Posts Tagged ‘families’

Speak softly and carry a big heart

July 2, 2011

Six months and one day ago, as we rang in the New Year, my resolution was to refrain from raising my voice at my boys.

I gave it my best effort.

I had almost forgotten about it until two days ago when my oldest son asked me, “Dad, have you ever yelled at me?”

“Of course,” I said, trying remember the last time I actually had used volume to make a point, but I came up cold.

I really don’t remember the last time.

The resolution to speak softly has become a new habit and now, having broken the old habit of shouting, here’s what I’ve discovered.

Yelling discourages dialog. It says, “I’m louder. I’m superior. I win. The end.”

Not yelling encourages listening. Now when I speak in corrective terms, my kids listen carefully. If I tell them quietly but clearly, “if you don’t go up stairs right now and clean your room, I’m going to come up with a trash bag and clean it myself,” they know I mean it.

Yelling gives us a false assumption that we’ve actually punished. After spouting off an angry pitch at our kids, so often we take no further action toward correcting their behavior. When children are little, yelling is terrifying to them. It is enough to get them moving. But as they get older, they get desensitized to it. The problem is, we keep doing it thinking it is still effective.

Yelling is knee jerk. It’s from the place of anger, the place of irrational reaction.

Not yelling is controlled. It’s from the place of caring, the place of rational response.

Personally, I feel a lot less stress when I don’t yell. When the boys do something that would otherwise make my blood boil, I find myself thinking calmly in the gap between emotion and reaction, and asking “what is the most effective way to deal with this?”

And then I apply it.

If it doesn’t work, I try something else. But I don’t get irrational.

Yelling, I have discovered, is one of those psycho-somatic things … like smiling. If you do it, the corresponding emotion soon follows.  So even if I wasn’t mad, all it took was brief shouting session to get me there.

I know many parents who are semi-to-staunchly authoritarian. Some might think that my newer softer tone makes me a push over.

Some might even say it makes me a weak father figure.

But I would offer that any action born from anger is not controlled – and that in fact, it takes a great deal of strength to restrain our actions – especially when we are angry.

Comparatively, acting on impulse seems weak.

I’m happy I broke the yelling habit. In doing so, I’m setting a better example for my boys.

Over time, they too will understand what I now do: we don’t have to use a loud voice to make a strong point.


Teach a Kid to Argue

June 18, 2011

Via figarospeech

… let’s face it: Our culture has lost the ability to usefully disagree. Most Americans seem to avoid argument.

But this has produced passive aggression and groupthink in the office, red and blue states, and families unable to discuss things as simple as what to watch on television.

Rhetoric doesn’t turn kids into back-sassers; it makes them think about other points of view …


‘Bath Salts’: Evil Lurking at Your Corner Store

May 30, 2011


“I am telling you today, first as a father and then as a doctor … kids everywhere are in danger from this substance, and the threat is legal, cheap and very deadly.” – Mehmet Oz, MD

Sold under such names as Kush Blitz, Lovey Dovey, White Lightning and Euphoria, 'bath salts' are usually marked with the warning NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, a labeling trick that's meant to sidestep government regulation. Photo: Alexander Ho for TIME

In 2010 there were 302 calls to poison-control centers nationwide about bath salts. In just the first three months of 2011, there were 784. There were also roughly 1,500 bath-salt-related visits to emergency rooms in the first quarter of this year. A common cause of death from the drug is suicide; kids who survive often endure long-term psychiatric symptoms.


Talking to Children about Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters

March 19, 2011

By David Fassler, M.D.
Via the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Once again, parents and teachers are faced with the challenge of discussing a frightening natural disaster with children. Although these may be difficult conversations, they are also important.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to talk with children about such tragic events.

Here are some suggestions you may find helpful:

1. Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.
At the same time, it’s best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they’re ready.

2. Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up”. It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.

3. Use words and concepts children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child’s age, language, and developmental level.

4. Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.

5. Acknowledge and validate the child’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate.

6. Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about their own safety and the safety of immediate family members. They may also worry about friends or relatives who travel or who live far away.

7. Be reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises. It’s fine to let children know that they are safe in their house or in their school. But you can’t promise that there won’t be another earthquake or other natural disaster.

8. Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not want to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys, or writing stories or poems.

9. Let children know that lots of people are helping the families affected by the most recent earthquake. It’s a good opportunity to show children that when something scary happens, there are people to help.

10. Children learn from watching their parents and teachers. They will be very interested in how you respond to world events. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.

11. Don’t let children watch too much television with frightening images. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing.

12. Children who have experienced trauma or losses in the past are particularly vulnerable to prolonged or intense reactions to news or images of natural disasters. These children may need extra support and attention.

13. Monitor for physical symptoms including head aches and stomach aches. Many children express anxiety through physical aches and pains. An increase in such symptoms without apparent medical cause may be a sign that a child is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

14. Children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about earthquakes or other natural disasters should be evaluated by a trained and qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need additional help include: ongoing sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts or worries, recurring fears about death, leaving parents or going to school. If these behaviors persist, ask your child’s pediatrician, family physician or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.

15. Although parents and teachers may follow the news and the daily events with close scrutiny, many children just want to be children. They’d rather play ball, climb trees or go sledding

Earthquakes and other natural disasters are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, many young children feel frightened and confused. As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner. Fortunately, most children, even those exposed to trauma, are quite resilient. However, by creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help them cope with stressful events and experiences, and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties.

David Fassler, M.D. is a child & adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Burlington, Vermont.  He is also a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont, and a member of the Consumer Issues Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (

A Dog’s Ten Commandments

October 24, 2010

Thanks to my pal Bill –  cop, wildlife photographer and father of three – for sending this along.

We haven’t gotten our boys a puppy yet – but with each year, it gets closer and closer. And when that day comes, I’m printing the list below, and hanging it in a central place in the house where everyone can see it daily.

As we’ve all heard and have said many times before, “having a puppy is a big responsibility: you have to feed it, walk it, potty train it, etc.”

All basic rules.

But it’s the thoughts below that make all the difference.

Thanks for the reminder, Bill.

A Dog’s Ten Commandments

1. Don’t leave me alone. My life is likely to last 10-15 years. Any separation from you is likely to be painful.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me. It is crucial for my well-being.
4. Don’t be angry with me for long and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your friends, your entertainment, but I have only you.
5. Talk to me. Even if I don’t understand your words, I do understand your voice when speaking to me.
6. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.
7. Before you hit me, before you strike me, remember that I could hurt you, and yet, I choose not to bite you.
8. Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I’m not getting the right food, I have been in the sun too long, or my heart might be getting old or weak.
9. Please take care of me when I grow old, as you too, will grow old.
10. On the ultimate difficult journey, when my time here has come to an end, go with me please. Never say you can’t bear to watch. Don’t make me face this alone. Everything is easier if you are there with me, because I love you so.

Telling the Truth

October 12, 2010

When I was twenty two years old, I decided to read an entire set of encyclopedias. I was that guy.

I wish I could say I finished, but the truth is, I had randomly hand picked about half of them to keep in my car (yeah, I was that guy, too.) So with half in my small New York apartment, and the other half in the back of my silver Ford Escort station wagon, I just never got a good reading system going to finish the collection.

One night however, back then with a bottle of Merlot and hand-rolled cigarettes, while curled up with a hard-cover copy of A-B, I came across the name, Bobadilla, and the very interesting story accompanying it.

It was one of the first times I realized that I had been lied to in grade school. You know, deliberately speaking falsely is one thing, but in some cases, I believe intentional omission of facts is akin to lying.

And so we have Bobadilla.

The Cliff Notes version is Francisco de Bobadilla was hired by Spanish King Ferdinan and Queen Isabella to take over for good ole’ Chris Columbus across the way here in the New Land. In 1500, once Bobadilla got there (or here, rather) he confirmed reports that Columbus had been a cruel and dishonorable leader in the Americas, and was thus sent back to Spain in shackles and chains.

And while I don’t imagine anyone will rush to their dusty book shelves to read the rest of the story, they might read more online about how Christopher Columbus was arrested.

It’s insightful, especially for the generations who learned in school the story of Christopher Columbus the hero, who set out bravely in search of the New World, with his three mighty ships, The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Ma- OK, you know the plot, at least as we were told it in school.

Why do we uphold the tradition of telling our kids the sanitized versions of such historic tales, and then fail to follow up with the truth, the rest of the story, when they are older? Like the Native Americans and White Man sitting down to break bread, and be at peace, and live in harmony and be BFF’s. Oh, is that how it happened? I’m not so sure that’s the whole story.

I suppose it’s gotten better to some degree. My father’s generation was taught in school that the Red Man was nothing but a savage, beast-like man who scalped the innocent. Since then, history texts have undergone major restorations, to reflect the Native American’s naturally spiritual and peaceful ways, and the greed and plunder of their paler “visitors.”

Or on Valentine’s Day, which we learn is about love and cutting pink doilies and making cards when we are little – but then we are never set down in class at an older age and told about St. Valentine, one of many martyrs killed, for right or wrong, for what he believed in. That’s an important story, and a great lesson wasted. It’s a missed opportunity for a sixteen-year old student and a crucial question not asked: What would you defend until the end?

I just think telling our kids partial truths breeds confusion.

I’m not sure if it’s gotten better since I was in school, so I asked my six year son tonight what he learned about Christopher Columbus this year, and he said, “well, he only wanted gold and spices to get rich and someone else actually discovered America anyway.”

It’s a step in the right direction, I guess.

But it’s still a half truth, which is a gross inadequacy of our American education system.

I don’t propose to have a answer. But I have a question. How can we expect our kids to grow into responsible adults who speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when we ourselves condone, and in some case even encourage, the glossing over of crucial points of life?

It’s a gap I hope all of us parents can shorten, together as we go.

Fame, Fortune and Families

February 21, 2010

Not long ago, I had the idea of writing a series on the highly accomplished men of our era; men who had achieved great successes at home in their personal lives, and fame and fortune in their professional arenas.

Great fathers, superb husbands and professional successes.

That was until Tiger Woods, the man who was to open the series, fell.

And he fell hard.

And ever since, I’ve been looking for a stand in.

Still, the whole Tiger thing is surreal to me. Not that it happened, but that the man portrayed before the scandal, seemed so, well, accomplished.

Unlike many, he is a man in tune with his great talent. Golf, moreover, his absolute mastery of it, brought him great wealth – and beyond that – made him whole.

He was respected by many in his profession and in his life.

He had what appeared to be a healthy family.

He was what I , until recently, would have called a true champion.

But, like so many before him, he fell.

And so I am left to wonder: who among us is the highly accomplished man?

Who has gained the deepest respect of others in and outside of his profession? Who has discovered his work, his calling, and fully given himself to it. Who has mastered his mind, and his hands and thereby, mastered his work? Who has earned a deep and sustainable wealth?

And who, having achieved these things, has remained as devoted to his home and family?

What we see are many of the rich and most of the famous, who have more money than they will ever need.

Many have even won the deep satisfaction of being self actualized. One great quest of theirs is over. They are pouring themselves, whole heartedly, into their work, and thus, they are whole.

And yet, so many of these men, on their second, third or even fourth marriage, have a trail of broken dreams and shattered families in their wake.

Busy in their work, they neglect their homes. Too busy seeking fortune and fame, to tend to the family.

It’s not my place to say whether or not they are good fathers or husbands.

All I know, as I’ve often said, is the best thing a man can do for children is love their mother.

The truth is, some of the best dads in the world are pretty easy to recognize. In fact, a good percentage can be seen in a t-shirt or sweatshirt that says just that: “Best Dad in the World.”

I don’t know what they earn or do for a living. But if I had to generalize, I’d say these were guys somewhere on a middle scale. In fact, I’ve known alot of dads from the middle, right on down to the low, low end of the pay scale who were humble, simple and although they didn’t have comparatively much to give their wife and kids – no doubt, there was plenty of love and support at home.

Many of these men put their biggest professional goals on hold for their families. And in so doing, a part of them is forever empty, missing. Most, despite an ever-present, longing ache, never reclaimed those dreams – even after their kids had grown. Like the majority, they settle and make do with the life they have, the one the end up with … Bitter sweet, I guess.

So who among us is the fully accomplished man? If a healthy family life eludes so many of the famous and (arguably) fortunate, and great career success often escapes the humble dad, then who can be called fully accomplished?

I think I know.

But there’s a good reason I’ll never be sure.

These men, if they do exist, I may never meet, hear of, or write about.

I assume they are too busy living their lives to seek the spotlight.

If they are in fact present and fully supportive fathers, caring and deeply empathetic husbands, and high earners, working at full-potential in their chosen careers, they probably don’t have time for much of anything else.

And after all, really, what else is there?

Humpday, Feb. 17, 2010

February 16, 2010

A few tidbits to get us through the week …

Over the past year or so, while making a run to, say, the hardware store (as we dads do,) or during my daily commute, I’ve heard some superb, family-focused programs on National Public Radio.

The links this week are podcasts of some of them. Simply click the “Listen to the Story” link for each podcast. Whether you listen at home or work, I hope you find them as insightful as I have.

  • 20 Years Of Defending Death Row InmatesImagine what is would be like to spend all day visiting death row, and then come home, still with the smell on you, and kiss your wife and kids. You’d be living the life of Attorney David Dow, who has made a career out of defending death row inmates. I, like most fathers will, find his story incredibly hard to relate to, with one exception: an underlying theme of how troubles of a man’s work often lingers into the home, affecting everyone.
  • Parenting In The Age Of ‘Gossip Girl’How about a good, wholesome family talk about menage-a-trois. That’s right, sex – specifically threesomes. Lucky for me, my kids are not teens yet – but at this rate, as this story illustrates, it might not be too long before sex talk comes up during out dinner discussions.
  • Parenting Tips: Praise Can Be Bad; Lying Is Normal – I can’t help but rethink my whole approach after hearing this one. The headline really sums it up. But to elaborate without giving away the kicker, it turns out most of what we’ve been doing to curb our kids’ lying is actually making them more skilled and frequent liars.

Enjoy the jumps. Come back and see us when you can …

Blizzard 2010: Prepared to be a father

February 14, 2010

This week, after a history-making snow storm, I have a renewed perspective on being prepared as a dad.

But let’s backup a few years, to when my wife and I learned she was pregnant with our first son.

At the time, I had a much older friend and confidant, his kids had all grown, with whom I shared the news.

As we talked about it, I admitted that although I was nervous and the future was uncertain, I was ready.

“You’re never ready,” he said. “It’s really a question of whether or not you’re prepared.

He was making a comparison between comfort and survival and considering my marriage, career, and support network of friends and family, I indeed felt both ready and prepared to be a father.

But when it comes down to it, and many will argue about this, preparation is more a state of mind than anything else.

I’ve always considered myself an optimist, but only because in any situation, I immediately consider the absolute worse that can happen, and develop a plan for it.

It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid. I remember being six years old, laying in bed, and rehearsing my escape plan for if a meteor hit the house and destroyed it. In great detail, I’d build the scenario, play it out in my head, and go through each step until everyone in the house and I were outside and safe. Night after night.

As I got older, the scenarios evolved. “What if?” I’d wonder.

One day it would be a shady guy who pulls a gun in the store. The next day, a baby falling into the river. Each scenario more original and detailed than the last.

But the goal was always the same: Save the day.

This week, it was a record snow storm.

The blizzard came in two waves a few days apart. The first wave crippled the roadways, left tens of thousand of homes without power, forced countless stores to close. During a day-long lull after wave one, and in the calm before wave two, people went into a stock-up-on-everything frenzy.

We couldn’t even buy a gallon of milk.

Seriously. The shelves were picked clean. It was surreal.

I broke my snow shovel against the first wave, and nobody had any left. None. It was a last ditch effort to check Target, on the far side of town. They didn’t have any either.

But they had milk, when no one else did.

I bought two.

I spent the next morning with Google Maps showing every hardware store in a 25 mile radius, from the big box places to the locally owned.

Between sips of my morning coffee, like an eager telemarketer, I went down the list.

Many, if not most, were closed. And when I did get someone on the line, it went like this pretty much every time:

Me: “Mornin’ … prob’ly a shot in the dark, but do you folks still have any snow shovels?”

Them: “Nope, all sold out, might be getting more next week”

Me: “Well, by next week my car will be trapped inside an igloo – but thanks anyway.”

I found one finally at a local shop, but I had to wait in line  – twice – to get it. I waited in the line that had formed on the sidewalk outside of the hardware store, where they were unloading the shovels from a truck, and I waited again inside to pay.

I bought two.

It felt like a bank run, for shovels. I felt like I should get three. Everyone else was. But I restrained myself.

During the storm, we lost power.

Now, call me crazy but I love it when the power goes out. It throws the usual routine out of whack. In short, it’s a mini adventure with an element of unpredictability.

So what if I’m adrenaline challenged, I find it exciting. It helps me imagine, if only in a glimpse, what it must have like in days of old. When life was was hard and going to work meant going to work.

I imagine a time when being prepared was a built-in part of every day life, for everyone.

When people were communities, not segments.

A time before cars, before TV, radio and before the light bulb.

Before we became veal patties.

But there we were, last week, without power.

We had candles, we had flash lights and batteries, and we had blankets. We had a full fridge and cupboards.

Taken to the extremes, I knew I had a hatchet, I had plentiful woods nearby and I was prepared to melt snow and process it for drinking if I had to. I had even started to consider a few ways to prepare squirrel. (I could lure them so easily using nothing but their own greed!)

And most importantly, we had each other.

The heat was out – but the house stayed comfortable. We skipped the boys’ baths (which we never do) because there was no point risking them getting sick. They had toy flashlights that made fine nite-lite substitutes.

And once they were in bed, in their fleece jammies and double blankets, my wife and I snuggled up under candle light, with some red wine and string cheese, and loaded a Netflix movie into the laptop.

And then the power came back on.

The next day was like any other, only with a blanket of snow and coating of ice.

And in the light of the early hours, despite the available radio, TV or toys, my boys instead spent the morning enjoying nothing more than each other’s company, their collective imagination, and a single book.

Although it wasn’t a survival manual, it was a book about heros. And that’s a start.


February 7, 2010

My older brother Corey, and his lovely fiancé, Jessica, visited us last weekend.

I’m not exactly sure where the name came from, but my boys have started calling him “Unky.”

Short for “Uncle” no doubt.


It’s the kind of word that sounds cute when the kids say it, but looks weird when you write it. And if you know my brother, you’d know it can’t be spelled with an “ie.”

“Unkie,” just wouldn’t match Corey’s intensity.

Corey, my only brother, was born with 93 octane coursing through his veins.

My earliest memories are of him somehow always involved watching him build what seemed like mile-high, 45 degree plywood ramps from which to launch himself into the great beyond on anything fast enough to take him there.

More recent memories are of seeing him plummet to earth from such attempts, followed by the sound of him gasping for air after having the wind knocked out of him once again.

He still has scars on his shins from the snowboarding accident, shoulder pain from the dirt bike surgery, and a crooked finger from the other injury; another story for another time.

There’s the old cliché about pesky younger brothers always wanting to follow the older one around. But with Corey, I could never keep up. He’d be up early, rain or shine, snow or sleet, and out the door and long gone before my milk even hit the cereal. And when I did have the chance to tag along, it was just too intense. The bikes were too fast, the jumps were too high, the weather was to extreme or the days were too long.

I was the turtle and he was the jackrabbit.

Never have I know anyone with such intensity, energy and stamina.

Never, that is, until my oldest son Philo was born.

He and Corey undoubtedly share the same blood type. And I think it’s O, for “octane.”

They both have one gear. Full speed ahead with no signs of stopping.

There are some people in the world, among them Corey and Philo, who have an inexhaustible surplus of energy. God love ‘em. I don’t know where they get it. I wish I did.

My mother has a theory about this, and she traces it back to birth.

Corey was born breeched and blue. When he emerged from the womb, backwards, the umbilical cord was wrapped several times around his neck, cutting off his air. It was forever described in our family as a near miss.

Given his dare devil life that followed, you might say birth was his first flirt with death.

Similarly, Philo had close call at delivery. Up until then, the doctors told us it was a textbook pregnancy.

That was until game time, when contractions became so intense they put immense pressure on Philo’s cord, and cut off the flow of blood and oxygen.

I remember early on in the delivery room, they had a heart monitor, as standard procedure, hooked up to my wife to track the baby’s rhythm.

During a cycle of contractions, they intensified.

As they grew stronger and stronger, I heard the baby’s heart beat slow down more and more – and eventually stop altogether.

We’re talking flat line.

It was terrifying.

As the nurses all scrambled, one pounded the big red, bedside button labeled “code,” while another began chest compressions on our unborn son.

It was awful.

Life has a way of persisting, however.

And soon, we were back to textbook pregnancy. After only about two hours of active labor, our son was born.

And ever since, he has been a force of nature – just like his Unky.

My mother thinks these episodes at birth somehow sparked a lifelong capacity for vigor and power within both of them.

I don’t know. Could be.

But what I do know is that while Philo is intensifying, Unky is slowing down.

And that’s a good thing.

He still has his bikes and his dirt tracks and his machines. But he also has a fantastic woman in his life. In the fall, they’re getting married. That usually helps to quiet a man’s inner turbulence. If babies should come later, all the more reason to slow one’s roll.

And now, after all these years, I finally feel like I can hang with my big brother.

After only half a day with the boys, he said to me straight faced, “Man, I’m whooped … the boys really wore me out … I don’t know how you do it everyday.”

I thought about it.

“You just gotta pace yourself,” I told him. “It’s a marathon – not a sprint.”