We're 2 Christmases removed from the last suggested gift idea post, so this means we're also 2 years older. As dudedads, our tastes are quickly becoming more refined, and our needs more honed...more simple. For new dads...you'll be in this state of mind very soon.
Above all is quality. At this point in our lives, the old cliche "they don't make'em like they used to," has more importance. We would rather have something that will last a lifetime, if we can. We're also becoming more functional. Jokes about cargo pants (or shorts) make absolutely no sense to us because, quite frankly, more pockets means that we can carry more stuff in an organized way. Cargo pants are a practical tool! (Yes, I know there are fashion-first dads, but let's tuck them into the margins for now.)
With quality and function being at the forefront, shopping for us should become easier, especially with the advent of the boutique online store. Anything and everything that you can think of is made by artisans, and sold online these days.
Think of the things we know we'll do for a long time...maybe the rest of our lives...and the ideas will come. Does your guy go to the gym? Does he read in bed? What does he like to do with the guys? What does he like to do with the kids? Did he have any fun outings or accomplishments this past year worth commemorating? Look around the house...what needs replacing?
NO USELESS TRINKETS!
Here are a few useful or fun things that might be worth considering, if the ideas aren't quite flowing (stocking stuffers, too):
The Forearm Forklift. (click) - These straps are a miracle. I don't know how else to describe them. I even had a friend pack his pair and travel with them to Colorado from NY because he knew we were going to lift things during his visit...they are that effective.
"Tactical" flashlight (click) - It's amazing how fast LED technology is changing. If you have kids who drive, make sure they have something like this in their car. Models are currently being made up to 2000 lumens, but that's bound to stopped (to avoid people being blinded).
French Pressss (click) - If your guy likes coffee, promote him to the varsity team with a french press. Cold coffee is no longer a problem with the stainless double-walled versions. Careful though, once you go here, it'll be hard to find good coffee anywhere but home.
Finger Ratchet (click) - To be honest, I didn't even know this existed until this past year. Since I bought it I've used it constantly because it's so FAST. This is one of those random functional items that is a must have in the toolbox.
His Favorite Thing...In a Cap (click) - Lots of guys wear hats, and for those of us that do, we often have a favorite hat, and that favorite hat has some sort of sentimental attachment to it. Think of his favorite place, or team, or memory, and turn it into a hat...someone probably sells one and if they don't someone can make it!
Beer Growler (click) - For the beer-loving dad. There is an entire market for beer growlers right now, and we like Drinktanks because of their accessories. The 64oz option is the most practical, and the 128oz growler is, well, Yuuuuge.
Recognize His Moment (click) - What better way to celebrate his accomplishment or moment with a custom framed poster, using a photo he took, or that was taken of him. Lots of flexibility here!
Duffel Bag (click) - My mother gave me a large duffel bag 27 years ago and the zipper is just starting to go out on it. I use it for every trip. It's cavernous so I don't have to worry about packing strategy, and the bag itself shaves weight, which is good given the typical airline restrictions.
Merino Wool Sweater (click) - Yes, I'm suggesting a sweater. The merino wool products these days are super comfy, not itchy, and warm. It will be one of those things you see him wearing all winter, in any situation.
Cargo Pants! (click) - Carhartts last forever. There are even flannel-lined options for cold weather climates. We also like Blaklader...a LOT. Cargo pants may not be stylish, but they sure are functional!
As always, if he doesn't have something from Dudedads.com yet, now's the time...the one thing that goes to the top of the pile on laundry day.
I had a friend tell me recently about a book that he had read called "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters," by Meg Meeker, M.D. He found it interesting, so I picked up a copy from the library and dug in.While I'm actually not a fan of a lot of things Dr. Meeker has to say, it occurred to me as I started getting into it, that this was the first book I've read in a long time that related to parenting...and that was a bad thing.
When our first kiddo was in the womb, we read a bunch of books about babies (including "Becoming Baby Wise," by Ezzo and Bucknam), which set us up to think about some things in advance of becoming new parents; how we wanted the birth to go, the circumcision decision, breastfeeding, formula...the first year. We also read "Parenting With Fire," by Schmuley Boteach, which gave us some food for thought beyond the first year, that we probably weren't ready for at the time, yet I remember as positive.
Since that point, I've only dug through a few more books, all related to the event where one of our children got diagnosed formally with ADHD. That was 5 years ago.
All of the books, articles, videos, conversations, etc. that I've consumed or engaged in over the years aren't things that I've taken and applied directly 1:1. Instead, the information has largely just become a part of my awareness, which helps shape my own thoughts and feelings, and allows me to react during "parenting moments."
But I'm not on top of it, and I should be! Without educating myself with information from the so-called experts, the only thing I have to pull from is my own experience. My parental examples are very few, narrow, and sort of a black box.
Have your parents ever sat down and explained why they did everything they did? Mine haven't. I'm not sure I even want to do that...it would take years. Even if they tried, we'd probably end up arguing, because my recollection of events during my childhood are often so different than my parents...I digress.
Point is, I'm going to encounter something new with our kids every day, so shouldn't I be studying for those pop quiz-moments? Shouldn't I be trying to form my opinions about what my kids will encounter and experience, and how I hope we both handle it all together?
It will take me a lifetime to earn my Master's in Dad, and I'll probably get a few F's, but given this is the most important thing I have signed up to do in life, shouldn't I be studying...all the time? YES. Get to work, dude!
In the early morning of Saturday, August 13th, two weeks ago, I reached the summit of Mt. Rainier - 14,416 with a full heart.
Rainier is the Lower 48's second tallest mountain. It was an emotional moment (see video below). Literally, the first thing I did when I arrived was take a picture of my dudedad coin on the pin. I wanted my kids to see what I had done, be proud, and know I was thinking about them...the video came next.
The reason for my emotions was the overall effort it took to reach this peak; Early and arduous 5 a.m. workouts for several months; Several weekend trips away from the family to train at altitude; and finally, the actual climb, which required ~24hrs of hiking (~11hrs of that carrying a 55lb pack) with complete and acute awareness, especially in the dark, just in case you or one of your rope-mates happens to fall (maybe into a crevasse).
It was hard. It was big. And it was scary.
To be honest, my kids don't really prefer hiking. At least, it's not something they choose to do. From their perspective, it's hard and boring...they don't have a sense yet of their surroundings, or what they're accomplishing, as much as I might try to help them recognize it. But, when we get there and we're doing it, you can tell they're enjoying our time together...that's the part they like; that they're with their dad.
Although they weren't there physically, I had my coin in my right front pocket the whole time. In fact, it's there pretty much all the time, everyday. Each time my hand touches it, it makes me think of them. It's a reminder of the best part of me, and why I'm here.
Someday, when they are old enough, they will join me on these backcountry adventures...when it's safe. Until then, I'll bring them in my own way. They might look back on my summit of Rainier, as adults, and say "Wow, Dad, that was pretty cool that you did that," and I'll say, "you were with me the whole time...but guess what; none of my adventures compares - not even close - to the experience of being your dad. It's the best, hands down."
Another dudedad, who has small children, suggested to me this past winter that they had created a reward system at home for good behavior...a means to offset the need to discipline. Apparently there were having great success, so I my wife and I decided to give it a try. It's working pretty well so we wanted to pass along!
We wanted to give our kids a physical, auditory, and visual satisfaction with each reward, but we didn't have a vessel that we could think of that would show them their progress over time, using coins. They're also still a little too young to have a sense of money (probably our fault), so we pondered alternatives.
We ended up choosing cork jars. Both the corks, and the jars, were on-hand thanks to my crafty spouse.
The first step was to create a list of things they could do to earn corks. For us it was:
Most of these are now regularly accomplished, and have become the norm, so we search for, and stay conscious of, additional opportunities to have them earn.
Last weekend, we hosted some folks, and Holly (10) helped me for 2hrs during setup. She even said she just wanted to help, and didn't ask for a reward, but she deserved it.
Once they've accumulated 50 corks, they get something "big," and we'll come up with a list of options that they can choose from. They don't have to share their payout with each other, but they have.
We've only been through a couple rounds with this, but so far, we're very happy with the change we've seen in their level of contribution around the house, and to what seems like an interest and pride in achieving some result as a part of an accomplishment.
We're not counting the amount of times we have to discipline, but it feels like that's also been reduced. Needless to say, we're big fans of this idea!!!
One of the things that comes up a lot in conversations with other dads is discipline.
I'm no expert on this subject, but I think my experience is relatable, and hopefully helpful to anyone that may be struggling, or who is a new parent. I'm also concerned that we don't have enough discipline of our children within our community these days, which I'll say some more about below.
My generation has experienced a big change in terms of how we're supposed to discipline our children. When I was a kid, me staying in line was mostly based on fear. I was scared of being physically punished if I messed up.
No, my parents didn't beat me, but if I screwed up really bad, I'd get a "spanking." Although my father (a very calm guy, generally) never actually hit me with it, I remember how he would rip off his belt, fold it over and snap it, whenever he'd loose his cool. It scared the living shit out of me and my brother. It's all he needed to do.
This is what our parents did, and their parents did before them, and on...for generations. There weren't too many kids I knew growing up that didn't get spanked, or didn't have some level of fear for what their parents would or could do to them if they got in big trouble.
For the record, I'm completely fine with how I was disciplined as a child, and I love my parents.
I remember meeting a young dad about 20 years ago, in one of my first real jobs, who had 4 boys that were very close in age. I asked him how he kept order, and he said he had a 4-step method:
1. Inform - let them know that they were doing something wrong and that if the behavior continued there would be consequences
2. Raise the Voice - an increased level of volume would be yet another queue
3. The Count - you know this one: "One...two...three...four...!"
4. Knock Their Ass Into Their Throat - his words, although I'm sure he was exaggerating. If he got to "five" it was time.
He also told me that he only had to get to five once, with one of the kids, and word spread; "don't let him get to five." He just followed the same steps EVERY time. This way, his kids knew where they stood.
Again, this was 20 years ago and things are very different now.
We know now, through research, that physical discipline can leave a mark, psychologically on our kids. But, for those of us who grew up in an environment where discipline was mostly physical, we've had to figure out what works without it.
As much as I've had the instinct to give my kid a sharp whack during a purposeful, in-your-face-disobedient moment over the years, I haven't. But I have found there is something to consistsency, and sticking to your guns.
I want to say it was right around 1 year with each of my girls when they started testing their boundaries. Holly (now 10), our first, gave us a real run for our money. By the time Hannah (now 7) came along, I had a simple method that still works today, in pretty much any situation.
I use the "4-Step Method." Not the actual method outlined above, but a specific path of escalation:
1. Inform them that you want them to stop what they're doing
2. Inform them more firmly if they don't stop they'll have consequences (I find this is a nice, less embarrassing way to tell them they're going to go in a "time out" if they don't stop, which may help in a social setting.)
3. The Count - for more serious offenses, I skip this step.
4. Disciplinary Action - for us, this is a Time Out where they have to spend time by themselves somewhere until they reset. The "reset" moment I'm talking about is obvious, and doesn't take long. They will go from a complete temper tantrum to calm and docile in that brief alone-time.
They key here is repetition and consistency of the method, and NO EMPTY THREATS. As soon as you offer what the consequences will be, if they continue, you better follow through! Therefore, don't threaten to cancel Christmas. It has to be real, and in my experience, it can be very simple. My kids hate time out. They will do anything to avoid it, but under no circumstances do I let them talk me out of it, once I've gotten to step 4.
I should also note that it wasn't easy to get them to buy into staying in time out. But if you're adamant that they stay there (when they're very young it's pretty easy to just keep them there, physically), they will eventually figure out that they can't get out of it, and the only way to escape is to go through the exercise. Upon exit, an apology is always mandatory.
The disciplinary action itself can even be accomplished in a calm way. Why scream and yell? It's just going to get you more upset and wound up. The outcome is the same, and eventually the kids will just get used to your yelling...it will become noise they don't hear. Truth be told, I do end up yelling now and again, but it's very rare. When it happens, I can tell it really scares the kids, and this in and of itself has become it's own consequence within the method: "do you want to see me yell?" I use this sparingly and only when I need to make a lasting impression.
These things have worked for my kids, however, I realize everyone is different. But, the things I would bank on, in terms of their universal utility are consistency, and then following through. Easier said than done.
When we talk about discipline, inevitably we also end up talking about how we want our kids to be respectful.
By this, we mean we want them to have respect for adults, their teachers, the police, etc. They need to treat all people and things with respect, yes, but right now the most important part of respect, is to do what we tell them to do...to allow us, as their elders, to guide them.
If I can get my kid to respect me, then I can teach them the other important things about being a good human being. Respect is fundamental. Having respect for others allows acceptance of differences and diversity, empathy, and generosity...qualities our children will need, as the generation who will likely deal more with globalization and lingering bigotry.
My personal opinion on this is that there is a very short, small window for us to teach respect to our children. My 10 year old is already showing early signs of rebellion. Once she thinks she knows everything, and I'm a stupid old fart, it's over. She may even lose respect for me. But hopefully, at that point, the important things will be ingrained in her.
If not, eventually life will reach out and give her a whack. It's happened to me quite often!
Would love to hear your thoughts.
I recently had the privilege of participating in my employers hiring process. I was a member of a six person oral board panel interviewing potential firefighter recruits. The process to become a professional firefighter is extremely competitive and the final step is commonly an oral interview. With so much on the line, the candidates are well prepared and have rehearsed answers to every imaginable question with hopes of projecting their true personality and desire to serve.
One of the questions this go around was along the lines of, who is the most influential person in your life, why? The answers ranged from acquaintances in the fire service, to family members, but most often it was “my dad”.
Listening to the candidates describe the impactful lessons and events in their life left an impression on me and had me wondering how my children would answer the same question. Many years from now who will my kids credit with shaping their lives? Where will I stack up? Hopefully somewhere close to “mom”.
So, here's the thing...I'm married.
There are lots of of different types of marriages, but I happen to be in one of those where I don't have much to say about anything. It's gotten to the point where when my wife asks me what I think about something...for example, where I want to eat on date night...I say something snarky like "why are you even asking me my opinion?"
After 13 years I'm heavily conditioned, but not so much that I've given up on figuring out how to get what I want when I actually do have an opinion or need something, and at the same time avoid unnecessary conflict.
One of those very skilled areas of communication is how to set expectations around The Schedule.
For me, this weekend will involve training in the mountains with dudes to prep for a mountaineering commitment in July. I'll be home Sunday for Father's Day dinner with the fam, but on any other overnighter, or happy hour, or short ride, or hike, etc. this conversation would happen:
Wife: "When will you be home, sweetheart?"
Me: "I'm not sure, why?"
Wife: "I want to know what time you'll be around so I can fill in the blank here..."
Now, this is a completely reasonable question. However, it's an unintended trap. It's a trap because if I happen to give a time frame here I've just locked myself in. I'm now obligated to be back by that time.
In my case, historically, I very rarely make that time. I'm great at beginning the adventure on time, but I can't seem to end it on time. I don't know why, but that's how it always goes. I underestimate something, and I'm all of a sudden very late. Shit comes up, and then I'm super stressed to get home!
This is often interpreted as "you make every effort to be on time for the things you care about, but you're never on time when it's a commitment to me." Note: avoid this.
Again, I'm learning. The more seasoned me will respond with "Just go ahead and don't count on me for dinner. I'll figure it out for myself, and that way you don't have to worry about it." Easy enough, right? Thing is, I still fall into the damn trap!
Any other Father's Day would have likely involved a day with my family, and without a plan. Spontaneous decisions all day like "let's go out to breakfast," or "let's go do a bike ride," or "it's noon and I think I'm going to drink a beer." No obligations...
Instead, this year I'll be hiking mountains with dudes, donning my dudedad shirt, coin in my pack...family in my heart.
So, dear sweet wife of mine, thank you for asking me what I want for Father's Day. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for allowing me to get away to do something I need, and love to do. I love you for that. And although I you didn't make me feel obligated, I will be home for dinner!
I love it when one of my kids has a regular activity scheduled and the other doesn’t. This automatically becomes Daddy/Son or Daddy/Daughter time. A while back I picked up my son, Gar, from school for some Daddy/Son time while my daughter, Lydia, participated in a school event. It wasn’t a huge block of time, but we had a plan, and if all went right we’d run our errands, then pack in some fun before returning to pick up Lydia.
A few blocks from the school we drove by a woman pulled to the side of the road with an obvious flat tire. After we passed I commented to Gar, “there was a woman back there with a flat tire, should we turn around and give her a hand?" With no hesitation he said “yes.” I proceeded to explain if we did turn around, we most likely wouldn’t be able to get to the fun part of our plans. He wasn’t concerned and said we should go help, so that’s exactly what we did.
The detour ended up not being much of a delay and we were quickly back on our way. As I drove away I asked Gar what made him want to turn around, he said “that’s what Szabos do, they help people that need it." That comment confirmed my belief that, as parents, we’re always teaching our children something, and it made me proud. Sometimes it’s an intended lesson, sometimes it’s not, but for sure they are always learning something.
I don’t think my dad put much thought into the influence his actions were having on me, but I can clearly remember more than one time he turned around, because that’s what Szabos do.
We didn't set out to do it. We really didn't. In fact, I was so conscious about the potential for Dudedads to make dads feel guilty about working a lot, or traveling a lot for business, that I purposefully avoided suggesting that dudedads are "better dads." But as I said recently, it's not just about spending time with your kids.
Here's the thing: dads who are wearing our logo are more conscious of the fact that they are a father. This heightened awareness is what makes them a more improved version of themselves. Wherever they are and whatever they are doing, they have a reminder on them or with them (the coin), about what their primary purpose for living is.
I've only met one...a single individual...who seemed to already be this way before he had his first Dudedad shirt on. I'm sure there are more like him, but personally, I believe they are rare. When most people say "I'm just doing my best," about being a parent, it's more of an excuse, but this one guy was actually trying his best. You could see it and hear it when you talked to him about being a dad.
The logo did this for me. It makes me try my best. Yes, there are plenty of times where I get my "me time," but this helps me stay happy and also provides an example to my kids of how great life can be if you do what makes you happy. But when I'm with my kids, I'm actually doing my best to parent them, and it wasn't always this way.
This isn't a soap box. I don't think of myself as a better parent in terms of comparison. In that sense, I'm certain SO many would be graded well above myself. But I do know that I'm an improved version of myself with Dudedads. It's a fantastic and completely unintended byproduct of having the logo on me or near me.
The smartest people I've ever met are the ones who know they don't know everything. I definitely don't. But these days, I'm asking a lot of questions, learning, and doing my best! How about you?