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The Joy of Fatherhood

The Joy of Fatherhood

The joy that fatherhood can bring is unparalleled. A dear friend of mine, mired in the craziness of having a newborn, sweetly reminded me of this fact.

My children have touched my soul in ways that I couldn’t imagine. As my wife and I often say to each other, it hurts, but in the best way imaginable.

There are many moments while being a father that have brought me incredible joy.

I was amazed and joyful when our first child was born. But I was also exhausted. My wife went into labor at 3 am and was in labor for 25 hours. The first day of my son’s life I took most of the late night shifts so my wife could sleep and rest. I went on 6 or 7 hours of total sleep over 4 days.

The first moment of pure joy that was not mired by total exhaustion came about a day or two after we returned home from the hospital. My son was slightly jaundice so we were encouraged to put him in the sunlight if at all possible. Since he was born in January, the closest he was going to get was in our living room, as the morning sun poke it’s head through the leafless trees.

One morning, in the early sunlight, while my wife was resting, I took my son in his pumpkin seat over to the window. While he slept peacefully in the warm sun, I sipped on a mug of strong coffee. The quietness of the house allowed me to focus and appreciate the gift of my newly born son.

He was healthy and beautiful. The gift of life and beauty of creation moved me to be filled with joy beyond my ability to receive. I was overwhelmed with the glory and magic of it all. I sat and wept tears of joy in a moment that I will never forget.

Since that day, my children continually bring joy into my life in unexpected ways.

The first time my son said “Dada”.
The first time he smiled.
The giggles, the unsolicited hugs, and now the unsolicited “I Love you Daddy”.
The music we create, games we play, and mess we make.
The trips to the zoo, lake, museum, and park.

But regardless how much we hope and want to experience joy in our lives, there are steps we need to take to experience the full joy that fatherhood can bring.

Firstly, we need to be present to experience the joys of fatherhood. These moments won’t happen while you’re at work, or mindlessly playing on your phone. We need to set aside time in our daily and weekly routines just for them. To play, to live, to experience with them. I chose to eliminate and modify certain activities in my life and I don’t regret it for one moment.

And we need to be grateful and learn to fully appreciate these moments. I often hear people talk about how fast the time goes. In their voice I sense a slight longing to go back to the times when their children are young, slow down, and appreciate the joy just a little longer.

Knowing these times won’t last forever, I now take more time to just be with my children. I’ll watch them play or sleep. I give them extra hugs and kisses, willing or not. I tickle them again and again because I can’t get enough of the sound of their giggle.

Learn to be more grateful and appreciate them.

One of my favorite things now is the wonder, excitement, and joy my sons have in experiencing new things in life. Seeing the new hippos at the zoo, the first winter snowfall, or the excitement of Halloween.

Recently I was able to introduce one of my favorite activities to my oldest son for the first time: camping. On a warm beautiful fall day in October, we went to a nearby campsite along a beautiful natural river. Since it was October, we were almost alone in the campground giving us plenty of space to roam and play.

Being outside with my sons feels very natural. They explore, play, and tinker with a freedom that evades them inside. They can get dirty and physical without fear of punishment.

My son and I had a blast. We had sand in our socks and dirt under our fingernails. We played cards and duck duck goose. I showed him how to skip rocks, pee in the woods, and use a headlamp.

We watched the full moon rise and we stared at the stars for the first time.

The next morning, we woke up right before dawn and the first thing my son told me was, “Dad, I really like camping.” And then we had popcorn for breakfast.

Steps to Overcome a Common Personal Fear: Job Security

Steps to Overcome a Common Personal Fear: Job Security

As a father, we need to lead by example, and one of the areas that is important is how we personally deal with fear. We significantly influence what our children fear and how they respond to it. We also need to show them how we deal with it in our lives.

Fear isn’t all bad. It can be a positive motivator. Fear of death can lead to acting in more of a safe manner, for example wearing our seat belts and exercising regularly.

But unfounded fear can be very unhealthy. It can cause stress and anxiety which can have significant long-term negative health effects. Fear can also paralyze us into inaction, preventing us from achieving our true potential.

I have struggled with fear a lot as an adult. One major fear, that is common among men, is that I feared losing my job.

In 2006, I entered the full-time job market, and two years later, in 2008, we experienced the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. People in industries that I worked with lost their jobs. Projects got canceled. Companies folded. And I watched many people struggle to find a job or who were significantly underemployed. In 2011, I even hired someone who was underemployed.

Right before this economic catastrophe, I also entered the two biggest commitments of my life. I got married in 2006 and we bought our first house in 2007.  What happened next in the economy made me extremely fearful about job security. This led me to avoid what I perceived as taking on risk in my career. For the most part, I just put my head down and did my job. I didn’t stretch myself or make any big changes after these events unfolded for a long while. The energy and enthusiasm I carried coming out of graduate school quickly waned.

For years I plodded along, not challenging myself enough out of fear of drawing too much attention to myself. I wanted stability and I thought that this was how to go about getting it. I spent time worrying about this risk in my head and was paralyzed.

Then almost five years ago I became a father. The added responsibility of financially providing for your family added more weight to this fear. It wasn’t just me who would be impacted by losing my job. After a few of years of being a father and allowing my career to be driven fear, I had had enough. I was stressed and anxious and felt out of control.

So, about two or three years ago, through a healthy self-evaluation process, I started to change how I approached this job security fear and started doing something about it.

Take Action

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”  Dale Carnegie

I was stuck in a cyclical pattern of inaction. I was not learning a new skill. I was not pro-actively networking. I was not asking for new opportunities. I was not really doing anything pro-active to change things. And I was tired of it. I wanted change and I wanted to start doing something that was in my power to accomplish. I finally accepted that action was required. Doing nothing was just going to continue the pattern I was in.

Look for Ways to Add More Value

I should have been actively seeking ways to add more value to the company and clients I was working for.  Even if that meant that I was doing something no one else was doing.

I started by looking for ways to apply the skills I already had in new areas. I started talking to my clients, co-workers, managers, and peers about what their biggest challenges and frustrations were. I learned how others performed their jobs. I looked for processes that could use improvement or added insight that I might be able to provide. And I kept at it until I found some problems to solve.

The best way to remain employable is to have a track record of solving problems for others. You’re only as good as your ability to add value to others.

Invest in Yourself

While I was attentive to finding ways to add more value I made a note of skills that were needed that I did not possess. While making note of these, I did some research on the marketability of them.

I then started a list of potential skills and certifications that I should consider learning. And I started learning new things right away. I learned more about web and mobile technologies and database design. My staff management experience grew.

I learned that it is more important to make yourself indispensable by becoming So Good They Can’t Ignore You as Cal Newport writes. So as I was finding ways to add more value to myself so that I could add more value to others.

Take Some Calculated Risks

As Seth Godin brilliantly points out in his book the The Icarus Deception, flying too low can be just as dangerous as flying too high. I was playing it too safe.

So I started taking a few risks on projects or roles. I wrote memos and emails that were not asked for but provided suggestions and opinions that I felt were needed. Then I picked up the phone and talked to people who I thought were too busy or important to engage with me. I stopped asking permission for every little thing and just started delivering good solutions, strategies, ideas, and technology.

Just like we do when we invest our money, I was looking for ways where the potential downside was big, and downside was relatively small.

What happened after that was transforming. Doors opened. New roles and responsibilities were given. More autonomy and freedom were received. I saw an opportunity for my company, used my experience and skills to form a suggested strategy, and then was given the keys to go make it happen. Over the last two years I’ve been able to hire over 20 new employees and now manage a team of 35.

Get Personal Finances in Order

Another important step to help reduce my fears of job security were making sure my personal finances were in order. This started with making sure we were living below our means and we had a proper emergency fund in place. Personally, we have targeted at least 6 months of household expenses in our emergency fund, but that is with two incomes. If my wife or I were to stop working we would probably increase that to 9 or 12 months.

My anxiety around the financial impact of losing my job has diminished since we’ve understood our finances and have cash saved for an emergency. The reality is even if we are the best at what we do, there are things in the job market beyond our control that could lead to losing our job. Being prepared for that possibility through personal finance is a good self-insurance policy.

Fear, whether real or perceived, is extremely powerful. Our media industry knows this all too well. They often prey upon people’s fears about war, economic calamity, the weather, and even traffic. They sensationalize often rather mundane news stories to elicit a bit of fear or insecurity to gather your attention. And we also know how advertising is built on triggering the fear of missing out.

The stories of economic calamity on the news probably negatively influenced my perception on my job security. Looking back, I was young, cheap, almost 100% billable to clients, and often was an out-performer. I probably had very little to worry about with respect to job security.

But unfortunately sometimes fear is based on an incorrect perception of consequence. For example, we fear that if we quit our job even though we’re unhappy that we may never find another one. We fear about losing our job, and have fear about our inability to control that. Some job markets have a lot of turnover, but many do not.  But our fear paralyzes us from taking action, fear of the unknown.

So if you worry about job security like I did for a long time, evaluate that fear, and get started with these actions that you have control over today.

Why We Need to Praise Children Regularly for their Good Behavior

Why We Need to Praise Children Regularly for their Good Behavior

Molding our children’s character requires continual development of new parenting techniques. But one technique stands out: we need to praise our children’s good behavior and character regularly.

We all want to belong, to be affirmed, and to be recognized for contributing. This is true for babies as well as my employees who are in their 50’s. Praise and recognition are great motivators for all, and they will help shape our children’s character.

After almost 5 years as a parent, I believe that the carrot and stick both play an important role in molding character, but I try to always start first with the carrot. The carrot is a symbol of a reward for positive behavior, i.e. praise or a sweet treat, while the stick is punishment for negative behavior.

Here is an example of how the stick technique did not work, but the carrot technique did. It occurred at dinner time with our oldest son. About the time he turned four, he started a combination of bad behavior. He started to routinely say potty words at the dinner table, get out of his chair without permission, and just refused to eat anything on his plate unless he successfully negotiated a cookie or ice cream first.

When it’s the end of the day, and you’re tired from work, it can be a challenging time to have the patience required to coach your children. When you’re hungry and your warm dinner is under your nose, it becomes doubly challenging for me to retain a calm demeanor.

We at first tried the punishment, such as time-outs and taking his buddies away, but this was not working. The bad behavior was becoming routine. We did not want to create a continual habit of taking away his favorite buddy either.

Now we try to reserve the stick for when my oldest son hurts his younger brother or other kids, is repeatedly disrespectful, or makes dangerous choices. To use the stick technique effectively we realized quickly that we had to find his currency, or in other words, what would potentially make him upset enough to modify his behavior. While repeated instructions and yelling were not always effective, we found that time-outs and taking away his favorite stuffed animals or toys caught his attention most of the time.

So, in lieu of the stick technique, we got creative and tried a “good choices” chart. This is where we draw a star whenever he makes a good choice on a piece of paper we kept on the refrigerator. Then, after so many stars on the chart he got different rewards such as a Hershey Kiss or a cookie. A lot of stars grants him prized iPad time. We celebrate it, and make a big deal of this.

Examples of what good choices that earn a star are:

  • doing something nice for someone else
  • doing your chores the first time you’re asked
  • eating your fruits and vegetables the first time you’re asked
  • regularly using your manners without being reminded.

This works. Not all the time, but some of the time, and to us that was a success. In general, our 4-year-old got better at dinner time, and since then, we keep trying to find new ways to keep encouraging that good behavior.

The praise we’ve been giving him aloud allows his worthiness and positive contribution to get recognized within our house. This will have a lasting impact on his self-esteem, as well as his behavior.

The chart and this regular praise also did something that I wasn’t expecting quite yet at his age. After months and months of using the chart, I now see him light up when he makes a good choice. He holds his head high, his shoulders back and has a genuine proud smile. Even if he thinks no one is looking. This routine praise is now shaping how he makes decisions.

Just recently both boys and I were in the backyard. They were playing nearby while I was doing yardwork. Our 2-year-old was pushing a toy wheel barrow full of dirt, and he kept getting it stuck when he tried to push it up onto the sidewalk. Our 4-year-old saw this and quickly ran over and joyfully said, “I will help you, brother!” He then easily picked up the wheel barrow, set it up on the sidewalk and went back to playing with his toys.

I pretended not to see it but watched out of the corner of my eye. He wasn’t doing it for a star on the chart or to get noticed. Afterwards, you could sense his pride and happiness after helping his brother, and it didn’t even cross him mind to look for recognition.

This is the character we all hope to find in our children, and we can encourage and support it by regularly and sincerely praising our children.