Spanking the Time-Out Away?

Another Stay At Home Dad that I’m friends with posted a link to a TIME magazine article entitled Time-Outs Are Hurting Your Child, which essentially makes the case for eliminating the use of the popular child-discipline technique of the time-out. You can read the article for yourself by clicking here. That got me to thinking about all of the news over the last month covering Adrian Peterson’s arrest and indictment on child-abuse charges for beating his four year old son with a switch. Peterson has publicly stated that he uses that form of discipline because it’s the same thing he endured as a child growing up in East Texas and that it taught him discipline. Of course, there are plenty of studies that decry the effectiveness of physical punishment. In an article from the American Psychological Association it was noted that

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

Interestingly enough, just last week I had a conversation with six other friends about this exact topic. I mentioned that I was spanked as a child and it didn’t cause me to become aggressive, antisocial or develop any other issues mentioned in studies like the one above. Interestingly enough, the five men and one woman in the group also all experienced some form of physical punishment as children and none of them (to my knowledge) had experienced problems related to their punishment. In fact, most shared stories of a parent or teacher or coach who laid down the law in a manner that wouldn’t be tolerated in 2014.

In my house on Quarry Lane my parents had the rod. It was a 2-3 foot long wooden dowel, maybe the diameter of a dime, that sat atop the refrigerator in the kitchen, ominously peeking at us from above. My parents believed in the Bible verse that says

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24)

When I was a child, I got spanked. Not often. But for the big stuff. Maybe a handful of times my whole childhood. And every single time I deserved it. I learned from it. I stopped the behavior that warranted the spanking and made better choices. I did not become physically aggressive as a result. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m anything but antisocial. But, that flies in the face of the quote above. So, why did that physical punishment not affect me so negatively? I’ve thought about this answer quite a bit, especially over the last month or so since the Peterson story broke. I think it’s because my father, at least when he spanked me (I cannot speak for my three siblings), did it the right way. He never did it out of anger or in the heat of the moment. Instead, what usually happened is that my mom (who was a SAHM) would catch me doing something really bad and I got sent to my room to wait until my dad came home from work. Once he got home my mom would talk to him about what I had done and then he would come get me from my room and we’d go to my parents’ room. Sitting on the edge of the bed my father would instruct me to lay over the flat area of his quads. Before he spanked me he told me a few things. “Carl, I’m doing this because I love you and want to correct  (fill in the blank bad behavior) . I know you’re probably not going to understand this until you have children of your own, but spanking you hurts me more than you.” With that he would tell me the number of spanks I would get (usually 5-6) and do the deed. He never pulled my underwear down and he never swatted my bottom more than the number of times he told me. And I never saw him spank me in anger. In fact, after the spankings, while my butt was still sore, I would give him a hug and then go and apologize to my mom or whoever I had wronged. Once that was completed my punishment was over. (Except for the one time that I was grounded for 10 days for making a fire on some rocks so close to the house that some of the aluminum siding was warped. But that’s another story.)

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From my spankings I learned a few things. First, I learned that what I had done was wrong and needed to never happen again. I needed to change my behavior. Second, I learned that my parents loved me enough to discipline me to correct my behavior. And third, I learned that I still needed to apologize for my actions after receiving my spankings. I didn’t learn that it was okay to hit other people or be physically aggressive toward them. I didn’t learn that “might makes right”. I didn’t learn that violence was the answer. I wasn’t damaged physically or mentally because of the spankings. But, here’s the thing. Even with my positive experiences with spanking my wife and I chose years ago to not spank our children. She didn’t have such a glowing experience with corporal punishment as a child and I also saw my dad spank my little sister one time the wrong way. She was a toddler and he was spanking her to try to make her stop crying. Obviously, it didn’t work and all it did was send him into further anger. Thankfully, he stopped before taking it any farther, but it was enough to scar/scare me to really question its effectiveness. Obviously, it was his problem and he wasn’t doing it properly. But, I believe it goes to show the slippery slope of physical punishment on children. All it takes is one time where the parent loses it – just for a few moments – and the spankings become beatings and a situation like the one Mr. Peterson is facing.

Please hear me when I say that in no way do I support what Peterson did to his son in beating him so severely with a switch that he left cuts on the boy’s back, arms, neck and testicle. I understand that he had good intentions but he lost it as a father when the discipline transformed into child abuse. He’s a small and very strong man who gets paid millions of dollars to play a violent sport. I’m a tall and very strong (not the same as Peterson, of course) man who gets paid millions of kisses to be a SAHD. Yet, I’ve come to realize that I can discipline my children without spanking (or beating) them. I think that the key to the success of my father’s spanking is the same as my success of not spanking. It’s relationship. Even while being disciplined, I knew that I was loved and could trust my father to not hurt me. Like my father, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I yell at my kids. But I don’t hit them. I love them. I take the time to correct their behavior when needed. We’ve used 1-2-3 Magic Parenting with some success since my oldest was a toddler. She’s now 19. I look at her and my other kids, ages 15, 12, 10, 4 and 1, and note with a great deal of humility and thankfulness that they’re all pretty good people. Sure, they have their moments of sibling conflict, but they’re all pretty polite and kind and helpful most of the time. I love them and I even like them! I’d like to think that being at home with them for the last 14 years has had an impact in shaping them as the individuals they’re becoming today. Helping to guide them through conflict into a place of peace can be difficult. Tiresome. Yet, in the end, it’s worth it. My kids are living proof of it.

Newton’s Laws of Parenting?

Before I became a Stay At Home Dad I was a teacher. I taught fifth grade for one year and then seventh grade science for five more years. I absolutely loved my teaching job as I was paid to get hormonally-challenged 12 and 13 year olds excited about science. Why would I love that? Because I got paid to blow things up and/or light stuff on fire. Okay, there was also a lot of actual scientific stuff but that’s not the point. Despite my love for fire (safety, of course!), my favorite unit of the year was the six weeks we spent on Physics, studying Newton’s Laws of Motion, among other things. I’m guessing that many of you are having trouble reading this because your eyes are starting to glaze over at the mere mention of science. Please, stay with me. I promise I’ll try to make it fun. You might even recall learning about Sir Isaac Newton, that famous guy who is credited with “discovering” gravity when he observed an apple fall from a tree. Sadly, it didn’t actually fall on his head like those Saturday morning cartoons portrayed it.

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He also contributed mightily to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century in the fields of mathematics, physics and philosophy. You might also remember learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. Words like inertia, force, mass, acceleration, rest, motion, action, reaction. I’ll wait for you to rub your eyes. Ready? Here’s where I hope it gets fun. It dawned on me recently that Newton’s Laws of Motion could easily be applied to parenting, especially if you happen to have teenagers in your house. So,buckle up! (Yeah, that was a nerdy Newton reference. Seat belts.)

Newton’s First Law, also called the Law of Inertia. Simply put, a body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by another force. This could be renamed the Law of Sleeping In. Or the Law of Not Helping With Chores. Or the Law of Netflix. If you have teenagers in your life then you know that asking them to do anything before noon during the summer or weekend is pretty much not going to happen. Unless it’s something that they want to do, in which case they can be up and at ’em by 7 am or earlier. Trip to Six Flags leaves at 6:30 am? No problem. Could you please take out the trash by 8 am? No way. I’ll be sleeping. The motion part of this applies to toddlers/preschoolers. Once they’re awake it’s GO TIME! There is no slowing them down. They run (or crawl) everywhere. Sit down to eat? Maybe for a couple of minutes but they’re going to be squirming the whole time. Stop playing and go use the potty? Not a chance. And don’t bother trying to get them to wash their hands. And don’t get me started on bed time. Ha! Of course, Newton understood something that we as parents often forget. We have power. Use the force! (Wrong force, but I had to drop that in there.) Amazingly enough, we can help direct our children to change what they’re doing through a variety of methods, hopefully more creative and kinder than using actual force. Unless you lick your hand…it’s a joke my 10 year old taught me. Be the force that changes lives for the better.

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His Second Law states that Force = mass x acceleration. You unknowingly apply this truth whenever you drive your car or even toss a ball to your child. If you want your car to go faster you need to press the gas pedal giving it more force. If you want to throw the ball down the hall so your kid has to go farther to retrieve it so you can play several turns on Candy Crush (shame on you, pay attention to you kid!) then you know that you have to use a small ball (less mass) and throw it with enough force. Hopefully you have good aim. But how does this apply to parenting? It doesn’t. It’s about motion. Kidding. Really, though, I like to think of this as showing that you don’t always have to use a lot of force to be a good parent. Sometimes being strong and forceful isn’t what’s needed. Maybe your kid needs you to lighten up a little bit and change the pace from the usual big bad wolf parenting that’s easily assumed. Run around with them. Have a sense of humor. Keep them on their toes. Be quick-witted. Push them to succeed without being oppressive. It’s a delicate balance that may need to be tweaked daily. If you’re too heavy-handed in your approach then you might force your child away. By the same token, you can draw your children to you (think of it as a reverse force or gravity) if you’re full of love and joy and patience.

The Third Law is the Action-Reaction Law. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s rocket science. Really. Balloons whooshing through the air if you let go of the untied end after blowing it up. It’s that toy that you see with five steel balls in a row suspended by string. One of my favorite toys from my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. This one is pretty easy to apply to parenting. Ever try to tell a toddler or teenager “no”? What’s the usual response? They do the opposite. Please don’t eat the dog food. Chomp. Chomp. Please set the table. Please leave your brother/sister alone. I suppose it’s all part of the push for independence in our kids. At some point they’re probably going to have to make decisions on their own and they won’t always be the ones we would choose for them. But, here’s the thing. As parents, we can help guide the direction of our young “rockets”. They don’t have to be like the aimless balloon going crazy all over the place. With some self-control and perhaps a fair amount of tongue-biting we can help give some direction to our children, starting when they’re young and innocent and continuing on all they way into their teenage years and beyond. My oldest is 19 and moved out two days after graduating from high school about 14 months ago. Yet, my parenting with her is not finished. She still calls and texts me (almost daily!) to ask for advice or simply to talk. Just because she’s not living at home now doesn’t mean my job is finished. My influence may not be as evident with her now as it is with my toddler, preschooler or my school-age children still at home, but it’s still significant. And all six of my kids are watching my actions just as much as I’m watching their reactions. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, our actions influence the lives of our children.

I hope my nerdy application of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion to modern parenting was as entertaining for you as it was in my mind. If you like my action here, please give me some reaction by commenting, liking or sharing this across social media.

The Hills are Alive…With the Sound of Munich

It’s Monday morning and we’re on the 8:12 train, heading for the Austrian Alps on our way from Salzburg, Austria to Venice, Italy. My 14 year old daughter (E) and I left Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday and still have over two weeks left on our European vacation. Here are a few of the highlights/lessons learned from our first five days.

  1. It’s always best to be patient and polite. Despite a multitude of travel problems getting out of Seattle (cancelled flight, missed connections, no electronic ticket, long wait on hold…) I was able to keep my cool and not get frustrated at the people or circumstances. It was a good opportunity to extend grace to others even when inside I felt like releasing a Walt Whitman-like “barbaric yawp”.
  2. #1 is easier said than done, especially when you’re really really tired and just want to sleep somewhere that is comfortable. But we did it.
  3. American “passion” for the World Cup is nothing compared to the “PASSION” of Europeans. Yikes. They’re simply mad about it here. Cup Crazy. And it doesn’t matter if their team is any good, as demonstrated by the large crowd of people in London-Heathrow who gathered in front of the TVs to watch the U.S.-Germany game on 26 June. We arrived at our hotel in Brussels just before the start of Belgium’s last game and could hear the cheers and groans of the fans from our room. The loud cheering and horns just after midnight were a little annoying but an indicator of the passion they have for their team. The fever is everywhere. We spent two days in Germany and one in Austria and saw signs, posters, shirts, hats and more all over the place. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is the fervor of NFL fans for their teams, but on a national scale. (Bears fans, think about how you would’ve felt if you’d beaten the Packers in the NFC title game in 2011. Or how you felt in 1985.)
  4. There are a lot of really nice people out there who are willing to talk and visit. We’ve met so many people in just five days of traveling. Thanks to the 10 1/2 hour delay in Seattle we chatted with several fellow passengers who we wouldn’t have known if our flight had been on schedule. A kind lady on the train to Munich sat next to me and helped translate the announcements and even helped us find a hotel upon our arrival. Turns out that she’s a Literature professor at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia, back in Germany for some research this summer. While in Germany I met some people from Australia and some from Bulgaria. I learned that I’m terrible at deciphering accents. Except for American accents. Which leads me to my next point.
  5. Americans are obnoxious tourists. Case in point: while at a small bakery/café in rural Austria on Sunday, the loudest group was a table of five Americans. Completely unaware that their obscenity-laced conversation was dominating the entire room. Come on, people. We can be better than that. I’d expect such self-absorbed behavior from middle schoolers, not from grown adults.
  6. I’m tall. No. REALLY TALL! So tall that lots of people feel the need to point it out to me. I’m not remotely bothered by it. More entertained. At the train station in Cologne a guy who came around begging for money proceeded to dramatically point out how tall I am. Yeah, I’m 5’20” and I wear clown shoes. Move on.
  7. I wore a Packers football shirt on our trip to see castles in Bavaria. It was fun to see so many people say “Go Packers” upon seeing my shirt. Met people from Madison, Waukesha, Waupaca and Appleton. One guy from Atlanta, older and retired, asked me where I was from in Wisconsin. He knew Neenah (the city where I grew up) and all the cities in the Fox Valley…even Little Chute, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Combined Locks. Apparently he did a lot of business up there back in his day. What a small world. Then there was the guy from the suburbs of Chicago who saw my shirt…but what could he say? Turns out he’s a really nice guy (despite his taste in football team) and we had a pleasant conversation on our hike to the bus stop from the castle.
  8. I can understand why a lot of Germans settled in the Midwest when they came to the United States years ago. The rolling countryside of Bavaria is just like what you see in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seeing the green fields, cows and barns seemed just like “home”.
  9. The public transportation here in Europe is amazing. We’ve taken trains everywhere and it’s been terrific. No hassles about parking. I can read or blog (like I am now) or enjoy the scenery. There is always a nearby WC for when nature calls. And you can rest. E has discovered that sleeping on trains is a great way to fight jet-lag. You just can’t do that if you’re driving. Too bad we Americans are so obsessed with our cars. And I’m certainly guilty of that.
  10. Solar power. I wonder how much less reliance on fossil fuels we would have in America if we put solar panels on top of our buildings? It’s so common here. There were even solar farms with hundreds of panels in dozens of rows. The technology exists. Why don’t we use it?
  11. Europeans seem to get a lot of lifestyle exercise. Our legs are already sore from all of the walking we’ve been doing and we’ve only been here for four days. A ten to fifteen minute walk is not considered a big deal over here. Maybe I should try to implement some of that mentality in my own life. Build in extra time for walking. Or biking. There are also a lot of bikers, including parents pulling young children. Even in the rain.
  12. A good breakfast is a very good thing. We’ve enjoyed the fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and sausages every morning so far.
  13. I can understand more German than I thought I would. My Spanish minor from college isn’t helping me much, but there are quite a few words that I pick up from time to time when hearing German announcements or reading sign
  14. Rude cell phone users know no nationality. They’re everywhere. Trains. Cafes. Shops. Hotel lobbies. Sidewalks. Bus stops. Even castles and gardens. The lady in the train compartment with us is now on her third call. Seriously.
  15. Speaking of cell phones…it’s been nice not having cell coverage here. Unplugged vacation (at least during the day) is quite a throwback. While having a smart phone is nice it’s been pleasant to use it just as a camera during the day. I will admit that there have been multiple times that I would’ve googled something to find out more about where we were but couldn’t since I have no coverage here. Yet, we still managed.
  16. Don’t buy stinky cheese and then put it in your backpack. Even if it’s wrapped and double-bagged in Zip-Lock bags it’s still going to stink. It was going to be my lunch today but I don’t think my fellow passengers on the train would be very happy if I opened it up. Although, if that lady next to me starts on her cell phone again…
  17. I really love history. I knew that already but it’s being confirmed on this trip. And, it appears that E loves it as well. She impressed our tour guide (who happens to be a history professor in Switzerland) with her knowledge on our trip to the castles in Bavaria. While over half our tour group rudely talked during his short historical presentation (on the train to the castles), E was really into it and he was pleased. So much that on the way back after the tours he came over and spent a lot of extra time telling us more details and sharing interesting tidbits with us that the rest of the group didn’t hear. Which reminds me, history is fascinating when presented properly. It’s too bad that so many people hate history because of the boring way it’s often taught in schools. Hearing about how King Ludwig of Bavaria sold his kingdom to King Bismarck of Prussia for money to build his famous Neuschwanstein Castle was incredible. But, that’s not all to the story. It gets better. Yet, we only learned that information because our tour guide happens to love history and shared his passion with us. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that, to this day, King Ludwig is still despised and hated by the people of Bavaria. And that his castle, made famous by Walt Disney, is a symbol of greed and selfishness to the locals while a beautiful tourist spot for almost everyone else. Also, in the nearby small town of Füssen there is a statue of the uncle of King Ludwig who removed Ludwig from the throne. Every day a new wreath or crown of some sort is placed upon his head by the local people, as display of their affection for him, even though these events all took place over 125 years ago. Now, THAT is history coming alive.
  18. I miss my family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving this trip and the break from the daily responsibilities of being a Stay At Home Dad. But, seeing little kids with their parents makes me miss my own kids that are at back in the States. I especially miss the snuggling and cuddling of my little girls, ages 4 and 1. But, then I hear the same cute kids fussing, fighting or screaming and I don’t miss them quite as much. I really appreciate FaceTime. It’s nice to see my family for at least a few moments.
  19. Of course, visiting so many romantic spots here makes me miss my own true-love, but I doubt anyone wants me to go on about that. If they’re reading this, I’m sure my own kids are losing their appetites at the very thought. I love her and am thankful for her hard work at home to care for our kids (with the help of her mom – thanks!) and to fund this trip.
  20. Finally, I’m reminded of the importance of this one on one time with my daughter. She’s really a great person and I like being around her. The memories that we’re making on this trip are priceless and precious. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks holds in store for us.

Check out many more photos of our trip on the Big Cheese Dad Facebook page. Watch for daily additions to the Europe Trip 2014 album. We’re going to be in Italy for the next week, followed by a few days in Paris before finishing our trip in London.

A Chance To Pay It Forward

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I started blogging about nine months ago. During that time I’ve shared a lot of stories about my family and how being a full time Stay At Home Dad has challenged me to be a better man, husband and father. I’ve blogged about some of the triumphs and some of the failures that I’ve experienced as a parent. I’ve written about some current events and even shared the story of the Frehley, the eleven year old daughter of my friend AJ who has inoperable brain cancer. Frehley’s story really gave me pause, as it is a parent’s worst nightmare, to see your child get sick and hear the terrible words, “There’s nothing more medically that we can do other than to keep her comfortable.” Well, unfortunately, at the end of May, the founder and creator of a dad-blogger group/community that I’ve been a part of was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. My friend, Oren Miller, happens to also be a SAHD. He has a wife and two young children. The “normal” life expectancy for his diagnosis is roughly 12 months. That hit home for me in a big way. Here’s a guy who gave up his career to be Daddy and, barring a miracle, his children are soon going to be without their Daddy. Just typing that makes me choke up at the very thought.

So, why am I telling you this? Here is an opportunity for you (yes, YOU!) to get involved. Oren and his wife, Beth, have not asked anyone for help. In fact, shortly after receiving his devastating news, Oren wrote one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read. It is because of the love and courage that Oren has always shown – even in the face of such adversity – that one of the guys in the Dad Blog group thought it would be cool if our group of roughly 800 guys could raise $5,000 to send Oren and his family on a nice vacation this summer. That goal was reached within 12 hours. So, the bar has been raised several times and now donations have surpassed $25,000, with a new goal of $35,000. This money is going to help pay for Oren’s medical treatments, to put some money away for his kids and to help pay for some memorable family experiences this summer.

Often there’s a stigma attached to people who ask for help or need help. Let’s put that aside and realize that this is simply a chance to make a difference for a hurting family. Even if you don’t know Oren personally (I haven’t met him, but I’ve still been impacted by his friendship and leadership), chances are pretty good that you have a friend or relative who had cancer. Maybe you could make a donation as a way to honor the memory of that loved one. Or, maybe, just do it out of the goodness of your heart. Every bit helps. In this case, the GiveForward site has generously offered to donate an additional $25 for every blog about Oren that links to his donation site, up to 40. That’s an additional $1,000 just for taking the time to write. Think about how much more we could help if we actually got involved. Don’t be afraid to step out and give. There’s this phenomenon that’s commonly called bystander apathy.

This  phenomenon refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. –Startups and Burritos blog

If you’re willing to step out from the crowd and share your blessings with Oren and his family please click here to donate at the GiveForward site. If you’re unable to give financially at this time, I know that Oren and his family would welcome any and all prayers and healing thoughts. As always, please share this with others who might be willing to help make the magic happen.

No Thanks, Hallmark

Sunday marked the 20th time that I was fortunate enough to celebrate Father’s Day as a father. It also marked the lamest Father’s Day that I can recall. But that’s okay. I’ve come to accept that reality. All day long my Facebook newsfeed was filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of friends writing beautiful posts that honored the men in their lives as wonderful and amazing fathers and husbands. Many of my friends in the blogging community wrote marvelous pieces about their own dads in the weeks leading up to this Hallmark holiday. If you’ve read my blog you know that I’m not much of a fan of these contrived holidays that try to guilt people into buying Mom or Dad expensive stuff or cards as the way to express their love. Instead, I’m all about actually telling your loved ones how you feel and spending time with them. Gifts are not necessary if you’re showing your loved ones how much you care more than just one day a year!

That said, I think it’s nice to recognize moms and dads and to make them feel extra special and extra appreciated for all that they do for us. Again, it’s not about the commercialization of it, but rather about meaningful and purposeful interactions. The commercial lead-up to Mother’s Day is all about giving Mom a break, pampering her with a trip to a spa, showing her how much she means to her family. By contrast, it seems as though Father’s Day is all about Dad spending time with his family. Grilling. Going to a ball game or the beach. Hanging out at the pool. Doing “manly” stuff with the family. What’s interesting to note, though, is how we Stay At Home Dads are treated on Father’s Day. For many of us, Father’s Day is just another day. We still do our regular day-to-day things. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Childcare. Same old same old. My wife remembered that it was Father’s Day shortly after we woke up and wished me a happy Father’s Day while waving our one year old’s hand at me. My other kids each verbally told me the same when they saw me the first time that morning. But that was pretty much the extent of any “celebration” at home. Lots of people at church wished me a happy Father’s Day and said some very nice things about me as a person and as a father. And then it was back home, where I fed the kids lunch, changed more diapers, unloaded the dishwasher and finally sat on the sofa, holding my baby in my arms as she fell asleep for her afternoon nap. My wife arrived home from work mid-nap so we chatted for a little bit, which was nice, considering it’s not often that all the kids are quiet at the same time and we’re awake and able to converse. Once my baby awoke I loaded and started the second load of dishes in the dishwasher. Then I made a spectacular dinner of cedar plank grilled Alaskan salmon and noodles to go with freshly-picked sugar snap peas from our garden. As we were eating our dinner the kids were discussing the tasty salmon.

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This is really good. Almost as good as a restaurant. Don’t you agree?

My wife actually indicated that it might have been even better than any salmon she’s ever had from a restaurant. It was as close to a compliment that I was going to get, and it made me feel so much better. Of course, running through my head moments later was the long list of stuff that still needed to get done before I went to bed. Among them was unloading and reloading (for the third time in 24 hours) the dishwasher. Putting away the dinner leftovers. Doing the hand-wash dishes. Tidying up the rest of the clutter on the main floor. Oh, and helping my daughter put the finishing touches on her World War I diorama. And, I really wanted to find some time to write since it had been a week since my last post. I was actually starting to resent the fact that no one was making a big deal about me today. I working up some seriously (self-) righteous indignation about my “perceived” injustice of this lame Father’s Day. It was after helping with the diorama that I showered my baby and then snuggled her to sleep on the sofa (again). Since I was immobile then, I checked in on Facebook. I read a thread to a group of SAHDs, some of whom were also having to cook and clean and take care of their kids on this Special Day. Then I read a post from Chris Routly of Daddy Doctrines blog, a fellow SAHD and blogger, a guy I’m fortunate enough to call a friend. Here are his words, used with his permission.

Just want to wish all of you, my stay-at-home-brothers, a huge Happy Father’s Day. I hope you’ve been spoiled and showered with encouragement and recognition for the important role you play.

That said, I know that for many of us, today is a bittersweet day, where what we contribute EVERY day of the year is mostly overlooked while we see dads get honored for being breadwinners and providers, not for their ability and willingness to put the needs of their child before their own. For some of us the only difference today was we maybe got a card, but not a lot of specific thanks of recognition. Somehow many of us still ended up cooking and cleaning and minding the kids.

And so I just want to let you know that WE all see what you do. WE appreciate your hard work and sacrifice and the often thankless nature of this role you’ve taken on.

The truth is, we’re a lucky bunch. Many, many working dads look forward to Father’s Day not so much for a gift or a steak or maybe a little action between the sheets, but because it means he gets to unabashedly delight in his kids for a day.

Us? We get to do that every day.

Happy Father’s Day, brothers.

There is was. TRUTH. PERSPECTIVE. I needed the reminder that I don’t do what I do for the recognition from others. Not even my own family. Yet, I do it for my family. It’s the role that I chose 14 years ago and choose to continue to choose now and for the foreseeable future. I am blessed with a hard-working wife who has a great job which allows me the opportunity to be home with our children. I get to be active and involved in the lives of my kids. I am exponentially closer to them because I’m a SAHD than I would be if were going off to work every day outside of the house. And the reality is, I do delight in my kids every single day. We laugh and love all the time. I am constantly entertained by them and their silly senses of humor. So, Hallmark can keep its cards. I don’t need any card or t-shirt to tell me that I’m the “World’s Greatest Dad” or “#1 Dad”. Nope. All I needed was right in front of me the whole time. I just wasn’t seeing it properly. Snuggling with my baby like that while she napped was exactly where I needed to be at that moment. Truly, I’m blessed beyond belief to be called “Daddy” by my six wonderful children.

Fight Like A Girl: A Matter of Perspective

Monday night I opened up the laptop and sat down to write a blog entry. I’d been kicking around a few ideas for a good rant. I thought about writing my thoughts about the terrible shooting in Santa Barbara, California last Friday and the related issues of misogyny, mental illness and gun control. I also considered going off about my lousy backyard neighbor whose puppy escaped his yard and attacked several of my chickens in my backyard earlier in the day. I even considered unloading some thoughts about parents who shout and scream at their children in public as their form of discipline. Yet, nothing really worked for me as I sat there. My heart and mind just weren’t in it. Instead of trudging onward I closed the laptop and went to bed. As I laid there, I realized what I needed to write about; what was bothering me. It was the status update of my friend, AJ.

Well, results of Frehley’s MRI last Friday have shown that the tumors are continuing to grow…. It was our last visit at children’s hospital today, there is nothing more they can do on a medicine point of view. We will truly miss the oncology team at Childrens, they have been our saviors for the last 2+ yrs. They did say they may come for a home visit. As of today we will discontinue chemo meds and continue with just keeping Frehley comfortable. Lisa is taking the summer off of work to be with Frehley, She is doing ok….. we are working on a bucket list of things to do this summer. We will keep you posted on all our adventures. We continue to be in awe of all the support we receive from our friends, family and community. Please STAY STRONG FOR US we are going to need it.
Frehley is his 11 year old daughter. For more than two years she’s been bravely fighting a brain tumor. Her family and friends have rallied around her as she has received many treatments. Her friends started a Facebook page called “Stay Strong Frehley“. T-shirts were sold with the slogan “Fight Like a Girl” across the front. She even got to meet her idol, Selena Gomez. All in an effort to give Frehley encouragement and strength in her battle. While I’ve never met Frehley, I can tell you from following her story these last few years that she is one tough kid. Along with countless others, I’ve been praying for her to beat this. But, barring a miracle, she’s not going to win this battle. I cannot begin to imagine the wide spectrum of emotions AJ and his wife, Lisa, are experiencing right now as they are coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing more that can be done medically for their daughter. For me, as a father of six, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I guess it took reading this terrible news about Frehley to shake me a bit, to help give me a little perspective. Those other blog topics can wait. They’re not really that important. I can write about them another time, if at all. But, for me, what really matters right now is thinking about what’s important in my life. It’s far too easy to take things like health and loved ones for granted. Sure, we’ve all lost loved ones, maybe even watched them die. We’ve all experienced times of sickness, maybe even extended sickness. But, for the most part, we’ve recovered and moved on with life. It would be easy to get depressed thinking about how sad it is that this young girl is going die way before her time. Instead, I’d like to challenge each of you, including myself, to use Frehley’s story as inspiration and motivation to shake out of the day-to-day routine and refocus yourself. Live. Love. Laugh. Appreciate. Make a family bucket list and start crossing items off as you make memories together.
While I’m not going to pretend to be close friends with AJ and his family, I can assure you that I’m going to continue praying for them as they go through this difficult time. Please note that I asked for and received permission from AJ before sharing Frehley’s story with you. Please share this story with others so that Frehley and her family may be encouraged. I’m sure that they would appreciate knowing that you’re staying strong for them, as well.

Good Bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Holding Dad's Hand

My dad passed away seven years ago today. It’s hard to put into words how much I miss him or how often I think of him. Like all of us, he was not a perfect person. He was flawed. Yet, I knew without a doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. How did I know that? Because he got pancreatic cancer that ultimately took his life. But, in the six weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his passing I was able to spend a lot of time with him. At that time I lived two hours away, so I was able to make frequent day trips with my two year old son (pictured) to visit him. y dad was about 10 days from his death, and his body was being ravaged by the effects of the cancer. His skin was turning orange. He lost so much weight that he looked like a concentration camp survivor. And his once-sharp mind was failing, leaving only fleeting moments of lucidity. It was so hard to watch this man I loved all my life suffer while there was nothing I could do to help him. It was during one of those visits at the Hospice facility that my dad had a brief but oh-so-meaningful conversation with me.

He awoke from his sleep and smiled upon seeing me at his bedside, not remembering that I had been there for several hours already that day. I didn’t know if he was going to talk or go back to sleep, but he spoke, asking about how my family was doing. After my reply he proceeded to tell me that he was very proud the man I had become; of my choice to become a Stay At Home Dad six years before. He continued to tell me that he thought I was a good husband and father and that he was pleased with me. This was new to me, as he had not been very verbally supportive of either my college major (Elementary Education) or my career change (teacher to SAHD). He finished by looking me in the eyes, pulling me in for an embrace, and whispering faintly into my ear, “I love you, Carl.” It was the last meaningful conversation I would have with my dad.

Nine days later, on the evening of May 12, my mom called to tell me that the Hospice staff had called her to let her know that they didn’t think my dad would live much longer. Since the next day was Mother’s Day, I was already planning on driving up to see my mom (and dad). But, after her phone call, I left a bit sooner, arriving at the Hospice center around 11 pm. I entered my dad’s room to find my mom and younger brother (and his wife and young son) already there by his bed. We exchanged hugs and kisses and chatted for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of silence, we decided to sing a few hymns that were among my dad’s favorites, as music had always been a big part of his life. Once the songs were sung, my brother left to take his family back to my parents’ house so they could sleep (my brother would return). My mom and I sat quietly on either side of my dad’s bed, each of us holding one of his hands as he lay in an unresponsive slumber, the silence only broken by each of his labored breaths. We knew that his time was near. As it was already well past midnight by this time, I quietly noted “Happy Mother’s Day” to my mom.

A little after t 1 am that night I noticed that my dad’s breathing had slowed considerably. I held my mom’s hand while we both held my dad’s hands and said a quick prayer, asking God to take my dad home soon so that he wouldn’t suffer any longer. Minutes later, while we were singing a solemn “Amazing Grace” between tears and deep breaths, my dad breathed his last breaths and entered his new home. It was the most sacred and solemn moment of my entire life, to be with a loved one, praying him into the Kingdom. I take great comfort in my faith, believing that I will see my dad again, only this time it will be in Heaven and he won’t be suffering. Later that day, while talking with my kids on the phone about what had happened during the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, one of my kids said something that changed my perspective about the sadness of him dying on Mother’s Day. “It’s okay, Daddy. Now Papa gets to spend Mother’s Day with his mommy in Heaven.”

Good bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Boycott Mother’s Day?

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It’s that time of year again where we’re all reminded to pay homage to moms. There’s even a whole day set aside in one week to recognize how fantastic and wonderful and perfect and amazing moms are and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. While it’s true that none of us would be here if not for our mothers, I find the whole idea of “Mother’s Day” to be quite ridiculous and contrived. Sure, the idea of stopping and showing appreciation for the countless hours and unconditional love is nice. Maybe it’s even something moms look forward to. I know for sure that Hallmark and Kay Jewelers are among the many businesses that pressure us to show our moms (or wives) how much they are appreciated by showering them with cards and expensive gifts and maybe even a special dinner that mom doesn’t have to prepare. But, why? Why only one day in May? I’m not suggesting that we have “Mother’s Day” multiple times each year. What I’m suggesting is that we show our appreciation and love more than one time each year.

How about instead of buying into the commercial aspect of the day we show true appreciation? Write her a letter. (Email doesn’t count.) Take mom for a walk in a park to look at the flowers while you engage in conversation. Make a photo collage or book and give it to her. Don’t buy her flowers or jewelry now (stores jack the prices now for suckers like us). Wait until some other random time (or times) and surprise her with flowers and a note of thanks. Do make her a nice dinner at home. Don’t overpay at some crowded restaurant. Take her out for dinner some other time. If you must eat out, maybe get it to go and make it a picnic at a park. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your mom but you do need to spend your time with her. Celebrate her and help her to know how much you appreciate her. But don’t just do it next Sunday and then wait a whole year to do it again. I assure you that it won’t get old if you do it over and over and over…as long as you mean it. Thank you, moms, for all you do. You are loved and appreciated by this guy.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone actually boycott celebrating Mother’s Day. Like most holidays (Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.) it is the over-the-top commercialization in our culture that I’m railing against. Mothers deserve our highest honor and respect all year long and they don’t need a necklace to prove it…just like I don’t need a tie or some other kitchy thing to prove my worth on Father’s Day.

 

Moms-What do YOU think? Did I get it right or am I way off base? Please let me know. I genuinely am interested in your comments.

Actions Speak Louder

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Once in a while something happens to me that rocks me to my core and I become a blubbering mess of emotions as I process what I’m feeling. That happened to me just a few days ago thanks to my 19 year old daughter, Nora. She graduated high school last June and two days later moved almost 2,000 miles away. Over the last 10 months I’ve seen her in person three times but almost daily thanks to FaceTime on our iPhones. So, while my “active parenting” with her is over, I’m still able to be close to her and maintain a pretty nice relationship with her. It was during one of our chats last week that she told me she was writing a song about something that I did over four years ago, when we were still living in Madison, Wisconsin. Here’s what I did back in September of 2009. I bought a bunch of sandwiches and curly fries from Arby’s and brought it down to State Street in downtown Madison to share it with the many panhandlers who worked the area. I told my kids what I had done (they were all in school at the time) and they thought it was pretty cool. I suppose we had a few minor discussions about why they’re asking for money and why they don’t work and stuff like that as well as why it’s nice to be able to share something real like food with people who need it. And that was about the extent of it.

And then Nora told me that she wrote a song about what I did and how “actions speak louder than words”. She sent me an audio file of her new song and I began to cry as soon as I heard it. (I was driving at the time and had to pull over to the curb for a few minutes.) The beauty of her voice and the guitar and the meaning of the lyrics pierced my soul and reminded me that my years of hard work and dedication as a SAHD and parent for her were not in vain. What really got to me was hearing her telling others through her song the exact message that I was trying to convey when I helped out the street beggars that time. More lyrics: It’s not what you say…because you show your love when you give it away. It was a touching reminder to me that my kids are watching me all the time to see if my actions match my words. If nothing else, I hope that my children will know the importance of living a life of integrity and compassion and love…and that I can inspire that in them if my actions are in tune with my words. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m trying!