It’s Getting Real

Not every conversation is roundly accepted at every cocktail party. Some topics are bodily in nature or so intimate that people just would rather not. This is one of those. The people who would find the most interest in wading through the discomfort of real talk are the dads and moms of boys on the cusp of becoming men. The issues Lis and I faced with our boys and how we handled them might give parents some small comfort that they’re not alone.

Moodiness is a combination of hormones, social isolation, the newness of the latest mental leap, and a child’s particular temperament. A sulking child needs comfort and understanding, encouragement, talking with them given the confusion of feelings versus talking at them on their unacceptable behavior, and the occasional kick in the butt to ‘fake it till you make it’. It’s important to remember and advise them that you, the parent, are helping them develop their mental model of the world which includes character development. So moodiness requires them to resist the temptation to feel sorry for themselves. So at about 9 years of age, dads should begin to prepare boys to become men. Particularly if the child leans toward a melancholy disposition, but in general, dads should visit their son at bedtime and begin the long conversation about manhood. The discussion should cover unexplained feelings, new sensations, hormones, girls, technology, and how communication between son and dad needs to get stronger. The line to use – “No one on the planet loves you more than your mom and I do, No one.” So therefore, don’t think your friends can tell you more about life’s issues than we can.

Bodily changes, hair, smell, morning blood flow, begin to emerge from boyhood around 9-11 years old. Fast starters and later bloomers notwithstanding, puberty is around 11ish. Your conversations around secret subjects called “The Talk” should begin in advance of that age. Open, wide ranging questions investigating his knowledge, offering insights, not pushing an agenda, should create a confidential atmosphere. Any question, any question at all, should be answered with the feeling of openness. Occasionally, you might start at 30,000 feet and come back to the question again another time. Questions should be met with questions – “What do you mean?” – so that you don’t answer a question they’re not asking.

“Daddy, where did I come from?”
“Well buddy, when I put my penis in mommy’s vigina, my sperm fertilized your mommy’s egg and she became pregnant. You grew inside her womb for 9 months and then were born.”
“Oh. Because Stevie says he came from Cleveland.”

Hygiene is a requirement. Starting at 9 years, an increase in parental attention to hygiene should be in advance of when hormone smells become an issue. Using deodorant, airing out tennis shoes at night, brushing teeth, showering regularly, washing excess oil off face and scalp all need to be reviewed and strengthened. Taking laundry seriously, making sure that clothes are put in the proper spot post sports and post laundry day. Every stage of maturity requires more balancing of new efforts with old lessons. Get ahead of it.

Technology is a convenience, not a requirement. Allowing your son access to his own personal link to the world is dangerous to say the least. Insofar as porn can start as a small accidental leak into your son’s life and become a raging flood sweeping away the wonderful person you once knew, technology is Pandora’s box. Even if porn weren’t an issue, having his friends text your son all hours of the night is a distraction to concentration and sleep. You can’t control the world, but you do pay the bills. Phones are for you to communicate with your child – period. Smartphones are misnamed. Early in life, you want to have blockers thereby creating a safe zone. No sense in the real world breaking in too early. But later, blockers on your technology will create a false sense of security. Instead, you want to put a blocker on their character, on their heart, where they develop the strength to withstand the temptation. Difficult, but critically important for when they are away from home. All internet use, laptop, smartphone, iPad should all be used in the main part of the house.

Masturbation. Gonna happen. This touchy subject has larger ramifications in writing about it. So if your religious beliefs are different than mine, I respect that. If you’re wiser than me, which is likely, then I would yield to a better idea. But as a father, I don’t want to condemn the act or fact that my child is a sexual being. I don’t want to burden him with guilt or shame beyond what society is going to provide him. What I am interested in is getting him to self control and time management. My advice to my boys was “Don’t waste 2 hours thinking about it. Git ‘er done and get back to life.” The problem isn’t the act itself, it’s the mental activity and wasted time surrounding the activity. Young men can masturbate 2-3 times per day. If each time took an hour with all that mental imagery, that’s not a positive or Godly use of that energy. “Git ‘er done and move on” is my advice. It worked out for our family. It’s a delicate discussion, for sure, but one in which dad is understanding and is a ‘go-to’ for advice.

Some periods of life are just what they are, periods of life. There’s a beginning and there’s an end. Your child does not know that, whereas you do. So when guilt arises because of the all too common aftermath of masturbation, dad’s should address the feelings as much as the activity. Normalize the transition into manhood. I don’t buy into the idea that this is a sin. There’s no upside to that idea and only downside. Instead, as human beings, we are what we are and must deal with that. Going from boy to man is fraught with turbulence. Cementing self concept in guilt is not my idea of being a good dad. Loving transition into self control is better I think.

Attitude. What does “Bad Attitude” mean anyway? When my dad used it on me, it meant I had a tone in my voice or a look on my face that conveyed disrespect or maybe an attitude of entitlement. I’m not sure because I didn’t know what it meant at the time. Kids shouldn’t ever use hurtful words, disrespectful tones, and other actions that express exasperation with an adult, particularly their mom. Instead of immediate reaction that condemns their seeming disrespect, there should be a question: “Your tone came out as disrespectful. Did you intend to disrespect your mom?” Or, “In your frustration with this situation, you sounded like you’re blaming your mom for this when you’re the one that has caused it. It’s not appropriate to project your frustrations on other people. Did you intend to do that?” In other words, as the adult you are able to respond rather than react. Responding as an adult has you disengage your authoritative emotions and engage your wiser intellect.

Lying becomes more sophisticated. The foundation of the family is built on trust. Telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is the cement within that foundation. Everyone within the family perceives reality based on their ability to trust the data they are collecting. So dad’s modeling of truth sets the tone. An extreme example, infidelity rises to the top of lying. A child’s definitions of love, trust, security are upended when it turns out that dad was crossing his fingers. The billions of data points a child has collected so far manifests in their own relationship to the truth when confronting a reality they don’t desire. Let me unpack that statement – When a young teenager messes up, which they will, and must come clean with what happened, their relationship with the truth will be a matter of character. That child will draw forth from the essence of their childhood experiences on how you play the truth game. I used infidelity as an extreme example of falsity, but it’s a spectrum. Manipulating words to manage the consequences is a character relationship to the truth. Character comes from mom and dad. So your teenager will express his character as a new intellectual exercise. You must provide consequences (Never punish. Punishment is punitive. Correction provides consequences) for violating family conduct and then explain and declare what your family identity is on speaking truth.

Engagement is key. I mischaracterized my role in life during the period my kids were transitioning into young adults. I was doing well at work and thought I was a big deal. My dad had his work persona that I dredged up from childhood and re-created at home. “Dad’s a big deal” was the image I was going for.  I messed up, not massively, but enough to have some regret. Instead, my “job” was primarily to be all-in with my family. It wouldn’t have robbed much of anything from work, but my engagement at home would have looked differently. I was in my head and should have been in the game instead. Initiating time with each child to talk it out, explore issues, play, encourage, explain, question would have been the ‘great dad’ image I would have preferred.

Young men are subtly and flagrantly attacked by society for being male. Masculinity certainly needed to be modernized from the John Wayne 50’s and 60’s. But today’s “Girl Power” has gone too far by not just encouraging strong women, which is great, but also by characterizing men as doofuses (doofae?) seems to be standard fare. This should be resisted and modeled otherwise. Men as men are critical to a harmonized society. Women need men to be men. It is now up to today’s father to re-generate the idea of masculinity for the next generation.

To molding tomorrow’s men,

Dave Marr

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By | March 25th, 2017|Parenting, Relational|0 Comments

Creating a Masterpiece

For the most part my entire Ironmen writing has followed a fairly uniform path similar to the U.S. Army slogan – “Be all that you can be”. After this my 200th writing, you might get the idea that I only sing one tune. But there’s certainly a purpose to my effort which has gone understated and mentioned only by reference. Many of you gentlemen are fathers, quite a few of you new fathers, and the rest probably intend to be fathers some day. Today’s Letter opens up that incredibly important topic for deeper evaluation and at the end a suggestion that will pay huge dividends.

As many of you know I have been blessed with 3 children whose stewardship I have taken very seriously – Dano, Shelli, and Kevin. When Dano was born I was a week from 28. If you were to ask me then if I were an adult, I’d think so. Since then, it’s beyond clear that I wasn’t. Ask anyone over 50 when a person is considered an adult and 28 is never cited. Intellectually engaged, sure. Physically finished with my development, yup. Legally responsible, indeed only in the legal sense. Not an indictment against my character, just calling out the reality of being young.

When a baby is born, so is a father.  There is something very maturing about becoming a father. There is a difference, a big difference, between theory and reality in this realm. All of you fathers know what I’m saying. You look at that infant lying there all helpless and pink and feel a new reality, a weight, a motivation, a purpose. From this day forward, your actions have generational consequences. The body, the mind, the spirit in that crib is your responsibility to love, teach, develop, disciple, encourage, fund, engage, mature, and release a couple decades hence. From whatever resources and capacities you have you are responsible to pour into this little life so that they are prepared to meet whatever challenges they will face along the way. And the key here is that unless you yourself grow up the task will quickly overtake you.

Fortunately you will grow. Unless you run away from this role, which is a sad commentary on today’s endless summer approach some men have regarding pursuing superficial sex, unless you run away from taking root in life, you will grow.  Children are God-designed gifts whose very nature compel you to the next level of maturity. George Will wrote: “We raise our children physically; they raise us spiritually.” What a blessing that is. Children give you reason to grow faster than you might otherwise. Whatever pace of maturity you currently possess becoming a father creates the realization that your input into this perfect little life might be, just might be, inadequate for the job. Based on the maturity of a 28 year old, I hope you feel inadequate. So upward you go.

Question: Do you own that baby’s potential? Clearly not. You are the steward of that baby’s potential. God and that baby own their potential, but you have been gifted with the opportunity to steward it into self management. And when you look at your own self management, how’s that look? If my point hasn’t become obvious at this point, let me be clear – you can only take your child as far as you’re able to go yourself. God can take them further, but the weight of your energy could be a parachute on their trajectory. Not a fair thing to say, but the opposite is true as well – your energy can define them positively. Exodus 34:6-7  Iniquities of the father is visited on generations to come … as will blessings.

This is a defining topic. It will define so much of your life, so much of the satisfaction you have, so much of your emotions and concerns, and so much of your relationships. When people look upon you and judge your character, they’ll look at the fruit of your life as the embodiment of your maturity. Yeah, I know, but it’s what people do. You have created a canvass on which your child will use the colors and strokes you have provided. Their life is a masterpiece.

So here’s the idea. Make a declaration. Write a letter to your child today, sign and date it. If your child already has many years in the bag, do it anyway. The style of this letter written as to an adult who currently is in baby form should declare who you are today and who you intend to become. It should cover your journey to this point, history of your life, and the relationships that your baby comes into. The letter should be a philosophic statement of your beliefs, your view on the world, and your role in it. It should declare to your baby what you intend to do as a father and how you intend be there for them to the best of your ability. And this love letter should be the most mature, well written piece you are capable because your child will keep this treasure forever and will use it as a template to write their own. The letter should be long and take effort to get it out. But it will be worth it.

And then you give it to them when they become of age. When they turn 13, take them away to a long weekend and give them the letter. Sure, they won’t understand much of it, but that won’t matter. They’ll read it again, and likely again and again. The older they get, the more they’ll get from the letter, and they more they’ll see you as a father who has stewarded them to the best of his abilities.

I have made many mistakes, but this one I got right.

To your greatest of blessings,

Dave Marr

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By | February 3rd, 2017|Parenting, Personal|0 Comments

My Wilberforce Thesis

I hope you’ve seen the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce. Through his life-long persistence, he was able to abolish slavery within the British Empire. As unlikely and impractical as his desires were, he was able to overcome a hundred and fifty years of national economic interests to wake up his countrymen to this moral imperative. His personal mode in which he identified an issue that inflamed him with purpose, thereby envisioning a world on a higher plane, where he steeled himself to that cause as the defining aspect of his life is my Wilberforce Thesis. My Wilberforce purpose is to reduce the divorce rate by 10% in Colorado. And though my success won’t result in any Parliamentary Act, it will be measured nonetheless in the countless lives over many generations. It would reduce drug use, crime, abortions, poverty, and result in a spiritual revival within families and communities. You no doubt see how quixotic this goal is just like Wilberforce’s contemporaries thought he was delusional as he embarked on his 36-year journey to end slavery.

I could use your help.

The divorce rate is a statistic that numbs the senses. To go from wedding to divorce is a journey from hope to pain. That journey is so well worn that somehow society has come to accept that the very foundation of an orderly society – family formation – cannot be improved upon and we must take the bad with the good. The collateral damage to our heritage is significant. Children grow up in a world where their emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual development are secondary to the drama unfolding before them. This drama is the norm for them and may be papered over in subsequent mental constructions, but remains a psychological safety issue throughout. This does not have to be.

Now, because this is so complex with macro and micro forces at play, it is easy to conclude that the divorce rate is insoluble. It’s not. It just requires a Wilberforce effort. Think about your life. What could have happened in your childhood that would have dramatically made your life…worse? A divorce? Parallel universe evaluations are difficult to imagine, but lives do turn on specific events. I can look back on the lives of my children and can pinpoint the event that dramatically impacted their lives. Lis and I took a parenting course and came to realize we weren’t on the same page in the least. In this course we were given communication perspectives, parenting philosophy, spiritual structure, practical advice, and a path to be a team. We were hooked and our children were the beneficiaries of a greatly enhanced marriage.

In the many years that we taught the class, we’ve seen scores of marriages be born anew with hope as the clouds of marital frustration dissipated when the sun shone on their misunderstandings. The result for so many families was marital harmony, which allowed their children to thrive. Couples came to the class to get better at parenting and left with better marriages. What would happen to society if this could be scaled? What would happen if all marriages improved just a little?

So that’s what we’re doing. We are taking OneFamily and Ironmen to society through our 501(c)3 non-profit HeadwatersLife. The idea is to develop a network of churches to offer the suite of parenting classes (Baby Wise, Toddler Transition, Parenting from the Tree of Life, Middle Years, and Reaching the Heart of your Teen) to families in the community. So often parents want to take a class, but any given church doesn’t offer what they need, when they need it, so they pass on the idea. A network of churches allows OneFamily to minister to the community in a way that individual churches alone cannot.

To this effort, we have hired the perfect couple to lead this generational cause – Rich and Shelly Howard. They have been leading the parenting program at Cherry Hills Community Church for over 10 years, know the material inside and out, and believe heart and soul in this cause. In addition to the above, we have translated the material into Spanish in order to affect that population as well.

Now to how I could use your help – Any undertaking of this magnitude requires converts. With Rich quitting his “real” job and going into this ministry full time, we have burnt the ships. It would be a real boost to have you introduce me to companies, foundations, or large donors that might help me shoulder the economic load. I can come talk with them about OneFamily. Donations from you work too and would be greatly appreciated. Further, if you belong to a church and think a parenting program would be welcome, I would appreciate the assist in getting introduced. If you have a small group and want to look into having the program in your home, can do. Lastly, society needs you to succeed in marriage and life. In doing that you create room for Amazing Grace in the lives of generations to come.

To your life of family success,

Dave Marr
Founder HeadwatersLife

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By | December 17th, 2016|Parenting, Personal, Spiritual|0 Comments