Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Feel Pooped!

Tired isn't the word. A lousy night's sleep and a busy schedule made this morning tougher than usual. I guess you could say, "I feel pooped." But wait, there's more. Guess what I woke up to today? I wake up and my wife comes into the bathroom with our 4 year old whose hands and bottom are plastered in poop. My son walks in and looks up at me with the "What's up, Dad?" look. We immediately put him in the shower. All I can say is that shower will never be the same. And neither will I. I cleaned up that boy with only my hands, a bar of soap and the handheld shower head. These three were my cleaning tools.

I wish I could describe my anger while I was cleaning him off. This was not what I expected to wake up to. Not at all. And so I am left with a choice. Let this incident negatively affect my whole day or choose to view it in the light of humor and optimism. Being flexible is one of those rare qualities that fathers need.

Guys, would you have characterized your own father as flexible? Was he flexible with you? Or was he firm, rigid, perhaps the quintessential disciplinarian? Flexible is a good word. "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape" is my motto for today.

Yes, I'm pooped, in more ways than one! But I'm pretty sure I'll look back on this morning and laugh when I tell this story. It is kind of funny when I look back. I think I'll leave this poop in the past.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chick-fil-A Brownies

Few moments compare to those occasions when your own children begin to show love back to you as a parent. Tonight, as Nicole and I were putting our two boys to bed, Ethan my five-year-old said, "I'm glad to have you as my daddy."

Those moments make the challenge and difficulty of parenting worthwhile. To know that he is recognizing how much I love him and responding to the love he is being given by returning that same love is gratifying.

It reminds of me of a time this year when Ethan came home from school, walked up to me and said, "Oh, dad, I brought you something. I had Chick-fil-A today at school and I don't like the brownies and I knew you like them so I brought you mine." I thought that was so cool because he had thought about me. It showed consideration on his part. His ability to think of someone else and do something nice for them was very encouraging.

Encouraging because for the first few years of their lives kids seem like vacuums. If you have love, they need it; they'll suck it up. If you have time, they need it; they'll soak it in. If you have energy, they need it; they'll suck it out of you. But when they hit the point where they begin to give back you finally begin to feel that they are learning to be unselfish.

Every once in a while I need some small incident like this to spur me on, to motivate me to continue my focus on fatherhood. Life is draining, especially parenting. But thank God He gives us these little moments that breathe life back into our weary lungs, giving us the strength to give all we can to the precious children He's put under our care.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

IRRITABLE DAD SYNDROME...How to lengthen your short fuse

Picture this. Dad comes home tired and stressed from a long day of work. He snaps at his wife who then yells at the kids. The kids are so low on the food chain that they have no one else to push around, so they kick the dog. The dog bites the cat and the cat scratches dad. Sound familiar?

It's a condition known as Irritable Dad Syndrome. How many dads will agree with me that sometimes we come home and we are just exhausted from the day? Mustering enough energy to be cheerful with our spouse and playful with our kids feels like pushing a boulder up a hill.

This is a pattern I hear from a lot of dads and experience myself on many days. How can we as dads lengthen our short fuses and keep from taking out our work frustrations on the ones we love the most?

Here are a few things I've personally found helpful in maintaining a calm, patient and loving response to my wife and children.

1. Realize that a dad's greatest victory is over himself.

It was Plato who said "The first and best victory is to conquer self." As a father one of the truths I'm learning is that the only person I really have control over is me. Ever tried controlling your kids? It may work up to a point, perhaps while they're little and pulling on your pants leg, but inevitably it breaks down as young ones get distracted or older ones become defiant.

Controlling others is a lost cause. Controlling self is the main issue. As a father I can't blame others around me for the way I feel or the attitudes I adopt. I must assume full responsibility for my actions and responses to the people and events in my environment. If I focus on staying in control emotionally, then when I come home and the house is still messy, the kids are drawing on the walls and my spouse is worrying about our low bank account, I can summon the control I need to filter what I say to them and how I act toward them.

2. Recognize that a father's greatest decision is to be a dad to his kids.

I have a ritual I go through when I arrive home and step up to my front door. Many times just before I turn the key to walk into the house, I pause, whisper a prayer to God and make a decision of my will right then and there to be a dad to my kids. In a split second I "renew my vows" to my children to protect, provide and love them no matter what. Being a father is a choice we make. We may or may not have planned our children, but God did. Being a dad requires that we re-decide every day that we will put effort into "being there" with and for our kids in all the situations life presents. I've found that renewing my decision refocuses me on the important job of raising my three kids to be healthy responsible adults, a task I can't delegate no matter how tired I am.

3. Remember that a dad's greatest resource is his own father in heaven.

Sorry If I offend some here but I am a man of faith. That's just who I am. I'm not trying to convert anybody, so just relax, take a pill and hear me out. I've found in my life that just because I am a dad now, and find myself in a responsible role where I serve as a source of attention, affection and acceptance for others, doesn't mean that I don't also yearn for someone to do the same for me. I long to be able to have someone stronger and wiser reassure me that things are going to turn out okay, that I'm doing a good job or that that they're here if I need someone to talk to. Who doesn't need that? Okay, maybe robots don't, but I'm human. And I do. I suspect other dads do too whether they admit it or not.

I've found that relating to God, who has revealed himself as our heavenly father, strengthens and stabilizes me for the long journey of fatherhood. Jesus once said, "I will not leave you as orphans. I am coming to you." I like that. Jesus said he wouldn't leave me alone in this world, that he wouldn't leave me fatherless. Just like I can't bear to imagine my children being fatherless, God can't imagine me, or you for that matter, having to do life without Him as our father.

I don't know about you, but I find strength in that. I lean on God, ask him to teach me how to be a dad, and then look to him to provide me with the knowledge and strength to raise my children with intelligence and love. These three helpful hints have helped me hone my skills of controlling negative emotions when they rise up within me at the end of a long busy day. Practice these for awhile and I predict you'll notice your fuse getting longer and your home life a little happier.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


As I talk with fathers one of the things I'm learning is how deeply lost so many of them feel. And we all know how badly men hate feeling lost! Unsure of themselves and wading through unfamiliar territory many men live with the nagging sense that they're fumbling a very important ball.

It's like playing the game hot potato. You pass the potato around in a circle and everyone handles the object as if it were on fire, quickly tossing it to the next person in line. Dad's are handed this new role and often they handle it like it's on fire, quickly trying to get it out of their hands to some other person down the line.

Fatherhood is a huge responsibility. I remember in high school one of my teachers telling us that whenever a person slept with someone else what they were saying is that they are ready to have children with them. Obviously this teacher was using this 'argument from consequences' to calm high school harmones. But the implication bears merit. Many men have sex without the thought of having a child. When they learn they've spawned a human they experience different emotions, some of which border on feeling lost. And men hate to feel lost.

Maybe this is why so many run from fatherhood because when they do put forth effort to be a dad they feel acutely their lack of competence and preparation. As corny as it is, the saying is true, "kids don't come with a manual."

Wanna know what I'm learning? I'm learning that if I can try to see the world through my children's eyes, I may begin to find clues to unlock the secret treasures of parenting. A man was once asked if there was anything he wished he'd done differently in parenting his children. He said, "I wish that I'd tried to see the world through my children's eyes instead of seeing it only through a parent's eyes."

After yesterday, I know what he means. Yesterday Nicole and I took our two youngest children along with us as we ran some errands. We parked outside a store and as I came around to take the hand of my 3 year old son Wesley, he was stomping his foot in a puddle.
He said, "I love puddles."
"You love puddles?" I replied.
"Yeah, dad." he said, "Puddles are for jumping!".

I was immediately struck by my son's worldview (or should I say 'waterview'). In Wesley's mind jumping went with puddles like eating goes with food. Wesley saw in those puddles an opportunity for fun. I saw them as obstacles to be avoided. He saw them as something to be stepped in. I saw them as something to be stepped over. Which one of us is right?

I remember a time when puddles were irresistable to me. Even when I got my license as a 16-year-old one of my favorite things to do was to drive my car through a big puddle. (Still love that!) But somehow as I've grown older I've lost my love for puddle jumping. Why? Because my shoes are leather...because I need to look neat and professional...because I don't like the feeling of wet shoes and pants...because if my feet get wet I'll catch a cold. The reasons in my adult mind are endless. But in that innocent moment with Wesley my reasons seemed like excuses.

Here's the point...Maybe if I can try to see the world through Wesley's eyes I might become a better dad to him. Next time I see a puddle, I think instead of jumping over it I'll jump in it. Then I can let you know if it makes me a better dad!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Letter To My Father: Big Boys Do Cry

Written on March 28, 2008


You just told me last night that your kidneys are working at 50% efficiency, that you’ve been spilling protein and that you have been anemic. That explains why all weekend you seemed to be cold most of the time. I noticed you wearing your coat a lot and folding your arms as if you couldn’t get warmed and wondered why but didn’t think of what you would tell me on Easter Sunday evening March 23, 2008. I didn’t diagnose in my mind what you would shortly share with me as we drove together to pick up dinner from the Applebees on 202 in Wilmington, Delaware.

I lay in bed last night and cried at the thought of losing you, dad. Wesley was still awake and saw the tears running down my face. He asked me, “You have a booboo, daddy?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Why are you crying?”

I said, “My heart is hurting. But you make me feel better.”

He smiled, pleased at the thought that he could heal my “booboo” and agreed, “Yeah, I make you feel better.”

I feel as though I need to write this letter to you so that I can work through how I feel as well as tell you what it has meant to me to have you as my father these 34 years. There’s a certain presence you have, a familiarity I sense whenever you are near. It’s the familiar sights, smells and sounds of someone in whose presence I grew up as a child and into early adulthood, a presence that wanders the hallways of my mind, always there, always close by. Your voice, your walk, your stature, your hair, your deep blue eyes, your physique. It’s all very familiar and reassuring. Like one long memory without any “commercial” interruptions about growing up with you, running behind you and tugging on your pants leg the way Ethan, Wesley and Emma tug on mine.

One of my earliest memories, it’s not vivid but it is there, is of our apartment in High Point when I was only a baby. I can see you in that apartment, young, strong, working and providing for mom and me. I recall that the apartment was small and that you had a good relationship with the landlords. That was my first introduction to the way you related to people outside of our family. You have always had positive relationships with people you knew in life. Knowing you had a good relationship with the landlords made me understand your genuine admiration and love for humble people, a trait you have carried throughout your entire life. Geraldine was a humble person. You liked her and her family. Mike Key, the man you helped me give my championship Carolina Tar Heel license plate to was, I think, one of those humble, simple people that you truly enjoyed helping and being around. Why have you always gravitated toward simple people? Is it because down deep, you see yourself as simple? Has the fact that you were poor growing up contributed to your lifelong liking of humble simple people? I remember reading of one of the presidents of the United States that he had this very same trait. One of the servants that waited on him at the White House wrote about how he would say hello every time he was walking on the White House grounds. Once, he called down to the servant quarters just to let them know that their favorite kind of bird was sitting on the tree outside his office window. This is the kind of greatness and love for humble honest people I associate with you dad. You love people, especially those that are “down to earth”. Me too! I hate pretense and sham, which I know you also despise. You always have. Who doesn’t hate hypocrisy, right?

You’re not even gone yet, but I miss you already. I know you’re not going to die tomorrow, but I just don’t know what this all means as far as time left. How much time do you have left? What kind of quality of life can you expect? I don’t know and so I am afraid, afraid of what I don’t know and indeed can’t know right now.

I love you, Dad.

Your Adoring Son,


Thursday, January 8, 2009


Are my kids getting from me what they need? This is a question I ask myself daily. Sometimes my answer is that they're not. Other times I'm more hopeful that they are. It's important to me that they get what they need from me as their father. The last few years have been a huge learning curve for me in my fathering. I've had to learn what it is that children really need from a dad. Now I know they need the three A's: Attention, Affection, and Acceptance. Every kid longs for these three things from a father.

I've come to believe strongly in what psychologists call Attachment Theory. Attachment theory basically says that the attachments or bonds we formed in the earliest years of our lives impact our present relationships. In other words, the way we relate to people in our life today is largely a result of the bonds we formed or failed to form as babies and toddlers.

If kids were neglected by their parents when they were young, then they grow up feeling unloved as adults. They have diffculty with relationships in their lives. They may not be able to feel close to their spouse or with their own children.

I guess what I'm learning is that so much is riding on my fathering. More than I ever imagined. My children's futures are wrapped up with me and the decisons I make now while they are young and impressionable. Hopefully, I'm going to get it right.

God help me to do this.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Henry David Thoureau observed, "For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root." I was reminded of this when I reflected on the rising recidivism rate Delaware is facing. Approximately two thirds of inmates released from Delaware prisons return to serve second and third terms, which in turn contributes to public safety concerns and overcrowded situations.

Marlene Lichtenstadter, in her article "Returning sentencing to judges would help reduce recidivism", reminded us that in 1982 Delaware's prison population was around 1,800. The current population, according to Lichtenstadter, is over 7,000. Lichtenstadter says, "I am persuaded that this legislation (House Bill 71 which calls for the repeal of mandatory minimum drug laws) will contribute to reducing recidivism, costly prison construction and overcrowding."

While I applaud her optimism and activism there is something deeper going on that is being missed by legislators and representatives alike. While politicians are hacking at the roots of evil, namely mandatory minimum drug laws, there is a root cause of recidivism and even crime itself that is being overlooked to the peril of all Delawareans. It is the root cause of fatherless families.

As legislators seek sentencing reform I believe they are asking the wrong questions. They are asking, "How can we keep criminals from re offending and costing us money?" when they should be asking, "What can we do to keep children from becoming criminals in the first place?" After all, the grown men and women committing these crimes were once little children. Before they were ever spending recreational time in the courtyards of prisons they were playing in the backyards and streets of Delaware communities.

What happened? How did they go from kids to criminals? I believe that in many cases these children lacked proper male role models in their lives who could show them how to be responsible contributing citizens. Many of these criminals were raised in environments without a father to turn to for help. According to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics the number and proportion of households without fathers has increased from 6 million (6.6 of all households) in 1990 to 7.6 million (7.2 of all households) in 2000.

Is there any question that not having a father in the home negatively impacts young men and women? To some there is but not to me. I see a direct correlation between increases in national crime rates and increases in the number of households that do not have a father present. Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute cites William Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute, as observing that most factors normally used to determine the crime rate have not changed since 1960.

Factors such as male unemployment, the poverty rate, and the percentage of church members have remained essentially the same. Niskanen asserts that "the one condition that has changed substantially is the percentage of births to single mothers, increasing 5 percent in 1960 to 28 percent in 1991. Since 1991 the trend of fatherless families has only increased and shows no signs of slowing down.

If we are truly concerned about public safety and the future of Delaware itself, why are we not focusing on the root cause of crime and recidivism found in the epidemic of fatherless families? Unless we begin to ask better questions we should only expect more of the same when it comes to repeat offending and prison overcrowding.

As Pat Moynihan has so aptly remarked "From the wild Irish slums of the nineteenth-century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future - that community asks for and gets chaos...[In such a society] crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure - these are not only to be expected, they are virtually inevitable."