marriage break-up.

If emotional wounds need to heal, allow ample time. Perhaps you can make an appearance later.

If you are relegated to the sidelines due to divorce or separation, you might start the healing process by assuring your teenager that:

  • It’s not his or her fault. (Mom needs to help with this, too.) Your local library or bookstore will have helpful resources on this issue.
  • It’s not your child’s role to be involved in the disappointment, hurt or anger of the separation. Keep the adult problems confined to the adults.
  • It’s not your job to make up for the loss. Don’t schedule too many activities. Keep together times simple, allowing room for discussion.

It is your job to be there for your child if permitted in the divorce decree. Your presence is important, even if it’s not continuous and even if it sometimes seems your child isn’t interested. Your son or daughter’s reactions will vary and occasionally they will be hard to understand. You need to reassure your child that your love is constant. In most situations, your presence is the most important thing you can provide. It just may not always seem so.

By dads2dads

Disappearing Dad

It can be a conversation as profound as the Dali Lama’s influence on contemporary world relations to a question as seemingly simple as, “How do you think this shirt looks on me?” to a conundrum like, “Lindsey asked me to the dance on Friday, but I already told Sharon I’d go with her. What do you think I should do?” You listen, you percolate, you have something constructive to offer. But, dad, you may never have a role in any of those dramas.

Is it that the people you love the most are trying to exclude you? Is it the fact that your teenager doesn’t trust your advice, doesn’t think you know how to help him or her or doesn’t feel comfortable asking you? How do you shed that cloak of invisibility? How do you invite yourself in?

Jim in one of our focus groups summed it up best. “I couldn’t really talk about this ghostly feeling with anyone. It could have been just my imagination because nobody else saw it. They thought I was there. But I felt I’d just sort of slipped away.”

Graduating to Irrelevance

In some instances you might feel quite invisible. In another, you might even achieve irrelevance. You mutter something. You get a quizzical look. “What are you talking about Dad?” Finally, after you’ve crafted a perfect response to your teen’s dilemma, your words spill out in a foreign tongue.

“Zhhhrhrgst heilm dldlkdts.”

If you’re fortunate enough to untie your tongue and make it known that you may actually be able to help … well, you’ve probably heard one of the following responses:

1. “Dad, it’s just that you never listen.”

2. “Dad, you wouldn’t be interested in what we’re talking about.

3. “Dad, you never agree with anything we say.”

4. “Dad, you just don’t understand!”

“Intensional” Relationships

It is a natural evolution of the father-teen relationship, which we describe as “intensional,” the built-in tension between parent and child.

Daughters experience the tensions of the teens. They must deal with the mysteries of their evolving female physiology. They assemble an arsenal of snipes and snubs as the result of peer rivalry. Boys experience their own challenges. Often they’re boys in men’s bodies.

Both daughters and sons engage in a mental and emotional tug of war between dependence on and independence from mom and dad. They insist on being right, and because they often aren’t at that age, that drives their rightness even more. They are breaking through the cocoon and preparing … no, longing for that day when they will enjoy some measure of free flight.

Dad, you are also experiencing the tensions of your teens’ teens. You, too, must deal with your daughter’s evolving female physiology or your son’s desire to be Ford tough. (Tom has used the phrase “mood swings” at least 2,000 times.) When they’ve assembled their arsenal, they have to practice on someone. Often, the target is you.

Your teenagers rely on your judgments and opinions, while at the same time resenting the fact that they have to. They want you there, and they want you anywhere but there. Exactly the two places you want to be.

By dads2dads

You Might Recognize the Ghost at the Dinner Table

Many dads of teenagers tell a similar story. It has its origin around the family dinner table and goes something like this…

Mom and teen get into a spirited discussion. It may be about a difficult teacher at school, an unrealistic homework assignment or perhaps an emotional news item. As the discussion becomes more and more spirited, the conversation tornado takes off and dad is left behind. Oh he’s there. But he might as well be wearing a white sheet. He is not the object, even the indirect object, of any comments. If anyone glances his way, it’s only because he’s shifted in his chair and stepped on the dog’s tail.

“Is Alex under the table, Mom?” daughter asks as she peers below. “He’s not supposed to be in the kitchen when we’re eating.” Nor is Dad apparently.

Lumpy potatoes

Dad wants to solve the issue or make the perfect comment and signify his presence. But who will hear? The sheet covers all of him. He is a white lump in the mashed potatoes of fatherhood.

Many fathers have felt a bit invisible. You sit there, lump-like, and finally work up the courage to interject a comment. You know the perfect answer that can fix the problem, issue or perspective.

You seize your chance for an opening. A pithy comment. Just the right response. Out it comes!

“Ydhdhjjsjsjkkjuthiduduy.”

You’re met with blank stares – heard but not understood. You’re apparently speaking a foreign language no one comprehends.

“When I shared my ‘ghost’ experience with my daughters,” Tom says, “they responded, ‘Dad, get serious. We always knew you were there at the table.’ “

“Great. So I was visible, just ignored. I feel much better.” (Hmm, too sensitive maybe?)

Ghost is real

If you’re a dad and have kids who have been lucky enough to make it to their teens, there may sometimes be a sheet hanging on the back of your dining room chair, too. Perhaps you have felt the sting of invisibility or been anointed with the gift of speaking in a tongue that only you understand. Your teenagers will be surprised at that notion. They will insist that they always considered you part of the conversation. And they will tell you how grateful they were for your sage advice, however chopped, shredded or pureed.

Dad, there are times when you are — or will be — invisible. Your presence will not be warmly welcomed by your teenager. While it’s very real, it’s not forever. It has nothing to do with not being loved. It has everything to do with not be allowed access for a time to some very private territory. You’ll be on the outside, dad. But hang in there. There is a door. It opens from the inside.

By dads2dads

Suffering in Silence

After conducting focus groups with other dads, we have discovered two things: (1) we are not alone and (2) most dads suffer in silence.

If you’re the father of a teenager, you’ve experienced a roller coaster of feelings – love, fear, frustration, anxiety, anger, joy, loneliness and hurt. Nobody prepared you. There weren’t any parenting classes in school – no neighborhood chat groups for dads. Most of you are not sure you’re doing it right, and you don’t have anyone you can talk to about it.

Finding The Frequency
Moms commiserate and connect. Moms are better at and more willing to seek out those opportunities for social interaction with one another. Also, moms probably spend more time in the doctor’s office, at school or in the grocery store where those encounters with other moms naturally unfold.

Dads aren’t on the same frequency. First, we don’t easily admit to having a problem that we can’t fix. We’re fixers. It’s in our DNA. Second, we don’t often seek out the counsel of a fellow father because … well, hey, we’re fixers! We’ve got it covered. Third, when we are among other dads, we talk about … you guessed it … fixing things: cars, chain saws, drippy faucets. We pretend there are no rattles or leaks in our relationship with our kids as we stealthily scan the shelves for answers at our local bookstore or on the internet. Few titles, however, really speak to us as workaday dads. Where do we turn when there’s no guidance?

Preparing a Path
Teenagers, male or female, go through periods of maddening self-centeredness, independence, arrogance and irresponsibility. The overarching condition in which they live and breathe seems to be their incredible assuredness that they know what’s best. That’s because, “Dad, you just don’t understand.”

They’re right! Sometimes, we don’t understand at all! And they don’t understand us.

How do you admit you’re struggling with being a good dad? How do you balance career, marriage, and your roles as father, husband, wage earner and a fun guy? How do you respond with love and understanding when you come home from a tough day at work to discover that a tornado carved a path of destruction through your son’s bedroom, the living room and kitchen? And the note reads: “Had to run. Will call later. Need the car tonight.” Sound familiar?

We love our kids. We want the best for them. But we also want them to realize that their existence depends upon our clawing out of bed every morning and going to work. While they announce nearly every day that they can’t wait to live in their own condo and make their own decisions, we want to remind them that they live under a roof compliments of mom and dad. While they choose to ignore the dirty carpet, their dog’s empty water dish (with an emphasis on their), and the astronomical electric bill, house rules still apply.

Next week we’ll introduce a ghost that haunts us and, as we’ve been told, other dads. Let us know what haunts you as a dad. You can reach us at tomandbill@dads2dadsllc.com.

By dads2dads

How We Got Started

Hey, dad, how often have you wished that you and your teenage son or daughter lived on the same planet? Spoke the same language? On some days, liked each other? How many times have you felt puzzled, frustrated, angry, hurt or just plain perplexed but weren’t sure where to turn?

Our friendship and collaboration took root over lunch a few years ago when we were exchanging war stories about fatherhood and discovered that our teenagers were raising us in the same identical manner. And we did not appreciate some of our upbringing! We were stuck by how common our feelings (some not so admirable) and challenges (some monumental) were regarding our relationship with our kids.

Throughout many more lunches, the floodgates opened and out poured all sorts of issues and concerns. We met with other dads and learned that all of us shared many common frustrations and doubts about our role in the family and our relationship to our teenagers. We just needed permission to air those feelings and a venue where we could be open and honest.

So we moved out of the café and on to the page. We write for dads about dads by dads. It’s practical advice from guys who have managed to survive the typical minefields of “Dad-hood” and emerged scarred but alive.

We focus mostly on teenagers because that’s where our kids were when we started this journey – Tom with two girls and Bill with two boys – all about the same ages. We offer some tips and introduce some perspectives through our syndicated column, this blog, and our workshops. They say that confession is good for the soul. We sometimes serve up some soul food as well. And, yes, moms are welcome, too. In fact, Mom, you may need to tap Dad on the shoulder and introduce him to us. Use your elbow, if necessary.

We want to emphasize that we are not professionally trained therapists or counselors. If you are experiencing a serious problem with your teenager, something beyond the typical pitfalls of generational misunderstanding and misfires, then the extent of our assistance, if warranted, will be to refer you to an appropriate agency or organization.

It’s a rare event when fathers share deep feelings. It seems to us that moms have more opportunities (and are more inclined) to share with other moms. Dads, on the other hand, don’t seem to have either the will or a way to open up to one another. We appreciate and are grateful to The Daily News Journal for this opportunity. Dad, we hope our posts will provide you with a guide to the uneven road of fatherhood. And we hope you’ll join us. Let us know what’s on your mind. You can reach us at tomandbill@dads2dadsllc.com.

Now back to posting.

By dads2dads