Throw Momma Under the Bus

It’s interesting to watch and listen to groups of people, especially in terms of male/female relationships.  Such was the case this weekend as Youngest helped me run a cub-scout rocket launch – yes, he’s still in elementary school but I trust the kid implicitly to run a launch pad for younger kids (with another father overseeing from the sidelines) – that was attended by scouts, siblings and families.  What was striking was the response of multiple fathers when something with the rocket didn’t work properly, whether the fins fell off the rocket pre-launch or it burned on the launch pad.  Each of these guys threw Momma under the bus.

Don’t look at me, I helped paint it,  You helped glue the fins on.

Hey, you helped build it, not me.

There was a third comment, but I frankly didn’t hear it clearly since I was helping to pack wadding and load engines into the Estes Viking rocket of kids that came to the engine table. 

The point was that in each case of malfunction, some father somewhere threw the mother under the bus.  It was one of those eyebrow-raising, head-cocking events that left me quietly abashed at the behavior of my father-peers.  Understand that there are multiple principles that I’ve come to adopt about dealing with family and kids.  The second rule – and I don’t have anywhere near as many as Jethro Gibbs since my memory isn’t that great in the first place – is that I should uphold the mother when I’m dealing with the kids.  That doesn’t mean to praise her unstintingly; as the kids grow, there will likely be conversations where you have to help explain why things might have happened a certain way, and you can only hope that the mother returns the favor for you as well.  But it does mean that you treat her with the respect that you would hope you would be treated by her in your absence.  Or as happened the other day, in your presence.  Each of these separate fathers simply sloughed off the blame and threw their mate under the bus so as to avoid embarrassment.

There are several points to consider here.  It’s clear that American society is continuing to undergo a significant change in terms of parental gender roles for multiple reasons.

  1. More young men are reflecting on their own upbringing in the past twenty years and deciding that they’d like to have a greater role in their kids’ lives than their own fathers had in their own childhood.
  2. More women are taking a much greater role in the workforce, removing them from the home requiring that their mate step up accordingly.
  3. Job losses and a poor economy – notwithstanding the easy credit addiction of the crackheads on Wall Street causing a new Dow/Nasdaq highs – are keeping more men at home

Despite the fact that men are now doing far more of the grocery shopping and cooking than their predecessors did, there are still some gender roles that the women don’t want to see changed.  How do I know?  Because more than one mother has commented such to me through the years, especially when it comes to boy-related activities.  The divorce rate through the past several decades has been in the vicinity of 50% and more than a few of the fathers fell out of the picture, leaving Mom to have to cover the activities that were historically designed for the men to handle.  This involved the handiwork activities such as building with tools as well as camping.  They themselves had grown up in a largely intact environment where Dad was around to handle such activities for the boys; they themselves were not terribly exposed to such things.  This went as well with the men; a fair portion were raised without the men to demonstrate and teach so that they didn’t have the exposure to the more male-oriented activities and skills.  The result is that there’s a significant percentage of a parental generation without the exposure to these male-oriented activities.  When it’s just the Mom involved in the parenting, then she has no option but to step up and make the effort for her son. 

But what of the Dad?  I can speak from experience that any Dad wants to be respected by his kids and in an environment that prizes wise-assery and irreverence, it can seem hard to keep.  My own father would never do the outdoor activities with me because of a promise that he made himself after returning from the Korean War – Son, I spent a year sleeping outside with a half-million Chinese trying to kill me so I’ll be goddamned if I ever sleep outside again – yet one of my kids thrives on the outdoor stuff.  I’ve got no option but to suck up and try to learn as I go in order to provide such an experience.  The same goes for building rockets and pinewood derby cars; outside my realm of experience but something that must be worked through to provide for the child.  My wife leaves that to my responsibility with the understanding that while I’m not an expert, I’ll do my best and leave it at that. 

The kids aren’t stupid and they’ll figure out sooner than later that Dad isn’t perfect.  What matters to them however, isn’t that Dad is the expert on all things male.  What matters to them is that Dad is active in their lives and doing everything that he can.  If you aren’t familiar with something, then do your research beforehand and if necessary, practice out of their presence.  Practice with them and if something doesn’t work right, walk through the problem so that they learn that not everything does go right the first time.  Sometimes, it doesn’t go right the second, third or fourth time either but if they don’t see that, they won’t learn otherwise.  When it goes right, celebrate.  What the kids want is your presence and attention and learning together is something that provides both in spades.  If you’re truly not comfortable with something, then tell them why and don’t feel guilty about it.  Youngest already knows that I will never take him hunting and not for reasons of conscience.  That is an activity for which I can simply not acquire sufficient expertise in time without endangering him or others.  But he does know that when his mother and I deem him old enough, we’ll assure that he goes out with another father who is sufficiently competent and experienced to take a young hunter. 

Part of the old code of manhood was the ability to suck it up and shoulder your load without complaint or fault-finding.  So do your best and shoulder the load.  Understand that despite the changing, shifting of the household and workplace roles, there are still some things that your mate expects that you do with the kids.  And if, after doing your best, fins fall off and rockets explode on the launch pad, nosecones fail to pop so that the rocket sails with a thwack into wet ground of the parking lot pavement, then that’s simply life.  Not to mention that participating in such controlled chaos is honestly cool to experience.

Because things go wrong despite best efforts and the kids aren’t learning much of a lesson with Dad throwing Momma under the bus.

The Conversations:  Political

Despite all of the family activity over the past several months, there have been a number of significant conversations with the kids, singly or together.  There’s so much happening in our society – well, that’s nothing new but the nature of it is far more important than other issues – that these conversations have to happen.  There are moments when any of them will look at me with the cocked head pose of Laddie, the Wonder Spaniel – blah, blah, NSA, blah… – but there are also moments when the monologue shifts to a dialogue and it’s then that the real education can occur, that time when what is learned in school is fleshed out in the real world and the family values are further transmitted.

Decide what you believe is the most important for them to know and work from there.  For me, there are several large issues that come together into one overarching monstrosity of a theme.  Issues such as the legalization of marijuana, the ongoing failure to reform the financial system, the growth of the surveillance state and campaign finance reform are seemingly unrelated on one level but tightly intertwined on another level.  Each is part and parcel of the coalescence of a corporate and political structure – fascism in it’s simplest form – that seeks to maintain itself at the cost of the individual’s rights and liberties.  The legalization of marijuana is, on one level, a purported triumph for individual liberty but the system’s willingness to alter decades of law and policy in the interest of yet more tax revenue is the worst form of cynicism.  We’ve talked for years about an equal opportunity system that pays no credence to race, gender or creed and congratulations to us – we’re now well down the road to a system of governance that doesn’t give a good goddamn about the color of your skin, your gender or what you believe so long as you feed the system via votes, tax revenues or payments for stays in private correctional facilities.

The Legacy for the Kids…and I’m Outraged

Things change a person’s political perspective – age, experience, education – but something else that changes a political perspective is parenthood.  Through most of my young adult life, I could be classified as a socially liberal and fiscally conservative person.  I did listen to Limbaugh but spent late afternoon drivetime with NPR to get a different slant on the same topic on which Limbaugh had opined just a few hours previously.  Now I no longer listen to either but choose to get the news from a wide variety of internet sources, including foreign newspapers.  But fatherhood changed that political perspective and I’m now…well, I’m not entirely certain how to categorize it but it’s safe to say that I’m simply angry with what our political, corporate and financial sectors have become.  But while I’m angry with them individually, their proto-fascist collusion in the past decade or more drives me to outrage for this legacy that’s being crafted for my – our – children.

What our nation is becoming is increasingly fascist.  The exact definition of fascism is murky, dependent upon multiple factors.  But Franklin Delano Roosevelt best described it thusly in his 1938 address to Congress on the curbing of monopolies:

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.




The Sandwiched Generation

After a few rocky decades for the American father, things – as least as I can tell in the media barometer – seem to be leveling out.  We’ve gone from the tasteless Al Bundy and Homer Simpson to more functional father-models as demonstrated in NBC’s Parenthood and ABC’s Castle.   Television commercials show fully functional Dads overseeing bedtime activities and homework, as well as managing laundry.  A recent survey found that men are taking a far greater role in grocery shopping and cooking, a byproduct of more women working, fewer employment opportunities and greater interest spurred by the Food Network (a much-watched network on our television).  But all of that’s now happening on one end of the age spectrum, fathers and kids.  As these younger men age and the kids grow, the increasing family responsibility will begin to show itself on the other end of the age spectrum as they become responsible for one or both of their parents; they will be taking on what was historically taken on by the women in American society.

The pace of my writing since the Spring – steady, but not prolific to begin with – has slowed considerably in the past few months.  Part of this can be attributed to the activities and presence of kids home from school as well as the completion of years-long backyard reclamation projects.  But what also took up considerable time was the reality that I was now officially a part of the sandwich generation; that phase in life in which I was not only responsible for the care of kids but also the care and oversight of an elderly parent.  Because I live much closer to that parent than my sister and my schedule is more flexible, the bulk of the oversight has fallen to me.  It’s an experience which I never considered having to do, but then again, most of my adult life has been spent in an alternative route that was inconceivable in my youthful ambitions.  On a societal level however, it’s also new because the onus of caring for the aging parents has fallen to the women, whether they be daughter or daughter-in-law.  The sons have typically deferred to the women because the matters fall to the purview of home management, a woman’s role and one in which most men felt utterly incompetent.  But that too, is going to have to change in several ways.

First, roughly the past three American generations – three 20 year generational spans, dating back to 1950 – have lived and been raised in the nuclear family model of parents and their immediate children, sans grandparents.  That model broke onto the American scene in the early part of the 20th century with increasing industrialization and the rapid growth of the transport network, which allowed adult children to move for a supportable wage living with the knowledge that they could more easily get back to their own aging parents if necessary.  By the 1950s, the nuclear family was the standard model and one that worked for the country as the nation’s superpower status provided expanded economic opportunity.  My own upbringing was spent four hours away from where my own parents were raised, and my experience with extended family usually consisted of a semi-annual trek to the western part of the state to listen to my mother and her three siblings semi-playfully trashtalk one another around the evening poker table.  If and when things with the grandmothers were problematic, much could be handled via local relatives, the social services network via phone and a trip westwards to tie up loose ends.  I say grandmothers because the grandfathers did what men of that time did, die at a much earlier age, early enough that I neven met either of them. 

This leads to the second point, which is the present disparity between the age of retirement and the age of death.  In 1950, when the nuclear family truly took flight, the average person retired at 67.3 years of age but the average age at death was 68.2 yearsCongratulations, here’s your watch for years of faithful service.  Now figure out who gets it because you’ve got about a half-year ’til you get to pass that l’il beauty on.  By 2000, the average person’s retirement age was 61.5 years and age at death, 77 years.  Congratulations, here’s your watch for years of faithful service.  Don’t sweat who gets it because you’ll probably have to replace it once before you die.  In three generations, we’ve gone from a retirement span of less than six months to more than 16 years – and the most recent comparable statistics for retirement age are thirteen years old – so there’s more time that the parents have to decline in their capabilities than existed in 1950.  Medicine has progressed sufficiently that people can live for prolonged periods with conditions and diseases that would have simply killed them in 1950.  Geriatrics, the final frontier…

The third point is well known, the simple economic differences between the now retiring boomers and their 1950 peers.  The elderly are not a monolithic block, but composed of separate groups with their own generational experiences and economics.  The predecessors viewed Social Security as a supplemental income to their own savings, and many of them had pension plans that didn’t have the investment timeframes facing today’s surviving pension plans.  For a relatively period of time, they were financially comfortable before disease simply swept them away.  Today’s boomers grew up consuming instead of saving and for them, Social Security is a primary source of income instead of a supplemental source. There’s now a growing awareness of the pending shortfall in the Social Security program as America ages, and there are alternatives being batted around funding solutions.  But these would be unpopular with the wealthier citizenry and given the status of power due to wholly ineffective campaign financing regulations, passage of such measures is problematic. 

This leads to the fourth point, which is the availability of resources to assist the elderly.  My parent has sufficient assets to permit living in what is comparable to a top-tier independent living community that provides for all levels of care, from independent apartments and cottages through assisted living to skilled care for end-of-live issues.  But this parent is a Depression-era child with that generation’s sensibilities of want and deprivation leading to a savings ethos to supplement the then-extant pensions.  The description of life there that I hear indicate a few problems on the horizon as their clientele dies and is replaced by younger occupants; remember that the elderly are not as monolithic as AARP would like you to believe.  Apartments now seem to be unoccupied for a longer period before being sold again, and empty apartments can now be rented to residents’ guests for short-term stays.  The food is still top-notch, but there’s an increasing use of chicken for protein and the once-monthly Prime Rib night is a memory.  Because it’s located in a rural area, the executive chef arranges for bulk purchase of greens and fruits from local farmers and seasonally, capable elderly volunteer to go to the cafeteria to help clean and prepare the produce by snapping beans or husking ears of corn. 

So the younger elders aren’t as financially prepared as their predecessors.  The burden for the increased care falls upon the social net established over the past several decades by state and federal governments with a correspondingly larger demand upon the budget; but if the budget is constrained, then the result is that there’s fewer dollars per elderly recipient.  If the budget is cut, then the result is an even fewer amount of money per elderly recipient.  With deficits running in the range of $1 Trillion annually and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare comprising the lion’s share of that budget, is there any real doubt that there’s going to have to be a significant restructuring of the programs?  Where else will the elderly be able to turn? 

There are several things that already are – or will – come from this.

  • The average retirement age will rise, if it hasn’t already started to do so, as seniors defer retirement and remain in the workforce.  This puts pressure on the younger generations as there are fewer supportable wage jobs that permit the younger to leave their own parents’ houses and start their own households. 
  • The retirement center model, such as my parent’s, is a damaged concept as fewer elderly will be available to buy into them.  Fewer full service retirement communities will be built and those existing will have to either find new ways to deliver existing services or eliminate some of those services entirely.
  • There will be increased antagonism between the younger generations and the elderly as each begins to fight for existing resources.  I honestly don’t anticipate that the media will make an effort to downplay the hostility and some will even spur it since bad news and controversy sell.  Understand that there’s already some hard feelings by young adults because of the manner in which the Boomer generation has managed resources and parenting; this has the potential to harden those feelings even further by a considerable degree.
  • There has to be a wholesale renegotiation of the social contract between generations.  The younger have to recognize that the elderly do require assistance while the elderly have to be willing to manage on less in order to give the youngsters their own opportunities to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

 It’s common to refer to those who fought and won the Second World War as The Greatest Generation.  But each generation has it’s own demon with which to contend and this restructuring of our programs and resources – and the accompanying pain which it will incur – will be the demon for our youngsters.  My suspicion and my hope is that future generations will refer to our youngsters as The Greatest Generation, not for war, but for the sacrifices that they were forced to make to assure that all – including their foolish, selfish Boomer parents – received the care that they required. 

PracticalDad Price Index:  November 2013 Continues Slide…

…but that’s only looking at one side of the family’s equation.  Not only will what they have purchase less in real terms, but millions of families will actually have even less as they moved forward.

The intent of the PracticalDad Price Index has been to ascertain what’s really going on with food prices via a 47 item marketbasket, followed consistently at three separate and unrelated grocery stores.  It began in November, 2010 (11/10 = 100.00) after considerable controversy over the impact of loose monetary policy courtesy of the Federal Reserve System; this or that is going up, what’s going to happen to food?  But what’s been happening to the average American family isn’t solely the result of loose monetary policy; the middle-class family has also been whacked on the income side so that they’re being eaten away from two different directions.  It was an unpleasant irony that the day on which I did the price surveys was the same day that the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was cut by 6% in a budgetary move.  It’s not as though you couldn’t see one coming from months ago as the media was increasingly full of stories about fraud within the SNAP program, painting an untold number of beneficiaries as undeserving of the program; other stories told of governmental quotas for enrollment so that the administrators were graded on how many new beneficiaries joined their program during each period.  The set-up was in the media to pave the public opinion way for future cuts.

The fortunate item this month is that the PracticalDad Price Index actually is dead in the water from October, 2013. The Total Index of all 47 items in the grocery store marketbasket was unchanged from October’s Index of 107.83; the 37 item food component (which excludes non-food items such as soap, aluminum foil and etc.) actually declined slightly to 112.81 in November from October’s 112.98.  Apart from the occasional upwards month – such as September’s greater than half point jump to 113.76 – the November Food-Only Index continues the downward trend from that Index’s high point of 114.33 reached in December 2012.  Note that the 37 item Food-only Index had actually jumped by greater than 2.5 points from October 2012, an annualized rate in those three months of 10%; this has fortunately backed off and we’re now at a level last seen in October, 2012.

So here are the results for both the Total Index and the Food-only Index for the past four months.

Month          Total Index          Food-Only Index          Spread

8/13              107.90                 113.14                             5.24

9/13              108.39                 113.76                             5.37

10/13            107.83                 112.98                             4.63

11/13            107.83                 112.81                             4.98

We’re now into the secular Christmas season, as judging by the lights and outdoor ornaments that I’ve begun to see on local retailers and homes.  And it’s only November…The point to be made is this however:  I am certain that there is fraud in the SNAP program, just as there’s fraud in the Social Security Disability Income program, the student loan program, Medicare/Medicaid and any number of other social/economic aid and entitlement programs.  You can’t have more than a full generation of out-of-control spending – coupled with a decade of (near)Zero Interest Rate Program rates – without fostering a rushing stream of liquidity flowing through the economy.  That alone tempts the amoral among us, who then view the lack of regulatory enforcement enriching the highest echelons of society as an invitation to cut themselves loose to the stream and take some for themselves.  But there is a crying need for food amongst the poor and now even the middle class who are struggling; food banks are already pressed and are terrified of the long-term effects of these cuts in SNAP benefits on their supplies. 

In this coming season – hell, for the entire year – make it a point to reallocate any charitable giving to the local food banks.  If you have the resources, purchase a bag of groceries at your shopping trip and drop it off at a nearby food bank.  The powers that be in the government and the financial sector have made it abundantly clear where their priorities lie and it’s going to be up to us to take care of one another.  As my own father said to me in my teenage years, you better be able to look out for yourself because the government isn’t going to do it.  

Dads and Grocery Shopping

There’s been a spate of recent articles (here and here) about how men are doing more of the shopping and the cooking.  There are other articles out there since things were spurred on by a research firm faxing poll results to various media outlets, but you get the drift.  Several of the articles even mention that some of these men are fathers who do most, if not all, of the cooking and one article even shows a young father carrying his preschool daughter in his arms as he rolls the cart down the aisle.  Which leads to the topic at hand, what are some things to remember if you go grocery shopping with the kid(s)?

Having been the stay-at-home since Eldest’s birth (she’s now in college) and with others at intervals back through elementary school, I’ve been the one who’s trotted through the grocery aisles across the years.  The majority of those years have required that I take one or more kids in tow and for several, all of them were along for the excursion; what are some things to remember and consider when the kids are along at the store?

  • Understand that your child is now a living, crying, potentially bleeding egg timer that’s set to ring when the patience is exhausted.  Having a plan and list is crucial since your freedom to browse is now as limited as the attention span of a Labrador Retriever on meth; planning is crucial for both economic and behavioral issues.  What do you need to buy and where is it located?
  • Before you even leave the house, consider how much has to be accomplished and whether it can even be accomplished in the framework of your child’s body clock.  Children require structure and that means a nap for most kids age three or younger so trying to accomplish a large shopping trip immediately after lunch is setting up for unpleasantries as the child simply tires and becomes unable to handle waiting in the cart.  Even kids who no longer nap still tire and are subject to the stresses of the late afternoon witching hour when their energy ebbs and they become crankier and less patient.  For me, late afternoon grocery trips were minimal and solely for emergent reasons (dammit, I thought that I had that…); some shopping was simply done in the evening by myself because it was obvious that one or more of the kids was not able to handle it that day.
  • Set the stage for the behavior by stating your expectations prior to even entering the store.  Talk to your toddler about what’s going to happen and gently let him know what you want to see in terms of behavior; you can also let him know the consequences of misbehavior which is important if you employ the three-count method of discipline (which I still do even today, to the kids’ general annoyance, because it continues to work).
  • Understand that distraction is as good as discipline for keeping small children in line.&nbsp: Eldest had a toy phone that beeped and Middle had a keyring with useless keys, each of which was kept in a pocket for the moment that their patience began to wear thin.
  • Consider the shopping experience with your child to be an excellent teaching opportunity, particularly when they’re preschoolers.  The grocery store is a great place to work on colors, shapes and names of items when they’re very little and counting when they’re a bit older.  How many yellow bananas are there?  One, two, three…
  • Let the kids help as they age; you can even turn it into a game by asking them to find certain things with prizes for reaching a certain number correct.  That said, don’t send preschoolers to the other side of the store for that item that you forgot…
  • Make a conscious decision whether or not good behavior will be rewarded with a physical treat, such as a donut.  On the one hand, you can argue that good behavior is simply expected and shouldn’t be rewarded as though it was out of the norm but on the other hand, can you really turn down the opportunity for a shared donut?
  • Understand that you’re going to be multi-tasking and that the intensity of the multi-task will rise with the number of children along for the jaunt.  Expect to be tired when it’s finished and don’t be surprised if your patience is tested.
    • Shopping for groceries and cooking is just one aspect of how men are continuing to step up and take a greater role in the family just as women have stepped up to take a greater role in the work force.  The experience of taking the kid(s) can be a challenge and a great shared experience and the difference between good and bad will depend upon what you expect and what you do to prepare.  Once men are more fully established in the kitchen and store, it’s only going to be some years longer until they’re also taking more responsibility for the housework.