Category Archives: Fatherhood

MetaMUSCLEs.

I don’t remember who gave me my first MUSCLE man. I just remember having a collection of them that I cherished: flesh-colored, dark orange, neon green, deep purple, and red. Mostly flesh. They are about an inch tall. There is a series with mohawks and a series with horns and capes. Some robots. Some half man and half beast. Others half man and half hand-tool. Some are half man and half medieval weapon. Some winged. Other are simply muscular, or grotesque and really cool-looking. They came in plastic four-packs or in small rubber garbage cans, which could hold eight. I have many, many fond memories with my MUSCLE men. They remind me a lot of my grandma’s and grandpa’s house in Bakersfield. I remember the large rounded cement steps at their back door and the Blue Room. I had an hour-long timeout in the Blue Room once, but I had a bright green robot MUSCLE man with me. I loved to categorize them, put them on teams, dramatize story-lines. In one episode they encountered Jenny’s My Little Ponies, animated by Jenny herself, and I couldn’t recount the narrative to you here because I only remember it having to do with a literal buffet and a literal court, which led to the incarceration of the majority of my MUSCLE men. They were tricked into it by way of the buffet.

I kept them. And on one day not long ago I gave them all to Soren. He was pretty excited. He keeps them in a traditional Star Wars metal lunchbox.

The other day we were looking at them together and pointing out features that were cool or unbelievable.

Me: Look! This one has needle-nose pliers for his head and arms, instead of a head and arms!
Soren: Look! This one is just an arch with a little head!
Me: Look! This one has six arms!
Soren: He must have six kids!

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Metametacarpals.

(Me, holding my foster daughter B.)
Soren: I want you to hold me.
Me: Ok, come here.
Soren: I want you to hold me with two hands.
Me: I have two hands so that I can hold two kids.
Soren: Oh!
(Soren reflects.)
Soren: When the baby in mamma’s tummy is born, you will need THREE hands!

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Monday Night

Monday night after Soren’s bath I asked him whether he wanted his dinosaur jammies or the striped jammies. We try to give him the chance to make decisions so that he can practice decision-making. As he progresses he gets to make decisions of more and more consequence. He picked the dinosaur jammies and insisted on putting the pants half of them on by himself. It took him 10 minutes, but he did get them on (backwards). When we put the top on he asked for the zipper and I had to explain to him that it had buttons instead of a zipper. As soon the zipperless reality of the dinosaur jammies finally dawned on him, he went ghost white and started to shout “Striped jammies! Striped Jammies!”. I asked him, just to make sure, whether he wanted the striped jammies after all and he enthusiastically affirmed as much. We took them out and got his dinosaur jammy pants off and started putting the striped footie pajamas on and he made sure I didn’t start zipping them up for him. After we got his arms in too he kindly pushed my helping hands out of the way and stood up and zipped to his heart’s content.

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5 Parenting Concepts

Our son Soren is pretty much the most adorable little boy you could imagine. Observe. Soren’s the one on the left. That’s his “cousin” David on the right.

He is also fairly obedient. Truth be told—he’s been struggling with obedience lately, but still. He’s a really great boy. He loves his mama and dada, loves seeing “friends!” (anyone he gets to interact with), loves cleaning, loves helping, and loves snuggling. His enthusiasm for life is inspiring. He is tickled with the very existence of things. He is a true philosopher: filled with wonder. Not just curiosity about how things work, though he has plenty of that, but awe at the fact that they do. Awe at everything. Everything is peculiar to him. Everything is neat. He has an unquenchable thirst for life. More life!

I have a long list of worries. I am worried about discipline—I don’t know how to do it. I am worried about his education. I am worried about his relationships. I accidentally smacked him in the face in the dark the other night and I worried I had already done psychological damage he’ll have to work through one day in counseling. I am worried he won’t be charitable enough or hard working enough or know how much we love him no matter what. He woke up crying very abruptly the other night and Lindsey mentioned it was probably a nightmare and the very thought of my sweet little baby son having a nightmare broke my heart. When he cut his chin on the curb it really impacted him. He points to it in remembrance every time we explain to him that someone else has a hurt, and more recently every time he observes for himself that someone else is hurt. There was blood. He has a scar. The fact that it happened just knots me up!

Anyway we often get asked about parenting and how we get him to behave and what principles make sense to us because people know we (Lindsey) does a lot of research and has multiple relevant graduate degrees, etc. I think I’ve boiled it down to 5 principles that have so far stood out the most to me as being particularly effective for behavior modification, character formation, and general healthy development. Ask me in a couple years and the list may be different (and my child might not be one to make one ask, either; who knows).

5. Consistency

Whatever we do, we try quite hard to do consistently. This means we all have to be on the same page. Not just Lindsey and me, but Lindsey’s mom too, as she watches him often enough to be considered something of a primary caretaker. Inconsistency confuses. Consistency convinces. Consistency makes habit.

Consistency takes endurance. Not Ironman endurance. Just more endurance than a one year old. Which is almost as strenuous, and to be honest, sometimes even more so, in part because it can be required at unexpected times.

4. Followthrough

If we say something, we try very hard to do it. This goes for keeping our promises, like “you may have a snack when we get home” (even when we know he doesn’t understand the vocabulary used in the promise), and it goes for threats, like “if you throw that food on the floor, then you’re all done eating for tonight”. This does a number of things.

Followthrough teaches language. If we say something and then do not exhibit it, how is he to understand what the words we used mean?

Followthrough teaches boundaries. If we make a threat that we do not followthrough on, how is he to understand where the boundaries are? How is he to learn obedience or to trust that we mean what we say—how is he to learn honesty?

Followthrough teaches parents. It taught us, fairly rapidly, not to make threats we cannot carry out or wouldn’t want to if we had to. Admittedly, this occasionally leaves me without anything to threaten. I sometimes feel powerless because I have no consequent to the antecedent condition I want to mitigate. But you know what would make me feel even more powerless? A 5 year old who knows I won’t do anything if he runs away when I call him back. An adolescent who feels free to strike his siblings because there won’t be any consequences for doing so. A teenager. And one who doesn’t believe his parents mean what they say or are willing to respect their own boundaries would be even worse.

3. Positive Reinforcement

We reserve the right to punish, and do punish. But we reinforce positive behavior far more often, and we could not be happier about it. How often do you see kids acting out for attention, and getting it! Oftentimes it is in the form of discipline or some semblance of it—but it’s attention, which is what they wanted. How often do those same kids do something right only to have it go completely unnoticed? It has been empirically shown that positive reinforcement is a more powerful modifier of behavior than punishment. The research is so strong in fact, that there is a movement to do away with punishment entirely. I’m not talking about some progressive new age bleeding heart movement motivated by a contrived sense of compassion. I’m talking about hard-nosed behavioral scientists just wanting results, and believing that pure positive reinforcement is the most efficient means to that end. We don’t go that far for several reasons, but the point is that positive reinforcement is effective. And to me it just makes sense on a higher level, too. The focus should ideally be on what to do rather than on what not to do. Refraining from crime isn’t nearly as powerful as engaging in charity. We should be facing forward.

2. Modeling

Our behavior is far and away the single most powerful driver of Soren’s behavior. Whenever I don’t understand something he’s doing, I can think back to a time when he saw me doing it or something that looked like it to him. Almost every time. And the anomalies are probably due to my selective memory or general lack of creativity. I mean, it’s simply amazing. The other day I was leaning against a wall with my arms and legs crossed and after studying me a second he went and found a place to try it himself. Heart-meltingly adorable. I punished him a couple times for climbing on the coffee table after telling him not to (10-20 second time-outs after saying “if you climb on the table, then time-out”). Later on David saw me sitting on the coffee table and called me on it! Soren will take a rag to the floor when there’s a spill because he sees grandma doing it. He would rather push the stroller than ride in it. I could easily go on.

It’s usually adorable, but it’s sometimes frustrating. He’ll want to do things he can’t or shouldn’t. Sometimes that’s ok and even good, and we need to make room for it, even if it means it’ll take us longer. For example, he loves sweeping, but isn’t very good at it. Completing a sweep of the kitchen will take four times as long if Soren is helping. But it’ll be worth it when he is an 8 year old who sweeps regularly because he wasn’t constantly told to go play instead of cleaning up. To him right now sweeping is playing.

Sometimes though, it’s neither adorable nor frustrating. Sometimes it’s convicting. Realizing just how powerfully my behavior affects my son’s is frightening and inspiring. But mostly frightening. May God help me to be a better man for the sake of my son.

1. Love

What good is external behavior without love? What good is anything without love? The whole point of all of this or anything else is relationship. And none of this could be pulled off well anyway if it weren’t motivated by love. It’s all about loving and being loved. If some parents raise well-behaved children but have no relationship with them, they have failed. Abjectly.

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Pee Theory

I had a theory.
Soren does what he sees me doing.
So,
I try to intentionally do stuff, knowing this.
So,
I started peeing in front of him.
I ask him to wait and watch.
I did this enough times, and
today I get a report from Bob,
that Soren has been trying to climb on the toilet to go pee.
We haven’t even started trying to potty train him yet;
he just wants to be like Dad.

That can be read as a poem.

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Bedtime

My baby son spies me from the other room and lights up, first walking, then running toward me. He bears his chin into his chest as he giggles. His cup runneth over! He just can’t believe he gets to be my son and his dimples just melt my heart. He picks up speed and then trips, slapping his hands against the tile between his room and the living room where I’m waiting. He looks up to see if he should cry and asks for help with his big blue eyes. I walk to where he has fallen and scoop him up. His fallen countenance perks up immediately and he points to my chest and identifies me, “Dadda!”. I can hardly stand how much I love him and I just squeeze him tight.

He has already been through his bedtime routine and he knows he should rest. I permit a few more stories and I relish the opportunity to have such a tiny, precious, marvelous creature sit in my lap and grin each time I pick up a book. When our storytime has run out and resting is the right thing to do, I take my seat in the overstuffed living room chair.

He knows that his freedom is being restricted and he begins fighting against my will. I look at him softly and explain with gentle words and body language that resting in my arms is the best thing for him, but he rejects it. He squirms against my arms and begins writhing in pain.

It’s painful to rebel.

I continue to speak softly to him but eventually he insists on having his way instead of mine, kicking and screaming. There comes a point when to continue holding him would do more damage to him than to let him go his own way.

Though to truly let him free would require me to take down some major boundaries: the babygate blocking the steps down to the laundry room, for example, as well as the closed doors barring him from rooms containing wonders too great, complicated, powerful, or fragile for him to safely enjoy.

But I do let him put off his time to rest as he has literally made it impossible for me to help him do so.

He gets far enough away from me and turns around. When he catches a glimpse of his daddy he giggles and comes running back but stops mid-way, suddenly remembering that I want something for him that he does not want for himself. He is entirely incapable of understanding for himself what I understand about him. He has no concept of the exponential difference between his wisdom and mine. He can’t even speak coherently yet. (Though not for lack of trying.)

As he plays apart from me he falls multiple times, hitting his head and whining. Sometimes he will accept a modicum of comforting from me, but any rifts in our relationship are due to his rebellion.

Over time his exhaustion and a combination of strength and gentleness on my part win him over. After settling into my arms, we’re reconciled. He submits to my love. At first it doesn’t last, but his squirms aren’t as forceful as last time. I am able to gently force him to stay with me. In response to his frustration with this newfound restriction he snuggles into me for comfort.

My son then closes his tiny eyelids and falls asleep in my arms.

Instead of laying him down in his crib right away, I just hold him, and treasure up all of these things in my heart.

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