Vocation or Avocation?  Parents and Advising on College

Sage career advice to teens and young adults is to find a way to do what you love.  But what if what they love won’t allow them to support themselves, let alone a family?  What kind of conversation should the parents be having with the kids as they consider adult careers?

There was once a time when the child’s vocational choices were established by the parents.  College was for the wealthy and consisted of classes in dead languages and Natural Philosophy, while those in the mercantile class sent their boys off to apprenticeships; daughters were simply married off with the expectation of raising a family and the only hope for them was that the husband was a good provider.  If a child truly loved a particular interest, then they would pursue it as an avocation on their own time after they’d provided a roof and food for themselves.  Avocations were chosen by the kids, but the vocations were selected by the parents. 

The pendulum has swung back to the other side and many kids over the past several decades have gone into college for both satisfaction and career.  That was fine in the old, more affordable, model but we’ve run into two major issues in the past ten or so years.  First, the cost is far too great to permit the vast majority to study for the sake of intellectual satisfaction since the career path for English Lit majors is exceptionally short and rocky.  Second, the hollowing out and zombification of our economy means that even kids coming out with career aspirations are finding that there are simply no positions available.  We now have baristas and convenience store clerks with Master degrees for lack of anything else.

With a kid on the cusp of college and two more in the queue, the questions are how directive should I be and precisely what do I say?  As full disclosure, I took my own father’s strongly suggested advice that I earn a Business degree instead of Journalism for the sake of employability and decades later, I’m writing a website while raising kids and managing a household.  One of the lessons is that you can never know what’s coming down the road.  It’s a ticklish situation since these kids are passing to adulthood with little experience and a potential mortgage before they even hit the workforce, yet choosing the route of one’s life is the hallmark of adulthood.  If we’ve raised them to stand on their own and be accountable for the decisions and consequences, then it’s a blow to the ego to suddenly deprive them of their decision and that’s especially given that many kids are coming through with the bills in their own names.  Here are some of the things that we’ve either discussed or tried to do in the past several years.

  • Talk openly about the non-dischargeable nature of college debt and the need to be able to select a route that at least gives the possibility of an income that covers the debt load. 
  • Talk openly about the market for certain occupations and whether the average income allows the graduate to cover the nut.  When Eldest did an online career assessment survey through her school, I walked through some of the occupations that spit out in response to her questionaire answers and touched base on whether there’s a bit market for such positions as casting director.
  • Talk openly about the college marketing circus so that they understand that they don’t have to attend MIT, Caltech or Swarthmore to obtain a good education. 
  • Spend some time looking at the incomes for that occupation and share it with the teen.  One of the kids, who has a talent and drive for the theatre, has already had the concept of income streams introduced and in a later conversation about music, stated that he was seriously working with his guitar so that he could have a fallback income stream when the theatre gigs were light.  *Ding*Ding*Ding!
  • Share the status of their college savings with them, if any.  Likewise, actually walk through what would be required for debt repayment so that they can compare that with the average income and work through a mock budget.  If they take on $X debt, what will they be giving up for the foreseeable future after graduation?

The long and short is that it’s going to be their decision and they’re now – or will soon be – adults.  But most of them aren’t stupid and if you’re willing to take the time to engage them, they’ll listen.  At the minimum, there’ll at least be a semblance of an educated decision and that’s more information than they’ll get anywhere else.



Comments on Becoming an Adult Male Volunteer

The past four decades have been an almost perfect storm for the adult male role model.

Divorce has wreaked havoc upon the American father as families were broken and in many cases, the father was significantly – if not altogether – removed.  Simultaneously, two organizations that could provide alternative solid male role models – the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church – were beset by problems with pedophiles who preyed upon the now at-risk children.  Within the span of about two decades, the sense of trust that had previously permeated middle-class America was shattered as male positions that had been respected were viewed with derision and mistrust.

In the ensuing years, litigation has been filed and settled and perpetrators have been locked away.  The Scouts especially have taken child safety to heart and instituted criminal background checks of all volunteers with direct child/youth access, coupled with a serious effort to assure that the outrages of the 1960s and 1970s don’t reoccur.  Although I’m not Catholic, my understanding is that there have been measures taken by the Church as well.  Despite efforts to both improve the recruitment and training of volunteers, we now have the allegations about Jerry Sandusky to throw a dent into efforts.  Apart from the entire Penn State administrative debacle, there are concerns and allegations that Sandusky used the The Second Mile Foundation, founded to help at-risk youth, as a personal game preserve during his involvement there.  The effect will be an even greater effort to prevent these situations from recurring and, perhaps, another big hit on the adult male role model as childless men who are willing to volunteer steer clear for fear of automatic suspicion.  If this occurs, then about the only group of men who aren’t under automatic suspicion will be those of us with skin in the game, our kids.

Children want and need men, and the positive models that they provide, in their lives.  Likewise, the activities that benefit our kids don’t run themselves and need our involvement to function and thrive. 

So if you’re thinking of becoming a volunteer, what are some points to consider?

  • Does the organization have any requirements or guidelines on child safety?  Most established organizations, such as the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts and Big Brothers/Sisters, have established criteria for volunteering and guidelines for interactions with the kids.  While I personally dislike having to submit to a criminal background check, it’s simply the cost of doing business in today’s society and ultimately serves to help protect both me and the kids.  I’d frankly feel less inclined to volunteer with any group that didn’t have a vetting process and safety guidelines for fear of setting myself at risk.
  • Are there other volunteers or are you carrying the load?  Apart from the sheer equity of having others pitch in, are you going to be the only person who’s actually dealing with the kids?  More than a few parents will dump their kids and run and if you’re the only adult present, then you are at risk for any sort of allegations.  The true heart of a child-safety policy is the idea of "two-deep" leadership, meaning that there’s simply another adult present, and I’ve been fortunate to have parents and co-leaders who’ve been willing to stay behind with me and other kids whose parents are late to pick them up.  I’ve actually cancelled meetings when the two-deep rule has fallen through.
  • Are you prepared to control your speech?  I’ve been described as "earthy" in my speech and I’ve had to make a conscious effort to monitor and control it.  Like the language, I’ve had to learn to monitor the content.  If you tend to run at the mouth or aren’t willing to exercise restraint, then you need to find another outlet.
  • Are you prepared to control your physical conduct and mannerisms?  Some men are naturally more affectionate than others or more physical in their displays of emotions.  If you’re affectionate with your kids, understand that you have to curtail yourself with other children and especially in today’s environment.  It’s fine to hug an upset child in the presence of other adults,  but you have to be conscious of physically displaying affection with other people’s kids lest things be misconstrued.
  • Are you aware enough to sense when a conversation or situation is about to go out of control?  Do you think that you can manage to handle it if does?  Couple spontaneity with poor self-control you’ve got the makings of a decent trainwreck.  Can you sense when things are about to go wrong and can you also sense when to bring it to the attention of the parents?  On more than one occasion, I’ve had to being situations under control and since it might involve a raised voice, I’ve let the parents know what occurred and what was said.  It lets the parents know up front so that they can address things, and gets the facts out instead of the typically garbled walk-about story that kids and teens provide. 
  • Are you better with different age groups or different genders?  Not all age groups are created equal and you need to consider the age level of the kids within that group.  Likewise, do you relate better to girls or to boys?  Except for coaching a sport, there are more opportunities for men to interact with boys and male teens than for girls.  The Girl Scouts have strict criteria for the interaction of men and girls and even if you do well with those criteria, will the other parents be comfortable with a male Girl Scout leader?  I was asked years ago to lead my daughter’s troop and when I discussed it with some female acquaintances, their comment was that they’d be comfortable with me as their daughters’ leader, but they’d be very wary of a man that they didn’t know.  I declined to participate and found some involvement with my daughter via soccer and basketball.

The need is there and even with the increasing attention, the rewards outweigh the cost.  But before you decide to throw your hat into the ring, take some time to consider these points so that your decision is the best for you, the kids and the organizations.


Lessons from the Sandusky Allegations

One of my primary jobs as a father to teach my kids, especially about what goes on in the outside world.  It’s often fun but can be occasionally unnerving, especially when it pertains to protecting your children from sexual predators; you don’t want to ruin their innocence nor do you want to teach that each stranger is a danger.  Teaching about the prospect of sexual molestation is something that we’ve done, with age appropriate language, since the kids were in preschool but the questions have arisen again since the onset of the Sandusky allegations out of Penn State.  Understand that if the kids aren’t overtly listening to the news, something of this nature seeps over into their conversations with their own peers via over sources.

What surprised me from my own children was a question raised by Youngest, who looked at me one evening and asked, why didn’t any of these kids ever say anything?  My response was that there were probably multiple reasons:

  • A sense of powerlessness, as these were boys from predominantly broken homes while the adult in question was a widely respected member of the community with many accomplishments and in their minds, who would believe them?
  • A sense, perhaps fostered by coming from a home in which there was minimal presence of a father, that they were unworthy of unconditional love and would have to somehow earn that love and attention from a man.
  • Fear of what might happen to them if they did say anything.
  • Shame that they somehow contributed to what occurred to them and that discovery might damage whatever love they already did receive, principally from their mothers.

These would lead to some of the points that can be covered as you talk with your kids.

  1. You’ll certainly ask many questions if this kind of situation is brought forward, but asking for information doesn’t mean automatic disbelief; they simply mean that you’re searching for more information in order to help you help them.
  2. You love them simply because they’re your children and that your love is unconditional, never depending on their actions or attitudes.
  3. Reassure them that if they do find themselves being threatened in such a situation, you can and will protect them.  This is something that a strong father can do better than most mothers.

Another lesson to take away is finding out about the organization itself and whether it has guidelines on adult volunteer/child-teen interactions.  If there are, are there repeated circumstances in which an adult volunteer is violating the guidelines?  I’ve been an active cub scout leader for almost a decade and there are stringent child safety criteria in place; these include requirements for all badges that parents review the scout manual child safety booklet with their children, a criminal background check and use of the "two deep" rule in which no scout leader can have private one-on-one interactions with any child.  In the past years, I have actually cancelled meetings when I’ve found that no other adult could be present.  The point is that once you’re aware of the criteria, you can keep a better eye on the circumstances in which your child is involved.

A final lesson is this.  While having a father present doesn’t mean that your child won’t be molested, the reality is that predators actively search for and target children from broken or strained families.  Children, whether very young or teens, want and need your love and support and if they perceive that it’s not there, will seek it out and it’s this search that can bring them into the sights of predators.

For further information on signs/symptoms of child molestation: www.childwelfare.gov, www.aacap.org (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

For further information about speaking with your child abour molestation: www.rainn.org (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), www.education.com

Controlling Your Kids

One of a parent’s responsibilities is to control their child and nothing is more frustrating than a parent who can’t or won’t control their child in public.  When should you step in and provide control if the other parent won’t?

This question arose recently at a scouting event in which boys – fourth and fifth grade levels – were gathered at a science museum to earn an Engineering badge.  This was a four and a half hour workshop run by a museum staffer, for which admission was charged.  Parents were present and while I’m a scout leader that arranged for the boys in my group to attend, I wasn’t present because of another obligation.  According to other parents to whom I spoke, there was a particular boy from another group who simply ran wild and disrupted things; even the other boys from my group were appalled at his behavior.  He ruined experiments and talked back to the staffer and in one experiment involving electricity, actually injured one of the boys from my scout pack, who showed several of us the mark on his stomach at a scout meeting four days later.  A father who was present backed up the accounts and the event involving the electricity.

On one level, the museum bears responsibility because the staffer didn’t act to control the child when he was found to be openly disruptive.  But the reality is that this is a staffer who’s paid to present a program and not discipline children who are there with responsible adults, either parents or scout leaders.  The boy’s father was present and at no time stepped in, but simply sat back and watched his child misbehave and openly create problems.  No other adult stepped in either, apparently for fear of appearing to overstep boundaries and upsetting the father and the result was that when I met with the boys several nights later and asked about the event, what I heard was a story about a trainwreck instead of electrical circuits and bridgebuilding.  This was confirmed by the parents who were present with our boys.

It’s an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation, fraught with the prospect of further conflict if the other parent is an ass who won’t like seeing Junior chastised.  But when should you step in?

  • When you believe that the other parent will simply not intercede AND there’s real prospect of injury should something go wrong, like children throwing rocks at kids who are coming down the sliding board.
  • When it’s an event for which you’ve paid money and a lack of control threatens to ruin it for your child and other children.
  • When it’s not only misbehavior, but open bullying of your child and the other parent will not intercede.

 In the last instance, it might take a little time to see how your own child handles things.  Years ago, when Youngest was not quite three, we were at a mall play area when he encountered a child who by size and appearance was several years older.  This child would purposefully run into Youngest and knock him down, then return to his mother, who was also clearly watching events.  Youngest was knocked down twice and purposefully shoved down once and in the middle of this, she and I exchanged looks as things unfolded.  When the last shove occurred, I moved to intercede but stopped as Youngest got up, walked over and punched the bigger kid in the face.  To his credit, Youngest proceeded to play while the other boy then left with his mother. 

Each of us has a responsibility to monitor and control our children.  It can be embarrassing to have to do so in public, but that’s one of the prices paid for having kids in the first place.  Each of us likewise has an obligation to step up when we see a child’s misbehavior being willfully ignored by the idiot parent, and I say that because if you don’t, that’s how you look to the rest of us.

Plan 9 from the Kitchen

Cell phones can be wonderful tools, but several other parents and I have noted they can be impediments when in the hands of teens.  The problem that we’ve all noted is that while the kids can be in almost instantaneous communication with one another to plan something, anyone’s different thought, idea or issue is immediately brought up to the cell-linked hive mind and innumerable alternative plans are spun to the point that ultimately, either nothing occurs or what happens in no way resembles the original plan.  Not to say that the "old days" were necessarily better, but with only one line to a house and the pain-in-the-neck nature of plan changes, a plan that was generally agreed upon was maintained. 

The term Plan 9 or Plan I came into being in this household when several months ago, I watched Eldest run the gamut in the kitchen.  My wife and I were puttering in the kitchen when Eldest entered and announced that she and several friends were going to gather for something or another.  Shortly after she entered, her cellphone noted an incoming text and when she read it, she reported that somebody had asked if someone else could come – and naturally, that led to the question of how the newb would be transported and who could do so.  As she plunked in a response to the hive-mind, I glanced at my wife and commented that this was going to be Plan B.  Eldest finished her texting and was in the process of putting down the phone when another came in with someone else tossing out a question, which led to another furious round of texting and a quietly dry Plan C commented to my wife.  By now, there was a full-fledged exchange of texts from the hive-mind and my wife and I slowed down to watch the process.  I was now standing at the kitchen island nursing a cup of coffee and as Eldest would remark upon the newest response, I’d remark that this was Plan D…wait, now here comes Plan E…whoa, someone else has some input for – wait for it – Plan F…nah, that’s not gonna work so we’re onto Plan G…okay, so it looks like we’re set for Plan H…nope, Plan I.  My wife handled it more gracefully than me since I was openly laughing as I remarked upon this trainwreck of a social gathering.  Eldest finally harrumphed with a nasty glance in my direction and left the kitchen and to this day, I don’t know if they managed to round the bases to Plan Z. 

The upshot of this is that first, Eldest frequently makes her hive-mind plans out of my presence.  Second, we’ve learned that there are liable to be changes in the plans between when they’re made and when the car leaves the driveway.  Knowing that the hive tries desperately to bend to the needs of the members, changes can occur and our request is that we apprised of significant changes, such as final destination or time of return; we also reserve the right to veto anything that we deem necessary and yes, I’ve kept the prospect of a physical location check on the table. 

When a teenager leaves the house with friends, you can never be certain of where they’re actually going to wind up or what the final plan is.  Especially with this hive-mind generation, plans seem to change in a heartbeat and you can only lean upon faith and what you’ve taught them as you’ve raised them; that there are such things as respect, limits, consequences and ultimately, right-and-wrong.  There can be legitimate changes in plans that entail acceptable deviation and it’s our job as parents to work with that.  But ultimately, they need to know that the cellphone connects to home and once that call is made, the constant changes will stop and gel into a firm plan for the remainder of the gathering.

Unpleasantries:  Discipline and Teens

One of the most difficult aspects of raising a child is discipline, at whatever age.  That said, disciplining the child becomes even harder as she ages and in the teen years, it can become a damned unpleasant thing for which  parents can be unprepared.  Teens are affected by their peers – some of whom have little or no parental discipline – and frankly, the media.  They’re affected by their own bodies, which are producing a complex and potent hormonal chemistry regardless of gender and they’re affected by their own sense of growing independence and competence.  

We’re almost three generations removed from the bestselling parent books of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was mistakenly believed to have taught that it wasn’t in the child’s best interests to be disciplined, discipline being equated with punishment.  Parenting experts say that we should be firm and in control with the intimation that voices should never be raised and that if we handle it correctly, then the teen will desist and all will be well.  And somehow, the belief has seeped in that we should be our childrens’ friend first and foremost and friends simply don’t treat one another in a nasty way.  The final result is, I believe, that there are many parents who will defer to the teen who pushes the limits and boundaries in the belief that what’s required to keep them within them is not acceptable as portrayed in the popular media.  And the inmates wind up running the asylum.

Discipline is ultimately rooted in the notion of teaching and learning, which is a far cry from simple punishment.  If you have just a quick, quiet conversation to point something out to them, you’re actually engaging in discipline and it’s frequently enough to keep things in order.  The difficulty is that as they age, all of the factors already mentioned come into play and make correction more difficult; if you haven’t already been quietly covering things with them, then it’s going to appear even more onerous than it would otherwise. 

Even if you’ve paid attention and had the ongoing conversations through all of the previous years, handling discipline with teens will become testy for all of the reasons proffered above.  While the teens are motivated by whatever they want – most likely short-term or short-sighted – you’re the one with the sense of the larger picture and that’s fine except that the pressing teen doesn’t see it that way.  There will be pushback and questions and even when the questions are answered, the rationale will be challenged and it can happen persistently.  Because the kids are now older, any number of issues will be thrown at you in sometimes forcible short order and in the moment, you have to determine the wheat from the chaff and move accordingly, all the while keeping the end goal in mind.  You have, in a sense, been ushered by your teens into Hogwarts, where the staircases move while you try to reach where you need to be. 

These exchanges aren’t easy as sometimes frustration seeps in amongst both generations and voices are raised against one another.  It isn’t a pretty scene and if you’ve consumed the popular parenting media, you’ll feel like a failure because it isn’t as calm, controlled and easy as it is made to appear.  When the time is less tense, you can re-evaluate what’s been said and even go back and revisit the issues with your teen; communication is an ongoing process.  When these instances occur, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure as a parent.  What it means is that you’re having to grapple with the change that occurs with growing kids and change isn’t easy.  What makes a failure is simply taking the easy road, acceding to the demands of frequently irrational teens because it means a few moments of peace.


Commercials and Perception

True change only happens incrementally and like anything else, you only notice it at moments when you have an a-ha! moment.  For me, one of the primary indicators of changes in the social view is in the content of television commercials and what while most of my time isn’t spent on the television, there have a few commercials which both show considerable change and the potential for generational conflict ahead.

Change Commercials

One of my gripes through the years has been the perception of fathers as portrayed in the media.  With only the rare exceptions – Seventh Heaven’s  Reverend Camden and Parenthood’s Adam Braverman – fathers have normally been portrayed as lovable dolts (Ray Romano) or complete idiots (Al Bundy, Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin).  These are reflections of society’s views of men and fathers from a generation or more touched by divorce and absentee fatherhood.  But a recent commercial gave me a pause as its 30 seconds portrayed a reflection of the re-engaging father.  In it, two children are preparing to brush their teeth as their father – no mother to correct him or chuckle at his well-meant but errant effort – explains why he purchases a particular brand of dental hygiene product.  He’s young and dressed – as I frequently dress – in a casual button shirt and khaki slacks.  The sense of the commercial is that Dad’s competent and in charge and the kids are alright with that and is a far cry from other commercials in which Mom can be seen correcting Dad for a goof.

The other two change commercials aren’t about fathers per se, but instead about the opposing views of the boomer generation and Generation Y.  There’s been ongoing commentary about the values and behavior of the Boomer generation and the first commercial clearly plays upon that.  In the scene, a man is seated at a nicely set dinner table and both he and his wife complain about having been forced to curtail the sushi that they love, yet the woman brings him a small plate of food.  At that moment, as he cuts into the dish, their daughter enters and asks if they know what’s happened to her two fish.  They each feign ignorance and as the father digs in, quips what are you gonna do? 

In the second set of commercials, young adults are in their respective apartments worrying about how their empty-nest parents are doing now that they’re out of the house.  They’re typically online and the commentary pertains to the vast number of Facebook friends whereas their folks have so few.  As the commercial continues, they’re concerned for their folks while the scene flips to a shot of the folks –  Boomers – going to a kegger with their friends and another set of Boomer parents gets out to ride horseback.  The copywriter is conceivably a Boomer who’s poking fun at the youngsters’ apparent belief that life is lived plugged into the Matrix.  But what struck me watching it was the contrast between the two generational lifestyles; apart from the real/virtual aspect, was the question of money.  While the younger generation is much more into the Matrix than my own peers, I suspect that part of that pastime popularity is that it’s much cheaper than activities as boarding or renting horses as that generation continues to spend money on less than wise choices.

The final change commercial again pertains to the Generation Y adults and money in them, from both State Farm and Toyota, the young twenty-something woman is saving and scrimping to cover either the auto insurance or the down payment for her auto.  It differs from years of commercials in which cars were sold with little down and zero percent financing and harks back to a time, generations ago, when necessary items were purchased with hard-saved cash.  The clock is spinning backwards in terms of personal finance and we’d better get used to it.

So what do these commercials have to do with me?  My sense of them is that first, it’s my responsibility as a parent to recognize the change and work to teach my children accordingly, both through discussion and example.  If they have to learn how to live a more constrained lifestyle, it’ll be easier if it’s modeled for them here.  Second, change never goes down easily and the anger towards the Boomer generation will only intensify as the youngsters face their national future.  While I don’t envision a life of spartan simplicity, I doubt that it’s in my best interests to throw the green years pay away on frivolity to only have to return to the kids in the future for help.  Once they’re through, our obligation is to assure – as much as possible – that we don’t unduly burden our children because of our own foolishness.


Housework Minuet

Does your mate ever suddenly leave to disappear, reappearing again in a few minutes with an armload of laundry/stuff/toys?  (1-2-3, 1-2-3)  Do you ever wonder why your mate gets cranky, occasionally snarling about fair share or even simple appreciation?  (1-2-3, 1-2-3)  Is there ever a moment in which there’s a sigh as she escapes to respond to a buzzer?  (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4)  If you’ve at least noticed these things, you’re ahead of some guys who don’t even recognize that she’s dancing the minuet, a particularly slow and monotonous variety that keeps the rhythm of cooking and housework as everything is done to keep the household moving and everyone on an even keel.

A family is a complex organism and each moves to its own rhythm and tempo – rarely the same and often punctutated by syncopation, especially as the kids age and develop their own interests.  The varying tempos means that greater attention must be paid to what’s required to keep everything moving and everyone on an even keel.  I don’t understand if it’s training or some sort of gender hardwiring, but I believe that the average woman is better able to multitask a variety of chores and activities than the guy.  Men are certainly able to learn and adapt, but I’ve come to know some women of whom I frankly stand in awe. 

There are multiple elements to running the household – cooking, laundry, childrearing, cleaning – and most men would probably view them as discrete items, akin to blocks that can be stacked atop one another.  Now the laundry is entirely done and I can move on to the cleaning.  Once that is done, then I can read to the kids and afterwards, start dinner.  Each item has a finite edge and end and never violates the space of the next block.  Women have learned that each element is actually akin to a strip of cloth or thread.  Each is discrete but instead of stacking, each element is interwoven with another through the course of the day’s and evening’s activities, resulting in something that appears to have been knit together.  I’ll sort the laundry and get a load of darks going, and then I’ll read to Junior.  After a short book, I can move the washer load to the dryer and reload the washer and while that’s running, I’ll take care of early dinner preparation.  It’s a creation of one element followed by another, and then back to the first and then to the third;  the result is that the guy’s elements are akin to a colorful Lego tower while the woman’s creation is a well-knit scarf. 

The difference between the two is that most men haven’t truly learned that the key to keeping things running is to shift back and forth between the elements, juggling them as deftly as a circus performer.  You use a labor-saving device that takes a half-hour to run and then you shift into something that can be accomplished in twenty minutes, such as reading a children’s book or cutting vegetables.  Likewise, you fold the laundry and then come back to it later, breaking the larger task into smaller segments.  Because they’ve done it for so much longer and been able to watch their own mothers, women have a much better sense of what’s involved and how they interplay.  Men can learn it too, but it will take considerable effort, attention and time before they can even begin to create a piece as intricate as their mate’s. 

The archetypal father was someone who came home from work and played with the kids, and then did the finite, discrete tasks that were akin to projects – the honeydew list.  Fix something, paint something and move on to the next item.  There would be singular differences between each which provided some variety and interest.  Women have known for generations that even after this was painted or that was fixed, they were left with the same four elements; there was – and is – never an end to the process.  The result is a sense of having to dance the same dance, keeping everything moving, with never a difference in the music for variety and worse, no one to watch them or realize how well they dance their particular minuet.  Everyone likes an audience from time to time, observing and appreciating them for what they’ve managed to accomplish and for some dancers, this is sufficient.  But if you think of it, dancing is something that’s meant to be done with a partner and most women find that the additional dimension of a partner gives meaning to the dance and respite from the boredom. 

Stop, observe and think about what you’re seeing if your mate is responsible for the household management.  Consider what’s involved and at least acknowledge the job being done.  Better yet, find the rhythm and give her a partner in the dance.

(1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4…)

PracticalDad Price Index:  January 2012 Prices Steady

The pricing of the 47 item grocery market basket is complete for January and the results show that a tiny decline in the cost of the basket from December’s $189.97 to $189.91.  The result is the index declined slightly from 106.49 to 106.46; said otherwise, the marketbasket has risen 6.46% from it’s initial pricing in November 2010. 


PracticalDad Price Index – January 2012
Month Price ($) Index 3 Month Mov Avg
Nov 2010 178.39 100  
Dec 2010 180.30 101.07  
Jan 2011 179.51 100.63 100.56
Feb 2011 179.51 100.63 100.78
Mar 2011 180.51 101.08 100.78
Apr 2011 181.91 101.97 101.56
May 2011 182.10 102.08 101.71
Jun 2011 184.07 103.18 102.38
Jul 2011 185.00 103.71 102.99
Aug 2011 187.05 104.85 104.06
Sep 2011 188.57 105.71 104.76
Oct 2011 188.34 105.58 105.38
Nov 2011 188.31 105.56 105.61
Dec 2011 189.97 106.49 105.88
Jan 2012 189.91 106.46 106.17



















PracticalDad Price Index – Jan 2012 Results

Item Size Category 11/11 12/11 1/12
hot dog rolls (ct) 8 bread 1.20  1.20 1.20 
loaf, wht bread, store brand (oz)  20  bread  1.26  1.26  1.26 
spaghetti, store brand (oz)  16  bread  1.25  1.25  1.25 
child cereal, sugar flakes, store brand (oz)  17  cereal  2.97  3.12  3.06 
cereal, rice chex, store brand (oz)  12.8  cereal  2.82  2.84  2.84 
oatmeal, one minute, store brand (oz)  42  cereal  3.36  3.36  3.36 
milk, 2% (gallon)  dairy  3.81  3.80  3.95 
butter, unsalted, store brand (lb)  dairy  3.49  3.49  3.59 
vanilla ice cream, store brand (qt) dairy  2.01  2.01  2.01 
grated parmesan cheese, store brand (oz)  dairy  3.08  3.08  3.14 
American Cheese, deli (lb)  dairy  5.52  5.59  5.59 
peanut butter, store brand (oz)  28  grocery  3.59  3.76  3.74 
grape jelly, store brand (oz)  32  grocery  2.01  2.01  2.01 
kidney beans, dark, store brand (oz)  15.5  grocery  .95  .95  .95 
can green peas, store brand (oz)  15  grocery  .99  .96  .99 
can diced tomatoes, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  1.06  1.06  1.09 
can cut green beans, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  .99  .99  .99 
can corn, store brand (oz)  15.25  grocery  1.02  .99  .99 
spaghetti sauce, store brand (oz)  26.5  grocery  1.21  1.21  1.21 
cola, store brand (L)  grocery  .94  .94  .94 
caffeinated coffee, store brand (oz)  13  grocery  4.39  4.41  4.39 
diapers, store brand (ct) 100 hlth/bty 17.70 17.70  17.70 
formula, Enfamil Premium (oz)  23.4  hlth/bty  23.59  23.84  23.84 
child ibuprofen, store brand, OS (oz)  hlth/bty  4.86  4.89  4.89 
adult ibuprofen, store brand, caplet (ct)  100  hlth/bty  8.12  8.31  8.31 
shampoo, Suave (oz)  22.5  hlth/bty  1.96  1.86  1.86 
pads, long/medium, Poise (ct)  42  hlth/bty  16.42  15.82  15.49 
bath soap, Dial (ct)  hlth/bty  6.18  6.17  6.18 
aluminum foil, store brand (sq ft)  75  hshld  3.09  3.09  3.09 
kitchen trash bags, handletop, store brand (ct)  26  hshld  4.31  4.31  4.31 
paper towels, 2 ply, store brand (ct)  hshld  7.26  7.26  7.26 
hot dogs, meat franks, store brand (oz)  16  meat  2.69  2.69  2.23 
ground beef, 80% lean (oz)  16  meat  3.46  3.52  3.49 
eggs, large (doz)  meat  1.91  1.91  2.11 
lunchmeat, deli ham (lb)  meat  4.03  4.03  3.93 
chicken, roaster (lb)  meat  1.56  1.59  1.59 
fish sticks, Gortons (ct)  44  meat  7.51  8.24  8.24 
tuna, chunk light, water packed, store brand (oz)  meat  .81  .84  .84 
bananas (lb)  produce  .59  .59  .59 
apples, Red Delicious, bag (lb)  produce  3.76  3.76  3.76 
carrots, bag (lb)  produce  2.36  2.36  2.36 
OJ, non-concentrate, store brand (oz)  64  produce  2.79  2.79  2.79 
potatoes, Russet (lb)  produce  3.66  4.32  4.66 
sugar, store brand (lb)  staple  3.27  3.33  3.30 
flour, store brand (lb)  staple  2.26  2.30  2.34 
canola oil, store brand (oz)  48  staple  4.39  4.39  4.39 
rice, white, long-grain, store brand (lb)  staple  1.85  1.81  1.84 
                   Total      188.31  189.97  189.91 




The Great Divide

You can understand something intellectually, but that doesn’t mean that you fully grasp the import of its meaning.  It’s this difference that shifts an issue from sterile discussion to true debate, as those who feel it in their gut push the envelope and make their points in ever more forceful tones.  This comprehension shift happened to me this past weekend as the ongoing erosion of the American Middle Class took on a far more personal and visceral meaning.

My most important job as a father is to teach my children about the great wide world and help prepare them to survive in it.  Doing that means that I also have to pay attention to what’s going on around us and how these things impact the world in which my children will live.  The rise of the corporate society and the official preference of the uber-rich at the cost of the middle class has clearly shaped what and how I teach my children about the adult world.  We’ve taught the kids that an education is essential for economic survival and have done what we can to see that it’s obtained with as little debt as possible.  But spend a lot of time around kids and teens and you begin to think of many of them as your own; you watch them grow from small children and fill out, physically at first and then in terms of mind, emotion and character.  When this happens, you begin to worry about the kids who aren’t being given much guidance and support and it can be painful.

The case in point occurred when I was speaking with Eldest about one of her close, a young man who’s shown significant character and maturity.  He’d already graduated from high school and was working and our questions – my wife and I – pertained to what was happening with his plans for community college to get the higher ed ball rolling again.  As I spoke with my daughter, I reiterated my well-rehearsed commentary on the need for the education but then simply stated if he doesn’t get things moving while he’s young, he’s going to spend his life on the other side of the great divide.  It struck me as an odd phrase at the time and when I reflected back on it later, my reaction was far more visceral than it had been previously.

…The Great Divide…

Economic and political policies, as well as long-standing social habits, are eating away at the middle class and if changes aren’t  made, future America – our children’s America – will consist of two groups on either side of a chasm.  There was once ground which permitted both groups to live together but the existent policies will continue to undermine this until it collapses into an unbridgeable gap.  Once this happens, separating the small group on one side from the large group on the other, then there will be nothing to bind them together and our nation will devolve into a state of nightmarish proportions as the larger group struggles to survive and the smaller one fights desperately to maintain its advantage in resources and opportunities.

While I want this young man to succeed, I’m ashamed that my great divide remark was so contained to one person.  I’ve come into contact with so many children and teens and it’s unacceptable that a handful gain the one side while the rest are stranded on the other; each should be responsible as adults for their own movement forward, but permitting the presence of the divide robs the mass of even the opportunity to move.  If our Constitution states that each has the right to pursue happiness, the chasm’s existence is inherently unconstitutional as it robs the many of that right.  Many will be bound, despite their efforts, to a life without the opportunity to advance themselves beyond their present station and our nation is at a loss for it.

There are no simple, cookie-cutter responses to this erosion and things will change neither easily or quickly.  But there are some basic things to remember and adopt.

  • Begin to pay attention to what’s going on around you.  Question what you read and hear in the main stream media and when you hear a pundit, ask yourself what that person and his or her sponsor has to gain.  Then share with your family and friends and spread the word.
  • Teach your children not to believe what they hear and see in the media.  You cannot have it all and will have to make choices.  The newest product model or version won’t make you happy or satisfied.  You cannot expect to live on support but will have to hustle to make your way in the world.  The old economic model of spend, spend and spend is no longer operative.  And yes, you’re going to have to study and above all, think.
  • Amend your buying habits so that you don’t automatically purchase the lowest cost item, which will probably be made in China or elsewhere in the world.  Think about where an item originates and whether your purchase supports your fellow citizens.
  • Likewise, buy local when and where you can.  As I age, my buying priorities are becoming local first, domestic second and finally, foreign if necessary.  This way, I’m putting my own kids and their peers to work first and supporting their livelihoods.
  • Pay greater attention to the electoral process and what the candidates are doing instead of saying.  Skepticism is a healthy thing and ask whether they’re consistent in their beliefs; if necessary, turn off the main stream media and shift to the internet.  You’ll have to work harder to skim the wheat from the chaff, but it’s worthwhile. 
  • Finally, remember that our country has been here before, in the post-Civil War era of the Railroad Tycoons and Robber Barons, when a very few took dominion over our nation’s wealth and resources.  Our ancestors dealt with it then and we can deal with it as well.

But remember also that it took the work of many to elect men such as Theodore Roosevelt and his peers.  And many, many votes.