Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: All Pro Dad by Mark Merrill

I blog about fatherhood under the tag Dad U, not because I think I've much to teach, but because I have a nervous suspicion of just how much more I have to learn. Four kids, yet still an undergrad, so to speak. Reading between the lines of his new book, "All Pro Dad", father of five Mark Merrill makes a similar point. The book is crammed with key pointers and observations, but with enough tales of road rash on the journey of fatherhood to appreciate his underlying humility. Kids are both mirrors and sponges and will blindside you with cutting perception of your "job performance" when you least expect. Some of the best "feedback" he has received include: "Dad, haven't you ever noticed that when you and Mom get along, we all get along?", and "Why do you go and teach other dads, when you haven't worked it out yourself?" (I couldn't find the direct quote, but that was the essence of it, and it's just too good to leave out!). When similar sentiments escape from the lips of your child (raises hand sheepishly), don't miss it,  but rather grasp the core of what that child is expressing: "Dad: You have not been listening, paying attention or being patient. You have been drifting into selfishness and away from us. We are here, not out there. Sharpen up, dad, we need you!".

"All Pro Dad" is not Mark's personal story, but rather a description of how different spheres of a guy's life can impact his ability to lead his family and raise his children effectively. His topics spring from 20 years of running Family First, friendships with like-minded leaders such as Tony Dungy, and a series of interviews with influential business, music and sports figures. Family First is a Tampa-based organization with a mission to "...strengthen the family by establishing family as a top priority in people's lives and by promoting principles for building marriages and raising children." 

"All Pro Dad" outlines seven themes for fatherhood: Makeup Mindset, Motive, Method, Model, Message and Master. Using a chapter for each, the book walks through subjects that are important for dads to understand if they want to build a lasting foundation for their children. Spotted throughout are other practical pointers, such as "Marriage truths", "Truths for parenting", "Essentials for the head of the family", and "4 C's of the CEO". 

The book really hits its stride when discussing the impact of fatherhood failure, and the power of redeeming sacrifice. Mark and his wife Susan are qualified "extra-milers" themselves, having adopted abandoned siblings from Russia. The impact of such first hand experience obviously provided much of the groundwork for a series of simple and very practical suggestions for how to build up your children: how to validate them, how to teach them the difference between image and identity, and how to build memories together, among numerous other pointers. Some of the best features of the book can be found at the end of every chapter. The "Huddle Up" questions are for dads to take a quiet moment with each of their kids, to prompt deep conversation and a tool to connect on a foundational level, such as:
"How do you know I love you?"
"What are three words that describe you?"
"What is one thing I can do to be more patient?"
"Have you ever seen me act selfishly? When?"
"When I am wrong about something, do I apologize?"
"How do you know I love Mom?"
Being raised in a culture that portrays manhood as coming with an emotionless granite-fascade and fatherhood as one-way ticket to Doofusville, it can take some REAL courage to ask for that kind of performance review.

There are a couple more elements that, if applied, could really add to the lasting impact of the book. 
(A) "All Pro Dad" is referenced in a way that other books should be, and much of the primary material is easily available, making a ready-made reading/watching list for those dads interested in delving deeper. 
(B) An appendix gives a step-by-step game plan for utilizing the content of each chapter. Here is a short example for "Makeup": 
Game plan: Help your child grow in his or her gifts.
  • Observe what your child is attracted to. What does your child do well? 
  • Ask your child "What are you really good at?"
  • Tell your child what you see as their greatest gifts.
  • Regularly affirm your child's gifts.
  • Grow your child's gifts: if they are musical, go to see a concert pianist; if curious of nature, take a hike and watch animals; if sporting, watch a game together.

As you can tell from the title, "All Pro Dad" is for dads who want to take their "game" to the next level. I recommend it as a very practical and applicable guide, particularly for dads who have not yet considered deeply the implications of their role as a father. 

Dad U
-making it up as you go along only works for a while....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review: "Twist of Faith" by Ridley Barron

Half seconds count.

Half seconds can bring instant glory, or infamy, wreak absolute chaos, or encompass a life changing decision. All in the blink of an eye.

A half second was all it took for two cars to collide on a country road in South Georgia, on Good Friday, 2004. A half second either way, and they pass like ships in the night. Instead, Ridley Barron stirs back to consciousness moments, or minutes later, pinned in his seat and with broken bones, to hear his wife Sarah Ellen groan, exhaling her final breath beside him, and to realize his youngest child is no longer in the crumpled minivan. His life is forever altered.

Rescuers find Josh 30 yards away, still in his car seat. He is airlifted to a regional hospital which is better equipped to guide his recovery. But only days later, a pharmaceutical error in another brutal half second takes Josh's life as well. Ridley makes it to Josh's bedside, but only in time to agree to end the treatment that is keeping his son alive.

I count myself very fortunate to have heard Ridley's story first hand, when he visited our church a few weeks ago and have also since read his book, "Twist of Faith". It's a tragic, disturbing, lesson on the fragility of life and slim handle of control that we attempt to exercise on it. With courageous openness, Ridley retells the week of the accident, and walks through the process of his family's recovery over the ensuing months and years. It's a story no-one wants to be in.

One of the most pivotal moments occurs in that very first week after the accident and immediately after Josh's death. Ridley makes a stunning choice, a decision which cuts clear across the grain of our culture, and against the core of human nature itself. He decides to forgive. The decision does not bring his loved ones back, does not make anything easier, does not prevent bouts of depression, anger, or resentfulness, but it does provide something vital: freedom. He explains that if revenge is a dish best served cold, bitterness is a deadly poison that you drink alone. In a nutshell, Ridley's story is one of forgiveness, and of the faith that enables you to forgive in the midst of torment. The power in that decision is evident in his life, and brings to mind others who have similarly dealt with tragedy, such as Darrell Scott.

Ridley's story goes on to describe returning to the hospital where Josh died, to speak on hospital error from the victims perspective, and later, a watershed phone call with the pharmacist who dispensed an adult dose of the anti-seizure drug that arrested his young son's heart. Over time he remarries, and together with Lisa, transitions to a full time ministry to the medical industry, while tackling the complicated process of integrating, or "swirling", families. Those wishing to learn more can track Ridley's and Lisa's ministry website and blogs. I can highly recommend "Twist of Faith" for those suffering close loss, medical error, or are in the process of rebuilding shattered families. Ridley's presentation in person however, connects on an emotional level a book simply cannot match. He ends with a plea of warning and hope: It only takes a half second to make a decision, and half seconds count.

Dad U

Monday, February 27, 2012

How was your weekend?

It's a simple question really, but as we have four kids under our roof, the answer can get somewhat convoluted.

The long answer is*:
  • Friday afternoon: drop Kid4 at friends house for a sleepover, so she doesn't have to sit out in the cold all weekend at soccer games.
  • Arise before dawn on Saturday and drink coffee.
  • Sat 7.30 am: drop Kid2 around the corner with a team mate, so he can ride to the first game of his tournament.
  • Observe the illuminated low fuel light and fill up the minivan with a depressing $70 worth of gas.
  • Sat 8 am: drop Kid3 at a swim team buddy's house, so she can ride to the state swim meet.
  • Drive 1.5 hrs to Kid1's soccer tournament site and awkwardly watch his team suffer a 6 goal thrashing in the freezing and gusting wind.
  • Decide to "simplify" the day by cashing up Kid1 for lunch with his team mates, and leaving him with another family for his second game, and a ride home with them.
  • Drive 40 mins to Kid2's tournament site, catch the last 15 mins of his first game, another awkward thrashing. 
  • Get phone update on Kid3's first swim relay result: a solid 10th place! Learn that Kid3 is currently en route back to town, for a sleepover with said team mate before repeating the exercise for day 2 of the swim meet. 
  • Devour packed lunch in car with Kid2 in an attempt to raise our body temperatures. 
  • Spend an hour circulating in the local area trying to locate a coffee shop to spend time between games. End up at a fast food joint instead. Drink mediocre coffee. Feeling begins to return to fingers and toes.
  • Return to Kid2's tournament site. Watch another frustrating performance. Get phone update of Kid1's second game: One goal up at half time, but run all over in the second half. Start to espouse the importance of preseason tournaments in getting teams of 12- or 14-year olds to a workable state of mental and physical preparedness. 
  • Return home, stopping for dinner, and to pick up Kid4, arriving after dark.
  • Collapse into bed.

  • Arise before dawn. Drink coffee. Drop Kid2 off again and head to Kid1's tournament.
  • Drop Kid1 off for warm ups, and retreat for a short respite at a nearby Barnes and Noble. Discover that in the corner of the bookstore is a Starbucks. Drink expensive coffee.
  • Arrive fashionably late for Kid1's game. Bury Kid4 in a jacket and blanket cocoon on the sidelines to prevent hypothermia. Watch a well fought draw, agreeing with all in earshot that remarkable improvement was on display. 
  • Watch as a shot on goal goes astray, sailing into the woods. Fish 3 lost soccer balls out of the creek behind the field, for a net profit of two.
  • Cash up Kid1 again for a well deserved team lunch and ride back to town with a different team mate.
  • Zip over to catch the end of Kid2's game, which is 0-1 when we get there, but 0-3 shortly thereafter. Employ well developed child psychology skills on despondent Kid2, over lunch in the car.
  • Discover via phone update that Kid3 had a great swim in her relay leg, and is already back in town.
  • Drive home while trying to see how far we could get before the return of the dreaded low fuel light.
  • Pick up Kid3 from swim-friends.
  • Pick up Kid1 from soccer-friends. 
  • Discover that all four children are at the same place at the same time for the first time in 48 hrs.
  • Return home. Exhausted. 
  • There was more coffee sometime, but I forget where or when.

The short answer to "How was your weekend?":   Great!

Dad U
*I can't claim credit for coordinating any of the above, I just drive. And search for lost soccer balls.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Man Shoes by Tom Watson

The "village" system of extended family seems to be more frayed than ever. In days past a network of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and God-fathers served to diffuse some of the land-mines littering the paths of boyhood and adolescence. A lad knew what the boundaries were, which ones could be stretched, and which ones could not. I'm convinced that our "modern" society lacks a critical element for the health and well being of all: the passage of life-knowledge, man-truths and wisdom down the fraternal line. Similar to surviving childhood, a guy is going to do much better with some pointers along the way through fatherhood. It can be a tricky business at the best of times, but those of us who have run the gauntlet after suffering through failure of our own fathers are acutely aware of the fallout.

One such story comes from Tom Watson, in his book Man Shoes. His tale reads like a litany of cultural failure: an absent father, maternal abandonment, and a torturous early childhood as he was passed through a chain of brutal fostering environments. But his story takes an unexpected turn when an elderly couple rescue him through good old-fashioned kindness, perseverance, patience and love. The gulf of abandonment is bridged, slowly and steadily, until little Tommy is ready for adulthood. It's a remarkable redemptive story, one that would be complete in the telling itself. But it gets better, and much, much, worse. In the end, as his own parental disasters and triumphs are detailed, the circle begins to close and you are left with the first glimpses of "why".

Why would a child be abandoned, neglected, abused, redeemed, restored, released, renewed, destroyed and rebuilt? The answer, in some small part, was to pen this book. It fills a niche that is only going to get bigger over the coming decades: a survival tale for lost men. If this child can be plucked from oblivion, and given a new foundation that does not crumble when his world does, then there is hope for the millions of the fatherless generation.

Other concerns have bumped this review months from when I first intended, but Man Shoes remains fresh in my mind. I've left it out on the coffee table as a conversation starter, and recommend it in particular to any guy struggling with fatherhood issues or marital loss. It's a great read.

The copy of Man Shoes I reviewed was a gift from the author.
Tom is on Facebook at: TomWatson.YourBetterLife and tweets @yourbetterlife

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Olympic moment

From The Guardian: Derek Redmond (follow link to story)

"What made this moment at the 1992 Games special was it brought into focus not just one athlete's near-heroic desperation but a more universal theme: the nature of parenthood"

There a better quality versions of this race online, but most have edited out the sad trek around the back turn. This clip shows the whole race.

Friday, November 18, 2011

LOL Friday...

Try to keep a straight face over this one.....

The "Parental Error" here is obvious: the poor execution of baby gate strategy.