Practical Lessons Abound

If you sit back and keep your eyes open, the practical lessons abound. 

Such is the case with Middle, who’s now in high school and beginning to receive the rush of mailers from prospective colleges for life after high school.  But amidst all of the flyers and brochures was a package from Gillette with a picture of a grizzled Clay Matthews on the reverse side and a glistening new razor on the other.  Yeah, I’m a throwback guy who’s rough and masculine but that’s no reason to have unsightly stubble…is the message that resonates inside the heads of the neophyte shavers.  Middle opened the box and out slid a new Gillette Fusion razor, ready and waiting to make his face smooth as a baby’s butt.

Cool! was Middle’s comment, and that’s where the lessons began. 

Are there refills with that razor?  I asked.

Nah, just the razor itself was Middle’s response.  So after a certain number of usages, Middle’s going to have to buy refills – check that, I’m going to have to buy refills since high schoolers don’t have the green to buy pricey razor refills – if he plans to use the razor moving forward.  The reality in the PracticalDad household is that while Middle is already shaving, he and I use the same brand of razor so that the refills can be shared between us to cut down the cost.  My own beard is the consistency of steel wool from years of daily dry shaving and his own face doesn’t grow enough stubble to require a daily shave, so we can get by with a shared refill pack. 

So, I asked, if they’re sending you a free razor, where do you think that they make their money?  

Middle glanced down at the package and nodded.  So this is like the printer ink?

I nodded back.  The conversation went to the ground covered in a previous conversation that we’d had.  This instance with the razor was no different than HP or another manufacturer that sells computer printers; the device is literally a throwaway and their money going forward would be made by the ongoing sales of highly priced ink.  Be aware that when someone offers you something for free, it might be nice but the likelihood is that they aren’t Mother Teresa and they’ve got some way of profiting from it.  The question is whether you understand that and whether you actually need what’s being peddled, such as printers.

The next question was one for which he had no answer.  So how do you think Gillette got your name and approximate age for the mailing?  Middle glanced down as he thought about it and after a few seconds said I dunno.  How?  It was now that he learned about mailing lists, how organizations that had basic demographic data – like the College Board perhaps – sold those lists to willing buyers.  So Gillette can determine who their market will be and then go to a data source for the list of everyone in that demographic group…so while some of this is unavoidable, understand that it happens and be careful to whom you provide information.  The reality is that we’ve allowed corporations and the government to construct all of these background structures that are utterly opaque to people who are just trying to make their way.  I’m a fairly smart, cynical guy and even I’m still surprised at learning about we’re constantly gamed by corporate and governmental entities.  A frequent tagline now used in the PracticalDad household is the simple pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, uttered when public promises and niceties are uttered; these would include the IRS denials that there was even-handed application towards applications for non-profit status by political groups and the President’s comments that policyholders could continue with their policies under the new Affordable Care – aka “Obamacare” – Act.  What I want my kids to learn is that they start looking around for a figurative curtain to help ascertain whether what’s said is believable or simply more tripe.

We now live in a largely opaque culture, one that we’ve allowed the various corporations and government to create over the decades.  There might be legitimate reasons for complexity, but the truth is that without a functional regulatory and judicial structure, then opacity is simply a curtain behind which all manner of amoral and unethical activities can occur.  Even when they’re ostensibly adults, our kids are still babes in the woods ready for the taking by whomever has the ability to control the curtains.  Keep your head up and your eyes open, looking for any and all opportunities to help them learn to question and understand what’s happening around them.

Waterloo:  Old Dad versus Young Dad

There are the occasional periodic articles about how the average age of fathers has risen and the advantages of being an older dad.  Ed Pritchett, the patriarch of ABC’s Modern Family is a prime-time example of an older dad working through the fatherhood process.  I’m not ready to concede that fatherhood is indeed a young man’s game but after a recent Friday night campout, I’m willing to concede that I finally met my Waterloo.

The evening in question was a night spent at a Boy Scout Klondike Derby, a winter camping event in which scout troops gather to compete in various competitive events.  The Klondike aspect is that each troop must push or pull it’s own handmade sled from a starting line and then onwards to each of ten separate event stations; the sled can also be mounted on detachable wheels to allow it to run when there is no snow.  When the weekend is finished, each troop takes it’s sled back and stores it for the following winter Klondike.  It was questionable at the outset whether or not I would even be attending since my Saturday morning was already booked with a cub scout pinewood workshop at a friend’s shop and Middle had a Saturday evening concert that I planned to attend.  When there were some questions from Youngest, I agreed that I’d camp with him at the troop site on Friday night and return home Saturday morning, returning back to the troop site that evening after the concert was finished and staying to help break down camp on Sunday morning.  Parents with multiple children will understand the variety of plan permutations that are considered before a final resolution is made.

This year’s particular Klondike occurred in early January on the heels of the returning Polar Vortex so that the temperatures were, to say the least, erratic.  There was snow on the ground the day before the event was to begin and on the dawn of the day’s start, the temperature warmed to allow rain before finally dropping again below the freezing mark; our arrival was marked by the inability of Youngest’s troop to access the campsite without a four-wheel drive vehicle to haul the gear up.  Another local troop was forced to camp in the main dining pavilion because the trail to their site was completely impassable.  We pitched our tents on frozen, ice-covered ground in the rain and then set up the chuck box and cooking gear under a tarp that we threw over existing canopy poles.  A campfire was only possible because another adult brought along all manner of debris and paperwork that was used for firestarting – and it was here that I learned that potato chips cooked in lard actually make a decent firestarter, holding a flame long enough for the surrounding paper to catch.  When we finally turned in for the night, we found that everything was damp because the water simply permeated everything; ice, snow, rain and a London-quality fog caused by the mix of warming air and frozen ground.  Youngest and I shared a two man tent; even with an extra sleeping bag spread out under our own two bags, I was wet, cold and uncomfortable, a cocktail that bred a full-bodied ache through my middle-aged frame.  When the morning came – after only an hour’s sleep – I was barely able to move because of a longstanding physical impairment and had to tell Youngest then that there was no earthly way that I could spend another night there.  It was a painful moment of personal defeat, and not just physical.

Younger fathers do have it over us older guys.  They are more physically capable of participating in the activities and it was that morning that I’d wished I was twenty years younger.  We do have it over the twenty-somethings in that there is a greater breadth of experience but that’s a poor compensation when the issue is camping or the outdoor stuff that the kids often want to do. 

So what is the point here, apart from belaboring my own frailty?  The point is that fathers are going to be called upon to step outside of their comfort zone in any number of ways.  Guys who were bookworms might wind up camping and varsity football players might wind up coaching their daughter’s midget league basketball team.  And older dads will have to figure out how to navigate the physical activities that wouldn’t have fazed us two decades ago.  The point is that we try and if we fall on our collective asses, then at least we did so trying.  The kids aren’t stupid and they understand that dads – and moms – aren’t perfect.  But they also understand that we’re making the effort and if we fail, then at least we can also hopefully demonstrate how to respond to the defeats and knocks that life hands us.  And that is a bigger lesson than how to pitch a tent or roll up a sleeping bag.

The Klondike night was one that I don’t regret, but one that I certainly won’t repeat.  Youngest knows that while I’ll continue camping with him, there are simply some circumstances that will keep me inside.  What I hope that he’ll take with him as he ages is that it’s okay to admit defeat but that it at least comes after the attempt. 

When Dad Screws Up

 It’s easy when the kids are little and look upon Dad as being someone omnipotent and omniscient, but there does come a day when the bloom comes off of the rose and they recognize that Dad is as fallible as anyone else.  And then there are the instances when the screw-up is sufficiently embarrassing that Dad has to wonder how it’s going to really appear.  Such was the occasion a week ago when the website’s domain name registration expired because this Dad wrote the wrong date on the calendar.

This website has existed for five years and now holds approximately 600 essays and articles, all original, and the kids know that I try to find time to get away and write; it’s now my outlet.  So I was severely non-plussed to go to the site over a week ago and find that it had been deactivated, the homepage pasted over with some stock page that listed other terms involving the word practical.  After the initial shock and a momentary fear that five years of writing had gone down the proverbial tubes, I slowed myself down and walked through what had happened.  The articles and site were still there, but it was as though a shutter had been thrown across the storefront.  The next thought was a simple question:  how do I explain this screwup to the kids?  My wife is an adult with enough experience to recognize that occasional gaffes occur and that when they do, we fix them and move on.  The kids are also old enough to recognize this, but it was pointedly embarrassing on this front since I actively promote awareness of what’s going on around them.  What is your schedule and when is something happening or due?  What’s your deadline?  What are the consequences when something doesn’t happen that should?  This screwup played right to the heart of what I actively try to teach.

So what to do? 

Instead of hiding it, I frankly admitted that I’d screwed up royally.  It was painfully embarrassing to admit to the kids that I’d blown it, making an error as simple as getting the date wrong.  But if my principal job is to prepare the kids for living in the great wide world, then it’s my responsibility to share both positive and negative lessons.  What are the consequences of this goof?  Are they permanent or is it fixable?  What are the lessons for this particular and what can I illustrate with them?  Each will take something different away than another.  For Youngest, it was a lesson in global business as the server is housed with an Australian firm that years ago purchased the American company that had granted the original domain name; not only that, but my subsequent actions were taken with their operations center, which the Australians had outsourced to the Philippines.  Yeah son, it’s kind of like that show that NBC cancelled about a call center in India, "Outsourced".  For the older two, it’s been more of a question of managing to not panic and working the problem, walking through the issues.  How far ahead is Manila from here in terms of time?  Do I need to contact my credit card company in advance to verify that the charge coming through is legitimate and not fraud?  By the way, the answers to the two respective questions are 13 hours and yes. 

The conversations haven’t been extensive and filled with angst; they’re already well aware that Dad goofs.  But there’s no sense in hiding the error, either.  Because any corrective actions should it have been a fatal error – website relaunch, et cetera – would have required coming up with cover stories that would’ve been impossible to keep straight. 

And that’s the big lesson for the kids.  Acknowledge the error, take the hit to the ego and move on.




You’ve Come a Long Way, Buddy…But You Can’t Have It All

Change usually happens incrementally and with such stealth that it creeps into your consciousness like an ex-boyfriend slipping into the backpew of the wedding service.  But occasionally, you get that instant aha! moment when you see something that registers immediately.  Such was the case when I took Middle for an annual physical last week and realized that the doctor’s office was full of men and that all of them had babies and toddlers.

There was a time when I took the kids – much younger then – to the pediatrician’s office and found myself the sole non-physician male in the entire office.  Mothers and grandmothers were there with kids of all ages and for any number of reasons and there I sat, reading a well-thumbed Dr Seuss book to one or two children while I awaited the call of our name.  But last week was eye-opening on multiple levels.  The first level was the simple presence of so many fathers concentrated in one area, actually outnumbering the number of women who weren’t on staff; there were mothers in the area, but there appeared to be more fathers there.  The next level was the earliest years with the kids were spent in the DC region, which would certainly qualify as one of the forerunners in the fatherhood movement as men became more involved.  But last week’s excursion was to a suburban physician’s office in a very politically and socially conservative area.  There were men there with their wives, but I noted several bringing multiple kids in by themselves and all that I could think of was a paraphrase of the old commercial tagline, you’ve come a long way, buddy.

The 1970s seems to be the definitive decade for when the family structure began to go off of the rails.  It was an economically difficult decade that really pushed more women to go back to the workforce and the increasingly vocal Feminist movement – born in the late 1960s – made it socially and politically acceptable for this to happen and women went back to the workforce in much greater numbers.  The increased rise of the Great Society welfare program led to a literal destruction of the paternal figure in the inner city.  Finally, the increased acceptance of no-fault divorce made divorce far easier to obtain yet the delay in the recognition that fathers could also be fit parents led to true hardship for fathers.  Advertisers watched this and jumped aboard the bandwagon to target products to this new and potent feminist wife/mother market and rolled out such taglines as you’ve come a long way, baby and she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan (and never, never let you forget you’re a man).  The decades passed and as wages slowly closed the gender gap – and yes, I know that there’s still a discrepancy – and women moved into upper echelons, there were any number of publications and articles that told women you can have it all as it showed pictures of attractive mothers in upscale clothing playing with the kids or working around the house.  But the difference was that more and more of those decades’ kids grew up seeing that Mom was actually being pulled and twisted like taffy to make things work while Dad simply wasn’t a factor in many cases.

We’re now two generations removed from that initial period and the kids are parents in their own rite.  They’re not stupid and have watched what their parents went through and in many cases have decided that there has to be a better way.  Men want to be the fathers to their kids that they often didn’t have and the women want help so that there’s some sense of balance; they want to be a person with a life, not a Twizzler.  There’s recognition that there’s a cost to having it all and it isn’t only financial, but also physical, emotional and even moral.  So more fathers are taking the opportunity to take up the slack with the kids in the daily life and that’s only fair, even if they know that it puts a serious crimp in the career plans.  They understand in today’s world that while it can be hurt to have the employer let them go, it’s far more painful to know that their child let them go.

You can’t have it all.  Ignore anyone that tells you that you can.

PracticalDad:  Knowin’ How to Do Stuff…

One of the better, truer commercials on television is actually for ED – and no, I don’t have a bathtub in the backyard.  In these ads, guys in their 40s are presented with different situations and simply handle them as the announcer comments, when you reach a certain age, you just know how to do stuff…Pulling a horse trailer and the pickup gets stuck in the mud?  Hitch the horses and let them pull you out.  Engine overheating and in the desert?  Just add water at some roadside cafe.


That’s kind of the role of a father as the kids get older and begin to think that they know everything.  Something goes wrong and Dad gets the call and if he’s smart, he takes the opportunity to pass along the institutional knowledge that comes with age, if not with trace teams of horses. 

That’s the situation this morning as Eldest heads off to school in the old car.  Because her schedule actually requires some traveling, she drives an old car and lo and behold, she crawls behind the wheel and turns the ignition and is greeted by the sounds of silence.  The battery is officially dead and will have to be replaced.  Daddy, Mom’s gonna take me to school but can you have the battery fixed for when I get back?  Gotta run, bye!

Yes, but you’ve actually going to do it with me so that you can learn. 

The result was a quick trip to the auto supply store for a battery and then home to assure that I’ve got the sockets that fit the nuts on the battery.  And then…nothing.  When I finally pick up Eldest, it’s back home where she spends maybe 15 minutes replacing the battery – taking into account learning how to use a ratchet set – and then is off again. 

I could honestly have finished the job in less than 10 minutes but it’s more important that Eldest learn how to handle these things in preparation for a future out of the household.  These are the kinds of things that most teens don’t know and would wind up calling home about when they’re off in the real world.  It takes more time and effort, assuring that I’ve got things and that they’re right so that I don’t look like the village idiot, but teaching is ultimately one of the most important things that any father can do for their kids.

Kids and Public Behavior

I’m big on teaching the kids how to behave in public.  How do you behave at the ballgame versus at a restaurant versus a wedding or funeral?  But there are moments when I have to remind myself that I have to be as mindful of my own behavior as the kids’.  This was especially brought home to me this weekend as I watched a proud father make a complete ass of himself at a school function.

Supporting the kids is as obvious as breathing, but how it’s done gets dicier as the kids age.  There’s a wonderful television commercial in which a child – one time on stage, another on a playing field – looks into the crowd of onlookers and suddenly, the crowd vanishes save for the father, who’s now the only one watching.  The underlying truism is that the kids both want and need us there and are seeking our approval and pride in their accomplishments. 

Now, let’s adjust the commercial for the age of the child.  In this variant, the kid is now fourteen years of age and as he looks onto the field, there in the crowd is the father.  Dad smiles and nods – as in the real commercial – but the crowd remains.  The next version of the commercial shows the fourteen year old on the field looking at the crowd as his proud papa suddenly stands and screams out YOU GO, BOY!  MAKE ME PROUD!  WOOT!!!  In this version, the crowd remains while the exuberant Dad vanishes without a trace. 

In the version that I witnessed this weekend, the teen was walking down the auditorium aisle to accept an award when Dad suddenly stood and yelled out her name amidst the silent crowd sitting there.  Note that the applause had already finished so it wasn’t as if the child received no applause.  Sitting next to my sons, I flinched and looked over to see the eldest visibly wince as well.  Were that me, I doubt that I would have made it home alive as body parts would have been tossed piecemeal from the speeding car windows as it swerved down the road.

Kids do become more sensitive of public appearances as they age and there are times when even the presence of a parent can cause embarrassment.  Don’t mind him, he always breathes that way.  Our presence is a reminder that they really haven’t reached adulthood and aren’t as independent as they think or would like, and acting in a way that publicly draws that to the fore does embarrass them.  I understand that father’s pride and am glad that he’s had the opportunity to experience it.  But the ride home would have been much better had he kept his mouth shut and stayed seated.



PracticalDad:  Honoring The Other Parent, Honoring The Other Child

One of my cardinal rules of fatherhood – and one of the hardest to maintain – is to keep my mouth shut when I’m irritated with my mate.  Raising kids can be difficult enough and when the parents are upset with one another, it’s easy to spout off about the other parent in front of the kids.  The problem with doing this is that it eventually creates an atmosphere in which the child becomes a co-conspirator with the mouthy parent and places the kid in a position in which no child should find herself.  The out-of-favor parent subsequently has greater difficulty maintaining control and it’s not beyond some kids to practice a divide-and-conquer strategy which can truly damage, if not destroy a marriage.  For the most part, I’ve been successful in following this with a very few exceptions.

But with kids growing and each child fully capable of creating unrest and irritation without assistance, I’m finding that I have to learn to apply the same rule when I’m frustrated with their siblings.  Dealing with small children is akin to a real-life version of Laura Numeroff’s If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and while the physical aspect does ease as they age, the degree of confusion can actually increase as they constantly change plans or act without thinking.  The frustration can worsen for a parent who’s trying to keep tabs on things.  And because they’re now more in the world and out of your sight than when they were young, the capacity for trouble increases significantly.  While I can repeat to myself that they’re clearly not thinking because their brains are literally being rewired, the frustration can become severe; so severe that I find myself making comments in the presence of one or more of the other kids. 

Comments like calling a kid knucklehead are acceptable in the moment, but I’ve found myself complaining about the kid in question – and there are multiple kids in question – to one or two of the other kids.  It might be one thing to actually sit down with one of the kids and ask them, provided they’re old enough to have such a conversation, what he or she is seeing or hearing, but spouting off spontaneously in frustration.  Again, I’ll have to work on adapting the Honor the other parent principle because of the potential problems that can arise if I don’t.  Continuing to vent in front of the kids creates a difficult dynamic as it raises the child to the level of the parent, a role for which he is patently unprepared.  Further, it creates an unhealthy situation in which one child is clearly on the out against the other parent and child.  Finally, it can lead to a sense on the part of the issues child that she is now clearly out of favor with the parent compared with the other children.

Kids are difficult and I shouldn’t make it more difficult by shooting myself in my own foot with my own mouth.

Honor the other parent, honor the other child.  Otherwise, shut up.

The Kids Still Want To Play

As the family grows and ages, the desire by kids to play with Dad diminishes as they develop their own circle of friends and immerse themselves with their own activities.  As my own father used to say, that’s as it should be, and I respect that.  But even as they age, they still want to find ways to play even if they reach a place where it’s not always cool to ask.  While they’re becoming adults, they are still, in many ways, kids and they want to play.  Frankly, there are times when I want to play as well.

While there are instances where I completely miss the signs and I’ve had to learn to look for them.  Sometimes it’ll be an overt hey, do you wanna…? but it’s sometimes the unspoken actions.  A kid comes in and starts physically picking and messing is an obvious note that she’s ready to play.  A less obvious indicator is the older child who haunts you in your activities, hanging nearby but not actually saying that he wants to play.  There have been moments when I’ve actually shifted rooms to see if the youthful spectre flits behind and if so, then it’s an unspoken invitation to play.  The haunt won’t actually voice his wish but the intent will become clear and it’s up to me to put the ball into play.  I regret that there have been times when I’ve been aware of the wish and I haven’t taken the opportunity to mess around.

The nature of the play might change with the season or with age, but the desire is still there as the kids come back from their forays in the world to touch base and reconnect with the folks.  Be aware and take advantage of it since those days will come fewer and farther between.


PracticalDad’s First Rule of Fatherhood Revisited

Like Jethro Gibbs, I believe that there are certain rules that one needs to follow to make it through life and that includes fatherhood.  One of the first articles that I wrote pertained to PracticalDad’s First Rule of Fatherhood and given some situations I’ve encountered in the past several weeks, I’d like to revisit that rule again.  Until your child is grown, your life is no longer your own.  Now repeat that three times and please do so loud enough for everyone else to hear.

Women  really do civilize men and perhaps the final part of the civilizing process is getting men to stand and be responsible for their families.  This bundle presently sleeping/suckling/resting in your arms is now wholly and fully your responsibility and will be so until they are old enough to make their own way in the world.  That phrase – make their own way in the world – is incredibly vague and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as circumstances and offspring abilities vary from one family to another.  But there are some things that don’t vary.  Your child needs and desperately wants your support as they grow – in school, in sports, in activities, in whatever is happening.  There are moments when you might not be able to make an event and kids are both smart and forgiving enough to deal with that.  But if your child is going to really thrive and prosper, then she needs to know that Dad is fully behind her in her efforts.  For the purposes of what I’ve been witnessing, it’s not just Dads but Moms who are also screwing the pooch on this rule.

What does that mean?  Do I have to become a soccer dad or someone who only finds fulfillment living vicariously through my child?  No, but it does mean that you have specific basic responsibilities such as providing food and shelter, and assuring that the child is educated.  Those are simply the bare-bones rudiments as kids, in order to really flourish and grow, require constant interaction. The more that they’re around you and really interacting with you, the more that they’ll start to blossom.  With work and any other responsibilities that you have, you will wonder when you get time to yourself and there’s nothing wrong with a little "you" time, but that time is – and has to be – drastically scaled back from when you were single or didn’t yet have children.

The reason for reviewing this first rule of fatherhood – even parenthood, actually – is because of multiple situations that I’ve seen in which the kids are being simply ignored.  Some parents are thinking that since the kids are now teens, they ought to be able to fend for themselves as the folks head out.  My wife recently forwarded me an email with a Facebook posting for a teen whose parents were taking a January cruise and had told the teen to find herself a place to live for the week that they’d be gone.  Staying at home was out of the question since the house was heated by woodstove and they didn’t trust her to not set an accidental fire, yet they were perfectly happy to let the kid find herself a place to stay. So let me get this straight:  you haven’t taught the teen the rudiments of how to keep the house warm with a wood stove and don’t trust her to not set the house ablaze but you’re alright with leaving for a week and telling the teen to find another place to live for that week.

Another teen has no parental support and attendance for something like National Honor Society Inductions and Regional Science Competitions.  There’s a recent razor commercial in which boys look into the stands and audiences full of people and the only person that they note is Dad; these kids want their fathers – and mothers – there and they want them there desperately.  If you’re going to have a kid, bloody well make sure that you understand that your evenings and weekends are going to be spent on the basics with the kids, even if there are no sports or activities. 

The responsibility continues even as they age.  Teens are not adults despite their quaint notion that they are and leaving them without any supervision is simply asking for a disaster.  It’s at this point that a father has to pick and choose the battles and stand the ground against the some of the utterly insane ideas that these cranially challenged teens have.  There are days that I live in a state of perpetual annoyance and there are moments when I’ll decide that the kid has to learn a lesson the hard way.  But there are also days that I have to bear down and stick to the rules despite the commentary, arguments and actions of the teens.  I don’t look forward to it but that’s simply part of my job and whether they’re too damned dumb to realize it or not, my contrariness really is about them and not my desire to force someone to stick to rules for the rules’ sake.

Fatherhood – parenthood – is the endurance race and to make it, you have to look to the goal ahead and ignore the various complaints that you have because it’s not about you.

Fathers and Fear

Dad, do you ever get scared?

I recall asking my own father that question one night before bedtime.  My world was scary even without the constant news of inflation and threats of nuclear war with the now-dead Soviet Union.  I had a test for which I really hadn’t studied and there was some neo-neanderthal who made my life miserable in the hallways.  My gut was twisted and I dreaded bedtime because I knew that immediately afterwards I awoke to a stressful new day.

My own father seemed to be made of an iron core that nothing shook.  He took surprise with great steadiness and simply acknowledged the ongoing mantra of doom with equanimity.  I might even see him jump on the bed to Motown – a truly surreal moment – but I never once saw him scared.  Concerned, perhaps, with his face set in a neutral mask when something really big happened.   But I never saw him scared. I was surprised to hear him answer that question with Yes, at times I am.  Everybody gets scared, but I think that things are going to be alright.  He talked about fear as being something that everybody – everybody – had but he then added that if you stepped back and considered, the fear was generally overstated.  It was one of those conversations upon which you later look back and consider as special.

You had to really be there in the mid 1970s to appreciate it.  Rising prices and job losses that struck repeatedly.  School thermostats turned low enough that I routinely wore my coat in class and even occasionally my gloves.  And in the midst of all of this, I asked my father if we would be alright or if we were going to lose our home.  His response was that we would be fine and come through this, so you take care of school and let me worry about this.  I actually did go upstairs to bed feeling relieved and reassured that things would be alright.

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I learned and understood more of my father.  Being forced to move in with his grandmother during the Great Depression when his own father had a heart attack and lost the house.  Of the decades-long nightmares that routinely awakened him, a Chinese infantryman charging him with a bayonet aimed at his stomach; of having his full set of teeth removed by an Army dentist upon his return from a year in Korea and wrapping himself around a scotch bottle because there wasn’t adequate pain medication available.  And yes, the scotch bottle was given to him by the same dentist.

It’s especially during stressful times like this that I miss the old man and what he taught me.  It’s fine to be scared and it’s okay to even admit it to our own kids.  But it’s our job to master ourselves and reassure our own children because they both need and deserve to feel secure.  Part of that is because they’re our children and we love them and part is because what we teach them by our behavior, our response to adversity, will be passed along to their children.

After our eldest child was born, we took her to visit my folks at our old house.  Dad excused himself from the kitchen and several minutes later, returned with a bundle wrapped in a blanket that actually went clank when he put it on the table.  He unwrapped the parcel to show three 100 ounce silver bars that he’d purchased in the mid 1970s and kept stored away as insurance in case the economy went to hell.  It never did and the bars sat in the attic until he figured that there was a good need for his own grandchild.  And that was the final part of the lesson:  after admitting the fear and reassuring the kids, work to offset the problem as best you can.