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Christmas…can we make the holiday season meaningful?

By Bruce Linton, Founder of the Fathers’ Forum Programs

The holiday season brings up a variety of feelings for families, from joy to dread. The pressures of our consumer society can make this a tense time of year. Crowded stores and traffic jams all add to the flurry of activity that often pushes us to the limits of our patience. We find ourselves asking the question, Is it really worth it? Could we do without this “holiday madness?” Couldn’t we just skip the whole thing?

It is up to us as parents (and us dads) to rescue Christmas from its commercialism and restore it as one of the special days in our children’s lives. We can help create a special time of year to celebrate children, which I believe was the original intent of this holiday.

For most children, Christmas is not a religious holiday. Children don’t associate a jolly fat man in a red suit with any religious symbolism. As my daughter once said, it is quite exciting to have a tree in the house. When our children were young, the surprise on their faces when they found their presents under the tree made it clear how special the experience was for them. Read more

Fatherhood and Patience…(part 5 of 5)

If you have been following along in this five part blog post I hope you may have gained some insight into how we as men pressure ourselves with the need to be “in charge” and “under control” and how that may lead to impatience. If a little bit of “consciousness raising” has occurred and you are a little more aware of your feeling states as a dad…great. If you begin to see the process of becoming a more patient dad has a lot to do with being impatient and understanding you can make another choice of action in a tense situation. We all, at times, in our attempt  to be good dad’s fall short and that should be nothing to feel shame about (a little embarrassment isn’t bad) and we are all on a continual path of development….Here is a poem about a moment where it all shifted for me.

The Window

I was getting ready to go to work

to give a lecture.

I am putting my notes

in my briefcase

when the ball comes through the window,

the glass flying,

a million tiny knives all over the living room.

In that moment, I feel my anger begin to grow:

my frustration at this house,

never being organized enough,

the expense of getting the window fixed,

the temporary solution of living with cardboard

or an old piece of plywood,

thoughts of how will we

clean up all this glass–

my anger grows as I know I will be late

for my presentation.

I hear your small 4 ½ year old feet

running up the steps,

I see your small arm push

open the door,

your eyes look up to mine

moist, searching.

I take you in my arms:

“Are you hurt?”

It’s o.k.,

it’s only a window,

it can be replaced.

What’s important is that you are not hurt,

it’s only glass,

you are my son, I love you.

Let’s get the broom.”

Each moment of fatherhood is chance for self reflection and insight. It is the gift our children bring to us with all their needs, demands and emotions. I hope you will take the opportunity to let your own emotional life grow with your child’s development.

In this five part series for us as dads it also contains another possibility. If you notice how you regulate your emotions it will become a model for your child as he/she grows and develops. I know that the more patient I became over the years with my own children the easier it was for them to unfold their own personalities.

Learning Patience (part 4 of 5)

I remember the difficulty of getting my 5 year old son to bed one night. Six times he popped out of bed needing to do something. I got so anger I walked down the hall yelling “you get in bed and stay there!”

He ran back to bed crying saying “you looked like a skeleton chasing me.” I think this was because I was in my sweatpants with no shirt and my chest inflated with my anger made my ribs stick out and reminded him of a skeleton. Yikes…not one of my best dad moments. But none the less an important one. It took me about a month to regain my son’s trust that I would not “fly off the handle” as they. It made me aware of how my frustrations to get my son to listen really demonstrated to him how out of control I was. But the ensuing few weeks I practiced being aware of my moods and feeling states and could be proactive at not subjecting my son to my struggles for peace and harmony within.  All part of learning to be a dad and understanding deeper about myself along the way.

Now if you get angry like this on occasional bases, you can recover and it is all about being a “good enough” dad not a perfect dad. If this happens regularly it is problematic and worth finding out how to get some help. But since these blog post are about learning patience has does this help?

There is an old Japanese story about a man who climbs up to the top of Mt. Fuji to ask the great Zen master, “what is most important in life?” The master answers, “practice patience.”

The man thanks the Zen master and walking down the mountain is thinking “how obvious and wise this is, if one practice patience everything will be easier for me and life will work out better.”

He than runs back up the mountain and says to the master, “master what you said about patience is so true and so obvious, but I have one more question; how do I get patience?”

The master smiles and says, “impatience.”

Our impatiens and failings are the keys to our development….the final post on “fatherhood and patience” is tomorrow.

Patience, Compassion and Fatherhood (part 3 of 5)

In the last blog post I suggested that being with other dads to discuss the challenges and stress of parenthood is the starting point for developing a more patient personality.  One of the aspects of the father’s groups I do is that it allows the dads to hear how other dads are dealing with the same or similar issues. The advantage to this is it helps normalize the feelings for them. Dads have often commented that they were surprised to hear how so many men were experience the same thing! One dad even said “ even though we go through things in our own different ways…we all have to deal with the same situations.”

Developing patience means having a more intimate experience with your own feelings. And here is the next “key”… learning to “self sooth” helps us meet our challenges (and stresses) with a degree of comfort and calm and helps quite the anxious and driven voice so many men hear.  The way to self sooth is to begin to create the voice of an accepting, encouraging “coach” in your own head…that means you “coach” yourself through the daily difficulties of fatherhood and parenting.  When you are dead tired and your 9 month old has been crying for what seems like forever and won’t get to sleep….your “coach” voice says  …”it’s going to be OK, other dads have gone through this, take a breat, have a glass of water you will just take it easy tomorrow, your going to make it through this, your going to be OK.”

Many years ago I saw the Dali Lama give a talk on compassion. He said if you wanted to be compassionate to other people you must first be compassionate with yourself. How critical and judgmental we can be to ourselves. By listening to the “good coach” within yourself you can start the practice of patience. All the challenges we face as dads, how complicated life can be when we have young children. Treating ourselves with this “good coach” voice who says, it’s OK to be frustrated, you lost your temper you will do better next time, you were rushing too much—next time you can take more time; little by little we will be more patience with ourselves….how much more comfortable in our skin we will be.  Life is a burden or adventure…make it an adventure…coach yourself to accept your flaws, mistakes and know that with each act of acceptance the next time you can be more patient.