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”

Heart and Treasure

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:21

Financial discipline has always been a little bit of a problem with me. Not that I’m delinquent on any bills–I have never missed one in my life, whether it be rent, mortgage, car, utility, Internet, credit card, insurance–but I don’t really save.
I also ran into some tough times of joblessness, and took time during one bout of joblessness to go back to school. And how does one fund this, even with a wonderful wife who works very hard?

Why, by selling personal possessions, using savings, and going into debt.

What kind of debt? Credit card debt.

Now, this credit card saved me a few times, and as I said I have never missed a payment. It’s just been difficult to pay off the whole thing, even though I (a) use it for staples like things my son needs, gas, food, clothes, (b) use it for situational things that come up (birthday or other gifts for family, medical bills, car repair), and (c) pay more than the minimum due every single month.

But I am yet to get it down to zero.

Just as a way of background, in my previous job-search blog, lost unfortunately to the sands of time, I wrote about this issue a little over a year ago when I had just started this current job. I had saved some of my posts in Word format, so they aren’t totally lost in the ashes of an inadvertently deleted WordPress blog:

Regarding food, let’s just say that it’s been a little tough, given my penchant for the stuff, but it’ll be good seeing as how I really would like to lose a stubborn 20 or so pounds I put on since I last shed a whole bunch of weight. I figure $150 should keep me going for a month, provided that I don’t eat out too much, buy coffee outside of the house, lay off of the alcohol and the cigars, and generally spend frugally

*     *     *

All told, I’m doing alright so far. Food-wise, I’ve been portioning everything out and meal-planning well in advance. Here’s what I did: I bought a three-pack of pork chops, a four pack of chicken breast, two cucumbers, six tomatoes, a bag of onions, a little garlic, three bags of frozen vegetables, a rotisserie chicken, salt, pepper, lemon pepper, four cans of tuna fish, four boxes of soup, a dozen eggs, a bag of apples, a half-gallon of milk, a half-gallon of orange juice, a box of cereal, and a huge can of coffee. Most, if not all, of this was store brand, and good Lord is the price difference shocking! And guess what? There is barely a perceptible difference in taste. I swear I saved over thirty bucks just by buying generics.

So I hard-boiled the eggs to have for breakfast, ate half of the rotisserie chicken that day, the other half the next, grilled three pork chops with onions and steamed the broccoli which, so far, has lasted me two days and will suffice again for dinner tomorrow. I’ve also been portioning out my salad because, come on! Greek boy’s gotta have his salad. And then an apple serves as desert. A little Spartan, yes, but I have family from there and I need to be as frugal as possible. I’m trying really hard to turn over a new leaf now that I have a job that pays MORE than I could have gotten right out of undergrad, pay down my debts, and save. The idea isn’t to just save a nickel, it’s to make a buck while saving a nickel!

As you can see, this has been a concern of mine for a while. Continue reading “Heart and Treasure”

The Tightrope: Finding the Balance Between Helicopter and Laissez-Faire

Invincible tightrope
I don’t know who drew this. I’d love to give credit, so if you did, please let me know!

Everyone has regrets, things about their lives we wish we could go back and do again. And then we have kids.

Kids are a wonderful opportunity to shape the future. After all, they’ll be running the world someday, so might as well make sure they turn out alright. Right?

But hold on: You also know that guy. That father who pushes his failures and insecurities onto his kids–usually his sons–and tries to vicariously atone for his past mistakes using his children.

My goal is to not be that guy.

Children are not an opportunity to correct the past. They are an opportunity to shape the future for the better.

I was lucky enough that my father did not do this. Sure, his parents were stricter to him than my parents were to me–for example, my dad was never allowed to play the guitar or drums or listen to rock music, so he let me and my siblings do all three–but my parents let us become our own people with our individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, needs, and desires, and for that I thank them.

Yet there are certain things about my personality and certain life choices I have made that I definitely do not want my son to have or to make. I want him to do what will make him happy, but I really would prefer he doesn’t go to law school–not because I myself am not 100% “in love” with the profession (as though that’s a prerequisite to taking a job), but because, unless things change, I don’t see a career in the legal profession as having the most opportunity for growth and success.

And another thing is that I want him to be a risk-taker. I want to provide for him, but I don’t want him to live in a cage of safety. I want him to struggle and overcome and be a light unto the world.

It’s a balancing act, one that requires constant vigilance to maintain. It’s the tightrope between being a helicopter parent and a laissez-faire one.

I’m just a man, a regular guy trying to make his way in the world and do right by his children. But I also have a secret identity, one that exists only to my son.

A big part of making sure my son–and any other kids I hope to have–feels secure in taking risks and imposing his will on the world is that he sees me as Superman, capable of everything.

Parents, especially fathers, need to be seen as invincible to their kids.  Continue reading “The Tightrope: Finding the Balance Between Helicopter and Laissez-Faire”