Tag Archives: Will

Should We Tell Kids They’re Special?

photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)
photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)

“Dad, am I special?”

What seems at first glance to be a question with an easy, straightforward answer from a parent (“Yes son, of course you’re the most specialiest specialty in the history of special!”), suddenly wasn’t so simple. If you think about it, that question is fraught with unexpected complications and potential repercussions depending on your answer. As a result I had to think long and hard about how I responded.

Some parents are recoiling in horror at this very moment because I didn’t automatically and exuberantly tell my son how special he is. I get it. However, what message are we really sending to our kids when we resort to that?

They say all kids are special. Well, if that’s true, then doesn’t “special” lose meaning? If every single child is special, does ordinary become extinct or nonexistent? Don’t we lose the perspective necessary to make special a distinction if everyone falls into that category?

But more important than that, aren’t we creating dangerous levels of entitlement? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with positive reinforcement for hard work or a job well done. But I’m sorry, you can’t convince me that constantly telling children they are special at every turn doesn’t create a the potential for an unbelievably entitled generation of kids.

Unfortunately, I only need to look at my oldest son for a real-life example.

A few years ago, I played a trick on him and convinced him I ate all of his Halloween candy. Well, the Jimmy Kimmel Show saw it, liked it, and used it. Suddenly Will was watching himself broadcast to millions of people. They even used his image as the thumbnail on the YouTube video, which has been seen by nearly 40 million people.

I was really excited and I went on and on about how special this was, and how special he was to appear on television and be seen by millions of people. Then the local media found out, and we were featured in newspapers and even had a segment on the local TV news. Soon Will was telling his friends, other parents, teachers, and everyone he could that he was a TV star. I just thought it was really cute and I encouraged it, because damn — it’s JIMMY FREAKING KIMMEL!

About a week after all the hoopla, I took Will on the train into Boston for an event. When we walked on board the crowded car, he was smiling and looking around at everyone. I just thought it was because he loved trains, but after a few minutes his smile faded and he started to get grumpy. I asked him what was wrong and his answer hit me like a brick.

“Why aren’t these people saying hi to me, dad? Don’t they know I’m special because I’m famous from the TV?”

Oh. Shit.

It took quite a bit of doing to walk that one back. I just didn’t realize what was happening, but what did I expect? I spent a solid week telling him how special he is, so how could I be surprised when he believed every single word of it and expected other people to treat him that way too?

I spent a lot of time after that talking less about being special, and more about being privileged. As a writer and blogger, I get some nice perks and things sent to me by companies. But now, when that happens, we spend a ton of time letting our kids know we’re lucky to be getting these things, and it’s not the norm. That they’re not getting them because they’re special, but because companies are advertising. I tell Will he’s no better or worse than any other kid in any other part of the world. However, he’s luckier than most and he needs to try to understand and appreciate that privilege without thinking he’s better than anyone else because of it.

I’m not supporting the degradation of kids or calling for the total elimination of positive reinforcement. Sometimes it takes a teacher/parent/friend showing a special interest in kids to make them feel worthy and propel them to success. However, I don’t want my son thinking he’s special just because he’s been told that all his life. Because make no mistake, far too many children fall into that category. Just ask this guy.

I will tell my sons they were born into a certain amount of privilege that will aid their ability to be great, should they concentrate their efforts and abilities. I will tell them I believe in them and support them wholeheartedly. I will tell them they have great potential that can only come to fruition with hard work and perseverance.

But that doesn’t make them special. It makes them like millions of other kids all over the world. It shouldn’t be a bad thing to tell kids that, either.

So how do I answer the question with which I began this piece? I tell my son he’s special to me and always will be. But other than that, no. He’s no inherently better, worse, or more special than any other kid.

If I do my job right, that message won’t destroy his fragile self-esteem — it’ll push him to work harder and be less self-absorbed.

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The Importance of Grandparents

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“If you guys moved a few hours away you could afford a really nice house.”

I’ve been told this by many of my friends, and it’s 100% true. As MJ and I prepare to buy a house in the next 18-24 months, we cringe at the soaring real estate prices of greater Boston. And that cringe turns into a full-fledged scowl when we look at the much more affordable housing prices should we decide to move to another part of the country.

For what we’ll eventually pay to buy a 3BR, 2BA, 1,800-square foot house in southeastern Massachusetts, we could get a house elsewhere that’s 5BR, 3BA, and 3,500 square feet. Hell, even if we moved to the Berkshires (western Massachusetts, 3 hours away) we’d be getting WAY more bang for our buck. And as someone who doesn’t want to be house poor, it’s pretty damn tempting at times.

But we won’t do that. Why? Because grandparents.

Will and Sam (and Baby #3) currently have all three sets of grandparents within a 20-minute ride. Specifically, my parents live 2.5 miles away and MJ’s mom now lives just 6 miles away. We see Grandpa, Grandma, Nana, Papa, and Grammy Donna (and Grandpa B, before he died) all the time, and all of them want the kids as often as possible.

Hell, right this moment Will is in New Hampshire on his yearly trip to StoryLand with my parents. They’ve taken him for four days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since he was 3 years old, and next year Sam will join in the fun.

Which is why we won’t pick up and move. You can’t put a price tag on having family around, and you can’t underestimate the value of having kids spend a ton of time with their grandparents.

I spent nearly every weekend with my Grandma “Goo-Goo.” We watched movies, played Nintendo (she was a Zelda fanatic), hated on the LA Lakers, and ate ice cream sundaes the size of small mountains. And my Grandma “Ga-Ga” (my parents are sadistic for creating these nicknames) taught us how to play piano and sing. She lived on the town’s reservoir and we spent much of our time outside catching frogs and throwing rocks into the water.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were great. But grandparents? They’re the ones who spoil you unconditionally. Who take you on special outings. Who do the stuff they were told not to do but they’re going to do it anyway because that’s what grandparents do. Grandparents are completely special, and every kid should know that love.

I want that for my kids. It’s vital they spend time with all of their grandparents, especially since we’re lucky enough to have them so involved.

And yes, I know EXACTLY how lucky we are to have them. Some grandparents died either before kids were born or when they were very little, and others are separated by great distances. Also, I’ve heard horror stories of absentee grandparents who have only seen their grandkids a handful of times and make absolutely no effort.  Whichever camp you fall in, that’s truly unfortunate and MJ and I know we’re privileged to have so many grandparents here for us.

So when we have something come up, we make one or two phone calls and boom — a grandparent appears out of the ether to take the kids. Or if we really want a date night, someone is always all too willing to take the kids off our hands.

Papa and Grammy Donna play video games with the boys and Papa puts Will to work so he stays grounded and learns how to do more chores. Nana will sit and cuddle with Sam for hours on end, play with them at the beach, and then take Will to the fireworks show at night. And my parents practically pry the kids out of our hands to take them on overnights and spoil the ever loving crap out of them in every way possible. It’s to the point our kids cry when they come home to us because they don’t want to leave their grandparents.

Sure, we’re going to pay through the nose for a smaller house that needs repairs. But we can’t put a price on having family nearby, nor can we ever again take advantage of the opportunity to let the kids bond with their grandparents as they grow up. This is a one-shot deal and we can never get this time back, so we’re taking full advantage of it.

Grandparents aren’t around forever, but the memories they create are timeless. I’m just so thankful our kids will have them. Thanks, guys. You mean the world to us.

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It’s No Longer Gay Marriage, Just Marriage

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Will is 7 and Sam is almost 2. Some day, down the road a bit, they’ll read something in the paper or see something on TV about “gay marriage,” and they’ll be confused.

“Dad, what do they mean by ‘gay’ marriage? It’s just marriage, right?”

And I’ll have to remind them gay people weren’t always allowed the same rights as the rest of us. I’ll have to remind them it wasn’t until the year 2015 and by securing the narrowest margin of victory by the Supreme Court of the United States, that gay people in America were treated equally when it came to being able to marry who you love.

They’ll stare at me with raised eyebrows and incredulous expressions, because they won’t be able to fathom how stupid that sounds. It will be utterly incomprehensible to them that so many people in this country treated gay people as second class citizens for so long.

It’ll be just how I looked at my parents when they told me interracial marriage used to be outlawed, or black people and women couldn’t always vote.

I don’t go full ‘MURICA!!! too often, but I’m proud of my country today. It took longer than it should have, but ultimately we did the right thing. We haven’t solved homophobia and we can’t stop fighting for LGBTQIA (for any other letters I may be missing, my apologies) rights, but this is cause to celebrate.

Everyone can marry whoever they want in all 50 states. Victory.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Check out these erudite ladies and gentlemen:

Yes, these ridiculous clowns are an affront to decency, common sense, and proper grammar/spelling. And honestly, they do upset me and get under my skin at times. However, I’ve come to realize something very important. Something worth noting and remembering in these modern times.

The world is a better place than ever before. And that’s largely because people of the world are more tolerant than ever before.

The old, white, conservative, religious guard isn’t what it used to be, and for the first time they find themselves losing power, influence, and the numbers game. Seeking to deny gay people equality while rejecting proven science regarding climate change and defending the Confederate flag just isn’t going to fly anymore. They’ve lost the middle ground and they don’t seem to know how to adapt.

But when a caged animal is cornered, it gets desperate.

That’s why you’re seeing tweets like these and outrageous public statements regarding current events. It’s fear. People who have held the power for a long time never want to give it up willingly, so the final holdouts will be louder than ever to compensate for fewer people in their ranks. Basically, we’re seeing the death throes of idiocy. And not a moment too soon.

So congratulations to all the gay people out there who can now enjoy marriage equality. Congratulations to the five US Supreme Court justices who had the wisdom and fortitude to make history today. And congratulations to America, a country that has proven today it still holds dear the idea of freedom on which it was founded.

We have put another shameful period of our history in the rear view mirror. Let us keep it in sight to remember how far we’ve come, while always looking to improve our future.

And let’s make sure love always wins in the end.

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Why I Hate Running (Yet Do It Anyway)

halfmarathon3

I fucking hate running.

Some people love running and happily devote hordes of time to it. These crazy bastards on endorphin highs can’t wait to get out on roads and trails to chase their personal bests and FEEL THE BURN. Honestly, good for them. I’m happy for them (even though their speed and relentless enthusiasm makes me stabby at times).

But not me. I’m a big guy, always have been. Even when I lose a bunch of weight I’m still big. Having run four half marathons in my life, I’m prepared to stand out like a sore thumb in a crowd of waifish and highly athletic stick figures that invariably populate these races. Basically, in a sea of gazelles I’m a lumbering water buffalo.

The picture at the top of this post was taken near the halfway mark (about 6.2 miles in), and the photographer managed to capture my facial expression at the EXACT moment I realized I still had nearly 7 more miles to go before finishing. I was tired, sore, my foot hurt, and at the risk of telling you way more than you want to know, the inside of my thighs looked like something out of a B horror movie.

So the million dollar question becomes, why run 13.1 miles if I hate running.

There are a few reasons. First of all, I enjoy doing things I’m not expected to do. Look at me. I’m 5’10”, 255 lbs. Even the kid who handed me my bib number assumed I was picking it up for a friend, and stuttered his way to an embarrassed apology when I said I was running. But I also do it specifically because it’s hard and doesn’t come naturally to me. The mind fuck and head games involved in distance running simultaneously intimidates and intrigues me, and there’s something to be said for overcoming self-imposed limitations and proving yourself.

And yeah, I also do it because I hate going to the gym even more than running, and if I didn’t run I’d weigh 400 lbs. My desk job is very sedentary, my eating habits are mostly terrible, and I’m not one to join CrossFit or some other similar group, so running is really the only healthy thing I do.

But mainly, I do it because Will tells all his friends his daddy runs half marathons.

Is that vain? Yeah, probably. But it’s also the truth. He’s 7 so right now he thinks 13.1 miles is roughly the distance to the moon and back. His eyes go wide when I show him the courses I run, and he thinks it’s the most amazing thing ever. I heard him talking to some friends in school when I was volunteering in his class, telling them his dad runs races and goes really far.

And it made me feel good. I was proud that he was proud of his old man. That means everything to me, and it’s enough to propel my fat ass off the couch and onto the course for a distance I don’t really like driving, nevermind running.

I need my kids to know they have a shot at doing and becoming anything. If they don’t believe that as they grow up, they’ll lose confidence, determination, and hope. And I feel personally showing them it’s possible to reach a pie in the sky goal goes a long way toward bolstering their optimism.

But almost the entire back half of my most recent half-marathon was uphill, and let me tell you, I wanted to quit so badly. I almost did a few times. Right around Mile 8, I realized I was passing a friend’s house. And they were home, so they could’ve given me a ride. I even crossed the street fully prepared to run up to their front door, ask for a Gatorade, and ride back to the starting line in the air-conditioned car.

However, they were out on their porch and they saw me. Mary waved excitedly and Jim shouted his encouragement too. And, much to my dismay at the time, I was guilted into continuing. It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise I never would’ve had this moment at the finish line.

MJ caught the moment I crossed the finish line on video with Will. I won’t lie, it’s a little dusty in here when I watch it.

Posted by The Daddy Files on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Even the best dads only get to feel like true superheroes for a few fleeting moments in life, and running gave me my cape — if only for a few minutes. But it was enough to make all the hills over the course of 13.1 grueling miles completely worth it.

As an added bonus, Will wants to start running with me. We’re going to start with a 5k and go from there. So now I have another reason to keep running — making sure he doesn’t beat me in a race for as long as humanly possible.

And to create more moments like this one.

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Hey Judgmental Parents, It’s Not Always What It Looks Like

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***I received compensation for this post courtesy of Similac, but all opinions are my own.

What do you see when you look at this picture?

Do you see how the boy has slipped? Do you notice his white knuckle grip as he struggles to hold on and avoid falling? Can you see the slight blur of his feet as he kicks his legs profusely to avoid dropping to the ground below?

If you’re like many people, this picture probably makes you think about more than just the boy dangling from a piece of playground apparatus. After all, someone is behind the camera and that somebody is probably a parent. Do you find yourself thinking of all the playground parents you’ve seen “ignoring” their kids in favor of their cell phones? Is the voice in your head judging the parent and saying “PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE AND HELP YOUR KID?!?”

Pictures can be worth a thousand words, but words said absent knowledge are folly.

The boy is my son and the photographer is me. It was taken a couple of years ago on a playground when he was 5 years old. And just a few moments after I took it, a mother I never met before decided I was a bad parent. She made it her business to step in and “save” my son, even though I was standing close by in plain sight and watching him intently. Not content to helicopter her own child to the point of absurdity, this snapshot of my more hands-off parenting style was apparently too much for her to bear.

You see, I believe in calculated risks.

In this instance, Will was struggling with a climbing structure and not trusting his abilities. I knew he could do it, but he hadn’t proven it to himself yet. So I took stock of the situation, which included a safe place to climb, being no more than a couple of feet off the ground, and a mulch surface that would provide a soft landing should he fall. Knowing all this, when he slipped and yelled for help I simply told him he could figure it out himself if he didn’t panic and just used his head a bit.

Unfortunately, that’s when Captain America Mom decided it was her job to come to the rescue. Mainly because she saw the snapshot and not the bigger picture.

I believe kids are far more capable than we give them credit for, and not nearly as fragile or helpless as we think. Do I like watching my son struggle and fail repeatedly when trying to master something? Not particularly. However, I believe failure is necessary to achieve and appreciate success. I believe kids are stronger when they overcome their obstacles instead of snowplow parents always clearing the way. I believe just as many lessons are learned in defeat as in victory.

So when Will politely declined her offer, righted himself, and made it across the platform by himself, I smiled that much bigger.

The bottom line is there’s always more to consider and more to the story. This wasn’t a situation where he was in danger or being ignored/abused, but the mom on the playground wasn’t interested in seeing past the snapshot. She didn’t consider the possibility that a different parenting style other than her own could possibly be effective.

If she had, she might’ve seen the importance of parents knowing their kids and acting accordingly. She might’ve noticed there is more than one way to successfully raise a child other than her own. And maybe, just maybe, it would’ve dawned on her that not all risks are bad and letting kids experience a bit of failure helps them in the long run.

So next time you see a snapshot frozen in time that looks bad, make sure you consider the context.

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ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_250x151I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign, which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Check out:

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