Names and Legacies

Children's movies can sometimes present a purer message than fare aimed at adults, if you can call superhero movies, hyper-vulgar comedies, and blood-splattered action-fests "adult."

It strikes me that kids' movies, the good ones at least, have to make their message accessible and understandable while keeping the movie actually entertainingthat things like craftsmanship and universal themes and even good scriptwriting.

Shocking, outdated concepts, I know.

Anyway, I took my son to see Cars 3recently, and I was not expecting to see a treatise about aging and legacies from a movie about anthropomorphic vehicles, but I did. I know Pixar is known for high-quality children's entertainment, but still: what an interesting time to be alive.

But stories tell us things in a way that the mere recitation of facts can never hope to match, and the movie stuck with me.

So with legacies on the mind, I started to think about my own, and what I hope to leave behind for my son, any future children I hopefully have, and their children and grandchildren.

I started thinking about names and a question came to mind, or more appropriately, a theme:

Is it better to be unique–like everyone else claims to be? Or is it better to be meaningful? Continue reading “Names and Legacies”

Lowering the Bar: What Is a “Good Father” in Current Year?

It irks me when someone tells me “Oh, you’re such a good father!” when they see me out and about with my son. 

Do I have your attention? Good. 

I’m know I’m not the first to notice this. And I know I won’t be the last. 

Why does this bother me so?

Because all I do either in public or in private is the parent my son. 

That’s it. Really. 

  • I pay attention and interact with him, and not my phone. 
  • I try to bring him with me everywhere I can just so we can hang out and maybe learn something. 
  • I use situations as lessons when appropriate. 
  • I discipline him when necessary. 
  • I try not to leave it up to my wife to do everything. 

And most importantly:

  • I love the little bugger, and I love him fiercely. 

In 2017, apparently, a man being a parent is all it takes to be considered a good father. 

The bar had been set so low by forces outside of our control, everyone’s perception is completely screwed up.

I hung out at the pool with my son over the weekend, chilling with a guy who also lives in the building and his two kids that he obviously loves. 

Does spending time with our kids make us “good fathers,” or just fathers?  Continue reading “Lowering the Bar: What Is a “Good Father” in Current Year?”

Think “Fast”!

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“Fasting is that weird thing religious people do where you don’t eat so that you can go to heaven or something. I dunno. Pass the bacon.”

Or it’s a way to focus your mind, body, and spirit, exercise self-control and channel your energy away from cramming things down your foodhole and towards other things you may be trying to accomplish.

I’ve already written about the religious aspects of fasting, and won’t go into that again save to say that, at least in Christian tradition, there are no hard-and-fast fasting rules in Scripture; it’s all based on ancient traditions. If I had to boil the practice down to a sentence, it would be this:

A little humility does a lot of good.

First, let me acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:16-18

But I’m not doing this for reward or accolades. I’m just trying to pass along an experience that’s worked for me in the event that maybe it’ll work for you.

So why am I fasting, even though Lent and Easter finished months ago?

Am I trying to lose weight? Who isn’t? Intermittent fasting is a thing that many say helps achieve your fitness goals. And while this is a part of why I’m fasting now–it’s nice to not feel stuffed and bloated, weight down by all the garbage we tend to eat!–that’s not the only reason I’m fastinjg.

Am I trying to accomplish something? I was. I was working furiously to finish the second draft of my book, which I did last week a little past the deadline I set for me, but it’s done regardless. Still, there are always other things we want to accomplish in our lives.

Am I trying to commune with The Spirit? Yes. This one is a bit more subtle, but there are things in my life that need work, and I’m taking a page out of Jesus’ book: “. . . this kind [of demon] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Continue reading “Think “Fast”!”

Digital Soma

You’ve heard it all before: Smartphones are bad. Technology is bad. We’ve lost the ability to think. And so on. 

Though I’m no Luddite, much of this is true to a degree. And it was on my mind during an interesting conversation with a really smart guy I had at a recent cookout. 

This gent is a little older than me, but similar in background, education and temperament, though he’s not a lawyer. But he’s into history, and he sees trends, so we talked about things like helicopter parenting and the time-sucking black hole of our endless entertainment options. 

It helps that, like me, the guy is both a historian by training and a reader of classical literature and 20th and 21st century fiction. “It’s Brave New World meets 1984,” he said at one point; a cliched observation, yes, but cliched because it’s true. 

“More Brave New World, I’d say,” I responded. “Everything is a different form of soma.”

Soma, for those of you who’ve never read the book, is an undefined, mass-distributed “pleasure drug” that’s kind of a cross between an opiate and a hallucinogen. It keeps the population happy and docile. 

What we’re drowning in now, rather than pills, is digital soma. 

Eventually, from smartphones and omnipresent media, the topic of our conversation soon turned towards video games. 

I know I’m stepping into it here, but I’m fine with any blowback. What’s the point of debate if we can’t be honest about where we stand? Continue reading “Digital Soma”

Fatherly Rage

No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere.

Prince

Nothing in life is easy. Nothing. Especially the things that are good. Even things that are supposed to be natural, like parenthood.

Life is stressful enough without adding kids into the mix, and patience is always in limited reserves. Like any scarce resource, patience must be judiciously managed so that one doesn’t spend the last few hours of the waking day a simmering cauldron of rage.

This affects parents, no doubt. But this is not necessarily what has been affecting me. I am generally even-keeled and tend not to let my emotions overtake me, whether I’m at work or involved in something personal. This isn’t my natural disposition, though, but one borne through almost two decades of managing a legendarily short fuse.

And yet, I find myself getting angry at my son a lot lately.

He is four-and-a-half, very funny, and very energetic. This energy has difficulty being dispersed by nature of our having moved recently to a much smaller place in the city. This will change soon, hopefully, but I’m not making any guesses as to when.

So in lieu of being able to play outside, he has to deal with “indoor” stuff, particularly at night, when there are no playgrounds or parks or backyards nearby. And the indoor stuff soon gets boring for a kid who loves nothing more than being out in the open air. 

You can see where this is going.  Continue reading “Fatherly Rage”

Working Stiff Blues

It began like any other work day. 

Dressed in my suit and tie, I grabbed my stuff and said goodbye to my family before I head out to greet the workday.

“Stay here daddy. I don’t want you to go to work. And I don’t want to go to school. Let’s play!”

“Believe me, kiddo, believe me: I don’t want to go to work either.”

The words pass almost unconsciously from my lips. After all, nobody wants to go to work. Work is bad, right?

Well, no. Work is necessary. Work equals survival. Without work, nothing ever would get done. We’d still all be hunter-gatherers and there would be no civilization to speak of, modern or otherwise.

Maybe one doesn’t like their job, maybe one doesn’t like being away from their family for so long, maybe one would rather be doing something else for work, but work itself is not the problem.

“All jobs suck.”

“That’s why they call it WORK.”

“No pain, no gain!”

These things are true. But is that what kids hear? Are they able to parse these truths from generic statements like “I don’t want to go to work”?

Kids are sponges. We all know that. It’s what made me stop saying this to my son. 

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t want him to equate “work” in his little mind with “bad.” Because if I do, what’s going to happen whenever he has to work at something, especially something difficult? Continue reading “Working Stiff Blues”

Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early

“Just let him win.”

I am in the middle of game 12 or 13 of Chutes and Ladders with my four-year-old son when my wife says this. At issue is my son’s moaning because he wanted to spin a 4 to land on the huge ladder on square 28 that would take him up to square 84, but he spun a 5 instead.

Me, I’m somewhere near the top, a few more chutes in my path serving as potential pitfalls, but still a good 50 or so squares ahead of my son. He’s won some games, I’ve won some games, but in his little mind, losing at all is a cause for extreme frustration.

And losing does suck. But we all have to learn how to do it.

My son wants to keep spinning until he gets that 4. I tell him I don’t want to play otherwise; after he insists and spins until he does get a 4, I keep spinning until I get the number want.

“You can’t play that way!” he tells me.

“Why not?” I say. “You did. We either play by the same rules, or the game is no fun.”

All of which prompted my wife’s plea from the kitchen.

“Okay!” says my son, throwing his hands in the air. “I won’t do that any more daddy. Let’s play again!”

I nod and smile. I know he would get the concept. It just had to be explained to him.

*     *     *

Extreme? Why should I try to win against a four-year-old? Shouldn’t I just grow up?

I am not trying to win against him. I am trying to teach him how to play by the rules, how to lose, and how to win honestly.

I don’t know if this is a father/mother gender difference, harshness versus nurturing or whatever, but I think my son is old enough to start understanding these concepts.

At a certain point, letting kids win teaches all kinds of the wrong lessons. And if we want mentally tough adults, we have to start young.

I am not trying to be cruel to him, or to achieve any sort of victory over a little kid. I am trying to teach him how to handle adversity and overcome it.

Take a look at this piece from an 1861 issue of The Atlantic called “The Advantages of Defeat” written after the Union Army’s defeat at the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War:

The honor lost in our recent defeat cannot be regained,—but it is indeed one of the advantages of defeat to teach men the preciousness of honor, the necessity of winning and keeping it at any cost.

Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War, and the Union, thinking it would waltz to an easy victory, got whomped.

Now, we know how the war turned out, but the Union was really on the ropes for a while there at the beginning. Many bitter lessons learned through defeat–and what they did with those lessons–made all of the difference.

Am I really comparing playing board games with my son to the American Civil War? Yes. Because the same lessons are at play.

Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win.

Continue reading “Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early”