The misadventures of a first time father

Three steps back

Carpted stepsWe were headed up the stairs last night, as is pretty much the course at that time of night, on our way to bathtime, when my son suddenly stopped several steps up.

“No!” he said to me, his brow furrowed.

“What is it, buddy?” I ask.

“Dada, move!”

What do you mean, move?”

“Move, dada!” he said, fiercely, waiting for me to move several steps behind him as opposed to the usual ‘right behind him to spot him’ we’ve done since he started walking up those stairs on his own.

“You don’t want me behind you, buddy?”

“No!”

I obliged and went three steps back. And wouldn’t you know it, every few steps, he would stop and turn around to make sure I was giving him that space.

And up-up-up he went.

How quickly the urge to declare one’s independence comes.

 

You don’t need to be Sam Wainwright to matter

It has taken me many years to fully come to terms with this, and it is something I often have to remind myself of to this day. But it’s important. And, as I have since childhood, I’m going to frame it in the context of something that is easier for me to understand and explain – film.

Successful big-wig Sam Wainright

Sam Wainwright – taking care of ‘business’

You don’t need to be Sam Wainwright to matter.

In the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s friend Sam is a successful businessman who has gone out into the world and made a lot of money while George has stayed in Bedford Falls and reluctantly carried on the family business of the Savings and Loan.

George Bailey had big plans for his life. He was going to see the world. He was going to have adventures across the globe. But he didn’t. He stayed in his hometown, married, fixed up a drafty old house, had a few kids, and did what he could to help his friends. There were times, though, when life got tough, overwhelming, and it drove George to really question his place in the world amid his friends who went off and did big things.

When I was younger, I used to think I was so important to the universe. That I was meant for great things, which led to massive bouts of sadness, frustration and disappointment when I would feel that I wasn’t living up to those expectations, especially as I got older and life changed, took off in various directions, etc.

But what I’ve come to realize is that we all are important to this universe, for different reasons. Sometimes those great things are on a smaller scale and not as grandiose as you may think.

I’ve sat and wallowed in disappointment that I’m not doing the big things. Not writing the great American novel. Not writing sought-after screenplays, television shows, mainstream comic books and cartoons. Not making big budget movies and kidding around with stars.

And that is all okay. You know why?

Because none of it matters.

eehaw-1The people I spend my time with, be they my wife, my son, or our friends and family, are genuinely invested in us and our lives, as we are theirs.

Someone famous or well-known may follow you on Twitter and hey, that’s cool. But unless they’re coming over to the house for dinner or helping you out when that flat tire comes on your car, the real-life relationships on your journey are what will matter in the bigger picture.

I’m not bashing those who get excited because someone with a blue check mark on social media gave them a shout out or a follow. What I’m saying is, don’t make it your world. Make those around you, really around you, physically and emotionally your world. That will count for more than any number of online followers, fans or likes. Trust me.

I’ll say it again because I can’t say it enough. Because I have to remind myself of it on those days when I wonder what happened, how did I get here, and wonder about my place in the world – You don’t have to be Sam Wainwright.

Judge your success by the lives you can touch.

Judge your success by the lives you can touch.

You don’t have to be the major success of your town, of your work, of your friends. Just be a George Bailey. Be a good friend. Be a good person.

Be the person who has been intertwined in people’s lives in a way that has hopefully made them for the better. Maybe it was introducing them to new people they would have never met without you who went on to become even better friends, maybe it was being the person who writes that great recommendation letter that helps get someone else a job, or maybe it’s just being a source of support when someone asks if you’ve got the time to talk or have a cup of coffee.

Judge yourself not on how many people know your name, or the names you can drop, but by the kind of person you are.

Looking back on my life, I was constantly looking to be a Sam Wainwright when I was younger. And yes, sometimes it still hits me and I wonder ‘did I head down the wrong path?’ ‘was there more to my destiny than this?’

And then I realize that being a George Bailey is pretty damn good. Because the quality of the life lived and the lives touched, will mean so much more in the end than any award on the wall, social media brag, or product sold.

“I’m sorry” – stopping the bad habit of apologizing too much

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporation“I’m sorry” – two little words, often used by most people to apologize when they’ve done something wrong.

I need to emphasize that – when they’ve done something wrong.

However, I have had a very bad habit for a very long part of my life and that is apologizing for things that are not my fault and needlessly saying ‘sorry’ when something goes wrong that I have nothing to do with.

Someone spills something. “Oh! Sorry.”

Something breaks. “Sorry.”

You get the picture. Somewhere in my life I picked up the terrible habit of apologizing for things that I had nothing to do with! I’ve tried to break it without much luck at various points in my life but now it has caused a very big problem.

My son has picked it up.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationAt the age of two, he gets very emotionally bothered when someone else gets upset and has begun apologizing, even if he has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Meg spilled an entire cup of tea on the kitchen counter the other day. It went everywhere – on the counter, under the microwave. She lost her temper, and with that cue, the little guy immediately started apologizing and saying he was sorry, even though he wasn’t the cause of it. She didn’t blame him. He just knew she was upset and immediately started saying he was sorry and getting sad about it.

Because he learned it from me.

I went online to see if I could find others who’ve gone through something similar. What I found astounded me. Yes, there were articles online about constantly saying you’re sorry and its bad effects, but everything I found was aimed at women and talked about how women apologize too much and need to stop. I could find nothing about us men who apologize too much.

I’m here to tell you, it’s not just women who do this. Guys do it too.

So why can’t I find anything online that corresponds with that? I know I can’t be the only one.

Come on, guys. Is it a fear that admitting it makes you less manly, more weak? Get over it and let’s talk about it because I know I’m not alone here.

I have done it for years, as anyone who knows me can attest. And whether you are a male or female, it is a habit that you do not want to pass down to future generations.

© Copyright 2011 CorbisCorporationSaying sorry all the time immediately puts you below those around you. It makes you subservient, whether you realize it or not. It makes you seem unfit to lead. It leaves you disrespected.

I think of the culture of the newsroom when I was in journalism. My personality of apologizing all the time when something would go wrong (justified in my mind as a way of showing sympathy and empathy toward those who had something go wrong) turned me into a pushover – easy to target and uber-easy to yell at, criticize, bark at, and tear down. My frustrations in the field often came from the personalities I was up against – big personalities who had no problem removing the word ‘sorry’ from their vocabulary. In an interesting twist which is contrary to the general findings and articles I came across online, a lot of those big personalities in my experiences were not men, but women.

And I did it long before I went into news. I did it in college, I did in high school.

Somewhere along the line I just started taking on the guilt for everything that was going wrong around me, and verbally accepting that. It’s imprisoning.

I often just wrote it off as one of the many flaws in my personality, but now that I see my son, at two years old, an age of discovery, wonder, wild abandon, having these moments, hearing one of us get upset about something unrelated to him and become an emotional puddle of apology, I realize how much this has to change.

And the only way for it to change, is for me to change.

According to an article in the London Standard, a study has suggested that refusing to apologize might actually be good for us. Researchers in Australia found that refusing to apologize led to feelings of power and control which, in turn, led to greater self-esteem. But that study is talking about apologizing when you HAVE done something wrong. And it showed that those who apologized lessened their feelings of guilt and increased their feelings of self-worth, but those who didn’t apologize still had higher self-esteem.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationThe study goes on to say that people who apologize tend to value harmony and relationships. Okay. Well, that’s true. I do value those things above many others. The gender divide comes up in the study again, noting:

“Men see apologizing as an admission of weakness. They are more alert to  words that weaken their status, while women often see apologies as tokens of consideration,” says gender and language expert Jennifer Coates, emeritus professor at the University of Roehampton. “Women are also more prone to apologizing frequently — even when there is no need for them to do so.”

Well that certainly fits the description of what I’ve been doing for the better part of my life. I’ve used those words as ‘tokens of consideration’ as the professor notes.

So what can I do to break this habit and not raise a doormat kid who takes on the guilt of the world himself?

As Meg has pointed out, it’s not something that will change overnight. It will take time and a deliberate concentration and self-awareness of when I’m doing this and why.

Perhaps I can choose to substitute another word or just stay silent, I have to start wiping that word from my vocabulary when I am not at fault. I put the issue out on Facebook among personal friends to see what kind of responses or suggestions I might get and the bag was mixed, but interesting.

Some of those responses included:

“I do it too! You’re not alone!”

“I used to. Then I stopped caring.”

“Are you secretly Canadian?”

“It’s the stain of original sin.”

“I do this as well. I’m trying to replace it with the more southern “well, bless your heart.”

So how do we accomplish this? Or should I say, how does one accomplish this while still showing empathy for others while taking on false guilt? How do you not say ‘sorry’ but don’t come off as, well let’s be blunt, a douchebag?

I was about to end this here, but then came across an article in the San Jose Mercury News that suddenly made me go “uh-huh,” “yup,” “that’s me,” okay,” causing immediate identification with the person they were interviewing as an example subject.

Titled “Do You Apologize Too Much?”I actually found it to be the most well-rounded and understanding of the issue compared to anything else I came across online.

From the interview subject:

“I hate myself when I apologize so much,” Kuchinskas said. “It happens in the grocery store all the time. People walk around like zombies and bump into you, and I’ll say I’m sorry. I mean, maybe I was in the way, so it was partly my fault anyway. And I’m just sorry that it happened.”

She said she’s not using “I’m sorry” to avoid conflict. It’s more about being polite. “And in this uncivilized, angry society, I’d rather err on the side of politeness.”

Because, sorry-face cat.

Because, sorry-face cat.

It acknowledged that yes, more women tend to do it than men, but men certainly do it. It noted that those who over-apologize tend to do so out of attempts to be polite, like when you interrupt someone for the time, or feel you might be in someone’s way.

And, as theorized earlier, it confirms that “…those in the fields of psychotherapy and communication skills say issuing a steady stream of “I’m sorry” is mere social lubrication, just to smooth things over and go on with your day. When it becomes a habit, it can undermine one’s self-esteem and credibility in the eyes of others.”

The article comes to a close with some good ideas on trying to overcome that bad habit. I thought I’d share them as well as I move forward to try and put them to use and start teaching my son by example – teaching him that ‘sorry’ is great when we do something wrong, but not what we say when we haven’t. Their tips are as followed.

  • Become aware of how often you say you’re sorry.
  • Find a friend or two who will help you to become more aware.
  • Think about why you are saying it. Are you really sorry or just trying to keep the peace?
  • If you’re saying it because of low self-esteem, replace those thoughts with positive affirmations of being worthy and confident.
  • Recognize that you have a right to be heard and that your opinions and feelings really do count.

I’ll let you know how we do.

 

 

The Real Story of The Three Little Pigs is not what I thought it was

pigs 01Most of us remember the tale of the Three Little Pigs, right?

One builds his house of straw, one of sticks and one of bricks and when the Big Bad Wolf comes calling, it’s only the pig in the brick house, who spent the time working hard on his home instead of goofing off and taking the easy way out like his siblings, who the Wolf can’t get to.

At least, that’s how I remember it.

But apparently, I’ve had it wrong all these years.

You see, our son recently received a collection of books based on Rand McNally’s Junior Elf book line published from 1947 to 1986. Some still maintain the original art while others have updated illustrations. And for some reason, our little guy frequently gets drawn to two, in particular, out of the entire set – The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. Maybe it’s a numerical thing, who knows.

Leaving the three bears in the woods for the moment, a few frequent readings of The Three Little Pigs recently got me thinking about the story on the page versus the story in my memory – as they greatly differ.

pigs 02In this book version, recreated from the Junior Elf version in, I believe 1957, the mother pig can not afford to keep her three sons and sends them off into the world to find their fame and fortune.Rather than have any type of intention as to what to do for shelter, each one chances upon people carrying materials along the road – one straw, one sticks and one bricks. And they each build a house. There’s no lesson about planning or thinking ahead, or working hard. Just a chance encounter that leads to how they build their homes.

The story progresses as the Wolf arrives and Pigs One and Two lose their homes (but not their lives) and the Wolf heads to Pig Number Three in his brick house. Just as my memory recalled, he can’t blow the house down. But that’s not where the story ends.

No no.

The story then takes a turn as the Wolf, day after day tries to lure the pig out of his brick house.

How?

By inviting him to go places.

The Wolf invites him to go pick beets from a garden and sets up a time to meet the next day. Because, why wouldn’t you accept an invite to meet up with a beast who is standing outside your door and threatening to eat you?

The pig shows up to the garden early and picks the beets before the Wolf even shows up. And when the Wolf tries the same trick with apple picking, the Pig does the same thing, showing up early, but finding the wolf  showing up early too. The pig throws an apple at the Wolf and runs for his life back to the brick house.

At this point, you’d think he’d want to stay inside and away from this wolf, right?

pigs 03No, no. Because the Pig then accepts an invite from the Wolf to go to the fair.

The pig goes to the fair, early once again – and by early, the books says 2 am early. What the heck kind of fair is going on at 2 am?!

And at the fair, the pig buys a butter churn which, when he sees the Wolf coming toward the fair, he hides in. It tips and goes rolling down the hill, scaring the Wolf, who later, for some inexplicable reason, stands outside the house of the pig and tells him how scared he was that a butter churn was rolling after him.

The pig laughs and tells the Wolf that he was inside the butter churn.

Shortly thereafter, the Wolf tries to come down the chimney of the brick house, where the pig has a pot of water boiling on the fire and the Wolf dies. I tend to skip this part (as I don’t think a two-year old really needs to know that) and just ad-lib that it was so hot the Wolf went flying back up the chimney and ran away.

pigs 04Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to write hundreds of words about an age-old tale like The Three Little Pigs but it has been handpicked so much recently by my son that I can not shake the strange deviations from the story I remember.

So, I did what I tend to do when something gets stuck in my brain and I just can’t get over the need for answers – I hit the internet.

While the Three Little Pigs was first seen in print in the 1840s, it apparently, is believed to go back even farther than that, but that original version is very much how the printed book we have at home plays out, which I never knew.

I had no idea and yet each time we would read the book, I kept muttering inside my mind “well, that’s not how it really happens. This is weird.”

Nope. I was just wrong.

It just goes to show you how much media can influence your own perspective and recollections, because I am confident I read the book as a kid, but have retained no memory whatsoever of these ‘foreign’ components I mentioned.

All I seemed to remember as ‘the real story’ is this:

So there you have it. Walt Disney has actually altered my memory perception. The Silly Symphonies version of this tale has superseded all recollection of any actual stories I read of this tale.

Regardless, of the three choices, I’ll still build my house of brick, thank you very much. :)

 

 

Stop worrying and enjoy your life

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation It’s an issue I’ve had for a while.

The anxiety rooted in worry, in lack of control over things that we can not control but try to. It consumes my mind, my being and can often times keep my brain so focused on what I’m worried about and the million different outcomes of various situations, that I’ve just really stopped living my life, or at least enjoying it.

I worry about a lot. If i leave the window open, will the cats push out the screen and get out and be lost to us forever? If the little guy sees relatives throwing things at each other and trying to hit each other, will he then take it as a sign that it’s okay to throw things at people? Are all the doors locked, and checked and double-checked? If we decide to do X instead of Y, will we regret it and find that Y was the better decision after all?!

These may sound trivial, but they’re the kind of things that consume my mind and cause me to constantly second guess almost everything I do, and as an extension, what we, as a family do.

It drains the fun and the enjoyment out of moments that should be cherished and embraced while they’re possible.

It wasn’t always this way. There may have been worry in me throughout the years, but it in many ways it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. When we got the cats, I started constantly worrying about their safety when we weren’t around. When we had our son, the worry just increased ten-fold.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationIt’s easy to tell someone “stop worrying” but it’s not as easy as just going “oh, okay” and then enjoying every moment of life. It’s different. It’s challenging, and it makes life challenging for those around me.

The day I’m typing this, I saw someone share an image on Facebook that said “When thinking about life, remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.”

It’s definitely true, I just haven’t figured out why I have such a hard time, deep down, embracing it.

I’ve read a lot online about what people recommend to reduce your worries and start enjoying life. It can range from reducing the ‘things/materials’ in your life, have designated space for things like the bedroom is for sleeping, while the office is for working, that sort of thing. Other tips include setting a budget, organizing your time, clear your head and turning off technology.

That last one is a big one. It’s become so easy to get attached to our devices in moments of boredom. Instead of just taking in what’s around us, I can’t think how many times I pull out the phone and ‘just check’ to see if there’s an email or update I need to see. And let’s face it – I don’t need to see it. That’s a justification for the bad habit.

I think my biggest worry, aside from sending myself to an early grave, is passing along these traits to our son. Kids learn from the examples of their parents, what they do moreso than what they are told. So if I model behavior that is constantly worrisome, filled with anxiety, then he is going to have a much higher chance of being that way himself. And that’s no way to live.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationSo, I’m working on it. I used to take advantage of free Yoga classes in the area that seemed to help keep me pretty level for most of the week, but that ended a few months ago. I could always look into paying for some classes somewhere, but I think no matter what I do, it’s an issue that has to be dealt with from the inside.I need to be able to someday sit down and not worry about a dozen or so other things that need to get done, or could go wrong, or might happen one day. I need to be able to leave the house without constant fear that ‘something’s gonna happen while we’re gone.’

It’s a long road and no, I don’t have an answer. So, if you stumbled upon this in some search engine in the hopes of finding a solution, I’m sorry I don’t have a clear-cut one for you. I’m figuring it out just like you.

There was a time in my life, childhood, teens, college years, early adulthood, where there may have been issues or drama, but life wasn’t constantly consumed with all of this worry for everything that might or might not happen. Frankly, I want that back. I want that sense of freedom again that came without fear and worry conquering my mind. And I want that freedom to enjoy the few moments in life we get to extend to my wife and son as well, without me tainting it.

It won’t be overnight. It may not always be easy, but dammit, I’m going to work my hardest at it.

Eating differently

French onion soup with apple and walnut saladSince getting the results of my bloodwork that tell me I had high cholesterol, high triglycerides and High LDL, I have been working very hard to be disciplined about eating better. Much of that has been cutting out fried foods, processed foods, and as my doctor put it, “cutting down on all starches and sugars.”

I will admit it hasn’t been easy, but I have a feeling that the more I stick to it, the more it will start to just become habit. Instead of a sandwich, I’ll have a wrap or salad for lunch. Instead of some chips on the side, I have a stack of almonds.

For dinner, Meg’s been really good about switching over from rice to quinoa, more vegetables, and adding things like more fish to our meals. She’s really been coming up with some great, and delicious ideas that are still within the restrictions/limits.

Every now and then I like some ice cream, but instead, I’m trying frozen yogurt from Stonyfield. Great taste and much less cholesterol.

Going out to eat has been a bit more difficult, though. A day or so after I got my results, we were all invited to have dinner with my parents – who took us to a place that specializes in BBQ and Fried Foods. It’s a great place, but man was it difficult to look at that menu and try to find something that wouldn’t totally throw me off of the wagon. I settled on chicken, not fried, and cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of barbecue sauce or breading. For the sides, I skipped the french fries (despite loving fries) and went with a sweet potato, with no brown sugar and no butter. Just threw on a little pepper. And it was good. You get two sides, so I also made sure to get a salad and passed on the dinner roll, figuring it was probably just empty carbs and starch that wouldn’t help.

I’ve done lunch with a few friends since then at a local bar and grille and that has also tested me in terms of this new diet. Usually, I’d get anything from a bacon cheeseburger to a buffalo chicken sandwich. Just a few of my favorite things. Instead, each trip has been Soup and Salad. I once slipped up and got the Caesar Salad and French Onion soup, only to have Meg remind me later that the Caesar dressing is loaded with things I’m not supposed to have, and the cheese and bread in the soup is also not too cholesterol-friendly.

So, on my latest venture, I did the soup and salad with just an Italian dressing and got the french onion soup without the bread or cheese. Thankfully, it was still tasty.

I know. I know. I’m sitting here writing paragraph upon paragraph about what I ordered at restaurants. I think part of it is to help me track my progress as this is new ground for me. As I’ve stated before, I once had tried to eat healthier when I learned I had high cholesterol but quickly fell off the wagon after a few ‘cheats’ here and there. This time, there’s me, Meg, and our little guy involved, so I have to make sure I’m around for a long time.

And that means finally taking this seriously.

Am I getting dumber with age?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationI swear I used to be much smarter than I am today.

When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.

Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?

By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.

At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.

It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.

When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.

I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.

But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.

I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.

Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?

Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.

Post Scriptafter writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these - “Dumb People Across The Internet”


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