Early Childhood Development: Why It’s Really Important To Spoil Your Baby

I went to a boring conference, not so very long ago. The speaker, it progressively became clear, seemed like he was under the influence of something. A conference organizer was heard to say that they had to hire a driver, that Mr. Speaker seemed confused, didn’t know where he was, and seemed to ramble. There was a uncoordinated feeling of aggression, though he was simultaneously quiet, even passive-aggressive – if that was a look. He made a few completely unscientific claims which caused me to mutter an expletive loud enough to be heard two or three rows away. I am way too ADHD for most conferences in general, but this one was particularly memorable. Don’t get me started on the sad fact that most professional speakers in the mental health field simply don’t have the speaking chops to warrant being paid to do this professionally. We have settled for people who write books, or have gone to a special course, or who happen to be the flavour of the month at your local health authority. Most speakers kind of suck. Like I said, don’t get me started.

While it may be true that this speaker was altered in some way, that really wouldn’t surprise or even dismay me anymore. Drugs are almost legal and scores of very smart people become addicted to prescription medications or smoke weed more than they know that they should. The list of professionals who have been walked off the property is probably longer than most people would imagine. But alas, this still isn’t our story.

This speaker, inebriated or no, reminded me that when it comes to early childhood development it is the very first part of the story, from a few months before that child is born until 3 or even 4 or 5, that is the most important. Humans do an incredible amount of growing, especially in the brain, during this initial few years of life. They are defined, in a very literal sense, by the experiences and impressions that imprint them in these first few tender months and years.

Now listen to this part. This part is important.

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that affection is one of the most important things you can give any child in the first three or four years of their life. We throw around words like “attachment theory” because the first people that love a baby will, in a very real sense, imprint a bazillion things through expressions of  love and cuddling and affection and attention. The people that tell you not to spoil your baby are flat-out wrong. Spending time touching that kid, reading them books, giving them hugs, and playing hide-and-go-seek will do more for a young human than any diet or program or trendy stupid crap young parents will believe if they are granola enough. Study after study points out that if a child has at least one adult who will completely love them and help them feel safe than that kid is going to have a much better chance at a complete and happy life. Loving your nieces and nephews and grandkids and those 8 or 10 kids of my friends that I love like an uncle is an incredibly important thing, and the more time you spend with those young ones, especially in those first three or four years, the more they soak in that safety and unconditional love.

That crap sticks.

This is why my kids are so intoxicated with their young children. I must admit to some guilt as well. We are evolutionarily compelled to become fixated on our babies and take way too many pictures, and send me videos every damn day of you life. Sorry, I was projecting. We love our children because that kind of stuff is primal and no one really cares about those pictures of your kid in a raincoat anymore. Family is family; everyone else’s kids are cute for only 5 pictures, 6 tops. Early Childhood Development practitioners would tell you that it is critical that you spend significant time rolling around on the carpet and dancing to those stupid children’s songs sung by neutered hipsters. Watch Baby Jake videos. Embrace the Disney.

Please, spoil your kids and your relative’s kids and be that amazing person in the life of someone you know. Invite your nieces or grandkids or friends kids over for a sleepover and use flashlights. Make tents and do hand-spiders and kiss them over and over and chew on their toes. Read about Attachment Theory.

And don’t forget, some day that beauty is going to be a teenager and tell you off, and you’re going to remember how nice it felt when they were two.

The Emotional Tank

Years ago I heard a talk about our four gauges. Let me explain.

The speaker spoke of the various internal gauges that he had noticed in his life. He had a spiritual gauge and as a religious person he felt that this tank was regularly filled. Think of a gas tank. When the gas runs out, the engine stops. He also noticed his mental gauge – as a scholar he kept that tank filled almost all the time. He was also a marathon runner and knew implicitly that his physical gauge was good. So he was in tip-top shape right?


What the speaker did not realize was that there was a fourth tank, an emotional tank. People who are caregivers, or young parents, or counselors, or that ilk are required to empathize with people, to care. You can jog all you want and it won’t fill your emotional gauge. It might be therapeutic but it probably isn’t enough. After a while people who constantly give out begin to “skim” emotionally. They still care in theory but becoming emotionally involved gets to be harder and harder. It is no wonder, then, that many caregivers have secret addictions, or masturbate more than most, or engage in risk-taking or risqué behaviours.

I have arguable the easiest job in the world. I get paid to sit and drink coffee all day and listen to people talk about their issues. When I first starting doing this I heard of counselors going on stress breaks – and laughed. I had just come from owning a restaurant and I knew what stress looked like, or so I thought. Coming to work was a break from my stress, not a contributor to it.

For a while.

After a few years I started to notice I didn’t care as much, didn’t work as hard, didn’t engage emotionally like I once did. I became easily irritated and struggled to emotionally engage with my family. I had no idea what was happening.

Then I remembered the emotional gauge.

Today I listen to audiobooks and do martial arts. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, hundreds and hundreds. On this computer alone I have 63 gigs of audiobooks and that isn’t even my biggest collection, which is on my removable hard drive at home. I listen to philosophy, brain candy, psychology, sci-fi, physics, pop novels, comedies, history etc. Right now I am listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a massive chronicle that I have now read almost three times. I use the word “read” figuratively. Last week I listened to Dune (it sucked) and before that Physics Of The Impossible (amazing). I cannot get in my car without an ear-bud attached, it is a full-blown addiction – and very therapeutic. Listening to books fills my emotional tank.

We all have an emotional tank, and when we are stressed or anxious or busy it gets depleted. By now most of us know we should practice self-care but most still cannot make it a daily or even weekly priority. Self-care takes time and we are too stressed or anxious or busy to take that time. It is a vicious circle that keeps us mentally and emotionally ill.

Self-care can smell an awful lot like selfishness, especially when you are trying to drink a daiquiri on the back deck when the kids are screaming for your attention. The tyranny of the urgent is forever clamouring for our attention and we have been taught that self-care is optional, or laziness, or self-indulgent.

This weekend when I get in my kayak it will feel selfish for a minute or two, until I put in my ear buds and return to The Battle Of Britain. When I get home I’ll try to convince my wife that I am practicing what I preach… and perhaps she’ll buy it.

Either way I get to go kayaking.

Three Quick Parenting Tips

It’s the latest trend in parenting and it may be the best advice you can receive this year. Parenting is an incredibly difficult thing and most of us can use all the help we can get. So here are my three quick pieces of advice that can make a huge difference in your parenting technique:

1. CTFD: To see it in action, here are some sample parenting scenarios and how CTFD can be employed (via Huffington Post):

  • Worried your friend’s child has mastered the alphabet quicker than your child? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Scared you’re not imparting the wisdom your child will need to survive in school and beyond? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Concerned that you’re not the type of parent you thought you’d be? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Upset that your child doesn’t show interest in certain areas of learning? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Stressed that your child exhibits behavior in public you find embarrassing? Calm the f*ck down.

Understanding how much your children are affected by your energy is a key to wrestling back control in your home and life. Few of us want to admit this but we know that techniques like yelling do nothing but jack up the tension and make a stressful situation only worse. Strategists will tell us that if you want to control the argument you need to control the environment. It just makes good sense, therefore, that children are confronted with collected calm and self-control. Children are going to emulate your stress level and imitate your energy so quit the yelling, the drama, and the tears. Crank down the intensity and control your emotions when you are engaging an upset child. Calm energy creates calm energy – don’t forget that.

2. Don’t Get Sucked In: Building on the idea of calm energy it is critical to understand how tempting it can be to become emotionally involved. When we are drawn into the stress of an argument we lose our objectivity and begin reacting, not responding rationally. Recently my fifteen year old marched up to me with an emotional point to make. He proceeded to beak off about something he was mad about, seeking to engage me. He was out of line and hoping for a reaction so I didn’t give him one. It is amazing how frustrated a teenager can become when you are smiling at him but ignoring his anger. After a minute or two of trying to get a rise out of me he acted disgusted, shook his head, and said, “I’m just going to go ask mom”.

It’s very hard to argue with someone who refuses to be sucked in.

3. Stop Micromanaging Your Teenagers. Parenting is about learning to let go, one argument at a time. There are a million things you could try to fix on your teen but it is crucial that you don’t fight every fight, no matter how tempting. Parents of teens (and for some reason more moms than dads) often struggle when their obnoxious pimple factory informs them that every other teen in Canada gets to go to bed at a certain time and they should too. When is it the right time to let them see a Restricted movie? What is with all the sleep-overs? Should you let them wander the streets at night? What video games are appropriate? How old should they be before they can go to parties? or date? or drink?

It never feels like the right time to let go. Kids are ridiculously stupid and will undoubtedly make the same big mistakes you did unless you steer them constantly.

My dad once gave me some great advice about parenting and since he was a great parent, I thought I should probably listen. He told me to stop micromanaging the kids. He warned me that if I exasperate the boys with too many rules and too rigid of enforcement that they would grow frustrated and rebel. It was very good advice. I am therefore forced, because of this sage wisdom, to pick my battles and let a lot of things go. This is difficult to do if you are the kind of person who appreciates rules or has difficulty with change. As my dad reminded me, “You can win the battle but lose the war”. I try to remember this as I wade through the fallout zone which used to be his bedroom floor.

Three quick things – drop the energy level, don’t let it get personal, pick your battles; easy to understand and virtually impossible to follow without effort. I have found that change, real change, takes far longer than we initially thought and is usually much harder to accomplish. Most people do not really change because change is very hard and the cost of growth is enormously high. Real growth doesn’t happen in a week, or even a year.

  • Ctfd (scott-williams.ca)

The Truth About Suicide

Most of us will probably be touched by a suicide in our lifetime. In a world that fancies itself evolved, suicide remains a leading cause of premature death and is more popular today than ever before. There are groups and chat rooms dedicated to the promotion of suicide and it is not uncommon to hear of suicide pacts and self-inflicted copycat deaths. Some cultures create cultural myths and mores which promote, even glorify, the suicide act. Rock stars do it all the time.

There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding around suicide that it is difficult to know where to begin. I regularly meet clients and patients who have been devastated by the suicide of a loved one and subject themselves to self blame, recrimination, and second-guessing on a pathological scale. Sons are still mad at fathers who killed themselves twenty or even forty years ago.

How could someone do that to themselves? How could someone do that to their family? How could a sane person have ever convinced themselves that their children and family would be better off without them? Isn’t that insane?

You know it.

I thought of taking my life once, or rather, constantly for a single period of time.

I can look back at that Scott and see that he was an incredibly sick little boy. He was completely and totally off his nut (sorry for the clinical terminology). I look back at that Scott and I can see clearly how he could believe that he should take his own life. I can re-enter his mind and see what he sees, taste what he tastes. I’m back there right now as I write. He’s crushed, broken, deeply wounded and unable, even unwilling, to lift himself up. He’s insane with grief. Is he capable of believing that he should end it all?

Why not.

I did a lot of things I regret, once a long time ago. It’s easy to wallow in the guilt and the muck and actually believe that this insane, crushed, broken man was fully responsible and incapable of being forgiven. If health has taught me anything it’s that I need to be more gracious to myself when I was sick.

Back to our topic.

I have no idea how you are reading this article but it was intended to bring healing to someone out there who still cannot let go of the anger and the pain. Maybe it will help someone else become more empathetic, more understanding of those who are battling mental health issues. They were insane, and insane people do insane things. It was never your fault. It wasn’t even really their fault. People in their right mind do not take their own life. I know.


Hilarious parenting article via Huffington Post (warning – strong language):

I know many people want to stay current with the latest parenting trends — attachment parenting, minimalist parenting, Tiger Mother parenting, et al. Well, I’ve stumbled upon a new technique that will guarantee your child grows up to be an exemplary student and citizen. It’s called CTFD, which stands for “Calm The F*ck Down.” And that’s not a message to give your kids. It’s for you.

Using CTFD assures you that — whichever way you choose to parent — your child will be fine (as long as you don’t abuse them, of course). To see it in action, here are some sample parenting scenarios and how CTFD can be employed: 

  • Worried your friend’s child has mastered the alphabet quicker than your child?Calm the f*ck down.
  • Scared you’re not imparting the wisdom your child will need to survive in school and beyond? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Concerned that you’re not the type of parent you thought you’d be? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Upset that your child doesn’t show interest in certain areas of learning? Calm the f*ck down.
  • Stressed that your child exhibits behavior in public you find embarrassing? Calm the f*ck down.

Yes, using the CTFD method, you’ll find the pressure lifted and realize your child loves you no matter what, even if they’ve yet to master the alphabet. You’ll also learn that whether or not you’re the best parent in the world, as long as you love your child, they’ll think you are and that’s what matters. Plus, CTFD makes you immune to those that prey upon the fears of new parents, like pseudoscientists and parenting authors.

To use CTFD, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Calm the f*ck down.
  2. There is no second step.

So, ignore all those other parenting trends and stick to CTFD. You’ll be glad you did and so will your kid.

This post originally appeared — without the asterisks — on TheDaddyComplex.com.

Cruising The Pacific With My Dad

grand_princess_tony_rive_2_470x352I’m on vacation with my dad this next week or two. He’s led an amazing life and we are spending time, between pina coladas and trips to the mainland, working on his memoirs. He’s big into cruises and so we are spending time in the sun together.

As I write this it is still Thursday and the trip is still in the future. I am unsure how it will all shake out but I am fairly certain it will be an enjoyable time with my dad, laughing and talking and reliving a lifetime of memories. This in itself will probably turn into part of the story, part of the adventure.

For me, life has always been about stories. I do a great deal of public speaking and no one tends to remember the amazing insights I have trolled the internet and my library. Tell a good story, however, and people remember it forever. When I have occasion to listen to other speakers, or go to church, I am constantly surprised by how few good stories I hear. For some reason orators have a tendency to believe that I am there to glean information. While this may be true in principle, it is the stories I remember. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people tend to go to church less than they once did, the world has become about sound bytes and tweets and updates and the religious community is still convinced that forty-five minute monologues are sacred and unchangeable. And let’s be honest, most sermonizers I know are only moderately interesting or talented to begin with. There are not many Churchills, or Martin Luther Kings, or Campolos out there.

My father, however, has a lifetime of good stories. Stories too amusing or insightful to let die. In spite of appearing caucasian now, he was actually born a “poor black child”, literally. His mother had a kidney infection and he came out of the womb black as night. He grew up as an orphan, his father died soon after his birth, falling from a skyscraper a few days before he took a different job. His mother died when he was eleven and he wasn’t allowed to see her in the hospital for the six months before she passed because of some asinine policy. A nurse managed to sneak him in on one occasion only.

My dad quit high school to join the air force. After telling an officer to politely “go to hell” he was assured that he would never be promoted beyond corporal. He retired at the highest rank available, in charge of the ground forces at his european base, then the last man to turn out the lights when his last base closed. In the meantime he received the military equivalent of the Order Of Canada for a myriad of reasons. He did alright for an orphan high school drop-out. He is a hero to his grandchildren and pretty tops in my books as well.

I wonder, sometimes, what kind of legacy I will leave when I shuffle off this mortal plain. I hope they will be able to say of me, “at least he tried”.

Don’t Give ADHD Meds To Undiagnosed Kids

English: A child not paying attention in class.

I have been preaching this for years, since reading a Reader’s Digest (of all things) survey of schools in Canada who were pushing for meds for kids who were disciplinary issues. Confirmation from WebMD.

Some people call it “brain doping” or “meducation.” Others label the problem “neuroenhancement.” Whatever the term, the American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper criticizing the practice of prescribing “study drugs” to boost memory and thinking abilities in healthy children and teens.

The authors said physicians are prescribing drugs that are typically used for children and teenagers diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for students solely to improve their ability to ace a critical exam — such as the college admission SAT — or to get better grades in school.

Dr. William Graf, lead author of the paper and a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized that the statement doesn’t apply to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rather, he is concerned about what he calls “neuroenhancement in the classroom.”

The problem is similar to that caused by performance-boosting drugs that have been used in sports by such athletic luminaries as Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, he explained. “One is about [enhancing] muscles and the other is about enhancing brains,” Graf said.

In children and teens, the use of drugs to improve academic performance raises issues including the potential long-term effect of medications on the developing brain, the distinction between normal and abnormal intellectual development, the question of whether it is ethical for parents to force their children to take drugs just to improve their academic performance, and the risks of overmedication and chemical dependency, Graf noted.

The rapidly rising numbers of children and teens taking ADHD drugs calls attention to the problem, Graf said. “The number of physician office visits for ADHD management and the number of prescriptions for stimulants and psychotropic medications for children and adolescents has increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the last 20 years,” he pointed out.

Recent parent surveys show about a 22 percent increase in ADHD, a 42 percent rise in the disorder among older teens and a 53 percent increase among Hispanic children, according to the paper.

While Graf acknowledged that the data about rising numbers associated with ADHD includes a number of cases that have been appropriately diagnosed as ADHD, he said the increase — especially among older adolescents — suggests a problem of overdiagnosis and overmedication.

“We should be more cautious with healthy children in treating them with drugs they don’t need,” he said. “The ethical balance tips against overuse and toward caution because children are still growing and developing and there’s a lot we don’t know.”

The position paper, published online March 13 in the journal Neurology, was also approved by the Child Neurology Society and the American Neurological Association.

Dr. Mark Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and chairman of the subcommittee that wrote ADHD guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that his group was not consulted in the development of the position paper Graf developed. Wolraich noted that the AAP also did not recommend the use of stimulant medications for performance enhancement or pleasure.

Most Obvious News Item Ever…

Wow, like this isn’t an understatement…

Motherhood May Spur Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour (from Web MD)

New mothers have a much higher rate of obsessive-compulsive symptoms than other people and these symptoms center on their baby’s well-being, a new study indicates.

For example, a new mother may constantly worry and check to see if her baby is still breathing; she may obsess about germs and whether she’s properly sterilized the baby’s bottles and then wash or rewash them; or she may be unduly concerned about injuring her baby, according to the study authors.

The researchers surveyed hundreds of new mothers and found that 11 percent of them had significant obsessive-compulsive symptoms at two weeks and at six months after giving birth. The rate in the general population is 2 percent to 3 percent.

These symptoms are usually temporary and could result from hormonal changes or may be an adaptive response to caring for a new baby, the researchers suggested. They found that about 50 percent of the women reported an improvement in their symptoms by six months. However, some women who did not have symptoms at two weeks developed them at six months.

“It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene,” study senior author Dr. Dana Gossett, chief and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said in a Northwestern Medicine news release.

But if these symptoms interfere with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, they may indicate a mental health problem, the investigators pointed out.

About 70 percent of the women who had obsessive-compulsive symptoms also haddepression symptoms. This suggests that obsessive-compulsive disorder in new mothers represents a distinct mental illness, said study lead author Dr. Emily Miller, a clinical fellow in maternal-fetal medicine at Feinberg.

“There is some debate as to whether postpartum depression is simply a major depressive episode that happens after birth or its own disease with its own features,” Miller said in the news release. “Our study supports the idea that it may be its own disease with more of the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than would be typical for a major depressive episode.”

The study appears in the March/April issue of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

5 Signs of Pushover Parents

I stole this from WebMD but it is so important it needs to be shared, especially number 5. Did you get that? Number 5! Oh ya, and number 4…and 1, 2, and 3.

You might think that too-permissive parents are the ones whose kids have no rules, no curfews, no dress code, and no manners. True, but they’re not the only ones.

You may be surprised that some of your habits could put you into the “pushover” or permissive parent category, according to experts, even if you think that you’re doing everything right with your tweens and teens.

images“Many parents today misunderstand their role,” says parenting expert Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, a family doctor in Chester County, PA, and author of Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift. “They often see their role as making sure the son or daughter gets into a top college and protecting the son or daughter from disappointment. They are there, providing the safety net in situations where it might be wiser to let the kid experience the consequences.”

Here are five common ways that parents become too permissive, plus how and why you should change your ways.

1. No Routines or Limits
For many parents, life can get too hectic to follow through on their parenting plans, especially if it will take some work to get the kids on board. After a while, their family’s lack of routine can result in lazy, spoiled teens or tweens without schedules and responsibilities.

“Everybody knows that they should have rules, routines, habits and socializations,” says Laura Kastner, PhD, author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “But for busy parents, when they finally get home, they don’t want to turn their family time into acrimony.”

Like it or not, the only way to change the situation is to become less permissive, setting limits for the family.

“If you say, ‘We’re now going to have bedtime,’ the kids will really push back,” Kastner says. “You have to be calm, absolutely resolute, and not cave.”

If you’re married or living with your partner, they have to be on board. “You want your spouse to be on the point as much as possible, because kids will go after the weaker partner,” Kastner says. “Once you get past the first two weeks, you’re probably on your way.”

2. Avoiding Conflict
Many parents find it easier to give in to their tween or teen’s demands than get into yet another argument, so they become more lenient than they’d like. This may be particularly true for parents who didn’t like the strict way that they were raised, so they relax the rules.

“As kids hit puberty, that’s when conflict within the family increases,” says Madeline Levine, PhD, author of Teach your Children Well. “The constant door in your face, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and rolled eyes. But the exhaustion that comes with it is not a reason to back off on the mandatory rules.”

You can let some minor things slide, if you really hate conflict, but it’s crucial to your credibility as a parent to continue being tough about the things that matter.

“Pick your battles, but don’t bow out,” Levine says. “Forget about the hair color and save it for the piercing. Parents can’t afford to back down.”

3. Making School an Excuse
Savvy teens who want to shirk their responsibilities at home often use schoolwork as an excuse, because parents are usually pushovers for anything supposedly related to academics.

“There isn’t a kid in America that doesn’t know that saying, ‘I’m going to be studying’ takes precedence over chores,” Levine says.

You may think that you’re helping your child by doing his chores for him, but your permissiveness could hurt him in the long run.

“When kids go out into the community, they have to have some skills,” Levine says. “Out in the real world, nobody says, ‘I’m going to clear the table for you.'”

To ensure that your child becomes a well-rounded adult, require him to follow through on all of his responsibilities, not just those that could boost his GPA.

“We have the CEO model of parenting: How’d you do on this test, what’s your GPA this semester,” Levine says, “but parenting is really 30 years down the line — making sure they have good relationships, good jobs, and become good parents themselves, not just making sure they get into the right school.”

4. Trying to Be a Friend to Your Teen

Some overly permissive parents are more concerned with their teenagers liking them than being effective authority figures.

“A friend can’t tell another friend: ‘You’re not allowed to do this,’ but a parent must say that to a 14 or 15-year-old,” Sax says. “Some ‘cool’ moms don’t feel they have any authority to exercise.”

Teens need authoritative parents to help them make the right choices, not friends to gossip with, Sax says. If you’re ready to change your relationship with your teen, you need to own that and make a big change.

“Sit down with your son or daughter and say, ‘I haven’t been doing this right,'” Sax says. “Trying to do this gradually doesn’t work. There’s not a smooth transition from peer to parent.”

5. Rewarding Kids With Technology

Tweens are getting smartphones at younger and younger ages, often because they wear down their parents by begging for the devices. But giving in isn’t good for your child, even if you justify that she can call you if she unexpectedly needs a ride home.

“Permissive parents are having a heck of a time with smartphones and social media,” Kastner says. “They give sixth-graders smartphones and Facebook accounts, [don’t set screen-time limits] and then their grades go down. There’s no reason for parents of middle-schoolers to give up as much control as they do.”

If you’ve already given your tween or teen a gadget, use it to promote better behavior.

“The best thing about smartphones is you can take them away,” Kastner says. “Tell your kids, ‘You get your phone as a paycheck. You have to be a good citizen, go to bed, do your homework.’ You don’t even have to fight about having them give it to you; call your carrier and have them turn it off.”

By Lisa Fields

Casual Friday – Kissed

“There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.” – Don Juan deMarco

I remember leaving home for high school and the abject loneliness I felt being dropped off at boarding school. I also remember hearing later that my father had cried for almost two hours as he drove the long road home to Alberta. I will never forget how that day my father kissed me for the first time since childhood. I was shocked, but overwhelmed. It was a moment of real intimacy between a father and a son. Kiss your kids. I try to still kiss my adult sons on the forehead on occasion. It is not strange or uncomfortable, it is a touch of belonging.

It’s Christmas time. Give the love.

“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” – Judy Garland

“It hurts to love someone and not be loved in return, but what is the most painful is to love someone and never find the courage to let the person know how you feel.” – Unknown

Guest Blogger – My Dad on Death and Dying

My dad was an orphan whose father fell off a skyscraper a few days before switching jobs. Howie was one year old. His mother died when he was eleven, after being hospitalized for over six months. Dad was not allowed to see her because of hospital policy. He lived for a time with his older brother and sister-in-law, but grew up on the streets. He worked to provide for himself since he was an adolescent and eventually joined the military. Growing up my dad never had only one job. I remember vividly how he would come home from the Air Force and change uniforms to go work at the Liquor Store, then later somewhere else. He was not content to stay poor and raised us in a middle-class family. He has never complained about his life.

This is his blog post:

Have you ever been emotionally stressed or disturbed about how other people provided an unhealthy influence about death and dying and it’s effect on you?

To share thoughts on such an a topic as this is a little dangerous. The subject touches on influences inherited from family upbringing, relationships, personal theological beliefs, and what you have or have not been taught.

Also in a day when it is no longer fashionable to share personal feelings which might offend anyone there is no easy solution. If you have such a topic to write about, however, then you must disregard opinion and be honest with yourself and the reader.

First I want to share my thoughts on “death” and specifically “funerals”, then finish I will finish off by sharing my thoughts on “dying”.

My grandparents were “old school – don’t let anyone know your personal affairs, children should be seen and not heard, and don’t ever read a newspaper on Sunday, as it is the Sabbath” types.

On Death-

When it comes to death I believe it is a time of transition for the person dying and the loved ones left behind. For a person of faith some people, myself included, feel it is a graduation to a higher realm in heaven. For the agnostic or atheist it depends on the individual. On earth it is a time when a former life can turn into a legacy to be cherished by loved ones……or sadly in a lot of cases mean nothing.

Funerals is when it gets complicated. I really thought, and I still do think, that my relatives ideas for funerals was sick, inconsiderate, and almost retarded, when there were grieving children left behind. Tradition and “we’ve always done it this way”  reasoning sometimes are a curse when it comes to planning funerals Of course children have no say in what transpires at a funeral because no one puts themselves in the child’s place or family tradition rules.

This is where I apologize in advance if I am offending anyone  when I say that

The controversial tradition of having to have an open coffin for funerals is barbaric. It is thoughtless and can be very traumatizing and have lifetime psychological effects, especially on a child. I speak from experience. This was the case in both my wife as a little girl of 11, losing a grandmother, and in my situation as a child of 11 losing my widowed mother. My wife has several times shared her deepest feelings on this, and to discuss them with me again 61 years later still bothers her because her memories of grandma are as a cold corpse in a coffin, not a loving grandmother.

In my own life my memories of many nights at a funeral viewing and a lengthy funeral where I was seated 10 feet from my mothers open casket left indelible scars on my memory. I am still get bothered by this over sixty years later. It was one thing to suffer from viewing a cold grey corpse but the tradition of having to kiss the corpse sent shudders up my spine when I had to do this. Family tradition be damned…I will never subject my loved ones to remember me as a cold grey pasty corpse. I have already told my older brother, who was my guardian, that  I will not participate in this tradition when he passes on and he totally understands, however his wife simply must follow tradition.

For me I want people to remember a smiling, youthful, mischievous, old person who enjoyed life to the fullest, loved taking risks, and believed family was everything.

I also do not want my loved ones to inherit an administrative nightmare as my brother and I did by my mother letting a friend be executor and a relative being her lawyer. This was a recipe for disaster. Being only 11 when mom died the estate had to be put on hold with the Provincial Supreme Court until I was 21 years old. Over the ten years the Executor friend, the relative lawyer, and the Supreme Court, literally financially raped our estate of 75 % of the value.

My wife and I have good wills – a living one , and a dying one. Both my wife and my funeral arrangements are paid for. I have ensured a trust company and my oldest son be co-executors. Believe it or not, and a lot of people won’t believe it, it’s cheaper that way than having Uncle Charlie or whomever take care of everything (who as Executor legally is entitled to 3% of your estate ) even though they do not have the skill or experience. It can, in fact, be substantially more expensive to have a relative assigned.

People do not realize the mammoth amount of succession laws and tax implications there are to deal with. An executor who is ignorant of this can cost your loved ones extra heartaches and money. If some children have loans from parents which are unpaid this can cause stress among siblings if no one like a professional trust executor (who gets paid the same as Uncle Charlie) is handling the finances. Nothing causes problems, divisions, and hard feelings more than inheritance money mismanaged.

As far as my attitude about the act of dying——–I would hope my heavenly Maker would tend to agree with me when I say I have a good relationship with Him. After providing several miracles in my life, two involving almost certain death I know he knows my name. I am not afraid of dying and I have a contentment about after my death, however I really don’t want to rush the experience or suffer. The only grief I have about leaving this world is the effect on loved ones.

As a guy who likes white water canoeing, roller-coasters, and who believes that age is just a number I would finish by saying I have had a blessed life and it has been a wonderful ride.

Weekend Musings – There Are Victims And Then There Are Victims

“A benchmark of emotional management and responsibility is the realization that our past can no longer be blamed for our actions in the present.“
Doc Childe and Howard Martin

Every day I work with people who are victims, real or imagined. They grew up in a bad home, someone has rejected them, the white man has dragged them down, people have taken advantage of them, they have been abused, raped, abandoned, the list is endless. There is no shortage of people to blame.

Usually the client or person I am talking to has legitimate issues. They are dealing with things that most people can barely imagine. They are trying, the best they know how, to find some anchor in a life that has been beyond their control. Many patients I have spoken with have gone through horror stories and are endeavouring to move forward. They are the reason I get up in the morning and go to work excited. They are my heroes.

Others are looking for something to pin their pain on. They cannot see any personal responsibility, they will not own their own complicity. They sit and we talk and it is always someone else’s fault. Often they have legitimate complaints but they wear their victimization like a crown and filter everything through with a pre-disposed diagnosis. This week I met with a young man who told me that the reason he could not pass in school was because generations ago people oppressed him. I reminded him that he was not in fact alive a couple hundred years ago and though he has had to suffer historic abuse and that has undoubtedly profoundly affected his life, perhaps the reasons he is failing in school have more to do with the fact that he is skipping and spending his considerable income on crack. He called me a bigot.

I come from generations of alcoholics and the pragmatically poor. My dad was an orphan whose father fell from a skyscraper during his last week of work before going to a new job. His mother died when he was 12. He completed grade 9 in school. He had no social safety net, no social worker looking out for him, no strong family to provide for him, no one to blame. So he didn’t.

Years later my father would stand before the Governor General of Canada and receive the military equivalent of the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honor. He had, in fact, finally finished his high school equivalency in his forties. He had worked his butt off to make something of a shunted life. He is my son’s hero. Wednesday he will be our guest blogger.

Every now and again I will have occasion to feel sorry for myself. Maybe things aren’t going smoothly or my friends have nicer houses or boats. Sometimes I wish I had a family with money and a house on a lake. But then I remember how fortunate I am to come from a heritage that simply would not give up.

As i sit here writing this it just hit me, I have never heard my dad complain about his lot in life. Ever.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”
J. Michael Straczynski


Casual Fridays – Lessons From Life

Ford Fairlane photographed in College Park, Ma...

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin

I did not really grow up in a strictly religious home. My grandparents were alcoholics and they taught me different lessons than you would probably learn at “Johnny Church Member’s” grandmother’s house. By the age of eight or nine I knew how to play Bridge, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Craps, 21, 31, 333, Follow The Queen, Stud, Baseball, Woolworths, and various other derivations of many poker games. I learned that you had to be at least thirteen before you can sneak beer from the basement. I learned that everyone drank, that only certain types of beer, always Canadian beer, did not taste like “panther piss”. I also learned that children didn’t matter. I learned that mouthy little kids like me were to be “seen and not heard”. I learned that drunkenness was a daily thing, not a special holiday activity. I learned how to swear. To this day I can pack more empties in the trunk of a Ford Fairlane than anyone I know.

My grandmother was a poor gambler but didn’t know it. She thought she was an excellent player and indeed seemed to be so to an eight-year-old child. She understood the fundamentals of the game and would beat me every time we played. She would usually take my allowance. It was a very tender family.

By the time I was eleven or twelve, however, I began to win. Eventually two things dawned on me: First, she wasn’t that good. Second, she had taken a great deal of my boyhood money and it was time for her to go down. Somehow I convinced her that we should play for higher stakes and I began the carnage. Slowly, relentlessly, I drove her into the ground.

I looked at my grandmother. This was the person who had taught me how to play. She was the woman who had raised my mother. She was an old lady on a pension, and I took her for everything in her account. At eleven years of age I damaged her financially. I watched her sign a cheque in defeat. It was for hundreds of dollars. Did I feel guilty?

I remember thinking at the time, “this is the greatest day of my life”.

As I look back I wonder why I did not feel any remorse. My grandmother was not a nice person. She did not know how to express love, and one could argue she felt little as well. She was a bitter, angry little alcoholic who would later disown me because I won an argument, and not even an important one. When she found out I was engaged she commented, “I don’t know the woman but she must be a slut to marry him.”

I learned a great deal from my grandmother. I learned that family is not that important. I learned that it is easy to lie to cover up addiction, that beer was consumed before lunch for ‘medicinal’ reasons. I learned that bitterness worked. I learned that I didn’t matter. I learned that love was conditional.

As I ponder that part of my life, and the subsequent apathy I felt when she died, I realize that I, on occasion, feel ripped off. I did not have grandparents that I could love and cherish. My father was an orphan. The grandparents I had were not nice people.

I look at the grandparents that my children have and I’m thankful for all four of them. They each have brought something unique and wonderful to the table. My children love them all dearly. When the boy’s papa died last year I was saddened and thankful for his life and his legacy. I am jealous of the relationship my sons still have with their remaining grandpa and grandmothers.

And thankful. Very very thankful.

p.s. – next Wednesday my father will be joining us as our weekly guest blogger!

How To Argue With Your Emotional Teenager

I have, for some time now, been working with high risk and aberrant behaviour youth as a youth and family counselor. Few things in this world are harder to deal with than a teenager with a sense of entitlement, immature emotional development, poor discipline, and a bad attitude. Those of you who have gone toe to toe with a teenager can verify what I am saying.

It simply doesn’t work.

It’s all about energy. Yelling at a belligerent who is yelling back at you rarely, if ever, leads to a group hug. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity all over again – doing the same thing and expecting different results. Unfortunately, however, most of us continue to yell. Yelling feels familiar, and it releases pent-up emotion and frustration. The majority of us learned it from our parents who learned it from their parents. We swore we wouldn’t be that kind of parent when we grew up but sometimes, well sometimes that kid frustrates us so much we have no choice.

One more time. It doesn’t work.

If you want to win the argument, salvage the situation, or whatever it is you want to accomplish, you need to change the energy if you want to change the result. You need to change the rules of the argument if you want any hope of a positive outcome. Here’s a good guideline – Do not emotionally engage a screaming teenager unless you want to have a fight.

Stop arguing. Stop emoting. Stop gushing. Smile.

There is an old maxim: Love me, hate me, just don’t ignore me.

Why is that? Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of us hate to be ignored. We feel disrespected. Something inside of us rebels against apathy.  When it comes to an argument with an irrational person a second factor comes into play as well. It is very hard to argue with someone who will not argue back.

When your out-of-control teenager is looking for a fight, seeking to make a point, and prepared to bully you to get their way, nothing will disarm and frustrate them more than a parent or person who simply smiles and says nothing. It works, I have used this methodology and taught it to dozens of parents. At first it drives them insane, later it shuts down the yelling effectively and with dignity.

There must be a more effective way to engage angry teens, while at the same time helping them to understand that emotional bullying is not just wrong, it’s ineffective. Those of us who were taught to yell by our parents inherently understand how ineffective their yelling was.

So why did we decide to use this dysfunctional method ourselves?

Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant

elephant chopperMy son Nathan came to me and admitted he had been slacking on his homework. One of his high school teachers never read his assignments and after a while Nate caught on and decided to test her. He stopped doing the assignments and instead began writing about his fictitious pet, Stampy The Elephant. For over two years he never once completed a home assignment, and the teacher never caught on.

Nathan is no fool and recognized he would have to be subtle, tell no one, and give every appearance of doing his assignment. Without a doubt he spent more time endeavoring to evade this work than he ever would have spent doing the assignment. He was careful to include the name of the assignment in the first line. The assignments looked unremarkable and Stampy’s name did not usually appear in the first few lines.

Here are a few examples of sentences in actual assignments he turned in:
writing on World War One:
World War One was really cool because me and Stampy played in the rain, it was a weird day.

on the sociological effect the war had on Canadian cities:
World War One wasn’t in Montreal because that’s where me and Stampy were.

on exercise:
People like to walk, because that’s what me and Stampy do. I hate Charlie (a classmate looking on) because she says mean things to me right now. She probably doesn’t even like Stampy The Elephant.

on rampant consumerism and the effect on Canadian culture:
I’m going to buy a nice car. I think that would be very exciting. Canada has many problems that could be solved if Stampy and i had a nice car.

Looking back, and talking to Nathan some time later, I have come to realize that Nate was learning important lessons about life. That teacher taught him several things that she wasn’t aware of. She taught him that effort doesn’t matter because it is all about looking good. Nathan learned that teachers are lazy and easily manipulated. When he told me about it I knew as a good parent that I should force him to do his best even if no one is looking. As a parent I wanted to encourage him to do his best, take his education seriously, and strive for excellence.Part of me wanted to challenge him to be a young man of integrity regardless of who noticed. But part of me wanted to see how long he could get away with it.

To this day he has a low opinion about teachers, in spite of the fact that he is training to be one very soon. I will often hear remarks about how little they work, how they don’t really care, how they are not the brightest. Of course most teachers are hardworking, dedicated and committed; and I have sought to correct any misconceptions. It  is hard, however, to argue with the elephant in the room.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
Albert Schweitzer

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”
Stephen King

We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Drinking Games

18 ... legal drinking ageThere is something about the cultural dimension of social problems that eludes us. When confronted with the rowdy youth in the bar, we are happy to raise his drinking age, to tax his beer, to punish him if he drives under the influence, and to push him into treatment if his habit becomes an addiction. But we are reluctant to provide him with a positive and constructive example of how to drink. The consequences of that failure are considerable, because, in the end, culture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics, or the law.     Malcolm Gladwell

Casual Friday – You’re a Williams!

365: Day 140, YOU're awesomeOne day I went on a walk with my dad. Some of you have issues with your fathers but I don’t. My father is a player, a lover, a best friend. He may be a half a foot too short, but women love my dad. He knows how to treat a lady. When you are around my father you can’t help but feel special. He has that effect on people.

Once, years ago, some friends went on a road trip and unbeknownst to me they showed up at my parents place. My parents had no idea they were coming. An hour or so after their arrival they called me… from the hot tub. At that very moment my father was bringing them a cheese platter and sparkling apple juice. That’s my pop. He loves people and it shows.

He has always been my biggest fan. If I was even indicted for killing someone my dad would probably visit my jail cell and tell me “they had it coming”. His loyalty has no limits. He was the man who taught me about loyalty. My children know the word too. Family is everything.

That walk was many years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. Through strained emotions my dad asked me, “whatever happened to your self-esteem? I always knew you to be the most confident person I have known. You believed you could do anything, and you usually did.” At the time I had no insightful answer for him. It has been years since that conversation and I am only now beginning to understand what was happening to me during those years of my life.

I started out as a winner. I believed in ‘me’. But when one or a few of the most important people in your life remind you constantly how much of a loser you are, when you know every day you don’t measure up, when you have artificial constraints placed upon you, you begin to die inside. Some of you know what I am saying. You have people in your life who are disappointed in you as well. They remind you that you don’t measure up. They judge you and reprimand you and rate your performance. And slowly and little by little you succumb to their criticisms.

I have been rereading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. He is my favorite author, this month. Gladwell contends that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Every successful person has a series of seemingly insignificant advantages – from the month they were born to the place where they happen to go to school. Gates was no accident. Neither was Einstein. Each of these individuals had something stacked in their favor, some winning edge. A significant majority of successful hockey players, for example, were born early in the year. They were more advanced, got more breaks, more ice time, better grooming. He makes a strong case.

My dad and mom instilled in me a sense of value. It is hard to under-estimate the impact that has had in my life. Both my parents were from humble beginnings and had no shortage of people reminding them that they were losers. Neither of my parents came from advantage. My father was an orphan. But somehow, for some reason, they invented the myth that I carry to this day. Though my relatives were a bunch of cattle thieves and alcoholics I grew up believing that to be a “Williams” was something special, almost magical.

I am thankful to my parents for their investment in my life. I have tried to follow their example and instill in my own children a sense of pride in their family and their worth. It’s easy to do, they’re awesome. My boys were raised to think being a Williams was like winning the lottery. As young kids they couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to be a Williams. My young son recently had a son of his own and every time we get together one of us will remind five month old Angus Scott that he is a Williams, that he can do anything.

In a world that reminds us on a daily basis we don’t measure up I am thankful that, from my youth, I was told I was special. It is a legacy I am proud of. And why wouldn’t I be… I’m a Williams.