I’ll Be Back…

People with websites are often driven to keep producing new material, and I’m no different.  But if I’m going to write about fatherhood and the family – and what impacts each – then my first priority has to be those things, and I’ve settled for a new article about once each three days, on average.  Personal matters now dictate that I go quiet for about three weeks, but be assured that I’ll be back with new articles and some other changes to the site in the offing.

Thanks for reading the site and putting me on your RSS feed and as the California Governor once said, I’ll be back.


“Go the F%$# to Sleep”

The kids have Goodnight Moon and a plethora of other bedtime stories, but after catching the viral marketing campaign, I made sure to purchase my own bedtime story, Go the F%$# to Sleep.  It’s a wonderfully rude bedtime story that perfectly encapsulates the anger of a tired, pressed father whose little one refuses to sleep.  The story is best described as That 70s Show‘s Red Forman, one of my favorite television fathers, channeling Captain Kangaroo.

There’s a common perception of children and bedtimes, where the children snuggle up for a story and then gently go to sleep.  It’s the stuff of old movies and Hallmark cards but like life, it isn’t always that way.  Small children either might not want – or be able – to go to sleep and when Dad’s at the end of a long day of his own, the tension can become unbelievable.  Dad’s spent time with Junior and now wants to have a little time to himself, or with Mom, and the kid simply won’t call it quits.  Sometimes it’s due to physical factors, such as too much caffeine or activity at a time when things should be winding down; and sometimes it’s because the kid is simply being an ass.  How far can I push Dad?  If I wear him down, then I’ll get to do what I want to do.  If he starts letting me tonight, then I can mention it again tomorrow night.  At other times, it’s because the kid simply hasn’t seen much of Dad and will do whatever possible to keep him around.

Full disclosure:  I’ve said these same things in a sotto voce tone, hoping to God that I’m not heard and feeling horrendously guilty for not living up to the Hollywood standard.  Children are wonderful and loving.  They can also be exceptionally difficult and after hours of work or hours of caring for them, you simply want a break, even if it comes via your own sleep.

While the tenor of the verses clearly ratchets up from one page to the next however, what’s thoroughly absent is the sense that Dad’s going to go psycho.  Even at the end, Dad is still tiptoeing around and finally takes the child in hand again to begin the process again. 

The verses are great and the artwork does full justice to the story and the book is thoroughly worth every penny.  So the next time you’re thinking about buying a book, put aside the Stephen King and get this one instead. 

Then be sure that it doesn’t wind up in Junior’s bookcase.


How To Handle Senior Year?

The kids are aging and growing and as my father, God bless him, used to say, …and that’s how it’s supposed to be.  My problem is that saying that presumes that I have a clue of how it’s supposed to be.  I’m very comfortable with many aspects of fatherhood and parenting, but helping prepare a rising high school senior for the world is new and – honestly – scary territory.  Where’s the balance betweem staying grounded with the family and becoming independent?  Because learning independence requires having a degree of independence.

I’ve been to college and seen what happens with kids who are truly on their own for the first time and drive their proverbial freedom into a brick wall.  There’s no perceptible reason why they couldn’t handle it while I did, apart from the fact that my parents gave me some latitude as I came through high school.  Latitude?  In the early Spring of my senior high school year, they took a 10 day trip to Europe and left me to myself and the quiet surveillance of a community of small town neighbors and friends.  When I missed school with a virus, the vice-principal’s wife dropped by the first afternoon with some food and did indeed verify that I was truly sick.  Nothing terrible that some sleep and a quiet diet wouldn’t cure and I later found that my father had been made aware while in France.  That however, was a very different time and environment. 

We’re going to Europe ourselves in two weeks, but the kids will come with us.  Not because we don’t trust them, but because we believe that with the way things are going, these children might never again have the opportunity to see places that they’ve wanted to go.  And trust me, I have no burning desire to travel to these places, but the kids do and so we’ve saved for two years to make this work. 

But back to providing latitude.  I’ve said for years that children are egocentric and if I could graph it with degree of egocentrism on the y-axis and age on the x-axis, it would be appear to be an oscillating wave with the low points in the middle years of childhood and the height both in the early years as well as the mid to late teens.  In the early years, the egocentrism is a function of need since they depend on you for almost everything and that lessens as they age.  But I’ve seen it ratchet upwards in the mid/late teens as they gain a taste of independence and a wider, more eclectic set of friends.  There are more things to do, a greater diversity in interests and activities, and kids are beginning to develop their own eccentricities and quirks on the adulthood path.  I recall those days well as friends became black belts, developed their musical skills to impressive levels and experienced new genres of music.  Of course, friends also drank, smoked dope, broke into churches and subsequently drove around the county wearing clerical vestments, made master keys of the local high school and passed almost an entire school year using free gas courtesy of the pump for the district school buses.

Really.  And in this era of MTV’s Jackass, it’s only gotten weirder.

It’s exciting and something in which an eager soon-to-be-adult can completely lose herself.  Having seen much of this as well, it’s frankly terrifying at moments.  So what are we trying to remember as Eldest enters this pubescent free-fire zone?

  • Always find out who’s going to be there as much as possible.  Who is she with and if they’re at someone’s home, are the parents there? 
  • As much as possible, where are they going to be?  Honestly, I have crawled into the car to take a short detour of six miles to get ice cream at the convenience store two blocks away and fortunately, it appears that what’s supposed to happen is happening.
  • What are the check-in times?  Give us a call about mid-evening to check in and let us know if there are any changes in plans.  If there is no call, then the kids should expect a call from us.
  • Whenever possible, meet the other kids with whom they’re spending times.  It’s not perfect – way, way far from it – but it’s a relief to at least put names with faces and there are instances when the vibes can jump out at you.
  • Take a moment before they leave to remind them of a few items and then hope and pray that they remember the lessons that you’ve left since they were old enough to listen.  Or at least before they started to ignore you because you were no longer cool.
  • Go ahead and tell them that there are going to be nights that are at home and not out with the crowd.


Black Ops vs Saving Private Ryan

I’m an electronics nazi.  One of my great struggles is having to constantly monitor the various media to assure that the family guidelines are upheld, particularly when it pertains to the movie/television/games ratings and for the most part, the kids recognize that if Youngest is around, then a resolution must be found for the TV-14 program that’s presently airing.  We try to find a compromise and there are instances in which the television or computer game is halted and other times, Youngest or Middle leaves the room to find something else to do.  Tonight is one of those instances however, when I’ve bent the rules and as Saving Private Ryan came on the television and Youngest got up to leave, I told him that he could stay and watch for awhile.  To her credit, my wife figured that there was method to my madness and said nothing, staying with Youngest as well.  Youngest made it through the opening and the combat on Omaha Beach before he dissolved into tears, at which point we found something else on the tube.

It’s a painful lesson, for him as well as for me.  As I later explained to my wife, while we work hard to control the media exposure, many other parents do not.  Many of Youngest’s third grade peers are actively watching R rated movies, TV14 programming and playing the war games such as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty:  Black Ops.  In these experiences, violence is gratuitous and without consequence.  If you’re hit, you’re able to reenter the game.  Combat is often marked by a sense of heroism and glory and in movies at least, there’s considerable banter and frequent instances of panache.  While I’m not a veteran, it doesn’t square with the reality of combat as described to me in my adulthood by my own father, a Korean War infantryman.  A reality that encompasses terror, grief and brutality as much as brotherly camaderie.  Elementary age children are being exposed to a one-dimensional view of violence and brutality and while I won’t permit such games or inappropriately rated programming here, when the kids visit their friends, they’ll see it there.  I’m well aware that my nine year-old son is acquainted with the Nazi Zombies found in Call of Duty:  Black Ops, even though I don’t like it.

The opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan are profound in their immediacy and terror.  Death comes quickly, slowly, messily, quietly, randomly to someone.  A soldier survives an explosion to arise and be struck down immediately by a slug.  A soldier exposes himself to pull a buddy out of the way and within two minutes, is yelling to let ’em burn!  I want these scenes to stand against the sanitized, sterile violence found elsewhere in the movies and video games and I want him to understand that there are ramifications to war. 

Youngest talks occasionally of becoming a soldier, much as I talked of it when I was younger.  He plays with toy soldiers, as I did, and engages in mock combat with his friends.  That hasn’t changed over the years and I don’t expect that it ever will.  But as the level of visual violence escalates amongst our children, I do want him to have a sense that there’s something more involved than the stylized and sterile violence that his friends and peers are viewing frequently and routinely. 


Independence and Communication

Parent and teen communication can get testy and it’s no different here.  In our case, it often pertains to questions regarding independence since what one side thinks isn’t what the other side thinks.  There has to be a balance between the two – the teen being allowed to make independent decisions and the parent having some sense that things aren’t entirely out of control.

My wife and I try to provide latitude since the only way that kids learn to handle independence is to actually have some of it.  Our expectation lies in the details: 

  • Where and when?
  • Who are you traveling with and who else is there?
  • What adults are there to supervise, quaint as that sounds?
  • Is there a purpose for the event, such as cast/graduation/sweet 16 party, jam session?
  • Who’s doing the driving?
  • If we agree and there are any changes in plans, then contact us to clarify again.  Changes in circumstances can also change responses.

This last point about changes in plans sounds simple and it really should be.  Except that teens also lack judgment and in their minds, permission given is final.  So what if the get-together is now moving more than twenty miles away, to be held at Jack’s house?  Jack apparently has no last name and is only known by his attendance at Catholic High, hence Jack Catholic.  You said that I could and I can handle myself anyway.  No, I don’t where he lives but I can always follow someone else…  This mistaken presumption leads to surprise on the parents’ part and if the response isn’t handled gently – not always a harried parent’s strong suit – it’s met by wounded pride and testiness.  Events then proceed to roll downhill to mutual silence and quiet anger.

I have no surefire, easy way to handle circumstances like these.  It’s not easy to consistently stay mellow, but one has to try.  The only other avenue is to follow the encounter with a later, gentler conversation that tries to make things right.  After these repeated encounters, there will hopefully be a reasonable "meeting of the minds" to help maintain the family peace.


Student Loans:  They’ll Want the Money Back

More people are aware of the serious issue with student debt, especially with the non-dischargeable nature of the debt.  But with this era of too many societal promises/too little money, I was surprised at the report that the US Department of Education actually requested a SWAT team raid a house looking for a delinquent borrower.  There are a few caveats that I’ll provide as I link this article:

  • It’s from the Drudge Report, which presumes a certain sensational quality about the news or it wouldn’t be there;
  • It’s highly unlikely that such an overkill raid was solely in response to a simple delinquency situation.  Did the borrower have a history of making threats or carrying weapons?  There’s much that’s not disclosed in the article and it would be helpful to know, although I doubt that we ever will.
  • Were there other issues, such as fraud in a large amount?
  • Another news report states that the Department of Education denied that it pertained to delinquent loans, but instead to a criminal investigation. 

The feds asked for a raid and got it, but no explicit reason as to why. 

There is something to take away from this article however.  While I don’t expect there to be routine raids on a parent’s house because Junior is now a year late on repaying the student loans – the default rate is now more than 13% – they will want the money back and will actively take measures to obtain it.  The Internal Revenue Service hired more staff to pursue tax revenues and there is no doubt that the same will happen here.  In this new world, the money will be most actively pursued from the most voiceless and least organized, the young.

This is something that I’ll remember as we consider the higher education alternatives.

The College Debt Meme Spreads

More and more has been written in the past two years about the college conundrum – it’s economically important, but the debtload is a killer than can easily offset the benefits – and now the word has become a meme percolating through society.  There comes a point where the talk finally, slowly, takes root even amongst those who’ve been amongst the status quo and in this case, it’s the guidance counselors.

Eldest is a junior now immersed in the college search process, dutifully visiting a few schools that interest her and round-filing the hundreds of mailers and letters that come to the house.  What she’s noticing however, is that the guidance counselors at her school are actively talking to her peers and suggesting that perhaps the better option isn’t just going off to college as their predecessors did.  The new advice is to seriously consider what you want to do and then take the lower level general education courses at the local university/community college.  This is a far cry from what I heard several decades ago – there’s plenty of money out there and if you and your parents have to take some debt, it’s easily repayable – and is driven by three principal factors:

  • The cost of higher education is significantly than decades ago because the rate of inflation for college tuition is about twice that of standard inflation as measured by the CPI. 
  • Families no longer have the job/retirement security that they previously had, and the job market can’t provide enough jobs that allow the graduate to both repay the debt and become economically independent.
  • College debt is different from other forms of debt in that it can never be discharged in bankruptcy, but will follow the graduate until repayment or death.

This has now begun to dawn upon the educational establishment and they’re finally passing the word along to the kids.  It would be wonderful to see a Deus ex machina moment in which this reality is magically altered and the situation is simply fixed, but reality doesn’t work that way.  Real life works in fits and starts, veering one way and then another until a course is finally determined upon which allows progress to be made over time until a new equilibrium is reached.  But one of the key elements is that when those within a system begin to quietly influence many small changes that cumulatively determine a larger outcome, and if the guidance counselors are actually pushing this, then I draw some comfort from that.

There is no magic answer to this situation as it’s one has been developing for decades.  We’ve hollowed out our economy via outsourcing.  We’ve ignored the long term investments in pursuit of consumption and shortterm  gratification, so there are no savings for the future.  We’ve permitted the financial sector to usurp control of the economic and political process to the detriment of our society. 


If you don’t think that that’s the case, ask yourself why it’s perfectly legal – and considered a good business model – to toss easy credit to young people with no experience?  Then ask why it’s legal for this politically voiceless group to be the one group that is saddled with the most pernicious debt, debt that they can’t escape but provides the lenders with a constant cash flow? 

When the process is bought and paid for, then don’t expect sudden miracles.  But take comfort in the knowledge that slowly the word is spreading, now amongst the educational establishment.

PracticalDad:  Greece and the Family

Online news feeds are running frequent reports about the financial situation in Greece, which has now spilled over into the political arena.  I’m watching with renewed interest because:  (1)  we’re taking the family there in three weeks, and;  (2)  it’s a probable preview of what’s going to happen here if we don’t quickly and decisively put our own house in order.  Greece, ancient birthplace of democracy, is now deciding whether people have sovereignty or must literally surrender it to a foreign central bank and financial complex.

As crowds in excess of 100,000 protest before the Vouli ton Ellinon (Hellenic Parliament) in Syntagma Square and the random tear gas canister is tossed around like a hackisack, I’ve started monitoring the State Department website for any official travel advisory.  While we’ve saved and planned for this Italy/Greece trip for two years, we also purchased trip insurance with an eye toward the greek situation.  The kids are hepped for Santorini and Athens, but wafting tear gas isn’t as appetizing as fresh baklava.  The second that we see a travel advisory, that portion of the trip will either be changed or abandoned and we’ll fall back to the trip insurance.

While not as visceral, Greece’s economic predicament also causes real concern since it’s a likely preview of coming attractions in this country.  The MSM line is that Greece brought it’s present circumstances on itself with excessively generous – and unsupportable – social benefits.  Combine that with tax evasion as a national pastime second only to soccer and there’s a recipe for fiscal disaster.  Americans are used to contending with the IRS so there’s no sympathy for people who avoid taxes like a vegetarian avoiding a Big Mac.  This combo was the situation when Greece was admitted to the single European currency – the Euro – in 2000 and in turn gave up their own currency, the Drachma. 

This move promised benefits, but came at a price.  Member European nations had to agree to controlling both their inflation rates and their national debt load as a percentage of their respective GDP.  While this wasn’t a problem for the Northern European countries, it was understood that the PIGS in the south (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) would have their work cut out for them.  Unfortunately, not only did the Greeks not meet their requirements, but it then became known that they engaged in sophisticated currency manuevers with Goldman Sachs to hide the amount of debt owed.  Their national debt was several times higher than had been previously reported, thanks to the GS folks.  For a better illustration, picture GS as the guys who worked with a contestant on The Biggest Loser to rig the scale, so that the winner only lost 100 pounds instead of the 225 previously reported.  Big eaters that they are, the Germans were truly torqued.

As global business slowed in 2008, the Greeks were caught in a bind.  Their spending required more foreign loans but the lenders were in too deep to take any further chances and this subsequently shifted the focus from private foreign bank lenders, who were as holed as their American counterparts, to the European nations and the European Central Bank.  The present riots are because the common Greek now sees their personal and sovereign futures as hostage to the whims of the monied minority, the plutocracy.  The lenders want to assure repayment and demand a rollback of social benefits and improved tax collection, which the Greeks have readily abused.  But the lenders have also shot themselves in the foot by voicing their willingness to extend loans if the Greeks are willing to sell their public assets and infrastructure to the highest foreign bidder, literally leaving the Greeks as tenants in their own lands.  Athenians can have a water system, but it’ll be owned by a German bank or the Athens International Airport is sold to a French concern.  All of the money will subsequently flee the country and condemn the average Greek to a life of debt servitude.  At this moment, the Greek government is actively deciding what properties can be sold to the highest bidder.  For a proud, ancient nation, it sticks in the craw to have an historic site named like an NFL stadium…and on the left, you’ll see the Heineken Acropolis, presently closed for Oktoberfest.  So the Greeks do what they do well, they hit the streets.

Can that really happen here however?  Hell, yes.

  • Each nation has difficulties with the national debt, largely as a result of social benefits now viewed as sacred – Medicare, Social Security – and requiring renegotiation on a generational level.
  • Each nation needs foreign lenders to provide funds.  Technically, the Federal Reserve is now the largest lender to the Treasury, but once the oil producers recognize it, the dollar is going to be toasted (Damn, I shot my mouth off again.  Good thing the Saudis aren’t reading this…).
  • Each nation has advocates stating that the debt really isn’t an issue since there are plenty of physical assets to be sold.  Yes, there have been talking heads on CNBC stating that we can meet our obligations by selling our national assets out from under us.  And on our left, the Heineken Lincoln Memorial, closed for Oktoberfest. 
  • Each nation has a citizenry that has largely left it’s future income streams to government payments.  There are plenty of scared 60 year olds in both Athens, Greece and Athens, Georgia who are terrified of losing their old age benefits.
  • Each nation has a growing sense that their future is now out of their hands and into the hands of a financial plutocracy, answerable to no real political authority.

While it can happen here, there’s no guarantee that it will.  So while the kids and wife are watching the tourist sites, I’ll be watching the crowds to see how things shake out. 



PracticalDad Price Index:  Food Inflation Accelerating in June

Measuring a grocery basket of 47 items, the June PracticalDad Price Index came in at 103.18, up more than 1% from the May result of 102.08.  This result means that the market basket’s price is up more than 3% from November 2010 and is a significant acceleration from the previous months’ results.  The average cost of the market basket, calculated from results surveyed at three separate grocery stores, was $184.07 and a $5.68 increase from the original November basket cost of $178.39.

Following is a synopsis of the previous monthly results.


PracticalDad Price Index Monthly Results
Month $ Avg Index 3 Month Moving Avg
11/2010 178.39 100.00  
12/2010 180.30 101.07  
1/2011 179.51 100.63 100.56
2/2011 179.50 100.63 100.78
3/2011 180.51 101.08 100.78
4/2011 181.91 101.97 101.56
5/2011 182.10 102.08 101.71
6/2011 184.07 103.18 102.38









There are several notable results from the June survey.

  • For the first time since the survey’s inception in November, 2010, the majority of the basket items with price increases had rises in excess of 5% each as about 15% of the basket items had month-to-month rises greater than 5%.  In previous months, most results were due to a few items with significant increases – coffee and canola oil, for instance – while other items had much smaller increases.  This shifted in June however and if it becomes a trend, would indicate that food inflation is shifting from an isolated phenomenon to a mainstream condition.
  • Canola oil – a cooking oil that is also used as a biofuel and thus sensitive to oil prices – increased again by 5.4% to $4.52 for a 48 oz bottle.  This is up from the November cost of $3.12 for the same size bottle, a 45% increase in 8 months.  While the typical family might use another oil, such as corn or vegetable oil, canola oil is prevalent in the baked goods industry.  While the price of flour has been largely static since November, bread/roll costs have risen by almost 10% and this is most likely attributable to the canola oil in its production.
  • Coffee was unchanged for the first time since January.
  • Diapers had a small increase due to stealth inflation as one grocer maintained the same price while decreasing the number of diapers per box.
  • Kitchen trash bags increased significantly after dropping from April to May.  Prices were steady in two of the three stores, but the item cost has swung from one month to another in the third store.  I have gone back and verified that the correct price was surveyed at that particular supermarket each month and these prices were correct.  Even removing that particular item, there was a higher number of items with price increases greater than 5% than in any previous month and that finding holds.


PracticalDad Price Index – June 2011
Item Size Category 4/11 Avg Price 5/11 Avg Price 6/11 Avg Price
hot dog rolls (ct) 8 bread 1.18 1.18 1.18
loaf, wht bread, store brand (oz) 20 bread 1.22 1.22 1.22
spaghetti, store brand (oz) 16 bread 1.21 1.21 1.21
child cereal, sugar flakes, store brand (oz) 17 cereal 2.90 2.90 2.90
cereal, rice chex, store brand (oz) 12.8 cereal 2.74 2.74 2.74
oatmeal, one minute, store brand (oz) 42 cereal 3.21 3.21 3.24
milk, 2% (gallon) 1 dairy 3.68 3.68 3.89
butter, unsalted, store brand (lb) 1 dairy 3.49 3.49 3.49
vanilla ice cream, store brand (qt) 1 dairy 1.99 2.01 2.01
grated parmesan cheese, store brand (oz) dairy  3.08  3.08  3.08 
American cheese, deli (lb)  dairy  5.52  5.52  5.52 
peanut butter, store brand (oz)  28  grocery  2.96  2.96  2.96 
grape jelly, store brand (oz)  32  grocery  1.82  1.82  1.92 
kidney beans, dark, store brand (oz)  15.5  grocery  .87  .87  .87 
can green peas, store brand (oz)  15  grocery  .92  .92  .92 
can diced tomatoes, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  .94  .94  1.01 
can cut green beans, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  .92  .91  .92 
can corn, store brand (oz)  15.25  grocery  .92  .92  .92 
spaghetti sauce, store brand (oz)  26  grocery  1.13  1.13  1.22 
cola, store brand (L)  grocery  .92  .92  .96 
caffeinated coffee, store brand (oz)  13  grocery  3.87  4.15  4.15 
diapers, store brand (ct)  100  hlth/bty  17.82  17.82  18.28 
formula, Enfamil premium, Lipil (oz)  23.4  hlth/bty  22.94  22.94  22.94 
child ibuprofen, OS, store brand (oz)  hlth/bty  4.96  4.96  4.96 
adult ibuprofen, store brand (ct)  100  hlth/bty  6.72  6.72  6.89 
shampoo, Suave (oz)  22.5  hlth/bty  1.71  1.71  1.71 
pads, long/maximum, Poise (ct)  42  hlth/bty  16.09 16.09 16.09 
bath soap, Dial (ct)  hlth/bty  5.39  5.39  5.39 
aluminum foil, store brand (sq ft)  75  hshld  2.97  2.97  2.97 
kitchen trash bags, store brand (ct)  26  hshld  4.11  3.76  4.24 
paper towels, 2 ply, store brand (ct)  hshld  7.69  7.26  7.26 
hot dogs, meat franks, store brand (oz)  16  meat  2.46  2.56  2.56 
ground beef, 80% lean (lb) meat  3.32  3.39  3.39 
eggs, large (doz)  meat  1.69  1.84  1.69 
lunchmeat, deli ham, chopped (lb)  meat  4.06  4.06  4.06 
chicken, roaster (lb)  meat  1.56  1.59  1.59 
fish sticks, Gortons (ct)  44  meat  7.86  7.86  7.86 
tuna, water packed, store brand (oz)  meat  .78  .78  .81 
bananas (lb)  produce  .58  .59  .59 
apples, Red Delicious, bag (lb)  produce  3.76  3.76  3.76 
carrots, bag (lb)  produce  2.39  2.39  2.39 
OJ, non-concentrate, store brand (oz)  64  produce  2.66  2.76  2.76 
potatoes, Russet (lb)  produce  3.99  3.99  3.99 
sugar, store brand (lb)  staple  3.16  3.22  3.22 
flour, store brand (lb)  staple  1.99  1.99  2.09 
canola oil, store brand (oz)  48  staple  4.09  4.29  4.52 
rice, white, long-grain, store brand (lb)  staple  1.67  1.63  1.73 
             Total     181.91  182.1