Redefining Fatherhood – A Response

This site’s Father’s Day article asked the question what is the role of the father?  There have been huge changes affecting fatherhood and the family in the past four decades and as is typically the case, the structure has been badly outpaced by events and trends.  As families have struggled with the upheaval, attention has turned periodically in the press to the attempts to cope; with women now heavily in the workforce, the question has generally been asked as how much housework and childcare is the father doing to assist the mother.  Is Dad doing enough in the household to help Mom?  How much time is spent on dusting and childcare activities to make life easier for Mom, who’s also now in the workforce?

On one level, those are entirely appropriate questions.  Caring for, and raising, children is hard work; it’s physically intense when they’re younger and more intellectually and emotionally intense when they age and move out to interact with the world.  But the undertone of the conversation is that Dad is the junior partner in terms of the parenting with the bulk of the real power in the hands of Mom, who’s more qualified and capable of managing the kids.  This isn’t just a media perception either, but one that men themselves have stated in the media.  It’s saddening to read the comments of fathers in national publications that I’m just watching the kids until their mother gets home and the kids are my boss, I work for them.  Seriously, the kids are your boss and you work for them?  Sweet Jesus, that’s the kind of scenario played out in comic books in which the Joker is somehow made warden of Arkham Asylum.   While I no longer listen to Limbaugh, he is right when he states that words have meaning and while that father meant that he worked in the household on their behalf, the wording leaves one with the sense that many fathers view themselves as the junior member of the parenting partnership.  Bucky, the sidekick parent

In the main, most mothers do have innate insights into their kids’ heads and feelings that most fathers don’t, and probably never will.  Perhaps the best description of a mother’s insight was penned by JM Barrie in the first chapter of Peter Pan:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds.  It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day.  If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her.  It is quite like tidying up drawers.  You would see her on knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight.

It’s lovely writing but in the language of the twitter generation, Moms are generally better at getting inside the heads than Dads.

So what is our role? 

I’m trying to not sound sexist, but while women are better turning inwards to the family, I believe that men are generally better at facing outwards, towards the world.  When the kids were very little, I believed that my first and foremost job was to not only care for them, but protect them.  They were incapable of handling whatever was out there and it was my job to assure that no harm came to them.  But as they grew and moved out into the world, the physical aspect lessened but the sense did not.  My job was to prepare them as much as I could – and they were willing – for life in the world.  My job as a father is to teach them not only about the world but also, and more importantly, how to handle what came their way.  This could be done via conversations but also by example and behavior.  How do you handle people who might come to the front door?  What do you need to remember about handling money matters with salespeople and others?  Are there situations that you and the kids witness that need to be discussed?  For example, my wife and I were taking the kids to a summer evening event in a nearby city and as we drove down a street, saw a man – surrounded by others – beating another man.  As my wife dialed 911 from the cellphone, I wheeled the car up a side street and away from the fight. 

Why didn’t you stop?  Why didn’t you help the guy? 

Because I’m in a car with three children, the oldest in middle school and there are a number of people surrounding this fight.  Why aren’t they stepping in and am I creating more issues by trying to intercede?  What happens if I’m outnumbered and the disturbance shifts to our car?  Courage is important but smart is even more so. 

Our world is an unfriendly place and it’s only becoming moreso.  Behaviors have grown more callous and crude and if there’s nobody to teach kids how to respond to unpleasant people and situations, then the potential for more problems rises.  Not only is our world increasingly unfriendly, it’s increasingly complex.  Kids might be technological whizzes, but they’ve so immersed themselves in their electronics that they pay no attention to the actual workings of the world.  Turning in a job application is only the first step in the process.  Have you actually asked somebody for a reference before they get a phone call from a potential employer?  When and how are you going to follow up?  What do you think that you’re going to say?  If you want to go to the beach after graduation, where do you plan to stay?  Is there a contract that you have to sign and more importantly, have you read it?   

Situations and circumstances in the outside world can certainly be handled by women, but there are moments when a male presence makes a difference and it’s important for the kids to see how.  This is especially the case for boys, who desperately need a stable male presence to provide a model for manhood.

So what is our role?

Prepare them for the world.  Educate them.  Search out and seize teachable moments at all ages, whether it’s pointing out how a helicopter is like a hummingbird, how to handle a bully or change the tire on a car and bicycle.  Do your best to manage yourself in tense situations so that they have a model on which to build their own behavior when older.  Explain the world to them at every opportunity, talk to them, chat with them and reinforce your core values and beliefs whenever possible.  Understand that even when you aren’t overtly teaching, they are watching you intently and learning as they go. 

All of the other stuff – housework and childcare – matters greatly as it’s upon this mundane minutiae that households are given form and structure and turned into homes.  The women in your lives deserve your support and they in turn owe you likewise; just remember however, that raising children should be a partnership between mother and father and the best partnerships are built among equals with neither one being junior to the other.

Generations move forward through time.  When the children are youngest, they’ll be behind you for their protection.  As they grow, they’ll learn to take a place at your side and when they’re adults, they’ll advance ahead of you into a new world of their own with its own trials and pleasures.  And when they become parents, the cycle will continue anew as they protect their little ones standing behind them.




How Far To Take the Lessons?

The American Family is now in the process of finding its way to a new normal as the rising consumption pattern of the past 50 years meets the declining income pattern of the past decade.  While there’s cyclicality to the economy, it’s dawning on us that what’s occurring now is not cyclical but structural, as the American economy finally gives way to the consequences of errant policy decisions and global competition.  Parents have to now consider what they can actually afford as they balance the costs of raising children with the realities of preparing for the future in a fiscally-constrained society.  This particular point is brought home in the present question in my mind – if a child has a non-scholastic interest in something, what is the value of private lessons and how far should those lessons be taken?

One of the keynotes of the employment picture in the past two years is the rise of the part-time job in lieu of full-time employment.  Young adults are graduating college with iffy job prospects and certain debt while more than a few middle-aged folks are suddenly finding themselves out of work as well.  Teen unemployment is high as the kids are caught between traditional jobs now being handled by adults and child-labor laws that restrict what employers are willing to offer.  What’s cropped up more noticeably on my radar, especially in terms of sports, are the personal coaches who are happy to work with the kids at a rate of $35/hour or higher, if there’s an actual facility involved.  This supplements the traditional realm of the music teacher, who historically taught the child instrumental or vocal music.  As more people are stretching to figure out ways to make money, they’re taking what talents they might have and putting them on the market as instructional services. 

But what should I consider if these are a prospect?  The cost of footing the bill for a teen soccer development team can run a family into the thousands of dollars annually and the same can be spent locally at a baseball training facility.  Is it worth it?

As a full disclosure, we’ve forked over money for piano and vocal lessons; the former simply because we believe that it’s important for children with any interest in music to learn how to play piano and read music and the latter more recently because Middle has a good voice and a budding interest in the arts as a career.  But the sports realm is a different issue for us.  Youngest wants to play drums but his talent is physical; as Eldest – his sister – once commented, he’s the family jock.  He’s played soccer and wants to take up both football and rugby when he’s older, assuming that his mother and I finally agree on whether those are options.  But his love is baseball, which he’s played for years now.  His fielding is good and he’s proven to be an okay pitcher, but his real talent has been at the plate and that’s where the question now arises.  He’s continually hit in the upper .300s and he rarely strikes out; he’s got an ability to put the bat to the ball and at least put it into play.  In the movie Moneyball, a scout talks to a prospect’s parents and comments that baseball is a game that the true players love but one that tells many at some point that it no longer loves them back and they move on.  Youngest is getting to a competitive level where more kids are finding that the sport doesn’t love them as much as they love it and they’re being winnowed away.  Apart from a week-long summer baseball clinic run by the local university program, do we cough up some extra money to hire someone to work with him personally?

As I write this, the back of my head is snorting derisively as it states Seriously?  It’s a kid’s game fer chrissake…  and I partially agree with that.  But it also comes down to three factors – expectations, odds and finances.

What are the expectations from such an act?  Am I looking for the next great batting champion or just helping the kid?  More importantly, does he want this or this being done for me?

What are the odds on potential outcomes?  It’s statistically damned near impossible that he, or any other kid, will ever make the big leagues.  But there’s a greater likelihood that with some effort, he can turn this love for the game into assistance with his college education; I know several families who have staked their kids’ college on massive investments in sport clinics and special teams, more than I expect to spend. 

What are the finances?  This won’t be taking the place of the 529 plan, but is there some way that I can funnel some funds off to cover the expense?  There’s also an additional perspective to finances and that’s in the future.  I spoke with the mother of an elementary age softball player who was paying $35/hour to a young woman who played softball seriously through college and her comment was that if her own girl stuck with it, she could also wind up with the skill set that would allow her to make some on-the-side money from coaching future youngsters. 

That’s precisely where we need to understand that we are employment-wise.  There are no longer going to be any major corporations that will carry you on the books for your lifespan and looming public austerity makes the dole iffy at best.  You’re going to have to assess your skill-set and creatively figure out what you need to do to cobble together an income-stream to support yourself and your family.

And remember that if you are able to handle such an expense in some form, you’re doing more to put food on another family’s table than purchasing crap from Walmart.


Refining Fatherhood – The Need

Another Father’s Day is upon us and it’s ironic that it was preceded by a controversial Time magazine cover and article asking women if they’re "Mom enough".  It’s another shot in the on-going, low-intensity war amongst mothers pitting stay-at-home moms and working moms as a significant minority of the stay-at-homes practice attachment parenting; the philosophic premise is that strong bonds and stronger babies are the result of a high-contact environment between mothers and infants.  Natually, there are women – such as the young mother on the cover – who tend to take the philosophy to an extreme.  It does however, beg the question of what it means to be a father.

If I’m going to be a father, what does that mean?  What precisely does a father do and what is my primary role with the kids and family?  This isn’t a theoretical exercise as several decades of social and economic change have whipsawed the American family and American fathers in particular.

Rise of Divorce 

While the divorce rate amongst American marriages has leveled off in recent years, it rose significantly from the 1960s in part to the adoption of no-fault policies by many states.  With courts siding with the mother for child custody, a significant number of children found themselves in family units in which there was minimal paternal involvement.  These kids became adults and the results of the divorce became apparent as co-habitation became acceptable with fewer opting to marry so as to preserve their ability to simply walk away should things not work out.  The girls of divorce also saw their mothers struggle as they were forced to both parent the kids and keep a roof over the heads; while difficult, there was a role model for the girls.  The boys of divorce weren’t so fortunate as the fathers were largely removed and sidelined, some struggling to stay involved in a meaningful way and others simply giving up.  These boys were often left with no meaningful role model for a father who was involved on a regular basis.

Portrayal in the Media 

Television has been a central role in American culture since the early 1950s and the portrayal of the American father has changed dramatically in that time.  Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best is an early portrayal of the American father, but while unrealistic, Dad was portrayed positively.  The paternal roles shifted with society over the decades until the late 1980s with the arrival of Married with Children’s Al Bundy, and the floor completely gave way under television’s view of Dad.  While the entire family structure was lampooned, the idea of Dad took a huge hit and the hits kept on coming with Homer Simpson and any number of other television fathers who were portrayed as clueless, well-meaning fools who were kept in line by the watchful eye of Mom and more often than not, the kids.  There were isolated instances in which fathers received a friendly portrayal, but it’s only been in the past two or three years that the father has begun to receive realistic portrayals, such as in NBC’s Parenthood.

Feminism/Changing Role of Women in Society 

Women have advocated for change in their place in society and that’s a good thing as our resources are wasted when half of our society’s members are relegated to very gender-specific roles.  But change isn’t always pretty nor is it easy.  Hard-core feminists have advocated for the right of women to fully enter the political and business realm, but while that push talks up the ability of women, it has frequently also entailed denegrating men in different facets.  For more than a generation, women entered the workforce with the expectation of having a successful career and a family; the notion was pushed by media and feminism that you really could have it all.  Unfortunately, being successful financially and professionally requires commitment and time –  what children require in spades.  There’s an additional impact upon children as a small but growing number of women opt to finally become single mothers after spending the time and energy to become professionally successful at the expense of their personal lives.  While the number is small, the ripple effect is the question what’s the use of a father? to younger women.

Economic Change 

It’s become apparent in the past decade that the Golden Age of the American economy is coming to a close.  Globalization has shifted high-value employment overseas and our own economy has become much more dependent upon the service and public sectors for employment.  Family income is now dropping and it’s become apparent that the American standard of living has been maintained by an easy flow of credit; we could afford the niceties because of our ability to borrow to pay for them but the debt has reached strangulation levels.  The effect of globalization has also been pernicious upon the family as many of those jobs flowing away were traditionally filled predominantly by men.  Likewise, the collapse of construction spending meant that predominantly masculine construction jobs also took hits.  Women in the workforce is now not only a matter of choice, but of necessity. 

All of these factors have come together in a nasty, potent brew greatly affecting the institution of fatherhood in America.  Men are working under considerable pressure to create workable models of fatherhood for their children and it would be helpful if there was at least a template of expectations against which they could draw the components.

Next article:  Redefining Fatherhood – A Response







Doom-prepping:  Managing the Pantry

While many are still out of the loop as to global financial developments – Spain has just joined Greece in the bailout line and Italy is looking peaked – enough are starting to become anxious about how they might be prepared in the event that the wheels come off of the economic bus.  One of the big things that people tend to do, especially if they listen to Glenn Beck or are into Doomer mode, is assure that their larder is fully stocked.  This isn’t as extreme as it appears as the unemployment rate is again rising and folks are wondering if and when they’re liable to be next.  But stocking the pantry isn’t a one-off proposition and I’m going to spend the next day or two in reviewing the status of what’s in our own larder.

Most American households didn’t have the stocked pantries prior to the Great Depression.  With a higher percentage of the family income spent on food and limited storage space in much smaller homes, many housewives did their shopping on an almost daily basis at the neighborhood grocer.  The arrival of the supermarkets in the 1920s and improvements meant that food was more readily available and easily stored but that didn’t translate into a societal change until the Great Depression.  Older Americans, children of the Depression, recalled the memories of bare pantries and no money and made major changes when they established their own households so that their own children wouldn’t undergo their own experiences.  I recall, as a child, asking my own mother why we had so much in the pantry and her comments to the effect that she wouldn’t be caught shorthanded again. 

Times are tense yet again and the reality is that there’s the prospect of another Lehman-style financial crisis as the Europeans face a continent-wide debacle due to huge debts and a structurally weak currency.  How is it structurally weak?  Remember that a currency is not only an economic device, but also a political one as it’s heavily dependent upon the policy choices and politics of it’s nation.  The European bind is that they’ve got a currency which presupposes a political structure with full integration such as the United States has with it’s Constitution, yet their funding is heavily dependent upon the individual actions of the constituent states such as occurred in the earliest  years of the US during the period of the Articles of Confederation.  It’s a round currency in a square political hole.  The simple reality is that the global financial system is so interdependent that what happens in Greece will not only affect the French, Spanish and other banks, but have a derivative effect upon the American banks which have all manner of exposure to the European banks. 

Which brings us back to the family pantry.  One of the key policy responses to these issues has been a repetitive flooding of liquidity into the financial markets from the various Central Banks and when they fill the buckets, the buckets tend to slosh around to other areas; one of the key areas is in the realm of commodities, particularly food.  What’s become apparent from monitoring prices via a simple grocery basket – the PracticalDad Price Index – over 18 months is that food costs are now accelerating and their effect is being masked by flatter non-food prices within the grocery cart.  Food prices are rising but incomes are not, so if you’re going to stock up, you have to assure that the resources that you expend now are as effective as possible.

Effectively preparing means that you are actually going to pay attention and manage the household food supply.  It’s something on which I could personally do better, so time will be spent on the process.

  • What do we presently have in the pantry? 
  • What is the age of the supply, i.e. am I sitting on cans eight years out of date?  If you think it odd, understand that the Boy Scouts do an annual food drive for their neighborhood food banks and in sorting the food collected, we’ve come across cans of beans more than a decade past their expiration date.
  • What do we actually need and what mismatch exists?  Am I sitting on 20 cases of corn while I really need flour?
  • What system must I begin to use to assure that this occurs more than once each decade with the loss of hundreds of dollars of food?

While this process happens, there are other and more general questions to answer.  What is the time frame for which I need to prepare, end of the world or just a few months of supplemental food to help ease my future cash flow?  How much am I willing and able to share with others, and who are those others?

The final upshot of the project is that this is another reminder of how our way of life is resetting to an earlier time, when families had to make much more conscious decisions about how to use their resources. 

Yard Sales – Surveying the Damage

Our media topics are a reflection of what concerns us at the moment.  In the 1950s, fear of nuclear war and radiation was reflected in numerous science-fiction films such as Them; our concerns about succumbing to Communism’s soulless collectivism was played out in the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Our revulsion to militarism and the failed Vietnamese War played out in The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now.  As I flip around the television dial, it becomes apparent that there’s another meme afoot and that pertains to our opinions towards wealth and a growing awareness of our economy, how far we’ve fallen and what we face.

It dawned on me the other night as I sat before the television.  The History Channel was touting the high cable ratings of such shows as Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Swamp People; it brought to mind the trendsetter for the bunch, Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs.  To check myself, I flipped on the On Demand menu and noted that the majority of the History offerings were for shows that dealt with cashing in on old items or dangerous occupations.  Unlike the network’s early origins, not a single show itself dealt with historical events.  As I surveyed the channel offerings, certain other popular cable shows dealing with wealth caught my attention.  There are multiple shows about Housewives behaving badly in places like Beverly Hills, New York and Atlanta and my guilty favorite, Dance Moms, which pertains to mothers who spend inordinate amounts of money to have their daughters taught dance. 

We’ve turned the page from that ’80s fave, Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  We admire the concept of wealth and God knows that enough of us play the lottery in the hopes of striking the Big One, but we no longer put the wealthy on a pedestal.  As ill-thought economic policies cut a swath through the middle-class and the American concept of succeeding is ground down, we look at the wealthy in a new and more biased light.  Each of these shows the shallow and petulant behavior of someone with money behaving badly and our collective response is akin to rubbernecking at a serious accident – we know that it’s bad but we can’t stop looking.  Likewise, it provides a salve for our damaged aspirations with the thought being Wow, money can really do terrible things to a person…thank God that’ll never happen to me.

Yesterday’s beautiful June weather also brought out a huge number of yard sales as people took the opportunity to both purge their household of accumulated crap and raise money to pay bills.  I was out early as Eldest rented space at a large church-sponsored yard sale – raising money to help offset the cost of a planned beach trip – and my job was to deliver the tables to the site.  The number of yard sale signs in the early morning neighborhoods was impressive and there were a significant number of buyers as well with cars parked up and down various streets near each sale.  We’ve become programmed to the decades-long consumerist mentality that equates purchase with pleasure but as our incomes recede, we must find new and cheaper ways to feed our habit and the yard sale is a good alternative.  Shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers foster a more critical eye amongst some shoppers as people realize that amongst all of the crap for sale amongst this great kitschfest, there are really items of some value and the hope of a growing number is that they’ll find that occasional item of worth and value that could truly be a financial windfall.

We are, in a real sense, like the Berliners of 1945 who cull through the rubble in the hopes of finding something worth salvaging in the debris.  Except that the bricks and timber are the mounds of cheap clothing and miscellanea on which we’ve willingly spent our money. 

The yard sales are a great way of fulfilling needs on a limited budget if you’re willing to take the time to look.  But the next time that you’re out, consider what’s being sold by whom and then take a look at whether it would be acceptable to the guys of Pawn Stars and American Pickers.



Withhold the High School Diploma?  Yep, You Betcha

Eldest graduated from high school the other evening, ending thirteen years of public education before moving on to the next stage.  So there’s a vested interest to read that a high school actually withheld the diplomas of four graduates because of their families excessive celebrating.  Were the superintendent and principal correct in their action?

Let’s set the stage for the personal event.  Eldest was one of 461 students to graduate in her class and the ceremony was held in the air-conditioned gym of a local university; the district shifted the ceremony there after multiple attendees fainted in the high school facility two years ago due to the heat.  There’s a decent sound system and the event occurred in an orderly process as the graduates received their diplomas in two separate lines entering from opposite sides of the stage.  Cameras set up opposite each line allowed a video feed of each graduate to one of two separate large screens so that the thousands of people there were able to see their kid receive their diploma.  The ceremony was so smoothly handled that the 461 graduates received their diplomas in the span of approximately fifteen and the entire ceremony was completed in 90 minutes.

At the outset of the ceremony, the principal spoke and as part of his remarks, asked that parents and guests refrain from any applause or cheering until the end so that all of the families there were able to hear the name of their own child being announced.  It was only a few minutes into the actual awarding of diplomas that the first family began to cheer and then, multiple other families yelled vociferously and in one instance, the family blew noisemakers.  The large majority of the guests followed the request, but a small minority refused.  Sure enough, in each instance of celebration, the names of at least one or more subsequent graduates were rendered unintelligible in the din and those families might have seen the child on the screen, but never heard the name being announced.  Despite the noise and intermittent hoopla, the ceremony occurred without interruption and those that couldn’t hear their graduate’s name called were simply out of luck.

Based upon the linked article, the Cincinnati school district is several years ahead of ours in terms of the issue.  Eldest’s class was frankly warned by the administration that any misbehavior or excessive display on their part could imperil the receipt of the diploma.  I have little doubt that the Cincinnati administration did the same and managed to bring the graduates under control – assuming that they actually followed through on their threat.  But it became apparent that the issue wasn’t with the graduates but with the families themselves and after multiple efforts to request mutual respect of one another over the course of several years – and heated complaints from other parents – they settled upon a policy of holding the diploma pending appropriate behavior by all parties.  This policy was announced in writing and disseminated with the tickets that were distributed to the families so no one can say that they shouldn’t have known.  The only remaining question would be whether the school administration would actually follow through on the new policy. 

When the event occurred, multiple families celebrated and according to the article, it wasn’t the noise level so much as the duration.  This meant that the families immediately following their own kids weren’t able to hear the names called and the school responded as had been promised.  Be clear on something here:  the only thing withheld is the actual paper diploma and the four graduates were able to participate with their class in the ceremony.  Their names were announced and they walked up and – if there school is like Eldest’s – received the leather folder which was actually empty as the diplomas themselves were disseminated at the end of the ceremony after the class had filed out to whatever tune was played. 

Let’s be frank.  The public culmination of thirteen years of public education is the graduation ceremony.  Critics can say that public education has been dumbed down enough so as to render the achievement meaningless but there are plenty of kids for whom it is an achievement and the same goes for their families.  Together, many have weathered whatever challenges might have arisen in that period.  Families have been affected by lost jobs and foreclosed houses, the dissolution of families caused by divorce or the difficulties arising from substance abuse.  The ceremony is, for many, the public capstone to their thirteen year experience and is as important for them as for others.  I understand how important it is to the families to hear their child’s name publicly proclaimed and I suspect that any of these four families would be hurt to find that their graduate’s name was omitted.  So here’s the trade-off that the school has put forward:  go ahead if you want to cheer so lustily that the following names are unintelligible but expect that the diploma will be withheld as a small token to the graduates who receive their diploma but whose recognition has been virtually erased by your own noise.

My sympathies lie with the graduates, both those with names drowned out and those celebrated.  These kids have a common bond not shared by the families and I suspect that there’s some loyalty to one another that the families don’t understand.  Many kids tend to be easily embarrassed by their family’s actions and if these four are like mine, the discipline is doubled as the withholding of the diploma is matched by the embarrassment at their parents’ behavior.

If my own school district should decide to pursue such a policy, I will support it and I know of about five other families who will as well.


When Playing to Play Becomes Playing to Win

My father once remarked that watching his two children brought him joy.  While I appreciated the sentiment in that moment many years ago, it was only when I became a father with my own three trying out new interests that his comment really took root.  Seeing the kids have fun and trying new activities is, on one level, frustrating for the schedule and time; but when I see them find those activities at which they do well, then it truly does become what one person calls a joyful thing.  That is until they reach a point at which it begins to shift from simply being a fun activity to an avocation at which they want to excel, and you’re forced to see them begin to suffer the physical and psychic bruising that comes with real competition.  Such was the case this weekend with Youngest’s baseball playoff game.

We’ve come to love baseball.  Throughout our life together, my wife and I lived in cities with minor league teams and have taken advantage of the opportunity to enjoy decent ball, good seats and cheap beer; Youngest has been bitten by the love for the game and now plays each season and is frankly developing into a good player.  He’s at the age at which baseball-loving boys begin to consider what position they wish to play and in his case, he sees himself as a catcher.  He’s realistic enough to understand that he’ll never be a fleet-footed outfielder or pitcher but in his mind, he has begun to stake a claim behind the plate.  Given his young age, we held off three years of requests before finally caving in and getting him catchers gear of his own.

It’s helpful to understand something about Little League baseball and the catcher’s position.  For the first two levels of Little League baseball, no stealing is allowed and it’s at the AA level (8 and 9 year olds) that the kids are allowed to begin to steal second and third base; until this point, the catcher is simply a backstop with arms.  It’s at the AAA level (9 and 10 year olds) that the catcher becomes important as it’s at this level that the runner is now allowed to steal home and score a run and it’s also here that the talented kids start to understand the strategies and tactics of the game.  The catcher’s position has been called the field general since from his spot behind the plate, he can see where his fielders are and actually make adjustments and I’ve witnessed two boys who – at this level – have played as though born to the position.  But there’s a double-edged sword for the catcher since he’s also catching for kids who, even when they’re good, can be wild with a sizable number of passed balls and with the catcher’s cumbersome gear and inexperience, the plate is ripe for the taking by aggressive baserunners from third base.  The safeguard for the catcher at AAA is that the batting team can only steal home twice per inning.

While Youngest wishes to be the catcher, this season’s reality was that a recurrent knee injury kept him from playing there due to the stress of constant squatting.  He missed the first game and spent the remainder of the season in the infield and the catcher’s mitt was relegated to two younger players who were repeatedly burned at the plate by aggressive baserunning.  He was finally cleared for catching and his first appearance as catcher was the first playoff game this weekend and in the final practice two nights before the game, his coach had him don his gear for passed ball drills behind the plate with a cadre of teammates repeatedly trying to steal home – and frequently succeeding. 

The game was against a team that runs well and aggressively.  While I doubt that they hit as well as Youngest’s team, they’re coached to take advantage of mistakes and in the first two games played against them this season, they beat Youngest’s team by aggressive baserunning, including consistent steals of home plate.  It was clear that the strategy would be more of the same and if there was to be a change, it would be up to Youngest to make that change by keeping them from stealing home plate.

We live in a world in which some schools and organizations have dumbed down sports by abolishing the idea of winners and losers.  Everybody should get a ribbon for participating and our kids apparently need their self-esteem bolstered more than their skills.  But that’s not how life works and in this particular organization, there comes a point at which kids play not only for fun but also to win.  There are always far more teams at the youngest levels of a sport as everyone tries it out for size but within a few years, the funsters have departed and the number of teams have decreased to accommodate the kids who truly love the game.  It’s also at this point that the kids realize that if you’re going to play, you should play to win and the coaches are there to develop their skills and teach them to win; sometimes, winning is more than just physical attributes but also thinking about what you need to do to win and the coaches have to model that for the kids.

The upshot was that the opposing coaches did more of the same, sending runners from third on every passed ball opportunity, and Youngest took his lumps behind the plate as he repeatedly tore off his mask and helmet, searching furiously for the ball as it rolled around the backstop area.  The pitchers did what they were supposed to do as they advanced to cover home, but while there were some close plays, the runs scored.  The boy got banged up in the melees but to his credit, he refused to quit and stuck through the game.  My first inclination as I watched the play was anger towards the opposing coaches for taking advantage but there was a begrudging respect for their strategy as they taught their own kids that they could win with more than pure hitting.  This was a learning experience on both sides of the ball, joyful on one and painful on the other. 

Despite the painful learning experience, Youngest still wants to catch and I admire him for that.  There will be other such lessons – both in baseball and life – in his future but learning from them now will help him in such instances in the future.  There comes a point with the kids that shielding them from adversity only serves to hinder them in the future as bosses and clients will not be so forgiving of errors.  So teach them to play to win now, when their losses won’t have more serious consequences.



Okay, So Green Lantern is Gay…

…and apart from DC Comics making money from it, how is that any different than what the kids see when they go to the mall?

One of the traits of our society that I do admire – and there are still some – is that over time, Americans have the capacity to accept change as generations come and go.  People can argue that racism still exists and to an extent, it still does, but so long as there are people, racism will always exist to one degree or another; the same goes for religious bigotry and sexism.  But the prevailing attitudes change and society as a whole becomes more tolerant and what was once harassed is able to come out into the open.  So it is with homosexuality.  In the relatively short time frame of four decades, homosexuality has shifted out of the closet and into the mainstream consciousness as gay men and women protest and proselytize for their rights.  Their road has not been easy and there’s been a tendency to flaunt their beliefs in ways that cut against still-extant Christian values, but there has been demonstrable progress.

Unless parents want to raise their kids in a compound, there’s no way to shield them from societal change.  What we can do is pay attention and use the instances to teach the lessons that we want pass along our values to the kids.  Our first foray into explaining homosexuality was when Eldest was in elementary school; on a trip to the mall, she saw a lesbian couple walking down the corridor with arms around one another’s waists and as they passed, she turned and watched them from behind as they walked away.  The questions soon arose but our first lesson was not to stare at someone as it’s impolite.  After that point was made, there was further conversation about the basic difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality.  The big difference, Eldest, is that gay people find romantic interest in someone of their own sex…  Regardless of whatever you believe about the issue, you have to ready and able to discuss it with them and not just turn away because it isn’t going to go away.

The point is this:  DC Comics’ action is really in the interest of profit and not in empowering gay role models for impressionable young readers.  As social mores shift and change, these events are going to occur and as parents, we have to aware of them and be ready to discuss it with the kids.  They do see sexual identity issues amongst their peers as their friends and acquaintances – maybe even they themselves – puzzle it out, even at the elementary school level.  Use the opportunity to make whatever point you want, but don’t think that you can just ban it because these developments are everywhere.

Middle and Youngest are both comic book fans and when I shared the story with them at Saturday’s dinner, their response was surprise.  It didn’t make them want to avoid the character and the conversation shifted to the plot details including how there could be two Green Lanterns in alternate universes.  But I thought that Hal Jordan was into women, at least he was in the movie…Where the conversation broke down was in the actual dialogue between Green Lantern and his boyfriend as the superhero described a planned date as magical; even the 10 year-old noted the incongruity between a powerful superhero and stereotypical language.  Dad, why couldn’t he have just said "fabulous"? 

So just a quick note to the writers at DC – if you want to shatter stereotypes and empower gay youngsters, avoid the trite terminology.  You’re killing yourselves.


PracticalDad Price Index:  The Grocery Market Basket is Splitting as Food Prices Rise

The results of the June 2012 PracticalDad Price Index show that while the total market basket index declined slightly from May’s 106.49 to June’s 105.91 (November 2010 = 100), the food items portion actually rose significantly from May’s 109.65 to June’s 110.85.  The upshot is that the cost of the total market basket rose by only 5.9% from November 2010 to June 2012, the actual food items themselves rose by 10.85%, a full 5% more. 

In May, 2012, the reporting format of the PracticalDad Price Index changed as I began to calculate the index on both a full market-basket basis and a food-only market basket basis.  There are 47 total items in the PracticalDad market basket and of these, 37 are actual foodstuffs with the remaining 10 being household, over-the-counter medication and personal hygiene products commonly purchased at grocery stores.  All 47 items together comprise the total market basket index while the food-only index is based solely upon the 37 items.

When you sense that food costs are rising more rapidly than other costs, this is a datapoint which supports that notion.  While the two indices moved in tandem from November 2010 to August 2011, it was in November 2011 that the prices for food themselves began to separate from the remainder; the activity amongst the non-food items masked the cost activity.  From November 2011 to June 2012, the total index wandered in a narrow range from 105.56 to 105.91; during that same period, the food-only index rose consistently from November 2011’s 106.38 to June’s 110.85.  In the three month period of February – May 2012, the food-only index increased by almost two full percentage points.

While there have been instances which supported the existence of stealth inflation, where prices are constant or drop slightly but package sizes decrease, June’s pricing at three separate grocery stores found three instances of package changes:

  • one grocery store continues to sell hot dog rolls in 8 count packages, but the weight of the package decreased from 12 to 11 ounces;
  • another grocery chain joined its brand competitors by decreasing the Orange Juice packaging from 64 ounce cartons to 59 ounce cartons;
  • the feminine pads are in the process of changing package sizing from 42 to 39 count cartons and this is in process as the local grocer still carries the old size package while the separate chains now carry the newer, smaller packages.

As before,the prices are adjusted to account for the stealth inflation.

So the next time you bite into that grilled hot dog and marvel at how it plump it is, there’s a good chance that it actually isn’t.