Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Talk to Me

I know it sounds cliche, but it really is all about communication. This is what they tell us when we are about to marry. Without it, we have no way of expressing our needs and wants, nor can we know others needs and wants. I think that to some degree we all understand the importance of communication. It's vital to marital relationships, relationships at work, and between friends. Its so important we teach sign language to babies. We all know this. Why, oh why, then is it so hard? Despite our knowledge of its importance we still fail to do so - far more than we should. Married couples who were told that the most important thing in a relationship is communication still get divorced. Millions of dollars are spent on counselors whose job is really just a professional communicator.

Now lets think about this. There are professionals out there who have studied how we communicate with each other, and get paid money to either help us communicate with other people or they use communication to help us figure out emotional dysfunctions. People can go to college to study how we communicate. You can go to a university where a knowledgeable professor can teach you all about it. Why is this? Don't we all know how to communicate? We learn how to speak, how to read and write. Doesn't this mean we all know how to communicate? Well, first off I think we often confuse "communication" with "language". And like a lot of things, communication is a skill. The fact that we can go to schools specifically dedicated to teaching people how to hone this skill makes it pretty evident that not only is this something we can develop, but also that its incredibly complex. Emotions skew perceptions, words fail us, body language gets ignored. To demonstrate what I'm talking about, consider this conversation.

"Honey, you feeling okay?"

"(sigh) Yeah, I'm fine."

"Alright. Well, I'm going to go play some golf with the guys. Bye!"

Any couple will tell you that this scenario doesn't end well for either party. Now, I'm not writing this to tell the world what an awesome communicator I am. In fact, my wife will tell you that my skills could use some serious improving. We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to talking to each other.

My son is pretty stoic and my wife is great at getting him to open up tell her stuff that under normal circumstances he wouldn't talk about. On the other hand my very energetic and emotional daughter responds better to me. There are times (more often than I'd like to admit) when she will be in tears about one thing or another. Often when this happens I will be called in to remedy the situation. After a few moments with me, my formerly inconsolably sad or angry daughter will be right as rain. I usually come out of her room to find my despondent wife. At this point I usually smugly tell her, "I'm magic". She doesn't like this. (I do it anyway)

I was having some one-on-one daddy-daughter time and I was thinking about this. I wanted to know if she was aware of this dynamic so I flat out asked her.

"Who is best at getting you to calm down when you're upset"

"You are."

"Really? Why do you think that is?"

"You know how to talk to me."

This phrase coming out of her struck me, and has been stuck in my head ever since. Her answer was profound to me. She was aware. Not only that, but she had stumbled on to something that I hadn't really thought about. She knows that when she's feeling upset I have a skill set that enables her to emotionally stabilize. Even though she can tell you what I'll do and say to calm her, she still needs me to do it. I know how to talk to her. Suddenly, my role as a parent became that much more important. I may not be great at communicating with most people. There are many skills I have yet to develop. I learned that knowing how to talk to one person doesn't mean that you're good at communicating with other people. That being said, I find it profoundly gratifying that there is at least one person that I really have learned to communicate with. There is at least one person whom I can provide for on an emotional level.

This moment made me consider this as well: do I have someone that knows how to talk to me? Do I know how to talk to my wife, my son? I became more acutely aware of communication as a skill - something you can learn and know. I realized why therapists find their careers so gratifying - they know how to talk to people (some of them at least). How much happier would we all be if we all had the skills to communicate with each other? Would the world be a better place if we all learned how to talk to each other?

Friday, April 19, 2013


In many ways we are alone. We get input from our sensory organs in the form of electricity which is interpreted by our brains. Even if I am in the exact same situation as someone else, experiencing the exact same thing, I have no way of knowing if the other's brain is interpreting that experience in the same way mine is. If I see a green apple and say to you, "look at that green apple", you would look at the same object and agree that indeed it is green, but you would have no way of knowing if what my brain is telling me is "green" is actually "green". It could be that what I have learned to call green actually appears in my brain as, what you would call, red, for example. For all of us, our entire existence is experienced through the filter of our individual brains and in this way we are all alone.

Think of it this way; imagine trying to communicate to some one who has been completely deaf their whole life what its like to hear. You could use sign language to explain how the ear uses specialized organs to pick up differences in atmospheric pressure which are then changed to an electrical impulse which is then "decoded" by the brain. You could teach this deaf person everything there is to know about sound and hearing. They could earn a PhD on the subject, yet they could never understand the actual experience of hearing. And so it is with parenting.

I clearly remember people trying to tell me what being a parent is like and in my hubris I believed that I actually understood. As soon as I became a parent it was clear that I had no idea. It was like a deaf person hearing for the first time. I have been thinking about this a bit lately. I see parents with their kids and all the various problems that they face individually, and I have to realize that though I know of what the various situations may be, I have no way of knowing what it is like to experience them. 

I'd like to introduce Carmen to you. Carmen is one of my son's best friends, and sadly has been battling a rare form of cancer. She's a tough little girl and I'm always amazed to see her smiling from ear to ear despite what she's going through (as the photo of her above suggests). Surgeries, chemo-therapy, weight loss, fevers, feeding tubes and living at a hospital have unfairly become part of this sweet little girl's norm. It's heartbreaking and, as someone with kids of my own, I feel for this family - I really do. But that is about as much as I can do. Sure we attend fundraisers and buy/donate what we can, but as much as we do that for them, I think in some misguided subconscious way we do it for ourselves even more; unintentionally believing that if we give enough perhaps through some cosmic, karmic way our kids might be spared the same ordeal - which, of course, is total bullshit. Supporting someone financially or otherwise is part of feeling for someone. So I feel for them, but I can't feel with them. This is the part that troubles me because I don't want to. I know what would have to take place for that to happen and I feel guilty for it.

My brother Jared's oldest child is autistic and although this child's life is not in immediate danger his situation poses life-long challenges. Jared's youngest suffers from severe Crohn's Disease which is life threatening and life-long as well. When I think of Jared and his wife's ordeals my reaction is the same as my feelings toward  Carmen and her family; I can sympathize, but cannot, nor do I want to, empathize. This creates guilt.

The guilt isn't because I don't want my kids to suffer. Don't think for a moment that I think good parenting requires an ill child. Kids not getting cancer is a good thing. No, my guilt comes from the fact that I'm not willing to experience the trauma in order to be a better friend or brother - so that they wouldn't have to be so alone. I'm like a deaf person refusing to hear with my friends because I fear it will be too loud. My solace is that we are alone in our heads. Though its nice to have someone around that has had similar experiences, I'm not convinced that its a prerequisite for being comforted, because what we experience is internal. It exists uniquely in our own brains. So I will continue feeling for people, not necessarily with them, because really, that's all any of us can do.

-Brother Brett

Friday, March 15, 2013


Van Gogh remains on of my all time favorite painters. I'm not the only one, too. Many art aficionados consider him, if not the greatest artist of all time, certainly one of the greatest painters that ever lived. He was able to see things differently, I think, which enabled him to produce such moving works. However miraculous his art is, his life was lonely and sad, and ultimately cut short. He was socially inept, which probably lead to his alcoholism. He was virtually an unknown in the art world. Never garnered any praise or even money from his art. He was at best mentally unstable and at worst insane. Eventually, he would commit suicide, alone and penniless.

What amazes me is the fact that he kept painting. No one at the time liked his work. Yet without any praise or compensation he kept on painting. He created over 2000 works of art in 10 years! Could you honestly say you'd do the same? Could you spend your life doing something even if you never got so much as a "good job" for doing it? And the tragedy is he would die never knowing the impact he made - not just in painting or art in general, but also on those who would recognize a little of the emotion that he poured out in those paintings. How could he have known that when he painted a simple pot of 15 sunflowers eventually someone would be willing to spend 40 million dollars for it?

Sometimes I feel like I understand Van Gogh at least in a very little way. As at-home dads we work with little to no reward. There certainly isn't any money involved. We generally don't get much recognition and when we do its usually in the form of backhanded compliments ("I could never do what you do!"). Now speaking for myself here, I don't really even care. I will admit that at the beginning it was rough. As men we're conditioned to want to provide and our success is measured by money and/or status. So when I began this whole "dad thing" getting used to the idea that my success could not measured in these metrics was hard. I understand Van Gogh now. He didn't paint for the reward it would garner. Painting was the reward. My kids are my Sunflowers. I'm still in the process of "painting" them and it'll be a few years before this "series" is finished. I won't get any money from this. My social status is if anything lower than it used to be and that's okay. I do it because I believe in it; because I know I am doing what I need to do, for my kids and for myself.

One of the compelling things about Van Gogh's sunflowers is that they are all unique. Each flower has blemishes and flaws. They are not uniform and they are in varying states of health. Van Gogh saw their beauty despite all this, and maybe because of this painted each with the same care as the others. My job is the same - to care for each of my children as individuals to bring out their best in spite of any flaws. In years to come no one (I hope) is going to pay 40 million dollars for my "Sunflowers". My reward will be when others will recognize in them the same beauty I see in them today.

-Brother Brett

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Everyone Hates Raymond

 Dads are incompetent. Its a fact. I mean, you don't actually think they can parent as well as a mother can, do you? There is loads of evidence that suggests that fathers are at best curmudgeons and at worst imbecilic buffoons. Lets look at this evidence... and by evidence, I mean TV.

My 6 year old daughter has taken to watching reruns of the TV classic Leave it to Beaver. I couldn't help notice the plot of many of the episodes have to do with the well meaning dad (Ward) bungling up some situation. Well, that was the late 50's / early 60's. Surely the media's perception of fathers has evolved since then. Sadly, I feel its gotten worse.

Lets look at some TV dads. Well, there are the dads from the world of popular TV animation: Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones), Homer Simpson (The Simpsons), Peter Griffin (Family Guy). Now what characteristics do these guys have in common? Incompetent? Check. Lazy? Check. Slobs? Check. Leave the parenting up to the wives? Check. See, I told ya. This proves it. Dads are morons.

Those are all cartoons, you say? Well, okay then. Lets look at some other popular TV shows with dads. All in the Family, The Cosby Show, Everyone Loves Raymond, Married... With Children, Modern Family, Family Ties, the list goes on. In fact, almost every american sitcom family is headed by a well intention-ed, but seemingly, witless father.

 Well, those are all comedies. They're there because its funny - right? Well lets look at some popular dramas with dads - like, perhaps, The Sopranos? Well he's a murdering mob boss. I know! What about Don Draper from Mad Men - you know, the alcoholic guy that's absent from his family and cheats on his wife. There's Breaking Bad. A show about a father who loves his family so much that he's willing to become a drug dealer in order to insure his families financial well being. Perhaps Dexter, the title character of which is a psychopath who's father instructed him the it was okay to kill other people as long as they were bad, instead of getting him psychiatric help. Heck, even look at reality shows. American Chopper, Jon and Kate Plus 8 anyone? Shall I go on?

Its no wonder that we men aren't trusted to be alone in the same room as our kids. Look at what TV has taught us about the competency of fathers. Now, I'm not saying that these shows are bad, or that you shouldn't watch them. Oafs make people laugh and men making bad decisions can make for compelling drama. I get it. I just find it a shame that this stereotype exists and that it is so pervasively reinforced by the media. Or is it that the stereotype exists because of the media and people in general reinforce it. Regardless, I have made it a goal of mine that if anyone were actually to film my family life it would be the most unfunny, undramatic show in the history of TV.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I was going to make a post today, sharing my thoughts on the media's representation of fathers. In light of today's news, however, I think it probably best if postpone that in favor of admonishing dads and parents to love their kids and to squeeze and hug them everyday.

I wish I had some thought provoking or sublime prose that could mend or make sense of the shootings in Connecticut. I am at a loss for words and my heart aches.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Discipline is one of those topics every parent has to deal with. Its not an easy one either. Everyone has a different history with discipline, even among siblings. I am the youngest of six kids and was disciplined very differently than my older brothers and sisters. Even like-minded people will disagree on how to correct a child's misbehavior.

Parents usually come to a consensus, but often, the duty of exacting discipline falls to the fathers, especially if he is the one with the kids all day. Even for working dads, moms will often wait to discipline, or at least use their employed husbands to threaten, their kids. "When your father gets home we're going to have a little chat!" I've been in homes where, when the father gets home from work, the first thing out of mom;s mouth is something like, "YOUR daughter has been so naughty today. She did _____ and _____." It falls then upon the exhausted father to try and correct those behaviors that happened hours earlier. It is the humble opinion of this writer, that this is just unfair.

Its unfair to the child. To the kid, 6:00 is the scary time. Its when daddy gets home and who knows if mommy has a laundry list of mistakes they made throughout the day for which they will be punished. This makes for a confusing relationship between the child and they're father - a strange mixer of "Yay! Daddy's home!" and fear. Its also unfair to the Dad. It puts the burden of disciplining all on their shoulders and it fills the short time (from getting home from work, til bedtime) with unpleasantness when they'd rather be enjoying their family. Sounds like having an at-home dad is the solution! Well, not really. While we do tend to get more time with our kids, and can make immediate corrections so misbehaviors don't mount up, the burden of discipline still falls to us.

Like working dads, when moms get home, they too want a pleasant, happy time with their kids and are consequently often unwilling to correct their kids even if they're home. When my wife gets home I typically leave the kids and my wife up to their own devices. She's missed them all day and wants to spend time with them, and frankly, I'm happy to have a break and have a little me time. Now, not to brag or anything but I'm good. From the years of dealing with my kids I've got them figured out fairly well. I know just how to calm them down when they're having fits, cheer them up when they're sad, help them be reasonable when they're being unreasonable, etc.. I've put in the time. When my wife gets home though, I don't want to do those things anymore. I want her to take a turn. Often though, I'll hear my wife, trying to deal with an unruly child. I try my best to tune this out. "Give her a chance. She'll handle this", I say to myself. After a few minutes my wife, clearly annoyed, will call me from upstairs, "Brett, would you come up here and handle this." Then I resentfully have to go up there and deal with whichever kid is being bratty.

Now, I'm not disparaging my wife. She's an amazing mother that has a wonderful connection with our kids. I simply have had to deal with our kid's behavior more and thus its often easier for her to call on me rather than go through the same learning curve as me. Sometimes I'm just as much to blame. Rather than have my peace disturbed, I'll go fix whatever problem, when I should have just let her handle it in her own way. Luckily, as our kids are maturing, this is becoming less and less of an issue.

Now, there are some huge generalizations here. Sometimes, as with my parents, the mom is the disciplinarian, but it seems its always one or the other doesn't it. I don't really have any profound or sublime insight as to how to deal with this issue. And even if I did, people and families are so varied it probably wouldn't have worked for anyone else anyway. There probably isn't a solution, and maybe that's okay. Perhaps problems like these are there just to instill in us respect for our spouse's differences and the importance of communicating with each other.


-Brother Brett

Monday, September 24, 2012


Saturday is chore day. Thats the way it’s always been. When I was young we always devoted time to do chores each week. Growing up in a family of six kids there were always chores to be done. I remember my mother explaining, that if you are a part of a family you should be expected to contribute. So, every Saturday all of us kids would engaged in tasks around the house. The tasks changed sometimes depending on the needs of the household. My mom would decide what had to be done and delegate jobs to us kids. During the Summers I remember doing a lot of painting and weeding as my folks worked on the house and garden. I also have memories of splitting and stacking wood. Then there was the usual routine inside. For some reason, I remember being the one who always seemed to pull dusting detail, although my brother Brett may disagree as he also had time behind the can of Pledge. All of the chores us kids did each week was for the good of the family.

I’m thinking that a lot of you readers out there probably had a similar situation. It’s good for children to learn to pull together as a family. Working in the home teaches teamwork and the ability to contribute to the greater good of the household. One reason I think Saturday had an impact on me, was the fact that no family member ever received monetary compensation for working around the home. All of the labor was done to benefit the family and house.

This expectation from my parents created an environment in which us kids appreciated the house, and each other much more than if we had no expectation to contribute. The family even had better relationships as the work in the house made life better for all of us. Lets be honest... who doesn’t love a clean and organized home. So, I want my children to have this same environment that I had growing up.

This however, is easier said than done. I really appreciate how my parents were able to create the “Saturday program” and institute it in a family of six kids. I only have three children, and getting them motivated for chores can be difficult. I tend to be a routine guy. If I do something on a schedule every week, than I am more likely to keep going. So, I am using this method for chores.

Every week on Saturday, I spend time cleaning bathrooms with my daughter. This is a very important chore as I have two sons with questionable aim. For me this chore gets top priority. So my daughter and me have been getting into the groove cleaning. We have been doing this for quite  some time now, and she is getting pretty good with the task. She is responsible for the toilets and bathtubs. Even though she is only seven years old, she has become skilled with the scrub brush and Comet. I love to see her thin arm holding the scrubber scouring the surfaces clean. She has developed a good work ethic which makes me proud. I have noticed that on many occasions my daughter is the one who reminds me that its time for us to clean. When this happens, I know that I am on the right track.

Now I have started a routine that someday, soon hopefully, my daughter will be able to do all by herself. Infact, she will be able to train her little brother on how to clean this area. All of this service is for the good of the house and its occupants. It’s like my mother said, “If you’re part of the family you should be expected to contribute.” No one gets paid for the service, but the payoff is great. My children have an opportunity to learn how to work for the family and respect the space in which they live. They inturn treat the house and all of their belongings much better. They understand that they are responsible for their belongings, and need to keep them put away. There are many important lessons that come from Saturday.

The trick is starting the routine. If you can do this, the hard part is over. All you have to do is keeping it moving. I look forward to getting my other two boys on the Saturday program. Its been great for my daughter and me. If anyone out there has a good ideas on how to start routines like this please tell.

-Brother Jared