The Fine Line Between Anger And Fear

Bad things can happen quickly.

Three boys were playing in our pool – my son and two of his stepbrothers.  Splashing, laughing, and playing.  My son, not thinking, got out of the pool and dove right back in, headfirst, a few feet on the wrong side of where it drops off to the deep end.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I saw blood on his face when he came out of the pool, but could not see the injury.  He was shaken, but moving.  I quickly analyzed his condition:  made sure he did not have a concussion or a snapped neck.

I quietly thanked God he was alright.

Then my fear turned to anger.

“What where you thinking?  Why did you dive in where you shouldn’t have?  Don’t you know what could have happened to you?”

These were not words of comfort, but were a perfect combination of fear and anger.  Tears rolled down his face – partly from the pain of a one inch gash directly on the top of his head, and partly from the words he heard from me.

He called his mom on the way to getting the staples for his head and the CT scan to make sure the pain in his neck was nothing serious.  More tears flowed down his face as he told her what he had done, in spite of him knowing the rules.

I am grateful the CT scan came back normal and the wound on his head will heal right up.

But I am also glad he will wear a neck brace for 12 days until he is cleared by a neurosurgeon.  That he will have to tell the story of how he got his injury and is thankful he did not cause permanent damage or die.

What did I learn over these past few days?

  • Make every moment count.  You have no idea when life can take an unexpected turn.
  • It is OK (if not necessary) to show anger.  But it is necessary to provide context and explanation with the passage of time.  I have told my son, I will never get mad at him for telling me the truth and being honest even though there may be consequences.  But I have explained to him this was a different circumstance.  He was not telling me he tried smoking a cigarette, he demonstrated poor judgement and put himself into danger.  I do believe there is a difference between the two.
  • Being a dad comes with fear for your kids.  I know my son loves adventure and excitement, and I do not want to crush his spirit.  But I must redouble my efforts to teach him how to use common sense and self-control during fun and exciting activities.

I hope you never experience something like this with your kids.  I could have gone my entire life without the fear my son had been badly hurt or killed.  But, with this experience, I hope to both give him better guidance and make every moment count.

What experience have you had where fear quickly turned into anger?  What lessons did you learn?

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My Son On Instagram – An Update

Before he left for his summer visitation with my ex, he asked to join the world of Instagram.  I addressed it in this post.

Photo Credit: Visual Content via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Visual Content via Compfight cc

Fast forward to the end of summer, he appeared to use the social media app fairly well, but when he returned home, I noticed the frequency with which he checked his account.  And I thought I was bad on Facebook.

We had a discussion about his use of the app, and he could not seem to curtail his use.  So, we stepped in for him.

Enter Disney’s Circle.

Remember, we have four boys between 11-15 in our blended household.  Between those four boys and the two adults, we have way too many iOS devices.  And since my wife and I cannot reasonably monitor all screen time, we enlisted some help from the Circle.

So far, the little device we plugged into our router has been great.  Expect more on this technology and associated issues in future posts.

Suffice to say, my son and I have discussed reasonable use of Instagram and he and I, together, decided to use Circle to limit his daily use to 15 minutes.  After his 15 minutes is up, I get a notification and his app quits working.  Pretty cool.

So, while he used the app appropriately, he also overused it.  And it also opened up a conversation for us to have about social media and how easy it is to lose yourself scrolling through other peoples’ lives.

I want to make sure he remembers to fully live his own.

Have you utilized any technology to help monitor electronics use at your home?  If so, how has it helped?  If not, why not?

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Quotation Mark Parenting

My son and stepsons have heard me talk plenty.  I try to share life lessons and give good, wise instruction.  I even admit areas where I have made mistakes and regrets.

You may do the same thing with your kids.

You may also find your kids have the ability to tune you out at times.  Voices other than yours can become quite loud – friends, celebrities, random people on the Internet.

So, how can we as fathers give solid input to our kids without directly giving it?

All you need is a chalk-board, chalk and Google.

This week (our first week back to school) marks the beginning of the weekly (or semi-weekly, or daily) quote of the day.  Many of you may have already done this, but it is new for us.

lou-holtz-lou-holtz-do-right-do-your-best-treat-others-as-you-want-toLong story short, I picked a Lou Holtz quote for the first week – it has some extra meaning to my stepsons.  Coach Holtz said something i would like to tell all four boys, but coming from him it may have some additional impact.

If you were to look at the actual board in our home, it would have my crappy handwriting and no frills.  Just a simple message and a potential conversation starter.

I found this by picking a public figure, typing his name and the word “quotes” into Google, and letting it rip.  For the graphic in today’s post, I did the same search in Google Images.

You could simplify and write out or print out a quote and tape it to a bedroom door or mirror.

You could put it on a Post-It note in a lunchbox.

You could save it as the background image on their phone or tablet.

Just mix it up,

My hope is my son and stepsons will respect me and listen to my counsel.  But I also know they need a variety of messengers, and we can pick who some of those people speaking into their lives are and what they have to say.

Have you ever had a quote board in your home?  If so, which quote has elicited the greatest reaction from your kids?

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Re-Entry Strategies After An Extended Visitation

My son returned after his annual 8-week visit with my ex this past week.  Watching him walk down the jet bridge, I could already tell he was taller and had gotten a healthy dose of sunshine.

I never quite know what to expect after such a long visit, but he greeted me with the usual smile and bear hug.

My boy was home.

After signing some papers for the airline, we were on our way.  He had his carryon suitcase and began telling stories of fishing and fun.


Over the years, we have had variations on the “re-entry” after a stay with his mom.  I suspect the same holds true for you.

NASA - NASA http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/entry_br.html http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/hires/entry.jpg atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

NASA – NASA http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/entry_br.html http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/hires/entry.jpg
atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

This time, my son declared he does not get to see his mom enough.  I told him I understood how he felt and reminded him he would be going back two more times this year…for fall break and for Christmas.

He thought a moment and smiled and said he was glad he would get to see her.  And as quickly as he raised the subject, he was on to the next.

Like years past, we have been able to take a short trip immediately upon his return.  Before I got remarried, we would typically go visit my family (including his two cousins – both boys one of whom is a year older and one a year younger).  This year, we went with the blended family to Disneyland and Universal Studios for my son’s first visit ever to either.

So far, the transition has gone smoothly and he has adapted well to the old surroundings, stepbrothers, puppies, and rules.  Here are some best guesses as to why it has gone relatively smoothly:

  • I have consistently reminded him to contact his mom.  While he needs to be reminded to call every once in a while, he also needs to know I believe it is important for him to maintain contact with her.  This helps him understand the importance of regular contact…not just visitations.
  • I do not ask 20 questions about his trip.  As much as i would like to know every detail of his summer and how things are going with his mom, I give him the freedom to share what he wants to share and only ask general questions.  When he wants to talk, I listen and ask normal follow up questions.  I have found letting him share his summer stories at his pace works much better than quizzing.
  • I try to keep everything normal.  Consistency and familiarity seem to work best for my son.  I suspect your kids would also respond well to coming home to normalcy.  A few years ago, my son came home to a new rental home when we were subject to a burglary/arson.  Trying to maintain normalcy when most of his toys, clothes and furniture were destroyed was a challenge and taught me the importance of routine and comfort in situations where things change.

What traditions or routines do you use when your kids return from an extended visitation with your ex?

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FLASHBACK – “Ts” of Single Fatherhood – Thanks

Yesterday, my son returned from his summer visitation with my ex.  The plan is to resume with new content next week!

In the meantime, please do me two favors: 1) please forward a link to ftdad.org to any of your friends who you think would benefit, and 2) please send an email to contact@ftdad.org if you have any topic suggestions – I’m always anxious to hear from readers and get input.

I stood there in the climbing harness, unable to get comfortable despite the constant adjusting. The crisp mountain air felt great and almost made me forget the discomfort.

I looked up at the obstacle course at Flagstaff Extreme and honestly thought the wire lines did not look very high, at least compared to what I anticipated.

I dominated the instruction/demo course which sat a full four feet above the ground. Bring on the real deal.

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Lesson learned. Looking up at a wire or obstacle 25 feet from the ground could not compare with looking down at the ground from 25 feet. I had some serious puckering going on up there.

We all know the power of perspective. A slightly different angle. A differing opinion. The wisdom of an elder. A pair of glasses. Each can completely change what we see.

Take a moment to forget the cooking, the laundry, the bills, the toys on the ground, the crying, the dirty shoes, the glitter, the homework, the little league team, the Wiggles, and the Lego you just stepped on.

Take a moment to adjust your perspective and express thanks you can call yourself “dad”.

Tell your kids “thanks” for something they did no matter how small.

Incorporate “thanks” (or gratitude or gratefulness…whichever resonates with you) for fatherhood and your kids into your prayers, your conversations, and your thoughts – especially when chaos reigns.

When you have those “pucker” moments with your kids, just remember to be thankful you have the privilege of being a dad. It may help you be a better one. And I, for one, could use the help sometimes.

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FLASHBACK – Sex, Drugs, Violence and Dirty Words

In one week, my son will return from his summer visitation with my ex.  For the next couple weeks, I will post some of my favorite posts and then resume with new content.

In the meantime, please do me two favors: 1) please forward a link to ftdad.org to any of your friends who you think would benefit, and 2) please send an email to contact@ftdad.org if you have any topic suggestions – I’m always anxious to hear from readers and get input.

Enjoy the end of summer…

My son and I sat down to watch a classic movie with a PG rating – Beetlejuice.  

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

I had fond memories of the 1988 movie – the Tim Burtonesque feel, the comic genius of Michael Keaton, and the Banana Boat Song.  And it was not even a PG-13 film like Iron Man or The Avengers – both of which he saw and I had no problem with.

I had forgotten a few critical scenes, words, and concepts my son might not have been ready to take in.  I had forgotten a PG rating in the 1980s could be just this side of an R rating.  Watching it again, I wonder if Beetlejuice should have been rated PG-13.

I began talking with other dads about this.  There was the one who showed his son The Bad News Bears having forgotten about the amount of language and drinking in that PG film.

We have also talked about our tendency, especially with our boys, to afford more leniency with violence than we do sex and nudity.  How can we show them Braveheart and The Patriot because of the overarching story and message and turn our heads at the brutality, violence and blood?

I have another friend who will allow for a moderate level of violence in the media his son consumes, but draws the line when the story involves the mistreatment and disrespect of women.  But even those story lines can provide great opportunity for conversation about the consequences of being a jerk toward women.

So, what is the right answer?  Do we let the Motion Picture Association of America decide what our kids can watch based on their age and MPAA guidelines?  Do we say “no” to everything with adult content?  Do we shelter our kids as long as we can?

I do not have all the answers and, frankly, have quite a few questions.

Even if I censor the content at home, my son still goes to school, still visits friends (with older siblings), still rides in the car and sees billboards for local adult boutiques and Captain Morgan Rum.

I want to hear what you think, but here is my attempt to develop some boundaries:

  • Stay engaged in your kids’ lives and know what media they consume.  This seems like the first, logical step.  Ignorance is not bliss.
  • Educate yourself on the content they want to consume.  I routinely use sites like IMDBKids-In-Mind, and Common Sense Media to get reviews and recommendations about the content my son consumes.  He usually knows which films I will say “no” to, but often I need more information – especially if I have not seen it before and want a sense about what he will see.  Some of the sites even give you topics to discuss following the movie.
  • They probably know what you watch, so do not be surprised if they think the same content is OK for them.  In the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category, our kids take cues from us, so if you do not want them watching horror movies, you may want to reconsider your Friday the 13th movie marathon.  They can see the “recently watched” shows on Netflix just like you can.
  • Engage in the discussion with your kids.   I remember watching a movie called Phantasm at a friend’s house when I was in late elementary or early junior high.  For whatever reason, I could barely go get the mail in broad daylight for several days after seeing it.  I was just waiting for the Tall Man to jump out from behind a tree or show up behind me when I looked in a mirror.  I have told my son about that experience, and it may have tempered his desire to watch a horror movie…for the time being.  Be honest about why you set boundaries on the movies they watch and let it be a conversation, not just a lecture.

What limits have you set on movie/TV content for your kids?  How do you approach the subject with them?

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From Interest To Understanding

Nothing grates on a dad’s ears like the words “I’m bored.”  My parents are quick to remind me I said those same words to them when I was a kid, but something tells me I did not use them as frequently as kids today.  Accurate or not, I choose to believe it.

So, when my son proactively told me he wanted to take up Jiu-Jitsu when he returns from visitation with his mom this summer, I could not have been happier.  Now, if he ever says, “I’m bored,” I can encourage him to practice for an activity he chose to do rather than just tell him to “read a book” or that “only boring people are bored” (which was quite an unhelpful thing to have been told when I was a child).

For years, I have encouraged him to pursue one of the martial arts, but he never showed interest. I always believed he would benefit from the discipline and methodical process associated with any of them.  Patience has never been one of his strong suits, and perfecting the basics of a art form before moving on to more advanced maneuvers seems like a valuable lesson as he hits his pre-teen years.  Further, those lessons coming from someone other than dad might be helpful at this stage.

Photo Credit: Christian Kaden via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Christian Kaden via Compfight cc

Even better, we have a Jiu-Jitsu dojo within biking distance from our house, so he can begin to spread his wings and learn responsibility along with his new activity.

Now comes the point in the story where I have not successfully gotten my son to dig deeper before beginning.

My son expressed a desire to someday be an MMA fighter as his rationale for studying Jiu-Jitsu.  He’s 11, so I get it.  And, if by chance he wants to be a competitive martial artist and has the aptitude, something like MMA could become a reality.

So, instead of lecturing him on the dangers of The Octagon, I decided to have him dig deeper into the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu.  Where did it originate?  Are there different styles and how are they different?  Who practices Jiu-Jitsu best in the world?  What is the underlying philosophy of this martial art?

I had a few other questions in my text message to him explaining what I wanted him to do…how to move from interest to gaining some basic understanding before starting something new.

So far, I have received a short text in response to this line of questioning:  “A guy named Henry Okasaki”.  Presumably, he’s the greatest of all time.

I will encourage him to continue his research and tell me about it, but in the meantime, I need to do my own research so I can better guide him in this new interest.

What activities have your kids engaged in where you did not know much about it?  Have you found learning background before starting a new activity makes the experience better?

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Father’s Day Without Kids

I read an interesting post on Facebook yesterday.  A friend of mine posted how, despite loving his kids deeply, he really wanted to be left alone for Father’s Day.  You could feel the guilt he felt bleeding through the monitor.  But he still posted it for all to see.

I get it.

As dads, we relish in those moments of peace and quiet where we can get outdoors, watch the game, read a book, work on a project, or do absolutely nothing without interruption.

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JasonTuno via Compfight cc

For those of us who are or have been the primary caregivers, moments of peace and quiet are few and far between.  Just when you get the kids down for a nap, you remember laundry must be done.

Based on our custody arrangement, my son is always with me on Mother’s Day and always with his mom on Father’s Day.  So, I’m always without my son except for a few moments on FaceTime.

But I am OK with it.

My perception of holidays has changed in the several years since the divorce.  Instead of focusing on the day the calendar (or Hallmark) tells me to focus on, I have a more holistic view.

I place high value on the moments I am with my son.  They pass much too quickly.

I place high value on the time I have without him…time where I can take care of myself, invest in my wife and stepsons, and pursue interests.

I place high value on knowing the holiday is not as important as the moments in between.

Let’s make those in between moments count.

What holiday/special day would you most miss spending with your kids?

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