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Thursday, May 24, 2012

When to Take a Child Out of Public School

My second daughter, Lory, started public school in the eighth grade. Her older sister, Clory, had started public school the year before in ninth grade. Clory had enjoyed her first year in school and got her younger sister very excited to start also. We went through all the usual preparations for Lory: we bought her clothes, got her school supplies and then registered her at the junior high. Her first day of school was one of excitement and wonder for her and us. It made me happy that public school was an option for her.
As the year went on I followed her grades through the on-line system and watched her behavior. I was happy to see her grades were good. Academically she was prepared and had no difficulties. Socially I started to notice behavior that saddened and even alarmed me. Clory did just fine socially. She got along great. Lory, on the other hand, had a change of personality. Where she had always been bubbly, talkative, and even exuberant about life, after a couple of semesters she became very quiet and withdrew from the family. Instead of her happy, noisy exchanges with her siblings she would stay in her room and read book after book. If she wasn't reading she was sleeping. She could sleep for twelve to fourteen hours at a time. She began complaining of illness and often missed whole days of school. She missed so many that the school contacted us and informed us that she might be held back.

I was aware that changes of behavior such as my daughter had could be signs of depression. My attempts at talking to her about school never got anywhere. I would take her on special outings in order to spend time with her alone with hopes of her opening up, but she remained closed. Eventually I told her that she didn't have to stay in school if she didn’t want to, but that I wasn't going to make her come home either. I could see that she heard me and was considering what I said. One day she came to me and told me that she thought it was time to come home. This wasn't an easy decision for her and I could see that it saddened her a little. I felt that it was a good decision, but I wasn't totally sure what the results would be. I accompanied her as she to school as she turned in her books and cleaned out her locker. She said goodbye to several teachers who seemed genuinely sorry to see her go. And then we left.

I didn't have to wonder long if allowing her to come home was a good decision. After a few days adjustment I noticed a remarkable change in her behavior. Her youngest brother, who adores her, started going t her to help him with his school. She came out of her room to do this and I saw her laughing and enjoying his company. Her leisure reading dropped dramatically. This would normally concern me except that she was spending time more and more time with her brothers and sisters. Her bubbliness increased and with it her volume. The old Lory was back.

Lory is enrolled in electronic high school and is doing very well. I check in with her daily but find that I don’t have to give her much prompting to complete her assignments. When I ask she freely tells me about her teachers and assignments. Lory is still young. I know that her educational future is not going to be a bed of roses. But I do know that with a flexible approach to her education we will find a way for her to succeed. She may choose to try public school again, or not. Either way will be fine. It is important to know that there are alternatives to public school for those children where public education, for whatever reason, does more harm than good. It is also important to understand that those alternatives often require much more time and attention from the parents of those children. In my case, to see Lory smiling again and feel her exuberance for life again is worth it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Father's Advice or Example?

Ran across the picture and it got me thinking.

One of the weakest sentences a father can utter is, "Do as I say, not as I do." This seems like common sense to me, and yet I think that most of us fathers, being human, find ourselves in situations where our actions embarrass ourselves and we sincerely invoke that desperate line. In extreme cases we here of cases where mother or father is arrested for child abuse only to find out that that mother or father were physically abused as children. My daughter asked me asked me how a child who knows how horrible being abused by a parent could grow up to be abusive.  I was (and still am) confused on that point myself and had no good answer. The stark reality is that what we do as fathers or mothers has a tremendous effect on our children. We are told to express our love to our children often. The words "I love you" are beautiful words and hopefully our children hear these words from our lips often. However, these words  can sometimes be too easy to say and we use them to make up for other deficiencies as parents. If those words are to have any real effect in our children's lives then we must be willing to correct the weaknesses in our lives that affect our children--in other words, we must love our children enough to change.

Rhett Butler of Gone With the Wind fame ("Frankly my dear, I don't give a . . .") is a great example of this willingness to change. Rhett is selfish, proud, a rogue, and a scoundrel in his graceful, charming way. He thinks of nothing but himself until he fathers a daughter with Scarlett O'hare. When he realizes how hated he is in the community, and realizes that his daughter will be hated by association, he is willing to humble himself in front of people he despises (they are actually good people) in order to give his daughter a chance. That is love.

I have a friend who has just stopped smoking. He said it is very hard to stop smoking, but he told me he is doing it for her, his young daughter. I have a tendency to roll through stop signs and cut corners when I drive. My oldest daughter is taking driver's education right now. I don't want her doing what I am doing, but she sees me do this every day. The odds are high that she is going to roll through stop signs and cut corners soon after she gets her license. I pledge right now to stop these bad driving habits and let her know it. She can let me have it when I slip. I have several other children where making this change in my behavior may have an effect. I'll let you know how it goes. Of course, as I wrote in my last blog post, the greatest example I can set for my children is in how I treat their mother. If I love my children, I will love their mother and I will show it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I’ve Raised Three Boys; I Can Raise a Daughter – Can’t I?

My wife and I gave birth to three boys two years apart. We named them rhyming names just for the fun of it: Tory, Cory, and Rory. After Rory was born we no other children came along for a long time. We didn’t do anything different with birth control, but clearly something had changed and we thought we had all the children we were going to have. Tory, Cory, and Rory filled our lives. Barbara got used to living in a world of boys and I had fun everyday with the guys.

My heart skipped a beat six years later when Barbara told me she was pregnant. After so much time it was almost like having our first child again. Barb and I were a bit old fashioned; we never tried to find out what the sex of the child was before birth. My heat skipped two beats when Clory, a daughter, slipped into the world. After three boys how could I help but wonder “what do I do with a girl?”

The truth is I didn’t have to worry. She quickly became “one of the guys.”  Just as each of my first three sons had been she was my little buddy.  We walked, we talked, we rode bikes and did everything else I had ever done with my sons. But then she hit puberty. I went from a veteran Dad to a na├»ve rookie.
From best buddy to “man in the way.” My little buddy disappeared and was replaced with this . . . this . . . well, a young woman. I had been married about 25 years when this happened. After that many years living with a woman you might think you know something about girls. Nope, doesn’t count.

I have to tell you truthfully that when my daughter morphed into a young woman it felt like I was losing her. Who was this person who took her place? I spoke with a friend who was the mother of nine daughters and explained, rather ruefully, how I felt. She just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.” She was right.

My daughter is just turning sixteen. She is hardly grown and out of the house yet so I know there will yet be many puzzlements, worries, frustrations, and maybe even a little hurt left in the journey to adulthood, but I am starting to experience some of that “best yet to come.”  Amid all my “what the heck is this about?” confusion, this young woman has introduced me into a world of grace and beauty that doesn’t come with boys. There is “dance around” happiness and “lots of tears” sadness. There are those moments when she walks into the room dressed up all pretty where I think, “Is this my daughter?” There are those unexpected kisses on the cheek and “I love you’s”. This daughter has brought, what is to me, a mysterious, feminine world to my attention.

My daughter is interested in boys now. They are interested in her, too. Sometimes they risk running into me to see her. I don’t like these boys. So far they are all animals, idiots, and delinquents. Actually, they probably aren’t all these things, but that is the way I feel. I want her to find boys worthy of her, boys who will treat her like the potential queen that she is. The hard fact is is that she will be doing all the picking. She will never allow my help in choosing who she spends her time with and eventually who she falls in love with. This is a cruel twist of irony to the person who wants to be the only man in her life.

This cruelty has been lessened by something I learned lately. I listened to a woman speak on the subject, “Fathers, How to Raise Your Daughters” by Elaine S. Dalton. She sums up her talk with the words, “Fathers, how do you raise your daughter? By loving her mother.”  I sense the truth of her words. Much of my daughter’s expectations of how to be treated by a man will come from how she sees me treat her mother. I want boys to treat my daughter with kindness, respect, and dignity. Has she seen me treating my wife that way?  Since hearing that talk I have been very conscious of how I treat my wife and painfully making corrections. I can’t pick boys for my daughters, but I can show them the quality, at least at minimum, that I hope they will pick. “Father’s, the greatest thing you can do for your daughters is to love their mothers.” Such beautiful, powerful, advice. Below is a beautiful, short video that was created based on that talk. What do you think?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Fatherhood Enough?

I recently watched a rather beautifully made documentary that made me think deeper about what it means to be a father. The documentary was not directly about family and fatherhood. In fact the movie by-lines describe the documentary as being about the 1968 around the world yacht race. But as I watched the major theme was of a father’s tragic fall from grace. 

Men tend to be known by what they do. Thomas Edison was an inventor. Abraham Lincoln was a great president of the United States. Albert Einstein was a brilliant scientist. Usually it never occurs to anyone to ask if these men were married or if they had children. I think there is an innate desire in most men to want do something grand. It may be through sports, science, medicine, or business, but we have dreams of making our mark. Very few of us actually realize this dream. Instead, we get married, have children, and then spend the rest of our lives supporting the wife and kids with no glory to follow. To make up for this we read adventure stories, watch action movies, rabidly follow sports teams trying desperately to get vicarious “make our mark” fixes. It isn’t exactly like this for all men. Some men are able to find their balance and gain contentment and satisfaction in their family relationships even if they are anonymous to the rest of the world. They learn that their value is not really in what they do, but in who they are. This understanding is very difficult to obtain because it is constantly played against the thought that, “I have to accept who I am because I have failed at making a greater mark in the world.”

Donald Crowhurst was a the husband of a beautiful wife and the father of four wonderful children. He was an engineer who ran a small electronic firm that manufactured maritime navigational equipment. He was hard working and charming, but apparently he was unfulfilled. He was able to feed his family, but his business was slow and he was not rising in the world as many men are wont to do. He followed the great adventurers of the day reading all he could find on them. The most recent was a fellow named Chichester who was first to sale solo around the world. He was knighted for his accomplishment. This event must have made Donald Crowhurst dream. When the next great adventure was announced—a nonstop, solo yacht race around the world—Donald thought that this was his chance to make a mark.

To the documentary audience this is a great thing. We love stories of seemingly ordinary people doing great things. Could it be that Donald Crowhurst—husband, father, and struggling businessman—is going to sail solo and nonstop around the world? Why not? Why shouldn’t Donald make his mark in the world? We want him to succeed. His success will be the success of every other anonymous dreamer out there.

Donald needs a boat and supplies and for these he needs money. Because he is not known in any public way sponsor’s are hard to come by. Eventually he finds a man willing to sponsor him, but only if Donald will sign a contract stating that if he fails he must buy back the boat. The only way Donald would be able to do this would be to sell his home and his business. He and his family would be left destitute.  Most of us anonymous men would stop at this point and lay the pen down without signing. We are not willing to put our family at such risk for a chance at fame. Perhaps that is why we never rise to greatness. Only those who suffer great risk receive great rewards. When we learn that Donald signs the contract we are pleased and excited. Here is a man just like me doing what I am afraid to do.

The rules of the race state that the competitors can leave anytime they like, but no later than October 31st due to the severe winter weather they would encounter at Cape Horn. The person who completed the trek first would get appropriate fame. The person who completed the trek in the fastest time would receive fame and 5,000 pounds. There were nine entrants. The eight others left month’s before Donald. Donald, who had had to have a boat built from scratch, had trouble getting it ready and supplied in time. Three days before the race the BBC reported that his preparations were in chaos. The night before the deadline to begin it was clear to Donald that boat would not be ready. Two men, who had monetary interest in his competing in the race, talked him in to going anyway. Of course, the final decision to go was Donald’s. His wife reports that he cried a long time the night before leaving.

On October 31st, 1968, Donald left his wife and children and a cheering crowd of anonymous men and women and started on his adventure—his chance to leave his mark on the world. He had a dismal start. He was sailing a trimaran with a central main hull and two other hulls that served as stabilizing floats. It was supposed to be fast. It wasn’t. He was making only around 65 miles a day in comparison to the others 95 or more miles a day. Then his boat began falling apart. Screws fell out of the self-steering gear. Then he noticed that the floats were leaking. He had to go out every day and bail out the compartments. He could do this in the calmer Atlantic waters, but once he reached the southern ocean in the “roaring 40’s” his boat would be swept by waves and he could no longer bail. The floats would fill and he would sink and drown.

Donald was faced with two choices: go forward and die or turn around and be financially broken. In his logbook Donald states that if he turned around all he would have left in his life would be his wife and children. Donald was faced with the choice of his life. How much did being a husband and father mean to him? Going forward and dying would leave no more mark in the world than he had already made by beginning this adventure. Five of the other contestants, all better sailors than Donald, had already dropped out of the race—some due to capsizing and losing masts and others to health reasons. Turning around and going home would humiliate him in the eyes of some and ruin him financially, but he would still have the love of his wife and children and the potential of a new and better life.

At this point in the documentary I, a husband and father, was feeling Donald’s anguish. What a devastating disappointment. But the choice was clear, go home. It was clear his wife and children loved him dearly. He was a good husband and father. Men had come back from financial ruin before. Something was wrong with Donald’s sense of husband and father. His need to make a mark or his need to avoid temporary humiliation was greater than his love for his family. Or it may have been that he thought he could still have both even if it meant destroying the best part of himself. He decided to lie.

Donald never got farther than Brazil. He had sent in reports that he was 1000 miles father than he was. He sat in the ocean there for six months under radio silence so as not to give his position away, while he waited for the three that were left in the race and who had started months ahead of him to round Cape Horn and head North for England. He would wait for them to pass and then fall in behind them and go home. With this plan he would get to return to his family and leave his mark, lie though it was, as having sailed nonstop and solo around the world. At this point Mrs. Crowhurst had already lost her husband. The Crowhurst children had already lost their father. The Donald Crowhurst they knew had died when his love for them lost to his selfish pride and need for greatness.

Donald had planned it well. Of the three ahead of him one easily had the better return time than he would have. Because he wouldn’t come in first and because he wouldn’t come in fastest the racing officials would not look to closely or look at all at the fake logbook he created for his fake journey. What he didn’t foresee what that the one sailor who had the better time would sink two weeks before reaching the finish line. This left Donald, who had broken radio silence and let his family know he was still alive and in the race, as the one who would arrive with the fastest time. Over 100,000 people were expected at his return. He would be regaled and paraded and possibly knighted for his fake achievement. And eventually he would be discovered as a fraud. He knew this. He turned away from England and drifted aimlessly in the Sargasso Sea. He was still a husband and father. His family was still there waiting for him. To come clean now would still be the saving act of love, but now his humiliation will be even greater and it is possible that it could cost him his family in addition to his finances. Although his body was never found, from what he had written in his logbook, it is clear Donald Crowhurst committed suicide. His logbooks were sold to the newspapers and the story came out in full. His family must have suffered greatly. There was the shame of what their father had done. For the young children the shame was nothing to the loss of their father in their lives.

I sat in silence when this documentary ended. I had started expecting a story of the triumph of the common man. At the end I had seen this common man destroyed.  What is so troubling is that Donald Crowhurst  was so much like I am now. I am a husband and father. I run a small struggling business. I am anonymous in the world except to my wife and children and extended family. I love to read of the adventures of others. I have read much of the climbing of the highest peaks and the exploration of Antarctica.  Unlike Donald Crowhurst I know I will never take part in any of these type of adventures. I know my physical and financial limitations. But there are other ways I could leave a mark that are more possible. I still have time left in my life to write a great book or become an expert in some area.  But the odds are against even this lesser greatness. The possibility of doing something great in the world are low to begin with, but when I chose to marry at a relatively young age and to have the number of children I have the possibility of greatness grew even slimmer. I didn’t know this at the time, but I had chosen to be a father.

It is true that there are many fathers who have attained worldly greatness without losing their families. But like most fathers I am probably not going to be one of them. I am no longer young and figure that if I have not found any brilliant streaks in my nature yet I probably never will. I am not a great inventor or a great athlete or a great businessman or a great anything . . . but wait. Is it possible that I could be a great father?  Yes, being a great father is a possibility. How does it stack up against climbing K2 or winning the Superbowl? There is certainly less fanfare. There are less speaking opportunities and the money isn’t as good. It would definitely be better to be a great father and a great athlete.

It would please me to no end for my kids to be able to brag about their dad having done something great in the world’s eyes. All I have now from them is their love and admiration. Would their love and admiration grow if I became famous for something great? I really don’t know that it would. When my ecstatic sixteen-year-old calls me to tell me they won State in the choral contest would she be happier and more ecstatic about it if I were a billionaire? When my nine-year-old pulls me to the couch to read another chapter of Christy would she enjoy it more if I were the coach of the World Series winning baseball team? I don’t think so. As anonymous as I am I have all of the love and admiration that they have to give. That is worth far more than any mark I can leave on the world. I still have dreams. I still want to do something great in addition to being father. But if it doesn’t happen—if I never become anything less than a good father to my children— I will still have all the happiness this world has to offer if not all the greatness. In the end, I think that will be enough.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

“Is that Tom or Taughm?” – So What Did You Name Your Child?

Names are important to us as human beings. One clear indicator of how important they are is the extreme to which some parents will go in finding unique names for their children. On the one hand you have parents who are comfortable with traditional names like Zack or Josh—both of these are classic Bible names. But other parents follow the naming trends of the day. This is kind of funny to me because in following a naming trend a person is usually trying to stay away from old fashioned names. For instance, my father’s name is Rodney.  Back in the 1930’s this was a common name and very respectable. Today you wouldn’t dream of naming your child Rodney because it sounds, well, black and white. You know, like it came about before the world had color TV. Instead you follow the latest trend and get an Aiden, Brayden, Kayden, Shaden, Haiden, or one of twenty other versions of ‘aden. Of course in thirty or forty years these names will be avoided because they will be names that only old people have.

There are those who stay with a traditional name but try to make it unique by spelling it in some warped way. Take the simple and classic name of Megan. Traditionally this is a name that a child can give to a teacher and the teacher can quickly spell it correctly in her roll. But I have met a Mehgan and a Mayghan, and a Maighgen. While choosing such a unique spelling is the right of any parent in a free country, I think it is often done without consideration for their child, who is going to have be spelling their name for people their entire life, or for others who are going to be told, “You spelled it wrong!” and be forced to apologize and then act normal when they hear the outlandish spelling of a simple name.  Think twice before giving Katy the spelling Kaiytea.

Other jokers don’t go for weird spellings, but instead go for funny. I know a fellow who had eight children and decided to make their names rhyme. There is Tory, Cory, Rory, Clory, Lory, Jory, Glory, and Story. What was he thinking? My wife asks me that all the time. I have to remind her that she agreed to these names. My kids use the rhyming nature of their names against me often. If I call Rory in for a doughnut when I mean to call Jory, Jory mysteriously seems to know who I mean and comes running. However, when I call Glory in to help with dishes when I mean Jory, Jory won’t budge until I get his name right. “My name isn’t Glory, Dad!” My defense of the rhyming names is that even if your kids’ names are nowhere near alike you still have to run through the list to get the right one. Admit it.

What has caught me off-guard is the many names that my children have given me. With eight of them there are definitely going to be variables. To some I am just “Dad.” I like that name. I called my dad “Dad” most of my life and it brings warm feelings to my heart. These past few years I have found myself calling him “Poparino” which is long for “Pop” for those of you who don’t get it. For whatever reason, he accepted this name without a blink. It was probably for the same reason I accepted “El Favio” from my second son without question. I’m not sure where that came from other than “Fa” in “Favio” is the same as “Fa” in “Father.” My third son will often throw out “Padre” when referring to me. I can handle that. I have heard the formal “Father” used around the house. I raise my eyebrows at this name and try to stand a little taller. But the name that melts my heart every time is “Daddy” when used by my sixteen-year-old daughter. When she adds a kiss on my cheek while using this name she gets whatever she wants. I have no defense.

Names are a never-ending world of creativity, wonder, and delight. What interesting naming situations have you run into?