Developing Values, a Voice, and a Vote

First, this is not a political commentary. Rather, today we should consider our parental role in teaching and encouraging the next generation of voters in America - our children. I will suggest that the voting process begins long before our kids turn 18 years of age.

Last week there was an automated voicemail message on our home telephone, extending a ‘personal’ invitation to attend a Romney for President rally to hear local officials speak and see (and even to board) the touring campaign bus. I thought, what a terrific opportunity for my sons to see the political machine in process.

We went and listened to speakers, ate “freedom cookies,” and cheered as our country’s flag was waved while triple-barreled questions incited uproarious chants of “Yes!” After all, who wouldn’t want a better economy? Who wouldn’t want to support families? And who wouldn’t want to renew national security by not selling it out with debt for generations to come? But what impacted my kids most? At 9 and 11 years old respectively, it was getting on the bus.

I asked them what they heard during the rally. They responded, “Romney is for families. Romney is for jobs and he has experience in business.” I followed, “What about President Obama?” They said, “He’s not.” They were listening after all. However, this example creates a challenge for us, parents. While our family constituency is unavoidably hammered by the over-simplified marketing clarion calls of political party affiliations and candidates, we must ask ourselves if we are doing the more fundamental job – helping them identify their values and to develop a voice to promote and defend them.

I was raised in a politically divided household. My mother was a vocal supporter of Kennedy/Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. My father, a Navy man and career defense industry engineer, was a quiet-but-devout conservative. I suspect that because they didn’t personally agree, neither politics nor the underlying issues were discussed or taught in our home. As a result, when the privilege of voting also became my right, I felt generally disconnected and had no idea how to navigate the messaging or propositions to establish an opinion. So, with my first two opportunities to vote, I did nothing. We have to do a better job as parents, especially teaching children how to listen, discern truth (if they can find it), and indoctrinate the responsibility to exercise their voice in the political process through voting.

The ways of politics are rocking our children’s confidence in this country and in their future. Both campaigns are overwhelmingly focused on the defamation and destruction of character, capacity, and aspirations of the opposing candidates. The message is clear, “The other guy sucks. If he wins, kiss your dreams goodbye.” Wow. Guess what? Someone IS going to win. And now as part of the political process we’ll have convinced nearly half of our united states that he is a creep. These messages are inescapable to the underage audience as well, appearing pervasively on television, on the radio, online, in social media and even in video games. This erodes national pride and any sense of security of the next generation of voters.

I do not want my sons to blindly assume my political affinity. However, I would be thrilled if they come to the same conclusions that I have, after understanding the options presented and matching those to the values that they’ll learn in our home. Then they will be equipped to exercise their own voice through voting, towards their values. If they come to different conclusions, there is still victory in our raising active, engaged voters.

Challenge: Independent of your own political stance, help to get kids on the bus. 

With your child:

• Discuss your family values.
• Identify core issues that impact our country (and especially the family).
• Help your child understand the difference between the political messaging designed to win an election by tearing down the opponent, and that of working towards a better America by voting in the candidate with who he or she has the greatest confidence and represents their values.
• Finally, we must find a way to encourage patriotism in kids independent of politics. Withholding our prayers, hopes and support from whoever wins this election (provided your desired candidate does not win) only teaches that our national pride is conditional upon one leader. It also presumes that God cannot achieve miraculous things through adversity. Both of which are not true.

God help us as parents, and God bless America.

A Taste of Bitter Fruit

Does threatening about consequences work with your kids? My wife Kelly bought me a great little book this week titled, 1001 Things it Means to Be a Dad, by Harry H. Harrison Jr.

Killer stuff! Some of the truths contained therein were so simple. Others were hilarious. Still others I couldn’t help but want to volley back, “Yes, in theory…”

#891 Being a dad means realizing threats mean nothing. Consequences mean everything.

“Darn straight!” I thought to myself, and then was immediately conflicted. You see, I don’t intend to threaten about anything really, unless in jest. I mean what I say when I say it, if not always how I say it. When I kindly offer, “I’ll be pleased to glue your face shut if you’d like,” of course I’m only inquiring, “Can we lower the volume a tad, my volume-blessed sons?”

However, when it comes to setting conditional behavioral scenarios (rules and consequences), sometimes due to my own time crunch, busyness or fragmentation of attention, I fail to close the loop. Instead, the fair and reasonable consequences that were set for off-track behavior simply become threats with no moxie. This is an anti-lesson. Worse yet, the next time when I appropriately follow-through with discipline on the same issue, my kids are even more confused because the last time I let it slide. This does them no favor. Ah, the scourge of consistency!

Then there is the issue of allowing our children to struggle a bit, especially when they’ve earned it. This is really tough and unnatural for me, particularly when it is the world doling out payback. It’s my job to protect the ‘lil beasts, right? Well, not always.

Dr. James Dobson offers this bit of gold in his straight-to-the-point video, Actions Lead to Consequences. He notes, the “taste of bitter fruit that irresponsibility brings can teach a young child valuable lessons that may be useful to him later on.”

I guess that is the point.  Let them have a taste. I think the only way kids come to understand the reality of life’s causes-and-effects is to gift them with the experience of consequences. And, better that this happen at home - when they are young.

Challenge: Before setting in stone the next consequence for errant behavior with your kids, ask yourself: Am I willing, capable and committed to doing my part to execute the consequence consistently? Idle threats can be more damaging than the sting of justice.

Righteous Anger

Anyone who tells you that parenting doesn’t involve the regular exposition of strong emotions, including anger, is lying.

The assault on our constitutional religious liberties by the current administration in Washington D.C. and the liberal media’s outright digital terrorism on the mind space of our youth to promote a licentious homosexual agenda, has me very, very angry.

Especially in a testosterone-heavy household like ours, expressions of aggression seem to be a normal part of life. So, I’ve been thinking about the use and appropriateness of anger, especially in the context of fathering. In a Christian home that is rooted in love and grace, where and when does anger have a place? Where and when should my anger work into the fathering plan?

Author John Oakes has some interesting thoughts on the subject. He writes, “It seems that righteous anger is directed toward people who willfully violate the rights and prerogatives of God or other people. Anger at those who commit acts of racial prejudice or those who scoff at God or who create division in the church is appropriate.“

“A parent’s anger at their children for blatant rebellion may be appropriate, but that depends on whether it is expressed in a righteous way. If such anger results in a desire to hurt or get revenge it is not righteous.”

In early adulthood I was in love with anger. In fact, I felt that anger was a gift. After all, my view (then) was that anger clarified life. Anger motivated me. I believed my anger was “controllable.” And selfishly, my anger was my own.  Most of my anger was rooted in strongly held assertions of life’s lack of “fairness” and was accompanied by robust payback fantasies.  Simply put, my anger was immature. Only later did I realize that I’d become a slave to my anger, especially the unrighteous and largely unexpressed anger held in my heart. Anger became a barrier to positive action versus a catalyst to change. I look around at our culture today and I see too much of that.

So what do I tell my kids about my own anger, and what should I show them? It’s a gross oversimplification, but I believe a good place to start is with three C’s: Consideration. Communication. Consistency.

• First, I really need to do some thinking about what has me so angry. Are the reasons righteous? If so, what purpose does my anger serve, if any? Serious consideration to what I am I willing to do, or not do, as a result is warranted.

If I’m going to be really angry about something, I’d better be prepared to tell my sons why. I need to communicate with them the context of my anger, what it means to me, and how it manifests in my behavior. Especially if it involves them, they need to understand the difference between being upset with situations or behavior and anger placed and directed at them.

• Anger is such a powerful and potentially damaging emotion that I simply must commit to being consistent about managing the role of that anger plays in my, and their lives. When I blow up, and I blow it with unrighteous anger, I have to be quick to correct myself and teach them how to recover as well.

Righteous anger is also an awesome learning and teaching opportunity. Explaining my reasons for extreme dissatisfaction about core life issues provides the platform for discussions about what is critically important to me. Likewise, digging deeper when my boys are lit up allows me to understand them and their worldview better.

Challenge: Get to know your own anger. Can you accurately qualify if it is righteous or unrighteous? The next time your real anger feels right, I challenge you to test if it is.

I can’t be the only father who sees the power and the danger of anger. What do you do to wield this mighty sword with discernment?

Anger in my life may be fuel for action, but anger in my heart is poison.

Fear of the Dark

In honor of a summer vacation that was ending too early, (don’t they always?) and the start of a new school year, we took the boys camping this past weekend. Our campsite was located on the periphery of the site acreage, bordered by thick scrub oak and Ponderosa pines. Despite the scratches and bug bites earned by three guys determined to trample through thorny brush in shorts and flip flops, “getting wild” and roaming off-path was one of the more memorable parts of our experience.

Everything changed when the sun dropped behind the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly, the wild and wooly unknown of the woods became a threatening vortex of danger as broad and deep as one’s imagination. Flashlights penetrated no deeper than inches into the fray. An unknown that beckoned for exploration only 30-minutes before was now the source of anxiety - only moments later. My sons, whose boundless energy and spirit for adventure often had them out of sight, now craved two things: closeness to their sense of security (me) and light. It was natural for them to seek both.

It’s easy to get spooked in the woods.

I watched their wandering nature become corralled like an invisible fence by the reach of the flashlight on our path.  Meanwhile, I sought to squelch their fear with information; “There hasn’t been reports of bears in this area recently…” and “If you DO encounter a bear, don’t run – just get behind me!” Get the facts. Have a plan. That’s what makes me feel secure.

However, I found myself thinking, “But who do I get behind?”

Fathering is not unlike camping. We traverse through the wild in areas both known and unknown, but as men perhaps become less equipped to face the dark.  Instead of sticking close to the light when things get gnarly we often go wandering off alone, distancing ourselves from the very sense of security we seek.

Challenge: When fear of the unknown attacks you, and it will, run towards someone whom you can trust. Even the most remote paths are likely familiar territory to someone else.  Together, you can walk safely – even in the dark.

Show and Tell

My mother recently came to visit us in Colorado from her home in Austin, Texas. As the first born of her five children, I am -very appropriately- her favorite child (sorry brother and sisters!) and we have a terrific relationship. Her love for her grandsons is a close runner-up.

After an adventuresome expedition and cruise around downtown Denver, we returned to a parking garage and I proceeded to the front passenger side of my vehicle. Presuming I was getting in the car, my middle son stopped and asked, “Dad, what’re you doing? Grandma can’t drive your car.” As a point of reference, you must know that my car is tall – armored tank tall.

I was stunned by the question. Had my boys not seen me open the car door, the doors of the shops we just perused, the door to the restaurants, all the doors – all the time, for my mother? Why would it seem odd or out of place to him that I help my energetic (but 5’3”) mother into her seat? Have they not seen me do the same thing hundreds of time for my wife? Apparently not.

Nailed. Failed. This lesson about respect for women and the demonstration of care for our loved ones, (and dare I say, chivalry,) apparently has flown way below their radar. My assumption that showing my values and modeling the behavior that I wish to see in my boys was simply insufficient to make a lasting impression. I’ve been reminded that for this lesson as well as other fathering opportunities I must show and tell to accomplish the desired influence.  Now that we’ve had that “teaching moment” about boys and doors, we’ll test the theory thoroughly and see if I’m not the only guy to hold the door for their mom.

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-8

Challenge: What lessons are you assuming that children are naturally picking up? This week, take the time to explain one lesson to ensure they understand what and why it is important to you, and why it should be important to them too.