Letters For My Sons

Category: Masculinity Page 2 of 7

Being Present with my Kids

My children have become my lifeblood.  Small and new humans that intrigue, amaze and frustrate me.

Yet I still struggle to stay present with them.  This is not surprising really, when a 36 year old man is trying to converse with a four year old who is still making sense of the world.  But I crave those moments of presence.  When I see their sunny faces, and feel their warm, vibrant bodies against mine, I understand that it doesn’t get much better than this.

My mind tries to take me away from that presence.  It wants to delve into the Meta, what’s happening behind the walls of my mind.  I want to think, to analyse, to do anything but simply be in this moment.  But that is an escape from life.  There is nothing I could think that is more important than sharing these seconds of connection and bliss right now.

For they will be gone all too soon.

To have my boys still sharing with me, showing me, proud to tell their dad what they’ve seen, things they’ve done, how they felt… it’s thoroughly unremarkable and yet irreplaceable.  These moments are only for me.  Only I can understand and appreciate these sublime interactions with these new humans, created of my blood, sweat and tears.

I am so proud of my boys.  And part of that pride is for myself and my wife.  We have helped create them, and not just their little perfect bodies.  We are helping to craft their minds, their motivations, their reactions to the world.  Their emotions.  When I see my seven year old reacting calmly to a stressful situation, and know that part of that reaction is because of our teaching, that is a moment worth savouring.

And it’s all the more satisfying when others looked down on us for our methods.  Others thought that we were too lenient, that we should discipline more.  That we should bring them into line.

But we saw the future.  We saw that training at two years old informs the three year old, and then the four year old, and so on.  We saw that creating thunderstorms in a toddler does not beget sunshine in an adult.  We had only to look around at the men and women around us to see that the world did not need more robots at the mercy of their childhood training.

So we started at the end.  What did we want our children to become?  Thinking, analysing, emotionally fulfilled and alive adults?  Or automatons, robotically re-enacting the traumas of early life with no self-awareness, androids programmed by the fears of their parents?

We have never allowed our kids to do whatever the hell they wanted.  We have worked together with them from their earliest moments to help their understanding of what is appropriate behaviour.  What is tolerable, and what is intolerable.

It’s a work in progress.  And it’s progressing well.

Becoming The Person You Want To Be – The Basics

You have an image of the Man you would like to be.  We all do.

Some of us dream of a bullet belt strapped across our chest.  Some of imagine a navy blue power suit.  Some of us fantasise of a twelve inch doodle.  And will likely fantasise our whole lives.

I SAID SHOW ME TOUGH, NOT DESPONDENT YOUTHFUL YEARNING GODDAMIT

I SAID SHOW ME TOUGH, NOT DESPONDENT YOUTHFUL YEARNING GODDAMIT

 

For most of us, there are only a few aspects of manliness that particularly stand out.

Strength.  Courage. Resolve.  Reticence.  Doing what we say we are going to do.

For each of us the virtues are different in weighting.  Some are more important to us as individuals than others.

Here’s the issue:

To attain any of these, you are going to have to make changes that put you at odds with the majority of the world.

You are going to have to switch off, and become weird to certain others.  Thankfully, these others, you will find, are a waste of fucking time, and have likely been leaching your energy like the parasites they are.  Or, they are simply stupid people.  There are many, many stupid people.  Stupid people are incredibly easy to spot.  They are the ones watching TV.

 

Rule 1.  Turn off your television.

If you are watching TV, you are indulging in stupidity.  You have important things to do in your life.  Incredibly important things.  You cannot waste the time you have watching reality TV and the news.  Watching free-to-air television is akin to opening your mouth and having someone pour shit down your throat.  The most amusing thing?  Most TV watchers will agree with me.  And then go right back to the box.

(Note: this doesn’t include Netflix or Youtube.  Blokes gotta tune out sometimes. But it’ll be your choice, not some faceless TV executive’s.)

 

Rule 2.  Do not watch, listen or read any news whatsoever.

The news will destroy any sense of equilibrium you have.  Once you have developed a sense of calm, once you have removed yourself from Permanent Emergency Mode, you will notice how the news upsets.  Its sole purpose is not to inform, but to influence cultural mindset.   YOU are the king of your mind, and YOU will, from hereon in, decide on your own mindset.

 

Rule 3.  Cut down or cut out alcohol for extended periods.

Alcohol is a poison.  We all know this.  But it’s so delicious. And fun.  But, it kills you, slowly, and it’s addictive.  Being able to wean off addictions is more important than the type of addiction itself.  So give yourself time away from the booze and see what happens. It is much, MUCH easier to remain motivated and retain resolve when off alcohol.  Falling off the train because of a bender is the easiest excuse in the world, and one that will eventually anger you.

 

Rule 4.  Indulge in Daily Work.

Now you have some mental space that’s free from adrenalised misery and reality TV, you can do some work.  I subscribe to Robert Anton Wilson’s view of hard work as Hard Play.  The word “work” can demotivate, so call it play.  This is not your job.  This is the work you do to make yourself better.  It’s working out, exercising, writing, journalling, art, music, walking, building relationships, creating in some way now that you have the time to do it.  A great place to start is the Thing That You Always Wanted To Do But Never Had Time For.

 

There are many details that make all these easier, and we’ll cover them along the way.  For now, start with just one Rule, and see what happens.

Change slowly.  You have your whole life.

A Decade of Betterment

sparta

Over ten years ago I read a book that changed me forever.  One moment I was just floating around, the next I realised that there was a life that was passing me by, and I had to get on the train.

I believed at the time that if I just thought long and hard about changing, then it would happen.

I was so wrong.

It took work, and that work has gone for over a decade now.  And it’s been the best adventure of my life.

 

I Want to Change Now!

Self Change don’t come easily.  Or quickly.

Vast self change, the type that takes you from zero to hero, from grocery store clerk to CEO, is not a rapid process.  It takes years.

If you’re a young man in your early to mid twenties (or any man for that matter who wants to make serious self change) settle in for the long haul.  You have a lifetime of learning, discomfort and incredible rewards ahead of you.

 

Why does it take so long?

You psyche is like a deep valley.  It’s been carved by river that’s run through it over the course of your life.  That river has been fed by creeks and streams, that have in turn been fed by storms and snowmelt.

Your lifestyle habits, your thought habits, your emotional habits, your social habits, all your habitual behaviours have been worn into the bed of this valley, into the very musculature of your body and the synaptic connections of your brain.

Some people have broad deltas that allow the river to change course easily and relatively quickly.  These are the quick adapters and chameleons.

Most people have steep valleys that take time to change.

A few have sharp, narrow slot canyons that will resist change at any cost.  I would put most older (over 50) people who have never tried to change into this category.  A lifetime of habit has worn their behaviour into an edifice that they themselves see no point in changing.

But for those of us in the middle category, with valleys worn by years of consistent behaviour, we have work to do.

 

Punctuated Equilibrium

It doesn’t all happen at a snails pace.  One of the first things the Self Change Noob will notice is that once he starts, things happen.  A couple of months in, he will experience small behavioural changes that seem enormous to him.  Then, nothing will happen for several months.  This will seem incredibly boring.  But it is necessary.  This is the consolidation period.

The consolidation period is where the changes that have occurred carve deeply into the valley.  They start to change the river’s course.  The initial change in course is noticeable, often painfully so.  But then as it gets worn in, the pain disappears and the behaviour becomes normalised.

I think of this stage graphed as a plateau in the middle of a gradually rising curve.

equilibrium

Then suddenly the graph will spike upwards again, due to the work that the noob is putting in, and the process repeats.

A Decade On

It’s been over a decade for me on this path.  I didn’t consciously choose it.  However I knew that I wanted my life to be different.  I wanted less pain and more happiness.  I wanted choices.  I wanted satisfaction.  I wanted to do what I said I was going to do, and achieve things that were important to me.

In hindsight, it’s fucking awesome to look at how far I’ve come.  At the time however, many of the changes that occurred were painful and confusing.  It is getting easier and more pleasurable as time goes on, having gone through the process many, many times.

There are people out there who have been awesome from the get go.  Great parenting, great genes and good luck can help.

The rest of us have an uphill battle ahead of us.  And it’s the greatest battle of our lives.

 

I hope you’ve started, and if you haven’t, get on the train.  It’s the best trip you’ll ever take.

******

Tell me about your adventure in self change in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what your doing on your journey.

The Armour of Humour

When I was a young teenager at school, the other boys made a joke book.  It contained all the jokes I made.  There was only one problem with that.

It wasn’t a compliment.

I learnt how to joke off my parents.  My parents were old, clean, christian types, who made the sort of obvious humour people now call “dad jokes”.

I followed in their footsteps.  Closely.

Any time an opportunity arose, I would pop in my one liners.  Unsurprising, unwitty, obvious humour that no one laughed at.

It was a cry for attention and for love.  I wanted friendship.  I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to like me.  I thought that if I could make people laugh, people would want to be my friend.

I watched the other boys.  The bullies, the smart kids, even the dumb kids, they all seemed to have  a wit that I did not.  I saw them make lightning fast observations that were so far out of left field that i had no idea how to even start making those sort of connections.

So I continued with my dad jokes.  And that’s when the other boys started their joke book.  Writing down each and every stupid line I said.

 

Fast forward twenty years.  

I am now a reasonably witty fellow. After my painful joke-destroying childhood, I made a point of studying humour and finding what makes something funny.  I now know what is funny and what is not, and I know the value of timing and other keys to humour.

But I’ve now started to ask myself the question: why do I try so hard to be funny so often?  It’s actually a deeply ingrained habit of which I’m only now starting to understand the full extent.  It’s quite a dopamine hit to get people laughing.  But at what cost?

What am I trying to get when I go for laughs?  What kind of person am I trying to be?

Am I trying to make friends?  (Most of the time I AM with friends… so what gives?)

Trying to impress people with my smarts?

Am I trying to prevent awkwardness and keep conversation going?

Do I find it difficult to just sit in silence for a minute or two?

Is humour my way of ascending the hierarchy?

Do I use jokes to cover up pain when it comes up in conversation?

 

Humour is Armour.

Humour guards.  Humour prevents real connection.  Humour puts up a false front that betrays our pain, our warmth and our generosity.

And men today can barely get by without it.

In the circles I run, I make it a point to deny men the use of humour.  Now, there’s nothing better than having a good laugh.  But too often men make jokes to disguise what is meaningful to them.  They will say the deepest thing they’ve ever said, then pass it off as a joke.  They will demean their deepest feelings with a one liner about being emotional.

Jokes show others that the real and the painful don’t faze us.

Even when they do.

It’s already a difficult task to talk about what is real and painful.  But to actively make fun of oneself?  Self-deprecation can be light-hearted and funny, but in these cases it becomes a razor sharp dagger to one’s own guts.  It’s a useless addition to conversation when reality is ignored because of it.

 

The Razor’s Edge

Standing with my emotions, or standing with someone else as they feel something deeply, is a task filled with tension.  It is standing on a razors edge.  On one side is the fall into emotion and deep feeling and being swept away by that.  On the other is a light-hearted step into a bright meadow of sunshine and unicorns where we can pretend that real shit doesn’t happen and real feeling doesn’t occur.  This is the side that humour takes us.  It only takes one line to destroy a moment of deep feeling.  But that deep feeling… that is where life is.

We want to be able to walk that razor’s edge, and see our feelings and emotions as they are: strong and powerful forces within us that enable us to live our lives fully and with passion.

We may find that we start feeling more and more deeply without the handrail of humour to bolster us.  We may be able to stand more tension, and be able to support others during their times of struggle.

Those of us who feel like life is boring and meaningless find that our emotional lives revolve only around anger, fear and mild happiness.  Rejecting humour as a defence is one way to actively embrace the deeper parts of your existence, and the feelings that come with it, like contempt, joy, satisfaction and sorrow.  These are scary things to face, but they are man’s lot.

Your lot.

Smacking Kids: Province of the Unimaginative

I am far from a perfect father.  I have smacked my boys in the past.  I can probably count on two hands the amount of times it’s happened.

Once my eldest almost stepped in front of a car when he was about two.  Scared the shit out of me, and before I knew it I’d popped him on the ass and got in his face yelling.

Another time the other one screamed in my face during a tantrum. I had a startle response and slapped him.  Kinda funny in hindsight.  A five year old startling me so bad I saw him as a bad guy…

My boys have provoked each other so much over so long a period and after so many verbal interjections that I gave them both a pat on the bum.  That surprised them so much they stopped.

 

Why do we hit our kids?

Because they don’t do what we ask.

Because they are cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent.

Because they do something that scares us or could get them hurt.

None of these are good reasons.  Maybe the last one could be justified from a conditioning point of view.  That is, a pain memory is a good thing to have when about to cross a road.  But other than that, all the other times have been happened from a lack of imagination and an inability to control and calm myself.

 

Many old-school men will say “I got hit and turned out okay!”

Well, did you turn out ok?

Do you have a healthy respect for authority, able to both follow it and question it when necessary?

Do you have an open and loving relationship with your parents?

Do you bottle up your emotions?  Are rage and anger the only emotions you feel?

Do you imagine or fantasise about inflicting or receiving violence?

If you are experiencing the negative in these questions… you didn’t turn out ok.

 

Why is it so important to not hit our kids?

Kids exposed to physical violence are more likely to either a) be a bully, or b) be bullied.  Bullies develop a physical armouring to pain that destroys empathy and allows them to inflict pain. The bullied develop a deep fear of and deference to authority no matter the consequences, from which they cannot stand up for themselves.  Oftentimes they also prey on the weak, as this gives them a sense of the power their discipliner feels. I was in this last category.

Kids rarely understand context.  One thing that was confusing to me as a child was that the rules often seemed to change.  I often didn’t know what I was getting belted for, despite the little “talks” before and after the punishment.  This confusion followed through into my idea of the world.  People’s motivations and actions became mystical, with no rhyme or reason apparent to me.

Violence destroys self-confidence and esteem.  If your body is someone else’s to control, manipulate and hurt, there is no possibility for confidence or self-esteem.  The humiliation and embarrassment that comes with being hit sits deep within the soul.

Violence destroys trust.  If you have hit your kids, you’ll understand the wariness that ensues.  You have essentially said “I am prepared to hurt you to get what I want.”  We frown upon this behaviour in the children themselves, but somehow allow it in adult-to-child relationships.

Violence creates shame.  Violence tells children that their bodies are ours to do with what we like.

And finally, violence is the fucking easy way out.  It is unimaginative.  It is what we use when we can’t think of anything else to do.  Violence is what we use when we’ve decided that we are not prepared to go the extra mile and find a verbal or physical solution that works.

And there is always a solution.

Always.

It may take time, and repeated attempts to communicate it, and it might take an elephant’s portion of resolve to stick with it, but there is an alternative to violence every single time.  It just takes imagination.

My parents believed “spare the rod and spoil the child”, so they were not shy about violence for small infractions.  Children of these parents can be picked by their high shoulders and rapid glances to their parents when out of their comfort zone.  The high shoulders come from the“turtle-shell” response to frequent threats or slaps, and the rapid glances are to see if mum and dad approve, or “am I gonna get hit for this?”

Are these the traits you want your child carrying with them into adulthood?  Do you think these traits lead to healthy communities and societies?

Let’s go back to the reasons we hit our kids from the top:

Because they don’t do what we ask.

How do you want your child to be when they are adults?  Do you want them to do everything that’s asked of them, without question?

Question your own assumptions about your child, and your role as a parent.  You are there to guide, not force, your child.  Your child is not yours to control for the length of his stay with you. He is there to learn and be guided by you.

Sure as hell it’s frustrating when little Johnny doesn’t eat his oats, but that’s his choice as a person.  He is a person, despite him being one, or five, or ten.  We encourage as much correct behaviour as much as we can, and we don’t tolerate intolerable behaviour, but we don’t need to hit.

Because they are cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent.  

Again, how do you want your child to be when they are older?  Often curiosity, or plain simple wanting to know reasons for actions are mistaken for cheekiness or impertinence.  If we don’t provide good reasoning for our requirements, kids get frustrated.  And wouldn’t you?  For some reason we expect different behaviour from kids them we do from ourselves.

If they are really being cheeky, rude, impertinent or insolent, perhaps you haven’t earned their respect.  

And you need to earn it.

You don’t just get it because you’re their dad.  You need to walk the talk.

If you are not present, if you are at the pub 5 nights a week instead of at home for dinner, if you spend no time with your kids except for disciplinary actions, you are going to have respect issues.  Your child is probably in pain because you are not displaying your love for them.  And buying toys is NOT displaying love.  Kids see through these transparent fakes.  They know what you are doing, and they hate it.

“But I respected my father, and he was the same!”

You feared your father.  That’s not the same as respect.  Respect is the feeling you get when someone behaves in the appropriate manner towards you, whether it’s tough, loving or anything else.  Violence is almost always inappropriate.

Because they do something that scares us or could get them hurt.  

To be honest, this is a tough one.

A short, sharp smack is much better than a car accident.  The heat of the moment can do crazy things to us parents.

However, the best actions are always those that come from a place of calm, clear thought.  Take a deep breath, and take the next step.

 

What sort of adult do you want your child to be?

I’ve written in the past about looking forward to what sort of children you want to create.  Because despite genetics and personality, a HUGE portion of character comes from those first ten years in your house.  You are creating a person with your actions.  How do want that person to be?

Confident? Or wary?

Proud?  Or shameful?

Strong? Or weak?

Intelligent?  Or stupid?

Able to think and ask questions and wonder about the world?  Or only able to take what other people have said as gospel?

These are the traits that YOU are building through your actions with your child.

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