Archive for November, 2009

We’re back + getting organized and maps for life

November 29, 2009

So, after a long time, too long, we’re back On Fatherhood.

Many thanks for your patience and thoughtful e-mails since we’ve been gone.

One of my favorite e-mails, and he asked me not to give his name, came from a military officer.

Here’s what he wrote.

Subject: “Time Kill”

Body: “I just spent the last hour reading your blog. I teared up twice –  but if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it.”

Verbatim. I love it.

So, we made the move from Boston to Washington, D.C., which came with my job transfer, and our family has spent the past few months getting settled in and acquainted here in the nation’s capital.

I’ve been getting used to a new job and a new city – and I’m excited on both accounts.

At On Fatherhood, we’ve been networking to expand our readership and planning editorial content for the long term. And we’re excited on both accounts.

This summer as we prepared to relocate, which we knew would be a flurry of activity, especially with a three-week trip to Japan right in the middle, I repeatedly said that my goal was to be able to put my feet up by Thanksgiving, catch my breath and re-evaluate. Having done that, I found some much-needed time for reflection on my life, my family, my career, continued education, time and money investments for our future. The money part is one thing, and most folks think of it often, certainly today. But time is another important consideration. Any time I spend now, doing things for my family – working on my career, degree, supplemental income through freelancing, investing in my health 30 minutes a day – it’s all time that could be spent with my family instead. It’s a balancing act.

As it’s turned out, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of people in my life. Many of them, for one reason or another, were elderly fellas. I was always drawn to the wise ones, they’re easy to pick out. These gents have class. I met a lot of these guys. They weren’t perfect, but they always seemed as if they were as good as it gets. Confident, humble and honest. A few were World War II vets. Had a lot of respect for each other, and enough respect for youth to offer words of advice.  Some had sailboats, some had rowboats. Others had old long cars with bench leather seats. Others were old farmers, drove pickups. They always took off their boots at the door and washed when they came in.

Nice people, all of them. Hard workers and skilled planners. An evaporating generation.

And I’ve always been curious about their lives and their families, and how they differed from my own. These old guys I’d meet all over. East Coast, West Coast. Many retired, kids grown. Some happily married for 50 years or more. Some happily divorced for 50 years or more.

I’d always sit and listen to them whenever I could. And I always ask, “If you could go back, and do anything differently, what would it be?”

And you know, it didn’t matter who it was, where they were from or what they owned in life. The answer was always the same.

The absolutely unanimous consensus (and we’re talking about a lot of old fellas) was that although they have no regrets in life, they wished they would have worked less, not worried about money so much – and spent more time with their families.

That’s a powerful message, when heard from so many.

This has been a vivid thread in my life’s fabric, which most days resembles a patchwork quilt. Given my array of projects, pursuits and passions, I’ve learned the only way to make it all work is to be strictly organized. And man, that don’t come easy for me.

Being the creative type, I never wanted to be slave to calendars and day planners or check lists. Not me, no way. This was especially true when it came to my home life.

But, if we really care about success, life has a way of forcing encouraging us along. So, I dabbled some years ago. I got a calendar, and a day planner. I looked at them everyday, although I wasn’t sure what to do at first. Like a cave man first discovering fire, I just kinda stared at and poked at them. Then I started writing things down on small pieces of paper. Every once and a while, I’d go so far as to pen the words, “to do” at the top. Slowly, it all started to come together.

I started to find a stride.

And what I discovered is that these tools offer freedom, rather than shackles.  This was new to me. For some, it might be a no-brainer that it’s empowering to wear watches and know what day it is and even be aware of what you have to do on that day. It wasn’t for me. I was never taught that until I was grown, married and raising two sons. Do they teach that in school? I don’t remember. I suppose they don’t teach it in school simply because they can’t. Only life can teach it, and only willing students can learn. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d wager that other dads might not be very organized. When we look at the financial, marital, physical and mental health of so many today, it’s safe to say we’re collectively neglecting some important things in life.

For example, I have always found it astonishing that we know so little about our own bodies. This is despite the fact they are the only things in life that we can truly call our own. In fact, we know so little about our bodies, that we pay people to tell us how to take care of them.

Is that weird … or have I had too much ginger ale?

And like our great and mysterious bodies, when it comes to life in general, I know plenty of people who spend more time making a Christmas list or writing down errands, than they do in planning their lives.

Now that is weird, ginger ale notwithstanding.

Ten years ago, I started what I called the month map. I still do it. Here’s how it goes: Once a month, maybe for an hour on Sunday morning, I basically purge my head of all thoughts, ideas, plans, wishes, worries, career and educational goals, family and financial goals, aspirations as a husband and a father (which are not nearly the same thing), personal hobbies … anything and everything that is important to me. Once I feel that it is all there on a few sheets of paper, a raw unorganized lump of data, I organize it into actions and break each action down into small steps. Some on the short term (a few hours, days or weeks), some on the long term (months, years, decades). At the end of each monthly session, I’m left with a list of clearly definable goals to work on for a month.

Of course I have daily to-do, and honey-do lists and other small tasks. But the important big-picture stuff – the real deal – is all there, step by step on the month map. And I save them each month to compare and see how well my life is progressing according to plan.

I started this before I was into watches, calendars and day planners. Not, when it all comes together, I get a good bit accomplished.

It’s been said, that if you don’t know you’re going, you might not get there. What I can say for sure is that it’s wonderful finally being settled here in Washington. And now that I’m familiar with the landscape, I can get back to drawing my maps.

And it’s just in time for the holidays, during which we’ve got some exciting stuff planned On Fatherood.

Hope you’ll come to see us here each week!

Humpday, Nov. 25, 2009

November 24, 2009

A few quick tidbits to get us through the week.

  • In Elmo’s voice: “Guess what Elmo is thinking about today?? … Quantum Physics, Mitosis, and Bathymetry. Yeah, you know, Science.” President Obama announced this week a newly launched campaign to promote science among our nation’s lil’ people. Including a two year emphasis on Sesame Street. I think this is fantastic. In fact, it was when our oldest son was about 2-years old, and repeatedly throwing his spaghetti across the kitchen table – after being warned several times to stop. Finally, he stared deep into my eyes and didn’t look away as he reached down, grabbed a handful of cold, sticky pasta and tossed it ever-so casually to the floor. As I neared a boiling point, something clicked in me. It was at that moment that I began to see him not as a merciless demon inside of a boy, trying to get under my skin – but rather a young scientist, experimenting cause and effect and learning about his environment. It was then I began my own campaign for science, to look for ever opportunity to help him make clearer sense of this planet we live on. Nice to see government is doing the same.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, this week the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued the largest crib recall in U.S. history. Apparently, the faulty cribs have trapped children, and in four cases, a 6-month old, two seven-month olds and a 9-month old died from suffocation. Awful … and scary. We, like so many we know, have owned two of those drop down style cribs. The CPSC issued a similar recall in October. We found a good link and recall finder at BabyCenter that tracks recalls across a wide spectrum of products. We’ll be on the lookout for other sites that track faulty products. If you know of any, please drop us a line and a link in the comments.
  • A friend of mine and I were talking a few weeks ago about our kids – and exchanging struggle stories. She was telling me about this “phase” her 6-year old was going through. She said it was tough. Mouthy, attitude – the works. As we talked, and although she didn’t say it, I picked up a hint of “I’m at my wits end,” from her. I empathized. Nothing’s worse than looking at this small person, so much a small version of yourself, and being utterly puzzled at their behavior, and unsure how to respond effectively. I suggested she read Raising Good Children: From Birth through the Teenage Years. She sent me a message last Friday saying, “The ‘book’ came in the mail today … time to get smart.”  As one reviewer put it: “… It has sound philosophical teachings and specific advice that is appropriate to every age and stage. It combines the fields of Child Development and Psychology with morality and good common sense to lend the reader a practical guide. It leaves plenty of room for readers to fashion our parenting philosophy combining the information given with our own intuition, experience and views … as a mother and scholar, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to raise moral, thinking children. I would also recommend it to teachers.” As a young father and oft knuckle head who’s trying the best he can, I highly recommend it too.

More to follow … enjoy the jumps!