The misadventures of a first time father

Monthly Archives: August 2014

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.

 

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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.


© 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.

 

 


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. 🙂

 

 



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