Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Kids' Christmas Gift

The Holidays always provide a chance for me to reflect on the milestones of the year. It has been a great Christmas season filled with presents, good food, and loved ones. The kids are thoroughly enjoying their time off  from school along with their new toys. It seems like the season couldn't get any better, but I'm happy to report that it has taken a turn for the better. The other night,  my wife and I were on the couch discussing our day when we were interrupted by kids who we thought were asleep.  It went something like this:

5 Year Old: "Mom and Dad, we've decided that since we have so much, we want to give away one of our presents."

Parents: "Ok which one? "

5 Year Old: "We want to give our $5 Dollar Tree gift card to that lady that we always see walking. Maybe she could buy something for herself."

Parents: "Wow honey that is an awesome idea. It makes mommy and daddy happy to hear you girls trying to do things to help others."

I can't say that I've had a more proud moment as a father than I did that night. My daughters went on to tell us how they had been up discussing this among themselves which is why they weren't yet asleep. I hope their sensitivity to other people's plight stays with them for life. In light of the self-consumed behavior that we see playing out in our society, it is refreshing to see compassionate people that are truly making a difference. Their act of "unsolicited generosity" is truly what Christ would want for His birthday. Maybe the next time we're asked about what we got for Christmas, we could ask ourselves, "What have we given for Christmas?"

                           Tips on Teaching Kids to Share
As the New Year approaches I look forward to seeing what kinds of "unsolicited generosity" my girls will come up with. In the meantime here are a few ways that you can help your kids begin to learn the importance of sharing with others:

1. Read About Sharing- A kid's Bible is a great place to start the conversation about sharing. A story like Jesus feeding the multitude after a little boy shared his lunch gives a vivid example of how sharing what you have can affect others. There are also a ton of books on the market that can help wih the cause. One of my family's favorites is  "Christmas Soup" by Alice Duncan .
The girls prepping the bread at a local shelter

2. Volunteer At A Soup Kitchen- We see it on television all the time, but how many of us actually take time from our busy holiday schedules to serve a meal to those less fortunate? One of our yearly traditions is to actually take our kids with us to help serve a meal. They generally end up handing out napkins or dinner rolls, but the lessons they've learned are priceless.

3. Give Away Toys (OFTEN!)-Our kids have a ton of toys to say the least. That's why it's mandatory  in our house that every six months or so they give away some toys. We generally let them choose which ones, but they have to at least fill up one shopping bag. It is either given to a kid that they know about that might not have much or its carted off to the thrift store. Either way someone else benefits from our excess and a few more tripping hazards have been removed from the playroom!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Taking Time Out

Taking "timeout" with my girls
Every parent has at some point used timeout to discipline their kid. Getting your little tike in on some corner time after repeated disobedience has at least two benefits-1.) It's an effective alternative to spanking. 2.) It gives mom or dad a chance to regroup or calm down. But what about putting the parents in timeout for a change? Now hear me out...I'm not advocating sending daddy to the corner. What I am saying is that often times everybody needs a break from the everyday routine. The other day I decided to at least take some time out for my kids. I took a day off to attend a field trip with the wife and kids. I normally take an hour or two to attend a function but I felt like this was the day that I needed to give them my whole day. The day began with me thinking about the office but that only lasted for about an hour. After that I was fully focused on our day at the zoo. We saw lions, tigers, and bears. My favorite part was getting a chance to see the erratic flight pattern of an extremely rare white crow (I didn't know they even existed)! We also fed apple slices to a horse and a mule. Both kids and parents alike were thoroughly enjoying their "timeout" session. We stopped by one of their favorite restaurants for lunch and of course got an earful about what is happening in their world.  Now I could've had a normal day at the office with constant demands from customers and emails about the most recent department budget cutbacks. Instead, I spent the day listening to the people in this world that truly matter the most to me. There are a lot of things that this dad doesn't know but one thing is for certain, I will never get tired of hearing my daughter say, "Dad this is the best day ever!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

10 Tools For A Great Marriage

My bride and I just celebrated 10 years of marriage. During the last decade we've worked hard, played hard, cried, and laughed. Through it all, we've learned that true love is not a feeling but a day to day decision to love a fellow imperfect being. My wife's friendship and love has been a critical part of my life. There's nothing quite like sharing this life's experiences with that special person who has your back no matter what you face. We spent some time celebrating in Jamaica and we met people who admitted they didn't know anyone our age that had been married as long as we have. So, I decided to share the top 10 tools from our marriage toolbox that have helped us stay connected over the past 10 years.

1. Be Honest-Maintaining honesty in marriage keeps up the flow of love and safety. Dishonesty and secrets increase fear and uncertainty in relationships. If trust has been shaken, it can be restored if both partners are committed to doing their part to create a culture of honesty.

2. Date Each Other-As a parent of two awesome girls we spend a great deal of time being mom and dad but we know we must put in time being husband and wife. No matter how busy we are we take time to hire a sitter to get a couple of hours of couple time every other week. Taking advantage of babysitting options have helped us stay connected.

3. Keep Others Out-Every garden at some point has to contend with weeds. Your marriage is just like a garden, with both well-meaning and malicious people ready to meddle in your marriage. Carefully determine as a couple who you let into your close circle as every person has influence be it good or bad. At times you will have to  realize that some people will simply have to go in order for your marriage garden to flourish. Never share details of marriage problems with family, exes, or co-workers. If your spouse has concerns about the character of someone you've befriended--LISTEN!

4. Be Individuals-Your marriage should be a place where each person is allowed to be themselves. Not to be confused with singleness, individualism never loses sight of the union, but encourages each other to pursue some goals without the other partner. There are activities that my wife is into that I am not interested in and vice versa.

5. Play Together-If its nothing more than signing up for a workout class together at the local gym, couples will be amazed at how doing something together recreationally will benefit them.

Playing around near Montego Bay
6. Connect with HAPPY Couples- I can't stress enough how important it is to spend quality time with people that have healthy marriages. Every relationship has struggles but perpetually unhappy couples can be like cancer to your marriage. A sure sign of an unhappily married person is one who always highlights the negative in their significant other. Happy couples are positive and leave you feeling filled up and not drained emotionally.

7. Getaway Often-Date nights are great but planning a yearly weekend getaway without kids is critical to ensure that couples stay healthy. Sometimes just having 48 hours of uninterrupted dinner with adult conversation has recharged our batteries as parents.

8. Mentorship-Find a successfully married pastor or teacher that can be an objective wise voice for you and your spouse. My wife and I had very inconsistent role models of healthy marriages while we were growing up. Hearing how older couples succeeded in their marriage has helped us make wise decisions for our family.

9. Have Joint Accounts- We feel like having joint accounts is an extension of our unity. We choose not to make major decisions concerning money without consulting with one another. We have been known to have a separate account for anniversary or birthday surprises but that is about the extent that we will agree to having our money separated.

10. Grow Together Spiritually-Our mutual relationship with God is the foundation of our marriage. Reading the Bible, serving others, and praying together are at the very core of why we've enjoyed 10 years together. We know that our humanity is flawed, so our dependence on the Lord is the anchor that keeps us.

Our Jamaican relfie at sunset

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Daughters' First Sleepover

As a proud dad of two daughters there are two questions that are constantly on my mind:

1.) How equipped are my girls for life once they are released into this crazy mixed up world we live in?
2.)  How well I'm doing as a father?

This past weekend I gained some ground in regards to getting answers to these questions.

 How it All Went Down
You see my wife and I hosted the first official slumber party for our girls and two of their friends. That's right, we were the royal servants to 4 excited and constantly squealing little girls who are collectively known as the BFF Club.
It was a fairly typical (I guess) sleepover, filled with popcorn, Barbies, cupcakes, nail painting, and a Frozen sing-a-long marathon. Meanwhile, I managed to sneak away for a couple of hours to grab some  boneless wings and catch up on the Elite 8 action in the NCAA Tourney. My wife earned her Sleepover Leader badge since she took the lead with the girls. Yes, I will admit that I surrendered the Mancave to them... but for only one night. The next morning, I got up to help cook breakfast for the BFF Club. They were too excited to even eat their pancake breakfast. There were only a few hours left before it was time for them to leave, but there was still so much more fun to be had. Soon, they scurried off to put on their pretend makeup, play dress up, and squeal. Did I say squeal already?

What I Learned
Looking back, I don't remember one time that either of our daughters came crying to us for problem-solving. As parents, my wife and I have worked hard to teach our kids to begin making decisions on their own. This doesn't mean we're abdicating our roles as parents, but we are fully aware of the amount of intellect that they carry even at their young ages. It was clear in their interactions with their BFF's that our little princesses are ready to at least begin navigating this life socially. In one night I was able to see healthy conflict resolution, compassion, and fair treatment as my girls interacted with their buddies. The best part of this all was that they displayed these traits without once, asking my wife or myself to help them figure out what to do. They inherently knew how to handle every situation that they were faced with. On that note, I'm left to believe that I'm doing a pretty good job of being a daddy. The girls will be fine. Maybe I just need to...ahem...Let it Go...Let it Go!!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dads, Daughters, and Growing Up

Today, was a major milestone as I watched my 6 year old daughter bravely get her ears pierced without wincing or crying. We thought she would back out, but I'm proud to see her make a decision and follow through with it. She waited about 7 months after her little sister got hers done. It was cool to see her evolve on the piercing issue (she didn't want to do it before) and make the choice on her own. To say kids grow up too fast is almost cliche' and people say it so much that you can lose the "weight" of the statement. 
Lately, this truth has become so vividly  clear to my wife and I that we almost want to ignore how fast they are approaching adolescence. They are only 4 and 6 but it's something about this stage in their lives that has us in a panic. So much so that they count out loud telling us how old they will be next year, then the year after that. They roar with laughter as we cover our years trying to block out their countdown.

 Time Flies
Everyday, I wonder what happened to that "ghost" of a child that I could tuck under my arm like a football. These days I'm showing them how to throw footballs and basketballs. Darius Rucker and Steven Curtis Chapman each have songs that adequately drive home the importance of how quickly daughters grow up. I first heard this one by Darius at a father-daughter dance at wedding once. Check it out:

Savor the Moment
No matter how I try to look the other way, I know the day is coming when this house will be eerily quiet because the nest will be empty. On those days when I seem overwhelmed with life I purposely use this reality to help me focus on what's important-the fleeting quality time I spend with them daily. Of course at their age they can never get enough time with us. We have literally spent all  day doing things together as a family and at bed time they will ask, "can we play just a little bit longer?" Many times all my wife and I want to do is go to bed and sleep for the next 20 hours. But before you know it, we're being awakened by a hungry kid who wants breakfast at 6am. The truth is we wouldn't have it any other way. You  see, the legacy I've decided to leave with my daughters is being constructed today. I realize each day that I'm blessed to get out of bed, I have a chance to make their childhood home a place that they will one day look back on with fondness or with resentment. Some days when I feel the pressures of trying to provide and just simply live in this world, it is refreshing to see everything through their eyes. There's no worry or fear in their little minds, just an inclination that everything turns out fine. I so want to protect that purity of heart. Right now...to them, I'm the king of their hearts and my wife is the queen of their hearts. They are our little princesses that just want to practice their dancing...just a little bit longer. Check out this daddy-daughter classic that will probably be played at one of my daughter's wedding:

Making Time to Connect
I encourage all parents to be in the moment with their kids. While providing is a huge part of marriage and parenting, don't let it take the place of connecting with your family. I know way too many adults who are angry because they never were allowed to truly have a quality connection with one or both of their parents. Here are some tips:

Tips On Connecting With Daughters

1. Let them talk. I know it seems like little girls talk from sunrise to sunset, but healthy interaction is key to their development. Research says adult women have about 25,000 words that they need to get out on a daily basis, but as a dad, I see the same is true for little girls. As they are learning about their world they are filled with comments or questions that need a response from you.

2. Talk to them. When they hit you with rapid-fire questions, make sure that you answer them truthfully. Little girls also need to know that their dad cares about what is important to them. The only way for them to know that, is for you to have an actual opinion about Cinderella's evening gown. You must talk to them making direct eye contact with them at least once a day.

3. Put your phone down. Our digital devices can easily rule our lives. During basketball practice, my 6 year old got a huge attitude if I looked at my cell phone. Now I only glanced at it for a few seconds, of course that was the moment she looked over to see if I was watching her practice. I learned that even the slightest appearance of "checking out" can make her feel like she's not important. My relationship with my children are only as good as the boundaries I set up. So,  I've learned I'm learning, to check in less with social media so that my girls get their fair share of daddy. Besides, there is always "phone time" once they are in bed.

4. Get into their world. Whether it's coaching their little league team or just coloring with them, make sure you do something with them that they love to do.  You would be surprised at how much self-esteem you give your daughters just by stopping what you're doing and spending an hour doing what they like each day.

5. Hugs and kisses. A lot of us guys aren't big on affection, but little girls feel a deep sense of security when their dad is there for them physically. Make sure you give them plenty of hugs and kisses everyday. It could be as soon as you get home from work or at bedtime. Researchers believe that a lack of affection from dad as child can lead to promiscuous behavior during the teen years. So instead of worrying about future boyfriends simply show your girls affection!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dad and His Devices

Ok, I will be the first to admit that I am a grown man who still likes his toys. I mean what man doesn't right? I grew up physically but there is a part of me that wants to block out the rest of the world sometimes and just go outside and play with some GI Joe action figures. Since I'm confessing, from time to time I do enjoy searching for old toys from my childhood that are for sale on Ebay. As a husband and father, I can't justifiably bid on that vintage GI Joe. So, I get my fix by getting into grown up toys like new power tools--to help fix up the house for the wife of course...ahemm.

Electronics and Gadgets
Bezos unveiling the Kindle Fire HD
I am also a techno geek that enjoys my fair share of  electronics, like Xbox, Kindle Fire HD, and my digital SLR. Right now, my Kindle is in heavy rotation because it helps keep me organized as I pursue my Master's degree. Of course, as I write this post my kids are right next to me using it to watch Disney Jr. shows. Yeah at any time of day any of dad's devices are being used by any family member. Now, I'm not one to say that devices are bad, but I refuse to allow them to take over my family life. Everyday, there seems to be some new app that I learn about that promises to make my life or job easier. Of course the truth is, a considerable amount of my time goes into learning how to use these apps, which takes away from something else. Before, I know it, my "honey-do list" and my "digital to do list" are in a grudge match. Finding that balance between dad time, family time, and device time is a quest that will be around for the rest of my life. Lots of folks are also feeling the need to regain control of their lives in the digital age. A new trend known as digital detox is starting to get quite a few followers. As some of you may know,  March 7-8 is the National Day of Unplugging, which sees many families spending extra time connecting without the use of technology. The video below gives you the scoop on this holiday and no you don't need to load an app to view the video...just click the link...

Digital Detox Plan
This day is a great way for us dads to make sure we don't end up living like the weird guy in the movie Her. So what are some other ways that we can regularly keep our electronics from competing with quality time? Here are a few that have been helpful for me and my family:

1.) Watching a show or playing a game together on your device as a family once a week
2.) Pick a device free evening (especially on date nights or family outings)
3.) Set a schedule for your digital device time

Friday, February 28, 2014

Let's Make History

"I didn't have a dad in the house, and I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices.”
–President Barack Obama 2/27/2014 “My Brother’s Keeper” Program Press Conference

Yesterday, the President announced an initiative to encourage  businesses and nonprofits to provide greater opportunities for the placement of black males in jobs. The program is called My Brother's Keeper. This is definitely a good program but how do we first deal with the problems stemming from fatherlessness? Before some of the broken kids in our communities can join the workforce, they need someone to prepare them for it. I once mentored a group of young men that never owned a suit or had any knowledge of how to tie a tie. The reason? There was not one man in their life that took the time to help them with this. The mentoring program I led took our guys down to Menswearhouse to get measured for their first suit. As we close out another Black History Month, I’m left wondering what is being done in the name of the "Black Present Day"- especially as it relates to fathers. Considering that 1 out of 2 black children will go to bed tonight without a father in the house, there is something that needs present day action. Thirty to 40 years ago, the majority of black families had both parents in the house. It was normal for dads to be hands on with the family unit. Obviously, things have changed. But why have things changed? How do all of the fathers trying to "hold it down" encourage wayward father’s to stay active with their kids?  How many kids are now looking for acceptance in gangs because of the rage they feel from not knowing dad?  Some of these same guys turn to selling drugs because the street life has shown them no other way to make a living. It seems the nightly news is filled with stories of young black men killing one another during the prime of their lives. Many times this only because they didn't have a dad. Judging from the media, the actively involved  father is becoming a trend of the past. Is being an absentee father going to one day be the new black history?

I think those of us, like the President, who have persevered through the struggles of fatherlessness, should make sure this isn’t the case.  Mr. Obama stated that it was a support system of teachers and community leaders that guided him onto the right path. We need to do more to create a support system for the fatherless kids in our communities. A lot of today’s devoted dads are the way they are because they know how bad it hurts to be without their dad. These "superdads" have an amazing ability to help a fatherless child turn their anger into something positive. To those dads, I say rock on and keep leaving that legacy!

Dads in Action Challenge: Look for a child or a group of children in your community that you could spend some time mentoring. In my work as male mentor, I've found that just devoting an hour a week to a kid with no dad can go a long way in improving the child's life. Here are some suggestions:

1.) Get involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program
2.) Coach a little league team at your YMCA
3.) Connect with a mentoring program at a nearby college

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Are The Dad Days?

They say that there isn't an instruction manual for being a good father-not that we would read it anyway. Most of the dads I know just do what they saw their dad do or didn't do growing up. Others like me, just try to figure it out while "on the job." Most of the time we're not really sure how well we're doing. There is one day that we do get a progress report on our daddy skills. The holiday centers around gifts like a gaudy tie or a pair of socks. I'm talking about Father's Day. It is when we as a nation set aside a day to honor dads.
Each year, kids, wives, and girlfriends, go out of their way to find that one special gift that fully embodies just how special dad is.  I personally look forward to it because my kids always make me really creative cards. But what about the other 364 days of the year when:

1.)  The car has broken down for the 5th time in 2 months
2.)   Two of your buddies need you to help them move this Saturday ("It's not that much stuff.") YEAH RIGHT!
3.) You're working late and you suddenly realize that it was your turn to pick up the kids!
4.) The hot water heater is leaking again--this time it's soaked the new sofa your just got last week.

 On those crazy days of being Superman, let's face it a guy could use a few minutes in his Fortress of Solitude watching Sportscenter, eating wings, and having a cold drink. This is where the Dad Days blog comes in. Through personal stories from myself and other committed dads, I believe we can inspire one another during those other 364 days of the year which I refer to as the Dad Days. These are during those ordinary days where we're running all over the planet making a living while trying to be a good hubby and daddy.  I know we're guys and we don't need any help, but just maybe together we can unlock some of the keys to successful fatherhood while proudly wearing our gaudy ties and new socks!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Unemployed Provider

Life is good. A loving wife, two adorable daughters, a house in the burbs, cars paid off, and a job that pays the bills.  I'm holding it down like a real man should.  Phone rings.  What? Huh? I just talked to her a few hours ago.  Dead?  Is that what you just said?  Yes, your mother is gone.  This one phone call started a snowball of doom that would roll through my life for the next two years.

Snowball of Doom

I don't think you ever get over the death of a parent, you simply just learn to cope after a few years of grief.  Four months after my mother's passing, I get the news that I will be laid off from my job.  Being that my wife is a stay at home mom, that equates to no income coming into the house.  Houston we have a problem.  I'm the spiritual, emotional, and financial provider of this house and I'm unemployed.  The problem grew bigger and bigger as the months turned into a year and I still hadn't been able to land a new gig.  I was actually unemployed for a total of 20 straight months.  Yes, twenty--that's no typo.  Also during this stent, both of my grandmothers passed within three months of each other.  Here I am without a job and I just lost 3 matriarchs that always cheered me on when things went wrong.  I felt overwhelmed.  I really thought I was unfit for this role of a husband and father.  This was mainly due to the fact that at that time I found my worth and measure in the amount of dollars (or lack thereof) in my bank account. Our society conditions men to view themselves in this way.

The Journey To Find The Real Me

The snowball of doom felt like it was going to take me out.  However, it was the beginning of my journey into understanding who I really am. During my unemployed season, I looked earnestly for a job and took odd jobs here and there to try and make ends meet. My family was sustained somewhat by my efforts, combined with support from family and friends. I was grateful, but it just didn't feel good. I found myself angry at God because I was supposed to be able to provide for my family and it seemed like I was making no headway on finding gainful employment. I thought and shared with my wife that she and the kids would be better off if I weren't around. I had a life insurance policy that would have them set.  My wife confronted me on that one day, saying, "you know firsthand the pain of growing up with no father, why would you even think about wishing that on your daughters!!?" Thankfully, she spoke the truth and her words cut me deep.

I continued the job search, but I also decided to change my perspective. Instead of spending all day looking for jobs, I set boundaries on the job search and became more intentional about spending quality time with my kids. I began to do things that I couldn't do if I were on a job.  Several days, I found myself at the beach watching a sunrise.

My youngest daughter and I celebrating her birthday during the "unemployed years"
Other times, I would take the kids fishing or spend the afternoon with them at the beach. I soon began to figure out that my kids weren't complaining and neither was my wife. So, I began to wonder why I didn't just loosen up and at least try to enjoy this extra family time.  There I was, beginning to live life again, with almost no money in the bank...yet I was still a man that was greatly loved by an amazing woman and two wonderful daughters. During this time out of work, we made some memories that will last us a lifetime.  Somehow, this all began to give me the confidence I needed to go on day in and day out during those 20 months.

My bride and I visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania
Just knowing that my kids and my wife loved me unconditionally, helped revolutionize how I defined myself. I no longer look at those day as "unemployed days," but I look at them as days of gainful employment as a full time father and devoted husband. I am blessed to have had so much "extra" quality time with my kids during that almost 2 year period. How many dads can say that they've spent 20 months of almost uninterrupted time with their children? While I couldn't provide all of the dollars and cents like I wanted to, I was able to provide my family with emotional security. That is priceless. We did so many things together and I believe it will help them have a level of emotional security that they wouldn't have experienced, if I'd been punching a clock. At first it seemed like a really bad thing, but I was determined to turn it into something positive for us all. God's word says that He can turn all things around for our good.  He surely did it in this situation for me.

How to Create Good out of Bad

Since then, I have successfully found my way back into my original career path of television production. My current job pays pretty well and I'm doing what I love. Of course nothing  compares to being greeted at the door everyday by my fan club of three. Thanks to them I was able to take that   snowball of doom and used it to build a snowman with my daughters.

 I want to encourage all fathers out there to take an account of what is going right in your life. Regardless of your situation, you can still be a great father. You owe it to yourself and your kids to focus on the positives that you bring to the table. After all, in their eyes you will forever be their superhero, so you might as well swoop in and save the day. So here are some easy ways to do just that:

  1. Get rid of negative relationships (Getting rid of the draining friendships gives you more time and energy for your kids)
  2. Take each child out individually for an hour at least once a month (It doesn't have to be a full meal--grab a slurpee together and talk).
  3. Make family dinner a nightly tradition as much as you can (Play High/Low where each person tell the best part (the high) and the worst part (the low) of their day.)
  4. Spend at least an hour a week doing whatever your child likes to do (I play with Barbies quite often).
It doesn't matter how difficult your situation is, God's grace and a positive perspective is all you need. Things can get rough in this life I know, but take it from me, you CAN get past whatever mountains you're facing. Your days are not your own, but they are Dad Days that you've been given for a reason. How are you using them?