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Brian Faust

It’s Not My Fault

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Have you ever done something you truly regret? Is there something you’ve said that has haunted you years afterward? I know I have. Just this morning, I recalled a time when I was in middle school and I got caught copying answers off another student’s homework.

As I remember it, I had walked into class and pulled out my homework to turn in. I was surprised to see that I had not finished the homework as I originally thought. With little time before the start of class, I went into panic mode. I noticed that one of the other students had left her homework out where I could plainly see it. I immediately began copying the answers that she had written down. It wasn’t long before the teacher came in and zeroed in on me. I’m not sure how he knew that I was cheating, but he was aware from the very moment that he stepped inside the room. He told me, and the girl that I had copied the answers from, to bring up our organizers. Our school had special organizers made for each student with a section to keep track of disciplinary marks. The girl became frustrated, as she had every right to be. She turned to me and told me that I needed to stick up for her. When we got up to the teacher’s desk, I said, “Sir, I am responsible for my own actions. She had nothing to do with it.” He replied, “I don’t care. You cheated and she allowed you to. You are both at fault.” Looking back, I wish that I had stuck up for her more. Really, I wish I hadn’t let go of my integrity to begin with. I have a lot of regrets from my years growing up. I have a few from yesterday and today as well. Life is full of them. You and I are not infallible people. We are not going to do the right thing every time. That’s why for this post, I want to talk with you about how we can be strong dads who respond to our failings appropriately.

The greatest threat to our integrity, once we have made a mistake, is pride. Pride is what keeps us from taking responsibility for what we have done or said. Pride can be a positive attribute when it spurs us toward doing what we know is right. I can have pride in my work, which will keep me from slacking off on the job. But, there is another side to pride that can be like shackles around our feet, immobilizing us from doing what we need to. Combating our own pride takes insight. If we are going to address the pride that we experience when we make a mistake, we must learn to recognize it when it appears. Just as identifying our other emotions takes practice (as discussed in the previous post), so it does with pride. Sigmund Freud, one of the most widely respected fathers of modern psychology, proposed a list of some ways that we protect ourselves mentally/emotionally when we experience opposition. These responses are called, “defense mechanisms.” We all use them, and we use them daily. I am going to give a brief explanation of each so that we can determine which traps we most often fall into when we face confrontation.

Repression: pushing unwanted thoughts into our subconscious, as if something never took place. It’s about choosing to deny what has occurred until we no longer believe it actually happened. An example would be someone that has become such a consistent liar that he has lost touch with reality.

Denial: refusing to admit that something has happened, with the awareness that it truly has. This is, from my experience, one of the most used defense mechanisms. An example would be when our boss calls us out on being late to a meeting and we reply, “No, I was on time.”

Projection: placing the guilt of your own actions or words onto another. An example of this would be to put focus on someone else’s short comings in order to take attention away from our own. I would be projecting my guilt if I said, “Yeah, I may have a little bit of a drinking problem. But, my wife is even worse than I am. If anyone needs help, it’s her.”

Displacement: taking our emotions out on something or someone that doesn’t deserve it. When we are upset about something that happened earlier in the day and we go home and take it out on our family, we are using the displacement mechanism.

Regression: falling back to earlier behaviors when faced with stress or confrontation. Think “grown man acting like a child.” When we name call, point fingers, throw a tantrum, or storm out of the room, we are turning toward behaviors that we know are no longer socially appropriate.

Sublimation: substituting an unacceptable action for something more socially acceptable. One example would be “doing research” or “checking it out” when we know that we have no business being somewhere or engaging in something. Another example would be when we tell someone that we are “concerned” for someone else, so that we can feed off some juicy gossip.

If we catch ourselves using these mechanisms, we have to ask ourselves what they are doing for us. Are they taking us places we want to go? Are they keeping us from taking responsibility when we have messed up? If so, we have to grab the reigns and pull this steed to a halt before it tramples over everything that we care about. That’s what pride will do if we don’t take hold of it. We don’t respect people when they refuse to take responsibility for themselves. We become frustrated when we catch someone using an obvious defense mechanism to keep from owning up to what they have done. That’s why we can’t be engaging in these same behaviors with our family and friends. Instead, we have to stop ourselves when we notice that we are starting to put up our defenses. Then we need to take ownership. It’s hard, and sometimes we have to backtrack a few steps when pride has already led us down the rabbit hole. However, if we want to continue to have the trust and respect of those we care about, then learning to fess up is an absolute must. We can be strong for our family when we say “no” to our pride.

I’ve Got A Feeling

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It’s often been said that men have two basic feelings: “Okay” and “MAD!!!” Though this may be the only “feelings” that some men know, in reality, men have access to a wider spectrum than we might give ourselves credit for. Though we often call men “beasts” or “machines” when they accomplish something amazing, neither one of these terms is actually true. Men are capable of understanding and benefiting from our emotions. For some of us, expressing how we are feeling does not come easy. I know that I often find myself saying, “Wow, I didn’t know how much this was affecting me until just now.” If you can relate, this may be a helpful topic to explore. For this post, I will discuss how we can get the most out of our emotions without allowing them to rule over us. By doing so, we provide a healthy emotional well-being for our spouse, children, and self.

To begin, let me address the fallacy that emotions have no place in the world of men. Emotions have a purpose in our lives. Emotions are like indicators on our dashboard, providing us data about the condition of each area of our lives. If a relationship is suffering, our emotions tell us that we are being affected negatively and that some correction might be needed to get back on track. When we experience fear or anxiety, we become aware of barriers that are keeping us from our goals. When we are filled with joy, our body releases chemicals that encourage us to continue seeking that which has made us feel good. For those of us who are more logic-oriented, let me put it this way: emotions = crucial data. If we ignore our emotions, then we are choosing to make decisions without using all the resources available to us. Ignoring the emotional part of our being, while needed in specific, life-or-death situations, is less beneficial in most circumstances.

I was presented with a scenario once to determine whether I leaned more toward emotion or logic in my decision making. The scenario goes like this: You become stranded on an island with many other survivors. There is food enough to eat for three weeks if effectively rationed. As survivors grow restless, they begin playing games and messing around. You realize that they are wasting energy and will likely require more food to sustain them as a result. Though you have voiced your concern, no one seems to hear you. How will you respond? There are facts to consider in this situation: there is limited food; some survivors are making decisions that affect the group as a whole; there is no certainty of how long the group will need to survive before help arrives (if it arrives). There are also emotions involved: you feel rejected and angry that your perspective is not being considered; the other survivors are afraid and anxious, leading to their desire to keep up morale. I propose that a disciplined leader considers all data he has access to when choosing how to respond. Both the feedback that we receive from our thoughts and our emotions provide us with valuable information that we can use to make a wise-minded decision.

Emotions are only as useful as the amount of control we have over them. If they are running the show, they can be destructive. When we are running the show, they can be a useful tool. Think of emotion as the acceleration and logic as the brakes on a car. Both are needed to get to your destination. If your brakes go out, you are likely to fly out of control. If your acceleration isn’t working, you aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Emotions give us that “oomph” that we need to get the wheels spinning. Emotions propel us forward by providing motivation and resolve. We need our emotions, but we also need to have control over them. When we act with logic, allowing emotions to be our drive, we have  the stop and go power we need to get to our desired destination.

Some men are masters at reading their emotional indicators. For others, such as myself, putting words on emotions does not come naturally. Understanding our emotions can be accomplished with a little practice and determination. The first step is to acknowledge that we have emotions. Our mind is giving us feedback through our emotional spectrum. If you are breathing,you are currently experiencing some feedback within that spectrum, whether you are aware of it or not. The next step is to put words on what we are feeling. This may take practice for some guys. We aren’t all good at labeling how we feel. Don’t get lazy on this one though; “okay” and “fine” are not feelings. Practice describing your feelings using the basics: happy, angry, sad, annoyed, confused, afraid, surprised, disgusted. As you get better at identifying your feelings, you can branch off from there. Your body can help you identify how you are feeling. Learning to read your own body language and put words on how you are physically responding to a situation can help you to narrow in on how you are being effected emotionally.

To conclude, I want to express why I believe that learning to identify and manage our emotions is so important. First, it’s important to understand that your spouse or girlfriend typically expresses herself through emotion. By learning to interpret our own emotions, we also learn to identify cues that we see in her as well. When we manage our emotions, we give her a safe environment to communicate with us. Second, our children look to us as a model for how emotions can be expressed and managed. When we learn to get ourselves under control, we demonstrate to our children how to do the same. Learning to put words on our own feelings can help our children become more effective communicators as well. We need to teach our children that it is acceptable to feel as they do, as well as teach them that they have a responsibility to respond appropriately to the feelings that they have. Showing our children how to act opposite of their emotions can be one of the most important tools that a father can give to his children. This can only be done if we learn to identify our own emotions and develop ways to control them.

 

Dad’s Toolbox Series: Activities To Do With The Family Inside

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Fall and winter are approaching. Over the next few months, it is going to start getting increasingly colder outside. Many of our favorite activities to do during the warmer months will no longer be enjoyable (unless you still enjoy a cold dip in the pool). Often times, it is hard to think of some activities that the family can do together that doesn’t involve going to the park or playing ball in the backyard. That is why this week’s post will be another tool for the box: activities to do with the family inside. Here is our list for the week:

  1. Drink hot cider/cocoa: Who doesn’t like a nice cup of something warm to drink when the weather outside gets nippy? Sitting at the table and drinking something sweet together is a great time to catch up with each other.
  2. Play a board game: There are many board games out there that are great for the family. In fact, I will probably make up a list of some games for another toolbox post in the near future. If you can’t go outside, playing a game together can be just as engaging. Just remember not to get too carried away with winning!
  3. Involve the kids on a project: Some kids love to tag along with dad and do something together. Whether you are putting something together in the shop, remodeling a room in the house, or making a repair on one of the vehicles, be sure to set aside age-appropriate tasks for the children to help out with.
  4. Visit a family member/friend: Before the holidays take up the family schedule, make a point to see a friend or family member that you haven’t seen in a while.
  5. Watch a movie together: I wouldn’t recommend making screen time your go-to all the time, but sparingly can be a special treat for everyone.
  6. Create something together: There are loads of artistic ideas out there for you to do with your kids. Some of my recent favorites have been making a comic book , writing a short story, drawing pictures/coloring, make something out of Legos, and play an instrument together.
  7. Read some books: Kids typically love books. Take a look at the previous post for some ideas for good children’s books to read with your kids.
  8. Cook a meal together: This might be a special treat for mom if she can step away for this one. While she gets some well-deserved R and R, you can guide the children through a simple meal. I would recommend breakfast for dinner to get you started. Have the kids flip the pancakes, pour the batter into the waffle iron, or crack the eggs into a bowl. Try to keep them involved as much as possible with simple tasks for them to do. With older kids, have them follow a recipe and provide supervision as needed.
  9. Ice-skating/roller-skating: If there is a rink near you and you have older children, I would recommend giving this one a try. Even at ages 3 and 5, my girls had a blast when we last went.
  10. Bowling: I like to share a lane with children so I have a good excuse to use bumpers. I’m not saying that I need them, but I have noticed an improvement in my game since I starting bowling with my kids.
  11. Pizza/taco night: All of the parents that I know have said that they have appreciated having some form of special meal night that they routinely share together. These are the nights that your children will remember fondly as they get older.
  12. Learn a new language together: It is widely believed that when it comes to learning a new language, the earlier one starts, the better.
  13. Make an obstacle course through the house: I like to set up some cushions the children jump on, have them crawl underneath the table, climb the stairs on their hands and knees, hop over pillows, and run circles around a chair a few times. See how many creative ideas your family can come up with. Whether the children compete with each other, yourself, or just try to beat their own scores, this is a surefire way for the children to burn some built up energy.
  14. Nerf wars: If I had some older boys, I would buy them each a blaster and set of safety glasses, then we would turn the downstairs into a little battle arena. Alternatively, there are some laser tags sets that are worth looking into if you really don’t want to spend the time collecting darts.
  15. Play Hide and Seek: For younger children, this game never seems to get old. We have made a special twist to the game in our home that the girls really love: when my children can’t find me, they will call out to me, and I yell back to them, “Aurora/Nadia, I love you.” I doubt they will forget this when they get older.

So, there is a short list for you to explore. May these cold days be a great time of family bonding for you and your bunch! Have fun!

The Unforgettable

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I didn’t see much of my father until I was in late middle school. It was around this time when I decided to start wrestling as a sport. I wasn’t half bad. Growing up, I was a short and lean, but I was also surprisingly strong. This, coupled with the fact that I am double-jointed and practically impossible to pin, gave me an edge as I wrestled in the lowest weight class. I had won many of my first matches, which felt good given I wasn’t the most athletic. My dad would pick me up after each match to take me home. On the ride home, we would stop by the gas station and grab a Milky Way candy bar. This tradition made the victory feel all that much more significant. Getting that candy bar was my dad’s way of telling me that he was proud of me.

I am not sure how many matches I had gone through before I lost for the first time. I remember holding my head in shame, knowing that I had let my father down. My father said nothing for a long time. We stopped by the gas station, at which point my dad said, “I need to get some gas real quick.” My dad headed inside as he always did (we paid by check or cash in those days). When he returned, he tossed a Milky Way candy bar over to me. I looked up with genuine surprise. I said, “But, I didn’t win.” He responded, “I don’t buy you a candy bar because you win, I buy them because I love you.” I am getting teary eyed as I write these words to you now. That single gesture shook the world under my feet. It was a powerful message that I will never forget.

This memory of mine illustrates two points. The first point is the importance of establishing traditions with our children. I remember the Milky Way candy bar because it was something that my dad and I did that was unique to our relationship and it was a tradition that my father honored without fail. I eagerly anticipated the candy bar as we rode home. I was hungry for my father’s act of praise.  That Milky Way filled more than just my stomach; it was filling my heart as well. The second point is the importance of grasping the unexpected. My father took advantage of a crucial moment in my life and flipped my expectations on end. My dad saw the opportunity to show his love to me during a time when it had the greatest impact. These moments don’t happen every day, but they do happen in every child’s life. We can have the same impact on our children when we are sensitive to these moments and make the most of them.

I encourage you, dad, to create special traditions with your son or daughter. Do things with them that are unique to them. Create a language of love that is understood by you and your child. You don’t have to buy your child a candy bar every time you want to tell them you are proud of them. You could take your child fishing every Saturday. You can consistently write to them each week. You could buy a season pass and take your child to each ball game. You could have a one-on-one excursion to a favorite restaurant. Take them out to work on the project car in the garage. Play a game every day after work. Read bedtime stories every night. Cook a meal together every Sunday. Watch a movie every Friday night. Do what works for you and your child, the options are endless. If you want to be effective, just remember to be consistent and involved.

I also encourage you take look for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do something unexpected. The more out of character it is for you, the better. Have your kid stay up all night during the summer. Work with your child to put on a show for mom. Team up to build a tree house in the backyard. Take a special vacation. Throw a party for no particular reason. Buy your child an expensive gift they have been wanting for a long time. Play a video game with your child. Have your daughter paint your nails. Pull the car over to watch a sunset. Think outside of the box and look for situations that might speak a message of love a little louder than normal.

Making unforgettable memories is one of the most meaningful things we can do for our children. When we establish traditions and grasp the unexpected, we are crafting a vision for them of what a father’s love looks like. With any luck, your children will do the same when they become parents. Don’t be afraid to get messy or try something new. Your children don’t need a perfect dad, they just need a dad they can make history with.

An Interview with Ponyboy: Respect

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I will be honest, I don’t have an endless supply of insight to give you fathers out there who have a older boy. My oldest is 6, and I have all girls. I haven’t read to0 many books on raising boys (though realizing my deficit, I will soon). What I do have, however, is some first hand experience delving into the lives of some young men (ages 11-18) with what many would call “rough backgrounds” during my time counseling at a residential center. There were to programs for the residents, behavior modification and juvenile sexual offense. Both groups were a challenge to work with, but I can honestly say that I got a good look at the heartbeat of many a young man. I hope to share some of this experience with you now, and possibly more in the future. I am not sure how relevant the information will be to each father, but I will do my best to reflect on my experiences, and hope that there may be some useful takeaway for yourself.

First of all, I haven’t actually had an interview with Ponyboy. For those of you that don’t know who Ponyboy is, I will give a brief summary. Ponyboy is a fictional character from the book “The Outsiders” written by S.E. Hinton. There’s a movie out there as well if you are interested in checking it out. Ponyboy is a member of a working class gang, the “greasers,” that rivals a local upper-class gang, “the Socs.” Ponyboy shares his experience of gang activity and a lifestyle that I am assuming may be foreign to some of the followers of this blog. The book is a rough outlook on young men who grew up without strong male leadership in their lives. When I would sit with my clients at the residential center, it always felt like I was talking to Ponyboy. Just as the book had a lot to say about boys who have been failed by their fathers and the community around them, the boys that I sat with day in and day out had the same messages about what they needed from their caregivers. One of the most prevalent needs that I discussed with clients concerned respect.

It didn’t take long working with the boys before I got tired of hearing the phrase, “you got to give respect to get respect.” No matter how well I would try to care for my client, it didn’t seem to change anything, at least not right away. Other staff working with these youth sum the issue down to a challenge of authority, which it was, but I also saw the same attitude toward peers as well. I noticed that “respect” was like a form of currency to the guys. It was clear through the behaviors that the young men showed that they had a poor view of what respect truly meant, but it was just as clear that they were looking for something. When I asked my clients what they meant when they said that they wanted respect, most didn’t know what to say. Most of the boys could tell you what kind of person did not deserve respect. They often shared that they couldn’t respect someone that held his authority over them like a dictator. Some said that they couldn’t stand when some one had expectations of them that they were not holding themselves to. A few guys would talk about “clout.” “Clout,” according to the Urban Dictionary means- to have money, power, and/or influence. The more money, power, and influence you had, the more respect you deserved. These were the top three responses that I would get.

As I think about the first response- being respectful is not being a dictator, I am drawn to a few conclusions. One, we as adults can show respect to young men by loosening the reigns a little. Barking out orders all the time can lead to our teenage boy developing a deaf ear to what we have to say. I do want to add that being a pushover was just as dangerous as being a dictator. The guys would walk all over the staff that came in with the attitude, “I just want to be your buddy.” I felt sorry for those staff members, they often quit their jobs shortly after the realization that the path they were going down was a one way street. The leaders that the boys truly respected were the ones that balanced a firm hand with a flexible mindset. I saw the best relationship with staff from those that were patient, clear with expectations, and willing to negotiate (within reason). I can tell you from experience that finding the balance is an ongoing struggle, as every situation is different and requires our best. The staff that I had come to trust the opinions of most would often say, “start out rigid, and ease up with time.” I think the wisest of us dad’s are the ones who have mastered the art of knowing when the shift should start.

The second response, don’t be  a hypocrite, probably doesn’t take a lot of explanation in order to understand why it would affect a boy’s respect toward someone. Who wants to respect someone that doesn’t practice what they preach? Not I. When I look to a leader, I want to see someone that matches words with actions. That’s not to say that there is no room for error. Every authority figure, no matter how intentional, will let a young man down. They are going to let you down as well. These are the times when forgiveness and apologies come in play. When we, as the leaders, mess up we need to fess up. Boys need to know that when we get off track we intend to get back on (all while willingly seeking to fix any damage caused by our actions). When they are in the wrong, they need us to be both rational and empathetic in our response. Young men will shutdown when they feel they are being held to a standard that is not being shown. They will also shutdown when they believe that the standard is unobtainable.

The third response to my respect inquiry, have clout, takes a little digesting to fully understand. We don’t often say that respect should be given to people solely for having influence, money, or power. We would like to think that we can see past the flashy watches, push-to-start ignitions, and gold teeth that these “wannabe gangsters” coveted. Yet, think about it. If I were to introduce you to Bill Gates, would you not immediately start putting your best foot forward? I know I would. Bill Gates, by nature of his achievements, earnings, and influence has made for himself a position that demands respect. Young men respect those that they can aspire to be like. They reserve a special place in their heart for someone that has demonstrated the ability to attain that which they value. Where do these values come from? When they don’t have a good role model in your life, it comes from friends, culture, and peers. When we don’t model good values, our boys will develop respect for people that do not truly deserve respect.

Respect is a complicated thing. I imagine that you can see this now. If we are to gain the respect of our teenage boys, if my experience has provided some sound guidance, then we can do so by: 1) balancing firmness with flexibility; 2) demonstrating what we expect from our teen; and 3) being someone that they can look up to. I imagine that if Ponyboy had a father that did these three things, the narrative of the “Outsiders” would have looked a lot differently. I think the stories I would have heard from my clients would have been different too. That is my hope for your relationship with your teenage boy or for the ones that you can have a positive influence on around you.

Superman for a Day

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      These last few weeks, I celebrated the birthday of my oldest daughter (now 6) and my youngest (she just turned 1). It’s crazy to think that it was only a few days ago my oldest was turning 1 (at least it feels that way). There is no better reminder than this that time with my children is flying by. If I am not careful, I will miss out on the precious few years that I have with my children before I am old and boring. For now, I am Superman. I can push my children on the swing with a finger. I can cool down an entire dinner with a single breath. I can read those strange markings on picture books called “words.” I am a hero to my girls. What a fool I would be to sacrifice these precious moments I have with them.

I have a friend that travels a lot for work. He brings a video game console with him on the road for when he is finished with the work day. Being a video gamer myself, I often think about how relaxing it would be to get away from it all and veg until I turn into a human slushee. I imagine soaking in hours of downtime doing the things I did before real life set in and I had to start taking care of more than just myself. Thankfully, my friend is able to handle this temptation better than I ever would. I confess that I don’t know how depraved I would be if I were in his shoes. Even now, I have to be very careful not to get too carried away in my passions.

     There are a lot of things that I could be pursuing right now. I could make more money. I could get lost in a life of adventure. I could conquer the world! But, will I always be Superman? The answer is yes and no. No, I won’t always be the strong, smart man that my daughters still see me as today. Soon, they will look to another man to be their hero, and I will be fortunate if I get a call from them at least once a week. However, it is true that, if I invest in my relationship with them now, my children will learn to trust me. They will feel safe to come to me when times are hard or confusing. Either way I look at it, I will be doing myself and my family a service by staying involved. I don’t want to be one of those dads that feels regret when my girls start living on their own. I want to cry because I’m proud of my girls at their wedding, and not because I realized I don’t know the women that I am walking down the aisle.

     If what I am saying stirs up something inside of you, then don’t ignore it. Us dads, we are meant to be more than just financial providers. We are a crucial part of the lives of our children. They need us now more than ever. I know it takes time to go to sporting events, band concerts, and parent teacher conferences. It’s hard to sit through the hundredth round of duck-duck-goose. Sometimes we just don’t feel like we have it in us. Trust me, I get exhausted with all the responsibilities that come with being a dad. All the events and holidays and  “opportunities for quality time” feel like they can really suck the life out of a man. But listen close; heed my words- we cannot afford to miss these times. Let us not be one of those men that end their life with wealth and a guilty conscience. If you do not live with your children or if there are other complications keeping you from being present, then you might need to be extra conscientious about the time you have with them. It’s possible that some of you that I am sharing with have a strained relationship with your child, whether by choice or not. Don’t let obstacles get in the way of being your children’s Superman. Do all that you can to be there for them. We don’t have forever, but we do have today.

Walking a Different Path

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  “Our children give us the opportunity to become the parents we’d always wish we had.”
– Dr. Louise Hart, American psychologist, speaker, and writer
     My own father entered the foster care system very early in his life. He was one of many children, who were separated from each other for most of their childhood. My father often bounced from one unhealthy home environment to another. Often, he was used as a cheap form of labor and regularly experienced physical/emotional abuse. Eventually, he landed in a good home with a loving foster family. These are the people that I now call grandpa and grandma. Though the story “ends” well for him, my father had mixed messages about what it was like to be a father, as many of the examples that he had received were horrid. As a result, he had a lot of self exploration to do before he would become the man that he is now. The process was not only burdensome for himself, but my siblings and I had received much of the collateral effects that came with my father’s journey toward a healthy parenting style. Now, I find myself as the third generation of this cyclical pattern. As you well know, I am a parent myself, and I have the responsibility to decide how I am going to parent in light of what I have been shown. This is a challenge that each of us men must face.
     Some of us grew up in homes that were loving, where dad was present and involved, and where we felt safe at all times. For others, this is not the case. However, the truth is, due to the simple fact that each of us has or had a father (whether we know/knew him or not) we have been given a message about what a father is and does. We then must choose if we will continue this message to the next generation or if we will initiate a new one. Whether we believe it or not, we do have the ability to choose. Let me put this as succinctly as possible- regardless of the example that our father was for us, we have the responsibility and capability to be the fathers that our children need us to be.
     So, how do we determine what we want to keep and what is worth discarding? To answer this question completely and accurately for each person is impossible. However, there are some general guidelines that we can follow that may get us closer to the vision that we have for our own parenting style. These guidelines are simply that, guidelines. They are not an inflexible rule that we must stick to in order to care for our children properly. Take what you need from the information provided and make it your own. The optimum we hope to achieve here is for our home to be loving, safe, educational, and constant.
     With this in mind, here are our guidelines:
1) Primum non nocere: This is Latin phrase given to us by Hippocrates that translates, “first, do no harm.” If our actions are meant to hurt our family, then we are off course. We must always seek to build up those we care about, not to tear them down or cause them unnecessary pain. Examples of this might be: verbal, sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. Unlike the other guidelines, this is a hard rule with little, if any, flexibility.
 
2) Others before self: The desire to put ourselves first is within all of us. Daily, we must fight the desire to feed our own well being at the expense of our family. This is not to say that parenting should be a practice of constant suffering, but it does require us to have the discipline to say “no” to ourselves in order to meet the needs of our family.
 
3) Follow through: Canadian author, Matshona Dhliwayo, said, “Never make a promise you can’t keep.” If we say we are going to do something, whether it is a punishment or a reward, we need to do it. If we don’t, we teach our children that we cannot be trusted or that there will be no consequence for misbehavior. All of us say things without giving thought. Sometimes our words just seem to slip out of our mouths. When this happens, we need to apologize and explain that we misspoke. This needs to happen right away, not when our children are asking us to pay up.
 
4) Stay consistent: It would be unwise for us to stay stagnant in our growth as parents. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”- Albert Einstein. We have to adapt as we gather new information. However, we must also keep in mind that too much change leaves our children uncertain about how we will respond to a situation and may lead to anxiety. We can combat this by letting the expectations and plans be known. Then, go back to guideline number 3.
 
5) Create a safe learning environment: Kids need to explore. They require a safe place where they can put things to the test. They tinker, manipulate, destroy, and build. This is crucial to their early development. Teenagers don’t play in the mud anymore (kind of), but they need to explore as well. We create a safe environment for this by setting clear boundaries with room for adventure and mistakes to be made.

Changing the path that has been laid before us is no easy task. It will require dedication on our part, wise input from others, and access to the resources we may need. Keep in mind that if your relationship with your father was healthy or at least partially healthy, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Use what worked for your family, but do so with an open mind. Times change and people are unique. It’s okay to carry on traditions and its just as okay to start new ones. Get feedback from your family. With humility and a willingness to change, you can be the father you hope to be. I believe in you!

Dad’s Toolbox Series: Bedtime Stories

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     Together, we have covered some heavy, yet essential topics related to being a Rock Solid father. It is my desire to balance these topics with others that present the same practicality, but with a lighter tone. The Dad’s Toolbox series, as I am calling it, will consist of some tips, tricks, and resources “of the trade” that I have gathered over the years. These tools come from my readings, research, and from brushing shoulders with other fathers like yourself. To give a feel of how the toolbox series might look, I introduce you to our first tool: bedtime stories.
     I doubt that I even need to share the importance of reading to children, especially during the earlier years of their development. Just in case- It’s very important. With that out of the way, here is a small list of some bedtime stories for various ages that you might consider checking out at the library the next time you are in town. I have also provided a short synopsis of each book, just so you know what your getting into.
 
1) Love You Forever. Written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw.
I may have a bias on this one, as it is the book that my mother used to read the most to me when I was a kid. The story follows the life of a young boy as he grows up over the years. His mother continues to rock him and sing a special lullaby that he, as he becomes a man, sings to her in her old age. Finally, he passes on the tradition when he sings to his child as a new father. The lullaby is catchy; the book is a classic.
 
2) Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch. Written by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Tony Ross.
I think you will enjoy this story as much as your children will. It follows a husband as he goes about his every day sort of business, all while the wife is experiencing unbelievably good fortune. The irony in their contrasting experiences is what makes the story engaging. This is one of those books that leave you thinking, “yeah, that’s a winner.”
 
3) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
This is a chapter book. The Chronicles of Narnia series, of which this is the first book, is one of the best examples of writing meant to appeal to child and parent simultaneously. It is simple and adventurous enough to keep a child engaged, but we as fathers can appreciate the deeper messages hidden within. The first book follows the experiences of four siblings as they stumble upon a fantasy world found in the back of a wardrobe (think coat closet) as its mythological residents prepare for the return of their benevolent king and the long-awaited restoration of the kingdom. If you find yourself liking this book (as you probably will), keep going, the whole series is worth the time investment.
 
4) Hello, Lighthouse. Written by Sophie Blackall
I recommend showing the pictures for this one. I still can’t believe how much story you get with so short of a book. You’ll see what I mean as you read it. Within, we get a brief description of a light keeper’s experiences on the job, share in a few touching moments, and then say goodbye to the lighthouse as the keeper is replaced by new technology. Though this may not sound like the makings of a good book, the book as a whole is so well put together that you can’t help but feel drawn into the light keeper’s beautiful, yet simple world.
 
5) Aesop’s Fables. Illustrated by Charles Santore.
I’m cheating with this one. Aesop’s fables, as the title suggests, is actually multiple short stories with the purpose of conveying a concise philosophical thought. Some are better than others, but if you want to know where we get a lot of our sayings and illustrations from, look no further. The Lion and the Mouse, The Hare and the Tortoise, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing- you will find them here. Not only are the stories memorable, but they are short (like a paragraph or two).
 
6) Don’t Push the Button. Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
This one is for the younger kids. It lets them interact with the book itself by telling them to and not to push the button on the page. It’s clever, and brief. You can read this over and over again with a smirk on your face every time. I believe that the best kind of bedtime book is one that you can read a hundred times without losing your mind. This is one of those books.
 
7) Guess How Much I Love You. Written by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram.
It’s a feel-good book about a father hare and son hare creatively sharing their love for each other. You can’t go wrong with this one.
 
8) If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Written by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond.
If you didn’t have this book read to you as a child, you have been missing out. The book engages the audience by taking them through a ludicrous chain of events that all stem from the simple catalyst of giving a mouse a cookie. My kids love this one as much as I did when I was their age.
 
     Bonus: While I was refreshing my memory on some good bedtime stories, I came across two resources that I thought were worth sharing. If the idea of well known celebrities reading bedtime stories for children intrigues you, check out Cbeebies bedtime stories on Youtube and Storyline Online (https://www.storylineonline.net). I’m talking bedtime stories read by James Earl Jones, Kevin Costner, Tom Hardy, and Betty White. This is top-notch stuff.
 

When the Lights Come On

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     Have you ever been caught in the act of a really poor decision? If you have not, congratulations! You truly are a rare breed of human being. For the rest of us (I’m guessing all of us) there are multiple times in life that we look back on and shudder as we think of that awkward moment when we were first discovered. When I think about this topic, I go immediately back to the time my mother found a swimsuit magazine underneath my bed. Note that I grew up in a conservative Christian home, so this was a huge “oh-no” moment for me. We were looking for something together in my room, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. It was only a few minutes before my mom had pulled the magazine from under my bed. I immediately went into creative mode. I was trying desperately to think of a logical scenario for why I, the boy who rarely stepped out of line, would have this blatant contraband hanging out in my personal living quarters. That’s when my mother said, “Which one?” I was confused. She said it again, slightly different, “which one do you like?” I pointed to one of the women that I found the most appealing, still shocked by the turn of events. She gave a little, “huh,” and then said “she’s pretty.” For whatever reason, this is where my memory cuts off. Though the incident took place many years ago, I can still feel the same dread I felt then whenever I think back to that moment. This was one of those times when I was reminded of the virtue I had lacked, integrity.
     According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, integrity means “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” I often describe integrity as “maintaining consistency in our words and actions at all times.” Thomas S. Monson, American religious leader, said this, “Be the same person in the dark as you are in the light.” Put differently, your behaviors should not change whether or not you believe they are being observed by others. Think about all the athletes, movie stars, politicians, and other public icons that have had to take a stand and share a humbling apology for their lapse in judgement. When we first hear about this atrocity on the news, our immediate thoughts go to, “You see, these big shots are all corrupt.” However, when we look into our own lives, the same temptation to give in “just this one time” lingers in all of us.
     So, what does this have to do with being a father? What if I were to say to you that broken families and damaged relationships rarely happen by choice? What if instead, the likely culprit is one instance or, more likely, many instances of abandoned integrity? When we don’t keep a promise that we make, that’s an integrity issue. When we swear at the neighbor’s dog after telling our children not to use foul language, we are not displaying integrity. When we choose to engage in illegal activity or “bend the rules” in our various roles, we have an integrity problem. When we decide to “chat” with the co-worker that keeps flirting with us, even when we are already in a relationship, we are lacking integrity. Though these decisions may not be the proverbial “final nail in the coffin,” they do reflect the heart of a man that is allowing his own desires for the moment to get in the way of caring for others. When we make a habit of these behaviors, we start to harm those that depend on or rely on us. Not only this, but it becomes difficult for those we have hurt to trust us. I can’t think of a more shameful revelation than to know that I would not be trusted by those who know me best.
     Now that we have concluded the importance of maintaining integrity, let us discuss ways in which we can work on this virtue. Here are a few areas that we, as fathers, can grow in integrity:
1) Keep our promises. If we say that we are going to do something, we need to stick to it.
2) Consider others. Ask ourselves, “how will this decision affect others?” before making one.
3) Be honest with ourselves. We can pretend that what we do in secret will stay in the dark. However, the truth is, we never really know when the lights will come on.
4) Be honest with others. The saying, “what they don’t know can’t hurt them” is an ingredient for disaster. We must stay transparent and true to ourselves.
5) Stick to our guns. Peer pressure doesn’t go away after high school. We still receive influence from co-workers and friends. We must do what we feel is right, even when others around us choose not to.
6) Know when to leave. It takes a strong man to pull out of a bad situation. If we are likely to give in to temptation by staying, it’s time to bail.
7) Do as we say. People remember what you do far more than what you say. It is our responsibility to make sure what we say and what we do match.
     It is not possible to be perfect. All of us will make mistakes from time to time. When we do, it is our responsibility to right our wrongs. We can do so with three steps. First, we must apologize to those we have harmed. Second, we provide restitution as needed. This means that we restore that which was taken, lost, or damaged by our actions. Finally, we make every effort to change our behaviors to make sure that the offense does not happen again. By doing these three steps, we are not guaranteed to receive immediate forgiveness or trust. However, when we take responsibility for ourselves, we begin the process of healing for the person we have offended and the relationship between that person and ourselves.
Remember this: A Rock Solid Father is a man with integrity.

A Few Tips for Financial Success

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     When I first ask fathers what three topics that they would most like to discuss when we start our mentorship experience, finances is almost always among the three. Why does this keep showing up? I believe it’s because we men have a deep-seeded desire to provide for our families, and learning how to manage our money is one of the best ways we can do so. Yet, there’s a problem that often trips us up: How many people do you know personally who do it well? We all like the idea of being financially stable. However, our culture teaches us that going into debt, spending money on things we don’t need, and keeping up with the Jones’s are all crucial parts of the American dream. I don’t claim to be a financial guru, but I can tell you that these habits are not the answer to your money problems. So, let’s talk about some habits that will help you to succeed financially. These “tips,” as I am calling them, are in no particular order.

     Tip #1: Get out of debt. Okay, I know that feels like a blanket statement, but that’s one of our primary goals. If we have any forms of debt hanging over our shoulders, we need to do all that we can to rid ourselves of these financial parasites. This may mean that we have to drastically change how we live for the foreseeable future, but keep in mind that it is worth the current suffering.
     Tip #2: Stay disciplined. Dave Ramsey, quite possibly one of the most highly revered financial speakers and writers of our time, shares this- “If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” This means that by having the discipline to tell yourself no now while others are feeding their unhealthy desires you are more likely than others to enjoy financial freedom later.
     Tip #3: Lose the credit cards. Don’t get me wrong, credit cards aren’t inherently wrong in and of themselves. Still, most people are not using them with financial effectiveness and are hurting themselves with them far more than they’re worth. If you are in debt, then there is no reason to be using credit cards, period. Credit cards are a great way for established users to gain from a rewards program by paying off their card every time, on time. You cannot aggressively attack your debt while you are trying to keep up with a credit card payment every month. Also, credit cards can throw your credit score way back with just a few late payments. There may be a time for credit cards to work for you, but if you are in debt, this is not the time.
     Tip #4: Shop full. The long-running tip for a successful grocery trip is to shop while you are satisfied. If you go in hungry, you are likely to pick up more junk food and fast food style dishes. Not only should you not go into a store physically hungry, but it would be just as unwise to go in emotionally hungry. I can speak from years of personal experience that impulse buying is way harder to avoid when you have had a bad day or when you feel (key word here) like treating yourself to something good.
     Tip #5: Don’t spend more than you make. This one is easy to explain. If you don’t have the money, don’t make decisions that reflect that you do (a.k.a. taking on debt). I guarantee that every conversation you will ever have with a financial expert will contain this phrase: Spend within your means. That’s because this is one of the most important pieces to financial success.
     Tip #6: Use cash often. When we use cash, we are able to see the money go from our pockets to someone else’s. This creates a very important visual of where our money is going. It helps us track our spending by showing us just how fast those few dollars disappear. It’s healthy to tell ourselves, “Once this is gone, it’s gone. I need to figure out how I best want to spend what I have.”
     Tip #7: Make a list. When we plan our spending, such as developing a budget, we lessen the likelihood that we are spending impulsively. We also provide ourselves with an opportunity to determine where our priorities lie. If I can’t pay the bills, but I keep buying lottery tickets each week, then I can easily see where correction in my spending habits might take place. When I go shopping, carrying a list of the items that I intend to buy will help me keep my focus when I start seeing all the flashy packaging. Again, we need to discipline ourselves to say, “No, that is not what I came here for.”
     Dads, I must confess that these tips are a struggle for me to follow perfectly. That is why I can tell you that sticking with these tips works, and refusing to use them can be disastrous. There is plenty more ways to grow in the area of finances, and I’m sure that we will get back to this topic at a later point. However, I think that, by using these tips, you have some early stepping stones to providing for your family financially.
     I hope you found this post helpful and feel encouraged to start using these financial tips today.