Risk

Hi. Remember me?

I’m the opinionated fella that seems to have an opinion about everything, but forgets to take notes on the ideas that I have opinions on and want to write about.

Since I was seized by one such topic while I have the iPad in my hand, I want to write on it. That topic is risk. Or, more accurately, protecting your kids from it.  I understand the notion, right? If I can exercise just a little bit more due diligence, and keep my girls safe, I should certainly do so, right?

Debatable.

Are we really doing them any favors by protecting them from all forms of risk? Or would we be better served by letting them fall sometimes? Then, we learn that falling happens, and how to get back up. These discussions with some of our close friends and family who are new parents. Facebook is full of fascinating things. Some of it, even good advice! But, it does t stand out as to which is which. Nobody wants to see their child hurt themselves. It really doesn’t matter if it’s by falling down, at the hands of a friend that’s less than kind, or a substance abuse problem. But, how do you learn about natural consequences, if you’re barred from making decisions that lead to them? The short answer is, you don’t. You learn to believe that someone else will save you from the repercussions of your actions.

And really, what are we trying to protect them from?

Is it that we’re trying to protect them from pain? Are we trying to protect them from bad decisions? Are we simply projecting our own fears upon them? Or, perhaps we’re trying to save our own heartache. I suspect mileage varies, but one thing that I’m sure of, is that it’s going to be difficult to find a person whose healthy confidence in themselves, if they have never been permitted to make decisions and not have them work out to force them to recover. Passing our fears on to our children does them no favors.

But, you know? Something that I’m certain of, is that it would be difficult to find joy in a life completely devoid of sorrow. The thrill of achieving an unexpected success would be severely degraded if there was no cognizance of what it is to fail. What kind of life would it be, to have such a numb existence? Failure is an integral part of growth. As a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. I’ve seen people and corporations become completely paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, or failing. And while I’ll stop shy of encouraging them to fail, I’ll encourage them to try, because it’ll effectively be the same thing sometimes. And that failure is good, as long as you learn and grow from it.

Some people, I suppose, would rather have a boring, steady existence. I’m not one of those people. I’ll take the pain, and the joy that I then become cognizant of.

She’s a keeper…

Last night, as my bride and I haunted the hotel bar at the Tudor Arms hotel in Cleveland, one of my new friends in town for a beer festival at FirstEnergy Stadium shared a bit of wisdom with me.

He affirmed for me that my bride of fourteen years was beautiful and a keeper.

He’s right, of course. And I already knew that. But I sure got the impression that he enjoyed sharing that with me. See, I’ve had a bit of a rough go lately. Things have been stressful and busy as hell with work. Stressful dealing with the house in Illinois. I’ve been PERSONALLY busy, as I drive my eldest daughter 400 miles round trip to obtain Oral ImmunoTherapy for her peanut allergy. So, I’ve been more stressed lately than I have been at any time since 2005.

As a result, my beautiful bride planned a one night getaway for us. To that mecca of exotica…Cleveland!

Now, I’ve never had much to say about Cleveland. Good or bad. It simply was. My buddies and I hit a Tribe game a few years back. That was fun. But, I wasn’t excited by anything there. Until this trip. We stayed at the Doubletree Tudor Arms, which was a pretty nice place. From there, we went out to the Great Lakes Brewing Company for dinner and a couple of brews. Enjoyed some Lake Erie Monster, and Ales for ALS White IPA, and a Commodore Perry IPA. The good news is, my shrimp and grits was delicious. The bad news was, I was too full to drink much more.

Still, we soldiered on, and went to Nano Brew Cleveland, where I managed two more pints of local brew. First being the Nano Brew Cluster Bomb, and the second being a Market Garden Brewery Viking Pale Ale, which I believe may have been my favorite brew of the night. It was on cask, and reminded me so very much of homebrew.

After two brews, though, I just couldn’t put any more down. Sadly, I failed to invoke the rule that “beer has food value, but food has no beer value”, and so we went back to the room to chill out for a while, before we went down to the hotel bar for a couple more.

After a FANTASTIC night’s sleep, we packed up and headed to Lucky’s Cafe for breakfast. Which was FAN. TAS. TIC. Pecan encrusted bacon and delicious biscuits and gravy for me, and a summer squash omelette for her. And nearly everything is sourced within 100 miles, with much of their food coming from their urban farm. So very cool. Check it out if you get the opportunity.

So, my new friend from the bar, you’re absolutely right. M’lady is a keeper. She went through a lot of trouble to go out of her way to show me a good time for the evening, and take my mind off my troubles.

For that, I’m ever grateful.

Father’s Day

It seems that Father’s Day is upon us again.

I know this, because my gaggle of girls took me out yesterday to one of my favorite restaurants, North Country Brewing Company, for an early dinner/late lunch. And my partner in crime bought me a very cool growler full of their delicious “Paleo IPA” to take home to drink during game two of the Stanley Cup Final.

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This morning, I was afforded the luxury to sleep well past when I would normally sleep, was taken out to breakfast at another favorite local place for breakfast, the Golden Rye Grille, where I was presented with a book of coupons from the girlies for everything from unlimited snuggles to car washes, to floor washing.

Those girls make me proud. They love big, live big, and leave me pondering what may be next. Sometimes, I become concerned that my own weaknesses leave the girls a little bit shy in the Dad department, but for the most part, they seem satisfied. And for that, I’m grateful.

Something that struck me today, as I was smiling while walking to retrieve the car so that the girls didn’t have to walk in the rain, is how much I love being a Dad. I don’t want a day off of taking care of my girls. That’s simply what I do. I had the good fortune of learning to be a dad from both my own Dad and my maternal Grandfather. Both of whom taught me important, though different, lessons. And have helped to make me someone that I feel that I can be proud of today.

I told a friend today that a great man and father teaches their sons how to be a great man. I then pondered joking that it’s a good thing I had all girls. But, I know that’s not true. I’m proud of who I’ve become. I’m proud of the work that we do to try to teach the girls empathy and gratitude. I’m proud of the way that we raise our girls.

For all you Dads out there that sometimes question how well you do at the most important job you have, remember that the single biggest thing that matters, is that they know how much you love them. The self confidence that comes from that gives them the rudder that’s necessary to be confident in themselves, and not be swayed by all of the forces out there that are constantly present, and can blow us off course.

Thank you Dad, and Grandpa, for the love that solidified my core, and allowed me to be steadfast in who *I* wanted to be. A [mostly] great Dad to my girls.

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Sea legs of life…

This weekend, we had some company in from out of town. Someone that I know, love, and was fortunate enough to see grow up is going through an important transition in life. From that of a broke college student to that of a graduate who is simply out living. In celebration, I prepared her favorite, brisket. And she stopped in for the weekend to visit as she leaves the only home she’s ever known, and heads out for a new adventure with the gentleman that she loves.

She’s not my daughter, though I’d happily protect her as my own. But, I’m proud of her. Though she’s been dealt a blow or two, she refused to be knocked down. She set high expectations for herself, choosing to pursue her degree in psychology. Though she’s very happy with change being at a minimum, she identified that her home state may or may not have much to offer her, and decided to embark on, quite literally, the journey of a lifetime with someone she loves. Her Coastie. A life of love, adventure, and some uncertainty. She identified just how great things could be, and is putting herself out there a bit to take a risk. Staring life down, and refusing to be intimidated into inaction.

My daughter, you’re not. But, I hope that my girls can find some inspiration in your confidence. Sufficient confidence in their ability to take what life has to throw at it, and enjoy the journey itself. Life isn’t a game that should be lived on the sidelines, as it’s hard to actually play if you’re too risk averse to step onto the field. A life without risks, at the end of the day, will be a life filled with “what if’s”. And each of those “what if’s” contain some regret.

From Odes 1.11

Don’t ask (it’s forbidden to know) what end
the gods have granted to me or you, Leuconoe. Don’t play with Babylonian
fortune-telling either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be!
Whether Jupiter has allotted to sink you many more winters or this final one
which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite
— be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes
to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled:
seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.

I’m proud of you, and hope that your journey will bring you near us again. The journey itself is to be relished. Even if it is to New Jersey.

Motherhood

Finding mothers are easy. They’re the people in the room who always seem more worried about everybody else than they are themselves. Easy to find, but difficult to define. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing some of the best. Being Mother’s Day and all, I want to try to paint a picture with words to try to put some context around a term that can be so easy and so complex to define, all at the same time.

Empathy. One of the most important words that I can use to define motherhood is empathy. My girls’ mommy always said that as soon as we had #1, that every child out there is hers, in some way. A child was hurt or did something great, she’d ponder it as though it was our child.

Selflessness. Something that has struck me of many of the mothers that I’ve known, is how selfless they are. If dinner was more popular than expected, or just came up short, they give to everybody else before taking for themselves. They seem to enjoy doing for others more than doing for themselves. Whether it’s buying clothes for little girls (ours or otherwise), or going to watch a live rendition of Blues Clues, something that seems to be common of mothers is the joy that they derive from the joy of others.

Determination. They will not be dissuaded. There is no task too large for them to handle, Managing a household of two, three, five ( <3 ), or NINE (God love you, my saint of a Grandma), with varying degrees of help is not easy. But, you’re adaptable, and will make it work with what you have.

I’m very grateful to have known and loved the mothers in my life. But, I’d be amiss if I didn’t differentiate the special kind of mom that my girls have. The kind of mom that makes jambalaya for a Princess and the Frog birthday party. Or, plans “Family Movie Night” which is more than simply watching a movie together. It’s watching a Halloween movie with pizza mummies for dinner and making crafty mummies out of jars and gauze. Or spends weeks planning Funner (what happens when school is out).

One day, girls, you will appreciate just how much your mom labors to bring you joy. Daily. Sadly, not everybody has a mom like you do. But, when it comes to moms, you have the best of the best.

Moms…what you do matters. You take young, impressionable little people, and help turn them into people who make the world a better place. Just like Moms themselves.

 

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See? My decision making isn’t ALWAYS suspect! Otherwise, how could I possibly have scored so well in the family department? Here are all of my girls, right after the arrival of my littlest princess, with my own Mom making a cameo in the corner.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Parenthood

Good news! I found my attention span! Until I see another squirrel, anyway…

Once I fixed the blog, though, I knew that I had a few topics to write about. Parenthood. More specifically, fatherhood. Turns out, I have more first hand experience at fatherhood than I do motherhood. And, as some of our friends were meeting, and preparing for some of the challenges of parenthood,  I took a moment to reflect on my own experiences with fatherhood. I saw plenty of posts out there, primarily directed at women, or what women wanted men to know. But not much on the other side. An opinionated sort, I thought that might be something I could share,  having been ’round this block a few times, so I want to write about some of that for my next few blog entries.

Help Wanted: Management-NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. No training provided. 

As I read one of the blog entries from the perspective of new mothers, pleading with the new fathers with regard to what they wanted, something struck me. Fathers are not bit-players in the lives of your new child.  This may or may not be something that you’ve planned for more than ten months or so. Ten months certainly isn’t very long. You’re both likely to have crisis of confidence. Due, in no small part, to sleep deprivation. Unless, of course, you didn’t sleep in the first place.

Share the load. Dad, be as involved as you can in the day to day lives of your new little one. Be assertive. Let Mom know that you WANT to help. It helps you establish a bond with your new little one. And Mom? Even if he’s not doing things exactly as you might, I plead with you. PLEASE don’t just take over. Not only will it undermine his confidence, but it will undermine the child’s confidence in him to meet their needs. He may not be doing things exactly as you would prefer, but in the vast majority of circumstances, I’m sure that it’ll be OK. One possible exception is if he feels the urge to hold your child off of a balcony, Rafiki style. Interjection may be warranted then.

The fact of the matter is, you’re both likely to be exhausted. If it’s your first, you may be learning that you have less free time than you did. Sharing the work as evenly as possible helps protect against resentment. It will also help create two confident parents. Not to mention a child that’s confident that both of their parents can meet their needs. Especially overnight.

What’s that, Dad? You say that you have to work in the morning? This may come as a surprise, but so does Mom. Unlike a 9-5 office job, parenthood is a 24 hour gig. For both a stay at home parent AND a work outside the home parent. It may be reasonable for Mom to get up the first time, as it may be plausible for her to nap with the kid if it’s your first, but there’s no reason why you can’t share the sleep deprivation. Who knows, maybe you and Mom can bond over it. My wife and I are just now getting to the point where sleep is getting better. That’s since 9/2006, when we had our middle daughter.

Keep Calm, buy a copy of “Go the F**k to Sleep“, and enjoy parenthood for today. It’s like weather in the Midwest. It’ll be different tomorrow.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”–John Hughes “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

Teaching empathy and gratitude?

Today, I knew what I wanted to write about. What I wasn’t prepared for, was how difficult it has been for me to start. My personal thought is that the two are very closely related. In my case, I’m pretty sure that I understood empathy before gratitude. I was raised by hard working parents. Growing up, I can only remember a single vacation longer than a weekend. It just wasn’t in the cards, I suspect. Dad had a good job, but would find himself laid off by the factory, and find himself in a position where he had to take what jobs he could to provide for his mealy-mouth kids. For her part, Mom pinched the pennies as tightly as she could. To this day, I’m not much of a fan of turkey. This is because Mom would make the biggest bird she could find for Thanksgiving. I swear to you, the four of us would eat that bird until Christmas. Any idea what we had for Christmas dinner? I’ll give you a hint. It fed us until damn near February.

As a result, I feel for the ever-growing numbers of people who struggle. Who are trying to deal with the last thirty years of inflation with wages that haven’t kept pace. It’s always been easy for me to consider walking in their shoes. That said, it got a lot easier when we moved to Nowhere, OH. I’m pretty certain that a not-insignificant portion of town is “food insecure“, where they don’t know if they’ll have enough to eat today. I’m certain that there were plenty of food insecure people where we were in the first place, but I don’t believe it was as conspicuous. So, when we got here, my gratitude for all that I’ve had, whether I had to work for it or not, became much greater.

Important ideals, in my estimation.

More challenging, is how to pass that on to my girls. At what point do they even become capable of empathy? Until they become capable of empathy, is it even possible to teach them about gratitude? If they can’t consider how someone doesn’t have enough, how would they feel anything but their own disappointment at not getting a bigger ice cream dish, or a root beer float? We work to make sure that they understand that some of their classmates may not have enough. Last Christmas, I took them out to participate in the secret Santa phenomenon, paying off layaways at the local-ish KMart. One for each of the girls. I wanted to demonstrate that doing things for others is benefit enough, even when you don’t get anything more out of it.

What more can be done to help instill these values that, in my estimation, are suffering greatly in our society today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. As a society, we’ve become so overly individualistic that I’m afraid that we’re going lose the ability to empathize. And if we can no longer empathize, I fear for our future.

Kinship lost

It takes a whole village to raise a child, states an African proverb.

Back in my younger days, I wholeheartedly disagreed. In 2000, when I became a father for the first time, there was still much discussion over this premise. “It doesn’t take a village!”, I scoffed. “It takes parents. Active, involved parents.” Love and discipline, I might have said. That’s all it takes to raise your child.

As life often does, it’s shown me the error of my ways. I am required, every day, to rely on others to keep my children safe. In small town America, ,neighbors take interest in your life. As a young man that grew up in suburbia, I once declared that i simply couldn’t handle that level of intrusion into my personal life. This is one of the things that I’m most thankful for, about where we live today. Not only are we related to the whole blasted town, (sorry girls, but you’re going to have to find a mate elsewhere), but the ones we’re not related to take a genuine interest in the girls. Caring for their well being. You can see it when Linda, childhood friend of my father in law and girls’ bus driver, greets the kindergartner. On a separate trip, she also drives the pre-teen to school. There is a cohesion to the neighborhood. A neighborhood, I might add, that doesn’t stop on “Snob Hill”.

But, it’s important to remember that we’re not on an island of safety, right? Some people certainly do despicable things, and it’s our job to protect our children from those despicable things. Sadly, I think that means that we sometimes keep them isolated. In a social bubble, if you will. Through our fear, we inhibit their social comfort. In some ways, technology has vastly improved our lives. News, regardless of distance. is delivered nearly instantaneously. This quenches our thirst for awareness, and nourishes our fear. We can interact with people from all over the world in an instant, but may not interact with our neighbor.

Because of this well-nourished fear, we are now conditioned to expect the worst of people. When a friendly older gentleman sits down to interact with our children, we immediately question their intentions. And it doesn’t stop as children. We don’t trust our peers. Why don’t we trust our peers? It’s ‘my belief that we’re doing ourselves and our children a disservice. Through our need to protect and cleanse everything for our children, are we inhibiting them socially?

Are we, as a society, better off if we’re more comfortable talking via SMS Text than our voice? Or when we’d prefer to talk via a web server two thousand miles away as opposed to thirty steps to share a beer with our neighbor?

“Doveryai, no proveryai”, or “trust, but verify”, is a Russian proverb made popular by Vladimir Lenin and Ronald Reagan.  Perhaps, we would do well to heed the advice of the Gipper before we instill an ever escalating, paralyzing fear into future generations.