Patience & Perspective

“What’s the matter, can’t she push that piece of junk any faster? There are people out here who actually want to go somewhere!”

Tim is in a hurry. It seems to his wife Cynthia that he’s always in a rush. “If she wasn’t yakking on the phone,” Tim rattles on, “she might have an inkling of what’s going on.” They drive closer to the railroad tracks.

Suddenly the bells sound, and the gates slowly descend. “Keep going! Keep going!” Tim bounces back and forth between the steering wheel and the back of his seat. The woman in front of him stops and waits—and continues her phone conversation. “Oh great,” Tim exhales. “Here’s another 20 minutes.” He rolls down his window and yells out. “Another 20 minutes, thank you, lady!”

“Maybe we can think of this as an opportunity,” his wife encourages.

“An opportunity? Tim responds. “For what? A stroke?!”

“No,” she says, a bit hurt. “To relax. Relish the moment.”

Relish the moment. Is she kidding?

Slowly the train appears and crawls across their view. Tim fumes. Cynthia is puzzled and hurt. A cold silence falls over them.

Gain perspective

Often situations we deal with seem so critical at the time—making it through a traffic light, being first in line, seeing our team win. Yet, sometimes our insistence on a certain outcome prevents us from truly enjoying the activity in which we’re engaged. On reflection we find our perspective was skewed or our sense of crisis was misdirected. Some events, although not critically important, can produce negative outcomes by the importance we place on them.

Tim is still delayed by the train, and now there is a tense silence between his wife and him. What if Tim and Cynthia’s nine-year-old son Trevor had been in the back seat? What would the boy have learned? 

Role Model 

We recall a professional basketball player who refuted the idea that he was a role model. He was a basketball player, that’s all. His contract required him to help win games, not to be a role model for kids. He was dead wrong. Anyone who makes his or her living on that large a stage inherits that role. Like it or not, the ball player was a role model. Kids looked up to him and patterned their behavior, good or bad, after him.

 Be an example

As we’ve said before, fathers don’t operate separately from their children. We serve as role models in everything we do. Eyes are watching and ears are listening. It’s important to remember that we play a significant teaching role to our children in how we handle everyday situations. They learn from watching us.

So the next time someone is driving too slowly, the sport shop is out of your size, or your team loses, grab some perspective. Think of the other people involved, and remember the reaction you have can cap a great day and send a child a message about the best way to act.

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By dads2dads

The New Dad

According to the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College, the landscape of work, family, and caregiving has changed over the past several decades.  Moms spend more time at work and the detached dad who has little connection with his family is a thing of the past.

According to the Network, over the last forty years housework & child care time among fathers increased six hours per week. Over the last ten years, the number of days that dads missed from work for family responsibilities went from .8 days to 6.3 days. When asked why they used paternity leave afforded them, 97 percent of the fathers said it was because their family was a priority and they wanted to stay home with their child.

We know the role of the dad in today’s society has changed. On average, we are different from our own dads and certainly our grandfathers. For us, it started with birth. When our dads had children, they took their wives to the hospital, settled into the waiting room, and some hours later received word of the birth where they went down the hall to see their new baby through the big glass window. With our children we were in the delivery room, we changed the diapers at home, we burped and cuddled and were involved in decisions about child care. Today dads strive for more balance in their lives between work and home. We focus on our families. We’re concerned about what goes on with our kids and we try to think of solutions to some of the problems they encounter.

It Takes Two

We’ve heard from many fathers who feel a bit lost, are searching for an answer, or just want to talk to somebody. We know they’re involved, they just don’t have a lot of guidance or support. It often takes more than an individual dad’s resources to raise a child. Dads parenting alone have a difficult time. Dads who are married have the tremendous advantage of a partner who can lend so much to the challenge of child rearing. But often you need a male perspective and the chance to talk over some issues with another dad.

Teach Your Children Well

We’re providing a place where we share some “wisdom” and dads can talk about their concerns and find they’re not alone. Check out our book, Dads2Dads: Tools For Raising Teenagers, available on CreateSpace or Amazon. You’ll get some insight, a few tips, a bit of humor, and a few touching moments. What more can you expect for $14.95?!

By dads2dads

Kids Fathering Kids

It’s something you hope never happens. Your son, too young, too inexperienced, too unprepared, becomes a father. What now?

A report from the Guttmacher Institute shows a pregnancy rate of 7% among teens for 2006. While attention has focused on teen mothers, there are few resources for the teen dad. Yet, Prudence Brown of the Ford Foundation notes that many teen fathers want to participate in the parenting of their children but “they need a lot of help and support to help them assume a responsible father role.”

How do boys get that support, become responsible for another life and deal with this new relationship with the baby’s mother?

The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project in San Francisco has found that teenage fathers usually have lower incomes, less education and more children than do men who wait until age 20 to have children. They often remain poor because they drop out of school to work, solving an immediate need (income) but locking in a long-term difficulty (lack of education and limited job skills).

Parenthood is an equal opportunity prospect. It is provided to the prepared and unprepared alike, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uninformed. Our value as parents is what we make of the opportunity.

It is fair to say that a teen boy who becomes a father is unprepared. Caught between adolescence and adulthood, he falls into a bigger role than he has ever experienced. Or he runs irresponsibly from the challenge.

Rights and Responsibilities

It is our feeling that babies should be born to parents who are mature and effectively prepared. But if that is not the case, we still believe the teen father has a responsibility to care for that child, be a part of the baby’s life, and participate in important decisions.

A few things for the teen dad to keep in mind:

  • Sort out issues through honest dialogue with the baby’s mother.
  • Be certain you are the father.
  • Be aware of custody or visitation rights.
  • Get the legal, medical or spiritual help you need.

Reach Out

You can be a partner for a few moments; you’re a parent for the rest of your life. There may be few family or community role models. Television shows too often reflect what has been called a universal television network allergy to responsible dads. But teens need to find behaviors they can model. The public library or local church are good places to start. Programs such as Teen Fathers (http://www.gbapp.org) offer a chance for boys to share feelings, build skills, serve as role models to each other, deepen the relationship with the child’s mother and find resources for improving fathering skills and continuing an education.

If you are a father of a teen who is now a dad, you can support your son with love and help him find resources to improve his parenting skills. Dad, you can encourage your son to be a full partner in raising his child.

 

 

 

By dads2dads

When Does a Dad Stop Being a Dad?

When does water cease being wet? When does time stand still? When will Tom disavow a Fat Mo’s burger?

As dads of young adults, sons and daughters who have graduated from their teens, we easily acknowledge that parenthood never ends. Perhaps the style of parenting changes, the gap of life experience narrows, and parenthood becomes more of a partnership. But no matter how old your children are, you never stop being a dad.

When your son or daughter is a teenager, that experiential gap is more like a chasm. When they move into their early to mid-20s, there is still a gap but there is some evidence that they have matured thanks to your “wisdom” and “sage advice.”

Forever daddy’s little girl

A father placed a call to his high-school daughter’s boyfriend because, according to his daughter, the boy lost his temper and came within an inch of planting a backhand on her face. Even though they had dated for some time and seemingly enjoyed each other’s company, something snapped and the boy revealed a dark side to his character. For the first time ever, the young girl felt genuinely scared in her boyfriend’s company. That was all dad had to know. On the phone dad promised the young man that he would call the police if he ever went near his daughter again. That was the end of it.

Once a dad, always a dad

Another father answered his phone to his tearful 30-year-old daughter on the other end. She was frightened by her abusive husband and didn’t know what to do to extricate herself from what had disintegrated into a disastrous marriage. That day the angry husband had locked the doors and gone to work. She was calling from someone else’s phone because she could not get in her own house. Dad didn’t hesitate. He drove an hour to where his daughter was and together they “gained entrance” to her house. Dad helped his daughter pack her things, loaded the car and whisked her away. Because of her hasty departure, she left some of her treasured furnishings. At that point, she didn’t care. She left her home, and she left her marriage.

Dad against all odds

There will never come a day when you won’t worry about your kids no matter what their age. You will always want to fix their leaky faucet or patch up a relationship, rescue them from harm. You will forever be tempted to go to any lengths to spare them hurt or anguish. You will run to their aid even when you don’t know what you might find when you get there. You will worry about them, defend them, soothe them, run interference for them. You’ll run through fire and slay dragons—against all odds and contrary to common sense—to keep them safe. You’ll sometimes poke your nose into matters where you have no business because when it comes to family, the role of dad is played for life.

 

By dads2dads

Capturing Memories

Bill’s family recently moved and he handed some boxes to a boy who was helping out. They contained pictures and writings from his sons’ childhood. A handwritten Christmas poem, the drawing of Pandora and her troubles, the Christmas ornaments too delicate now to put on the tree, the book report on “Tanglewood Tales.”

There were favorite books too –”Benny Bakes A Cake” and “Goodnight Moon”, and a few misplaced photographs in Halloween costumes their mother had made that had lost themselves on the way to an album.

Bill heard the teen say softly, “I wish my mom had saved some of my old school projects.”

Bill was astonished. His family had always done that – captured memories.

For Tom, it was a garage sale that brought back treasured memories – Sunday school projects, school awards, old cassette audio tapes. (What are those?)

“Here’s that food-pyramid chart from 3rd grade. That was about the time she broke her tooth.”

“Remember this old hat? She wore it with that fake moustache when she went trick-or-treating.”

“Here’s her little white Bible. She got that when she started Vacation Bible School when we lived in Kansas.”

While the monetary value in many of those items is zero, the intrinsic value is priceless.

A child’s school project from the 1st grade, a faded drawing, worn doll or broken toy leads to connective memories of a family picnic, a vacation, trip to the zoo, the new bicycle or car, an open house at school, the new playmate who moved in next door, the broken arm or tonsillectomy—maybe even the new baby brother or sister. Those re-discoveries are open doors to entire chunks of family history!

Keeping Track

Memories inform our children’s sense of themselves. All of us have them. Some are saved in boxes like Bill’s, some are in our minds as we look back. Others are in neatly organized albums with careful notes about who, what, where, and when. Still others are loose in a box under the bed.

Think about the memories you’ve formed together. Try to capture these important reflections of life, relationships, and feelings. Freeze the picture for a moment, take in the significance of an event, remember the faces, and hold the words and images in your mind.

Getting It Done

Start now by taking school projects, photos, drawings, or whatever and pulling them together into a collection. If you don’t have much, start with what you have. If you don’t have anything, start making something together. Write a story, make an invention, cook a meal, try an experiment, take some photos.

If we’ve learned one thing, it is that time moves swiftly. As Helen Hayes, the American actress, said, “Childhood is a short season.”

We’ve all poked our heads and hands inside closets and boxes and recovered those irreplaceable treasures that trigger laughter and tears. Make some memories together. And think twice before you toss out those old items that “clutter” your lives. Some of that clutter just may rekindle cherished memories for every member of your family.

 

By dads2dads

Sometimes you feel like a flop

Spend a few minutes and think about a time when you really flopped, laid an egg, royally screwed up. To jog your memory, allow us to suggest a handful of examples taken from the annals of fatherhood (things we’ve heard from other dads).

Did you ever get caught sneaking a book out of the library in high school? Miss the shot at the buzzer that would have been the game winner? Drop the offering plate at church? Hit “reply all” when you didn’t intend for your sarcastic retort to be read by all? Keep one of those gems in mind and we’ll come back to it.

Teenagers feel like flops much of the time. It’s part of their youthful DNA. They try so hard to fit in. And they’re painfully self-conscious. If someone looks at them, they cringe with guilt. If they hear laughter and they’re not the ones laughing, someone must be mocking them. Nearly every move they make is accompanied by embarrassment because they are at an awkward age between adolescence and adulthood, and they flop in either role.

Driving the Point Home

Share with your teenager the story about the woman who holds the record for being the fastest person to fail a driver’s test. It took her just seconds to climb into the car, greet the examiner, turn the key and stomp on the accelerator instead of the clutch. (You may have to explain what a clutch is.) She plowed right through the wall of a building. And this was her ninth try! True story.

Fantastic Flops

Point out that a flop can be a stepping-stone to great accomplishments. Babe Ruth was a home-run machine—but he also had 1,330 strikeouts during his career, plus another 30 strikeouts during World Series games. The strikeout king is Mr. October himself—Reggie Jackson—with nearly 2,600. Most of Thomas Edison’s experiments were bigger flops than triumphs but he used them as learning opportunities. During the French and Indian War, a young Army officer gave up and surrendered his troops to the enemy. That same man, George Washington, went on to do pretty well.

From Flop to Fulfillment

Share your own “flop” story with your teenager. If you’re like us, you have a repository of them! Point out to your teenager that when a person flops, he or she is seldom a total flop. There are usually aspects of what went right as well as what went wrong. Tell your teenager to allow some space to be a flop. Replay the situation and see what could be done differently next time. There are many flops on the way to success.

That way your teen will also have room to try again and grow. Mistakes are stepping-stones to growth. Teens (and Dads!) who are afraid of making mistakes, never take that first step. And that would be the biggest flop of all.

 

By dads2dads

The World of Friending

More communication less community

With the prevalence of social networks, our teens live more publicly than ever before – certainly more so than we did when we were teens. They establish robust public profiles and broad personal friendships. They easily share what we would consider very personal thoughts and images. A level of knowledge is created among friends, some of whom barely meet the definition of acquaintance. We’ve developed a sort of over-sharing culture.

The need to unfriend

Sometimes teens need to “unfriend” someone who’s become obnoxious, threatening or less important in their lives. How do you do it?

The proper process for unfriending is a bit unclear. An article in The New York Times a while back quoted Michael Pilla, a marketing director. “In real life, friendships die a natural death: you simply stop seeing someone until both of you barely remember you were friends in the first place. On Facebook, that person you barely know or no longer can put up with is there, all the time, taking up space on your home page, filling you in on all the mindless minutiae.”

In the old days you could avoid an encounter or ignore a phone call. If you didn’t write it down, it only existed in conversation. Today with ubiquitous email, cell calls, texting and social networks, and image apps galore, opinions take on a different context; thoughts and images exist in a much longer timeframe; unfriending someone becomes a complicated task.  

Why do friends unfriend

Christopher Sibona, a grad student at the University of Colorado, surveyed 1,500 people on Facebook and Twitter and found that the top three reasons for unfriending a person are:

1) persistent, inane posts

2) posts about controversial topics like religion and politics, and

3) racist or vulgar posts.

To this we would add threats and offline relationship problems.

When and how to disengage

When online problems make teens uncomfortable or offline issues make an online relationship difficult, it may be time to call it quits. How to disengage? Perhaps we can offer some suggestions.

  • Be purposeful is creating a profile. Know the reason for your identity in the social network world.

 

  • Select individuals who can legitimately qualify. Focus attention on quality not quantity.

 

  • Be vigilant in culling lists of friends. Don’t leave someone on forever if you had just one conversation very late in the evening.

 

  • Be respectful of self and others in what is shared and what comments are made.

 

  • Don’t share everything. What is shared will exist for a very long time under circumstances that can’t be predicted.

 

  • Be careful whose invitations are accepted. Know who your friends are.

 

It’s always been a matter of quality, not quantity. It still is. It doesn’t matter if we write messages to one another on stone tablets or send them off into the realm of cyberspace. One real friend—one authentic friendship—is worth more than 10,000 faceless e-friends.

By dads2dads

The Independent Teen

Independence. It’s what we’ll all celebrate this coming Tuesday. 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 Feisty Rebels

We live in a society founded on the principle of independence. In fact, it is our children’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 value. 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 begets increased responsibility. Many teens (and adults!) have not learned this.

Work, get paid; don’t work, don’t get paid. You may have heard 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.

Be clear on expectations and consequences. 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 affect 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 that 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

Build A Bridge and Start the Discussion

Hey, dad, when you really think about it, sometimes it pays dividends to be downright honest with your teenager. It’s OK to admit that you’re just as human as they are. You have your foibles and faults, too. You don’t always finish what you start, pick up after yourself or listen carefully.

Here are a few observations that we have put together that might serve as discussion starters for you and your teenager or for the whole family. Some of these are great levelers. In other words, they put you and your teenager on equal footing when it involves certain aspects of life. It’s not always comfortable being on equal footing with your teenage offspring because you have to look at each other straight in the eye and face some facts head on. But it’s a good start into adulthood.

We think several of these will apply to you and your teen. They certainly applied to us.

For example, everybody breaks the speed limit sometimes. With that in mind, we’re all occasional lawbreakers.

The other person is just as nervous as you are.

Always brake for brick walls. (You can’t argue with that bit of practicality.)

In the case of some people, wearing a cross on a chain around their neck is as far as their religious precepts take them.

Most of us are bumbling idiots when it comes to saying, “I love you.”

As objective as teachers are in grading their students, there are few who forget the little extras you do. The same is true with a good boss.

Contrary to what you may believe, the less you have, the greater the chance that more people will like you for who you are.

Likewise, contrary to what you probably think, hardly anyone notices when you goof up.

This may astound you, but if a poll were taken, 99 out of 100 people probably think you’re OK.

There’s a part of your teachers, parents or bosses (perhaps even police and politicians) that think that some of the rules are just as dumb as you think they are.

An obnoxious person needs a hug most of all.

You’d be amazed if you knew who was looking at you in silent admiration.

As you get older, you’ll be able to tell the difference between baloney and food for thought. There’s a lot of one—and a tremendous lack of the other.

When your personal faith is shaken, think about the miraculous precision and timing of birth. Something that wonderfully awesome just can’t be an accident. It really doesn’t matter what you believe or if you believe. It just seems hard to imagine that there isn’t a power beyond us.

Hopefully one or two of these observations will help start a conversation between you and your teen that will lead to meaningful dialogue and beginning to see each other in a new light.

 

By dads2dads

Brandon’s Party

When Brandon got invited to a party at the end of football season, he knew he wanted to go. It sounded like a blast–a big party at a remote cabin in the woods to celebrate the season.

One day Brandon heard a couple of guys talking about bringing drugs to the party. Brandon’s decision had just become a bit more complicated. He’d always had a close relationship with his dad so he brought it up one night after dinner.

“I’m worried that there could be trouble, and I could lose my scholarship for next year,” Brian told his dad.

“What options do you have?” his dad asked.

“Well, I could go to the party and try to steer clear of any trouble that might come up. Or I could just skip it and get a lot of flak from my team.”

“What else?” his dad prodded.

“That’s pretty much it,” said Brandon.

“How about telling the student who is throwing the party what you heard?”

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want to be a wimp.”

“And you think your teammates will think you’re a wimp?”

“Yeah, if I don’t go or if I make a big deal about it. I mean, I don’t even know if it’s true about the drugs. I just heard a couple of guys talking.”

“Well, what if it is true?” his dad persisted.

“Then I guess I could always leave,” Brandon responded.

“Well it’s possible you’ll be found guilty by presence or by association.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you’re there and something bad happens or somebody reports the drugs, you’ll share guilt just by being there. Even if you leave, you were there with the whole team and others saw you there.

“Thanks for cheering me up, dad,” Brandon said dryly. “So you’re saying I shouldn’t go because of what might happen.”

“I’m saying you need to think of all your options and the consequences of what you decide,” his dad returned.

Teenagers often make decisions alone. Or they rely on friends for advice. But often they need additional help. That is why we always say, “keep the communication open.” Look for resources that can help your teenager. Hook your teen up with an outside expert—a relative, pastor, counselor or someone else who can provide independent, reliable advice and to whom your teenager will listen.

Once your teen makes a decision, help him or her reflect on the options. Is it a good decision? Does it get your child where he or she wants to be now and in the future? What are the consequences of each option? Have all the choices and possible pitfalls been assessed?

Sometimes it can help to explore hypothetical situations with your teen before the real deal arises so that when there are difficult decisions to make, the skills are already in place for assessing the options and doing the right thing. We didn’t say the fun thing … but the right thing.

 

By dads2dads

The Power of a Positive Outlook

Bill’s father was a college president. He was also regularly called upon to give guest sermons at his church. One sermon Bill remembers clearly was about the power of light overcoming darkness. In the middle of the sermon was a poem Bill’s dad had written and Bill’s son used to recite when he was little. Part of it went, “No deep darkness in the world
 can overcome the light, a single candle flame will burn
 against the darkest night.”

How often are we impacted by a negative interaction, a critical opinion, or a rude encounter? And how frequently do we let this darkness overcome the light in our lives by carrying home our disappointment, frustration or anger?

Making Impressions

We make impressions wherever we go and whatever we do. They may be unseen by us but the impressions are nonetheless real and important. This is as true at home as it is in the workplace and the community. If it is important for us to make a good impression, operate competently, and perform professionally at work, isn’t it equally important to make a positive impression at home?

The actions we take, words we use, and emotions we express as fathers have a big impact on our children. It is important for us to remember that we are role models for them. And as role models, we should believe that no amount of darkness can overcome the light.

Dealing With Meanness

We often face those dark, negative interactions in our lives with a feeling of resignation. We frequently feel that negative, impolite, and counterproductive behavior is stronger and outweighs all other approaches. We can feel beat down by a dark encounter. And it can seep into our personal lives and impact those around us.

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval co-authored a business book a few years ago entitled, The Power of Nice. In it they state, “We completely disagree with the conventional wisdom that ‘nice guys finish last’ and ‘no good deed goes unpunished.”

We agree. We think niceness can win and its power can have a transformative effect on you and your family. Understand that individuals who are mean, rude, or insensitive operate our of fear, insecurity, or their own sense of hurt that they’ve been unable to overcome. All of us have been hurt. It’s how we deal with it that makes the difference. Some people never get over it. Some move on.

Bringing The Light Home

When you come home from a tough day or a difficult encounter, remove the darkness and reflect light. Focus on the value of your family. Remember their importance in your life and the gift they are to you. Breathe twice before entering your home after a hard day. Think twice before speaking. Remember the importance of your words and actions and the impact they make. Your children are listening… and watching.

By dads2dads

Searching for Balance

Jamie, 14, was starting to get more text messages and calls from guys. They’d ask her to go to a party or just out for a walk. Mom and Dad worried. They gave their daughter more chores to do around the house. After school, she had to clean her bedroom. On weekends her parents asked her to stay close to home in case either one or both might be called into work. Jamie knew that would never happen. She wondered why her mom and dad were being so restrictive.

Cinderella

Soon Jamie was feeling like Cinderella, trapped in her house, held hostage by over-protective parents. She could only use her cell phone between certain hours. Her time on the computer was restricted. Late phone calls were rare, but when they came, Jamie’s parents treated them with suspicion. Jamie felt more and more isolated. Why were her parents sheltering her so much—no, smothering her.

When her dad refused to let her go to the school dance, Jamie tearfully confronted both her parents.

“Why are you doing this? You don’t let me do anything anymore.”

“Because you’re not old enough to take care of yourself,” they shot back. “There’ll be lots of time for dances and parties and guys later—don’t be in such a hurry!”

“It’s only a dance,” Jamie said. “Everyone’s going.”

“Not everyone,” her dad said sternly. Then his tone softened. “Honey, your mother and I love you. We just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Letting Go

Over time and after many conversations with other parents and relatives, Jamie’s mom and dad started to realize they had to loosen their grip on their daughter or she would eventually pull completely away. In time, they indeed relaxed their hold on her.

As a result, Jamie opened up and included her parents in her social life. She told them about the parties and the dances and the guys who flirted with her at school. The three of them developed a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

We parents try like crazy to hold on to our children—and for good reason. After all, we’ve spent a lot of years watching them learn and grow, stumble and fall, get up, wipe away the tears and keep going. They’re part of us. It’s hard to give up part of ourselves. But let them go we must. Otherwise, our kids will never get a chance to shape their own identities.

“Letting go” isn’t the same as “kicking out.” Letting go involves holding on out of love and concern while also releasing our grip out of love and concern.

Every parent can remember painful experiences. It’s only natural to want to keep those same things from happening to our teenagers. However, when we try to keep them in a cocoon, we enclose ourselves in a cocoon as well. And that’s a very small world inside.

 

By dads2dads

Living Through Our Kids

If only we parents were as successful as we demand our children to be, a dad recently remarked to us. At first glance, that sentiment seems reasonable, even admirable. Why wouldn’t we want our sons and daughters to excel, even surpass our accomplishments?

Some Parents Step Out of Bounds

It’s not so much the sentiment as it is the motivation behind it. That same dad remarked about the embarrassing scene that some parents make at their youngster’s soccer matches. Their children are involved in healthy activity and robust competition. The parents, on the other hand, are engaged in coaching and cajoling from the bleachers—screaming at the officials, berating their own son or daughter for letting the opponent steal the ball. The poor sportsmanship that some parents display is childish and shameful. What’s even worse is that some red-faced, loose-lipped parents are totally unaware of their behavior because they are so obsessed with winning. If only they could trade places with their kid. Wait … that’s exactly what they’re doing!

Winning Is All the Rage

It’s how you play the game. We’ve all heard that expression. More often than not it’s an expression that is mocked and ridiculed by those who believe that winning is everything. Vince Lombardi used to say that winning isn’t everything … it’s the only thing. Perhaps when it comes to the immense expectations and corresponding huge salaries of professional athletics, that message has some validity. But to beat that attitude into the heads of youngsters at an age when competitive play should be fun—to scream obscenities because of a youngster’s miscue or an official’s missed call—turns a joyful community activity into a public verbal lynching.

Living Vicariously

When Tom’s daughter showed real promise of going to New York and testing her vocal mettle on the stage, he got all excited. He encouraged her—no, he urged her—to go for it. He reminded her how good she was and how much potential others said she had. When she explored the possibilities and decided against it—even passing up a scholarship to a performing arts school—Tom felt let down. Dad’s ego was bruised because when he had the opportunity years back to “follow his dream” to the Big Apple, he didn’t pursue it. When he faced the truth, he realized that through his daughter’s opportunity he might, albeit indirectly, fulfill his own unrealized dream. Broadway! What an ego trip that could have been!

Sure moms and dads should encourage their kids. We want our sons and daughters to succeed. As the adults in this scenario, however, we should recognize when and why that encouragement starts to turn sour—when and why the yelling turns to anger. We’ve read about what can happen when rooting turns to rage.

When parents try to fill the voids in their own lives by jamming unrealistic expectations down the throats of their kids, it’s not pretty. And it can leave scars.

 

By dads2dads

Teens Watch What Parents Do

Stephanie writes, “My daughter has been sullen and withdrawn lately. She talks back and it’s not at all like her. My husband’s been going through a particularly stressful time with his job and we’ve been arguing more than normal. Do you think that has something to do with her change in mood?”

Teenagers watch their parents and how they treat one another. While it’s hard to know why a teen’s mood has changed, you should know your teen tracks your actions and reactions. Sullen silence may not be a sign that your teen is oblivious to home life. Instead, silence may indicate that your teen has raised the antennae and is picking up on your cues.

Modeling Behavior You Expect

We can both point to times when our children recalled instances in vivid detail of how they responded to a remark we made or an action we took. We are surprised to learn that something we did or said made such an indelible impression when the kids were younger. Sometimes the behavior our children mirror is beneficial. Sometimes it is not necessarily pleasing.

Bill is reminded of his insistence that his grade-school-age sons do their homework first before running off to play. Today that lesson has become a habit in his sons’ households and in their work. Tackle the “unfun” stuff first, get it behind you, then whatever follows will go down more easily. Throughout all the complaining, the moaning and groaning, Bill planted a seed that took root.

Tom’s penchant for being obsessive-compulsive when it comes to order and cleanliness has surfaced in a daughter’s behavior. When he can’t imagine why she’s so, so tidy, he only has to reflect a little closer to home.

”Chores were a weekly routine, like clockwork, and now I’m a clean freak,” Tom’s daughter recently told him. Immediately after she said it, her husband of 18 months quickly nodded. If something like that stuck, imagine the impact of irresponsible or negative behavior by a parent on a child.

Planting Seeds

Once again, if that’s true of positive behavior, it likewise follows that negative behavior begets negative behavior. Children, even teenagers, are incredibly impressionable. While they resist and rebel, they are also absorbing and processing. And much of what teens say they don’t like or want becomes the foundation for their adult life.

Of course there are no guarantees. Some parents are astonished at negative behavior by their offspring, behavior that mom and dad would have never condoned. He was from such a nice family, we sometimes hear it said about a teenager who commits a crime or does something completely counter to his upbringing. We all know the power of peer pressure, and many times we have seen examples where the pressures to belong to the group and to be “popular” produces inappropriate actions and sometimes devastating consequences. All the more reason for mom and dad to be the very best role models possible—planting seeds, creating balance.

 

By dads2dads

Love’s Labors

February 14 was Valentine’s Day — a time when we get all soft and buy a card or candy or flowers (sometimes all three) to show someone how much we like/love them. It’s a great day for lovers. But it’s a good opportunity to also express our feelings to our family.

Expressing Love

We’ve talked before about how we as dads don’t tell our teens enough that we love them and how we should do it more. It’s free, it’s needed and it’s highly effective. There doesn’t have to be a particular reason, and your teen needn’t have done anything earth shattering. Valentine’s Day gives us the okay to say, “I love you.” Try it out. Watch your teen’s reaction. On Valentine’s Day, it’s approved. How about at other times?

Some fathers and teens have a pretty good way of talking to each other. For some, it’s a hard sell. If you struggle in conversation with your teen, plan your time together around some event like making breakfast, going to a movie, reading a story aloud, going to the gym, eating lunch or getting a cup of coffee.

This weekend plan to do something together—just you and your teen —to follow up on V Day. It could be a meal at a restaurant or fixing dinner together at home. It might involve a trip to the public library. You could volunteer together, go to a local museum, take in a sporting event, or get tickets to a play. The important thing is not what you do but that you do something to show your love. Take this tradition of romance and translate it into an opportunity to re-engage with your teen. Love is the dynamic that solidifies the family. Now is the time to show it.

Love and Power

Love is its own power. Express it to your teen and watch the reaction. As the Bible says,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Try it out and let us know how it works. After all, what do we need more of in the world today than love? 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.

By dads2dads

Setting Limits

We received an inquiry from a mother about the marketing of makeup to ever younger girls. Wal-Mart had started carrying a new line of makeup for tweens called “geoGirl.” Targeted for girls ages 8 to 12, it caused a firestorm of debate. The mother asked, “I know you guys usually deal with teens, but how do I handle a 9-year- old when she says all her friends will be buying this new makeup and Wal-Mart is promoting it?”

Accelerating the Adult World

We have seen this tendency to market the “adult” world to younger and younger kids through television shows, magazine ads and commercial products. It really comes down to parental judgment and setting limits. Why does your daughter want to wear this makeup? Is it because all her friends are doing it? Is it to dazzle a boy at school? Does she feel the need to wear makeup to fit in or be accepted? Ask your daughter and listen to her answers. Why she wants to wear make-up will give you direction for deciding whether or not she will.

We’ve always had girls wanting to play “dress-up.” Makeup for young girls has ordinarily been seen as “play” and been found in the toy aisle. What is different now is that this makeup line is being marketed not as play but as a pre-adult “grown-up” activity, and the products can be found next to the adult stuff. The 8 to 12-year-old girl market is huge.

A few guidelines.

It is important to create limits for our kids so that they know what is okay and what is not. We do this all the time, whether it’s makeup, dating, diet or schoolwork. The fact that Wal-Mart comes out with a new line of cosmetics for pre-teens doesn’t change this. Limits are still important, and parental responsibility for setting them is key.

It might be helpful to have some guidelines for setting limits. Here are our “top four”:

  1. Base limits on the child. How old is she? How mature is she? What can she handle? Don’t base your child’s limits entirely on those of her friends.
  2. Be open to your child. Let her express her thoughts. She needs to have a say even if it doesn’t always carry the day.
  3. Create consequences for not following the rules. Consequences should be realistic and fair. They should be known up front.
  4. Be consistent in enforcing consequences when rules are not followed.

Communicate

Talk to your child – and listen. Try to keep a handle on how she is feeling. Know her friends and her friends’ parents. She should understand your thought process and why you created certain limits. While her acceptance will be particularly difficult if her friends have a different set of less restrictive limits, it is important to attain some degree of mutual understanding. And it starts with talking and listening.

 

By dads2dads

Fatherhood: It’s Practice Not Perfection

Throughout our tenure as parents, we’re often privileged to attend school athletic contests, plays, musicals, variety shows, etc., in which our adolescents and teenagers are participating. Mom beams with pride realizing that the dress she helped sew is holding together during her daughter’s dance number. Dad just knows that his kid is the star of the show or game, even if his son is playing the tree or warming the bench. Those days of picking up our young singers, actors and athletes after practice or driving them to school or church in the evening for rehearsals finally pay off when we see and celebrate the results of their preparation and hard work.

From preparation to performance

Practice. Preparation. Hard work. We can’t think of a better terms to define the process of growing up. We have heard it said that the early years of a person’s development comprise the preparation. Later, it’s all about performance—education, career, marriage, parenthood, community service. A successful performance is the result of practice and preparation.

Dad as coach

Dad, think of yourself as a coach. Think of your parenting years as practice. It’s not so important that you get everything right. After all, it’s called practice. What is important is that you realize it’s practice for you and for your son or daughter. If practice is simply demanding that your teenager mirror everything you do and say, then you’re not allowing space for your child’s creativity and individuality. If being a parent-coach is laying down a set of inflexible rules and shouting orders, that might be considered practice to produce an automaton, but it’s not preparation for creating an independent-thinking son or daughter. Success in life comes from being prepared to improvise and adapt to all the U-turns and hurdles that life will present.

Parenting is practicing

Dad, be fair to yourself, too. Those years when you are driven to the brink of madness because your teenagers are practicing acting grown-up, experienced, brilliant and all-knowing –take it easy, back off and practice your responses. Dads love to control and fix things. But we need to practice leaving things in pieces and allow our teenagers the freedom to pick up those pieces and put their own puzzles together. Dads, we could use a little practice at unfixing things.

A performance of a lifetime

It goes back to each of us having a personal public relations program. Along with practicing, we parents have earned the right to do a little preaching. While we are helping our children prepare for their life performances, they must also understand that their youth will purchase a measure of forgiveness only for a while. There will come a time when they will be thrust into the spotlight and held accountable for their performance. What they do with what they have learned through years of practice, preparation and hard work will have a lasting impact, and will hopefully make you proud.

By dads2dads

Finding Ourselves In Doing For Others

Volunteers of all ages build houses for the homeless. They collect shoes for the shoeless. They glean farmers’ fields for the hungry. They ring kettle bells for those less fortunate. They read stories to children and play games and do arts and crafts with the elderly. There is arguably no better way to spend time—quality time that otherwise might be frittered away in idle activity—than to share it with others.

Giving is the Gift That Keeps On

A university alumnus told us recently that he tutors teenagers to help them prepare for college entrance exams. His students comprise all ethnicities and backgrounds. He recalls his very best success story. A young gang member wanted to pull himself up and out of his hopeless lifestyle. He agreed—even signed a contract—to attend weekly tutoring sessions. His grade point average was rock bottom, somewhere around 0.0006. After three years of hard work and commitment on everyone’s part, this ex-gang member graduated from high school with a full academic scholarship to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

What’s in Your DNA?

Those kinds of transformative stories create goose bumps. The fact is that there are countless potential life-changing stories out there if only there were enough people willing and able to volunteer their time. Tutors, builders, gleaners, bell ringers—civil servants all—can be any age. The only qualification is that caring must be part of a person’s DNA.

Enter your teenager! How many of us dads get irked at the time our teenagers waste? They may be staring glassy-eyed at the TV. They may be mentally numbed by a video game. They may be hypnotized by the characters dancing across their phone/pad/pod window. At the same time, they may be bellyaching that “there’s nothing to do around here!”

Teach Values—Be a Model

Dads (and Moms), take charge and strongly suggest that your teenagers volunteer their time for community service. Offer to do it with them. What better way to teach the value of giving back, of serving others! Start slowly. Suggest one or two hours a week. Provide some suggestions, but emphasize that anyone can come up with his or her own creative way of volunteering. It doesn’t have to be through an agency or organization. It can be arranged through your church or school. It can be an idea suggested by your family. Need a jumpstart? Call the retirement home nearest to where you live and find out if and how they could use some help. Maybe your teenager would be willing to call.

Imagine your teen replacing even a fraction of the time spent on Facebook with face-to-face service to real people! Talk about being a real friend!

To get started, simply Google “Volunteer opportunities in [location],” and this will take you to several links that provide a menu of organizations. As Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

By dads2dads

A New Year : A New You

A new year brings with it the opportunity to remake ourselves. None of us is perfect and we could all use a little adjustment now and then. The new year is a good time to reflect on those areas of our lives that need improvement.

The Resolution Game

Every year about 100 million people make new year’s resolutions. According to the website USA.gov, some of the most popular are:

~ Lose weight

~ Get fit

~ Quit smoking or drinking (or both)

~ Manage stress and debt

~ Get a better education

~ Get organized

Some of these resolutions stick, most don’t. We run out of personal resources – energy, dedication – or we run into complications – temptation, distractions, loss of willpower. The fact is most of us don’t keep the resolutions we make.

Resolution Success

It’s really a uniquely human trait – this interest in improving our station in life – and the ability to do it. Unfortunately most of us don’t succeed. Why?

Three reasons:            Resolutions aren’t specific or definite enough.

Goals are harder to achieve than we anticipated

Results take too long

In order to achieve success for a resolution you’ve made, you need to have confidence that you can change and you need to possess the continuing commitment to carry it out. You need to believe that you can make the change required and you’ve got to have persistence to overcome setbacks and disappointments. Belief and follow-through are the key components of successful improvement.

Ratchet Up Your Dad Skills

Your role in your teen’s life is very important to his or her successful development. Melanie Mallers, a professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, has shown that fathers play a long-lasting role in the emotional lives of their children. Findings she presented at an American Psychological Association meeting showed that men who experienced a good relationship with their fathers were particularly adept at coping with the daily stresses of life.

No matter how good a dad we are, we can always be better. This new year, decide to improve your dad skills.

Attend your son’s sporting event

See your daughter’s musical performance

Take a day off and spend it with your teen

Read an interesting book or article together

Cook dinner together

Step back from an argument with your teen

Banish sarcasm from a conversation

We can be better fathers. This new year is a good time to make good on that possibility. It will improve relations with your teen and it will make you feel better as well.

Let us know how you do. Write to us – tomandbill@dads2dadsllc.com.

 

By dads2dads

Overcoming Loss

Overcoming Loss

The holidays are often the time of year when we experience the loss of a loved one or feel a loss most heavily. Holidays can present us with so many duties that we don’t have time to reflect on what the loss of a special person means. After all the planning, organizing, and carrying out we enter a period of post holiday letdown. In the silence that ensues, we can become reflective, even melancholy, sometimes depressed, reflecting on the loss of someone special in our life. This is as true of teens as it is of older adults.

Recognizing the Loss

Losing a loved one is going to impact each of us in different ways. A teen who loses a friend or a relative can act at the time as if the loss means very little. Or the loss might make a teen more reflective and inward focused. Having a close friend or relative die can make a teen maudlin or angry. There are as many responses as there are types of teens but as a father, we need to be aware of the delayed reaction, particularly at this time of year.

Climbing Back

Overcoming grief can take a while. But there are some important things we can do as a dad to help our teens cope.

Be patient. Give your teen space to feel the loss.

Ask questions to get a sense of how your child is feeling. Listen carefully to what is said. Don’t try to distract your son or daughter from his or her feelings. It only serves to discount them. Clues may come infrequently but they will appear.

Don’t judge. You might think the reaction is out of balance with the loss – either too intense or too inconsequential. Keep these thoughts to yourself. The best you can do is listen and be present.

Share personal experience but do so sparingly. This is a double-edged sword. Your teen will see what she is going through as different from your experience. Sharing too much of your own perspective can result in alienating teens and making them feel “Dad really doesn’t understand.”

Reassure your teen that what is being felt is understandable and normal. Sometimes a book will help. Check out your local library for a book to help deal with this event in your teen’s life.

Remember the loved one. Light a candle together at church, plant something, or make a donation in his or her name.

Reach out. Encourage your son or daughter to contact friends. Take your teen with you on errands, events, or to a movie. Don’t let your teen brood too long or spend too many days alone.

Most important, be sensitive to how your teen is feeling and the heaviness of the loss. Grief is a process and it is neither easy nor quick. But handled well, it will help your teen recover balance and regain a normal life.

 

 

 

By dads2dads

Choose Words, Praise Carefully

Parents of teenagers walk a tightrope—or they should anyway when it comes to the words they choose to use when communicating to and about their beloved offspring. Both of us can recall moments frozen in time when our tongues outran our brains and stinging words spilled out before the mind had time to throw up a red flag. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” “Will you ever act your age?” “God gave you a brain—why don’t you use it!” “So why don’t you move out and see how long you last on your own!”

Tom recalls an incident years ago when one of his teen-age daughters snapped at him in a sarcastic tone. He grabbed her by the arm. “Who do you think you are!” he said angrily. Caught off guard and totally intimidated, she returned meekly, “Nobody.” That single word in response to his dented ego is a moment he will never forget. When he heard his daughter describe herself as—“nobody”—he beat himself up the rest of the evening and for a long time afterwards. Believe it or not, he still winces in pain and some shame when he thinks back to that moment. Once he said what he said, it was too late to withdraw it. It was etched in memory and is part of family history.

A mother recently told us that, in her opinion, the reverse is also true. Too much praise, too many superlatives about anything a child says or does—regardless of whether it is merited or not—can become ineffective to the point of meaningless. A son’s presentation in church isn’t always fantastic. A daughter’s solo may not be wonderful. A child’s grade just may not be good enough.

So how direct or honest should we be toward our teenager? Should we be concerned about bruising a tender young ego? Should we pull our verbal punches if we think they will hurt too much? Or should we view frankness as a way of preparing our kids for a brutally frank, in-your-face world?

We are reminded of the times our own children played softball or soccer. Everyone got a trophy, win or lose, because everyone is a winner. But for every winner, the hard, cold fact is that there is a loser. When do we keep the trophies and plaques and praise under wraps until they signify something more than simply trying hard. Is trying hard the same as being the best at something? So much of how we criticize or praise is in the tone, the timing and the words we choose.

We’re not about to let our teenagers off the hook. The same thing holds true for them and for their interactions with their friends, teachers, bosses—and parents. It’s never too early, mom and dad, to teach children about the nuanced meaning of words. You can’t put toothpaste back into the tube. Words are like that.

 

By dads2dads

Your Personal PR Program

How many of you, moms and dads both, have a personal public-relations program? While you’re thinking, we’ll answer for you in this way … and so does your teen. Take heed, mom. You can’t jab an elbow in your husband’s ribs this time around and tell him to perk up and listen. This one is for both of you—and for your children.

Perceptions Count

Each and every one of us has a personal public-relations program. Every time we walk out of our house, our public relations program kicks into gear. When we drive down the freeway or buy a newspaper, our personal pr program is in full swing. People are watching us, hearing us and forming perceptions of us by how we act and react in the world around us.

Perception is indeed reality. The waiter in the restaurant may not know you, but he is forming impressions of you. As the customer, you’re doing the same thing. Is your waiter friendly? Is he dressed appropriately? Does he speak in complete and intelligible sentences? Is he attentive … courteous … thorough? The quality of this brief encounter will largely determine if you will ever eat at that restaurant again. Your perception of your waiter, even though you do not know him, affects your opinion of that restaurant and becomes your reality. We form judgments like that all the time.

One Look Can Make the Difference

So, mom and dad, it would be a good idea to impart this notion to your teenager. Like it or not, teens, too, have a personal public-relations program. Yes, it does matter how your son dresses for a job interview. The way your daughter sits in class does send a certain message to the teacher. How your teen acts when hanging out with friends does reveal a lot about character. The way your daughter walks into the room does announce loudly and clearly if she is happy to be there or would rather be anywhere else.

If your son is interviewing for a sales job with Black and Tozer’s Men’s Wear and he is slouched in his chair, chewing gum, mumbling responses, or wearing his pants off his rear, he will flunk the interview. Your son may be a wonderful young man. He may have many fine qualities. But we already know enough about him to know that he won’t be working for us. His personal pr program needs adjusting.

In our work, we have seen a lot of papers written by college students. Without our knowing the author of every paper, it’s quite natural to form an opinion about the writer simply based on his or her writing. Imagine if it were a poorly written job resume, cover letter, or scholarship application.

Teenagers as well as parents need to know that from the moment they rise and shine and head off to life, they are creating perceptions of who and what they are—perceptions that will stick.

 

By dads2dads

Dad’s Labors Lost

Sometimes we dads feel like we toil in the garden of the unknown. We’re not sure how deep to plant the seed, how often to water, how to fertilize, or when to cultivate. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare writes, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” But how do we know our teen and how do we respond?

So many occasions present themselves as our children grow toward adulthood. It could be the lack of effort we see in a high school research paper that still results in an “A.” It might be the choice of a swatch of clothing that might work for a starlet at a nightclub but not for school. It could be a daughter’s undying devotion to “the boyfriend from Hell,” from whom she will not be swayed.

Understand before being understood

“Come on, honey, tell me how you feel. I know it’s hard, but I’ll try to understand.”

“You’d think it was stupid.”

“Of course I wouldn’t! You can tell me. Honey, no one cares for you as much I do. I’m only interested in your welfare. What’s making you so unhappy?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Come on, honey. What is it?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I just don’t like school anymore.”

“What? What do you mean you don’t like school? And after all the sacrifices we’ve made for your education! Education is the foundation of your future. If you’d apply yourself like your older sister does, you’d do better and then you’d like school. Time and time again, we’ve told you to settle down. You’ve got the ability, but you just don’t apply yourself. Try harder. Get a positive attitude about it.”

(Pause)

“Now go ahead. Tell me how you feel.”

Stephen Covey’s fifth habit of highly effective people is, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” He has captured a great example of this struggle between parent and child in the dialogue above. As Shakespeare wrote, “I would my father look’d but with my eyes (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Moving together

There are steps that can help you move closer to how your teen sees an issue:

First, listen. Pay attention.

Second, let your teen know you’ve heard him and how he feels.

Third, stand back. Don’t try to fix whatever you see as the problem

Fourth, let her know what you understand. Share some empathy.

Fifth, share your thoughts and reiterate any rules. This can be tricky, but when done with respect and understanding, it can draw you together.

When we take a step back, a space opens up. Your teen sees the attempt you are making, you begin to comprehend her point of view, and you both better appreciate your different perspectives. Is it immediate? No. Is it magical? Hardly. But when you set aside your own viewpoint and your ego, you can make room for some understanding. You may still not agree, but you can envision a little more clearly the other side of the equation.

 

By dads2dads

TELL YOUR KIDS A STORY

There may be many dads out there who appreciate the value of story; that is, they can tell wonderful tales about their dads because they spent time asking questions and listening to the ol’ man on golf outings or fishing trips. What a remarkable gift it is to hold and preserve those personal stories and to pass them on to our sons and daughters.

A Stranger Named Dad

Tom and his brother have spent several years trying to uncover those stories about their father. In their search, they have been reminded again and again of an unsettling reality—they really never knew their dad. The elder Tozer was a private, stolid clergyman who delved into the lives of his parishioners but remained guarded about his own history. Tom has often said he wished he would have taken more interest in coaxing boyhood stories out of his dad—stories of shenanigans, of black sheep hidden in the branches of the family tree, of loves lost and found, all that juicy stuff!

Another reality, however, is that when we are adolescents or even teenagers, sitting down and interviewing our parents may be the last thing on our to-do list, if it even makes the list. Family histories, those rich stories of our past, become more important as we grow older and have a greater appreciation of place, tradition and connection.

If Only …

So Tom and his brother pore over historical records in the county archives, look for old-timers in the area who may have foggy-at-best recollections of the family name and search for distant relatives here and abroad who may offer clues that might connect some of the dots. How many times the brothers have said … If only dad were still alive, we would mine his 98 years of history.

Stories Connect Us

One of the greatest joys of writing this column is the camaraderie and sharing of family history that we enjoy. From our many conversations over cashew chicken and gyro salads, we have shared the Tozer and Black stories of being young and expectant fathers, rearing children, establishing careers and coping with growing older. It may well be that Tom knows Bill better than he knew his own dad. The sharing of stories—of roots and recollections—face-to-face, up close and personal—truly brings people together.

Pass It On, Dad

So, dads, share your stories with your children. If you find it difficult to get an audience with your kids, then write down your stories and put them in a cool, dry place. Who you are and who you were will one day become gold nuggets that your son or daughter will discover and treasure. Your stories need not be dramatic or exotic, just genuine and real. Your children are who they are in large part because of who you are—and were. Your history is a precious gift for your children. Don’t take it with you.

By dads2dads

The Increase and Impact of Sexting

A local high school teacher was added to the sex-offender registry after sending suggestive messages to two students. Nude photos and sexual messages are too common in the inboxes of teenagers. Police report dealing with an increasing number of cases.

According to a survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to a boyfriend or girlfriend, or posted them online. And 39 percent have sent sexually suggestive messages.

Patricia Dailey Lewis from the Delaware Department of Justice wrote,

“The number of teens and children who engage in inappropriate sexting and texting is shocking. These behaviors can be evidence of sexual exploitation, harassment, bullying and teen dating violence. The results of this teenage behavior can be devastating and have lifetime consequences.”

What it is

Sexting involves tweens or teens sending sexually suggestive photos via cell phone or social networking site. The image a teen takes and sends to one friend can easily be forwarded to a few others and end up on the Internet. Cases are difficult to handle, hard to prosecute and impossible to control.

It is an exploding phenomenon. Ludacris, the rap artist, even wrote a song about it. And with the development of some private sites, it can be done easily and anonymously.

What you can do

Even if they don’t do a lot of talking on the phone, teens can be involved in sexting. Whether you view it as high-tech flirting or child pornography, these images can easily appear in a broader arena, and teens caught sexting can be prosecuted under very serious charges. Some states have discussed legislation to deal with sexting and some have already enacted laws.

Watch what’s going on

Review your teen’s phone on a regular basis. Parents who start early can have this accepted as a regular parental responsibility. Your teen won’t like it … but you’re the parent.

Talk to your teen

Discuss the dangers of sexting, how images can get out of hand, and the legal          consequences of participating.

It’s not private or anonymous

Forty percent of teens say they have had a “private” suggestive message shown to them, and 20 percent say they have shared such a message with someone. And even if someone only knows you by your e-mail address or online profile, he or she can find out a whole lot more with a little effort.

It doesn’t go away

Things you send or post can stay out there for a long time. Others, including college recruiters and potential employers, can access the images or information you post.

Don’t give in.

Peer pressure is a big reason why many teens engage in sexting. It’s not a good enough reason.

Do not underestimate the level or seriousness of sexting. It can have legal and psychological consequences. Negative consequences preserved in cyberspace can last a lifetime, affecting the quality of one’s life and diminishing a promising future.

 

By dads2dads

KEEPING ON TRACK

Sometimes it’s rough on families. That’s especially true when dads are no longer the breadwinners in their families because they’ve lost their jobs. You can feel lost and less important when you think you’re not providing the support your family needs. After all that’s what a father is supposed to do, right?

Little things can affect you in disproportionate ways. Something that wouldn’t ordinarily bother you now makes you feel irritable, hurt, or defensive.

Dealing With Job Loss

Bill will never forget when he lost his job many years ago. He felt like he’d faded into the landscape. He wondered if he’d ever get another job in his field. He seemed, somehow, less important, a bit resentful, and somewhat depressed.

Tom recalls vividly that period when he went out of the workforce to stay at home with his daughters and write (when he could). He was separated from the workplace and distant from professional colleagues, a bit isolated.

Even though Bill’s decision was thrust upon him and Tom’s was of his own making, both had similar feelings of being separated from the professional work world, struggling to bring in some income, and trying to maintain a belief in their own capabilities.

If you are out of work, this is an important time to realize the impact your attitude and actions have on your family. Teens are very observant, even if it doesn’t often seem so. And they learn by example. How we react to difficult times, the reserve we call upon to get us through, and the steps we take to move forward will not only help us but will make an important impression on our teen.

Taking The Right Steps

Losing a job often produces a loss of esteem that can be difficult for the entire family. Taking positive steps to re-engage with the work world will help. Try beginning an activity that takes you away from thoughts of yourself for a while. Whether this involves an exercise program, a sports activity, or a hobby, anything that gives you a bit of perspective and connects you with some other part of the world is helpful. You will need to pay a bit more attention to yourself during this time.

And don’t forget to spend time with your son or daughter. They still need you as much as ever even though they may not admit it. As they see you struggling, they can be reassured by your presence and what you do for them and with them.

By dads2dads

A Disruption in the Teen Age Passage

“My wife was very sick with cancer when our son was 13. Now that he is a sophomore in college, he’s moody and hard to talk to. He just doesn’t act like himself. What’s going on? Could it be some kind of delayed stage of development?”

Passage on Hold

That’s exactly what it sounds like to us. A parent’s serious illness can interrupt normal development. Rebellion is a regular part of teen years—a pulling away from parents to establish independence. But this rebellion can be thwarted, and the passage from childhood to adult put on hold, when a parent faces a life-threatening illness. Teens can’t develop the sense of self and personal identity that is critical to their growth.

Bill’s sons were in their early teens when their mother became ill. It interrupted the formative process. They became sad and worried about their mom. They couldn’t focus on themselves and couldn’t go through the normal separation process. It occurred later and Bill had the same reaction—what’s going on with this lack of communication? I thought we were out of the separation phase.

During adolescence, kids are exploring their independence and developing a sense of themselves. If they don’t have the stable environment they need, they can get stuck, remaining insecure and dependent. Sometimes kids feel guilty for a parent’s illness and have difficulty understanding they are not responsible. This can further complicate their development and keep them in between what psychologist Erik Erickson refers to as Psychosocial Stage 4 – obtaining a sense of competence, and Psychosocial Stage 5—becoming independent.

It’s Okay To Be Uncertain

Kids are often pressured to be “brave” and “responsible,” expected to take on more duties or care for other members of the family. They aren’t often told that it’s okay to feel sad and uncertain. When a parent becomes seriously ill, the kids need patience, understanding and a listening ear. Be sure to watch for problems with school work, sleeping issues, withdrawal, drug use or aggressive behavior. Seek help wherever you can get it—from the school, your church or privately so that your teen feels safe and supported.

Two resources we know of can help kids who are dealing with a parent who has a major illness.

KidsKonnected (http://kidskonnected.org/) provides counseling, camps and workshops for kids who have a parent with cancer. Two books have come from this project: Love Sick, written by teens and Moxie, written to help younger kids.

Gilda’s Club (http://www.gildasclub.org/) offers quality programs and activities for kids impacted by cancer. Teens can volunteer to help in Club programs as well.

No matter what they say, kids need a stable environment for growth. A parent’s illness shakes things up. It’s important for a father to be supportive to a spouse who is ill while providing as much consistency and security as possible for a son or daughter in the midst of the turmoil. This is another tough balancing act for parents.

 

 

By dads2dads

Love Means Holding On, Letting Go

The Overseer

As a father of daughters, Tom saw his share of young male suitors. On weekends he’d gather clues about the boy du jour. He’d observe the young man’s arrival in the driveway, his walk to the front door (no swaggering!) and the “character” of his eye contact—direct, evasive or shifty. Once the young man was allowed in the door, Tom’s demeanor would gradually evolve from friendly greeting to subtle inquisition. His daughter would smile at her gentleman caller, roll her eyes at Mom and, gently pushing the young man out the door, turn back and shoot visual daggers at Dad. Eventually Tom was relegated to the TV room where he vaguely heard Mom’s greeting and wondered if she was conducting a proper grilling and inspection.

The Protector

The fathers we’ve talked to all have those protective feelings for their daughters. What kind of boy is this? What are his intentions? Will I ever see my daughter again!

You’ve been caring for this precious creature since birth. You love her indescribably, in spite of the aggravations she (and probably you, too!) have caused. It’s only natural to be protective.

But when your daughter becomes a teen and starts dating, there is one pain you cannot spare her – a broken heart. That sad, rejected, ache-inducing look on your daughter’s face when she says, “We broke up,” “He lied to me,” “I don’t want to talk about it.”

The Shoulder to Lean On

Avoid a reaction. She will probably not want to talk to you about it when it happens. Your gut instinct to put a dent in the guy’s skull will certainly not make her any more likely to share her story. The best you can do is probably to say, “I’m so sorry.”

Be patient. She may mention something about the incident, the relationship or the feeling. Listen for this and be supportive. Don’t pry.

Let her share. If she decides to share her pain, let her do it in her own way. Don’t control it. She needs to deal with this personal pain so that she can come to terms with it. Don’t give advice or try to change her mood or gloss over the loss.

Be available. Make sure she doesn’t spiral downward too far. Be aware of her mood and keep in touch. Your interaction need have nothing to do with the loss, but it has everything to do with remaining available and being aware. She needs to feel loved to overcome the feelings of rejection and hurt. Share with her a time when you felt profoundly hurt, rejected or left out.

This is one event we can’t fix, Dad, but we can help our child heal. Patience, openness and understanding may be a bit unfamiliar but are in our child’s best interest.

 

 

 

By dads2dads

The Overextended Teen

Bill’s older son had a close friend who was set on a starring role in an upcoming community musical. He was intent on getting that part. Or at least his mother was. Trouble was, he was also on the swim team, in dance and taekwondo lessons, engaged in piano instruction, and serving as an acolyte at his church. This was in addition to legislative council, the student newspaper, and the drama club at his high school. Bill sometimes wondered if all those activities were his choice or the choice of his parents. The child seemed to be under a great deal of stress.

Finding The “Why”

Recently we heard that the prevalence of social media has reduced even further the practice of contemplation. Things move so quickly now that pondering is seen as a disability; a short list of activities for your son or daughter is viewed as a weakness.

While it is important to encourage your teen in some beneficial areas where they are reluctant, it is also important to review their list of activities and honestly assess the motivation and purpose of the involvement. Are we pushing our son to be the baseball player we couldn’t be? Is our daughter trying out for the lead in the play because of our desire or hers? It’s a fine line but as parents, we need to occasionally stop and sort out the value and the motivation of our kids’ activities.

Some teens engage in only the most basic activities and avoid any challenges or opportunities that have the potential to reap rich rewards. Others, however, become overextended through their own drive or the pressure of their parents. This hyperactivity can lead to negative stress for the whole family.

How do you figure out what to encourage and whether your son or daughter is involved in too much or for the wrong reasons?

Rebalancing

Try asking. See how they feel about their daily life. Watch for trouble signs like inability to finish assignments, a drop in homework or increased irritability.

Try the percentage approach. Help your son or daughter divide the day and see if homework, extracurricular school activities, community service, etc., can be assigned loose percentages or time periods that will help provide some limitations and organization.

Quality trumps quantity. Instruct your daughter that even though everything seems important and interesting, choices need to be made. Reassure your son that you’re ok with him cutting back on some activities. Stress the importance of “down time.”

Overall, while you can play an important role, we think it is important to leave it to your teen to sort out daily life. This provides the opportunity to learn how to manage time and set priorities. As we have found with our kids, our support is then key to open communication and achieving a balanced, successful life.

 

By dads2dads

Tips For Handling Bullies

A few years ago, nine Massachusetts teenagers were charged with bullying over several months that led to suicide of a 15-year-old girl. Unfortunately, this was not and is not an isolated event. Bullying is occurring with more frequency and more severity in our schools and in our society.

According to the Heroes and Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit center for parents, one in 10 students is bullied at least once a week, and one in three has experienced bullying as either a bully or a target during the average school term. Bullying can be physical, verbal or emotional—in-person or online, with physical and/or emotional consequences. Bullying is not normal and does not “build character.”

What Parents Can Do

Victims of bullying may lose interest in school, have frequent nightmares, headaches or other illnesses. They may begin to misuse drugs or break the law. They may become anxious, sullen, scared or angry—and yet never mention being bullied.

Watch for signs. Take it seriously. Listen to your child. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your child’s teacher. Help your child get involved in a new group or activity.

Reassure your child. Help your child to understand that what someone says about him does not reflect his value. Provide reassurance that this will be resolved.

Encourage confidence. Physical activity and developing new skills are ways to build confidence.

Help your child solve the problem herself. By learning the skills to stand up for herself, she can use them in other situations.

Teach Your Children

Teach your child to say, “Leave me alone.” Bullies look for a reaction, whether it be fear, subservience or anger. If they are met directly and with confidence, they often go elsewhere.

Walk away. It is often the best approach.

Tell an adult. Let your child know he can talk with you or tell a counselor if he is being bullied. Keeping silent is what the bully counts on.

Avoid a physical response. Bullies are usually more familiar with using violence than is your child. An aggressive response leads to more bullying.

Cultivate new friendships. Being bullied can help you feel alone. Friends who believe in you are a world of comfort. Stay close to them so that you are less frequently alone.

Dads can provide a listening ear, an understanding heart and, when necessary, an intervention to help ensure the safe environment that is so important for healthy growth.

 

 

By dads2dads

Power of a Father’s Love

Billionaire Warren Buffet will turn 86 in August and is worth $66 billion. When asked what made him what he is today, he replied that it was the unconditional love he received from his father. “I knew I could always come back home.”

One might have expected his answer to be his business acumen, his savvy, his schooling, the opportunities afforded by free enterprise, even his shrewd investments.

Nope. None of the above. It was his dad.

This man of immense wealth and prestige, this larger than life investor, industrialist and philanthropist pointed to the unconditional love of his father as the single most important factor in his growth and development.

“There is no power on earth like unconditional love. And I think that if you offered that to your child, I mean, you’re 90 percent of the way home. There may be days when you don’t feel like it — it’s not uncritical love; that’s a different animal — but to know you can always come back, that is huge in life. That takes you a long, long way. And I would say that every parent out there that can extend that to their child at an early age, it’s going to make for a better human being.”

That’s really it! In spite of all the frustrations, disappointments and setbacks that our teenagers drag us through, we love them. The very power of love—of unconditional love—is that it is given freely without any expectations. There need not be any exchange, no guarantee, no promissory note, no IOU, nothing in return. Love is a feeling too big for the word.

The more conditions we attach to our loving someone, the less sure we are of our love. It’s a little like a bill in Congress. The more pork it’s wrapped in, the harder it is to get to the core of the bill’s intent. Or a contract. The more clauses it contains, the more complicated it is. Unconditional love, with no attachments, is pure in its meaning and incredibly difficult in its application.

That doesn’t mean we let our kids do everything they want. It doesn’t mean they can walk over us, trample on rules or disregard expectations. It means there is an unbreakable bond that keeps us engaged and is extremely important.

Try this little exercise. Think of all the reasons why your teenager drives you crazy. We bet you can reel them off without taking a breath. Now, describe why you love your teenager. How’s that working for you? Are the answers coming a little harder? The process is not as free-flowing as the first assignment is it? Keep at it. You’ll find the answers, though more difficult, are quite meaningful. In fact, they far outweigh the reasons your teenager drives you crazy. Or they should. The crazies are insignificant; the love is an unbreakable bond.

There is a depth to unconditional love that defies definition or description. There is a connection between parent and child that renders any tension or disagreement or exasperation as merely trivial.

Dad, when you “love your kid no matter what,” you’re looking beyond the dismissive eye rolls, deep sighs, the smart mouth and the rudeness—even, dare say it?—the piercings and tattoos. Yep, the feeling is too big for the word. Maybe for any words.

 

By dads2dads

Recovering Perspective

A number of fathers have told us that as the pressures build, they have a hard time maintaining balance in their lives. How do you release the pressure and regain perspective? How do you unlock a larger view for your children? How do you make sure you earn your kids’ respect without demanding it? How do you make it clear that showing respect is honoring the home, the comforts, the conveniences and the things you work hard to provide?

Steps to Recovery

Be deliberate and decisive. Make a conscious effort to separate home from work. Don’t bring work stress into your relationships at home. Sit in your car a few extra minutes. Clear your mind and focus on the importance of your family.

Be present and pay attention! While you won’t make every event, go to some important ones. Your attendance and attentiveness build closeness and enhance respect on both ends.

Be open. Let your teen know she can talk to you about anything. She may not take you up on your offer immediately, but she’ll know the door is open.

Be quiet. If your teen takes you up on your open-door policy, be a good listener. Every conversation is not a request for your opinion. Every problem is not yours to fix.

Be consistent. Explain your expectations and why they are important. Arbitrary rules turn teens off. They are much more willing to obey if they understand the reason.

Be understanding rather than judgmental. Hear your teen’s story from his or her point of view. Let your teen be an individual.

Be complimentary. Let your teen know when you’re proud of something he or she has done. “You did really well on that paper.” Punctuate it with a smile or hug.

Be encouraging. Cheer for your teen. Be positive when he or she shares hopes, dreams and ideas.

Be loving. This may be the toughest of all because we dads fall for all that macho mumbo-jumbo. It takes real toughness to be tender.

The big payoff

Ah, it seems just like yesterday! The son received a list of chores. Dad conducted inspection. Liberation came only after inspection was passed with flying colors. Some years later, Bill received this card:

Thank you for being the greatest dad and giving me those chores to do. All of your encouragement, support and guidance has made all the difference in my life, especially now as I am making the transition from dependent to being truly independent and self sufficient. I have learned so much from you and I still am. For that I am eternally grateful. I know you and mom sacrifice a lot to allow me to do things and I appreciate it so much. Maybe someday I’ll have kids and I can do the same for them.

That’s what it’s all about.

 

By dads2dads

Pushed to the Boiling Point

Many fathers often deal with a pressure cooker at work. Patience can grow thin and perspective can shrink. Little things get under your skin in a big way. A tolerable co-worker becomes a banshee. An inconvenience becomes a roadblock. Deadlines scream at you. The workload exceeds its weight limit. You’re no longer your cheerful, easy-to-get-along-with, lovable self.

The Dreaded Eyeroll

So when you get home, late again, and suggest that your teenager should clean up the chocolate ice cream spill on the new carpet in the upstairs bonus—the room with the new carpet that is off limits to teenagers with liquids or sticky desserts of any kind—you’re not too pleased when you get the universally loathed eyeroll. You feel steam escaping from your ears as you remove all sharp objects from your mind and try to find some perspective.

And then a cell phone goes off, and your teenager holds up a hand and announces, “I gotta take this,” bounds down the hall and disappears. You, dear dad, have been dismissed. Or is it “dissed?” Other family members quietly back away as they watch in wonderment at your meltdown. You imagine 12 members of the jury — all teenagers.

Scooping The Poop

“All I do is scoop the poop,” one poetic father told us and several nodded in agreement. It is in the comfort and solace of home where the scoopers would appreciate being appreciated for the poop they scoop. So when dads discover that they’re still in the poop business at home because of unappreciative daughters or ungrateful sons, they tend to lose it. Kids can’t understand because they’ve not experienced the world of the office or shop where one’s self-esteem can take a thrashing. Kids only know need. By their very nature, they’re takers, not givers. They can’t help it. They don’t appreciate the expensive, new carpet and don’t understand that a well-timed thank-you can extend a father’s life another two, three hours. They cannot conceive of the idea that to follow house rules—like no food in the bonus room—is not a parental strategy to be bossy and keep them under thumb. Rules help to maintain order and sanity.

 R-E-S-P-E-C-T

How do you make it clear to your teen that showing respect isn’t simply following rules and taking orders—but it is honoring the home, the comforts, the conveniences and the new carpet that mom and dad have worked hard for and will continue to work hard for because that’s what parents do?

We discovered in our conversations with a lot of dads that two words, respect and appreciation, are really important to fathers. And, yep, those words really are important to teenagers. It works both ways.

 

 

By dads2dads

Cherish Every Maddening Moment

What do teenagers need?

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to ask another one: What do dads need? Dads are human, too. Dads need a hug. Dads need an encouraging word. Dads need a smile, a playful nudge with an elbow, A BACK RUB!

Here’s the catch. we probably won’t get any of those things, at least not on demand. But we’re the adults here. We should dole them out generously. We should stop my teenager in his tracks and give him a hug. Yes, he will pull away, look at us in disbelief and query out loud: “Whattaya doin’, dad?” That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s their job. It is not cool to accept affection of any kind from a close family relative. Uncles and aunts can throw their arms around their nieces and nephews, squeeze and slobber all over them. Dad will be viewed as a virus if he gets within five feet. But that’s OK. Give it a whirl anyway.

Make yourself available

Now that doesn’t mean your teenager will clamor for your company or attention. Again, it’s your teenager’s job to exhibit independence and self-reliance. Be there anyway. Extend an invitation to lunch. To a ballgame. For a bike ride. For a round of Wii golf or table tennis. It’s likely that she won’t except the invitation. That’s her job—refusing parental invitations. After all, she may have anything else to do other than to hang out with dad. That’s OK. Being there is all that matters. Just being there speaks volumes.

Show interest in what your teenager is doing. We don’t mean stick your nose in his business. Just be curious. Ask about school. Inquire about the latest fad or trend. Seek your daughter’s opinion on a current hot issue. Don’t expect an immediate answer. Matter of fact, you should expect stone cold silence or perhaps an unintelligible utterance. That’s OK. Wait for awhile and be curious again. It will probably bug the heck out of your teen and perhaps bring on some kind of deep guttural protest. But your kid will know that you asked. And he or she will remember. Even be appreciative. Not that you’ll ever know it. Not that you need to know it.

Bend over backwards for your teenager.

Muster your courage and run an errand for her. Pick up after him. Turn off her bedroom light for the 11th time. Clean up the mess he left. Fill her gas tank. Close the door gently behind him. Gather her bobby pins and put them in her drawer. Remind him for the 20th time about … nearly anything! Oh we know … you’ll be on the verge of biting off your lip. You’ll hear your heart pulsating in your ears. You’ll have composed a list of sarcastic barbs to hurl. But just know that someday soon, sooner than you can imagine, you’ll peer into that empty bedroom and wish you could live even just one of those exasperating days all over again. It goes so fast. Cherish every maddening moment.

 

By dads2dads

Dad Can’t Help Wonder – What’s My Line?

 

What’s my line?

We think cue cards for dad should come with every package that comprises a teenager. We can remember getting into oral fisticuffs with our teenagers about almost anything. It didn’t matter what we said—it was misplaced, ill-timed, just plain wrong. Try as we might to offer conciliatory words as a balm to soothe our embattled relationship, our carefully chosen responses evolved into jagged edges that rubbed them every which way but right.

What’s my motivation?

With each cue card for dad that contained just the right response for every occasion, there would also be a bonus in parentheses—a stage direction. It might be something like (He spoke calmly) or (His tone was devoid of sarcasm) or (He remained silent while he crawled behind the sofa). We sometimes think we would have been a lot happier and less stressed knowing when and how to speak, how to act, look or move, how long to pause, how softly or loudly to respond and when to draw out a sentence or cut it off in midstream. Or simply when to make an exit.

It doesn’t matter if you have sons or daughters. Sometimes you feel outnumbered. Sometimes we are a powerhouse of one in our families. It is extremely challenging to know when to speak and what to say. And when we venture forth with even a syllable, we get the death-ray glare from our teenager.

Eating our words

Dad (jumping in the deep end): Well, honey, I think you ought to call your manager rather than send an e-mail.

Wrong!

Dad (treading water): You really ought to see the apartment before you say you want it.

Yeah, right. Wrong!

Dad (sinking fast): Your teacher will appreciate the fact that you put forth the effort regardless of how many you get wrong.

Earth to dad! Earth to dad!

Our sage advice either misses the point or the entire side of the barn.

Not even a word!

Even one-word replies wouldn’t rescue us from hot water.

Dad: Probably.

Son: That’s not what I meant, dad!

Dad: Indeed.

Son: You just can’t accept the idea that I’m 17!

Dad: Rutabaga.

Son: There you go again—I don’t know why I even brought it up!

Say it with a card

Think of the peace of mind teenager-composed cue cards would bring to the conversation.

Daughter: How can she be so stupid!

Dad (reads cue card with feeling): Because she can’t help it, light of my life. She’s been stupid all her life.

Daughter: My teacher never explains anything, and he never told us there was going to be a test today!

Dad (reads cue card with conviction): It’s obvious that your teacher received insufficient schooling, Pumpkin, and I know he didn’t tell you about the test because you would have included that in your class notes.

Daughter: Dad, I would have dried the dishes—all you had to do is ask.

Dad: (reads cue card with sugary compassion): And I didn’t want to ask you, sweetie pie, because I know you’ve had a rough day, and I didn’t want to interrupt ‘Cake Boss.’

We really think in this family drama—at least for awhile—we’re better off just playing trees.

 

By dads2dads

The Touch of Tragedy

Your child may ask you about violence on school campuses. Or the Colorado theatre shootings. Or the Connecticut school tragedy. Or the Boston marathon explosions. Or attacks in Charleston and San Bernardino. As dads, we’re supposed to have some answers, to see the reason in unreasonableness, to try and understand the unfathomable, to provide a sense of safety for our family. But sometimes, we’re just perplexed.

Understanding the Unfathomable

We have all been taken aback by the tragic events of violence in our country recently. We can’t help but wonder why bad things happen to innocent people and what to do about it? What do you tell your children? How do you explain the unexplainable and how do you keep them safe?

When we are reeling from news of our country’s students and innocent bystanders being subjected to harm, it may be quite difficult for us to understand why these events happen, let alone explain them to our children. But as dads, we are called upon to make sense of the senseless. And so we must try.

Comforting our children

There are some actions you can take to help your children deal with tragedy.

• Try to be calm and factual. You need to be an example of steadiness.
• Minimize exposure to the news. Tragedy breeds coverage that seems never-ending. A constant focus on the event makes it ever-present in children’s minds and seem more common than tragic events really are.
• Answer your child’s questions in a truthful manner that is appropriate to his or her age.
• Give your child a chance to talk about the event. Raise the issue but don’t dwell on it. Children recover fairly quickly from tragic news. But they will want to talk about it at some point. Be available and watch for the opportunity.
• Check on your child. Watch for signs of stress, unusual actions, unusual mood swings or anxiety, interrupted sleep or eating patterns, an intense focus on something. Make sure your child is doing ok. Provide other opportunities for discussion or just togetherness.
• Acknowledge and respect your child’s feelings.
• Reassure your child about his or her personal safety.
• Talk about ways you can get involved in work to prevent violence in our society.

Starting the Conversation

It is important to talk about events that make a difference in our lives. Tragic episodes are no different. Pick a time when your child can listen. Be calm, steady & truthful. Don’t speculate. Provide an opportunity for your child to ask questions. Correct any misperceptions that may have been picked up. And reassure your child of his or her personal safety through words and a hug. You won’t be able to answer all the questions, but you’ll begin to start a dialogue.

A helpful resource is the Mayo Clinic’s suggestions for helping children cope with tragic events
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/helping-children-cope/MY02332

By dads2dads

Coping With Tragedy

It seems we  deal with an increasing number of tragedies this with each coming month – some natural disasters and some man-made. We have honored those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings. Recently we learned of the loss of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, worried about those impacted by the Fort Hood shootings, wounded by the loss of 244 travelers when their plane exploded, and most recently grieved with those who lost their lives or were injured in the Paris attack.

The  barrage of news and the ability of media to capture events from anywhere across the globe expose us to tragedy more quickly and more often. Frequently, the tragedies involve our youth. Shootings have impacted our schools in Tennessee, Connecticut, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, California, South Carolina, Illinois, and Hawaii. How are we to handle all the bad news that comes our way?

Ivan Lopez, the soldier who reportedly walked into two buildings at Fort Hood and ended up killing three army personnel and injuring 16, was a father of four. How do we explain that and other senseless acts of violence to our children? And how do they cope with it?

Each of us is faced with tragedies, large and small—storm damage, job loss, divorce, illness, a death in the family. We also see terror and violence in the world at the hands of those who wish to do harm. What impact do these occurrences have on our children, and what can we do to help them deal with the repercussions?

Here are some things that have helped us with our children:

Talk about it. Others will, from media to family members to other kids at school or in social groups. Create a climate in which your child can talk and express his or her emotions. Focus on the facts. Find out what your child already knows about the situation. Encourage questions

Banish blame. Try to avoid placing responsibility. It is not your child’s fault, and responsibility shouldn’t be assigned to anyone else. This is about helping your child cope with a very real hardship—not focusing on who’s at fault.

Give a hug. We’ve said this often in a number of different ways. Be supportive and tell your child you will do everything you can to keep him or her safe.

Be patient. Children will have a range of emotions just like adults. They may be less able to express them. Give them time.

Watch for behavior changes. When kids are faced with difficult situations, they often want to return quickly to a regular routine. Don’t be surprised. While they are still processing the situation, they can often do it best in the context of their normal routine.

Seek help. Check your local library, responsible sites on the Internet, or counseling services for guidance in dealing with tragedy.

Be an example. As we’ve said before, you are a role model to your child. Make sure your approach to tragedy is one you want your child to emulate.

By dads2dads

Inside a Bully’s Head

This post in our bullying series owes its inspiration & expertise to “An Interview with a Former Bully,” by writer Donna Smith.

A bully often has a tough parent, usually a dad. The dad may not be abusive, but he projects an aggressive demeanor. A bully may also be the youngest child in the family who gets picked on by older siblings. When a youngster suffers this kind of treatment repeatedly, he begins to lose self-respect.

Singles out weaker people

In order to regain self-respect, a bully singles out other people who are weaker or different and pushes them around. His victims allow themselves to be bullied. They also have little self-respect and, thus, are easy and vulnerable targets. Often a bully will not pick on anyone who is like him/herself. If the bully is an athlete, he most likely won’t pick on other athletes. If he is nerdy, he will leave other nerds alone.

More emotional than physical

A bully believes bullying is cool. He or she often bullies in front of an audience, which he mistakenly thinks gains him respect. Some of the bullying is physical, but much of it is also psychological. Usually the latter comes first. When a victim has had enough, he or she will finally strike back. Frequently that gesture of self-defense simply feeds the bully’s desire to become meaner and more vicious. The adrenaline kicks in and fuels the bully’s need to dominate.

The bully sideshow

Interestingly enough, a bully can become a sideshow for others to watch. Other people begin to set the bully up, daring him to face off with someone else. The bully becomes a pawn. He is too blind to see how he is being manipulated by his so-called friends. For them, watching him square off with someone else is entertainment. It makes good video. For him, his latest victim is yet another mountain to conquer, another chance to prove how tough he is.

Alone and friendless

Finally, however, the bully finds himself torn between having to fight and not wanting to fight. As he matures, he begins to realize that he has few real friends. Others are either afraid of him and don’t want to be around him or they detest him because he thinks he is God’s gift to the world. A bully is always lonely.

He only begins to feel better about himself and more accepted when he steps back from a fight. He begins to see people in a different light. As a bully gets older, he looks back with regret and realizes the damage he has inflicted on others—in some cases, permanent emotional damage. Some of his past victims dropped out of school or moved away or became reclusive. In extreme cases, the bully may feel some responsibility for a person’s suicide.

The bully looks back at his own family life and realizes that his tough dad was a mean man who hated his own life and took it out on everyone else. He may see how his older brothers treat their wives as objects of ridicule. He now understands that he is only beginning to become a real man.

By dads2dads

Bullying

We’ve all seen examples of bullying at school and on the streets. Some of our children have experienced it firsthand. One youngster attacks another and an audience gathers. One girl or boy is suddenly jumped on by a swarm of youngsters. A child is tormented mercilessly in person or online. Many situations are caught on cell-phone cameras and posted on YouTube as entertainment and end up on Fox and CNN. These attacks can be ignited by something as trite as name-calling or as disturbing as fulfilling a rite of passage for acceptance into a group. We have all been shaken by the occasional report of a young person taking his or her own life because of vicious and relentless bullying.

The home as a training ground

Research conducted by Ersilia Menesini, Ph.D., Department of Psychology at the University of Florence (Italy), reveals that the relationships between brothers and sisters in a family can serve as a “training ground for bullying, deviancy and aggression through social learning processes or behavioral patterns that can be reinforced across contexts.” In other words, the way siblings treat one another at home often carries over to how those same kids interact with their peers. That behavioral

The same roles leave home

If siblings get along at home and interact with some sense of respect and kindness, it is more likely they will mix well in social settings. If they don’t and are, instead, combative, they may be bullies or victims at school. Children often maintain their home roles outside the home, Menesini points out.

Ah, those older brothers

A study by the professor indicated that bullying and victimization is as strong among siblings as among peers. Older brothers, more so than older sisters, are the culprits at home, according to the study. Because home provides a more intimate environment, however, younger victims are more likely to fight back at home than in school. “At home it is more common to reciprocate attacks and fights among siblings, as the relationship is more intimate and less affected by the risk of losing the relationships, as compared to interactions with peers or within friendships.”

What parents can do

Bullying can happen to anyone, perpetrated by boys and girls alike. Parents need to pay attention to the actions and interactions of their children. Home is the training ground where behaviors can be influenced and altered through modeling, teaching, and perhaps a little preaching.
Menesini suggests that parents need to:

• pay close attention to sibling relationships;

• serve as a mediator to prevent a conflict from escalating; and

• get involved in conversations when relationships between children seem negative and combative.

We’ll add one more to the list. Parents must monitor their own behavior and model a high standard of positive social interaction and civility.

By dads2dads

Compassion

Bill and his son recently attended a talk by the Dalai Lama. It was a rare opportunity to engage in a “buddy trip” and receive some inspiration from a man who many would call one of the great spiritual leaders of the world.

Truth be told, Bill was skeptical the trip would work out given his son’s multiple responsibilities. But the trip came off without a hitch, and he’s glad it did. It provided a rare opportunity to hang out with his son and to hear words of compassion contained in the Dalai Lama’s address. These trips together, so common when his sons were younger, have grown rare as time has passed.

A city buys in

The event was really a half-day program including music, exhibits, and talks by members of the Interfaith Council of Louisville. In an introduction leading up to the appearance of the Dalai Lama, Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, talked about the Partnership for a Compassionate Louisville and how Louisville has signed on to be a city of compassion, the largest city to do so.

A return to the Golden Rule

The event, and the impending start of school, started us thinking about the disadvantaging of some children at the hands of others—in short, bullying. There is no space for bullying within the concept of compassion. Compassion means caring for others. Compassion means making sure no one is left behind or goes wanting. It means taking the opportunity to help things go better for others – treating others with respect and dignity. It is the Golden Rule. Being compassionate calls us to alleviate the suffering of others, treat people with justice, equity and respect, and to hold back from inflicting pain or speaking ill.

Our children should be safe to participate in social and educational opportunities without fear. We need compassionate schools and communities where children are treated with respect. Have you thought about what it means to be compassionate and how the traits of compassion might be translated to your children?

Laying the groundwork for compassion

There are some things we can do to enhance the concept of compassion. We can get our children involved in caring for our environment, volunteering their time to help others, standing up for someone who is being bullied or excluded, forgiving others when they make mistakes, helping out at home by setting the table, keeping their room clean, washing the dishes, helping others who are struggling, listening to others, and showing respect.

We can start with ourselves. By beginning personally, we can serve as examples for traits of compassion in our children. This will help build the alliances at schools that can deter instances of bullying. By caring for others, our children can take some responsibility themselves for reducing those times when children are disadvantaged at the hands of others.

By dads2dads

Civility 101

School days are here again. When school teachers ask for help today, many are really wanting to know how mentally and emotionally to survive the day. In some cases, knowing the subject matter is secondary to managing crowd control. A friend of ours works across the street from a “last stop” high school for kids who have been booted out of their original school. It is not uncommon, she says, to see police cars pull up en masse and escort students outside and into their patrol cars. Area residents are so accustomed to the wailing sirens, they hardly pay any attention. It is still jarring, however, to those people who work in the inner city and then go home to a more serene environment.

Not civics—civility

This particular school leans toward the extreme but many schools and teachers deal with kids who are out of control. We’re not sure that any school in the nation will ever require students to take a course in civility. Not civics. Civility. But we think it would be a good idea. We are not a civil society these days. We have replaced conversation with confrontation. In many cases, violence is the first resort. And it’s not a question of teaching morals. It goes more deeply than that. It’s a matter of values.

Our values define us

A value is an intangible ideal that we personify by the way we live and conduct ourselves in society. If we hold sacred the value that every human being deserves respect, then we wouldn’t think of hurting another person by our words or actions. Respect for all of human life is a value, one that serves as a cornerstone for morality. We respect others’ property as if it were our own. We realize how much money and/or effort it took for us to acquire those things that we hold dear; therefore, we would not steal from someone else. Respecting what others have invested in their own lives—tangible and intangible—is a value.

Civility ought to be part of the curriculum in public, private and home schools. (How about a section in Driver’s Ed?) So much of what we see and hear in the news and through entertainment venues reflects very little regard for human life and dignity. A popular bumper sticker reads: “You keep honking … I’ll keep reloading.” These days the way to solve disputes or even minor disagreements is to use abusive language, throw a punch, or all too often, pull a trigger.

Kindness—what a concept!

Dad, teach your son that there is nothing manly about being a brute. Being loud and pushy and aggressive doesn’t show strength. It shows insecurity and weakness. Dad, teach your daughter that the qualities that exemplify a lady are those that will last a lifetime and carry over to others. Tell your kids to look for role models who receive humanitarian awards, study abroad, read books to children and the elderly—who treat other people with respect and kindness.

We need an app for civility.

By dads2dads

The Importance Of “I Love You”

Tom’s dad was not a demonstrative man. He seldom showed his emotions, and when he did, it was restrained and even awkward. He wasn’t much of a hugger. Likewise, it was not often that he mustered an “I love you.” Words and gestures of affection just didn’t come easily to him. It was his sense of humor and appreciation for the practical joke that humanized him. But still, as a teenager, there were many times when Tom wasn’t quite sure how his dad felt about him.

As Tom’s dad grew older, he became more comfortable with his feelings. Phone calls ended with the more corporate (and comfortable) “We love you.” Then, gradually, a more personal “I love you.” Over time, it became easier to say, and they said it often. And frequently on visits, instead of shaking hands, they hugged.

Experiencing The Discomfort

As dads, we wrestle with the same difficulty. It’s sometimes hard to say “I love you” to our children. Well … let’s back up. It’s easy to say those words to children when they are walking on unsteady legs and sticking their fingers in your ear. As they approach adolescence and enter their teenage years, it’s as if the words catch in our throats. What was once easy to say to an infant can become extremely difficult to say to an ornery, obstinate, sometimes downright rude teenager.

Do we love our 16-year-old daughter any less than our 3-year-old? We don’t think so. Suddenly, however, there is greater risk in saying those words when they are going to be returned not with a giggle but with sullen silence. In trying to express our feelings to our teens, should their expected response matter? Absolutely not. Does it matter? Probably.

Understanding The Need

As we grow older, the risk of love becomes a little less — along with the awkwardness and perhaps the embarrassment. We all go through stages of doubt and uncertainty, and there is room for maturity no matter how old we are.

So, dad, say it early and often. “I love you.” Stop your teenagers in their tracks and remind them of that. Look them in the eye and mean it. Blow their minds and hug them. If this comes easily to some of you dads out there, then you won’t understand why it doesn’t for others of us. That’s OK. Our struggles are not all the same.

If your teenager demands his or her space, back off a little. In return, demand your own space and invite your teenager to share it. If he or she rebuffs your offer, make another offer and another. Nothing says “I love you” more than wanting to share your space, your time, a slice of your life with someone else.

Dad, be the grownup here. If you haven’t told your teenager lately how much you love him or her, do it right now. You may get a funny look, a smirk, even one of those annoying eye rolls — but your son or daughter will remember it.

It will matter.

By dads2dads

Hollow Trophy

James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has received a lot of attention for his plan to return trophies his sons received for participating in a sporting activity. He said, “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.” Harrison went on to say, “Everything in life should be earned, and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

The pursuit of happiness

Over the last decade or so there has been a focus on so-called “self-esteem,” which has included an aversion to competition, criticism and correction in favor of praise, promotion and potential. We want our kids to succeed and to be happy. However, Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore College, notes, “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing. But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

Our discomfort with discomfort

Dan Kindlon, child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, says if kids can’t experience struggle and pain they won’t develop “psychological immunity.” As a result they won’t know how to deal with not getting the starring role, being cut from the team, or receiving criticism on a class paper. School faculty and administrators are now spending quite a bit of time responding to parental involvement in what should be a student’s responsibility to study hard, be prepared, and, on limited occasions, raise warranted concerns on his or her own behalf.

The adult journey

In the adult world, everyone does not get a trophy. The world of the adult is full of possibility punctuated by frustration and disappointment. Certainly we need to encourage our children, but we need also to prepare them for discouragement. When we reward our kids for participating—win, lose or draw—out of concern for their self-esteem, we are redefining the meaning of success.

Harrison’s life lesson seems right on. Kids develop self-esteem by tackling challenges, recovering from uncertainty and striving to do well. They build self-esteem by overcoming adversity. Parents stunt their child’s development by lowering those hurdles and expectations. Parents accelerate their child’s growth by helping them navigate through trials towards achievement—not through participation trophies.

All kids are not good at all things. However, every kid is good at something. Our job as parents is to help our children identify those things at which they excel and help provide the resources for them to be successful.

By dads2dads

Guys, You Blew It!

Okay, so we blew it. That’s what one reader told us in an e-mail. We’ll call him Joe (and of course, as we all know, this is not his real name). And maybe Joe’s right. If we want our children, young or older, to be grateful for what they have and for what mom and dad have sacrificed to provide them, Joe said, then as parents we need to model the gratitude we expect from them. Joe said if your children are taught to be thankful when they’re young, it will carry over to their teenage years. So … yep, maybe we blew it somewhere along the way.

When we met with other dads and discussed this particular subject, however, nearly all of them expressed the same feeling. I guess even adults have to grow up as they get older. And maybe that process differs with all of us. We are darned proud of now-grown children. They have done well, and there is now evidence that they see and understand that we all stand on the drooping shoulders of others before us. Anyway, Joe, thank you.

Talk it and Walk It
This is a great segue into another email we received from a mom who asked for suggestions on how parents can instill a sense of gratitude in their children. Referencing Joe again, parents do need to model the behavior they expect from their sons and daughters. You have to talk the talk — and also walk it. That’s difficult for us when we deal daily with an ungrateful boss or neighbor or client or creditor and yet are expected to model behavior that we seldom experience ourselves. Gratitude takes effort and energy!

Acknowledge the gift and giver
It’s a good habit to acknowledge the gifts that you have received, whether they are tangible items wrapped in fancy paper or skills and abilities that comprise your DNA. Allow your children — whatever their ages — to see, hear, feel and celebrate your gratitude for all that you receive.

Go climb a tree
Explore your family tree. When Tom and his brother drilled down into their family, they discovered they are who they are, in large part, because of the characteristics of their father, grandfather and his father. Tom is proud of that heritage, and he is grateful. But they waited until they were much older to start this exploration. We would suggest taking that journey as soon as you can. There is a wealth of gratitude in discovering those many pairs of shoulders that came before. (Tom’s daughters have drilled down only far enough to discover that they inherited their obsession for organization, order and impatience from their dad. Their appreciation is not yet evident.)

Home is where the hugs are
Most of all, however, mom and dad, we believe you should express thanks for your kids to your kids. Many dads especially find it awkward to reveal their tender side. Under that thick skin and tough exterior bubbles a pool of hugs and kisses and words of encouragement, pride and love. Teenagers need to hear that they are loved and appreciated for who they are, just as they are — and they need to hear it at home. Sometimes they seldom hear it anywhere else.

By dads2dads

What Do You Say, Tommy?

Call us self-indulgent but we think teenagers should be grateful to their parents from whom their blessings flow — and they should express that gratitude by their words and actions.

When we were young, what was one of the first things our parents taught us? Whenever Aunt Audrey gave us soap on a rope, or the guy at the store slipped us one of those tiny candy bars, or someone at church ruffled our hair and told us how nice we looked in our gray suit, Mother would lean over, tilt her head slightly, and gently but firmly offer, “What do you say?” And on cue we muttered a squeaky thank-you. It was what you did. It was appropriate, proper, even expected.

The Teen-age Exemption

So now Tommy is a teenager and doesn’t need to say thank you. And why is that? Well, because parents are doing for their kids what parents are supposed to do. Doing, giving, sacrificing are part of the parental job description. We do, give and sacrifice out of love.

So what happened to, “And, sweetie, what do you say in return?” When did offspring earn an entitlement that exempted them from having to say thank-you … out loud … with joy in the heart?

We know how this is going to sound so there’s no use in sugar-coating it. Yes, mom and dad do and give and sacrifice out of love for their kids. Likewise, we believe their kids, most certainly their teenagers, should do and give and sacrifice out of gratitude.

What’s the Big Deal?

If only that tall, strapping son of ours would dry the dishes in the rack from the meal he just wolfed down that staved off starvation. If only daughter would put the pens back in the phone drawer instead of carrying them off to her room, repeatedly. “I know there was a pen in this drawer. I’ve put a half dozen in here myself.”

If only son or daughter would notice the dog gyrating by the back door and take him outside to his favorite bush. We’re busy cleaning lettuce for the salad, watching the pork chops so they don’t burn on the grill, and setting the table. Daughter’s watching tv. When’s mom coming home?

The Way It Used to Be

We know, we’re asking for the moon. We’re probably pining for the way it used to be when we could simply lean over, tilt our head slightly, look our son or daughter in the eye and say earnestly … “What do you say, sweetie?” And the response was “thank-you,” a smile, a hug, or maybe all three.

By dads2dads

Encourage a Lifestyle Change

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

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

True Confessions

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

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

This Ain’t No Bull

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

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

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

By dads2dads

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

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

Hearing Loss

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

“You don’t need to shout.”

“Well you said you couldn’t hear me.”

“I didn’t say to yell.”

“I wasn’t yelling!”

“There, you just yelled again!”

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

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

Conspiracy Theory

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

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

“Whatever.”

“Please repeat what you said.”

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

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

It’s None of Our Business

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

By dads2dads

Ghostly Dads of Divorce

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

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

Families Can Break Apart

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

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

A Few Keys for Dad

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

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

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

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

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

By dads2dads

Disappearing Dad

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

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

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

Graduating to Irrelevance

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

“Zhhhrhrgst heilm dldlkdts.”

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

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

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

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

4. “Dad, you just don’t understand!”

“Intensional” Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

By dads2dads

You Might Recognize the Ghost at the Dinner Table

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

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

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

Lumpy potatoes

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

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

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

“Ydhdhjjsjsjkkjuthiduduy.”

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

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

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

Ghost is real

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

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

By dads2dads

Suffering in Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By dads2dads

How We Got Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to posting.

By dads2dads