I caught my kid…being good!

As a parent, and specifically as the at home parent who is with our children the most during the day, I am constantly trying to get my children to be more helpful, kind and considerate. Often, it can seem like I’m speaking Greek to them because, like most kids, they can fight and with and irritate one another, despite whatever I say or do. And then something happened over the weekend that helped assure me that my words are heard and that my efforts as a parent have not been entirely in vain. I caught my nine year old son being good!

Actually, I didn’t catch him being good. I just heard about it from my friend Austin, who is a pastor at my church. He stopped me in between services on Sunday morning to tell me how much he enjoyed chatting with my son the previous day while I was playing trombone with the worship team during our two hour rehearsal Saturday afternoon. It was news to me that Austin and my son had chatted at all, since my son had planned on reading his new favorite book series (Series of Unfortunate Events). Austin told me that while my son was quietly reading in the mezzanine he (Austin) was in and out of the large room, getting things ready for the 6 pm service, when all of a sudden my son appeared (Austin had been working with his back to my boy) and asked Austin if he needed any help. Even though he didn’t need the help, Austin graciously brought my boy to the kitchen and had him wash some dirty dishes that would be needed later. They talked while washing dishes and doing other tasks once the dishes were done. Austin complimented me on my son’s behavior and willingness to offer his help without being asked or prompted.

I was floored. Sure, there are times that my son willingly does his daily chores and sometimes even offers to do things without being asked. But, for him to do that somewhere other than at home made me think that he’s really beginning to understand; that my parenting is making a positive difference. It was one of those moments that will encourage and inspire me to keep on parenting even when it seems like my kids are not listening to me. After church, I gave my son a big hug and told him how proud I was of what he did the previous day to help out Pastor Austin without being asked. Once we got home, I made a point to tell my wife about his helpfulness in front of him so that he would hear (again!) how pleased I was of him.

Reach out and touch someone

I like to hug. There. I said it. I’m a giant and I like to hug. And that weirds a lot of people out. Even my own kids at times. I wasn’t always a huggy kind of a guy. I used to be more of a hearty handshake and maybe a man-hug. Make sure to lean at the waist and don’t linger. That could be uncomfortable. Personal bubble invasion issues. The only people I gave “real” hugs were my parents and my wife. That worked for me reasonably well until I became a father at age 22. After my baby was born I showered her with all kinds of affectionate hugs and kisses and life was good. My wife and I were blessed with two more daughters over the next seven years. During that time I quit my job teaching and became a full time stay at home dad. Our daughters were affectionately loved and cared for by us. We held hands while walking together to the park. My girls climbed into my lap to read stories. They started giving me “fall-over” hugs where they would get a running start and leap into my arms and we’d fall over and laugh and hug. By the time my son was born in 2004 my oldest daughter was nine and had already started to pull back ever so slightly from the hugs and hand holding. She was growing up. Determined to still be affectionate with her (and my other kids as they grew up) I made an effort to give them each a hug at bed time. They didn’t really like it. Unfortunately, I didn’t persist. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I wasn’t really having as much physical contact with my kids once they became 8-10 years old as I had when they were younger. As I thought about it some more I realized that was kind of the way it was with my own dad when I was a kid. My mom tended to be more affectionate and my dad would be more of the disciplinarian. I knew he loved me but he certainly wasn’t super huggy or physically affectionate. I didn’t really know what to do with my own kids, how to change our attitudes and perceptions about hugs and other physical affection without it being “awkward”.

Then my dad got sick. In early 2007, at age 66, my health-conscious and fit father, was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was hospitalized several times over the course of a couple of months. Turns out that first diagnosis was a little off, because at the end of March, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Weeks to live. Maybe a few months. We were all in shock. But what happened to me as a result of that awful experience was that I rediscovered my inner teddy bear.

As I said before, I’m kind of a giant. I’m 6’8″ tall. I have to duck to avoid hitting my head when I go through most doors. I’m a nice guy but (apparently) a little intimidating when others see me. But cancer didn’t care. My dad’s cancer and six week journey through hospice leading to his death that May six years ago transformed me in many ways. Perhaps the most significant was the power of human touch. As my friends learned of my father’s condition they often expressed their concern and support and asked what they could do to help. That was all very thoughtful and much appreciated. One friend, a neighborhood mom that I’ve known since our oldest daughters started school together, saw me at the grocery store and asked about my dad. Upon hearing my grim report, she simply walked over and gave me a hug. No words needed. Not sexual. Just one human comforting another. Beautiful. After my dad passed away there were many people who offered their condolences at his service. While the memories people shared were nice to hear, it was the physical touch – holding hands and hugging – that were the most comforting.

Recently I came across an article on http://www.goodmenproject.com that talked about how we, as men, are missing out on the benefits of gentle, platonic touch with other people. That struck such a chord with me and stirred up my memories that I just shared. And it caused me to examine my own life and how I parent my kids. Why is it that my 3 year old daughter excitedly holds my hand when we’re walking but her older sisters and brother wouldn’t be caught dead doing that? Is there something that I could do to change that? Why does one of my older kids ask me to give her a hug many nights before going to bed when another one literally almost punches me if I try to hug or kiss her? I don’t have the answers. Interestingly, though, my only son is nine. And he and I have a pretty close relationship. While he doesn’t hold my hand, he wants me to put him to bed every night and allows me to hug and kiss him (cheek only!) before sleep. But he won’t let my wife hug or kiss him.

One of the many things I love about the church my family attends is the real sense of community there. I noticed it from the first moment of the first day we walked in. In the ensuing 20 months since that first visit I’ve gotten to know a lot of the men who also call that their church home. While I’m not particularly close to a lot of the guys what’s really struck me is the level of the brotherly love at my church. And the hugs. Not the awkward hugs like I described in the first paragraph. Real hugs where you actually embrace the other person and hug. It’s amazing. Once in a while I’ll forget where I am and extend my hand to a guy only to have my arm practically yanked off as he pulls me into an embrace. And that was my buddy Rob who is maybe 5’6″ but with a huge heart. Going to church each week and getting hugged has really helped my emotional and spiritual well being. I’m forced to be real. About a month ago my buddy Kyle greeted me and I half-heartedly gave him a hug and pulled back. He looked at me and admonished me to “Do it like you mean it, bro!”. And gave me one of the biggest bear hugs imaginable. I guess I should mention that Kyle is a former offensive lineman and stands about 6’4″. He’s almost as big as the senior pastor (another former O-lineman) who also gives great hugs. Until becoming a part of this particular church community I had rarely experienced the brotherly love and support from others that comes from physical touch.

As a SAHD I have the unique opportunity to literally touch the lives of my children in both a figurative and literal sense. I want them to know the power of human touch in a positive way. I need to challenge myself to empower my kids to express their feelings and emotions through positive platonic touch. Follow AT&T’s advice from the 80s and “reach out and touch someone”.

No go find someone to hug.

Appreciation

One of the great things about being a stay at home dad is getting to know the friends of my children. My son has a good friend I’ll call X. They often get to hang out at our house after school and are even on the same soccer team. A few weeks ago X’s dad started a new job and was working longer hours as he became acclimated there. As a result, he asked me if it would be okay for his son to come over to our house after school on days they had soccer games. That way X would be able to get to his game on time. I was glad to help out my friend and his son. As a bonus, my son got to have his buddy over a little bit more often than usual. Following the third game that I’d helped with X, his dad sent me a simple text. “Hey Carl! Thanks for your help with X. I appreciate you.”

That’s all it was. Simple. Yet music to my ears. As I’ve thought about that text more I began to realize the importance of telling others that I appreciate them. Thank them for their help, yes. But, APPRECIATE THEM! Hmmm. And really mean it. I try to use my manners by saying please, thank you and excuse me and stuff like that. But how often do I take the opportunity to tell my kids and wife that I appreciate them? Not often enough. It’s fitting that my appreciation epiphany comes during November, when we observe a holiday about giving thanks. We need to remember to look for the good in other people and tell them that we appreciate them. It’s a little idea that could be a big deal. As a dad I sometimes find myself being critical of my kids for not doing something that was asked of them, irritating a sibling, leaving their stuff around the house and so on. What if I focused on what they’re doing well and showed them genuine appreciation for who they are instead of the negative alternative? Seems simple enough. I’m going to make it a point to tell each of my kids (and my wife) that I appreciate them during the next 48 hours. I’ll let you know what happens.

In the mean time, try it out on your family and friends. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.