Category: relationships

shining a light of humanity on the conversation

Last week I was riding the bus and felt like I was at a bursting point. My Facebook feed was ‘blowing up’ once again and I was watching the two silos in America duke it out. Some of the things I was reading made me do something uncharacteristic and weigh in on social media on a sensitive political issue.

I usually prefer to have these conversations in person, because I don’t find the forum of ‘comments’ very productive in have a conversation that truly seeks understanding.

I also understood in that moment that the majority of the people on my feed had never heard me tell my story and how I process what I see on the news from a very personal level. Because they know me as a person, and not as an abstract image on television that could have any manner of story told about it, I felt an obligation to share.

I am reposting the content of that post here because (based on the comments I received) it helped two groups of people.

  1. People who were able to develop a more nuanced understanding of an issue that has been watered down to soundbites and sometimes lost its rooting in humanity
  2. People who live the experience every day but did not have the words to accurately articulate what it really feels like to feel powerless towards this issue

Here is what I wrote in its entirety:

I generally keep things on a positive note on my Facebook feed. Not because I am blind to my surroundings, but because I think it is important to shine light even in the midst of all the darkness that may surround us sometimes.

Today is a little bit different for me. I feel helpless because it feels like my life is in imminent danger whenever I leave home. Not because my pants are sagging. Not because I don’t know how to say please or thank you. Not because I am loud and boisterous (read threatening), when I ride the subway. Not because I walk around with a ‘hoody and swagger’.

I do all the ‘right things’. I am educated. I am a devoted husband and father. I am a devout Christian. I am a geek. I love superhero movies. I live to inspire and motivate. I’m not ‘mooching’ off anybody.

I’ve had friends tell me that I’m different from those ‘guys’ on the news. They are not referring to ‘the ones like me’. Those guys ‘did something’ that led to their fate.

And yet, I am still terrified. For me and for my son. For the ‘gentle giants’ in my life – one of whom posted a heartbreaking post last night about how he spent a night in jail a few days ago because he fit the description: 6’4 black male … and just happened to be in a particular neighborhood.

Maybe I should take a bath and wash off my blackness. Because when my car breaks down and I am looking for assistance, there is no way for me to physically show my Harvard degree, or my faith, or my sense of humor, or my family pictures, or my paycheck, or my charitable donations, or the title deed to my home.

So please tell me what else I could possibly do to ensure I survive that encounter. Because right now.

I. Just. Don’t. Know.

I can’t get myself to watch the most recent video. And I don’t plan to. When I watch those things, it is impossible for me not to see myself, or my son, or so many men in my life that I love and respect. None of us can wash off our blackness, so we are in the same boat.
P.S. If it is possible to take in a suspected terrorist alive after a shootout, surely there is a way for both me and you to walk away alive from our encounter.

autocorrecting myself

Did you know the average person spends 4 years of his life looking down at a cell phone?

Every time I watch the video below where I got this quote, something rises up in me emotionally.  Its weird to have such a visceral reaction to a commentary on our obsession with devices – but I know the reason is that I am often in many of the traps he describes.

Take a moment and watch it:

Some of the great lines:

Do I not have the patience to have ‘Cnvrstn’ without ‘Abrvtn’ / This is the era of media overstimulation

The news is a hundred and forty characters

And this is the one that really hit home for me:

No longer do I want to spoil a precious moment by recording it with a phone / I’m just gonna keep them

I don’t wanna take a picture of my meals anymore / I’m just gonna eat them

The part about precious moments is often me – scrambling to get my phone out and actually missing the moment.

What a shame.

But like he says, all of this is a choice. And each day I am making a point to choose a little better.

For one thing, I don’t get the neck ache I used to have after my commute anymore because I don’t spend the whole ride looking down at my phone.

frozen in time – a piece of me that I am badly missing today

snowy-day

When somebody passes away, its like their image is frozen in time. They are no longer a physical presence in your life but you don’t lose that familiarity with their spirit. So you have experiences like hearing something that makes you think about them and you catch yourself before you dial their number to talk to them about it. Or you have holiday dinner and its just not the same because there is a gaping void in the room.

Or you miss the fact that they were always the first to comment on the cute pictures of your kids you posted. That they always seemed to call you just when you needed them.

Then sometimes you feel guilty about the aspects of their wonderful existence that you took for granted.

Or you chuckle about the many ways in which they annoyed you.

Even the annoyances were part of that shared experience you had with them – and it is no longer there.

I wish I could say that the memories of my sister who passed away two years ago are what make me strong and keep me going. But that is only true some of the time. There are other times when I am just angry about the unfairness of it all.

Until two years ago, I did not have any concept of life without Phina. I do not remember the day she came home from the hospital with my mother – as far as I can remember, she was always a steady presence in my life.

Now things are a little destabilized. I still have goals, but they are just a little less optimistic and grand than they used to be.

I still freak out when I hear somebody I care about has an ailment that even closely resembles the one that took her from us.

I still miss her – and I’m glad I do.

I know that the right thing to say is that ‘life goes on’ – and it does.

But just for today which would have been her birthday …

… I feel frozen in time.

letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).

watching my daughter grow up

From the first time I laid eyes on my first born as the doctor helped her out of the womb, I knew that I am one of those fathers who is completely ‘whipped’ by their kids.  As I watch my two year old slowly figure out the world around him, I know that these moments have to be cherished because they cannot be re-lived.

I’m slowly accepting the reality that I only have one little girl now (not two).

Earlier this year when my oldest turned eight I began feeling a sense of loss that I have not yet shaken off.  I know that she is no longer a ‘little girl’ – and the days are coming soon where there will be a whole litany of topics that she can only discuss with her mother.

And as much as I want to avoid it, the topic of ‘boys’ is right around the corner.  The comments about the Justin Beiber-obsessed friends at school pretty much assures me we are on that horizon.

So how am I helping myself deal with my emotions?

I think I have two coping mechanisms for dealing with my emotions around this.

One: Cherishing the ‘little girl’ moments I have left with my five year old.

The middle child is still very much a little girl who gets a kick out of being picked up or cuddling with her daddy. She still sees the world very simply and often cracks the whole family up with a very well timed and pithy comment about a situation.

Even the things that should annoy me more – like her inability to clean the sink properly after brushing her teeth. Or the way she completely shuts down and can’t function when she is hungry.

These things are all ‘joys’ for me to experience.

Two: Creating ‘male bonding’ moments with my son.

The second way in which I am subconsciously coping is the great satisfaction I get from hearing my son ask for the basketball game to be turned on for him to watch.

Or how much he relishes imitating Biz Markie’s beatbox with me from Biz’s Beat of the Day.

He even has the hip hop finger wagging down and I didn’t teach it to him.

While my five year old is helping me deal with my sense of losing the innocence of my older daughter, my son helps me deal with the sense of losing some portion of her experiences that her mother will relate to better with her.

There is comfort in know that there will be some exclusive experiences that I will share with him as he develops into a man.

This all leaves me with one question though:

“What will I do when the five year old turns eight?”

10 things I have learned in the past five years of fatherhood

One of the most vivid images that come to mind as I think about Fatherhood is the reception I get every evening when I get home.  As I turn the key in the door, I hear little screaming voices and the thumping of little feet as my two little girls run around the house to celebrate my return.  Some evenings, they run right up to my legs and hug them feverishly in absolute delight.  On other days, they decide to ‘surprise’ me, so what I hear as I am turning the key is ‘Daddy’s here, HIDE!!’

So of course, I play along and pretend I don’t know where they are, then feign ‘surprise’ when they jump out and proceed to hug my legs.

The delight and joy is so genuine and unforced that regardless of what kind of day I have had, they manage to put a big smile on my face and bring my spirits up.  There are few places that this type of unconditional love and adoration can be found and as a father, I don’t take it lightly.

10 Things (out of possibly a million) I have learned in the past five years of fatherhood:

  1. Raising my voice does not necessarily mean I will get the desired result; sometimes, I have to deal with a problem through negotiation and active listening because this will lead to more long-term change when I address the root cause
  2. Raising my voice is sometimes the right thing to do (when used sparingly); the puncuation of raising my voice gets immediate attention, which is important it two types of situations: when my daughters may be endagering themselves and when it is clear the root cause of the issue is pure disobedience for the sake of disobedience
  3. Little girls find running a much more efficient way of getting around than walking … regardless of how many times you tell them to walk … maybe they are right
  4. A well timed hug of affirmation speaks volumes and will melt even the hardest of attitudes
  5. Routines are very important to young kids because they provide a safe environment for them to figure out how the world works: for example, if you usually tell a two-year old to say EEEE when you are brushing her teeth, if you don’t say EEEE, she will insist that you ‘DO EEEE!!’ before she considers her teeth clean!
  6. Kids are much more perceptive than you might imagine and they take in every little detail … they even notice when you have been home for 10 minutes and haven’t hugged your wife yet!
  7. When a little girl loses her two front teeth, that is the most beautiful smile in the world
  8. Some words we take for granted are really hard to explain to a five year old!
  9. It is very important for clothes to match … you can’t get away with ‘sort of match’
  10. Little girls brighten up in a magical way when you tell them they are pretty; this becomes a virtuous cycle because you will get addicted to that response and tell it to them as often as you can so you can see them brighten up … I think God designed it this way

The Most Significant Change

Perhaps the most significant change in my life that has come from being a father is that I have to think in terms of legacy … what I do today impacts what my little girls will be able to do tomorrow.  There is no way to get around this and I have seen plenty of examples where there is a ‘Fatherhood void’ and the struggles that come with that.  The gravity of this responsibility is very humbling and impacts almost everything I do on a daily basis.

When I feel those tight hugs on my legs when I come home in the evenings there is a joy that wells up in me and a little voice that reminds me:  ‘This is why you do what you do …’