Sunday, September 18, 2011

Accidental Parenting and Accidental Teaching

The first 9 months of raising twin girls has been some of the most challenging and rewarding moments of my life. During these months, my wife and I have been such learners as we try to figure out what works for our girls. We have read a number of books and talked to many people about strategies, philosophies and ideas that will help us as parents. One book that has stuck out and provided us with tons of great ideas (and much more sleep) is The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg. Her philosophy aligns well with ours (we are not the 'cry-it-out, Ferberizing' style of parents) as we try to listen to what our children are telling us - why are they crying? What cues can we look for? What is that facial expression or body language tell us? It is truly amazing what happens when you actually understand what your kids are telling you!

One of the ideas that Hogg writes about is what she calls "Accidental Parenting" and describes it as:
Start as you mean to go on. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get the toddler to calm down. Often the "anything" turns into a bad habit that they later have to break - and that's accidental parenting".

Hogg goes on to give a number of examples such as taking your baby for a drive to get him/her to sleep. She explains that this WILL work... but unfortunately it will teach the child that he/she needs motion to fall asleep and will struggle to fall asleep on his/her own. Another one is when an infant wakes up in the middle of the night and parents put the child back to sleep with a bottle. Again, this works but teaches the child that he/she needs a bottle to go back to sleep.

At times, having twins has placed us in survival mode and we have had to resort to types of accidental parenting at times and although it has worked short term, it has definitely caused problems in the following days.

As my wife and I were doing our best to avoid accidental parenting, I could not help but see the obvious link to what we do in schools. How many strategies do we use that work in the short term but accidentally cause problems later on?

Here are some examples of "accidental teaching" that I have used in my career as an educator:

  • Rewards, bribes, prizes - if you do this (or do as I say), you will get this shiny prize. Kids figured out very quickly that it was all about the prize and not so much about the task.

  • Yelling - I yelled at kids and then they became quiet. Guess what happened after this... they knew that they could be loud UNTIL I yelled!

  • Punishments - I used my power as an educator to give consequences strictly on my terms... because I could. I was not concerned for the reasons for the behaviour but more about the statement I needed to make. Kids learned to just misbehave when I was not looking and avoid getting caught.

  • Worksheets - kids were quiet and seemed content to do endless worksheets and busy work. If the goal was busyness and silence, then this would have been a great success - unfortunately, the goal was learning so I kind of missed the boat.

  • Focus on grades - if you do this, you will get a good grade. Students crammed, copied homework, memorized... and forgot to learn.

  • Focus on the result - as a young coach, it was all about the score. When my players faced a tough opponent or were in a big game, they crumbled because they were focused on the scoreboard. Once we began to focus on process rather than result... we, ironically, started to do better on the scoreboard.

  • Awards - I have given awards and been part of a number of selection committees. When the focus of players and students moved to the award rather than the process, I realized we had a problem.

In our current system with large class size and challenging class composition issues, teachers often see no other option than to resort to rewards, punishments and other forms of accidental teaching. I continue to catch myself in a stressful situation resorting to actions that do not align with my philosophies. The key for me is that I am catching myself and reflecting upon my actions. I still have a long way to go as I continue to make errors in judgment but I do see myself continuing to grow as an educator and parent; each year I gain tools in my toolbox that help me deal with stressful situations much differently more effectively.

As stated, I realize that parenting and teaching are often very stressful and majority of decisions are done with the best intentions. I encourage you, as parents and educators, to reflect upon the decisions we make with our kids. Are we parenting and teaching for the long term or are we teaching some lessons by accident to help us get through the day?

Originally posted at "The Wejr Board" blog.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rethinking the Little Mermaid

Dear Brenna,

I watched The Little Mermaid a few weeks ago. I understand Ariel's curiosity. I get the sense of sacrifice that goes with love. I know that the infatuation looked a lot like love. But it wasn't. She sacrificed everything for someone she didn't know and he sacrificed nothing in the process.

When you get older and watch the movie, I want to know the original story, where the little mermaid evaporates into foam.  There are powerful people out there who will woo you with the promise that you'll be part of their world; be it a handsome prince or a high-paying job or the accolades of a top-tier college.

I don't want you to lose yourself. I don't want you to evaporate.

 You should never have to change your identity to meet the dreams of a man. No relationship, no promise, no plot line in a fairy tale story is ever worth giving up your voice. Be curious. Be bold. But cling to your voice with your whole being, Brenna.

Love, Dad

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Courage

Dear Joel,

You would have been brave if you had smashed that kids face into the ground.  And you would have been justified, too.  Bullying is never okay and the victim is never at fault.  But you didn't choose bravery.  You chose courage instead.  You boldly dealt with it with humility and grace.  You talked to me about how it felt.  You talked to your teacher about why it was wrong.  Then you moved a step further and chose forgiveness and you proved, at a young age, that love is the most courageous route possible.  Thank you for the reminder about what matters.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Pixar Paradox

I'm not a fan of most children's movies.  However, I am often surprised by the ability of Pixar to create a collective cultural mythology.  They understand how to use the medium effectively, creating an entire multimedia world that is timeless and accessible to all ages. I'm often impressed by the paradoxical nature of their movie themes:

  • Finding Nemo: Safety is found only when you are no longer trying to be safe.
  • Wall-E: The technology we design to save our lives is the very thing that destroys our ability to live
  • Cars: Success is found only when success is no longer the goal
  • The Incredibles: The "boring" life turns out to be the real adventure.  
  • Up! Your protagonist becomes your hero
  • Monster's Inc: The only thing to fear is fear itself (sorry for the cliche there)
  • A Bug's Life: The humble are exalted and the powerful are humbled. 
  • Toy Story: You can't lead until you learn to serve

I haven't figured out a paradoxical theme of Ratatouille yet.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Homework to Home Learning

"Can I tell you a story?" Joel asks.


"So Santa Claus is delivering gifts on Christmas when he gets stuck."

"He can't get stuck," Micah interrupts.

"No, he gets stuck . . . "

"He has magic."

"He's not magical enough to lose weight, Micah." That quiets Micah for a moment.

"So Santa gets stuck and his feet dangle down. He kicks off his shoes and he's left there with his socks hanging down. So the kids get up and say, 'Look, we have new stockings.' And when they look inside, they scream, 'Oh my gosh, these are feet! These are feet! Santa gave us feet instead of candy!' So Santa starts yelling at them and they say, 'Wow, the feet are talking to us.' They pull and they pull, but it doesn't work. So they saw off Santa's feet. Then they never get any more stockings on Christmas, because they didn't listen to Santa Claus."

It's a violent story filled with irony and even a touch of justice at the end. I admit that I'm a biased parent, but I think the story is clever. It's possible that Joel is simply a smart kid. If so, he inherited his intelligence from Christy. Yet, it's also possible that young children are more capable of critical thinking, creativity and irony than adults assume.

So, it has me thinking about the topic of homework. Often, teachers send home practice worksheets for students to fill out. It becomes a toned-down, boring version of a rote-memorization exercise in class. I'm not opposed to children learning at home. Playing the "how did you get to that number" game or the "tell me a story" game or "make up a story that has these four topics" are all examples of learning that we do at home.

We do science experiments. At some point today, we're going to get a tub of water, weigh the tub and way an item. Then we'll add the item to the water to see if a floating item increases the weight of the water by the same amount as the item.

What if schools redefined homework to home learning? What if they sent students home with games, ideas and activities that parents could (emphasis on parent choice) use if they are struggle to engage their children in critical thinking? I hate getting a packet of worksheets. However, if the teacher sent my son home with an erector set (might be a little expensive) or a list of fun mental math games, I would embrace the idea.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Getting to Know My Daughter

I am really enjoying getting to know my daughter.

Yeah, obvious and often thought of as obligatory.

With the exception of my daughter, I have never been with someone every single day of their life.

Slide 2

Seeing mine and Kari's physical, emotional, and personal qualities in our daughter is frightening and exhilarating, for both real and imagined reasons.

However, seeing her unique traits come to the surface is what I mean while writing I am enjoying getting to know my daughter.

As most of you know, there is a simple, hard to describe joy in watching our children grow up. It is more like joy mixed with contentment.


This wonderful mix of simple, contented joy influences other areas of my life. Certainly diet, spending habits, and my thoughts on all things education are put into sharp relief when I watch my daughter giggle after going down a slide.


Yeah, obvious and often thought of as obligatory...

But I am really enjoying getting to know my daughter, and myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Heart Dadding


One of the reasons I adore fatherhood is because it is the definition of what Paulo Freire called praxis. Unlike the other things in life that often involve theory and practice being mutually exclusive, fatherhood lets me engage my pedagogical learnings as a professional educator and shake them into a cocktail of reality.

Oh, and lest I forget autonomy. My most frustrating times as a passion-driven teacher or artist have always involved negotiating difficulties with collaboration, bureaucracy, or politics. Thanks in large part to my goddess of a wife, I rarely have these incidents of creative blockage.

I approach my teacher-dad life as science and art. What about you?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

5 Free Gifts from Colorado

It's a gift to walk where there is no pavement

When we go to Colorado, my kids have a chance to experience a few things we miss in the suburbs:

1. Mortality: When we spend time outdoors, we ultimately run into death.  It might be a fresh carcass or dried bones, however it ultimately leads to a discussion about life, death and why we exist. Perhaps a dried carcass sounds morbid and maybe there's some validity in avoiding the morbid.   However, I'm thinking that maybe it's crazier to hand a child a hunk of flesh shrink wrapped and placed on styrofoam so that he never fully comprehends our relationship with other organisms. I want my children to believe that death is real and that life matters.

2. Stars: When living in the suburbs, the sky becomes manageable, the universe tame.  The moon never moves beyond a horizon, creating the "optical illusion" of being larger than life (though I might argue that it's more of an illusion to think we can shrink the moon by framing it between two skyscrapers).  I want to see Joel and Micah gasp at the vast canvas of innumerable stars and I want to watch Brenna reach her hands out and attempt to grasp the universe with reckless abandon.  I want them to be bold and humble.  Stars play a role in this.

3. Open Space:  My kids live in a place of constant freedom.  They've turned a suburban backyard into a mud pit, a dragon fortress, a baseball field, an edible jungle and a Jedi Academy.  In Colorado, they get to run as far as they want without running into a fence, looking both ways to cross a road or questioning who the land belongs to.  Right now, it's their land.

4. Affectionate Parents: Sometimes we get into a habit of playing zone defense with the kids.  We multi-task.  We compartmentalize. And if we're not careful, it feels a little less like a relationship and more like running an efficient organization.  Then on a road trip, I'll slip my hand around Christy's side or she'll place her hand on my knee while she drives and I watch Joel or Micah take notice.  They study it silently - the gestures, the eye contact.  We don't spell it out for them, but they sense intuitively that we're in love - which might ultimately make for the greatest sense of safety they can experience.

5. Uninterrupted Play: I had the chance for 3-D, interactive, educational games without worrying about laundry or cleaning the kitchen.  My favorite Luddite App so far?  The story app allows us to collectively tell either a shared experience or an entirely fictional narrative.  I want them to internalize the message that even if there are ugly, contentious moments in cramped-up car rides, there isn't anyone I'd rather be with on my free time.  Fuck the test or the Little League win or the popularity pissing contest.  You'll always have a place here, kiddos.

Bonus Gift: At some point, I won't pay attention. I'll hurl a careless word and I'll come alongside Joel or Brenna or Micah.  I'll help pull out the shrapnel.  I'll wipe away tears.  I'll hold them tightly and I'll tell apologize.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Daddy Can't Whip Your Daddy

"Hey Stortz, I'll get you a copy of Baseball for Dummies next year" my coach -friend jibed.  My son's last game of the season had just ended.

"Yeah, sure.  Sounds good," I sort of half-way grinned.  Like I need someone to tell me how much I don't know about sports.  My glaring gaps in all things sports cuts me out of much guy conversation.

My son had a good season this spring.  It was his first time on an organized baseball team.  He had a good season because he had good coaches and a good team.  He worked hard at practice and learned good skills.  I'm glad he likes playing sports.  I'm really glad he's pretty good at them.  But it isn't because of me.

There was a time when I liked baseball.  My second grade little league team was my first (and almost only) experience in team sports.  I really did like it for a while.  Until I realized how bad I was at it.

When I was a kid, nobody wanted me on their team- the classic last pick.  And, rightfully so.  I stank something fierce.  I was an uncoordinated goof.  There was a good reason they stuck me way out in left field on that second grade team.  Baseball, basketball, football.  You name it and I've botched it.

Later, my friends coaxed me onto the 8th grade softball team at my small Catholic school.  It wasn't any better.  Strikeouts, missed throws, dropped catches.  It's painful to know that you are the worst person on the team.  It's even more painful to not know what to do about it.  I was bad.  My friends knew it and I knew it.  I figured out my suckage pretty early on, but honestly, it would have been nice if my dad would have helped me out.

This is my fear now that I'm a dad.  I fear not being able to show my kids.  I fear not being able to teach my kids.  I fear not being able to help them out.

*     *     *

I remember the playground pissing contests between the boys about their dads:
"My dad drives a monster truck that goes a hundred miles an hour!"
"My dad is over eight feet tall!"
"My dad makes a million dollars a year!"
"My dad shot three deer in one day!"
"My dad can throw a ball across two fields!"
"My dad can whip your dad!"
I wonder what my sons will say about me on the playground.
"My dad can wash the dishes better than your dad!"

I'm not a man's man. I can't teach my boys to fish or hunt. I can't teach them to ride a motorcycle.  I can't teach them to change their own oil.  I can't teach them to swing a hammer.  I can't teach them to throw a fastball or punt a football.

About all I can teach them is love and encouragement.  I hope that's enough.  God, I hope that's enough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calm and Endless

I am standing on the bow of a garish tourist boat called the Phi Phi Cruiser III. My mind is flush with memories and anxiety. Kaia stands in front of me, her hair alive with the wind, shines a shade of gold reserved for fairy tales. Below us on a lower deck a gang of young tanned young men bask in the ease of irresponsibility.

The ocean is calm and endless. I see such beauty in its bleak emptiness. Kaia seems a bit bored; she squints her eyes and stares forward searching for the islands I promised her. Last time I was in this spot of the earth, I was leaving Phi Phi a bit shell shocked. I am not sure why I need to go back. Not sure what I hope to see.

I spark up a conversation with a rosy red rotund woman from South Africa. She compliments Kaia on her manners and beautiful eyes. I thank her, as if I have had anything to do with either. The conversation travels to Mozambique, Madagascar and the her trip on a fifty foot catamaran leaving the Seychelles. She seems to have a difficult time deciphering our life. Usually where are you from is so much less eventful- born in Iran, raised in California, wife from Milwaukee, met in Mozambique, one daughter born in Malaysia, the other in Qatar, now living in Jakarta. 

I can't help but tell her about the Tsunami. Not sure why I do it. People seem to weave such drama about that day, and who am I kidding I enjoy it. To see their eyes light up as they place themselves in the halo of what happened to us. I guess I have never really felt as blessed as how others feel when they hear our story for the first time. They concocted tales of faith and destiny. She is silent. The wind blows. I am not sure if Kaia heard the story, if she did she doesn't say anything.

"You are doing good work," she says at the end of her thoughts. "I don't know you, but I can see it in your face and your voice, by your lovely daughter, whatever you are is good and important."

I feel loved. Here is it, on this perfect Tuesday morning, but by this complete stranger I feel loved. It feels nice. "Thank you," I say. "I am doing the best I can."

"You should write a book!"

"I am!" I cannot control the excitement in my voice. We stare at the sea in silence for a few minutes more, before I head back down to the lower deck to get Kaia out of the sun. She said that she would look up my name, so she can look for the book, but I do not see her again.

Phi Phi itself was quiet and drab. The luster and the shine left behind in nostalgia and broken memories. We ate a mediocre lunch. I walked Kaia out into the lagoon, looking at where the wave came in and thought about luck. It all sounds too dramatic even for me. I was here years ago and I am here again now with this beautiful young child, what else does this story need?

Coda: The back of the boat is crazy as Arabs and Indians who have never swam, scream jumping onto the dead reef. They are covered in clothing and head scarves. Kept a float not by any sense of buoyancy, but by artificial orange devices none of them seem to trust.

Kaia and I quietly put on our masks and fins in a corner. I jump in and ask her if she is ready. She places her mask on her tiny face and deftly makes sure there is no hair at the edges,  just like I have taught her in the pool.  She nods her head. I can tell she is scared, but before I can double check, she is in the water and swimming away from the crowd. I can see her little finger pointing at the school of fish who flock to us and our soggy pieces of bread.

We swim away from the crowd and I have never been so proud. Here is my beautiful little mermaid swimming all on her own, without a life jacket because she said it made it hard for her to swim, in the wide open ocean. She takes a few dives and bobs effortlessly at the surface.

"Look dad! There are thousands of them."

We swim a while as I watch her gain confidence. I think about fear and what a wasted emotion it is. I watch the others bob like orange turtles stuck in their shells. I think about the work I do.  I sum it up in one simple line, "Live fearlessly."

Later, some guy jumps off the deck. A little five foot jump, but I can see that Kaia has noticed. "You wanna jump? I'll hold your hand." Hands in her mouth, nervous, smiling devilishly, she nods.

Standing on the edge, holding hands, I say, "You don't have to you know. I know it feels scary. All I have to say is that sometimes, usually actually, when we do something that scares us, it feels really good afterwards. It is your choice. You have been brave enough for one day."

I am holding her hand and we are ten feet underwater. We kick our feet and shoot to the surface and hear a cheer from a young couple who watched us jump. "Atta girl!" The man shouts. Kaia smiles and asks if we can do it again to show mommy.

Who know, maybe the lady was right. Maybe I am doing something right.

Cross posted at Intrepid Flame

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Universal through Particular

Stephen here...

James Joyce once said "in the particular contains the universal". My daughter had a particular experience recently that has made me think about and ask universal questions.

Last Wednesday, Jocelyn and I were playing in the backyard before Kari came home. Jocelyn was bouncing back and forth between her scooter, swing, drawing easel, and her empty plastic pool.

I do not remember how it happened, but next thing I knew, we are by the hose and she turns it on.

Jocelyn loved it. She was not jumping up and down, giggling and all that. But she was completely captivated with the hose and water. This is not the first time she has played with the hose and water. She does that just about every weekend.

What was different this day was her exploration and imagination appeared elevated. In the past, she would be content playing with the water coming out of the hose. On this day, however, she wanted to direct and purposefully use the water.

My heart about melted when she began watering her pacifier.

It was as if she thought that by "watering" it, more pacifiers would be produced. I'm not going to get into all the learning theory she is actively engaged in and all that. I know she was learning.

I could have sat there all day and watched her play with the water. I certainly spent hours playing in the front yard of my parents house, making dirt race tracks and using the hose to race leaves down the angle of the driveway. (I never had hot wheels tracks...was never really interested in them!)

This experience of Jocelyn playing with water for at least fifteen minutes has caused me to think...

How do I teach my 21-month old to be responsible with water and all of earth's resources?

My parents never talked to my sister and I about these topics.

I am certainly not a fan of the marketing campaign to "Go Green." In addition, I must admit that I have not treated the earth's resources in a responsible manner over the years.

I know I can just turn off the water and have us walk inside. I also get that she is only 21-months old and I am likely over analyzing things here...

But I do want to have these conversations with my daughter. But how? When? Will she judge me for being a hypocrite? How do I teach something I know NOTHING about and, to be honest, have not bothered to even think about until this week?

This post is cross posted at Rush the Iceberg.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wild Things

The role of the writer, as I see it, is to harness the inexplicable and give shape to the unnameable. The trouble is that the act of creating images from fleeting moments of wonder is an impossible feat. Many have tried, some more successful than others, but reality is simply too grand in scope to be portrayed using petty tools such as words.

How can language ever be enough to share the feeling of riding a motorbike through the jungled roads of Phuket with your five year old daughter gripping your hands, as the tender golden soft light of the sun falls from the leaves like drops from a balmy rainstorm? Robust clouds of white and grey give chase, the wind on your faces as you whisper, "Are you okay?"  You give the accelerator a gentle pull. Coming down the hill the vast ocean sparkles and waves caress the patient earth. She takes her helmet off as you stop to admire the sea. How can these words possibly explain the confidence with which she swings her hair and carries the helmet on her wrist?

Back on the bike, you smell burning garbage and coconut rusks, the grilled shellfish and roasting chili peppers. You are aware that this very moment is being engraved onto her consciousness and shaping her dreams. The notion of risk taking has been forever altered as you check and re-check the mirrors, make sure to slow down around each turn, but you cannot ever be too careful. After all it is adventure that gives these moments their brightness, you know this, but her safety comes first. Never again will you throw caution to the wind and do things just to see if they can be done.

You think back to the freedom of youth, amazed you were able to navigate the vast loneliness of all that space. You are coming down the hill, "You know I love you right?" The wind is howling, so you whisper again into her ear. The giant red helmet nods affirmative. Men often gripe about domestication and the staleness of family, but you know that these are the moments of rebirth and second shots at childhood. You will show her the world, every inch of it, in all it's wonder. She will be there to grip you tight and nod her head in affirmation every step of the way. Not only a receptacle of your devotion, but also an active agent of love. She is your anchor, your friend, your partner in this reincarnated freedom.

You pull the accelerator once again and howl as tears pool up in your eyes. Beyond the sound of the engine and the wind you here her voice echo what you already know- the things you can never explain. 

Cross posted at Intrepid Flame

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day Flipped

On this Father's Day I am certainly thinking about my dad and two grandfathers and all the ways in which they have influenced my life.

However, I am realizing more and more that I am thinking about my daughter this Father's Day. I am thinking more about what it means for me to be a dad.

Earlier tonight I received the single best Father's Day gift I could ask for: an unsolicited hug.

Some background.

My daughter is 20 months old and is in a phase right now where she likes to say "No, Daddy, No!" with chin up, pointing her index finger at me. When mom is around, she does not let me hold her. I get sad; but, it is so cute and I know it is temporary.

I know she loves me and wants me to be around her all the time.

If I leave the backyard and go to the garage, I can here her yelling "Daddy?! Daddy?!" and am greeted with smiles and laughter when I return to the back yard. I am awakened each morning with this, too!

When Jocelyn was three months old, she had RSV and was in the hospital for seven nights. Very scary and not fun. Part of the treatment was to give her nightly breathing treatments. This went on until a few months ago.

Every night Kari holds Jocelyn while sitting in the rocking chair as I sit on the foot stool in front of them holding the respirator so Jocelyn could breathe in the medicine.

Well, we know longer do the breathing treatments, but we still have the same seating arrangements.

During this time, we talk reflect about the day, say our prayers, and generally have a good time with much laughter.

Lately, Jocelyn has been pointing to the door, saying "NightNight": instructing me to go to bed so mom can begin humming "Silent Night" (yes, even in June! It is the ONLY song she will fall asleep to...)

Tonight, after we reflected and prayed, Jocelyn grabbed my face and started to name my nose, eyes, ears, and all that. She then pulled me down and placed our chins, yes our chins, together and began humming. It was so neat, and silly! I completely forgot about her telling me "no!".

Smiles were abundant.

Jocelyn looked at me, smiled, said, "Daddy..."

"Yes, Jocelyn?"

Smile creeps though a pacifier...

Arms spread out...

Un-solicited hug; best Father's Day moment.

Cross-Posted at Rush The Iceberg.

Somewhere Between

Note: This was not an easy to post to write. Just couldn't get what I wanted to say quite right. Hoping there is something worthwhile in my textual wrestling match. Perhaps someone can help me in the comments.

A few days ago, I posted a letter I had written to my five year old daughter for her to read when she is older. I was feeling emotional and overcome with pride and needed a space to unload some emotions; they felt warm and soothing; I didn't need to put them down, but still I felt the need to share them publicly. Perhaps I feel that sharing positive emotions like pride and love can help others feel. What you might ask? Perhaps, I think that sharing our lives can help others feel connected, not necessarily to each other, but to our shared emotional pool, or maybe I wanted you to see what a caring father I am, can be, so that your admiration might negate the occasional feeling of guilt I feel for the times I am curt and frustrated and angry with my girls.

I received a few quick tweets about what a great dad I am, and instead of feeling a sense of validation, I felt like I was being dishonest for highlighting only the photoworthy events of our lives. I guess this post is my attempt to balance the notion that fatherhood is all pretty pictures and good times. I hope this post doesn't tarnish the earlier emotions or the perception that people may have of what kind of father I am, but rather I hope this post can be an honest attempt to take a closer look at what it is like to be a dad. To explore the complexity of fatherhood. It is easy to read lists like this and pat ourselves on the back. It doesn't take a father of the year candidate to understand that you should enjoy spending time with your kids. Really, I need to be reminded to tell my kids I love them? Even we can make lists of verbs list like the one below describing what it means to be a great dad:

Listen, understand, hug, ignite, play, inspire, love, guide, comfort, soothe, challenge, entertain. We can add a few inspirational photos and voila! Happy father's day to everyone.

But let's be honest, there are times when we scream and yell and say things that make our kids feel small. It isn't right or good and the  side effects feel terrible. No one likes it when we see the effects of our frustration and anger reflected in our children's faces- mirrors of ourselves when we were kids. Nothing like breaking promises we made to ourselves as children, "I will never do that to my own kids!"we said!

The reality of fatherhood lays somewhere between the Hallmark card and the PSA about emotional abuse. Like most things in life, I am learning that raising children is about vulnerability and honesty. It is about not needing to win all the fights. It is about empowering others before ones self. It is about building up and giving wings. It is about patience, understanding, oh oh here come another list…Fatherhood is about learning how to let go of ego. Isn't everything in life?

It is about letting go of selfishness. For as long as I can remember, my life has been all about me. I think most men can relate to this need to be babied and adored. Who knows, maybe it is beyond gender, but women appear to have an easier time caring for others before themselves, at least the women in my life always have. This male selfishness has been the demise of many relationships. This selfishness has resulted in many lonely nights and hundreds of mediocre poems about being misunderstood.

A few years ago, I made a resolution to once and for all, try to put my selfishness to bed. I vowed to put my daughter in the place that had always been reserved solely for me. No longer would I think of my own needs before hers, but what I am learning is that it takes time and practice to be able to care for others the same way we take care of ourselves. This is what fatherhood is all about- balance. I am learning.

As I get older I am learning how to find a balance between who I am as a man and who I need to be as a father. I think this is where many men struggle. It is for me, the hardest part about being a dad. The realization that my life is no longer just my life alone; that it needs to be shared with my family has not be so easy to get my head around.  I made the vow years ago, but the reality is harder to actualize. There are times when I am doing something, it can be as trivial as uploading a picture or finishing up an email, and my daughter, who may be hungry or tired and whining demands attention. I catch myself saying something like, "Just give me a minute!" I don't take pictures of those moments or write letters about them, but they are also a part of being a dad.

That is all I am trying to say.

cross posted at inrepidflame

Lessons from my father

Cross-posted at "The Wejr Board"

Seeing how Father's Day is tomorrow and I am a new father myself, I felt that I would take this time to reflect on some of the key lessons that I learned from my dad, Glenn Wejr.

My dad has spent his life bouncing from career to career but this was not because he fared poorly in that specific career but because he wanted to try something different; he has worked as a retail clerk, teacher, coach, business owner, school board trustee, realtor, and real estate developer. Through all of these ventures, he learned some key lessons; the following is a list of lessons that he shared with me that have impacted the way I lead my life and what I hope to share with my children:

Father and son and our wives.

  1. Keep your head up when you cross the blue line, head down when you are teeing off; keep your elbow in when making a jump shot and you elbow out when swinging at the pitch. My dad was my coach in almost every sport. He was the official coach for many and the behind-the-scenes-late-at-night coach for others sports. As an athlete he excelled in basketball, baseball, and curling and for sports like hockey, he learned the sport and volunteered his time to coach the teams in which I was involved.

  2. Pick your team based on their personality and character, not based on their present ability. Every year that my dad came home from the meetings where they place players on teams, I would always be upset because I would say, "they have all the best players, why didn't you pick any of them?" Every year he would respond in the same way , "the players on our team are coachable, you wait and see." Every year we would start out losing to the other teams but by the end of the year, because of the focus on effort and attitude, we would end up being victorious and proud as a team.

  3. Praise effort, not ability - don't praise too often, don't be afraid to offer feedback on improvement. As a child I was always frustrated because my dad never told me I was a good athlete or I was smart. He just talked about working hard and spending time practicing. I could go out and score a hat trick and on the ride home he would say, "you played really well, you worked hard, now make sure you don't stop back checking once you get to the neutral zone." Sometimes I just wanted him to tell me I was the best hockey player; now that I know the importance of praising effort (through my experience as well as listening to experts such as Carol Dweck), I am thankful for the way he praised me.

  4. Give back to your community. My dad has been heavily involved in volunteering to coach and organize endless leagues as well as giving his time to things like the volunteer fire department and the International Order of Canadian Foresters. Through his modeling, I became involved in coaching in high school and this carried right through until recently. I still take opportunities to work with kids at lunch and after school and these 'coaching' moments are often the best part of my day.

  5. See people for who they are. As a very young child, I remember being afraid of people who appeared to be different. A man named Alan always used to come into my dad's sporting good store and visit with him. Alan had a mental disability and appeared very different to me. In order to help me understand, my dad often invited me to come along and do things with the two of them; by doing this he showed me that yes, Alan was different - but he was also an amazing person. Another example involves a man named Franco. Franco also had a mental disability and, too, spent many hours just visiting with people in my dad's store. Franco ended up being almost a part of our family; he played ball with us, watched my hockey games, and ended up curling on my dad's curling team. Unfortunately, both Alan and Franco left us far too early but the lessons they taught me will remain with me forever. To see the tears from my dad as he gave the eulogy at Franco's memorial service made me not only proud to call him my dad but so thankful that he introduced me to Franco.

  6. Tell people you love... that you love them. My grandfather never told my dad he loved them until he was 75 years old and in his final years. My dad has never been afraid to let us (my sister, Lindsay, and I) know how important we are to him and although we probably already knew it, it sure is nice to hear it.

  7. Some lighter lessons: Snakes are the scariest things on earth and it is ok for kids to see you protecting yourself with a lawnmower, Canucks will win the cup... eventually (so close this year!), you will learn not to stick a key in an electrical outlet after only one attempt, eat your vegetables (except onions), consumer debt is bad, have your money work for you, and a sense of humour can get you through a lot of challenging times.

By no means is my dad perfect. He has made many mistakes just like everyone else; what he has taught me through this is that it is ok to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them and use these to become a better person. My dad and I are now closer than we have ever been and it is because of all these experiences and lessons that our relationship has become so strong. As I reflect upon myself as a father, I truly hope that my kids have a father like I had.

This may be the first and last blog my dad ever reads (he still does not believe in using bank cards) but I just wanted to let him know how much I appreciate all that he has taught me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friending My Father

A cross-post from the Living Facebook Experiment:

A few weeks into this project, Javi the Hippie and I run into my parents on the way to a pint-sized collaboration session.  I'm not sure how to navigate the two worlds colliding - both of them having a view of one another based entirely upon my own interpretation.

"They seem really nice," he tells me, "but it seems as if you're on slightly different frequencies."

"What do you mean?"

"Like a similar station, but they're AM and you're FM.  Just different waves, that's all.  Similar message, but a very different delivery."

It's a rare moment when real-life matches Facebook (I keep using the term "real-life" as if Facebook is a realm inhabited by unicorns, gnomes and other fantasy creatures).  On Facebook, my mom is my friend.  So are my old college classmates, childhood friends, former students and distant relatives.  I approach conversations unsure of which world will enter this vaguely undefined space.

It was strange for me the first time that my mom appeared as a friend.  Not that she's unfriendly.  It's just that I hadn't seen her as anything other than my mom.  I had to rethink this concept of friendship for a moment and reconsider how our relationship had changed.  The conversations had become deeper.  I was hiding less.  And somehow, when she would stop by and we'd talk, I knew that she saw me as a grown-up and we shifted toward being equals.

So I call my dad up and ask for help with the sprinklers.  Within minutes, I admit that I don't know what I'm doing.  Instead of shame, I experience a vague sense of relief. Instead of talking down to me, he talks as if we're equals.  We're working on a complicated project and I haven't reverted back to an insecure twelve year old trying to prove something to someone who never once asked me to prove anything to him.

I think I sometimes missed that when I was younger.  I saw my dad as respected and competent and yet somehow rugged.  I didn't see how someone who was so externally rough could be so internally gentle.  But he is.  In a very masculine way, he's one of the most tender-hearted guys I know.

We share collective disappointment in leaky valves and collective joy when the sprinklers finally work.  We're both impatient at moments, but we give one another the permission to be impatient.  I ask too many questions.  He gives directions with too many steps.  We're imperfect together and for the first time I see that this is as good as it gets with my father - to be together, truly present, working toward a goal together.

I'm never truly comfortable with the work.  I never feel entirely at ease with dirt under my fingernails or long periods of conversational silence or the recognition that I am a bad student and a slow learner in something so vital to my family.

My hands still feel clumsy, but the relationship isn't.   It doesn't have that ethos of an awkward man hug.

As we drive toward Home Depot, he shares a part of him that I've never seen before.  No tears or anything.  Just a few honest thoughts about life.  He talks about aging and health and his future.  For a moment, I forget that he's my dad.

On the drive home, we venture into politics.  It's a verbal spar that got me into trouble at a younger age.  However, this time it's different.  It's humble.  The give and take is intense, but it includes common ground and nuance and paradox.  We both ask more questions this time.  More importantly, we give one another the permission to disagree.

As we enter my home, I'm struck by the fact that I like my dad.  I've always loved him, but I've wondered if we'd be friends if we met as strangers in a workplace.  Right now, though, I'm thinking we'd become friends.  Maybe he'd even become my mentor.  I'd come home and tell Christy, "I met this cool old guy at work.  He's smart, but he's practical and even though we see the world differently, there's this strange sense in which we are so much alike."

Quinn the Business Bohemian once defined a friend as someone who looks out for your best interest whether it feels good or not.  At the time, I blocked parents from the definition, but now I'm realizing that they fit this as well as anyone else.  So without an automated message, I managed to friend my father.

That evening when my kids are asleep, I flip on my Pandora station.  I listen to The Format's "On Your Porch" and then I shut off the station, find the song on my iTunes and play it on repeat.  Tears stream down as I recall the memories of my childhood: playing on the boulders at Shaver Lake, late evening games of catch when he was wiped out from work, playing the "Snafu" on the Intellevision, funny stories and footsie pajamas, icy cold games at Candlestick Park and the sense that my dad was so clearly present and loving and strong.

And he still is.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Baseball and Blasphemy

At best, I'm a casual baseball fan though that may be giving myself too much credit. I root for the St. Louis Cardinals but mostly because it's my civic duty. Our local baseball team, the Memphis Redbirds, is a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate. If I were really going to pick a favorite baseball team, I'd select the Boston Red Sox. Boston has a rich baseball tradition, and Fenway Park is the perfect place to watch a game. However, Eric, our oldest son, loves the Cardinals, and I want to be a supportive parent so "Go Cardinals!"

Every year since Debbie and I married, Eric has asked to go to St. Louis for a Cardinals' game. So a few years ago when they opened the newly-renovated Busch stadium, I made plans for Debbie's dad and I to take the Eric and Sam to St. Louis to take in a game. At the time, Eric was 7; Sam was 4. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling the boys about the trip before I secured tickets and that year ever Cardinal fan within a 500-mile radius of the city made plans to attend a game. Apparently, I was a little late making plans, and I feared Eric's disappointment if I couldn't get tickets. After hours of online frustration, I decided my best hope was to purchase tickets on eBay. I began my bidding on Good Friday for an auction scheduled to end late Easter Sunday. Eric discerned that I was struggling to make the trip materialize and watched as I stewed for the next forty-eight hours. He hung over my shoulder every time I checked the status of my bid. I had to get that boy to a Cardinals game.

Easter Sunday was a busy day. After worship services and Easter lunch, we searched for eggs and played at our house. The younger boys and I had our mandatory Sunday naps. Then, we traveled across town to my parents' for Easter dinner and another big egg hunt. We had a fantastic time, but Eric and I were slightly distracted wondering how the auction was progressing.

We returned home pretty late for a school night, about 8:45. The auction closed at 9:00. Eric raced upstairs to dress for bed while I sat down to view our bidding status. He returned a few minutes later just as I realized I'd been outbid; only a few minutes remained to proffer a higher sum.

Eric dragged up a stool and deposited himself be hind me asking, "Did we get the Cardinals tickets, Dad?"

"No, Eric. I'm sorry. We got outbid. It looks like someone else is going to get the tickets."

"Damn," he declared, a my 7-year old shook his head and slapped his knee in disgust.

I almost burst. If I'd been swallowing, water would have shot our my nose. Tears starting surfacing as I restrained my cachinnation. After a brief moment I gathered my poise and posed, "Excuse me? What did you say?" as if I hadn't clearly heard him.

"Damn." He answered expressing no fear or shame whatsoever.

Again, I had to suppress my amusement. He said it with such poise and resolution. "Eric, do you know what that word means?" I was still a little shocked at his boldness.

"It's what you say when your disappointed," he explained slowly catching on to my look of concern. I had sufficiently suppressed my crow.

"Well, it's not what we say," I explained. "Eric, that word isn't very nice. In fact, it's kind of an ugly thing to say, and it sounds really bad coming from a first grader. It doesn't make you sound like the sweet kid that I know you are."

"Okay." I could see the contrition rising in his eyes. He's a tenderhearted kid; he hates disappointing anyone. I can relate.

"It's okay, Eric. You didn't know. Just don't say it again, all right? Hey, where did you hear that word anyway?" He was obviously relieved.

It turned out he learned it from his first grade peers at school. Secretly, I was hoping he would tell me he'd heard my mother-in-law say it. Oh, the mileage I could have gained from that!

After our discussion and Eric was off to bed, I went back t0 the computer and raised my bid until I was certain the tickets were his. That boy needed to see the Cardinals play. So that's what we did.

(The Cardinals just happened to win the World Series that year, too.)

Kid's Say The Darndest Things!

This is not going to be the most enlightening post I have ever written so feel free to stop reading now if you are looking for an educational epiphany. I am going to play the role of Bill Cosby on my own version of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and try to make a pathetically loose connection to Education.

Over the past few months my sons have had some great one-liners that from a parental standpoint I don’t want to forget. So, yes, part of the intent behind this post is so I have a record of such statements. The first such “line” is more of a detailed anatomical explanation of a stomach. While eating dinner the other night, my 5 year old son told me he was full. If you looked at his plate, he barely touched his food. After the meal my 2 year old son was given a cookie as his dessert because he had eaten his dinner. My 5 year old son asked if he could have a cookie as well. I told him he could not because he did not eat his dinner because he said he was full. He took this opportunity to explain the inner workings of his young stomach:

“Daddy, it’s ok. I have two tubes in my stomach. The dinner tube is all full but the dessert tube is empty. So, I can have dessert.”

That seemed very logical to me.

Another such occasion was when my oldest woke up very early one morning…which happens often. I asked him why he was up so early. His response:

“Well, the little men in my eyeballs started banging on the back of my eyelids because it was time to get up.” He also explained that, “the movies were playing in my eyeballs all night.” This was what I gather to be his explanation of his dreaming.

Again, this seemed like a very logical answer to me.

The final example comes from my soon to be 3 year old son. One morning as I am cooking up some breakfast he tells me, “hurry up, my tummy is crying!” This was his way of telling me he was hungry and his stomach was growling.

If you are still reading at this point you either have children and like these types of stories or you are hoping I am going to make some grand connection to education. I am more than likely not even going to attend to make a connection for the sake of making one.

However, in some cases, it is nice to write what is on your mind and have fun. So, there is your connection, let your students write for fun.

My Toddler Is Failing Driver's Ed

Yes, this is over-the-top satire:

Armed with the DVD's, flash cards and workbooks from Your Baby Can Drive, I begin the daily lessons.  Brenna fails at first, placing the laminated cards in her mouth and saying "vroom, vroom" with the model cars.  I scold her for not listening and tell her that her next "step" will be an hour of detention.

Christy thinks this is a bad idea.  She says that Brenna isn't developmentally ready to learn how to drive. I think she's making excuses.  Low standards.  Do tiger moms allow excuses?  Does Harvard take notes about being developmentally appropriate?  Not so much.  I want a child who will be competitive in a global economy.  I read recently that in parts of southeast Asia, children not only drive cars, but work in the industrial sector. Some of them are even getting married in their early teens.  How can we possibly win a race to the top when their children have such a head start?

I'm concerned about Brenna.  According to the curriculum map, she should have a firm grasp of red, yellow and green.  However, when we gave her the keys to the car, she ran through three red lights, stopped on a green and played with the turn signal stick.  How will she ever learn if she spends her time laughing and playing with the dashboard gadgets?

Maybe she needs Ritalin.

Feeling a little dejected, I park the dented up Scion and sit down with the flashcards.  Apparently she still thinks they're edible.  So, I move back to direct instruction.  Halfway through the lecture on limited liability insurance, she interrupts me with, "I poop."  I tell her, kindly, that bowel movements are no excuse for abandoning her education.  She then says, "Daddy love you," and I remind her that no amount of flattery will change my mind.

Maybe she needs more accountability.

Christy tells me again that I need to let Brenna mature.  She says that the point of education isn't simply preparing children for the future, but also meeting them in the now.  My wife is clueless.  She doesn't even have a degree in education.  So, I bust out the projector and share the PowerPoint slides with the graphs comparing Brenna's driver's ed progress to the national norm.  I remind Christy that we will do "whatever it takes" (including, perhaps, mild shock therapy) and that we will not allow our child to be left behind (I place heavy emphasis on this Apocalyptic language).

But, alas, my wife takes our daughter to the living room and lets her play with blocks.  I try to rationalize this by thinking that perhaps it's some sort of experimental STEM program, but Christy refuses to let me create a rubric for her design projects.

Bottom line: Don't blame me if my daughter grows up to be a failure.