A Father’s Instruction

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That was one question that as a child, I could never answer. I didn’t know. Sometimes, I still think I don’t know when I grow up. When I was a child, it was all interesting to me. To pick one thing to be was absurd. I didn’t think there was a limit to my capabilities. If it was humanly possible, it was in the realm of possibility for me. There was just one problem. How would I learn? I didn’t grow up with YouTube. It didn’t exist back then. Role models? They were out there, but I didn’t know how to ask or even if I was allowed to ask. The possibilities were in my imagination, but unfortunately that is where they were left to lie dormant.

The best Christmas I ever had.

Of course, I loved getting presents at Christmas when I was a kid. Who doesn’t? But toys only have so much shelf-life. Soon they get forgotten about or discarded. Some other kid has something better that leads to the never-ending desire to acquire more.

There was one Christmas that I will never forget. It was the best one and came in my early thirties. I think it was the second Christmas with my wife. We had just moved to a new house in Tallahassee and her parents came up for the holiday. When it was my turn to receive a gift, I was told to cover my eyes. I did and soon my imagination ran wild as a key was placed in my hand. Eyes still covered and clutching that key, I was led out to the garage. Little did I know that my life was going to change when I opened my eyes. In the garage was a red, shiny, brand new…toolbox. That Christmas, I got all the tools every guy should have. Sixteen years later, I still use them on a regular basis. Here was the beginning of some of the possibilities I imagined when I was a youth.

Before I met my Father-in-law, Hank, I never worked on a car. I never worked on a house. I don’t think I ever built anything that wasn’t preassembled. After being married to his daughter for almost seventeen years, I can say that has all changed. Most of what I learned how to do over the years has in some way or shape been because of what I have learned from him, even if the lesson was in the possibilities that it could be done.

How much money have I saved over the years doing my own work? Does the money even compare to what I will be able to teach my own son as he grows into a man? That is actually the greatest gift. If I would have had children before I met Hank, I would not have been able to teach them much in the ways of self-reliance. My only advice would have been to get a good job that can pay for the things you want or need to fix.

The old man (said with the greatest respect) has many admirable qualities: A Marine veteran. A teacher. He is able to carry a tune, sling a gun from horseback, and fix about anything that could be fixed. He has been married to the same lady for almost fifty years, a feat that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. I probably can’t scratch the surface of what this man can do or what he has taught me over the years. I call him Hank, but in truth I should just call him father. He took me in and taught me things I wished I would have learned in my youth. He has always been patient with me, willing to go a little slower in order that I may understand. He has treated me as a true son and by his example taught me how to be a good father. Much of what I am today, I owe to the lessons he taught me.

A Father’s Value

There are so many things I want to do, but there is one responsibility that trumps everything else. The responsibility is being a father. Is this my great mission in life? I don’t know, but it is my mission now. Is there any way a father can have greater impact on future generations? Is there any greater way to preserve and honor the legacy of a surname?

Tombstones may rot away in time. That’s if you even get one. There is not even a guarantee that the works you do on this planet will last through the years. But a strong word-of-mouth tradition handed down from father to son has the potential to last generations.

One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. –George Herbert

Teachers can only provide so much education. The lessons are pre-planned, developed for the masses. They are not tailored to the individual child’s growth and development. You can learn the lessons on the blackboard, but do you understand it? Will you be able to deploy that information when the time comes?

A father can share knowledge and help his child understand. He can guide in the ways of wisdom. He can demonstrate the right way to live. Through emulation a child can learn how to be virtuous. A father can teach his son how to be a man, something the school system could never do.

Today as I meditate on my role as a father, I consider the things I can do better. What areas can I improve on so that I may be a better role model? The skills of a father are not developed overnight. It is an art that becomes more beautiful as it is practiced daily.

Path to Mastery

My son opens the new box of Legos. He is excited and can’t wait to complete finished product as shown on the box. Multiple bags of bricks come out of the box and then the instructions. The instructions. A book that can shoot upwards of a hundred pages depending on the difficulty of the project.

Maybe someday Alec will become a “master builder,” but right now he is still learning. When he was four, he put a few together but mostly watched us put it together for him. At five, a little better. Now at six, his build quality has improved and the instructions are not as overwhelming as before.

In those early days of building, the instructions were daunting. He knew he was supposed to follow them, but that was much easier said than done. The concept was there, but he lacked the execution.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. –Benjamin Franklin

The techniques I use for training associates in manufacturing were the same techniques I used in the Army and in retail. As a trainee, here is what you can expect:

  • You can read the instructions. In almost every organization, there is a manual. It will give you the basics (tools, conditions, etc.) of the procedure you wish to perform. It may not make sense, but at least it is something.
  • You can watch someone and try to emulate them. Watching an expert perform a task brings the instruction manual to life. You can get a sense of the rhythm, witness the skill, and pick up on any tips that the manual doesn’t cover.
  • You can read the instructions, watch a trainer, and then perform the procedure yourself under the trainer’s watchful eye. The trainers can guide and correct you. They can show you how to minimize wasteful movements and boost your productivity. Under their tutelage, you can in time become an expert yourself.

This method for training goes beyond the workplace. Imagine using these concepts in grooming our children for adulthood.

  • You can tell a child what to do and hope they get it. This is like giving them the instruction manual. If your child can listen well, there might be a chance.
  • The child can watch you. In fact, whether you know it or not, the child is already watching you. You are the example. They will follow your example. If you sit around and complain all the time, guess what your children will do? The same thing. For good or for bad, you are the one they will emulate.
  • The best parenting advice I know: You tell them, you show them, and then you let them go through the experience while you watch them. It is active parenting. Your words match your actions. Their actions in turn are molded by their leader.

You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips. –Oliver Goldsmith

The next time you open up a self-development book, keep this training method in mind. It is good that you are reading it, but there is only so much you can get out of it. Depending on your retention level, the words will only take you so far. It would be better is to find someone, an expert, to emulate. Even better, find someone who can guide you as you go through the process yourself.

As you develop, remember it is through action that improvement is possible. In time, you are going to want to share that knowledge with others. Telling someone what you know will only be so effective. Living what you know and then guiding others in that knowledge is where the real mastery is achieved.

Work + Time = Results

Alec’s progress is amazing on these leg raises! He is really focusing on pointing his toes and keeping his legs straight.

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In whatever you pursue, your results are determined by 2 key factors –time and work. The more time and work you put into any endeavor leads to a greater rate of success.

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“If you don’t find the time, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the results.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger

Hard Life or Easy Life

It’s a new year of school (Alec is starting the 1st grade) and with it comes a new set of challenges. Last year in Kindergarten, Alec’s performance issues were talking, playing, and doing cartwheels at the wrong time. Coming into the second week of school, talking when he should not, has turned into his first challenge. Yesterday, he had four warnings for talking which led to not completing one of his tasks.

Growing up, I don’t remember being much of a talker. As I got older, not talking turned out to be a social negative. When others were building valuable social skills, I was locked away in my own thoughts. Now I am constantly waging a battle to become more approachable, with a positive demeanor, as opposed to my normal serious countenance. Often, I have to remind myself to be more engaging, to talk more.

I asked Alec why he was talking so much. He said, “I am trying to make friends.” Now that puts me in a conundrum. Not doing what you are supposed to in school should warrant some form of punishment. Building strong social skills that can enhance your personal and professional life as an adult, however, may be a more valuable lesson than any traditional education can provide. What Alec needs is balance. He needs to be able to do both and to do each at the appropriate time.

Sometimes it is not enough to do our best, we must do what is required. –Winston Churchill

The Punishment.

In Army Basic Training, a young soldier quickly learns the consequences of not doing what he is supposed to do. Usually this is in the form of physical exertion. My platoon in Basic underwent a lot of physical exertion. In the beginning, we did our best. It was never good enough, and we paid for it in our sweat and tears. Towards the end, we learned that doing what was required far outweighed our best intentions. In doing what was required, our extracurricular physical exertion was considerably reduced.

50 Push-ups, 50 Sit-ups, 5 total minutes Wall Sit

We broke Alec’s punishment down into a simple circuit of the three above exercises. 5 repetitions each of push-ups and sit-ups followed by a wall sit for as long as he could hold it. Except the last 10 seconds of the wall sit, this workout was not too difficult for Alec. The goal of this punishment was not to break him down. It wasn’t to psychologically scare him out of talking again. The purpose was to remind him that there are consequences for our actions. As long as he doesn’t get into trouble, I encourage him to talk. More importantly, we must do what is required. In this case, completing all tasks.

Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life. –Jerzy Gregorek, author of The Happy Body and legendary Olympic weightlifter.

The Lesson.

We are always making choices. The fruits of our present choices are always borne out in the future. Looking back again on my younger years, I made many easy choices. Every time I chose credit instead of cash, cheap and easy foods instead of high quality “fuel,” or laziness over action, I paid a very expensive price at later date. All the easy choices made my life much harder. Some of these choices I am still paying for today.

When Alec chose to talk instead of completing his tasks, he was making the easy choices. A hard choice would have been wait for the right time to talk. As a result of his easy choice, he paid for it through exercise. This may sound harsh to some, but it is a relatively small price for the value of the lesson. If he can learn to do the hard things now, he can possibly have a much easier life in the future. Many parents want the best for their children. In many cases, this results in the parents enabling their children in a futile attempt at making their lives easier. But gifts are often under-appreciated and easily squandered compared to possessions earned. I want Alec to have an easy life, but I can’t give it to him. He has to earn it by making the hard choices now.

The Dark Side

Should I be concerned about my little boy?

A couple of days ago, we were watching The Empire Strikes Back. After Luke lost his hand, Darth Vader said, “Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” Alec looked at me and said, “I think that if I was Luke, I would go ahead and join his daddy. It would be a lot easier.”

Today while working out in the garage, Alec tells me he can’t wait for Christmas so he can go ahead and get his coal. At first I thought he said “cold.” I asked him why he wants it to be cold and he confirmed that it wasn’t the cold but the coal he was waiting for. Is my sweet, precious, innocent little boy already contemplating the dark side?

No tree can go down to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell. –Carl Jung

All of us have to choose our own paths. As a parent we can only guide, hope, and pray that our children make the right choices. Answering my initial question, of course I am concerned about him. I have been concerned ever since his conception. If he is anything like me, there will always be a call to the dark side. He will have to choose. Hopefully before then I would remind him of Jerzy Gregorek’s quote, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” Son, the dark side is the easy path, don’t go down it.

The Frailty of Life

We all know that death could come for us at any moment. But we usually don’t give it much thought, until we, or the ones close to us, near that threshold. When we are not mindful of death, when it feels far away, we tend to find importance in things that are really not very important at all. But when we are at the gate and the time is near, suddenly the time becomes more precious and a sense of urgency to live becomes paramount.

No one knows when the time will come, but all could live in a way that when the end fast approaches there would be little left to do. Even if the mission was left unfinished, you could leave knowing you did all that you could. You could leave knowing a moment wasn’t wasted or a transgression wasn’t rectified. We could go in peace from this life into our next without a regret.

Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather unusual, for a man who has lived long to have live too little. –Seneca, Letter #49: On the Shortness of Life.

This was one of the thoughts I originally had when I started writing for my son. That if I was to go before he grew up, he would have this as his legacy. I wanted him to know the treasure of wisdom and the value of searching for it. I wanted him to know the path I have travelled in my own quest to find it. Often I went down the wrong road. I had to learn to hard way. But an easy to find treasure really isn’t a treasure. You have to dig for it, often into the depths of the hell of your own making to find it. My dream is that he will find the path and then stick to it, not forsaking it for an easier way. If I can’t be there for the journey, maybe the writing I leave behind will help. Maybe it will even help others.


For those who loved one is nearing the threshold, my heart is breaking for you. I can’t imagine your pain, but I can see your bravery during this time. Remember, death is not an end but a gateway into the next life.

Build the Wall

 

 

I was watching the cartoon “Justin Time” with Alec one morning, and the topic was about The Great Wall of China (S1:E9). In the episode Justin asked his friend Olive why there was a wall. Olive’s response was, “to keep the people on the other side on the other side.” In the U.S., the debate continues over whether or not to build a wall. For some, it is important to keep the other people on the other side. Others believe we should let them all in.

What is the purpose of a wall, whether it is around your house, your school, or your nation? When my wife and I built the fence around our backyard, we wanted to accomplish two things. First, it kept our dogs and young toddler confined to the backyard and prevented them from getting out and possibly wandering the streets. It was for their protection and for our peace of mind. What was the other purpose? The fence was built to keep the people on the other side of the fence on the other side. If they wanted to get inside the fence, they had to be admitted through the front door. Obviously, their identity and intent was established before they were allowed entry. The fence serves its purposes, and as a result we have a certain measure of security.

 

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The Great Wall of China served its purpose as well, which was to prevent an invasion of the northern enemies. The Chinese kept the people on the other side out. If someone wanted to get on the Chinese side of the wall, their identity and purpose would have to be established first. There are some Americans who want this kind of wall too. The ones in favor of it say it is prevent potential terror threats from entering our borders. They want to establish the identity and intent of would-be entrants. Not much different than the Chinese with the Great Wall, not much with you and your fence. People on both sides of this debate have some very strong feelings concerning a wall in the U.S. I have my feelings, but what this post is really about is building a wall around your mind.

Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t have open minds. My goal is to emulate Henry David Thoreau’s idea to “be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.” I want to have an open mind and encourage it in others, but I think you also need to build a wall around your mind. If you are not carefully vetting what is going in, then how can you monitor what is taking up a permanent residence within your brain?

How about music for an example? Say you hear a really good tune on the radio. The music sounds great and the vocals are really on point. Never mind the actual lyrics, you like what you hear, and you hear it over and over again. But what are those words? Is the message positive or is it something else? There are some really great sounding songs out these days with a message that is not positive. The messages coming over the radio in some songs are ones of drugs, violence, and the degradation of women. There are artists that will glamorize these topics, make them cool. Now you might be thinking, “This is a childish example. Those songs don’t really harm anybody. They are just songs.” And you might be correct that this evil message cannot invade your mind, but what if you are wrong? Or what about your child, with his young impressionable mind? Does it have an effect on him as he listens to it in the car while you are singing along?


About a week ago, my son had trouble sleeping and was scared. My wife was concerned and asked what was wrong. He said every time he closed his eyes he kept picturing a clown eating kids. Turns out that one of the kids in his Kindergarten class was taken to the movie “It” by his parents. The kid came to school the next day and told all his classmates. Chances are my son also seen the trailer on TV. The impression left on his mind was very real, enough to keep him awake at night.

Is this message appropriate for a 5 year old? The lasting effects of this one instance may not be great, but what about constant exposure to that and similar messages? We can rationalize it and say it is not that bad, but how many times can we do it before the “not so bad” imaginary violence becomes real? If we can justify listening to songs that degrade other people, how long does it take before we justify this belief in our minds?

Building a wall that vets all potential entrants into the nation may be a difficult debate going on right now. The choice to build a fence around your backyard to keep your kids safe and keep undesirable people out is a less difficult decision. Fortifying your mind against evil influences and properly vetting what your mind is exposed to should be a no-brainer. Protect your mind, build the wall.

It is possible that my view on a wall around your mind is incorrect. I would love to hear your comments.

“If anyone can refute me- show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective- I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.” –Marcus Aurelius