Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Joys of Grandparenting

Our grandson, Odin, 3 1/2 months old now, and he is a joy to have around. In a way, I feel less and more stress now as a grandparent then I did in raising my own kids. Less stress because when I'm tired, and Iam done with grandparenting, my daughter can take the little guy back to her own house, and I can do my own thing and relax.

That said, I feel some anxiety for my daughter and her husband. I feel their pain when they worry about his health. I worry when they worry about his growth and progress. I get anxious when Odin cries and his mom doesn't know what to do.

So, we all learn together, and we are all in this journey we call life. Together. Supporting one another. I wouldn't have it any other way. So, what have been your own experiences in raising kids if you are at that point in your life?


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Compassion: A Lesson in Overlooking our Past Mistakes

One of the worst fears that had often come across my mind in raising kids, especially teenagers, was the day they would ask my parents, point blank, what kind of son I was growing up. And so, my kids asked my father on a couple of occassions.

Pause . . .

Gulp! "Oh, please. I hope you never found out the times I went rafting in the swollen creek after heavy thunderstorms with no life preserver and one of us nearly drown."

"Oh, yeah. I really hope you don't say ANYTHING about the time got into a car accident when I was 16 years old, especially because I tell my own kids that teenagers are unsafe for the roads."

OH, YEAH! I please, PLEASE don't say anything about the time . . . well . . . I can't talk about THAT episode online. Too embarrassing."

. . . . and so, those were my thoughts. I felt somewhat like crawling into a hole. I knew I hadn't been all that bad. I got decent grades in school, and I wasn't a member of any gang. I was pretty normal, but what would my dad say?

Then, my father said something I'll never forget . . . He said, "I couldn't have asked for better kids (speaking of me and my brothers)."

I waited for him to qualify his statement, like "Well, except for the time that . . . " But it never came. Wow, I came out okay. I'm just so thankful that my parents have selective memories and that they have shown understanding and compassion to an unperfect son. A lesson in forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Too often as parents, we forget that our children have emotional bank accounts, and that everytime we say something negative, we withdraw from that account that can leave people emotionally drained. Showing a little more forgiveness for our youthful (and even current) follies and shortcomings in life can brush away the memories and hurt of past misdeeds and shortcomings and can certainly build better relationships.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Life isn't Fair

 "If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere."

Over the years, I've heard kids exclaim that life isn't fair dealing with the wide range of activities from whose turn it is to get the milk out of the fridge for dinner (once again, happening 15 minutes ago in our family) to more serious issues dealing with life-threatening illnesses or even death.

And on numerous occasions we've all heard the exclamation, "Life sucks!"

Well, what's new with that? Life's experiences can be pretty lonely and cruel at time.

Of course, many (most) things in life don't go the way we plan, and if we go running around complaining about this fact---that life isn't all bliss---we certainly will feel robbed. Of course, we must recognize the reality of the pain that comes along with life's challenges, for that is real, and trying to dismiss those feelings doesn't foster understanding either.

Many years ago while our young family was living in Japan, we elated at the future birth of next child. My wife was in the very early stages of pregnancy, and everything seemed to be proceeding as normal until serious medical circumstances arose in which the doctor (who didn't speak English) stated that the baby wouldn't survive. Separated from family for thousands of miles, with few friends, and with a very VERY limited ability to communicate in Japanese, I felt like ominous clouds were drawing around us. For five months, my wife remained in bed with a great deal of uncertainty as to how things would turn out. The waiting game---the gnawing uncertainty---was one of the hardest things to endure for me because we didn't really know what the next day would bring. Life, death? I'm sure many people have suffered similar and even more tragedy than we were going through.

People often ponder of the fact that bad things happen to good people, and yet, for all that we are enduring or have endured, I wouldn't trade any of these experiences because adversity has been a good teacher. Of course, I didn't feel that way in the midst of the specific trail, but having passed through it, I have a clearer and better perspective of things.

Friday, May 19, 2017

I'm growing kids, not tomatoes!

As a parent, you try your hardest at times to make everything just right, and sometimes minor inconveniences can appear to be major catastrophes. This is particularly true when you have limited perspective on how tragic and painful life can be.

While living in Japan years ago, my wife was attempting to raise cherry tomatoes on the balcony of our apartment. It wasn't a major gardening effort, but with space at a premium in Tokyo, my wife wanted to grow a few things to supplement our dinner plate. Then, one day we realized that our 2-year-old daughter had discovered the joy of picking the tomatoes and tossing them down the stairs (and they don't bounce very well either).

Now, while it wasn't a life-threatening scenario, it was somewhat disappointing to us to have missed out on a potentially nice load of delicious tomatoes. Yet, reflecting back on that, her picking them didn't raise the event to a category 5 hurricane. It was one of those things that you just need to brush off and laugh a little.

By doing so in similar situations, anyone might be able to build some resilience when (not if) real dire circumstances blow our way.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Kids are like a Garden

In some ways, tending a garden is like raising kids. You simply can't toss a few seeds out into the garden and then expect some results with out preparing the soil (teaching good principles), watering it as needed (giving constant love and attention), pulling out weeds (correcting our children and protecting them from negative and unhealthy influences, when and where possible), and channeling their energy to grow tall.

In our garden as you see here, we grow our melons vertically using different supports. Melons have the energy to grow just about anywhere, but you have to direct their energy and give them the right support to reach their potential.

Over the years, we have had a good harvest by using this method, but we have to give it proper attention. Kids, in like manner, will flourish with the right amount of teaching, correction, support, and love.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Crossing the Finish Line

A week ago, I completed my first 100-mile race called the Salt Flats 100, which took place on and around the Bonneville Salt Flats in western, Utah.

It was exhausting!

The race started in mostly sunny, but chilly weather on Friday, and it took me 34 hours to complete it. I must say there were moments . . . . many of them starting around mile 10 . . . that I really questioned whether I could do it. Exhaustion, blisters, pains here and there, and time kept trying to remind me of how inadequate I was to the task. Then, when I reached mile 74 at 4:00 a.m., I had been stumbling, almost sleep walking in the frigid air, when I arrived at the aid station, and I really thought I would just accept the fact that I couldn't go any farther.

I entered the aid station tent, and I plopped down in a chair and rested for an hour, and I could hear whispers that I was too weary to continue. These voices came from inside my head and from the aid workers who were assisting runners there. "Hey, watch that guy. He really looks beat up."

However, I knew that I couldn't and shouldn't give up quite yet because time and reflection have a way of helping people regroup, mentally and physically. Finally, as I arose from my chair and stepped outside the tent to reevaluate my condition, I was greeted with dawn slowly breaking in the eastern sky. The day, awakening from its dark slumber, greeted me with new hope. I changed my socks and quickly downed some pancakes, and continued on until the finish line.

So, what things did I learn from the experience? Wow, I just can't count them. The main thought that comes to me today is that we shouldn't quickly give up on dreams and hopes, even when we are getting beat up in the process. Small baby steps forward into the unknown and darkness can lead to brighter times ahead. I would say this of friendships and raising a family. Pressing forward, showering love and kindness on others, and catching people when they stumble are vital keys to our growth and happiness. There is always hope.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Balancing Your Priorities

People don't care how much you know
until they know how much you care.

As young parents (which I am NOT at this point in my life), people often spend much of their focus on expanding and developing their careers with the philosophy that their new employment opportunities and salary will benefit their children in the years to come.

Futhermore, we sometimes live with the false impression that young kids require more time than teenagers or adult children; however, my experience has been quite the opposite in that my older and adult children have needed just as much and even more attention than the did when they were little.

Earlier in my career as a teacher, I spent a great deal of time presenting and traveling with the idea that this exposure and experience would get me ahead in my field. (Hey, who wouldn't accept invitations to be a keynote speaker at conferences around the world?) I tried to justify the sacrifice of being away from family as a stepping stone to something greater for them. However, kids will never remember the awards and recognition that you received beyond the walls of your home. In fact, although teenagers might not readily admit it, they need your time, your ear, just as much or even more than they didn when they were crawling on your knee.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with plenty of adversity (and happy for it----after the fact), for it is the one thing that always seems to truly introduce man to himself. In a way, I'm glad I didn't realize how hard life would get over the years in raising a family, for in fact, if any young couple had any idea of the plethora of unfortunate events that generally come to all of us, fewer couples would probably get married. Personally, I saw my weaknesses and tried to make myself better.

Going back to balancing priorities, kids need to know how much you care about them, and such can be accomplished by the simpliest things (things I have done with my family): playing a game of chess, snowing camping in the mountains, running together in a race, gritting your teeth and daring to take your new driver on the freeway for driving practice, sitting up all night to watch a meteor shower.

Someone once said that you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul (moving) truck, and in the same way, the only things that I believe that you can take with you after you die are your personal character and your family.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

"As parents, we guide by our unspoken example.  
It is only when we're talking to them that our kids aren't listening."  
 - Attributed to Robert Brault

 There are times in our lives when we as parents seem to be dishing out some form a sermonette to our children on some lost value or virtue that has seemed to have escaped them. My kids often remind me that I have given this or that one before ("Oh, yeah, dad. Isn't that sermonette number 234? Got it.") At some point, even my Reader's Digest version of my lectures don't appear to fly either. 
Unless you are talking about allowance or how much you plan on letting them use the car (or you just want to hear your own voice rehashing the lecture for the 10,000th time), you will probably be talking on deaf ears. And rightly so in many cases.
While we tend to administer instruction from the pulpit looking down, we probably should be spending more time in the pews ourselves. Personally, I have found that that I can't expect my children to rise to any higher standard than to the one I reach myself. Can you expect your children to be honest if you try to sneak food and drink into a movie theater when clearly posted signs say it is prohibited? You can try to justify certain behaviors by saying the policy doesn't make sense or that the movie theater makes tons of money off refreshments (which they do), but so will your children. We honor policies out of respect. We might be able to outsmart children when they are little, but they quickly see the shallowness of our words.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Growth and Change

Over the last few weeks, I've been over to my daughter and son-in-law's house to help fix up a few things, including ripping out old  carpet painting, and doing some yard work, among other things. My wife has done the same, and my daughter's in-laws and their family are great, hardworking people.

Like most of our lives, the house needs a little fixing here and there, but it has charm and character. 

One of the books I have been reading recently is called Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. In one section, she explains that "we are chunks of dense matter that need to be cracked  open. Our errors and failings are chinks in the heart's armor through which our true colors shine."

Sometimes, we might be afraid to peel back one more layer of old flooring of an old house to discover what imperfection might be hiding there, but like our own lives, peeling back the layers allows us to share our stories and flourish. Remaining in the dark provides no room to thrive and grow.

As a parent, I want my kids to see my humanity, my flaws, and my uncertainties, for that is who we are. We are able to understand and validate each other's joys and fears. This is what makes us human.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Living and Dying

I'm the little, grumpy-looking one with Mom and
my brothers. Perhaps I missed my nap that day.
I had never seen anyone die before, and I was worried and wondering if I could emotionally handle watching this happen.

At the beginning of January of this year, we knew my mom's life was drawing to a close at the care center where she had been living for the last 14 months of her life. She was in the final stages of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, both terminal illnesses which we fought and struggled with for a long time to keep at bay, but to no avail. My dad, who was living with us at our home nearby, went over the care center in the morning and stayed there the whole day throughout the entire time Mom was there. My wife and I went there almost every day, and other family made regular visits when they could.

In the last couple of months of her life, she spoke less and less, and her appetite dropped off as well. We took turns feeding her because she could no longer do that as well. My wife was exceptional in helping care for Mom for such a long time. I can't emphasize that enough. Mom's brother, Uncle Jay, visited a little over a month before, and two of Mom's sisters came the day before Mom passed.

In the last week of her life, our family camped out at the care center, taking shifts so someone would be with here at all times. Two people would usually sit her room and watch her breathing, blood pressure, and oxygen levels, while other family members slept in another room until it was there turn. Personally, we did all of this because we didn't want Mom to be alone when she died, and I didn't want my dad to be alone either, but I was a little concerned on how her passing would unfold.

Would it be peaceful, or be very labored and hard to watch? I didn't want my dad to watch her suffer in agony; the whole process was hard enough. In the final hour of her life, we could her breathing becoming shallower and her other vital signs slowed down and became more erratic. Yet, in the the final minutes, my brother, niece, dad, and I were able to watch her pass on very peacefully, and it was fitting that she was surrounded by people who cared for her. My wife, son, and other brother had spent hours and nights watching Mom over the last week, and I was grateful for everyone who showered mom with care, including the staff at the care center.

While being a parent has been so important to me, being a son and loving on Mom my in small ways, in life and death, has filled me with gratitude and compassion for others. No one will escape from this life alive, and we should do all we can to help one another, in meaningful ways, live the best life they can. We often have no idea when our time will come, so the best course is to live each day as if it were our last because someday, we will be right.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Life is like a puzzle . . .

Okay. I admit it. I'm a little embarrassed, but I still haven't found my Christmas gift from my son, Michael. (I know, I know, it's April now.) 

Every year, we make multi-stage puzzles with clues to lead the other person's present, but I haven't made it past the second clue and there might be a number of them. The clue I am working on deals with a cryptic musical arrangement, and here is what I have. A tough one that I am probably overthinking.

Our family started this tradition years ago with our oldest son, Josh, and it has carried on for years. 
Basically speaking, each clue leads to another clue, and some of them over the years have required exploring outside in the snow, in the water or near ice-covered streams, and up in the attic of our house. It has taken me up to 6+ weeks to eventually find my present, but this year has been different for a number of years. Yet, my son gets a kick out of my frustation.
Yet, finding these presents is a life metaphor: patience, patience, and more patience. Life would be so boring if every good think just dropped into our laps. Patience seems to have its own reward.
I'll keep you updated.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Art of Being Wrong

There have been times in my life where I was absolutely sure that I saw the world as it really was and then ended up being dead wrong (an example of a thinking error is naive realism). Two of my favorite books on thinking errors are Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz and You're Not So Smart by David McRaney.

As I have raised kids over the years, there have been so many times that I have tripped over my thinking, believing that my vast accumulation of experience somehow qualified me to give my kids that would change their lives. Unfortunately, it has taken me a while to realize that so often I am the one who is "off." At times, they weren't seeking any advice, but just wanted me to listen to their fears, concerns, and anxieties without worrying about what I might think or so. I had to realize that I so often didn't see their world as it really was. Fortunately, the more I kept my mouth closed and tried to listen to their deepest concerns, the more they have seemed to talk to me.

Anytime you feel that people will judge your thoughts and actions, the more you tend to remain silent, which is an emotionally-unhealthy state to be. By allowing and encouraging vulnerability, where you can express your concerns without judgement, you allow deeper and more meaningful conversation to flourish.

Now, that I am a grandfather, I hope to listen and show understanding even more with my grown-up children and their children. Life is about love and connection. Wish me luck.

One Snowy Adventure

A few years ago, I wrote this post, and I think the message is every more important and relevant to me today. Enjoy.

Over the years, I have realized that doing stupid things . . . the types that lead to natural consequences . . . tend to be part of our human existence, and no one is really able to escape this fact. As a young boy in Indiana, wintertime brought with it the joys of playing in the snow and hoping school would be canceled because of a blizzard. This time of year also presented a number of opportunities to explore the nearby woods and pond at the center of our neighbor. Leading into the pond was a small stream that served not only as our local fishery in the summer, but also the whitewater adventures on rafts after a heavy thunderstorm.

I also realize now that the attention span and wisdom of an 11 or 12 year old is often about as short as a blade of grass, and I wasn't exempt from this fact. In the deep of winter I felt one way to demonstrate my manhood was to cross the frozen stream, having absolutely no idea on how think or thin the ice was. I think we all thought the thinner the better because the cracking of the ice as you tried to make it across somehow demonstrate an extreme level or courage rather than sheer stupidity.

On one occasion, we decided to try swinging across the creek on a rope that was designed for summer fun, and in one attempt, I lost my grip and crashed through the ice. Fortunately, the water wasn't that deep, and I was able to pull myself out, but young boys seem to do most things against good reasoning and judgment.

Looking back on that and similar times, I sometimes wonder why in the world I did some of the things I did; I just need to have the same level of patience when dealing with my own kids.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

I'm a grandpa . . .

Me, Little Oden, and My Dad
About a month ago, I became a grandpa. My dad and I were out of town visiting other family the days before Oden was born, and my daughter had him on the morning we arrived back in town.

Right now, I relish being a grandfather and doting on the little guy. For me, I can hold him and love him, and when he starts to cry, I can hand him back to his mother.

No, actually. I find it an honor to help . . . even if it meant staying up and caring for the guy while his mom rested. Fortunately, my wife has done a lot of this when our daughter needs help, but I'm ready.

But being a new parent can be scary at times. What if this? What if that?

I wish that my mom had lived a few more months to welcome Oden into the world, but I know that life works in cycles, and the passing one one is often followed by the birth of another.

Life is always changing, and that's what makes experiencing it so exciting.

A Mom's Love

My mom passed away in January of this year from the effects of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, and it has been emotionally hard, especially for my dad. If I had been for as many years as they had, I might be able to grasp that.

That said, I remember with fondness the many experiences and positive traits that have permeated into my own life: faith, hope, goodness, and love.

Years ago, some of the family visited Arches National Park in Utah, and while my mom and I were enjoying the view at a famous landmark called Delicate Arch, someone in our group snapped this picture. It is one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me, and it in many ways symbolizes her cheerful spirit.

Miss you, Mom.

Has there been someone  who has had a lasting impact on your life? Please share.


Lasting Change

From time to time, life has a way of redirecting our very existence, whether we like the path that has been chosen for us or not. I speak specifically of events over which you have no control. Sickness is one of times. When great turmoil happens, we then sometimes promise to ourselves and to our family and friends that somehow our lives will be different. There's nothing wrong with making changes as long as their are lasting changes, those kinds of life modifications that ground us solid to a new way of living that isn't altered simply by new situational shifts.

By staying grounded, family and friends know where we stand and can take faith in us when things get tought.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Parenthood: What are the Secrets?

Well, uh . . . Could YOU share them with me? As an imperfect parent, I certainly have room for improvement. Just ask my kids.

It is said that being a parent is one job you can get without any experience. Perhaps that is true; however, becoming a parent is much different than being one, or rather the biological process of fathering a child is unlike stepping up to the bat every day and being a part of a child's life, especially during the very difficult and challenging times that will come.

I'm not just speaking of the financial challenges of raising children; rather, I also speak of dealing the emotional and social well-being of our kids.

However, what are the real factors that play a part in the "successful" rearing of children? This blog will try to explore these issues and invites you to share your experiences as well.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Parenthood: Expecting the Unexpected

One of my favorite news stories dealing with marriage, love, and families was written in 1973 by Jenkins Lloyd Jones. However, when often quoted, one of my favorite parts (highlighted in blue) is left out:
"There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear the divorce courts are jammed.

Old Train Ride of Life
Divine discontent is okay within reason, for most human progress is the result not of achieving happiness, but of pursing it . . . The whole thrust of advertising is to make us unhappy with what we've got and eager for something else.
Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise . . . Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."

Click HERE to see the original article in its entirety ("Big Rock Candy Mountains, " Deseret News, June 12, 1973)

The reality is that change is the only one element in life that is constant, and running around crying foul does little to resolve or understand issues when they arise.

When my wife and I got engaged, we were both college students with little money, owning an old, beat up car with no working heater, a broken door, and unexplainable engine problems. We even had to borrow a car from a family member to go on our honeymoon for fear that our own would die in route. Yet, we were content with the situation. Of course, we never realized how difficult life could become in many ways years later, but I think we have learned to deal with unforeseen obstacles over time.

Current media, friends, and coworkers sometimes will  try to entice us into believing that if we're unhappy, we just need to seek out happiness in other places instead of trying to resolve issues that require a little less thinking of our ourselves and more about thinking of others.

Again, if we can just develop the patience and fortitude to expect the unexpected, then when (not if) dirt gets flown/thrown in our faces, we have the skills to deal with it better.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Communicating: It can be done!

When I sometimes hear young parents lamenting over the challenges of getting their toddler to eat their vegetables, I sometimes wish I could simply change places. I just don't have the heart to tell them how hard raising children could get when their cute, cuddly child might change into a snarly (teenage) porcupine. I'll let them figure that one out.

Now, I am extremely grateful for my kids, and now that I look back at our experiences over the years, I see each challenge as a gift in disguise.

One thing that parents sometimes encounter is the inability to communicate with children. We often are not pre-programmed with that gift, and our kids sometimes remind us of that; however, when an opportunity to bond with your teenage kids falls in your lap, you just can't ignore it.

I mean if your teenage daughter had a choice of doing anything with you---shopping, getting her hair done, sitting in front of the TV---and said that she wanted to spend the night in the mountains---SNOW CAMPING IN THE DEEP OF WINTER---what would you say, fathers?

There's only one thing you can say! "When do we leave?"

Grab the chance to talk with your daughter! It might not come around again, but she will certainly remember it!

How do I know? I've done it myself. An unforgettable experience to understand one another better and to communicate without all the distractions around us.

Forgiveness: A Building Block of Postive Relationships

An often seen quote whose authorship I am unaware sizes up one key element in good relationships:

"Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your blessings in stone."

It probably wouldn't take any one us but a moment to think of one (or many more times) in which you felt offended by the actions of others. This is very true of marriage and raising children, and too often we tend to hold grudges and treat the postal carrier or the guy handling your order at McDonalds with more courtesy and respect than are own family. 

In life, things happen, and mistakes are made. What we do next will often determine the outcome. Generally speaking, we often take several possible approaches, two of which are (1) holding the offense against someone because they somehow deserve it, and/or (2) we won't let the issue die until the person comes grovelling to us (i.e., we appoint ourselves judge over the situation).
Developing the skill to allow your hurts to be washed away requires very open communication, something with which I still need plenty of practice. However, harboring bitter feelings toward a spouse or children does nothing to foster positive feelings at home.