Go see this movie. Take your children, even though they may occasionally be confused or fidgety. Boredom and confusion are also part of democracy, after all. “Lincoln” is a rough and noble democratic masterpiece — an omen, perhaps, that movies for the people shall not perish from the earth.

           – A.O. Scott, New York Times, November 9, 2012

That is precisely what I did as Middle and Youngest, and Middle’s girlfriend, came along this weekend to see Spielberg’s Lincoln.  While I don’t know the age of Mr. Scott’s own children, I do know that the material wasn’t beyond the grasp of an intelligent ten year-old so long as there was some pre- and post-movie background provided.  While this particular adventure pertained to a movie, it goes to the larger matter that as a father, my greatest job is to help prepare the children for living in the great wide world and the state of American politics and the questions of personal liberty, security and the Constitution certainly are addressed in this film.

The film itself was superb, everything that I’d expect from Kushner and Spielberg; it leaned heavily upon Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2006 book, Team of Rivals, a good history but definitely improved with the personal touch that comes from the visual work of Spielberg.  But to appreciate it in its entirety, it requires a basic level of knowledge that many of our kids lack today.  What was striking even before the movie trailers ran was that Middle leaned over and whispered Dad, you’re like the fourth youngest person here and when I glanced about at the several dozen viewers present, he was right.  Middle could appreciate it since he’s immersed in an Honors Civics course and it was his education that provided the impetus for the evening; Youngest however, could still appreciate it since we’d recently completed a ten mile hike at Gettysburg and is a budding history buff. 

Apart from simply seeing a Spielberg film and having the kids learn something (hopefully), I had certain goals for the three kids.  My first goal was to help them understand that history isn’t some dry subject but a living process, made by flesh and blood individuals who suffer, strive and often act only upon faith with no guarantee of ultimate success.  Lincoln – like all of our forebears – was flesh and blood and not a demi-god as we’ve made them all to be.  The second goal was to help them understand that the Constitution is largely a document of parameters and rules, not an explicit guide of regulations or an assembly book for government.  As during the Civil War, our society is beset by questions of the balance between personal liberties and national security.  Lincoln took great efforts to protect and defend the Constitution upon his inauguration and in doing so, he ran roughshod over basic precepts of free speech and habeas corpus; he admits as much to his cabinet during a scene in the film as they demand to understand why he believes it so important to enact the 13th amendment.  These larger questions aren’t new and will continue to haunt us.

The most interesting exchanges about the movie occurred during the next evening’s meal as the film was described to my wife, who was out of town the previous evening.  She glanced at Middle and inquired who’s the director? to which he replied Spielberg

Why was it released now? she asked.

I responded well, it didn’t occur before the election so it can’t be called a clear endorsement for an African-American president, sort of "look how far we’ve come since the 13th amendment".  The boys listened. 

No, she commented, but it’s certainly a good piece to have out in the aftermath of the Obamacare passage.  People want the big concepts like healthcare reform, but don’t want to see all of the little deals that go into the passage of such legislation.  As the conversation meandered, we questioned whether Obamacare is actually something good.  It’s 1400 pages that almost no one has actually read and many are opposed to it, sometimes viscerally.  Yet the 13th amendment’s passage was likewise opposed, sometimes viscerally and in the moment of it’s passage, it required the courage and great effort of a minority to enact it.  The point to the boys was this:  all that you can have at that moment are your convictions and it won’t necessarily be until sometime later that you learn whether the fruition of those convictions was truly successful. 

The upshot is this.  Don’t presume that the schools are going to teach your children everything that they need to learn to survive in the great wide world.  Look for your opportunities to expand their horizons and think about what you want them to take from those opportunities.  Make it a point to ask them what they noticed or thought and then just chat with them.  There are moments when they cock their heads and give you that Laddie, the Wonder Spaniel look but there will also be moments when you can watch the lights being turned on in the rooms inside their head and it’s those moments that provide profound satisfaction.  Don’t let them nag you out of it just because it might be out of their comfort zone; kids will bitch, whine and kvetch since that’s what they do.  Suffer it and push them so that they experience something that’s ultimately in their best interest and remember that since you’re the parent, you should know better than they do what’s in their best interest.  

The Kid Doesn’t Wanna…

Youngest and I went on a recent hike with a group on a cold mid-November morning, meeting the others in a local parking lot.  When I arrived, one of the kid hikers – in upper elementary school – stood in the parking lot next to his parent’s van wearing nylon gym shorts, a t-shirt and thin cotton windbreaker.  The parents weren’t going along with the boy, who would be with a group of us.  When I walked over and said hello, he commenced yakking with Youngest and I quietly asked his parent whether that attire would really be sufficient for a long hike in chilly temperatures; the forecast called for gusty winds and as it turned out, brief snow flurries.  The adult looked at me and stated that that’s what he always wore in cold weather, he didn’t wanna wear long pants and heavier clothing so that’s what he was going in. 

The kid didn’t wanna.  Seriously?  Seriously?  I mean, seriously? 

Since I was the guy who planned this hike of almost ten miles, it was up to me to decide whether or not I’d make an issue of it.  I commented that the boy was liable to become cold and the guy stated that that’s what the boy always wore and that he’d be alright.  My verbal response was okay but the mental response was far more prolific.  I grew up in a “highway household” in which the parental mantra was my way or the highway and I’d frankly fought this particular battle in my household on innumerable occasions until the older kids reached an age that they’d learned to suffer well from their choices.  My own personal decision was that the boy was going to have to suffer from his choice and parent’s unwillingness to press the issue.  When we reached a later point in the hike in which the wind was blowing across the open fields and the boy was visibly shivering, my only response was to suggest that he zip up the windbreaker and hustle a little faster.  I wasn’t about to play the dutiful parent and offer my own fleece jacket to keep him warm;  in my mind, my obligation was to bring the kid back alive and unharmed and if he’d been attacked by wild dogs, I’d protect him.  But I was damned if I – or anyone else – was going to suffer for his own parent’s unwillingness to be the adult for his own kid. 

The reality is that parenting can be unpleasant – damnably so – at times.  Kids naturally push the boundaries as they grow and try to assert their independence and judgment and it can occasionally require Solomon’s wisdom to ascertain when they’re alright in doing so and when they need to toe your line;  there have frankly been any number of instances when my own choice led to unnecessary frustration on the part of both sides and I can look back and say woulda, shoulda.  What bothered me now was that the kid was going to be out of the parent’s presence and any issues would have to be handled by me or another parent. If I’m going to have an Opie along – and that’s pretty often – then I don’t want to be in the position of having to pick up for the other parent’s unwillingness to be the adult.  When my kids are in someone else’s care, there’s an expectation that the other parent will be responsible for them but that doesn’t extend to even meeting their minimal needs simply because I don’t want to deal with any unpleasantries. 

If there’s ever a time to deal with the tantrums and rancor, it’s when they’re youngest.  As they grow, they’ll learn that while they push the boundaries and learn to actually argue with you on a more mature level – Dad, this is why I think that I should be allowed to wear pants like these… – they’ll also become used to the notion that you’re actually the parent with a final say. 

I owe my children my adulthood.  This means that I’ll have to wrestle with the unpleasant moments because it’s ultimately in their own best interests that I do so.  They don’t have the experience or the judgment to determine when something is ultimately harmful in the long run, such as wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather.  But thinking of them is only part of the equation since there’s also a duty to the other parents who have to deal with my child in my absence and I owe them what I in turn would want for myself when managing their kids in their absence.  It creates discord in their own household as their kids naturally point at the Opies and throw their own behavior back in the parents’ faces, and the folks in turn are forced to not only try to explain their own rationale, but explain the reasoning of those other parents.  The simple truth is that I’ve actually explained the behavior of other parents by remarking they let it occur just because they’re idiots, son.

If your own kid doesn’t wanna, please be sure that he’s old enough to live with the results of his choices.nbsp; If he isn’t old enough, make sure that you’re around to contend with him because he’s liable to not like my own response to the consequences of his (in)actions and kvetching. 


Life happens.  Holidays come and go, kids return and then depart, cars are wrecked (no injuries, thank God), motherboards on laptops die, and certain milestones are reached.  This particular milestone is that the PracticalDad site readership surpassed 60,000 regular readers on the RSS feed.

The site began four years ago with a single intent and two simple parameters.  The intent was to write about fatherhood and family, showing that men could be as capable in parenting as women although it’s morphed somewhat as I’ve tried to explore how what’s happening with society and economy affects our families.  The first parameter is that I not produce anything that would embarrass anyone within the family; not everything written has been posted as review and reflection caused me to delete articles because they might be embarrassing to one or more of the kids.  The great majority don’t personally know Eldest, Middle or Youngest but a few readers do and the kids don’t need a neighbor nodding the head and thinking “so that’s why he looked like he was having an aneurysm.”  The second parameter is that I simply don’t write crap.  There’s enough nonsense on the web and I don’t need to add to it and again, several articles were simply deleted because they left an odor on the keyboard.

Thank you for reading the PracticalDad.  And please don’t think badly if this note’s format is odd because there’s something squirrelly with how the new laptop’s mouse interacts with the site’s programming/writing module.  Life happens.


Today is a day that will be spent on errands and some shopping for the upcoming holidays and there’s now an additional item on that list, a box of Twinkies.  They aren’t something that I’ve actually purchased before – so I suppose that I’m part of the reason for the Hostess Corporation demise –  but the soon-to-be Hostess bankruptcy makes them an interesting household piece for discussion. 

The privately held corporation’s bankruptcy has been an item for discussion in the past several days as the Teamsters union put the kabosh on the contract offered by Hostess management.  The interplay of news has been entertaining as one article’s spin puts a negative light on the union’s refusal to ratify the contract, killing the company, while another highlights that the existing management is going to still distribute more than $1.5 million in bonuses.  The lessons for the kids in the next several days could be far-reaching and could go in any number of directions.


Boyfriends (and Girlfriends)

You’re gonna wanna put a bullet in your head when she finally brings home a boyfriend.

                      –  Friend of PracticalDad, 1994

This friend commented the above to me over lunch prior to Eldest’s birth and it was funny in the moment, especially since his girl was 15 and my unborn was seeming light years away from that point.  But time passes quicker than you realize and suddenly, she’s talking about boys and soon there’s some acne-riddled, pubescent bucket of testosterone staring you in the face.  Dear God, he was right…shoot me now

Whether it’s a boyfriend or a son’s girlfriend, how do you even begin to handle it?  The teen years are a time of massive change and that’s the way that it should be, with the bodies growing and changing and the brains literally rewiring themselves during that period.  Part and parcel of that process is the development of sexuality, typically in the opposite gender but occasionally in the same.  Regardless of the orientation, there is so much for them to learn…most especially how to treat and interact with someone with whom they’re interested.  So understand that it’s coming and prepare yourself for the day, because it will arrive.

So what should you consider?  So much of how you respond will depend upon your own values; it’s fine if you disagree with what I write, but accept it simply as a point of departure for your own conversations and decisions.

First, understand that the kids are a blank slate in most areas and will learn from watching you, even when you’re unaware of it.  Think about how you interact with your "significant other" on a daily basis.  As much as I hate using that term, the reality is that there are now ex-wives and husbands, live-in/unmarrieds, girlfriends and even boyfriends; regardless of the status, how do you treat that person and how do you display affection?  It isn’t necessarily an overt decision and display, but understand that they will take their cues from you.  The flip side of this is that if they’re allowed to spend hours each day in front of unsupervised television and computer, what they’ll learn about sexuality and the treatment of others is going to vastly different from what you’ll think is appropriate or warranted.  This is one of the primary reasons that we enforced the rules on electronics usage from an early age.

Second, understand that your child’s definition of dating, boyfriend and girlfriend might be radically different from your own adult definition.  I was surprised one evening by Eldest, in her sixth grade year, when she asked at the dinner table if she could have a boyfriend.  It’s fortunate that my wife took the lead and in the ensuing conversation, found that her definition was far more simplistic than I envisioned and it was innocent enough that I didn’t have a stroke.  It also however, led to overt discussion about behaviors and further conversations about attitudes and morality. 

Third, is there a specific age at which you’ll actually permit the child to actually go out with someone?  Eldest and Middle both had dating relationships at the age of 15, albeit with ground rules, fixed transportation arrangements and curfews.  But I spoke with another parent the other evening and they were adamant in not permitting their child to date until 17, noting that their principal responsibility during the earlier years was the schoolwork.  While I can respect that, part and parcel of the teen years is learning how to manage relationships.

Fourth, what are your expectations and your ground rules?  Be sure to communicate these clearly and explicitly to the kids, including the repercussions if these are broken.  In the PracticalDad household, no boyfriend or girlfriend can visit unless one of the adults is present and all doors must remain open; there is a clear understanding that we also have access to all areas of the house so that we’re free to come down to the basement mechanical room – adjacent to the family room – at any time.  There have been instances when I’ve gone there simply to prove that I can.  What are the transportation arrangements?  Who has to be home and when, and how are they getting there?  There have been occasions when the teen relationships have taken a back seat to other business simply because plans weren’t checked out with me in advance.  What are the guidelines – if any – on public displays of affection?  It’s been a point here since we’ve actively opened the household to the significant others but there’s still a younger sibling in elementary school and he doesn’t need to be exposed to too much.  if we’re going to control it on the screen, then we’re going to control it here as well.

Fifth, how much do you want to include the significant others in family life?  Are there family events or evenings that are off-limits to outsiders or are you willing to open them up?  One of the things that you should consider is that there are more than a few teens with no significant adult supervision or involvement in their lives and being inclusive not only allows you to keep a better eye on what’s going on, it also allows them the opportunity to see the workings of an involved and active family.  It doesn’t mean that your family is perfect, but it’s a sad fact that at least you have an engaged family while these kids might not.  Accept it as a truism that kids coming from situations in which there isn’t an active and engaged family will want to spend time with your own family; and the other truism is that you will in turn begin to care for them regardless of their status with your kid.  I know of situations in which the ex-boyfriends and girlfriends continue to maintain contact even after their own relationship has ended. 

Many fathers aren’t aware of the power of their own example until the kids are old enough to begin their own tentative relationships.  Understand now that the sons will see how you treat your mate and model that accordingly and your daughters will learn how they in turn should be treated.  There will always be disagreements and fights, but it’s the manner in which they’re handled that makes the difference. 

A Rolling Jubilee


If you think that Occupy Wall Street is dead and forgotten, then you might be interested to discover Rolling Jubilee.  This refers to a livestreamed concert event to raise money to purchase distressed debt and then – in a true twist – forgive it so that the debtors are left with a clean slate.  The term jubilee refers to the Old Testament biblical practice of a periodic forgiveness of debt across society so that all start again with a clean slate. 

Yes, you can purchase "distressed" – old – debt and then pursue it for collection via legal means.  It’s frankly a lucrative venture but one so seamy that it’s left to the vulture financial types because you’re pursuing people who are truly down.  The lucrative nature of the practice stems upon the fact that the debt is purchased for pennies on the dollar to reflect the likelihood of full repayment.  The seaminess is that you’re dealing with people who typically have nothing and it’s going to require real pressure to get anything back. 

There was a time years ago when I investigated its cousin, tax lien purchases, as an investment possibility; I subsequently wrote it off because it simply seemed morally repugnant to prey upon someone in such a circumstance.  This isn’t to say that all debtors are victims since the taking on of debt often involves choice and free will, but we do live in a consumerist system in which the finanical sector has a largely free hand and that’s especially the case in regards to debt collection.  The collectors don’t care about the why and how, just the money. 

I know that I’m around that evening and will probably stream it with at least one of the kids.  But even if I’m not going to stream it, I will put my money where my mouth is and donate because some folks truly are victims and I’m not comfortable letting them suffer for the sins of some of their peers.  My hope is that they in turn learn and adapt accordingly.

And all of that aside, I’m going to continue to work to assure that my own kids have the knowledge and capacity to avoid that debt mess in the first place.  Because home is where it all begins.

Legalizing Marijuana:  Told Ya So…

Just watch.  In a couple of years, states will begin legalizing marijuana and they’re going to tax it for the revenues.

     – PracticalDad to Eldest and Middle, 2009

Unfortunately, I’m right. Granted, these aren’t the legislators of Colorado and Washington simply saying yep, we’re broke so let’s legalize and tax; this is the result of public referendums brought about by marijuana activists.  Perhaps even as recently as five years ago, they might have been beaten back but we’re now in the throes of the first real public realizations that all of the promises made to various constituencies are costlier than expected and that the money isn’t there to support them.  These votes are the opening of a new front in the ongoing and growing fight about austerity, what we can – and want to – afford with our public dollars.

This budgetary impact was actually part and parcel of the approach crafted by the legalization proponents, particularly in the state of Washington.  The proposal was that there would be a 25% tax on marijuana with the money going to the state coffers, and I suspect that it was a major reason that it passed.  The voters recognize that there are obligations, particularly for their own favorite projects, but the tax revenues won’t support them without significant cuts.  Since no one likes to cut because it’s going to hit somebody somewhere, then the alternative is to find a new source of revenue and dope has the potential to be a big source.  

But this isn’t going to succeed easily because of the opposition from the Federal government, which has sworn to oppose legalization in any state.  And while it has partially to do with the welfare of the kids, a significant portion also comes down to money.   We all know that money runs the government, both in terms of paying for the services rendered and the votes.  There are multiple lobbies that oppose marijuana’s legalization for their own financial ends and have spent money as an investment to assure that it continues to remain illegal.  First and foremost of these is the lobby for the for-profit private prisons, principally Corrections Corporation of America.  How extensive is the use of private prisons?  CCA was the first in 1983 and continues to be the principal player.  With an incarcerated population of 2.3 million people, private industry is responsible now for 130,000 prisoners, or about 8% of that population.  While it might not appear to be that large an amount and not worthy of concern, consider this:  while the private prison population rose by 37% from 2002 to 2009, the amount of money spent lobbying rose by more than 150%.  With the trend towards privatization continuing in the wake of the Reagan Revolution, incarceration is increasingly about revenue instead of rehabilitation and atonement. 

Along with the private prisons, there are other aspects of the legal system with a vested interest in continuing the prohibition of marijuana.  There are prison guard unions, especially in California, with an interest since anything that continues to provide a constant supply of inmates and the accompanying revenue stream accrue to their benefit; with budgets on the cusp of real shrinkage so that the profit margin per inmate declines, there’s an interest in increasing the volume of inmates in order to maximize the profit and payroll for the union members.  There’s also an interest for the legal enforcement community since the affected budgets mean that there’s a greater need to obtain grants available for drug enforcement in order to meet the payroll and keep the money flowing. 

In researching this article, I was surprised to see the strange bedfellows who went along with the legal community to oppose marijuana legalization. Both the pharmaceutical and recreational alcohol lobbies have ponied up money to oppose legalization; the former because of the concern about competition of pot with prescription medications and the latter because of simple competition with legalized recreational alcohol.  In California, the beer distribution lobby actually donated to defeat California Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana in that state. 

So the lines are being drawn as everybody takes a side to determine how the draining pot of resources is allocated to use.  Private monies will be spent and those without private funds will increasingly take to the hallways and streets to demonstrate for their own viewpoint.  As a parent, it will be my job to assess the viewpoints and then make the best decision on behalf of my kids.  Personally, I know how I was raised and the values with which I was inculcated.  The hard part will be take those views and assess in the cold, hard light of day to see if they still make sense.


What Do We Owe Our Children?

What do we owe our children? 

Don’t think that such a philosophic personal question has no bearing on the public issues.  It’s clear that our nation cannot continue on the present course.  The power structure has shifted to the corporation and the wealthy few, who have successfully manipulated the political system to support economic and monetary policies that sacrifice the great majority to their own benefit.  We’ve failed to pay attention to our society and have succumbed to a consumerist mentality that has literally turned Aesop’s Grasshopper and the Ant on its head.  Our late generation boomers have done such a poor job of savings that they’re unable to retire in the classical sense and are unwilling to give up positions to the younger generation, who themselves are overladen with debt in their quest for the middle class.  As I’ve said before, we have to renegotiate the social contracts amongst ourselves…but where to start? 

The only way to truly start the conversation is in the home.  What do I, as a father, owe my children?  It isn’t an odd question because how we raise our children is crucial to their ability to cope with the changes that the country will have to endure in the coming decades. 

It’s been a long, hard four decades for American fathers.  We’ve been gone from a significant number of our children’s lives and frankly, it shows.  The rise of the divorce rate led to children being often given to the sole custody of the mothers with the father being marginalized.  The court system held to old beliefs that the children were best left to the care of the mothers, who were better parents by dint of simply being mothers; to be fair, the father before the 1970s usually did have little experience with the kids and would have been completely at sea, at least for the beginning.  But the presumption held that fathers were automatically worse parents by dint of simply being fathers.  The perversities of the old welfare system, in which women received additional government stipends to support more children, led to the growth of inner-city populations in which the presence of a father became the rare exception and not the rule.  These two roads led to the almost complete marginalization of the American father, a punch-line in any number of popular situation comedies such as Married With Children, The Simpsons and Family Guy.  There were certainly other shows, such as Cosby, but the damage was done as it’s easier to tear down than to build up. 

But long struggles by fathers through the years are turning the tides.  Court systems no longer automatically rule on behalf of the mother and I personally know of situations in which the fathers are suing for full custody of the kids, having patiently documented and worked to show that they were decent parents.  There is organized recognition by fatherless men that they themselves suffered for lack of a father and wanting to assure that it doesn’t occur with their own children.  The media is now portraying men – in commercials and on television – as equally capable parents, albeit with a different perspective than traditional motherhood.  Jimmy Fallon’s sitcom, Guys With Kids, is a prime example of men – each in a different marital status – making their children a primary focus in their lives and making fatherhood work. 

As we reconsider our mutual obligations, what do we – fathers – owe our children?

  • More than anything else, we owe them our time.  The economy is changing as we watch; while the unemployment rate is down, the jobs that are being created are mostly part-time and without benefits so that longer hours and more jobs are required in order to keep the family income afloat.  Families will find, even as they cut and adjust their spending, that they’re going to be working longer hours.  Both parents will be stretched and fathers will have to step up to greater levels in sharing the household and childcare duties.  But childcare is more than simply cleaning and feeding; childcare involves reading to and playing with them, overseeing studies and monitoring their friendships and play.  This means that there’s simply going to be less time available for fathers to spend on themselves, something that our forebear fathers were loathe to do without.  This is a return to the first principle of fatherhood, that your life is truly no longer your own
  • We owe them our conversation.  The stereotype of Dad behind the morning newspaper is old and frankly, I’m not sure if it’s even operative anymore.  But Dad has to have a vibrant and engaged voice in the daily conversation with the kids.  This is especially important as we’ve realized that the kids are now spending more than 6 hours each day nestled in an electronic cocoon, without benefit of a parent who can help bring order and context to all of the imagery that’s presented to them.  The children are literally bombarded with imagery and sound and it often comes in rapid waves.  One of our jobs is to enforce some discipline on the electronics and then talk with them about what’s happening around them to bring context to their world.
  • We owe them a respect for their mother, even if we’re divorced.  Children love both of their parents and desperately want to know that even if they’re not together, they can pull together for them.  They neither deserve nor want to be caught in the middle of squabbling parents and we’ve witnessed the angst and distress of kids who are caught amidst dueling parents.  I was driving with Youngest last week and the conversation turned to several of his friends, all of whom have parents separated or divorced; he remarked that if we broke up, he hoped that we would behave like one particular friend whose parents were civil and actively worked to maintain a decent relationship for the boy’s benefit.  It was frankly startling.  So even if you think that she’s a screaming banshee and she sees you as the devil incarnate, you’re going to have to find a way if at all possible to keep an even keel.  In other words, if there’s nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.
  • We owe them our support.  This is more than just time because supporting them means that we’re also going to have to leave our comfort zones and learn about what they enjoy as they experience new things.  I’m a case in point as I’ve had to learn how to keep the basketball and baseball score books and scoreboard, and am learning the basics of the garage band on the fly; I have no experience in any of these things but if it’s reasonable, respectable and enjoyable, then they should be supported as they explore their interests.
  • We owe them our adulthood.  There’s been a tendency in the past several decades for parents to want to be friends instead of parents, people who have to say no, maintain discipline and administer punishment and trust me, it can be contentious and unpleasant.  The kids have to understand that there is a hierarchy and that someone is able to make decisions devoid of the angst and drama that frequently accompanies the teen years.  Likewise, someone has to take the long-term view and that’s something about which most teens are simply incapable due to the inexperience and the still turbulent hormones that drive much teen decision-making.
  • We don’t owe them guilt for not being able to give them what they want.  As incomes decline and families rejigger to meet their needs, parents simply won’t be able to provide all of the accessories that are peddled and that might have been afforded in the past.  Kids can learn to do without and it’s frankly important that they do so, that they learn to differentiate between need and want; it’s a distinction that’s actively blurred by the corporations that peddle their wares.  Consider this however:  if you don’t give them the latest version of iPod or the Xbox but instead make a concerted effort to spend more time with them and interacting with them, you’ll instead be giving them the paternal involvement that you yourself might never have had. 

It’s possible that if you think about it, you’ll have your own criteria of what you owe your children.  The point however, is to actively think and define what you should do.  That’s at least half of the fight and a good headstart for the kids.  Then the trick will be to honor them to the best of ability.



Politics and Cynicism

As a father, I’m supposed to be respectful of our institutions and try to teach the theory of why things are the way that they are.  Yet I still try to raise the kids to be skeptical and not believe everything that they hear and there are times when it’s damned near impossible to find the balance.  The last two weeks of this 2012 presidential campaign are an example of those times.

There’s obviously a great deal riding on the outcome and I agree that this is an election with a meaning.  The country is in need of true change beyond what is typically seen in a change of political parties, even when there was a real difference between them.  The debt situation – personal, student, governmental – cannot continue and the powers that be have to learn that you can’t solve what is fundamentally a solvency issue by issuing still more debt.  The social contracts amongst our citizenry have to be fundamentally rewritten.  What do we owe our elderly and what fair claim do they have upon the national resources?  What do we owe our young people so that they have a real chance to pursue happiness, unencumbered by debt?  What must we do to truly rebuild our educational system so that it meets the needs of the individual and society?  One of the exercises in Middle’s Honors Civics class was a web-based internet exercise in which the students had to balance the federal budget.  His response one evening was that we’re screwed because if you make the cuts, people hate you and if you don’t, the debt blows up.  It was an eye-opening experience for him. 

There have been conversations with Middle and Youngest – Eldest is away at college – about the system and the election.  Middle’s Civics teacher has done a good job of exposing them to current issues as well as the traditional aspects.  One evening’s conversation was about campaign finance and I was surprised that he knew about SuperPACs and the issue of soft money spending on advertising.  On a truly family level perspective, the spate of last minute get out the vote calls has been unprecedented, to the point that I’ve actually disconnected the telephone and one person to whom I spoke today noted on her Facebook page that any friends who wished to contact her would have to do so by cellphone over the weekend.  Much of this is funded by soft money.  The calls have been so annoying that I’ve actually taken the time of pollsters and proceeded to lie through my teeth so as to get a little revenge for this nonsense and I’ve admitted such to the kids. 

The other aspects that have come up persistently here relate to the parties and the candidates, particularly that there are no true differences between them.  Despite all of the talk about policies, they might as well combine them and name the resulting creature Rombama.  Despite the taped endorsement from Colin Powell in which he states that the financial system has stabilized and recovered, the reality is that the financial system has become a cause of the zombification of the remainder of the real economy and a principal contributor to the monetary policies that grotesquely pull demand forward and penalize savers.  If our forefathers could see what our leaders are permitting, they’d literally stick a foot up their collective ass.  While the system was truly at the point of collapse in 2008, Obama should have made true reformation of the financial system the first priority instead of pursuing Obamacare; he instead proved to be a tool of the financial leaders.  His candidate counterpart simply lost me with his comment that corporations are people, too.  He can talk as much as he wants about cutting taxes and balancing the budget but he has to be substantive as to how he’ll handle spending.  If a teenager can take a computer exercise and see how totally screwed up things are, then I’m not hopeful at the soundbite hoopla.

That simple comment is the crux of the problem facing our country today, the rise of the corporations and their power in the face of the individual.  I’m not raising my children to be consumers and that is precisely what the system’s leaders want.

Tomorrow, I’ll do my duty and vote and because the elementary schools are closed to serve as polling places, I’ll take Youngest along with me.  He can hold my nose for me.

PracticalDad Price Index:  November 2012 Continues the Rise

The November 2012 market basket of 47 items was priced and the results show increases in both the Total Index (all 47 items) and the Food-only (the 37 food items in the basket) Index.  Note for both indices that November 2010 = 100.  The difference between the Total and Food-only indices are that the Food-only shows the price activity of only the actual food items within the marketbasket with the non-food items removed (foil, soap, trash bags, diapers, etc.).

Month          Total Index          Food-only Index  Spread

9/12             107.50                 111.67                 4.17

10/12           106.42                 111.80                 5.38

11/12           107.06                 113.04                 5.98

The Total Index is up from October’s level but still not back at the previous index high of 107.50, hit in September 2012.  Unlike that however, the Food-only Index never faltered and has once again hit an all-time high of 113.04.  What that literally means is that the cost of the same 37 food items in the market basket are now 13.04% higher than at the Index’s inception in November 2010.  To see a complete roster of the items in the basket, see here

The column entitled "Spread" refers to the difference between the two indices and is an indicator of the rate at which food prices are advancing ahead of all prices, which include non-food items as well.  Given the small number of non-food items in the basket, it would be considered statistically invalid.  But on a gut, common-sense level, it does provide some insight into how the price of food is behaving in relation to other prices in the current economic and monetary environment.