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”!”

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”

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”

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”

Millennials: We Are a Symptom, Not the Problem


When you have children, your thoughts turn towards the generation gap. The most visible example of this is the current case of Millennials versus everybody else.

Hello Im a MillennialFull disclosure: I was born in 1981, so depending on who you ask, I’m either a Millennial or a Gen-Xer. But my parents were young Boomers (too young to be hippies) who had me at a very young age, so I tend to lump myself in with the Millennials despite being a good 15 years older than many of them. As such, I’ll be using the pronoun “we” when referring to Millennials.

“They’re spoiled!” the conventional wisdom goes. “They’re entitled! Mentally fragile!” And so on.

In other words, it’s trendy to bash Millennials. We all do it. But stop and think: We didn’t emerge from the womb the way we are.

In fact, it’s pretty clear that bad choices made by the older generations have created the millennial “monster” they now fear. And that monster doesn’t like them either.

And you know what? The older generations totally deserve it.

Further, it seems like a lot of Millennials are waking up and getting wise to our situation and how to make it better.

In order to fix a situation, you need to diagnose the problem. The issues facing Millennials are those that have formed every person since the dawn of time. People are a product of their parents and the society in which they live.

Parents

The parents of Millennials meant well in a lot of ways, but to be fair, did overly coddle their kids. But these parents–many Boomers, some Gen-Xers–were coddled by their parents, who also can’t escape blame.

A large part of this coddling is the belief that the good times will continue forever just because, and you’re owed a decent standard of living for just existing. 

Bad habits get formed. The wrong lessons get taught. Safety and security become virtues.

Yesterday’s rebels became today’s conformists when it came to raising their children.  Continue reading “Millennials: We Are a Symptom, Not the Problem”

Fear and Adventure: Why Encouraging Risky Behavior Will Save Us All

Fearlessness

Safety is killing us. It is stifling. Nobody wants to take risks. Nobody wants to make the calls that have consequences should they not work out.

My observations and personal experience lead me to believe that, unless people have near mathematical certainty of a positive outcome, nobody wants to make a decision.

But why? And why does this matter?

It matters because life is risky. Being an entrepreneur is risky. Approaching that cute girl over there is risky. Moving to a different city is risky. And so is standing up and physically defending your loved ones and other innocents from harm.

Riskiness and rugged individualism are baked into the American way, but somewhere along the line this started to get viewed as a liability rather than an asset. I believe the common buzzword is “toxic.”

How we got this way is less of an important question–helicopter parents, “wear a helmet,” and all of that. More important is making sure that the next generation isn’t like us.

The wife and I took our soon-to-be four-year-old to a fun local kid’s amusement park the other day. He is very tall for his age, and much to his delight, is now able to go on many of the rides hitherto unavailable to him.

The kid didn’t stop.

Edaville, Carver Massachusetts.JPG

Roller-coasters, the big Ferris wheel, rides that shake, spin, tumble, and drop. He loved them all, laughing hysterically and throwing his hands in the air with each loop and plunge. If he’s had any fear of free-fall or heights, he hid it well.

It was great! There’s nothing like watching a little kid enjoy themselves. But it also made me think of a few things relating to my own life:

  • I never went on roller-coasters when I was a little kid.
  • To this day, I really don’t like roller-coasters and still kind of fear heights.
  • Much of my adult life has involved overcoming my aversion to risk-taking.

Are these things connected? Does a willingness to take physical risks translate into other kinds of risk-taking later in life, risk-taking in love, in business, and in thought?

I mean, I have a boy. Boys are crazy, right? They all have this impulse to make mischief, take things apart, and in general raise hell.

But there’s more to it than that.

These impulses, whether in boys or girls, are inborn but can also be squelched. 

They can be squelched by excessive safety.

They get squelched at our own peril. A society that’s afraid to take risks is a society that’s afraid to be great. Continue reading “Fear and Adventure: Why Encouraging Risky Behavior Will Save Us All”

Stability vs. Opportunity: The Importance of Where You Grow Up

There are certain elemental things parents do for their children: Feed them, shelter them, keep them safe from harm. 

There are also nonmaterial aspects to parenting like moral and educational instruction, emotional support, giving advice, and other intangible, though vitally important, things. 

But what about where you raise your kids? 

We are products of our environment after all. And it’s proven that some environments are better than others for certain things. 

The question for parents becomes: Which do you choose? Stability or Opportunity?

What’s New In Baltimore?

I thought about while listening to one of my favorite artists of all time, Frank Zappa. I have read his wildly entertaining autobiography, as well as other books a out the man, several times for the same reason any of us read about famous and influential people: To find out how they got to become who they became. 

Zappa’s case is interesting, because while he was born in Baltimore and moved to Florida when he was six or so, the family packed it’s bags shortly thereafter and headed out west to California.

Yes, California in the 50s and 60s. California, the state where pretty much every single celebrity, musician, and actor seems to come from or end up in, comparable perhaps only to New York City. California, which has fired the imaginations of Americans–and the world–for generations.

Given the timeframe in which the Zappa family made their move, is it any wonder that the curious, rebellious, and quirky Frank ended up as a musician?

But what if his family never left Florida for California? He says in his autobiography had he not become a musician he probably be a chemist or something. Great! Maybe he would have enjoyed that life too, but the world would be a far more boring place and he never would have realized the potential within him. 

When you have children, your thoughts turn towards things like this. Continue reading “Stability vs. Opportunity: The Importance of Where You Grow Up”