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Happy 7th Birthday, Henry. (The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Written)

 

You is kind.
You is smart.
You is important.
– The Help

Oct 1, 2006

I remember two things about the day you were born, son. The first is that it was a Sunday and the St Louis Rams were playing on TV. When your mother and I arrived at the hospital the evening before, I realized that our in-room TV had only 3 channels. Wondering if this was 1986 or 2006, I was happy to pass the time that Sunday afternoon watching football. I had one eye on the game and one eye on you as you made your much-anticipated entrance. The second thing I remember is that after you were born, I went out to get your mom some dinner. It was late, and on my way back to the hospital, I stopped at a local gas station and bought a 6 pack of beer. I wish I could say this was a spur-of-the-moment act by an over-joyed new father, looking to make a celebration. The truth is, it was pre-meditated. So much so, in fact, that as your mother prepared for your arrival by filling  her Mother- To-Be suitcase with your first onesie, pacifiers and stuffed animals, I was preparing by being sure I had a cooler in the trunk of the car. I knew, 36 hours before you were born, that I would need a way to sneak booze into your hospital room. As you took your first sips of milk, I was downing Bud Lights.

Oct 1, 2010

I snapped the above video  on October 1st, 2010, your 4th birthday. There is nothing particularly unique about this video, except that I don’t remember taping it. Earlier that day, I participated in a local charity golf tournament. The 11:00am shotgun start was also my signal to crack open the first beer. I drank all day and won that tournament. About the time I should have been celebrating the 4th anniversary of your birth with candles and cake,  I was toasting my victory with a bottle of red wine. The next morning, I awoke to see that I had posted this video on my Facebook page.  As I stared at the screen, watching you and your brother, Charlie, run around the house, I knew something had to change. If I kept this up, I thought, I might not see your 5th, let alone 7th birthday. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that would be the last time I was ever drunk.

The following Monday, I entered a library, found a book titled “The Best Life Diet”, and checked it out. At first, I thought I needed to get in shape, which I did. What the book taught me  was there was a bigger reason why I struggled with my weight.  The diet suggested that I take 30 days off from drinking. I did, and it was the best month of my life. I found energy, time and you. I found your brother and your mother and it  was amazing. Shortly thereafter, I decided I wasn’t going to drink anymore.

Oct 1, 2013

Today marks the 3 year anniversary of that golf tournament, and I’ve been sober ever since. With this confession today, people will treat me differently, they may treat you differently, as well. Unfortunately, we’ll be judged. It would be easy to continue to give half answers to direct questions as to why I no longer drink. After all, why endanger the relationships I’ve worked so hard to build?  Why not keep this our little secret?  A pact between a father and son, never to be told, never to be repeated.

The answer lies in why I’m writing to you today.

Henry, there will come a time when you are asked to stand up for what you believe in, to stand up to a crowd of “nay-sayers” & “cannots”. There will be a time you are made to feel the outcast, like you don’t belong.  The fear will overwhelm you like a boat against the power of the tide, paddling as the waves crash upon you. Exhausted, you will be asked to find the courage to rise above and be yourself. And at that moment, when you feel the urge to turn to me and say, “Dad, I can’t”. I want you to think back to your 7th birthday, when your father sat down in front of a computer and proclaimed to any who would listen, “My name is Greg Younger and I’m an alcoholic.”

On a day we celebrate your birth, I want to thank you for giving me life.

Happy 7th Birthday, Henry. (The most important thing I’ve ever written)

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How Do You Raise a One-Armed Boomerang?

When I was 18, my parents asked me what I wanted for graduation. I thought and pondered, pondered and thought. What I really wanted, above all else, was my freedom. I didn’t want to live at home anymore, my only issue was money, I didn’t have any. I devised a plan and presentation, complete with notes and figures. For graduation, I told my parents, I wanted to move out of the house. I would agree to take a class at the local college, work nights to cover my cost of living, if they would fit the bill for the apartment. Knowing that I’d be attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence after the summer, I figured this would be a great “test-run” of the college life. I even called around and found a local complex allowing for 3 month leases. After reviewing my proposal, my parents agreed, and the lease was signed.

That summer and the “Party Apartment” (as it became known) were on my mind when I heard about the “Rising Share of Young Adults living in Their Parents Home“. Apparently, at the end of 2012, 36% of young adults age 18-31 lived with their parents…36%! They are commonly called Boomerang Kids. Sent out of the house for a short while, only to return, like a boomerang, years later. That’s an amazing statistic. As a parent, it’s scary thought. I have three boys, Henry, Charlie & Max, ages 7, 4 & 1. How do I raise three One-Armed Boomerangs that fly straight through life, never making that u-turn back to my basement?

No child dreams of growing up and living with their parents. And, of course, there are situations when living at home, or needing help from a parent is the only choice. I’ve leaned on my parents plenty. But how do I raise my boys to value responsibility?

I’ve heard it said, from parent to child, “Do as I say, not as I do”. I verbalize how I want my boys to act. “Do your homework,” “Be nice to your friends,” “Clean up your room,” “Eat your vegetables.” Each instruction, outwardly describing a behavior I want to instill in my child. Yet, I often wonder, is it my actions, not my words, that are being heard?

Maybe the secret to breaking the arms of my little Boomerangs is to look inward, not speak outward, and examine how closely aligned my actions are to my words. Do I take my work seriously? Am I nice to the people I meet? How healthy do I live my life? Maybe if I want my boys to be disciplined, healthy, and keep a clean room, I should demonstrate constraint, eat right and take care of my belongings. Want a child to be good with money? Ask yourself, “How good am I with dollars and cents?” Want a child to listen, do less talking. Want a child less dependent on you, become less dependent on others. (See: Parents, Grand) Sure, it’s possible to live a life out of balance, only to see your own child choose a life in contrast to your own, but more often than not, it won’t happen.

The most important attribute I can demonstrate is the desire to become better and grow. I am not a not perfect parent, perfect son, perfect boss, but I can be better. Working on ourselves might be this life’s greatest challenge. Yet, it’s a choice, and it’s a behavior that will be learned by my children, and that’s a great thing. Because if I do nothing else but demonstrate a life-long lust to making myself a better person, and my sons only learn that one teaching, how can I fault myself for who they become?

1996 was a great summer, living in that one-bedroom apartment in West Wichita, working nights at Chili’s, and drinking on a fake ID. I aced that English 101 class and left for college later that summer, never to return. I have my parents to thank for raising this one-armed boomerang. And to my sons Henry, Charlie & Max…I don’t care what your presentation looks like, I’m not renting you an apartment for graduation!

Parenting in the Facebook Era

Bullies & Cliques: Two interpersonal dynamics that, unfortunately, don’t out-grow adolescence. You know Noah who makes fun of everyone on the playground? Well, he grows up to be Noah in accounting, the guy that constantly tears you down during staff meetings.  How about the cool girls in school, the one’s with latest fashions & trends, standing in a crowd, pointing at you…giggling.  Well, that’s the same crew that gathers in the office lobby and continues to giggle at you as they pile into the elevator for lunch.  Unfortunately, maturity is not a rite of passage experienced by all…nor is self-esteem a requisite for adulthood.

Nothing personifies this today quite like Facebook. As fathers & mothers of young children, we are sandwiched between our parents, who often find the technology to be overwhelming, yet are engaged by their 36 friends and pictures of the grandchildren. On the other side rests those young kids who’ve grown up in a Facebook world. Let’s just say I’m happy FB wasn’t around for my college road trips, European travels, and previously unknown high school parties at my parents’ house.

“Wow, there was a Jim Beam bottle in the mailbox…really? Uh, not sure where that came from Mom, got go to school, see ya!”

(Note to the future Me: Don’t leave my youngest alone on Prom Weekend)

No, our Facebook challenges are more difficult, more cerebral. Today, our generation tends to do 1 of 4 things on Facebook:

1. Play Games. Speaking of which, do you need something to do? I’ve got 3 things that come to mind if you’re looking for some productive use of your time…there names are Henry, Charlie & Max.
2. Re-post somewhat humorous/inspirational pictures that have you feeling like you’ve entered an online version of an Oprah show.
3. Expound on their political views. Freedom of speech has it downsides.
4. Post picture/stories about their kids.

I’ve been, to varying degrees, guilty of all of them…But it’s the fourth that creates issues for parents today. As we scroll through our timeline, it can be difficult to understand that we are seeing the parenting peaks of our friends, not the collection of one super-human, all-encompassing parent.  And because we tend not  to post our parenting valleys, we can get the sense that everyone you know has got this parenting thing figured out while your three kids are running around like a band of vigilantes.

“Henry, stop swinging your brother, he’s 7 weeks old and you’re gonna make him throw up…Charlie get away from the door, and put some pants on…Ohhh, see, he threw up all over his new shirt…GET IN TIMEOUT, NOW!…”

We don’t see FB updates like “Spanked the hell out of my kid in public today” or “went ahead and mailed it in and put my 3-year-old in front of the TV for 3 hours while I ate like dog shit”.

No, instead, we post items that highlight our children’s world, mostly so that people in our circle can be kept abreast of the comings and goings of our lives…yet our posts can seem arrogant, superficial,  cliquish…

The result can be devastating. So much so that a few people I know and respect have gotten off FB altogether. I can respect that. Often times the best way to overcome negative energy is to move away from it.

I tend to think the upside of connecting and sharing out-weighs the negative thought processes that enters my head. Besides, if we remember that these postings represent parenting peaks, then we should be truly happy for our loved ones & friends.  We shouldn’t take it as an indication of our inability to parent. Here’s my “Am I Good Parent?” test:

1. Do I love my kids? Check
2. Do I wake up every morning, and try to do my best in balancing the needs of my kids, with the needs of my wife and myself? Check

Everything else is secondary.

So, next time you jump on Facebook, after sifting through the Obama/Romney discourse that enlightens everyone…and you see that your neighbor went to school to have lunch with their kids, or took the day off to take’em to the zoo, or whatever it is that we do to make a difference in our children’s lives, don’t take it personal, don’t feel inadequate.  Ask yourself the two test questions above.  If you can answer yes to both, you’re all right in my book…

….now, I think I’ll go post this on Facebook.

Lessons To My Sons – Back To School Edition

Lessons To My Sons – Back To School Edition

On Values.

Values should guide your life.  Write them down, early and often.  Review them regularly and recognize that values evolve as your life & priorities change.  When you run up against difficult decisions, and you will face many, use them to chart your course.   Share your values with the people you love, as they will help hold you accountable.  My values are as follows:  Family, Achievement, Integrity, Health & Tranquilty.

On Love.

Love will confuse you, force you into mistakes, yet make you whole.  Understand that love is muscle, one that needs exercise and maturity to reach it’s fullest potential. I Love your mother and I love each of you, but my love does not end today, I must continue to practice, or the muscle develops atrophy.

On Politics.

Understand that we are Americans first, Republican & Democrat second.  Vote when you are able, and notice that your political opinions are worthless if you don’t.  Recognize that politics is a game, a negotiation, and that the answer tends to find itself in the middle.  Be careful when sharing your politics, as this subject will stoke emotions in others unlike any you’ve seen.

On Leadership.

Be a leader.  Understand that leadership comes in many functions & forms, and has little to do with your ability to speak or yell.  Your leadership will be judged by the number of listeners, whether you speak often or seldom.  Leadership almost always comes from the front, so understand that your actions will often be your loudest words & listening will be your greatest leadership gift.

On Passion.

Be passionate.  Take care of what you do.  Understand that your task, your work, your success will be enhanced when you are passionate about the project.  Have passion for others.  Success without sharing is failure.  Too much is given, much is expected, and I and your mother will give you plenty.

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