Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

Childbirth – A Grandparent’s View

Well, we are two weeks into this new experience of actually being a Grandparent.  What can I say?  So far it has been GREAT!  You have probably read some of Jeremy’s posts about the birth experience and the days that followed, but I would like to add some thoughts.

When we had our kids, 26 and 30 years ago, I felt a little “cheated” because I grew up in the black-and-white TV days when dads were pictured as waiting in the “Fathers’ Waiting Room” for a nurse (typically) to come in and say, “It’s a boy!” (or girl, as appropriate).  The babies were always healthy, and half the time, the father fainted.  The other half of the time, he passed out cigars to the other waiting fathers.

That “cheated” feeling came because I found myself staring into my wife’s eyes and blowing into her face to encourage her to BREATHE (he he ha, he he ha, and so forth).  I was soon rewarded by the sound of our baby crying and my wife smiling up at me and saying, “I could do that again.”  So much for the “Fathers’ Waiting Room”!

Flash forward, and it is MY son with HIS wife entering transition.  And the nurse came in and kicked us all out!  Thirty years ago, in the same hospital, we had my mother-in-law and one of my wife’s friends in the room taking pictures, but for whatever reason that was no longer a option.  And we were relegated to the hallway outside of the maternity ward.

So there were two doors between us and the exciting event.  But we still heard  the baby’s cries.  That was a moment I will NEVER forget.

So far, I’ve got to say, grandparent-hood has much to recommend it.  But I’ll save some of that for later posts.

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Naming — a Legacy!

We had an interesting time on Sunday after church.  Jeremy and Mel met me and my wife, Janice, at the Corner Bakery for lunch.  The agenda was a discussion of names.

First, let me say that it is an honor to be asked, and a further honor to be made to feel that our opinion actually means something.  Thank you Jeremy and Mel!

It was a lot of fun to get a little detached and watch the interplay between Jeremy and Janice.  Jeremy and Mel had their list of “possibles” and as Jeremy went through them, Janice grabbed a napkin and started writing.  I think that she had the “first pass” as I’m not convinced that EVERY name Jeremy read off made it onto her list.  Then, she crossed off a couple and handed me the napkin.

She said, “Underline the ones that you like.”  Having been married for more than three decades, I obediently underlined about eight … and crossed off two.  Just could not imagine having a “Silas” in the family!  I have already forgotten the other nixed name.  Then I handed the list back to Janice and she looked at my work, apparently dissatisfied with my ability to adequately narrow the field.

She handed it back to me and said, “Circle your favorite two or three.”  I looked over the list and handed it to Jeremy and said, “It’s not OUR kid, it’s their kid!  I’m just not THAT invested in what they name him.”

Understand that all of this exchange contained a great deal of jocularity and fun.  We spent another hour or so talking about names and the nicknames that would surely follow.  My dad always called Jeremy “Jerm” – a name which has stuck in the family to this day.  I warned that if they ended up with names (first and middle) that did not easily roll off the tongue and properly demand the appropriate attention in a heated moment, that I would revert to “Bubba”.  Jeremy and I both thought that was funny … Janice and Mel, maybe not so much.

I have to say that that lunch will be a lasting and treasured memory for me and my wife.  What a blessing to have the opportunity to be part of that special process!  I believe that Jeremy and Mel will also hold it as one of those “special” happenings that will help define them and their family.

RESPECT – What does it mean?

Find out what it means to me …

Aretha had all the answers! But how do we go about teaching our kids a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Since I am past the child-rearing years, I have some observations, and some questions.

As I have shared before, I am pretty happy with how our kids turned out. But neither of them were always as respectful as we wished they would be. They were not the worst, either. I think, for the most part, they were more respectful to others than they were to us, and if a parent has to choose, I expect that it would be preferrable to having kids who speak their minds at home and behave when away, to having kids who are polite at home and mouth off to others.

There are cultural issues too. I observed when I was in Texas that many of the children there routinely addressed adults as “sir” and “ma’am” – frankly, it was pretty nice. In contrast, so many of the children here in Southern California are just “lippy” as a matter of course. To quote Tony Hillerman, “They behave as if they have no family.”

But the kids in Texas grow up to be just like the adults here. Some are great and some are scum. But they are polite! They even call the arresting officer “sir”.

We worked to make our kids independent and strong, and I think we did that well. How do you balance that goal with that of instilling a polite humility and respect for others? I do not know. It is a “gray area” anyway, as success or failure seems to change moment by moment and there is a wide range of “normal”.  Any suggestions?

We need to avoid unhealthy guilt or shame if we are not going to quench their spirits or cause other future problems. Reinforcing and encouraging the positive and ignoring or when possible discouraging the negative was what we embraced as an overall philosophy – but there were many bumps along the way. The only REAL consistency in life is inconsistency.

And what part of this is “caught” and not “taught”?  Are we adults respectful to others in front of our kids?  At times I was not – and I regret that now.  Language, tone of voice, attitude are all communicated even before the kids understand what they mean.  Yelling at drivers, criticizing the pastor or teachers, even our political opinions can easily teach our children about our own disrespect for others.  Our kids catch it from us if we are not careful!

I think that we perhaps overlook the idea that we owe respect to others – some because of their position, and some just because we have no reason (yet) to disrespect them. But how can we teach that? Or do we even have consensus that we should?

I look forward to your reflections and suggestions. I will soon have another go-round with my grandkids — I want to get it right!

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Daddy Food: Family Time Memories Are Made of This!

I have been looking over several of the food-oriented posts that Jeremy has made over the past day or so, and it has got me thinking. Not specifically about food, though I officially undertook my after-Christmas diet restart today. No, it got me thinking about parenting, my own father, and the food things that he did that I can still remember from my childhood.

These memories and reflections may give you some family time ideas about things that you would like to do to invest in the recollections of your children. These are long-term investments, but they don’t really cost much, and the ones that stick are parenting gold.

My mom by far did most of the cooking in our home, but there were a few food things that my father did which stand out.

I remember family time trips to the local Orange Julius shop (are there any of those left around anywhere?). I can still remember the sticky sweet orange smell and taste of the concoction, and the whirring of the blenders they used to make them. These trips were always at night, and I seem to recall that sometimes I was in my pajamas.

An alternative to this was when he would go out and bring home a gallon of A&W Root Beer … and a half gallon of ice cream. Root beer floats for everyone. I can still remember the tall Tupperwear glasses. Lots of ice cream and then filled with root beer. A straw and a long spoon filled out the ensemble.

I am detecting a pattern here … The next thing that I remember he did, only a few times, was to use a deep fryer to make homemade donuts. He sprinkled them with powdered sugar. We ate them while they were still warm. Good stuff!

He worked long hours in those days. Even when I “grew up” to the ripe old age of 12 and started working with him at the service station, the standard work week was 54 hours, with three of the six days being eleven hours long. I think that probably explains my lack of BBQ (or as Jeremy would insist, “grilling”) memories. But we did go “camping” at my uncle’s cabin out in the high desert wilderness above Yucca Valley. He, of course, did all of the cooking while we were there.

I imagine that white gas burning in a Coleman stove does not really flavor the food, but it did seem like things tasted better there.

The fare was typical of bachelors out on their own. Canned potatoes, sliced thin and fried in butter — yum! Steaks – but, strange to me now, I believe they were pan-fried and NOT grilled. I will have to ask him about that when I get to heaven. Canned green beans or pork and beans.

Breakfast was pancakes or eggs with bacon. Lunch was sandwiches.

For the most part, I suppose that the real impact was not about the food, but about the family time with my dad. The food itself was nothing remarkable, except that it was different from what my mom would make.

My father died in 1983. His memories, and the impact he had on my life continue on in me and whether he recognizes it or not, in Jeremy. That is something to think about as you father your children.

Family time is tremendously important. Enjoy the adventure!

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Parenting: Straighten Up and Fly Right!

And now, behind Door Number 1 …

Really now, as men, we were probably not as interested in what was behind Door Number 1 as we were interested in the model. Right?

Well, this post is about models, but not THAT kind. I want to go two directions with this, so be a little patient. Jesus said that when a student is fully taught, he will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).

I was blessed to have a few significant parenting models apart from my own parents. Now don’t get me wrong, I guess that my parents did a pretty good job in raising us 5 kids. My dad was a service station owner and my mom did not work outside of the home (a common situation, right up until LBJ came up with the “Great Society” and fired up the inflation that made it necessary for so many moms to work for a paycheck!). From them I learned about commitment and hard work. I learned about truthfulness and integrity. I learned about public service from their work in the Lion’s Club.

But my parenting skills needed strengthening.  While I felt that my parents had done an OK job of parenting me, I came to believe that there were areas where my parenting skills might be better than what I had learned from them.

I first noticed this about the time I was 18 and I perceived that my girlfriend’s family had dynamics that were missing in my own and I decided to watch and learn. I thought I would marry that girl, but I did not. Nevertheless, Bob and Doris W. and their family had a profound impact on my life, not the least of which was the faith I developed in Christ – a faith which has shaped my life from that point forward.

A few years later, I got to know several “older” couples in the church where I settled and later served. One stands out, though lessons were learned from many others. But it was Willis and Ethel K. who became close friends and it was Willis who later became Jeremy’s “adopted” grandfather after my dad and my wife’s dad died.  I imagine that some of my future posts will reflect some of the conversations that I had with these dear couples – and reflect some of the observations that I made about their parenting and their families.

The point is, if you think hard about it and wonder if your upbringing may have left some holes in your experiential parenting education, look around and find some families you admire – and then figure out why.

Now the other direction … How are you as a teacher? If your child turns out just like you, would that make you happy? Would that make you proud? Or are you of the “do as I say and not as I do” mindset? Fair warning: Your kids likely WILL turn out like you. If you cheat on your taxes, they will probably lack integrity. If you cheat on your wife, they will probably have commitment issues. If you drink to excess, expect to visit them at the drunk tank after their prom. Do you get the picture?

As a new parent, now is the time to straighten up and fly right! Your kids will idolize you and try hard to be like you. If that will not make you happy, now is the time to fix it.

When the student is fully taught, he will be like his teacher. Be the model you want your children to be like!

Where Did We Go Wrong?

This may be an unusual posting.  Being a thinker, I have, over the years, spent a lot of time thinking about — at times agonizing about — things we did wrong as parents.  But first, I think I deserve the opportunity to lay down some caveats.

1. No two children are the same.  In that sense, there is no such thing as an “experienced” parent.  Whatever we do, whatever we say, it is a unique, one-time-only experience for the child.  What worked for Johnny may or may not work for Mary.

2.  A lot of what we read is right — some of the time.  That means that a lot of what we read is wrong — some of the time.  All of our best efforts to obtain wisdom and knowledge may improve our batting average, but we will all screw the pooch from time to time.  Write that on the back of your hand and pray daily for guidance – and forgiveness!

3.  I don’t believe that anybody sets out on this parenting adventure intending to raise messed-up kids.  But look around at all of the messed up adults and pray that you somehow find adequate models to emulate so that you can achieve your intended goal of “successful parenting” – however you would measure it.

4.  Kids are pretty resilient.  They can absorb a fair amount of parental ineptitude and turn out OK.  Thank God!

I am proud of my kids, and as I have shared before, they are old enough now that I can believe that they are launched and on their own pathways.  Their successes and failures from this point on rightfully belong to them.  Now I am looking forward to messing up their kids, the way grandparents are supposed to do.

We succeeded in getting them through adolescence and young adulthood, through high school and college, without a pregnancy, without drug or alcohol abuse, and without arrest records.  They both take their civic duties seriously and are wrestling with how they will integrate their faith into their own families.

But there are things I am sorry for, and I would like to share them with you so that perhaps you may avoid making the same mistakes.

First, fairness is over-rated.  I have a highly developed sense of what is fair.  I got it at an early age, and it affected the way we interacted with our kids.  If I had it to do over again, I would try to teach them the idea that not all things will be equal, but that all things will be done according to what is needed by the individual at the time.   The list of things affected by this is extensive, and includes such things as curfews, bed times, allowances, gifts, chores, and so on.

Next, I would try to be more positive.  By nature and by vocation I have been evaluative and critical in my interactions at work, in leadership, and in my family.  I almost completely missed the opportunity to be a cheerleader for my kids.  Given the opportunity to do it all again, I would try to be more of an encourager and to keep my negative observations to myself.

Finally, I would have invested more in my relationship with my wife and a little less on my kids.  My wife and I each, I think, were guilty of placing our kids above our marriage.  I believe this is a common problem.  Squeaky wheel gets the grease – that sort of thing.  But it is a scary and certainly unhealthy thing to put your marriage on a shelf for 20+ years while you raise your kids.  To some degree, we are all guilty of that.  I wish I had done it less.

Perhaps this will stimulate some discussion about things to avoid.  Guess it’s that negative, evaluative thing coming out again …

But it is all part of the adventure!

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Bedtime Reading: Honey for a Child’s Heart

In a former life — about the time that I met the girl who would become my wife — I took a college class called “Christian Education of Children.” There are several foundational things which I remember from that class — things which molded and shaped my work, my teaching, my interactions with other people, and of course my parenting.

One of the books which we read for the class was Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. As I was thinking about writing this post, curiosity overcame me and I checked Amazon to see if this classic little book was still in print. I guess I should not have been surprised to find that it is not only still available, but is in its fourth revision!

The book presents a philosophy about the importance of reading to a child, and presents a suggested list of books for each stage of a child’s growth.

Some of the best times that I remember as a dad cluster around that hour before bed-time. When the kids were very young — even before they could talk — we would sit on the bed together and read a book.  Bedtime reading was a highlight of our day!

The earliest books were wordless. The pictures were large and bright, and we talked to the kids about shapes and colors and animals and people. We talked about the farm and the airplane and the car and the fire truck. Simple concepts, but the habit was formed and we had years to go.

Soon we graduated to Dr. Seuss and his fantasy universe of Cats and Things and Green Eggs and Ham. I do believe that my wife can STILL recite the entire book about hair (“Hair, hair it’s everywhere. Some have a little. Some have a lot. Long hair, short hair, polka dots …”). I confess to being bothered at times with the chore of it all. There was some good TV on around 7:30. But it was a small sacrifice in the larger scheme of things, and bedtime reading did get more interesting and stimulating as the kids grew older and the subject matter more diverse.

There were myriads of other children’s books and my wife was a weekly visitor to our public library. How exciting it was to notice when the kids were following along while we read and began to associate those black marks on the pages with the words we were speaking.

Eventually our bedtime stories moved on to more complicated fare. We tried to stay ahead of the children’s development, looking for children’s books above their own abilities. Jeremy and I worked our way through a couple of the big National Geographic coffee table books. As I recall, one was all about America and another was all about boats and the sea. These had lots of words, but also had many colorful photographs, and we generally would do a chapter each night. I believe these stimulated his interest and enthusiasm for road trips, a shared passion which we still enjoy.

Other favorites included The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. These classics both stimulated a love for fantasy and presented many object lessons on faith and life.

If you do not consider yourself a strong reader, then get past your embarrassment and start anyway. Reading bedtime stories from children’s books aloud to your child will improve your reading skills and abilities and broaden your own horizons. Your son or daughter will not judge you and you can count on it that you read better than they do. By the time they are two, you will find it an easy and enjoyable family time, and it will pay great dividends in your self-confidence, and in their academic careers. If your children love reading, it is hard to imagine that they won’t do their best in school!

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The Infant Car Seat in a Simpler Time

I feel like I grew up in an intermediate age in regards to the evolution of the infant car seat.  I clearly remember my mother placing me on the seat next to her so that she could reach out her right arm whenever she stopped the car in order to prevent me from flying forward and hitting my head on the un-padded car dash.

She used the same routine with my younger brother and sisters, well into the 1960′s.  In those days, seat belts were a rarely-ordered option on new cars – if they were available at all.

If I remember correctly, California mandated a bunch of smog and safety features in 1966 and these became federal requirements in 1968.  Seat belts became a standard feature, but many people resisted their use, preferring the thought of being thrown clear in an accident rather than facing the possibility of being trapped by the seat belt and burned alive inside a wrecked car.  (Sometimes I marvel that we managed to grow to maturity and pass our genetic material on to another generation at all!).

By the early 1980s, “baby carrier” designs had evolved to include provisions for securing  them with the auto’s seat belt.   There was not much thought given to keeping the baby secure inside the baby carrier, but the thought seemed to be that if the baby carrier was secure, the baby could pretty much bounce around inside the baby carrier and it was “good enough”.

But “the infant car seat” was beginning to appear also.  These were somewhat similar to what we see today … except that they were simpler, lighter, and a whole lot less expensive!  The car seat we used with Jeremy was plastic and was held in place with a seat belt.  He was secured in the car seat with a three-point harness made from materials – both belt and buckle – similar to those used in automotive seat belts.

As he grew, he graduated to a larger car seat – I believe made by Graco – that had a chrome tubing frame that elevated him maybe 6 inches above the automobile seat.  It placed him in an upright position and allowed him to see through the windshield.  Again, he was secured with a three-point harness.  By this time, his cooperation was required as he was quite adept at getting out of the car seat on his own when he decided that he wanted out.

If I remember correctly, the first time I had to visit a chiropractor was after I tweaked my back placing Jeremy into this car seat.  Think of it … take child, bend 90 degrees at the waist,  lean into car and extend arms holding child, twist (somehow) to the right to place child into the car seat …. and OUCH! … forget about standing up again.  Yep.  That is one vivid memory!

Eventually, the car seat was replaced by a simple “booster” seat.  This just sat on the rear seat of the car and once Jeremy was in place, the automotive seat belt was stretched across in front of him, securing both the seat and its cargo into the car.

I confess to suffering from sticker shock after shopping with Jeremy and Mel for their “baby transport systems”.  Science, government regulations, and inflation have all added to the cost of providing state-of-the-art safety for this most precious cargo.  In some cases, the lineage of today’s models can easily be traced to those models I remember.  Sometimes, today’s state-of-the-art car seat little resembles those of yesteryear.  They are heavier, better-built, and probably safer – so I guess the cost makes sense.

And while you are counting the cost – check to see if your medical insurance covers chiropractic treatments.  I highly recommend it!

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Take a Stroller Down Memory Lane

When I went shopping for a stroller with Jeremy and Mel, I could not help but reflect on our experience with Jeremy and his sister.

Our stroller played a key role in our early life as parents.  Each evening, my wife and I would take Jeremy for a walk in the stroller.

One day, my wife phoned me at work to tell me that Jeremy had spoken his first word!  This is one of those “celebration days” that all parents look forward to and treasure in their hearts – or in our generation, on video tape – for years to come!  What did he say?  ”Momma”?  ”Dadda”?  What???  Well our precocious son clearly said, “Stroller”.  He said it for her.  And he said it again for me when I got home.  And he said it each evening when it was time for our walk!  Like I said, a day to remember!

So, we walked the wheels off of several strollers, and there is one overriding characteristic that I would encourage you to consider when you buy:  ”How convenient will this stroller be to use?”

The stroller that we ended up using the most, was a cheap, light little thing then called an “umbrella stroller”.  It probably only weighed a couple pounds.  The seat of the thing was little more than a hammock.  There was a cheap little belt to hold the child in the seat.  The outstanding characteristic was that you could fold the thing up in about one second and throw it into the trunk of the car, and pull it out of the trunk and deploy it just as quickly.  That cheap little assembly of plastic, nylon, and chrome alloy tubing just kept going and going.  It was not pretty, but it was the stroller that we used the most.

Just something to consider!

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“Daddy Fitz It” (translated, “Daddy, can you fix this?”)

All of my various experiences combined to enrich my ability to parent and to contribute to family life – at least in the eyes of my son (which really means a LOT to me!). It seemed to him like whatever got broken could be repaired by the magic words, “Daddy fitz it.”

Somewhere around age 4, Jeremy had a little toy dog that would open its mouth and bark and walk … and what ever. In Jeremy’s creative mind, it even ate. Cheez-Its. Lots of ‘em. Eventually the little thing was so full of crackers that they jammed up the mechanism and the puppy “died”. Jeremy held the thing  up to me, looked at me with his puppy-dog brown eyes and said, “Daddy fitz it?”  What’s a parent to do?  In a child’s eyes, we are omnipotent.  Gotta try!

Well, I did not know what the problem was. Until I used a razor knife to remove the stitches from the puppy’s “skin” and peeled it away to reveal the “skeletal” mechanism inside. Then I laughed out loud! We cleaned out the Cheez-Its, gave it a transfusion of WD-40, and gave it to my wife to “close”. The puppy survived the surgery with a little reduced range of motion, but it survived. And I was a hero in the eyes of my first-born.  It was a real “chicken soup” moment for this parent!

A few words of encouragement. First, you cannot break it if it is broken. Your choice is, trash it or fix it.  Be a parent!  Give it a try! Second, a little time and common sense will often repair precious things. Third, you won’t know if you can “fitz” it until you investigate and see what is wrong. And, most importantly … Four, twenty-five years from now, your son or daughter will remember you for the things you do – and that is entirely under your control!

You are parent!  You can do it!  Enjoy the adventure!

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