Hang on, Dad—It Gets Better

If you’re a young father with adolescent or teenage children, then you are in the midst of the typical headaches and heartaches (oh yes, and the joys) of parenthood. You are trying your best to cope. You are often biting your lip, muttering under your breath, trying to understand, and restraining yourself from saying or doing anything that you might regret. It’s even harder during a pandemic!

Good luck. Because you’re human, there will be moments when you let something trip off your tongue that you wish you could take back. You may regret some of what you do and say. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most of us have the best intentions. We’re just not perfect yet.

Magic-moment memories

Both of us recall instances when we wish we could go back in time. Today, we have the advantage of hindsight. Reflecting on the past has its upside and its downside. We think back to those magic moments when we connected with our teenagers, when they listened to our advice, when our counsel was actually on target—and everything turned out well. (Ah, we were so wise!) The outcome may have been accidental or due to the grace of a higher power; nonetheless, it felt good when all was right with the world.

Those other memories

We also recall those times when we were not friends with our kids, when we felt unappreciated, taken for granted or simply dismissed. Or the times when we spoke in haste, said the wrong thing, let our patience slip, or simply made the wrong decision.

Always, we cared about our children. That never changed. At the time, however, we faced our kids on the battlefield of egos and control. It did not feel good to be disrespected and brushed off. Looking back, we realize that as hard as we were working to be effective dads, our teenagers were working at being teenagers. Sometimes they also felt brushed off and disrespected.

Here’s what we’ve learned, over and over and over. No one talks on a battlefield. There’s just a lot of combat.

Some sermons stuck, some stunk

It does a father good to see his son grow and say something that reflects a core value that once was the subject of too many parental sermons. Or to hear his daughter condemn behavior for which she herself was once admonished. We have learned that most—not everything—of what we tried to teach and instill in our kids actually stuck. And we confess that not everything we preached should have stuck.

We share these reflections to reassure you that, in most cases, you and your kids will come through these turbulent years with a greater appreciation, understanding and, yes, respect for one another.

Take heart, dad. That day will come.

By dads2dads

Polarized

We have been stunned yet again by the death of another African American man, and we struggle with how to explain a state of affairs to our kids that seems so senseless. How do we bring this event home to our children? How do we make meaningful such a confusing and uncomfortable situation?

When we were working on our project of interviews with African American fathers a while back, we were surprised to hear the same story told over and over by each of the dads – I tell my son be watchful, don’t be idle, if you’re driving, have your ID out, put your hands on the steering wheel, don’t reach for anything unless you let the officer know, and be respectful. Each of these fathers had conversations with their sons we never had to have. And, it turns out, these fathers had much the same conversations with their fathers. Their worry was palpable. It got us to thinking.

Two worlds

We live in a society that is quite polarized today and includes two separate perspectives. When we speak to white friends, many are surprised and outraged by the recent events that have taken the lives of black Americans. However, when we talk to African American dads they express no surprise. They have lived a different experience as they have negotiated their daily lives. It is an experience we, as white fathers, do not face and can find hard to understand.

 

Moving forward

Our kids have witnessed too many losses of black Americans in our society. They may know some of the names, like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, and now, George Floyd. How do we explain the deaths of these men at the hands of those who are commissioned to serve and protect? It is a long and difficult process.

Facing ourselves

 But we need to learn and talk about these two perspectives. We need to face the discrimination that people still experience because of the color of their skin. We need to listen to the frustration and worry of our children and the concern they may have for black friends. This is a crisis in our country, and we need to help our children understand that we are all one human family. It does no good to think of some as “other.” We are not two ball teams, we are all on the same team.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It is time to face the problems that pull us apart. We are the solution, and it is up to us to help our children by listening, modelling, and having the conversations we need to heal our division.

 

By dads2dads

A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

How do two ordinary dads write about COVID-19? We’re not doctors or healthcare workers. Our medical knowledge extends to being at the other end of a scalpel for surgery. We’re two of millions of people absolutely in awe of the power of this raging virus—one that does not discriminate according to age, gender or status. It is merciless as it carves out paths across the nation and world and selects its hotspots to ravage specific populations. It is a reminder of how small and powerless we are.

Fond “regrades”

Dad, first of all, we hope you are instructing your youngsters and older children through this disease maze. Our families haven’t shown their faces for quite awhile in their neighborhood. We have all become creative in our isolation. We’ve received videos of our grandkids jumping off the sofa into a pile of stuffed animals, over and over. We’ve split our sides laughing at a 4-year-old grandson, pounding away on the piano keyboard and improvising a tune to “Give my regrades to Broadway!” (No, that is not a typo.) We’ve watched our granddaughter frolic in a camping tent, set up in a living room with no room to spare. Under ordinary circumstances some of the indoor behavior would be forbidden. Currently, however, almost anything goes, minus access to the knife drawer and the cat’s litter box.

How to be close apart

At this writing, staying home has been extended at least through April. Right now, it’s still kind of fun for the kids because their world of concern starts and ends at the toy box and the video library. Dad, you’re well aware of the world of hurt outside your front door. You know people who are alone in their homes, whose only conversation is with their cat. Maybe they are your neighbors or members in your church.

What a wonderful opportunity to impart values to your children, especially the older ones. If you can take the gang on a walking tour, we suggest conducting a “window waving” campaign. How many elderly people do you suppose are sitting at a window right now and just staring out? You might be surprised. Walk by, catch their attention, and wave. Step closer to the window and ask. “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

Get the kids involved

If you can locate their address, send them a card from your family. Or have the kids make and decorate a homemade card. If you are able to track down their phone number, call them, let it ring several times, and let your kids say hello. It’s no nosedive off the sofa into a mountain of stuffed animals, but one small gesture like that just might mean the world to an elderly person who lives alone.

“We’re all in this together” has become the new catch phrase, even as we avoid togetherness. Perhaps when this is all behind us, that statement will truly become words to live by.

By dads2dads

Keeping The Kids Engaged

During this time of the pandemic, we have become all too familiar with kids getting antsy, bored, maudlin, fussy, or just downright irritable and hard to live with. The space gets tighter and the nerves get touchier. What can we do to keep kids involved, still learning, and relatively calm?

Bill’s son built a fort in his living room for his kids. He cleared out a pretty large space and put up the big tent he’d bought for camping. His kids could carry toys and dolls in and out, play peek-a-boo, take naps, and hold pretend conversations. That provided days of fun. It was really special when they were able to get the dog in there.

With the richness of computer resources, you can reach out far and wide for encouragement and engagement without putting up the big tent.

For example, several zoos have virtual hookups where you can see their animals, roaming, eating, and resting. The Cincinnati Zoo has a Home Safari where they highlight one of their animals each time and conduct an activity for kids. The program appears on Facebook Live and is posted later on the Zoo’s webpage and its YouTube channel.

http://cincinnatizoo.org/home-safari-resources/

 

Two excellent zoos – the Smithsonian National Zoo and the San Diego Zoo – have set up web cams so you can visit with their animals.

https://nationalzoo.si.edu/webcams     https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/live-cams

Kids can engage in activities on Crayola’s create and learn page. You can sort by tools you’d like to use, the occasion, and the age of the child (or adult!).

https://www.crayola.com/athome

Cooking with your kids can be fun and is made easier by Food Network. They have kid friendly recipes, kitchen tasks, and tips.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/recipes-for-kids/cooking-with-kids

Aquariums are a great place to connect. Sites like Aquarium of the Pacific, the Georgia Aquarium, and the Tennessee Aquarium provide links to their exhibits.

http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/exhibits/webcams

https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/webcam/ocean-voyager/

https://www.tnaqua.org/live-cams/

 

Check out your local library online. Many have access to a variety of free books you can check out electronically and read from home.

 

Our state has the Tennessee Electronic Library which is a large virtual collection for Tennessee residents. Your state may have something similar. You can sit in your lounger, stay in your comfy pants, and access hundreds of books.

https://tntel.info/content/about-tennessee-electronic-library

 

The Indianapolis Library has a free video read-aloud service. Just click on one of the dozen books you would like to read and have at it. No library card necessary.

https://www.indypl.org/blog/for-parents/free-video-read-alouds

The site weareteachers.com highlights some virtual field trips on their website. Kids can have a learning experience without ever leaving home, fighting in the car’s back seat, complaining that they are hungry or asking when they are going to get there.

https://www.weareteachers.com/best-virtual-field-trips/

Check out a museum. The Boston Children’s Museum provides many online learning opportunities

https://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/learning-resources?mod=article_inline

Try investigating the International Space Station (ISS) and stepping aboard this incredible vehicle, meeting the current station crew, and taking part in STEMonstrations – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math demonstration on the ISS.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/suni_iss_tour.html?mod=article_inline

It’s important to engage with kids, keep the learning going, help maintain their mental health, and keep up their spirits. Hopefully these diversions will help during these trying times.

By dads2dads

Viral Impact

Like you, we have been stuck at home, social distancing, and scrubbing our hands frequently. The Coronavirus has left us isolated and worried. And it’s not just the elderly and infirm that it is affecting. Bill has a relative who died from the virus – 34 years old – after returning from a business trip. How could it have happened? And how do we prevent that sad outcome for others?

A teen’s environment is already a minefield of uncertainty, anxiety and worry. Add to those the volatility of a viral infection whose spread and cure are unknown.  Counselors have been dealing with increasing teen anxiety and depression over recent years. This indiscriminating and mysterious disease only adds to the load.

Listen, learn and teach

This is a time when we need to control the interactions of our kids and listen to them even more carefully. We suggest following:

Follow regulations of the Centers For Disease Control (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html)

Talk about the virus and its impact on your teen, their friends, and the world. Provide for balance in your discussions. Don’t become consumed with media reports but strive to remain informed.

Ask open-ended questions about how your teen is feeling and how friends are doing. Provide space for your child to respond—and listen carefully without judgment.

Watch for changes in teen behavior, such as withdrawal, obsessive focus on a recent event, even uncharacteristic silence.

Parental involvement can be key to the health of your child. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a teacher, counselor, minister or mental-health professional.

The known unknowns

We need to provide strong love and attention for our kids, know what is going on, and seek outside help when needed. In this uncertain time, perhaps that is the best knowledge to have – the knowledge of what we don’t know.

Developing resilience

Teens who are resilient adapt to bad things in their lives and possess the capacity to recover and move on, maintain perspective, think of things in a constructive way, and take care of themselves.

The American Psychological Association provides some tips for building resilience:

Communicate. Find someone to whom you can express feelings. This could be a parent, sibling, counselor, pastor, teacher, or community or school group.

Cool down. Find peace. Practice mindfulness. Take a few moments each day to let your mind find peace, where you can see the issues you are dealing with and let them pass you by.

Consistency

Find a routine for your day. Although we’ve been limited in our activities, the comfort of even a limited routine provides a sense of security. 

Care. For yourself and for others. Get enough sleep. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look for ways to help neighbors, family, and friends, even in these trying times.

Control. Set a few modest goals. Think about a time when you overcame a challenge. This success will help increase your confidence. And limit your intake of news, which can increase your stress.

Developing resilience doesn’t eliminate stress or anxiety. But it certainly prepares you to handle it more successfully.

By dads2dads

Walk the Walk

The poet Carl Sandburg once said, “I won’t take my religion from any man who never works except with his mouth.” Sandburg’s point crosses all disciplines and certainly is a precept that dads and moms can share with their teenagers: Talk is cheap. If you want to get ahead in the world and make your mark, you have to get involved and invest sweat equity. It’s popular to say, “If you talk the talk, you must also walk the walk.” It’s popular because it’s true.

The following is not original, but for the life of us, we can’t find the source. So we share it anyway because the message is important:

A story about everybody and nobody

There were four persons named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was asked to pitch in. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

Holding the bag

If you need to pause here to clear your head, that’s fine. Then ask your teenager if or she has ever been the victim of an unfinished job—or has ever been left “holding the bag,” as another popular saying goes. It is especially unsettling when the job may have been someone else’s in the first place and all he or she got accomplished was to talk about doing the job. Then somehow the expectation became someone else’s burden to carry.

Loose ends

Things go wrong and projects fall through because someone assumes that someone else will gather and tie up the loose ends. What if the stage crew at school failed to fasten down the flats for the school play? What if your teenager’s teacher graded only the first two pages of the term papers? What if the football team practiced offense all day and never worked on defense?

Work or watch

Following through when you say you’re going to do something can be a positive ID tag. Leaving loose ends dangling can be a negative label. We all know people who are eager self-starters—they start jobs but never see them through. You’re familiar with those professional movers—those who pick up the load and move it to your shoulders?

Remind your teen that leaving a job unfinished is a bad habit that comes with a surefire guarantee. When a person fails to finish the job, s/he seldom is called upon for another job. S/He becomes a spectator, watching others reach success.

By dads2dads

Be Mine

Note to Dads: 2-14-20 is Valentine’s Day. There’s still time to get that special someone something but you’re running short on time. Just make sure it’s more than a cheap card you pick up at the gas station while you’re filling up. Give it at least a little thought this morning and take a few minutes during lunch to run the errand and put yourself in good stead.

Make a card, write a poem, buy a special book, pick up some flowers or candy. Just do something special for that special someone.

Why?

Because it’s important. Sure it’s traditional. But if this day didn’t exist, many of us wouldn’t get around to expressing love for that special someone.

We’re talking about love and we’re going to focus on your spouse. If you happen to be separated, then honor your child by showering love on him or her.

We often hear “Oh, my wife already knows that I love her.” Or “It’s just some made-up holiday. I don’t like to be dictated to.” Or “It seems so contrived. I think there should be a good reason to say ‘I love you.’ ”

Well, brother, we’re here to tell you, “Get into it!” Today, show how much you care.  Say “I love you”. Kids need it, spouses love to hear it.

Expressing Love

We sure don’t tell our teens enough that we love them and we don’t tell our spouses often enough either. As we’ve said before, it’s free, it’s needed and it’s highly effective. On Valentine’s Day, it’s ok to say, “I love you.” Your special someone need not have done anything special. There doesn’t need to be a reason. Valentine’s Day is the reason. Watch the reaction.

Children watch how parents treat each other. They learn that way. As they grow it’s a pretty good bet they will treat their special someone that way. The important thing is not what you do but that you do something to show your love. Re-connect with your spouse on this special day. You’ll thank us tomorrow.

The Art of Kindness

Love is its own power. How often are we loving and kind? We stumble through many days, besieged by challenges, obstacles, and competition. Sometimes it seems like a war zone. Some of us are in a war zone, far away from loved ones. But as the Bible says, love is patient and kind. It doesn’t keep score. It always hopes, always perseveres, never fails.

This is the day to try it out. And don’t let it end today. As Shakespeare wrote, “Love lives not alone immured in the brain but with the motion of all elements,
courses as swift as thought in every power,
and gives to every power a double power, above their functions and their offices.”

So don’t let Valentine’s Day go by. Create something special with a gift you’ve made or purchased. Say “I love you,” and watch the reaction. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

By dads2dads

Goof Off With Your Kid

Hey, dad, ask your teenager if the school principal ever said, “It’s about time you started goofing off.” Or has your boss at work ever said, “Quit working so hard. Goof off a little”? When was the last time someone at home ordered, “Get with it—goof off some.”? Sounds ridiculous, right?

We adults give each other that kind of advice all the time and it seems perfectly acceptable. We say things like, “Hey, it’s time you stopped working so hard.” “You deserve a break.” “Quit taking everything so seriously.” “Lighten up!” or “Relax! You need a vacation.” All of us get too caught up in the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute grind of living. We do take many things much too seriously.

Dad, go ahead, tell your teenager to goof off a little, to take a break. And goof off right along with him or her. Join forces and do something fun, silly, off the cuff. Find the nearest arcade. Play golf or tennis or go bowling. Rent a tandem bike. Blow the dust off the ball and gloves and play catch. Visit the nearest elementary school and get dizzy on the merry-go-round. Top it off with three scoops of ice cream … or flag down one of those musical ice cream trucks that haunt some of the suburbs.

Pull mom into the fray. (She may resist because “someone has to fold the laundry.”) Help her. Make a game of it. Play catch with socks … put them on your ears … tie several together and try shooting hook shots into the clothes basket. When mom throws a fit and bars you from the room, hit the frig and build a tall scrumptious sandwich. When mom threatens you with the iron skillet, promptly grab the sandwich, vacate the kitchen and have a picnic under a tree.

Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Are you guys nuts? Well, maybe we all need to go a little nuts. Goofing off requires skill, imagination and finesse. It’s not malicious and nor ever intended to harm anyone. (Mom’s really laughing to herself.) It’s merely a prescription for letting off steam—for putting some life into your life. Doctors tell us that laughter produces a positive physiological effect on our bodies. It releases tension. And because of the changes it creates in our body chemistry, laughter can actually heal. So self-medicate. Goof off a little.

By dads2dads

A Thicker Skin

It seems more frequent that the news includes a story about a young person lashing out at society because he or she feels that life has done him or her wrong. This behavior isn’t limited to teenagers. Adults, too, are quick on the draw when they are challenged or involved in some kind of dispute. We are quick to fix blame on anyone else but ourselves. We are fast on the draw and ready to “shoot now and ask questions later.”

Humankind seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. People have lost jobs and homes. Investments have risen only to plummet. People have drawn lines in the sand and dared others different from themselves to cross those lines. Rulers across the world are killing their own people because of the lust for power and riches.

It’s all in the family

There’s not much we can do as individuals to control or change the behavior of governments. However, at the core of every society there is a building block—the family. Good teaching, role-modeling and seed-planting begin within the family unit. If the family is strong and parents instill values within the walls of their homes and the minds of their children, then our foundation will remain strong—even while life chips away at the brick and mortar.

Give your teenager tools

So let’s focus on the foundation. Dad, here’s where you can ply some wisdom and mental muscle toward your teenager—your son or daughter who is still relatively receptive and somewhat malleable. Help your teen develop a thicker skin. Throughout life your son or daughter will encounter ridicule, scorn, perhaps prejudice. There will always be insensitive people. Your challenge is to teach your child to absorb it, hold steady and move on. Confrontation requires at least two opposing sides. Not everything—not every disagreement or harsh word spoken in haste—requires a showdown.

And the rest is history

Remind your teenager of a few noteworthy individuals who, as objects of ridicule and scorn, chose to be proactive and constructive rather than reactive and confrontational. Walt Disney was once fired because his boss felt he had no artistic talent or good ideas. Beethoven was told by his music teacher that he would never compose anything worthwhile. A young man named Hershey was laughed at by businessmen because he insisted he could make a lot of money selling a chocolate bar. Fifteen year-old Albert Einstein was told he might as well drop out of school because he lacked interest and personal discipline. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than 25 years because of his opposition to apartheid and later became president of the new South Africa. Comedian Eddie Murphy’s brother and friends used to make fun of him when they saw him performing on a pretend stage and telling jokes to himself.

Remind your teenager that true strength comes from restraint. True genius lies in the ability to ignore ridicule and scorn and rise above it. People who pump themselves up by putting others down have to live with themselves. Your kid gets to live with a genius.

By dads2dads

Just Getting By

Ho-hum is not a goal

Too often in life many of us choose just to get by … do a ho-hum job or put forth just enough effort to meet minimum expectations. There’s no future in that. Opting for mediocrity is a sure-fire way not to stand out, not to be singled out for a special achievement, not to exceed. This time of year your teenagers may be looking for a summer job, serving as a camp counselor, perhaps preparing for college in the fall. Emphasize to them that in pursuit of a new life challenge leading toward adulthood, if they put forth their best effort and reach beyond their grasp, they will never be considered just mediocre.

Expect it and you’ll get it

Mediocre. Ugh. Even the word sounds average, less than desirable. Have you ever watched a mediocre show, eaten a mediocre hamburger, received mediocre service? If you have, hopefully it took only one lousy experience for you to look at other options. Mediocre quality and service exist only when we expect nothing better—when we don’t demand excellence.

Dad and Mom, your expectations of your children should be reasonable but also remain high. And your children’s expectations of themselves should reflect those same high standards. If your son or daughter is approaching a milestone in his or her life—college, a new job, the start of a career, a position of leadership, a business venture, a promising new relationship—it is important to make clear that quality stands out in the choices they make, the effort they put forth and the ultimate outcome. If your teenager settles for mediocrity—just does enough to slide by—it will stick like glue.

It’s everywhere!

This is difficult because mediocrity surrounds us. Too often we remain complacent or unmoved by it. The mediocre teacher or professor reads from the same yellowed notes year after year. The committee meets, hardly anyone attends and nothing ever gets done. Let’s face it. It’s quite human to shrug off mediocrity because to improve or change something is too much hassle and will create a fuss or hurt someone’s feelings. We think, nobody cares so why should I?

Kick it out of the house, under the bus

Dad, Mom, don’t accept mediocrity from yourselves or your teenagers. When we take life simply as it is dispensed to us—when we are satisfied with ho-hum people, products and service—we endorse it. Mediocrity thrives and becomes the norm. Dad, can you imagine a worse epitaph than “He lived a mediocre life”?

Expect excellence. Model it for your kids. Set high standards and take aim at them in everything you do as an individual and as a family. When you demand excellence from yourself and refuse to settle for less, your teenager will follow your example. Face it, our kids have a lot of examples out there, and they run the spectrum from good to OMG. Parents need to be the gold standard.

Reject mediocrity. Strive for excellence. Live it. Give it. Expect it from others.

By dads2dads

Avoid Living Only in the Future

Hey, dad, we wrote this one for your teenagers. If you can collar them for just a few moments, please share this post with them. If they won’t stand still long enough to lasso them in, then please pass on the following sentiments.

If they are like every other teenager in the world, they’re probably being urged, coaxed and prodded to think about their future. And there’s probably a tug of war going on inside their heads between the here and now and the out there and whenever.

The future as propaganda

Nothing gets more propaganda than one’s future, especially for those who have most of it still in front of them. Your teenager hears it from all sides—from parents, teachers, bosses, college advisers, recruiters, even peers. The message is the same: What are you going to do with your life?

You’re not alone, dear teenager. In addition to you and many of your friends who are struggling with this riddle, many adults—maybe your own parents—also continue to wonder what they’re going to do with their future. They just have a little less of it.

We put today on layaway

Think about how much we do that is connected with life that hasn’t happened yet. We save money. We invest for a pay-off later on. We maintain a special rainy-day fund. We make to-do lists. We write down things to remember. We take exams that will influence and reshape tomorrow. We plan for holidays that are still months away. We think about trips.  We buy things on layaway. We take out insurance to be ready for what might happen years from now. We plan for retirement. As newbies into this world, we get a social security number, which, throughout our future, will serve as proof that we exist.

Slow down, the future is always ahead of you

The future isn’t a destination. It’s not like arriving at school or stopping at the gas station. Your future is composed of intangibles—hopes, dreams and possibilities. The future urges you to keep moving, changing and growing. Simply put, the future is that part of life that once you arrive, you’re still not there. No wonder it’s hard to look at and to answer that probing question: What are you going to do with your life?

Kids should goals but keep them flexible. Evaluate them. Discard those you lose interest in and make new ones. Keep your options open. Now’s the time to try new things, to make new discoveries and prepare for sudden forks in the road. Welcome those sharp curves and U-turns. These detours help you evaluate the direction you’re taking. Relax.

One thing is for sure: The future will always be there—and it will wait for you until you are ready to tackle it. For even though the future is a great place to think about, the present is the best place to be.

By dads2dads

Keeping the hotline open and tuned in

There was a powerful TV movie that aired a while back about teenage suicide. The movie conveyed the idea time and time again that there are too many “unlistening ears” all around us—in school, church, our social circles, even in our own families.

The sad refrain from a friend or teacher or parent often is, “Why didn’t I listen? Why didn’t I notice—there were so many signals. Why didn’t I ask questions? Why didn’t I stick my nose in a little?” Often, however, the reasons remain inexplicable.

Lending only half an ear

At the end of every day, don’t we all regretfully recall moments when we failed to stop and really listen to someone about whom we cared? Think back. Did you quickly dismiss someone in the family this morning because you were running late and you hardly heard what they were telling you? Were you irritated about something to the point that you mentally blocked out everyone around you? Were you so focused on the big meeting or the job evaluation or the client luncheon that everything that happened or was said earlier that day is a blur? It’s easy to do, and we’re all—young and older—guilty of it.

Test yourself

Try this little exercise. Think back to this morning between getting out of bed and walking out the door of your house. Replay any conversation that you had during that time. What did you say to someone? Who was that someone and what did he or she say back to you? Was there a time or location change for any upcoming event? Did someone (who?) need some cash? Did you give him or her money—how much—and what for? Did someone (who?) mention being late coming home today? Did anyone (who?) grumble about a problem while gulping down his or her cereal? Speaking of cereal, what did your teenager have for breakfast this morning? What did youhave for breakfast?

Okay, this morning could be hours ago. Let’s make it easier. Play back in your mind a two-way conversation you’ve had within the last hour. What was the subject, and what was the outcome? Matter of fact, who was the last person you talked to just before you started reading this?

Living in a haze

We are often so busy that we function in a haze. Today did anyone try to get your full attention but only get a fraction of it? If your answer is no, are you sure? How often do you have an unlistening ear, at work or at home? Or do you even know?

Parents, make a conscious effort to listen intently to your kids. Test yourself often. Play back a conversation and see if you can recall the details of what was exchanged or decided or solved. Turn your unlistening ears into help hotlines. Keep them open and receptive.

By dads2dads

The Big F

Grades. They are the stone in a student’s shoe … the tag on the back of the shirt that constantly irritates. With such mandates as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” grades are a big part of the pressure cooker in which students, teachers and administrators exist. They are a necessary evil, mostly evil to those students whose grade print-outs look like alphabet soup.

Surrounded by Nurses

Tom recalls his big F when he was a college freshman. What he was doing in Human Anatomy and Physiology with a bunch of nursing students was a mystery to him (although being surrounded by nursing students was really quite okay). The mystery plagued him throughout the entire semester—and gradually became his rationale for merely coasting. Finally, he earned his rightful place of distinction—at the bottom of the class. It was a meltdown for his GPA, and, at the time, it seemed that his future was already in the past tense.

If your teenager gets good grades in school, count your blessings. However, we’re here to remind all parents that an F in school should not be viewed as a terminal disease. Instead it should be a wake-up call to both you and your son or daughter.

What the Heck Anyway

One high school sophomore found himself lacking a science lab credit. Because the labs that appealed to him were filled, he got stuck in biology. He rationalized that he wasn’t going to be a doctor or a research scientist, so he decided to slack off and just get by.

But he did less than just get by. He came late to class. Occasionally he just blew it off all together. When he did attend, he found it more challenging to sabotage the microscopes than to peer through them and learn something new. Or he would let his lab partner wade through the difficult stuff while he refined his drawings for art class. When his class ended, he achieved his big red F.

A Sad Epitaph for a Bright Future

The F didn’t mean he was dumb. It meant he didn’t care and didn’t try at all—both sad epitaphs for a young man who had counted on making the varsity team and winning a college scholarship. What a blotch on his permanent record, a blotch that could be a roadblock to other opportunities down the road.

Dad, take some time to help you teenager understand one of life’s bittersweet realities. A big red F isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a loud and clear signal to people who play an important part in his or her future—the college admission counselor, employer, scholarship committee, coach and others. Help your teenager to see that influential people who don’t yet know your son or daughter won’t realize how regretful he or she may be about that toxic F … or that bad-conduct report or that poor-attendance record.

People often know us only by reading our signals. Stress the point to your children that they need to be careful about the signals they send.

By dads2dads

Help Your Teen Think Ahead

At times we all act before we think. We snatch up a deal at the store only to realize later that we need three additional components (at regular price) in order to make it work. We utter an obscenity or make a rude gesture too quickly before we realize that our children were witnesses. We jump at a timeshare opportunity before we read the fine print and learn that we’ll have to pay for a long time before we get to share anything. We buy our friend’s boat at a steal with the dream of one day living near a body of water.

Those might be exceptions. Experience has taught us adults that we need to examine all the angles before we boldly go where no one has gone before — most of the time. It’s an acquired skill that comes with living for a lot of years—looking beyond the thrill of the moment to what may result down the road. 

The Past Comes Back to Haunt

Think of the myriad politicians and other public figures whose past indulgences finally catch up to them. Some of their indiscretions may well have remained hidden except for the fact that they chose public service as a career … a career path that, hopefully,  invariably fixes the spotlight on truth and can reveal unsettling consequences. 

Teens Run on Different Software

Teenagers seldom think in the long term. Their existence thrives on short-term investments of time and immediate rewards. They do what’s hip at the moment. Their jargon changes with every new reality show. They act by reacting to what’s popular and what’s going viral. They’re not programmed to think of consequences. Consequences are those things way out there in the future—that place that won’t get here for a very long time – like retirement. In their minds, there isn’t even a link between what I do today and what today may do to me tomorrow.

Today Shapes and Shakes Up Tomorrow

That explains, in part, why you shake your head in disbelief at the spider-web tattoo that suddenly shows up on your son’s arm—or make a strange wounded-animal sound when you notice your daughter’s belly-button ring glistening in the sunlight—or ask “What did I ever do to deserve this?” when your dearly beloved offspring is a star on YouTube.

The consequences of some impulsive acts fade away over time. But we all know there are turns in a youngster’s life that can have tragic consequences. Shrugging off school as a waste of time. Driving too fast. Experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Spending the night in jail. Becoming sexually active. Some consequences take life in a whole other direction.

Dads, talk to your teenagers about consequences. Help them to understand that the good—or the bad—that they do today will follow them and perhaps live long after them.  

By dads2dads

Maintaining control, allowing for independence

We have talked about the challenge of getting teens to listen, having them conform to some basic expectations and handling the struggle between control and independence.

If you have a teen, then the term “conflict” is no stranger. As we said, conflict is normal in a parent – teen relationship. But how do we manage the conflict, enforce expectations and still allow for growth?

Parents set limits, teens push them. It’s part of the growing process. That’s how teens become independent, fully functioning adults. Your job is to honor the struggle for independence and still ensure your son or daughter is safe. There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of success.

Prioritize Your Expectations

Communicate. Make sure you define some expectations but stick with the important ones. Dismiss others. Whether or not your teen continues to leave shoes in the middle of the floor or homework strewn all over the bedroom floor is not as important as whether a college application gets submitted by the deadline. Every parent has different challenges, and you know yours the best. Review your list and decide what is important and what can be let go. It is in this process that you gain a sense of control and relief.

Listen. Provide opportunities to your teen (lots of them and various ones) for self-expression. Have a conversation over coffee. Ask questions, including those that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. Think about what you’re going to ask ahead of time so you can generate real dialogue. And to repeat, listen to the responses.

There’s No Rush

Be patient. Change comes slowly. Often words also come slowly in a parent – teen conversation. Look for the right moment to spark a conversation. Watch for signs of joy and struggle in your teen. Be open to communication opportunities, and allow ample time for a thoughtful, meaningful and open exchange.

Be reassuring. Your teen may not say much; he or she may not thank you for what you do on a daily basis. However, you can be an anchor in your son or daughter’s life. You can be a dependable partner and a calming voice. Having parents who are stable, available, loving and who serve as positive role models is incredibly important to the development of healthy children.

Give and Take

Be understanding. This is a difficult one. But it is important to understand that kids need to create their own independence. Your job is to balance the desire for independence with a certain level of responsibility. The more responsibility they demonstrate, the more independence you can allow.

Be supportive. Growing up is hard. So is setting the stage and providing some direction. Your teen may be going through doubts, anxiety and uncertainty. However, s/he is also a terrific, intelligent, capable individual who needs the space to explore, to take “roads less traveled” and to grow.

By dads2dads

Why Do Teens Have Ears?

Teenagers. Do they ever listen? Heed our advice? Think that we’re anything but just dumb grown-ups?

Hey, dad and mom, how many times a day do you ask yourselves these questions in reference to those mysterious creatures living at your house … those teenagers. You ask them a question and their eyes glaze over. You make a request—their brain has set up camp on Neptune. You beg them to pick up their clothes, turn off the lights, set the table, dry the dishes, fold their underwear, fasten their seatbelts, do their homework, stop singing at the table, quit hitting their sister, watch their language … and their response is (D), none of the above. Instead, they crack their gum and peer longingly into their Smarty Pants Phones.

It’s All About Control

You know why this drives you—us—crazy? Much of it has to do with control. We’re gradually losing control of our teenager. Our teenager is gradually pulling away. At the same time, both sides are struggling to kinda … sorta hold on. The realization is that we’re losing our grip. Our kids are doing a test run with their courage and independence, and they are administering a final exam on our patience and endurance.

Many times we parents flunk the exam. Teenagers have the luxury of not responding, of dragging their feet, getting to a task whenever they feel like it. Their responsibilities are few. Most of them haven’t been introduced to the privilege of multitasking. For many, life is a lark. It is to be consumed, refilled, and used up again. (Oh, how we long for those days…)

An Uneven Playing Field

On the other hand, because parents jump on that job treadmill every day, bring home those life-sustaining paychecks, maintain a schedule, cancel that subscription for the fifth time, attend meetings, remember to thaw dinner or serve another microwave feast, serve as taxi drivers, pay bills before their due dates, call Aunt Edna, make, keep or change appointments with a thousand people—and make sure that their beloved teenagers have finished their homework … dear ol’ mom and dad often just don’t have the energy to joust with a rambunctious, rebellious teenager who never sits still.

Power Struggle

How do parents pull on the reins hard enough to cause their teenagers to slow down, to notice that they have parents and to listen?  Here’s a comforting thought. We don’t know. What we do know from what we have experienced as dads and from our conversations with other parents is that teenagers are involved in a power struggle. They need to fight the folks. “I’m trying to find out who I am. One thing for sure—I’m not like you!”

A teenager’s search for identity can be a difficult journey for everyone involved. As a youngster strives to grab his own reins, his parents feel the control slipping away. Parents, here’s a parting and hopeful thought: When you have thought or said, “We’re losing his/her love,” what’s really happening is you’re losing control—a very natural, but often maddening, transformation.

 

By dads2dads

Let’s Pretend

We remember as young boys when it was fun to dress up like cowboys or clowns or soldiers. As soon as the outfit was complete, our personality took on the qualities of that character. When we put on the black mask, white hat and twin holsters we were magically transported to the Wild West and the dusty trail that led to town.

When we fit the big red nose over our own and painted our face, we were transformed to Bozo, and our clownish laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood.

And there was no greater macho thrill than to rub mud on our faces and hunker down in the bushes as tough GI Joes.

Trying on new roles

Children like to pretend they’re someone else. They imitate good guys, bad guys, parents, teachers and sports stars. Playing make-believe is a way of trying out a new role, getting a sense of how it feels to be rich, brave, gorgeous or ruler of the world!

Your teenagers, too, try on new costumes nearly every day. Tom recalls his daughter who fit very nicely into her chip-on-the-shoulder sweater. Bill recalls his son felt quite comfortable in his cool I’ll let you know when I need you outfit.

Comfortable in our own skin

Dad and mom, at what stage did you truly start to feel comfortable in your own skin? When were you finally happy to be you and not someone else? Our guess is that most of you—most of us—began to feel that way as middle to older adults. Perhaps some who are in that age bracket still would rather be anyone else but themselves.

Teenagers try on many outfits because they are seeking an identity. They are looking in a mirror and muttering, “I wonder what this looks like on me.” As parents, we’re not always pleased—and sometimes we’re downright disgusted with, or afraid of, what or whom our teenagers choose to mimic. Some teenagers go to great lengths to be as outrageous and different as they can be. Taken to extreme, some of the resulting behaviors can be dangerous—and that’s when parents need to seek help.

Finding Values That Fit

For the most part, however, teenagers are simply disappearing into the dressing room and trying on values. How does this make me feel? How do I look? What do others think of me? Your teenager is going to run through the spectrum of identities, changing often along the way. Our job as parents is to be understanding, patient, and watchful. Change is usually a necessary progression to maturity and full-fledged adulthood. When it’s something more worrisome, help is warranted.

Mom and dad, although your young rebel may declare to the world, “I just want to be me!” he or she is striving to be anyone but! This search for identity—full of paradoxes and contradictions— is a natural part of growing up. Your job is to help your teen be comfortable and even delighted at who he or she is right now.

 

By dads2dads

Who’s Got the Cootie?

Tom remembers how cruel and insensitive he and other classmates were to Judy in grade school just because she was poor and wore the same dress to school nearly every day. The boys even played the game “Who’s got the cootie?”—which implied that Judy was dangerously contagious. Even today, years later, he is ashamed for taking part in such an ugly exercise and wishes he could apologize.

In 1962, memories are still vivid of Charlie, a black football player on the high school team—the only black player. Charlie made a great tackle on one of the star running backs. The star took offense and called him the n-word. Often Charlie stood off by himself in the locker room after practice. He knew his place. And his young teammates seemed okay with that.

Harmless Fun

In school the kid with serious acne was called Pizza Face. The kid with glasses was Four Eyes or Coke Bottles. The girl with freckles was the object of pretend connect-the-dots games. We held our noses when the kid with body odor got near us—and accompanied our disgusting gestures with loud protestations. Wanda stuttered, which opened her up to all sorts of Elmer Fudd and Woody Woodpecker imitations. Sissy Bill swung a baseball bat “like a girl.”

All in good fun. We weren’t really hurting anybody. At least, that’s what we thought.

“Boil Boy”

In eighth grade, Tom got a rash of boils. No one could explain why. (Maybe he earned them.) The one on the back of his neck was difficult to hide, so he wore a large bandage. It attracted much attention, and eventually he became Judy and Pizza Face and “Boil Boy” all rolled into one. All in good fun of course. Tom felt the sting of meanness and intolerance and insensitivity. In high school, taunting of many kids was louder, nicknames bolder, and practical jokes meaner.

Embrace Our Differences

A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that boys who “act like girls” and vice versa are at risk of abuse and bullying. Sons who play with dolls and daughters who play with toy soldiers, for example, sometimes experience rejection from parents and others. Too often we focus on and make fun of mannerisms that don’t conform—the way a person walks, talks, gestures, dresses or looks. There’s pressure to “fit in” and rejection if you don’t. This results in teens feeling isolated, harassed, and needing to form alliances that we may not embrace.

It Starts at Home

Negative behavior might start harmlessly but the blade of ridicule can cut deeply, leaving words that terrify and wounds that never heal. As parents, we need to be careful how we characterize others. We need to set an example our kids can emulate. It’s so easy for us to draw conclusions and be intolerant of differences. With a little care, we can be the ones to help spread the blanket of tolerance.

 

 

By dads2dads

Legacy

When Bill attended a funeral for a friend’s mother and two of his good friends were terminally ill,  the word “legacy” came to mind. We don’t often think about what we will leave behind—what our own personal legacy is—until we are confronted by our own mortality.

Remember that Tim McGraw song where the character receives a terminal diagnosis? When asked, “How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news? Man, whatcha do?”  

He replies, “Someday, I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dyin’.”

We Ask Questions Never Asked

We get hit upside the head by the reality of death within our family or circle of cherished friends. It jolts us.

It also causes us to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Are we the man, the husband, the father and the friend we long to be? Are we modeling appropriate standards to which others might aspire? How are we fulfilling and even reaching beyond our potential and, as a result, laying a solid, durable and lasting foundation? What is our legacy?

 We Reshuffle Our Priorities

If you have someone close to you facing a terminal illness, you know what we mean. It stops you in your tracks. Your priorities get scrambled. Things you took for granted aren’t so easy to ignore. Missed opportunities come back into focus. Friendships become more important. Those long-held grudges or barriers suddenly shrink in significance. Life—and the dynamics that make life lively and colorful—become more precious.

The end of someone else’s life impacts our own in profound and unforeseen ways. It causes us to take a harder, closer look at our own lives.

No Need to Wait

Dad, there’s no need to wait to begin examining your relationship with your family. We often just go through the motions and parenting becomes taxi service, clock-watching, jury duty, errand-running, and traffic control. We get so caught up in the mechanics of parenting that we might be overlooking how we’re living our lives—how we are behaving. Is your example one of caressing life … or just coping with life?

Dad, try this exercise. Think about your family … without you. What is your legacy to your children? What impact did you make? How would you describe it? Measure it? Did you leave footprints to follow—big shoes to fill? If you’re not sure, it’s not too late to start shaping your legacy.

As Tim McGraw sings,

“I was finally the husband,

That most the time I wasn’t.

And I became a friend a friend would like to have.

And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’,

Wasn’t such an imposition,

And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.

Well, I finally read the Good Book,

And I took a good long hard look,

At what I’d do if I could do it all again.”

 

By dads2dads

More News Than You Can Use

News. It’s everywhere, all the time. When we grew up, news was local … or national only if it was a major story on the world stage. It made a difference in our lives. It came either through the morning newspaper, at a specific time on the radio or television, or in a more reflective manner in magazine features.

The 24-hour news cycle has changed all that. It has opened the floodgates in news feeds on any subject—good, bad, sleazy or bloody–anytime, anywhere. We seem to have replaced significance and pertinence with constancy. What exactly is “breaking news”? Everything! That’s not necessarily good because it provides a skewed view of the world. Any anti-social, embarrassing, violent, disruptive, or otherwise negative event can be in our consciousness in a moment’s notice, regardless of its origin. The avalanche of news can desensitize us to its impact, and the reach and volume of stories and photos can overwhelm us.

Some helpful resources

How do we help our teens deal with such a plethora of information? The answer is not to disconnect. Rather, one response is to turn the news into a learning opportunity, helping teens sort the information, select and interpret the important stories and form an educated opinion.  Two programs might help.

The PBS NewsHour Extra helps high school students comprehend events and gain insight into why they should care. The program offers background to news stories and lesson plans. It provides opportunities for students to publish essays, or produce audio or video recordings about news events.

The “Newspapers in Education” program provides access to electronic newspapers from 40 cities across the United States to K-12 classrooms. Studies show that students whose teachers use newspapers in their classrooms score better on standardized tests, demonstrate better reading, writing, and comprehension skills, are more politically aware and exhibit stronger feelings of civic responsibility

Making sense of the news

It is important that we teach our teens to sort out the substantive issues from the sensationalized trash disguised as news. Thomas Jefferson said, “…wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government…” He was, of course, referring to the major issues in our society.

Your job, dad, is to guide your teen through the fluff, the sensational, the fictitious and the sleaze and help focus on major issues that make a difference.

Look for an opportunity to discuss news stories. Ask your teen what he or she considers the most important news story of the week and why. Pose a few questions that will cause your son or daughter to consider the impact of relationships, attitudes and shifts reflected in the news — questions that will place him or her in the circumstance described. This helps connect teens to the world and develops their skills to think for themselves.

 

By dads2dads

Th Independent Teen

This month we celebrate independence. It’s what was called for in July 1776 by 56 representatives in the General Congress. It’s what our teens strive for today. They clamor for more freedom. They plead for bigger responsibilities. They make a lot of noise about having more say-so over their own lives. Is it any wonder we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks?!

Those rebellious rebels

We live in a society founded on the principle of independence. In fact, it is our child’s job to exercise freedom from us. It is not an easy task. Many teens feel trapped, burdened and controlled. Many parents feel surprised, resentful, angry and disregarded. This road can be marked by restlessness, rebellion and rejection. Teens can move quickly between a need to be part of the family and a rejection of its values. Sometimes, it seems their whole purpose is to be confusing, unpredictable and difficult.

Guideposts for the journey

Ultimately, we want our kids to be independent, to be able to thrive on their own, to grow up and be successful. We can help this transformation along by remembering the following:

Responsible behavior gets you increased responsibility. Many teens (and adults!) have not learned this.

Work, get paid; don’t work, don’t get paid. You may have heard radio host Dave Ramsey say this and it’s true. You get rewards for honest, hard work. You don’t get rewarded very often for laziness and substandard contributions.

Make expectations and consequences clear. Allow your teen to participate in creating rules — for staying out, going on dates, balancing study and social activities, using the family car and driving responsibly, among others. These need to be discussed and determined together. While teens can’t set all their own rules and consequences, they do tend to follow rules a little better when they’ve been involved in establishing them.

Teach your kids how to make decisions by considering options and thinking about how their actions will reflect on them and impact others.

Your teen is still an important part of the family and must work within the construct of the family. While resistance is normal, cooperation is essential. Excessive disregard of family members tears at the family fabric.

Be consistent yet flexible in sticking to the rules and the consequences for not following them.

Expect some rebellion. Decide what to curtail and what to tolerate. Excessively strict monitoring of your teen’s actions is nearly as damaging as tolerance of all “independence behavior.”

Building a bridge

Understanding the rules, having a say in their creation, and recognizing the impact their actions have on the family and others helps teens become successful members of a broader society. You can begin to build this transition to independence by the actions you take now and the respectful environment you build together.

 

By dads2dads

It’s Just Politics

Political candidates will too soon be in full mudsling mode, trying to make themselves look better by making their opponents look worse. Everybody ends up looking pretty muddy. But if you use the elections as a learning opportunity for your teen, all will not be lost.

Use Political Campaign as Teaching Tool

It really has very little to do with whether you’re a Republican or Democrat and everything to do with how to treat other people. We think that parents can teach their teenagers a lot about what not to do and how not to act by observing the behavior of political candidates. We think political behavior has become disgusting and just plain tiresome. 

If You Can’t Stand the Heat …

Sure, we know the refrain: “It’s just politics … That’s the way the game is played.” And that’s exactly why it’s the perfect teaching tool. It never changes. You can pretty much depend on any political campaign to gradually depart from substantive issues and go for the jugular—to attack, embarrass, humiliate, and tear down.

Can you imagine what grade your teen would get on an essay if the assignment was to discuss why education is so important—and all he did was attack the teacher, downgrade the school, curse the establishment and put down his classmates? Or if the assignment was to write a critical essay on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and your daughter delved into Twain’s private life, castigated him for his religious beliefs and made fun of his hair! They’d both flunk. 

All Politics Is … Personal

Ridiculous, huh? That’s what politicking has become … personal attacks, counter-attacks, slinging sludge, drudging up one’s past, taking comments and events out of context and skillfully crafting half-truths. Somewhere along the way, the profession of politics has become less honorable and more self-serving. With an historically low approval ratings, how do members of Congress look into the cameras (or the mirror) with a straight face?

We Ought To Expect Better

Mom and Dad, you can certainly use our never-ending political season to point out to your teenager that this is not how they should conduct themselves to get ahead in school, at work, or in life. Men and women running for office ought to be those who aspire to represent greater ideals of human interaction and humanity itself. They should be intelligent, knowledgeable, honorable and truthful. They should also be humble, thoughtful, respectful and kind. We don’t typically associate those latter modifiers with political candidates.

Yet, we should expect those attributes of ourselves and our children. As parents, we should model the very best human behavior possible. Our efforts will win much more than a political contest. They will leave impressions for a lifetime.

 

By dads2dads

This One Is Really for Dad

OK, we acknowledge that many of our posts are targeted to both moms and dads. Sometimes, it’s difficult to speak to dads only. Parenting is a team effort, and moms are just as vital to the care and welfare of their offspring. After all, junior was certainly a team effort. It is our hope and wish that all teenagers are surrounded by the love of an involved mother and father.

However, today’s post truly is aimed at dads.

Dad, you need a pal. You may already have golf pals. You may already enjoy a night out with the guys. Perhaps you have an after-work pause for refreshment with a few chosen friends. That’s all good. However, you need a close friend or two or three with whom you can sit and talk about the ups and downs of being a father.

Dads share the same stories

We discovered each other because we had children the same ages—Bill’s two boys and Tom’s two girls. At first we just chatted about the comical perplexities of parenthood. It wasn’t too long until we were sharing stories of home life that spanned the spectrum—from frustration and annoyance to anger and helplessness, and of course, joy. In sharing our stories, it dawned on us that we were telling many of the same stories. We were experiencing the same feelings, doubts, anxieties—and, yes, even many of the same self-serving expectations of our kids.

Tom found out that he wasn’t the only dad who felt that teenagers ought to be darned grateful for the roof over their heads. Bill heard from Tom what he always thought was his own shortcoming as a father—that he was sometimes invisible to his kids in his own house.

The more we talked, the more we wanted to talk.

Bull sessions as therapy

Those brief chats became lunch sessions. For both of us, those meetings sitting in squeaky chairs over gyro salads or grazing through Chinese buffets became therapy. After commiserating and comforting, each other, we felt reassured that we weren’t completely miscast as dads. We had more in common than we ever would have imagined or admitted. Our growing friendship enabled us to be honest and open about our thoughts and feelings.

Dad, you are not alone

So, dad, we recommend that you find a pal or recruit a group of dads in your neighborhood or social circle. Suggest a good old-fashioned bull session. We warn you. It will not be easy. Dads don’t get together to talk, especially about relationships. Moms have no trouble interacting with other moms. They have many avenues. We have few. Start talking about relationships and dads get lockjaw. It will take a while for everyone to open up. But you’ll be glad you did. No matter what your problem or concern as a dad, you’ll discover you are not alone. That will be incredibly reaffirming.

By dads2dads

Talking Back May Be Good Training

A while back, Patti Neighmond, in her blog titled “Why a Teen Who Talks Back May Have A Bright Future,” cited research headed up by psychologist Joseph P. Allen at the University of Virginia. Dr. Allen  stated simply that when a teenager argues with his or her parent, it might not signify disrespect or disobedience … but rather it may be positive training toward becoming an independent thinker.

Allen contends that it’s the quality of the argument between parent and teen that makes all the difference.

Preparing for Life

Allen is quoted as follows: “We tell parents to think of those arguments not as nuisance but as a critical training ground. Such arguments are actually mini life lessons in how to disagree—a necessary skill later on in life with partners, friends and colleagues on the job.”

We parents prepared to read our kids the riot act when they refute or disagree with us. Heaven forbid they would question our authority. Our ego screams “Ouch!” However, rather than fire oral bullets back at mom or dad, if the teenager disagrees in a calm, non-combative tone, it just may be that he or she has put some thought into the response. Perhaps mom and dad ought to listen.

Children model their parents. If we hold our tongue and listen, rather than immediately return fire to maintain control and establish our authority, our teenager just may mirror that behavior and listen back.

Disagreeing Can Lead to Better Understanding

Allen says his study indicates that teens who listen and are listened to—who express their disagreement in a calm, rational manner—actually carry that mature behavior into their peer relationships. And their ability to disagree and discuss an issue in a cordial manner is good practice for resisting negative peer pressure.

The desired outcome in an argument isn’t so much agreement. It is understanding— a civil exchange of thoughts and ideas. If your son or daughter agrees with everything you say, then perhaps your child has become accustomed to yielding to your wishes or demands. This can result in a teenager who just bends to the will of the loudest or strongest person in the group, or an individual who masks disagreement which can turn to resentment or anger.

Disagreeing Does Not Mean Being Disagreeable

Parents, we need to sit back and listen to our teenager when he or she calmly and thoughtfully disagrees with something we have said. If we don’t encourage independent thinking and good listening skills, who will? If we elevate the discussion into a shouting match and end the war of words with “Because I said so!” … we are stifling both the act of thinking and the art of putting those thoughts into well-chosen words.

Please don’t let your child learn civility from TV and radio talk shows. Let’s be adults … and allow our teenagers to argue with us … calmly and respectfully.

 

By dads2dads

The Family Summit

Now is a great time to call a family summit meeting. Leaders of world powers gather around a summit table and discuss their mutual issues. Basketball officials call time out and huddle around the scorekeeper’s table to iron out a questionable infraction. Executives of huge corporations sit around a conference table to hammer out solutions and strategies. We’re not suggesting that these sessions always produce positive results or the ideal resolution. But a meeting of the minds is preferable to a showdown at high noon.

Send a memo

If it is true that the family is the most basic and vital social influence in our lives, then the family deserves to have its own summit. So, dad and mom, plan a family summit . Send out a call, note, email or text message. Schedule the get-together at a time that is convenient for everyone. (That may require a special summit all its own.)

The Summit Agenda

Think of all the good things a family summit would do for you and your teenager. It would allow you to reacquaint with one another. Imagine being able to put names with those faces that you pass in the kitchen every morning.

A family summit would provide a way to avoid scheduling conflicts. Why run the risk of committing the family car to the senior prom and an engine overhaul on the same day! What a great opportunity to pull out the social calendars and do some cross-checking.

A family summit would allow every member to catch up on one another’s lives. “What? I have a new baby sister!” “You were expelled from school—three weeks ago?”  “You have a new job? At a deli? Your deli? You bought a delicatessen!”

Three Powerful Words

A family summit would provide every member the chance to say “I love you” to those vaguely familiar but wonderful people sitting with you around the table. Yep, we know, it’s kind of cheesy … or corny … or cheese-corny. But can you think of a phrase in any language that packs a greater, more profound wallop?

We admit that upon reflecting on those years when our kids were home, we both wish they would have said, “I love you” more often. It’s true.

Launch Your Own Campaign

Go ahead, schedule a family summit. Remember, however, that a summit is a meeting of the minds—not a managing of the minds. Take turns suggesting topics. You’ll want to pass the gavel of leadership. And most importantly, you’ll want to listen as other family members share their thoughts and concerns. If any part of it proves to be a positive experience, suggest that you hold a family summit on a monthly basis. Call your own family caucus. Make family the change you can believe in.

By dads2dads

Pressure Cooker

How many dads out there are old enough to remember what a pressure cooker is? We don’t mean your workplace, although that may describe your office to a T. We mean the kitchen appliance that mom used to use to cook roasts and other homemade delicacies. A pressure cooker is a kitchen apparatus that uses intense heat in a confined space for cooking food. The heavy steel container has a lid that seals tightly. There is a metal gauge on top of the lid. When the heat builds to a certain level, the only way for the hot air inside to escape is through a small opening on the gauge. When that happens, the gauge shakes, rattles, dances in circles and emits a hissing sound. The pressure cooker has blown its top! At least, that’s how we remember it.

Sound familiar?

Dad, have you said any of the following pressure-cooker statements to your teenagers?

  • How can you expect to win first place with that kind of attitude?
  • Is that really the best you can do?
  • If you can get a 3.8 grade point average, then you can get a 4.0!
  • If I can do it, then certainly you can do it.
  • Don’t mess up—everyone’s watching you.
  • Bring home that trophy!
  • I expected a lot more from you.

At first glance most of these statements seem OK, constructive and instructive. We parents use some variation of them, as do coaches, counselors, teachers, and employers. We’ve all used them. It’s part of living and surviving in a competitive society. It’s part of our drive for excellence. Go! Fight! Win!

What behind the push?

It also explains the stress, sometimes unwarranted and unreasonable, that we parents place on our kids. As dads, as parents, we should ask ourselves: What’s my motivation for exerting pressure on my son or daughter? Do I have his or her best interests at heart? Or am I trying to fill a void in my own life? Am I mindful of the fact that my teenager is already putting immense pressure on him/herself in order to find acceptance and belong?

Push with finesse

Pressure isn’t necessarily bad. Occasionally we all need a nudge to keep us on our toes — from being too satisfied with where we are. It helps us to look forward so that we can advance and improve and achieve in a smart way. This is where finessecomes into play. Parents, teachers, coaches, counselors—all of us are supposed to apply just enough pressure to challenge our kids to stretch. But there’s a limit. As adults and as mentors, we need to handle with care and know when pressure may become destructive.

Let’s teach our kids to stretch, to reach beyond their grasp. That’s the way they grow. Let’s also recognize their limitations. Unreasonable expectations—pressure without finesse—are just a lot of hot air.

By dads2dads

Teen Brain

Being a father of teens is an exasperating, patience-stretching, bewildering, scary experience.  Our teens are often perplexing, sometimes worrisome, and frequently unpredictable. Often, we dads will find ourselves saying, “What were you thinking?!” meaning, “You weren’t!” We can’t understand why teens make the decisions they do or act in such risky and uncertain ways.

Teen Brain Imagery

A fascinating article in the National Geographic provides some insight. Technology has now shown us a window into the teen brain. Imagery has illustrated how our brain takes much longer to develop than we had ever thought. It turns out that the brain reaches 90 percent of its potential by the age of six, and it spends adolescence reorganizing, making new pathways, integrating experience and decision making, and just generally becoming quicker and more efficient.

Why They Do What They Do

Through brain imaging, scientists have discovered that there is a physical reason why our sons and daughters act as they do. They are works in progress. It is important to remember this when we are wondering why they frequently forget to pick up their dishes, drive in neutral down a steep hill at night with their lights off, eat nothing but cabbage soup and grapefruit for two weeks, or date the boy who brags that he’s bedded every candidate for homecoming queen. It’s “immature brains.”

But looking more deeply, it turns out that adolescence, often seen as a period of self-centeredness, angst and impulsiveness, is also a period of adaptation. Where we see trouble, scientists are beginning to see children building the skills necessary for a successful life.

The Risky Teen

Teens take risks. We frequently describe it as … stupidity. Again, we wonder, “What were you thinking?!” But according to recent research, teens view risk differently than adults. Risky behavior usually reaches its pinnacle in the mid-teen years. It is driven by the value teens place on reward. Experiments have shown that when the reward is high or when peers are present and acceptance or rejection is close at hand, teens engage in greater risk. Social rejection is a threat to your teen’s existence. S/He places a great value on being accepted by peers.

So the next time your teen does something you judge as foolish, bone-headed or risky, try to remember that s/he is trying to successfully move into the larger world, outside your safe and comfortable home. Your teen is building successful life skills, learning to be more adaptive, reaching out and making connections.

Your teen’s quest is to become more socially comfortable, overcome challenges and thrive in new environments. Indeed there is a purpose behind what teenagers do. It is important to understand that. However, it remains our job, both dad and mom, to provide the structure and guidance to help teens get to that larger world in a safe manner.

By dads2dads

Occupiers

Remember the “Occupy” movement — an overall rejection of greed in financial institutions, unfairness in pay and work, and self-interest in politics?

Same Old Same Old

From New York to Berkeley and in many cities in between, citizens demanded that their leadership (we used to call it “the establishment”) be more accountable, responsible, honest and altruistic. People grew tired of what they sensed was the same old rhetoric that spilled onto a teleprompter and out of the mouths of well-rehearsed and programmed politicians and advertisers and marketers.  Must we forever be subjected to the hackneyed promises that things will get better if only we give “our plan” a chance? How long do we wait for our elected officials to work together for the benefit of the people they serve? Isn’t there a better way?

The Great Divide

While many Americans are still waiting patiently for things to get better, the wealthy are getting wealthier, venerable institutions—banks, government and even universities—are showing signs of insensitivity, callousness, poor judgment, and formerly respected leaders are proving to be fallible or incompetent. Americans declare that they are growing tired and weary of business as usual. They not only want change—they demand a complete transformation in the way people relate to one another, personally and professionally.

Where this will end up, we’re not sure. While the “occupy” enclaves have been dismantled, the anger remains, the feeling of unfairness is palpable, and the desire for change is real.

Family Values

Another venerable institution we know something about is the family. Many people believe the family unit is not only following the other institutions down the tubes but is leading the way. Half of marriages end in divorce. Too many children are being raised in one-parent homes. Too often, kids are left alone between school and dinner. Too frequently, children exist in uncertain, unpredictable environments.

Unlike financial institutions and corporations, the solidarity of your family foundation is in your hands. We can make our family stronger. We can set the ground rules and create an environment where both freedom and responsibility reign, where fairness is balanced with discretion and compromise, where kids feel valued, listen to and care for others, and learn to think for themselves

Occupy Your Teens

It’s time to start an “occupy” movement at home. Choose to become a larger part of your teenager’s life. Stand for values and high expectations. Voice your concern for their welfare. Stage a sit-in around the dinner table and talk about an issue, a school assignment, a personal interest. Declare one night a week as a time to listen to each other’s concerns. Be an example to your children.

 

By dads2dads

Trust is Everything

Tom remembers that day long ago when the family went to a park. He climbed aboard a swing, put his older daughter, then about 4 or 5 years old, on his lap, and soon they were soaring through the air. Suddenly, the chain broke on the swing.  Tom clutched his little girl as they collided with the ground, with dad serving as shock absorber. He remembers clearly his daughter, more scared than hurt, looking into his face with tears streaming down her face and screaming, “Daddy, how could you do that!” An accident, yes. Still, Tom had betrayed her trust.

That same daughter was petrified of jumping into the swimming pool. Teaching her how to swim tested the patience and nerves of both mom and dad. Tom stood in the shallow end of the pool, arms outstretched, beckoning his little girl to jump. Instead, she stood on the side of the pool frozen in fear, convinced that if she jumped in, dad would drown her. It took weeks of coaxing to build that trust. (Interestingly enough, that same daughter took SCUBA lessons years later and became certified.)

We Are the Trustees

Our children have very little choice but to trust us. They invest their total feeling of security in us. There is no one else in the world to whom they turn for complete safety and assurance than to mom and dad. That’s why it’s so devastating when the swing breaks. In spite of the fact that dad held her tightly and all was right with the world, she crashed to the ground. And she let dad know that he let her down—and not so gently.

Our teenagers trust us, too. Yes indeed, they grow too big for their britches (Tom’s teacher once said that about him. What the heck does that mean?) They get mouthier, don’t listen, know absolutely everything, and they want to be left alone. Yet, despite the fact that most teenagers don’t trust many grown-ups, their trust in Mom and Dad remains as strong as it is silent. Grownups must back up that trust by being there for their youngsters—holding on tight, standing up, running interference, protecting—and they must do all of those things while letting go. Hold tight and let go. Some assignment, eh? 

Broken Trust Breaks Everything

Today’s news is a sad commentary on trust. Without going into specific examples or speculating on the guilt or innocence of anyone, it’s accurate to say that grown-ups don’t always come through for kids. We let them down. We turn a blind eye to them when we should be standing up, running interference, protecting.  The tragedy in these incidents is that a deep trust in someone who represented unquestionable safety and security may have been shattered. No one knows if that kind of unwavering trust—trust in anyone—can ever be fully repaired and restored.

Kids of all ages need grown-ups they can trust completely and unconditionally.

 

By dads2dads

The Spousal Connection

We hear from dads who feel they are doing all the right things but still struggle to connect with their teen. They wonder why there is a short circuit in the connection. We usually deal with ways dads can bridge that gap, open a dialogue, set an example or resolve an issue with their teen. But how about you married dads and your relationship with your spouse?

One of the most important aspects of being an effective father is being a good husband. Your relationship with your wife is the most influential model for your teenager. Yes indeed, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. However, we believe that you, as mere earthlings, can create a strong relationship with your spouse by following some important guidelines.

Making The Connection

Love. Dad, you need to express it not only through words but actions. Compliment her. Fix a dinner or take her out for a meal. Clean the bathroom. Wash the dishes. Iron your shirt. Do the laundry (well, maybe skip her stuff. We’ve had some issues with that!). We work hard to attract, impress and keep the attention of someone we’re interested in. We often forget that part of the relationship when we get married. It remains important. And your kids are watching.

Listen. Often we guys are incomplete listeners. We hear a voice but we don’t pay enough attention to the details. We’re oblivious to the feeling behind the content. Ask for clarification if you’re unsure of something she’s said. Repeat what you hear so she knows you’re getting it. Your kids are listening.

Look. Be aware of what’s going on in your home and in your relationship. Be sensitive to her mood, her worries, the strain of her work, possible frictions with your daughter or son. Watch for things that need to be done around the house and do them. Your kids are observing.

Light. Be a light in her life. Your positive attitude and pleasant demeanor can go a long way to ease the tension or worry that she may be experiencing. Use humor (not sarcasm!) when it’s appropriate. Assure your mate that you will work with her to handle any concern. Your kids are learning from you.

Link. You and your spouse should be on the same team. This is important since teens sometimes try to divide and conquer. Adults who talk with each other about the expectations and limitations they see for their children are in a stronger position to parent effectively. And your kids’ values grow stronger.

A good relationship between mom and dad makes for better parents. When you nurture each other, understand one another’s needs, balance the workload and clarify the parameters and approaches you see for your teen, success is more achievable.

Your kids couldn’t ask for a better model app.

 

By dads2dads

Perception Is Indeed Reality

When teens speak and act they send signals. From these signals, people draw conclusions, perceptions about who you are. These perceptions, formed by people your teen may never know, will stick like glue!

I Don’t Know You … and I Already Know You

Perceptions lead to judgments. We all do it. We judge people by appearances, by what they say and how they say it, by how they carry themselves, how they dress, sit, eat, laugh, and talk. We don’t have to know someone to judge and form an opinion. We’re experts at it. Is it fair? Perhaps not. But we think about others according to how we perceive them. Your teen may be a wonderful person, but that nose ring can be a turnoff.

Even Before You Open Your Mouth

A potential employer interviewing your teenage son will be influenced by how he sits in the waiting room even before greetings are made and handshakes are exchanged. If he is slouched in his chair or resting his face in his hand or biting his fingernails, an employer may not be thinking kind and generous thoughts. If your daughter’s hair is hanging in her eyes and she’s dressed for a night at the club, a potential employer may not be impressed. If she’s barely articulating her words because her gum is getting in the way, she will not make the short list.

If your son uses a double negative or punctuates every word with a sniff or starts every sentence with the prefix “uh,” …  the, uh, interview will, sniff, be, uh, brief. If your daughter shifts or rocks nervously in her chair, accompanies every shift or rock with a giggle, her competitive edge will be seriously dulled.

If your son’s resume contains misspellings, he might as well keep filling out job applications. He’s fired before he’s hired.

If your daughter sports a tattoo or a purple swath of hair, she’ll have to work to wow in every other category in order to be taken seriously.

It’s Not Fair—and It’s Not Relevant

Nope, it truly isn’t fair. These other people don’t know your teen. Plus isn’t it content rather than impression that counts? Yes, but perception comes before content and makes it hard to overcome. That is why you want image working in your favor. Whether it’s a prospective employer, a new teacher or a potential date’s parent, your first impression may be the only impression.

Teach your teen that as soon as she or he climbs out of bed in the morning, the perception machine shifts into high gear. No, it’s not fair but paying positive attention to perception will make it easier for others to see the good qualities that make your teen terrific.

By dads2dads

Teens and Money

National Public Radio spent a week a while back talking about the relationship between young people and money. They cited a poll by a financial education group that said 70 percent of teens indicate that their parents are the most important influence on their spending habits.

What are you teaching your kids about money, particularly now that so many families are struggling?

Key Issues

The following are some of the important points brought out in the discussion:

  • Teach kids early.
  • Include them in discussions and give them a voice.
  • Don’t give in to every advertising influence. Delay gratification. This skill produces greater success in life.
  • Every penny ought to have a purpose.
  • Kids want structure even though we and they think they don’t.
  • Credit card use can be dangerous.
  • Teach children that they are valuable because of who they are, not what they have.
  • Don’t pay for basic chores or good grades. Those are part of being diligent and responsible. Pay for special work or major projects.
  • Children live what they learn. They are watching you whether you know it or not.
  • Share your values and teach your children to follow them. Their use of money will begin to reflect those values.
  • Nobody has or needs everything. We should make wise and healthy choices.

 They’re Comfy When You’re Paying the Bills

It is important to have your values reflected in what you teach your kids about money. Those lessons should begin early. Your teenagers develop pride by doing things themselves, and they grow when they’re not smothered in stuff. Money and possessions don’t provide much lasting happiness. Placing value in doing for others makes for success.

Teach your child to be self-reliant. Life is comfy-cozy when kids live at home. Food, shelter and other resources are plentiful and easily accessible. But eventually kids have to rely on their own wits and wisdom. Help your teen understand and be prepared for that transition. At their age they’re targets for comfy and cozy credit card pitches. But plastic cash can lead to disaster.

Freedom Isn’t Free

Administer a dose of reality. If your child is old enough to drive, he or she is old enough to buy gas. That’s a crash course (no pun intended) in understanding the difference between subsidized living and independent life.

For teens who go off to college and spread their wings, this is Economics 101. Whoopee, I’m free! Whoopee indeed. You want freedom? Freedom in any form isn’t free.

In this day and age, all of us need a good lesson in economics. We’re suffering from a mishandling and misunderstanding of money, credit and debt. Our legacy to our kids, therefore, should be honesty and clarity about money. Mom and Dad need to set the standard. Yes, Virginia, there is a real cost of living—and that can best be managed by using the “pay-as-you-go” plan.

 

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