Daddy Will You Hold Me?

I used to be a cruel and sadistic parent.  I was selfish, tired, resentful, and overwhelmed.

       My first son learned to walk when he was around nine months old.  At about 18 months I figured he had had enough practice and I expected him to walk everywhere he went.  When we went to the store he would slowly climb his way out of the car seat, I set him on the ground and expected him to walk to the store.  He would start to whine about halfway there, when his little legs struggled to keep up with my full strides.  As he plopped himself on the ground crying, “daddy hold me” my frustration would start to boil, I attempted to provide a logical choice, “You can walk, or you can ride in the cart.”  However, logic was thrown out the window when I expected an 18 month old to walk the length of a parking lot.

            8 years and 3 kids later I was reminded of my cruel and sadistic past.  My five year old is high energy and high emotion.  By the end of the day he has run his tank dry and seems to have little energy left for any self-care.  As we finish reading books he plops himself on the floor and asks, “daddy will you hold me?”

            When I scoop him up and carry him to bed I realize that “holding” a child is so much more than bringing that child from point A to point B.

Holding a child is:

  •             Protecting from harm
  •             Containing feelings
  •             Softening your heart
  •             Anticipating needs
  •             Accepting uniqueness
  •             Caring for hurts
  •             Enforcing limits
  •             Sacrificing self
  •             Creating safety
  •             Seeking to understand
  •             Being present
  •             Offering grace

Over the next several months my posts will be discussing questions about  “holding” your children.  Is it possible to drop a child emotionally while holding him physically?  Is it possible to hold a child while not physically touching him?  How do fathers hold differently than mothers?  What are the consequences of never being held and how can one learn to hold if they never experienced it themselves?

Please join me in the discussion and offer your own reflections or questions about your experience as a parent.

My Wife Went Out of Town and I Asked For Help

Several months ago my wife started preparing me for the inevitable.  A long time friend was getting married and she floated the idea of attending the wedding. She would be a plane flight away while I stayed home to care for our four young children.  My normal response in these situations is silence.  I am trying to remain calm, and avoid totally betraying the feelings of anxiety and frustration that immediately crop up.

I love my kids, I am a very involved father, and I am passionate about impacting the lives of my children.   When it comes to parenting alone for a weekend however, I am a mess.  I really desire for my wife to have time of her own, I desire for her to connect with old friends, and I have had many chances to take such trips.

My problem is that I get overwhelmed; there is just so much to do.  There are moments when things are going fine, and then there are moments when it feels seconds away from implosion.  As I move through the days doing my best to stay one step ahead of the chaos the feeling becomes more powerful and out of control.

So, with this trip on the horizon I asked for help, my mom came into town and my sister and her pre-teen daughter spent time lending an extra hand.

Somewhere in the middle of the weekend I started to wonder if I was betraying my fellow man.  I have read several articles lately and am aware of a pretty significant movement of dads looking to improve the image of fathers.  I have felt that I am a part of this movement.  I do desire to demonstrate that men are capable parents.  So, I wondered if asking for help made me a sell-out?  Had I become a hypocrite in the world of active fathers?

After some reflection I have decided that no, I am not a sell-out or a hypocrite, I am just me.  I am laid back, low energy, low structure, introverted, reflective, and male.  When I enter a group of people I hang around the edges, observe for a while, and then settle into a conversation with 1 or 2 warm personalities.  My wife is outgoing, high energy, high structure, extroverted, logical, and female.  When she enters a group of people she jumps right into the mix, moves from group to group, and meets many new people.

I am struck by the fact that our different personalities also reflect our different styles of parenting.  She is perfectly comfortable managing and directing the crisis of taking four children to the grocery store.  She responds quickly in many situations and is adept at moving from child to child, while maintaining focus on the task at hand.  My reflective personality causes me to respond more slowly.  I want to think things through.  I wonder how my words in this moment may impact the future development of a fragile psyche.  I analyze motivations, body language, and tone changes all in the hopes of responding perfectly as to avoid any further complications.

Isn’t it amazing how who we are as people, so totally impacts who we are as parents?  I am very thankful that my wife is not like me.  I am also thankful that I am not like my wife.  Our personalities and parenting styles are complementary and we have become a really great team.  She is a force of energy, passion, excitement, and structure.  I am steady, thoughtful, calming, and relaxed.

I am beginning to realize that my anxiety and frustration with parenting on my own may not be the result of deficient skills.  I think it is more like losing a valued teammate.  I think I am a better parent in the presence of my wife.  We work well together and support one another.  She gives me strength and I give her stability.  Asking for help is like inserting a sub, the new player can never replace the trusted veteran but neither does it reduce the value of the remaining player.

 The weekend with my wife away went much better than I expected.  It was a nice opportunity for my children to spend time with their grandmother and cousin.  I enjoyed having new team members at my side and am thankful to have learned a lesson about accepting my weaknesses and strengths.

Oh, and my wife points out that it took three of them to replace the one of her!!

This Post originally appeared at The Good Men Project

Before We Talk Gun Control, Let’s Talk Self-Control

I see the video of students running to embrace their parents after the Columbine shooting.  I hear the 9-1-1 calls from Aurora Colorado.  I fear for my child’s safety following Newtown Connecticut.  The images of these tragedies continue to raise serious questions in my mind, what is wrong with our society?  Where does this violence come from?  And what can be done to protect my children?

In the months following the Newtown Connecticut shooting my questions have been societies questions.  The issues have been discussed on news shows, experts have weighed in and there are all sorts of opinions.  Recently however the discussion seems to have focused on gun control.  Who can own them?  How many rounds should they hold? What is the difference between hunting and military style weapons?  And should there be a national gun registry?

I am afraid that these discussions about gun control miss the more important point.  If we are seeking to answer the questions, “what is wrong with society?” “Where does this violence come from?” and “How can we protect our children?” then we must instead be talking about self-control.  We have become a nation of self-indulgence.  The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of American adults are obese.  The collapse of the U.S. housing market revealed a pattern of gross overspending and irresponsible lending.  In my work as a school counselor I see many parents indulging their child’s every desire while expecting very little responsibility.  We are surrounded by technologies designed to make life quick and convenient while avoiding the arduous and difficult.

Our children are told that happiness comes from living in the moment, following their heart, and being themself.  Yet according to the U.S. census bureau between 1990 and 2009 for every 6.8 marriages there were 3.4 divorces.  The emphasis placed on self-indulgence does not seem to create successful relationships. What if this over indulgence of self actually makes it easier to discard important relationships?  What about the influence celebrity?  In 2012 Americans spent $1.37 billion on movie tickets.  Many look to these movie stars as well as athletes as role models for success.  However, based on the number of front-page mug shots and court appearances even these cultural figures struggle with self-control.    I am very concerned that my children are growing up in a nation that views impulsivity, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement as virtues rather than vices.

Why are we surprised when a product of this culture does exactly what he was taught to do?  He follows his angry heart, disregards the value of others, and impulsively, irrationally, and selfishly murders innocent people? The real solution for the gun control problem is a radical shift in our national values.  Self-control must not be viewed as an attempt to limit individual freedoms.  Instead, it must be viewed as the ability to choose what is best rather than what is immediate.

Self-control provides a person the power to direct ones life.  I have encountered many students who do not know this.  They seem to believe that self-control is a position of weakness rather than strength.   They are convinced that limiting themselves will result in limited freedom.  What they don’t realize is that controlling ones self is the ultimate in freedom.  The ability to control our impulses, emotions, and desires may be the most difficult task of life.  However, as we learn to harness these inner experiences we are set free from the ups and downs of inner volatility.  We realize that others have absolutely no control over our inner world and thus no control of us.  “I am the only one who can control me.”  What a great freedom and responsibility.  The freedom provides the path to make life what I want it to be.  The responsibility requires that if life is not what I want it to be, I have no one to blame but myself.  Man Life is tough!

My guess is that those who perpetrate mass shootings never learned the lesson of self-control.  They never realized that they were ultimately in control of their thoughts, emotions, fantasies, and actions.  I would guess they felt a sense of their life being out of control.  I imagine they felt provoked to commit these crimes and saw no other escape from their prison of anger, hurt, and loneliness.  My hope is that as we shift from a culture of self-indulgence to self-control that the would-be murderers will regain the power to direct their life.  I hope they will find freedom in valuing others, connecting in relationships, and living in reality.  That is the best gun control only an individual can create.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project

The Facade of Manliness–a discussion with Chopper Poppa

Chopper Poppa is Kyle Bradford a father of two.  He is passionate about his children and fatherhood.  He recently invited me to join him for his podcast Fatherhood Wide Open.  We discussed a post I had written when I first started my blog.  “The Fortress of Solitude” was a post I wrote while thinking about what it means to be a man and how I can best influence my boys to reaching this ideal.  Kyle and I discussed the difference between authentic manhood and a facade of manliness designed to emotionally isolate oneself from others.  We discussed how parents unintentionally lock their boys into a fortress of solitude and some important ways to protect them from relational isolation.  Follow the link below to hear more of the discussion.

Fatherhood Wide Open–The Facade of Manliness

I Hope My Son Drops Out of High School…

I hope my sons drop out of high school if they find it to be a total waste of their time.  I have long considered schools unfriendly environments for boys and a recent article in the New York Times only confirmed my hunch.  The article sights a study finding, “that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.”

The researchers attributed the discrepancy to, “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently.”   As a father of 3 energetic boys I know that “noncognitive skills” can be very challenging for young boys to master.

 I was reminded of two recent interactions that fueled my frustration as I considered the educational challenges many boys face in the coming years.

            The first interaction was an enrollment meeting for a student that was returning to our school after having missed most of a semester due to truancy, spending some time in the department of corrections, and being “home schooled”.   He sat silently and solemnly as we spoke about his need to take responsibility, complete his work, attend regularly, and have a positive attitude.  He barely acknowledged us but with a shrug agreed to the expectations.  I was struck by how horrible it must feel to be stuck for days and years in a place that seemed purposeless.  Had this young man just traded a prison of bars and guards for one comprised of textbooks and teachers?

The second interaction was a fourth grader who has not done good work at school for years and has done minimal work for the last few days.  His acting out had grown worse and his unpredictable behavior required one-on-one supervision.  He is a wonderfully likable boy; his hands are stained black from his hobby of fixing and selling broken bicycles.  He knows more about an engine than I ever will.  Every time I enter the room he pretends to pull the thumb off my hand.  We joke around, I act surprised and he puts it back as we say hello.  Today’s interaction was like many others but I was again struck by his imprisonment.  He has 8 more years of school before he will be able to make a living doing what he enjoys.  He will likely work with his hands fixing cars, building houses, or driving machinery.  My guess is that he will be very good at it, but until then he is stuck inside pushing pencils and causing “problems”.

These boys do not want to be in school, they discovered a long time ago that it does not work for them.  They do not see how math, english, and science are going to help them in the real world.  They do not care about following rules, sitting still, or reading a loud, these skills will not help them survive their environment.

My mind immediately moved to solutions.  How can these boys be re-engaged in the learning environment?  What can be done to provide an increased sense of success? Here are my thoughts.

Provide a sensory rich educational environment.

Fewer recesses, cuts in P.E., pressure to perform on standardized tests, and limited budgets all contribute to sensory deprivation in schools.  A lot of classroom instruction is limited to the senses of vision and hearing.  Many boys learn best by touching, smelling, tasting, and especially doing.  A varied and dynamic learning environment could engage all the senses and cells of a child’s body.  Reasonable breaks for large muscle movement, snacks, and social interaction could also reinvigorate a student.

  Increased parental support

Many people would like to blame the parents for not providing enough support.   It is true that many parents do not have the emotional, psychological, or financial resources to provide the support their children need to find success in school.   Many of these parents are struggling to provide for basic needs, they may be preoccupied with personal difficulties, or have had bad experiences in school themselves.  For whatever reason many parents struggle to emphasize education as a family priority making it extremely difficult for their child to succeed.  Parents need to step up!  Too much responsibility has been placed on schools and teachers.  Parents teach values, self-control, and work ethic. Abdicating these jobs to schools creates an impossible task and an adversarial environment.  Parents must trust schools and work to reinforce the shared goals of hard work, responsibility, learning, and growth.

Create clear connections between future work and current curriculum

I have found very few boys that were not willing to work hard as long as they could see the purpose in their effort.  It may be difficult for boys to see how toiling for years in math, english, and science books will prepare them for careers as a welder, carpenter, business man, or engineer.  Some boys desire skills, hands on training, and practical experience.  What happened to vocational schools?  Can a 15- year- old apprentice with a plumber for his last two years to earn his high school diploma?  Learning outside the classroom, in real work situations could provide purpose and engagement that cannot be found in a book.

   A realistic valuation of college vs. career paths

Is it true that everyone should go to college?  I think not! Not all students are interested in or capable of continued studies.  Students are warned that they won’t be able to get a good job without a college education.  This is just not true.  Many times college-educated students struggle to find work while those with practical skills are in high demand.  The skills of hard work, perseverance, and intuition can be just as valuable as a college education.  I hope that we will begin to see careers in the trades as equally honorable as compared to a professional career.

            I am hopeful that my sons will graduate from high school.  However, without a sensory rich educational environment, increased engagement from yours truly, clear connections between future career and current curriculum, and increased valuation of the trades they may not make it.  If they choose the path of GED and trade training, I am confident they will find success.  I will be proud of their hard work, honesty, and integrity.  I will be honored to be their father.

What has school been like for your son or daughter?

THE ANGRY GROWL


As a younger man I thought anger was a really effective tool for working with kids.  I thought it worked because when I got angry I yelled, when I yelled my voice changed from monotone kindness to something that sounded like a growl from hell.  When my voice changed to this scary growl from hell kids listened.  In my mind this worked.   I would ignore frustrations, hurts, or annoyances until I could ignore no more, then I would explode with a scary tone.  Once I had exploded I felt a lot better, my feelings had been expressed and the people around me seemed to “understand.”

            I have two vivid memories of discovering that my explosive anger was not helping people to understand me but to fear me.

            I was working as a direct care staff at a residential facility for teens.  These were normal kids who had struggled at home; they came to us to heal their family relationships.  I was very young myself but had been charged with the task of “parenting” and leading these teens.  One day toward the end of my yearlong commitment of service, I had asked a young man to complete his chore by taking out the trash.  A few minutes later I peeked out the door to check on him and realized he had been distracted while “sword fighting” with a broom.  I felt the anger well up inside of me, whipped open the door and growled, “Stop screwing around and get to work!”

            Just then a new staff member appeared around the corner. (Literally having arrived the day before) I had this instant feeling of being caught.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I also felt powerful because of how quickly that boy jumped to attention and finished his chore.

            A couple years later while working as a youth pastor, I taught a 7th grade Sunday school class.  This class was challenging for me; there was a difficult mixture of the “popular” kids and those that were “annoying”.  One Sunday was filled with especially snotty remarks and I could take it no longer.  I laid into them with talk of kindness, respect, and love all in my characteristic growl of anger.  The room grew silent and I could see their faces fill with what I thought was remorse.

            Shortly after arriving home from that Sunday school class I received a phone call from a concerned parent.   Her daughter who tended to be pretty sensitive and was not involved in the snotty remarks had returned home in tears.  The parent asked what had occurred and if I could speak with her daughter.

            As I began to mature and gain some much needed self-reflection skills these two incidents stuck in my mind.  What was this experience that simultaneously produced feelings of guilt, shame, and power?  Was this technique that seemed to produce such a swift response in people really working?

            More growth and first time fatherhood brought about increased pressure and self-reflection.  The most profound realization of my need to change came one night as I was attempting to console my newborn baby.  He had been crying for what seemed like hours and we had tried everything we knew to soothe him.  I held him close to me as he screamed and writhed in my arms.  The thought that kept coming to mind was, “STOP BEING SUCH A BABY” I wanted to yell it at the top of my lungs.  I felt the anger welling up and had nothing but a worthless growl voice to rely on.

            That is the moment I realized that anger is a primitive and under developed parenting skill.  My growl was useless in the face of my son’s tears.  Actually, if I had used my go to skill it would have only made the situation worse and created fear rather than love.   My growl of anger had evoked action in the teens I worked with but only out of fear.  All these years when I thought I was effectively motivating, I was really fearfully motivating.  If I was to become the parent my son needed I would be required to find new ways of managing my emotions and responses.

            In the years since that night in the nursery, I am thankful to have gotten a handle on my anger.  I have learned to express frustration and discontent in the moment rather than allowing it to build up.  I have developed a better sense of personal boundaries in relation to work, family, and friends.   I have learned that an out of control parent is very scary for a child.  When children are scared of their parents they miss out on the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.

            There are still moments when my anger builds inside of me.  I feel warm and become tempted to motivate with fear.  There are also moments when I slip back to using my primitive and underdeveloped skill of anger.  I am hopeful that as I continue to grow and reflect these moments will become less intense and less regular.  May you experience the same joy of self-control.

Read Angry Art

Read Angry parents

How have you learned to control your Anger?

Do As I Say Not As I Do?

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. Ephesians 5:1

I learned another important lesson of parenthood the other day, and like many other lessons this one was the direct result of something involving my child.  My family and I have had the wonderful blessing of spending this Christmas with my wife’s family.  Her brother is here, her sister’s family, parents, and of course, the associated kids.

One of the great things about visiting with family is watching the children play together.  They spend the days outside playing with bicycles, searching for treasures, and building friendships.  Two days ago however we ran into a little snag.

My wife and I had left the house to run an errand with two of our children.  We got a call from my mother in law that something had been broken at the house.  It appeared that one of the two boys we had with us was the culprit.  Driving home we decided that the “suspect” would have a private talk with grandma before he moved on to any play activities.   We knew that she was not upset but that she wanted to reinforce the lesson of confessing and apologizing if you have damaged a piece of someone else’s property.

As we pulled into the driveway I parked my father in laws truck next to my brother in laws relatively new car.  Since it was the holidays and we had two kids with us it was a bit of a struggle to get out of the car.  I opened the door and began unloading the boys and the packages.  As the “suspect” jumped out I leaned to my left and bumped the truck door pushing it further open into the passenger door of my brother in laws car.  I put down my belongings, pulled the door partially closed, and surveyed the damage.  I had left a dull silver/grey scratch the size of a quarter on the dark black paint.

My first thought was, “Oh Sh*t”. My second thought was, “he may never notice, maybe I could wipe it off.”   My third thought jumped right to my poor son marching his way to a private discussion with grandma about the stone cross he had broken.  To be a father with any integrity and character, to be the father that I claim to be, I must tell my brother in law what had happened.

I went inside and watched as my son sheepishly spoke with his grandmother telling the story of how the stone cross came to be broken.  As expected, she was not upset with him.  She only asked that next time he tell her when something at her house was broken.

Moments later my brother in law walked in the house and I sheepishly told him about his car.  I apologized as he walked outside to check on the damage done.  As expected, he was not upset with me and only thanked me for telling him that it had happened.

I wonder who learned the bigger lesson?  My son won’t remember this experience and I am pretty sure “not me” will be blamed again in the future.  I think this lesson was a Christmas gift for dad.  I learned that the way I live my life speaks much louder than the words I say.   This was a simple reminder that in order to raise children with integrity, honor, and love for Christ, I must first possess that which I hope to pass on.

I pray that my boys see more of Christ in me than they do of me.  I know that it is only through His grace that any child of mine will become a child of His.

 How do you experience God’s grace in parenting?

ANGRY ART

Several weeks ago, my son became very angry with me.  It was a slow Saturday morning, and a bit cool outside.  I was attempting to find some indoor activities that would keep the “wheels” on for a little while.  We have a large roll of butcher paper in a closet that was purchased precisely for these types of days.  So, I got the roll out cut a piece about my son’s height and asked if he wanted me to trace him.  He said yes and things were looking up.

I completed tracing his body and right away I knew something was wrong.  I noticed a certain tone in his voice when he said, “daaaaad.”  I checked in to see what the problem was and he said, “you did it wrong!”  I could see the emotion beginning to overwhelm him.  His face was a little red, his eyes were filling with tears and I am pretty sure a crayon flew by my head.  “What did I do wrong?” I asked.  “You traced my hand wrong!” he yelled.

The next few seconds consisted of me trying to understand what had upset him and he yelling through tears, pacing around the room.  The intensity and speed with which he felt this anger surprised me.  What he did next was also quite a surprise.  He sat down next to the outline of his body and began to furiously scribble over the entire thing.  At first it seemed he was doing this to upset me.  He looked at me as he scribbled waiting to see if I would react.  When I did not react however he just kept scribbling and scribbling and scribbling.  As he scribbled he seemed to gradually be getting calmer and calmer.  He changed colors several times until he had filled up the entire sheet of paper with ANGER.

In this moment I was a little angry myself.  I had attempted to create a nice memory and it turned into something quite uncomfortable.  As I have reflected on what happened however, I have become thankful for the experience.  I have learned several valuable lessons about my son that I hope to never forget.

My son experiences his emotions quickly and intensely.  No matter what he feels, he feels it to the full.  When he is happy, excited, sad, angry, or frustrated his cup is one or two drops away from over flowing.  This truth will be a great strength for him, he is passionate, hardworking, physically active, engaging, and fun to be around.  This truth may also be a challenge for him; he can by hyper, impulsive, rough, and reckless.  Most importantly I learned that when he is allowed to express his emotions he will be OK.

As he scribbled I could see the anger pouring out of him, I could feel his upset as he glared in my direction hoping to get a reaction.  But the longer he scribbled the less intensely he felt this anger.  Children need parents that are not afraid of their intense feelings.  They need parents who can “contain” them even when they cannot contain themselves.  When their cups are over flowing with anger, sadness, energy, or excitement they need parents to accept their expressions of these feelings and to help contain the overflow.

I am not perfect at this, my son is not perfect at this, but I think we are learning more and more about it every time he is overwhelmed.  Each experience of these intense emotions is another opportunity to practice the ANGRY ART.

What emotion does your child feel most intensely?

How does your child express this emotion?

"Stuff Dads Say" E-BOOK

This is the final post in my Series “Stuff Dads Say”.  What I thought would take a couple of months wound up taking more like six but I am excited to have covered what I believe are the most important messages that dads send their children.  I am even more excited to let you know that I have compiled all of my “Stuff Dads Say” posts into a very affordably priced E-book.  This book is a short and encouraging read that would be a perfect “virtual stocking stuffer” for a husband, son in law, grandpa, or new father.  Check out the links below to read more about it.

 

How Do You Ask Nicely?

“A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” 
Proverbs 11:17

I live in a house with three sweaty, stinky, rough and tumble boys.  They love to wrestle, play in the mud, eat lots of food, and make funny noises.  Being an older and hopefully more mature version of these creatures I have sometimes found it difficult to know the appropriate level of manners to require of them.  I am thankful for the high standard that their mother has helped me to set and the lessons our boys have learned from it.

Early on in our parenting experiment my wife began to require our children to say please and thank you at the appropriate times.  We had never really discussed this expectation but since she was from the south it was something that had been stressed in her home as a child.  At first I thought it was a little over board, “come on, the kid can’t even talk and we are teaching him signs for please and thank you?”  Being the laid back person that I am I followed her lead and persisted in this expectation.

As the years have rolled by and the children have multiplied I have fully embraced the expectation set in those early days.  I regularly find myself saying, “how do you ask nicely” as a way to remind my children of there appropriate manners.  They always know how to respond and more and more lately they have not needed the reminder.

It seems today that manners are less and less of a priority.  I have met 5 year olds that say words not even adults should utter out loud.  Many times people are surprised to here children speaking with respect.

I may be a little idealistic but I firmly believe the above scripture, “A kind man benefits himself.”  I am not teaching my children to say please and thank you to  get them a better job, or more money.  I think the scripture could just as easily say, a kind man respects himself, controls himself, befriends himself.  When we set high expectations for our children’s manners and behavior they begin to see a picture of who they can be.  They can’t be perfect but they can be self-controlled, respectful, kind, generous, and a good friend.  These are qualities that I hope my children learn from saying there please and thank yous.