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Category Archives: love

Learning To Say Goodbye

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My brother-in-law Paul and me.

For the past several years I’ve worked hard to ensure that my children know my family. My sisters and parents all live 700 plus miles away, which has made it a challenge at times. So, we make the trip up north at least once and typically two or three times a year to play and visit. At one point my ex-wife and I even moved everyone up to Buffalo for six months to make sure a connection would be made. All told, the benefits have been enormous. The relationships my children have with their aunts and uncles are something they will carry with them the rest of their lives and their memories with them are too numerous to mention.

Today I find myself helping guide them through the first negative that comes with having a strong relationship with a relative; having to saying goodbye. The passing of my brother-in-law Paul has been nothing short of a strong blow to the gut and we are all feeling the impact. This is the first loss we’ve had within our immediate little circle and my sisters, parents and I are all in a state of shock. And as usual, my kids are watching. They’re watching me talk on the phone with my family. They’re watching me break down in front of the dairy section at Kroger. They’re watching me stare off into space as I try to make sense of it all. And they’re watching me do laundry and clean the kitchen as I deal with the day to day operations of our lives which simply don’t stop.

The children lost an uncle and I a big brother. He was the husband of my eldest sister and he influenced me in more ways than I care to mention. He was a teacher, a photographer, a carpenter and a business owner. He probably taught me as much about life as my own father did as he was a part of my world from the age of
three. He encouraged my sense of humor, taught me to play pool, helped me build my first bookshelf and helped me chop down my first Christmas tree. My kids of course are full of questions. And they have all requested to make the trip north with me to say goodbye and be there with the rest of my family.

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Paul playing Uno with the kids

And so, we will make this trip together. As much as I want to protect them from pain, there are life lessons that can’t be avoided no matter how much we try. This week they will no doubt cry and feel a pain that until now has
been foreign to them. They will see others, including their father, struggle to make sense of their uncle’s passing. But at some point in their life they will have to say goodbye to someone and if there is any comfort to be found in all of this, it is that they will do so within a supportive circle. A circle they’ve spent the past several years becoming a more integral part of with every visit. They will need hugs and need to hug. But along with their pain, they will know the value of being a part of a family they are now completely vested in.

As a man who has made an art out of keeping people at arm’s length (including my family at times); teaching my children to open themselves up to hurt by opening themselves up to love has proven to be a daunting task. But just knowing how much they have learned from knowing Paul and the rest of my family, knowing how much laughter and joy they have experienced from being around them throughout these past several years; I myself have reflected on how much can be gained from making ourselves vulnerable. Paul taught us all a great deal. And as one friend put it, even in passing, he’s managed to find a way to teach one final valuable lesson. How to say goodbye.

 

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The Society That Cried Bully

Were you bullied as a kid? Before you answer, stop and really think about it and then consider how your kids will answer the same question thirty years from now.

The word is being thrown around a lot lately and in the process its definition is becoming diluted, which personally I think is an insult to those kids who are truly being tortured to the point of suicide. It’s also a danger to our own kids who are being taught to label those around them as bullies when in fact they may be nothing
more than an ignorant kid who simply called your child a poopy head.

I myself was teased as a youngster. I was the short kid in school. At one point I strongly considered legally changing my name to Half-Pint. Kidding aside, it had a profound affect on me. It wasn’t just kids calling me names and labeling me, it was teachers, parents, coaches, friends, family, you name it. They all had their
shutterstock_87771445“affectionate” little names for me and were always quick to point out that I was too little to do things. My self image throughout life was that of being small and scrawny. Even after I’d become an adult and, for the most part, caught up, I still considered myself puny.

Would I consider it bullying? No. Teasing maybe, but not bullying. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I react to it? Certainly. I remember one day getting so angry I actually found myself shoving the tallest kid in the class into the chalkboard and punching him. But that was pretty much the extent of it. It led to a trip to the principle’s office for both of us and a lesson on choosing how we react to people.

Then I discovered Ernie DiGregorio, a point guard for the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. Listed as 6′ 0″, he was closer to 5′ 10″ and seemed dwarfed by the other players on the court. Yet he held his own. He had poise and exuded inner strength. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet and he was my idol. To a kid like me, he represented that the size of my body didn’t matter as much as the size of my heart. He gave me a positive to grab hold on to and carry with me.

I still hated being short and looking back can see how the names, always being at the head of the line in school, the names, having short sisters who were bigger than me, the names, and frankly just being short, all had a profound affect on my self image; both as a child and as an adult. Still I wouldn’t consider it bullying.
Would it have helped if people would have been a little more sensitive? Sure, but the question is at what point does teasing become bullying or something more criminal? And do we at times put too much of the responsibility on the teaser, and not enough on the teased?

WHAT? Blame the teased? No, I’m not suggesting we blame the teased. But I do believe we are on a path of making everyone out to be a victim, which is dangerous. Yes, it is without question important to teach our children (and adults for that matter) to be sensitive to those around us. To be compassionate, supportive and understanding. To lift each other up rather than knock them down. But we also need to be giving our kids the tools to deal with jerks. To recognize that they exist and how to look past them and keep moving forward. To learn the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and ignore the noise emitted by those who would put us down in an effort to build themselves up. To understand why people are mean and learn how to blow it off.

The reality is, no matter what we do as a society, there are going to be assholes. Hell, as a dear friend and mentor once taught me, on any given day we have the potential to be that asshole. There are going to be jealous, insecure idiots who will do whatever they can to push down the strong willed and those different than images-6them. When they attack we need to know how to handle it and brush it off. To recognize that typically these people need bigger hugs than we do and buying into their ignorance is giving them too much credit.

That takes practice and it takes a support system teaching us that the actions of the mean are irrelavent and nothing more than a cry for help from someone much weaker than ourselves. They are actually a sign that the potential strength they see in us is a threat, one they don’t know how to deal with so they choose to spew hatred. I honestly believe bullying has more to do with fear than it does hatred. We fear those who pose a threat and tend to become defensive. Some take it to extremes with relentless taunts, facebook posts, threats, verbal torture and worse.

My point to this post is simple. I’m concerned that too much focus is on teaching kids not to bully and not enough on giving kids the tools to deal with being bullied. As much as we need to let kids know how important it is to accept each other and respect each other for our differences, we also need to teach our kids the value of having a tough skin. To learn to deal with adversity and defeat. To pick themselves back up when they fail or someone hurts them. This doesn’t mean giving everyone a trophy to build up their self esteem. Quite the contrary. It means recognizing those teaching opportunities. The strikeout, the D-, not making the team, being called fat or skinny; singled out because of race or sexual orientation or for wearing the wrong shirt to school. These are all precursors to the struggles that await them as adults. Their childhood is a pre-season of sorts. And it’s our job to coach them through it to prepare for the big game. From pre-school to middle school to high school, each instance is a chance to learn how to deal with struggles and find the inner strength to over come them. (Please don’t wait until high school to start.)

YES! We need to help kids understand the impact of their teasing, and bullying. But there are always going to be those who bully because they already KNOW the affects of their actions. It’s why they do it! They want to inflict pain. They want to knock you down. That’s their goal. The more you point out to them that their actions hurt, the more you’re going to encourage them because they WANT to hurt.

My hope is that we as a society not only teach our youth the power of their words and actions, but that we also strive to raise a generation of emotionally strong, self confident young people who recognize that people who hate are afraid. Afraid of your strength. That sometimes the only way they know how to build themselves up is to take you down a notch. We need to raise a generation of kids who know how amazing they are to the point that even the harshest attacks will leave nothing more than a scratch. When I shoved the kid into the chalk board, we were BOTH sent to the principle’s office. I was told that while the other kid’s actions were unacceptable, how I responded to them was as bad if 314239679x356not worse. That violence isn’t the answer. When I got back to the classroom my teacher told me the same thing and told me that I was “bigger” than that. And she was right.

Your kids are going to be told throughout their lives that they aren’t good enough, that their thoughts are wrong and will feel at times like they don’t belong. They’re not going to gel with everyone they meet. We need to teach them that just because someone thinks they can’t sing doesn’t mean they should stop singing. In fact, we should teach them to sing louder so that more people hear them. Because I promise you, there is someone out there who will think they sing like an angel. Teach them to just walk past the ones who don’t and keep looking for those that do.

So what can we do? For starters let kids know they’re not alone. Show them that they have someone else they can talk to who may be going through the same thing. The Our Place Network is a great example. Young kids talking to young kids, monitored by an adult. There’s even a weekly podcast that goes along with it where kids can call in with questions or stories and get input from other kids their age as well as non-judging adults.

Yes, teach your kids to be sensitive. Yes, coach them to be supportive when someone stumbles. But at the same time educate them to know how to pick themselves back up when they themselves stumble and there isn’t anyone around to help them. Because it will happen. They will be picked on, they will be teased, they may even be bullied and feel like the world is against them. Give them the tools and the inner strength to battle through those moments, brush themselves off and be there to help the next guy.

 

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Emotional Tides

I’m of the growing opinion that, just as your ex will be a part of your life forever, so will the ever changing emotional tides that seem to come with a divorce. Hang on … looking deeper, I say divorce, but let’s be honest; they come with life. A point I keep making to my kids, but need to be reminded of myself from time to time.
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Our kids blame a lot of ‘bad’ things on the divorce. And we’re quick to tell them (at least I know I am) that being able to keep your room straight, get your school projects done on time and having to go with the flow are not the result of the divorce; they are part of being a responsible and easy going person. Our kids do not know a life that doesn’t include divorce and so they will always see that as an excuse.

I’ve been told, “Your parents weren’t divorced dad, how would you know what I’m feeling.” Which is true. But the point here isn’t about competing to see who’s childhood was harder. Deep down, as they get older, my kids are recognizing that each home has its own, shall we say, unique circumstances. Our job is to teach them that every human being on this planet has their own hurdles to overcome. Some bigger than others. For some, divorce would be a cake walk compared to what they’ve been forced to endure. The fact that our kids have two parents who absolutely adore them and love them unconditionally should be their first clue that they’ve got it
images-1pretty good compared to some. The reality is, we all have our crosses to bare. How we choose to carry it is up to us. Yes the divorce creates some obstacles and challenges, but most if not all of them can be overcome with a little effort and the right attitude.

The other lesson, is to not blame our circumstances for our downfalls. Take responsibility for your situation and take steps to correct things. Chances are your circumstances are the result of how you approach life in general. Not the other way around. We have to look at ourselves from time to time and remind ourselves that perhaps the emotional tides we’re blaming on the divorce are actually a part of our own emotional make up. How we got here is the result of a long list of choices and reactions. Not just a signed document from a judge.

Divorce or happy marriage, we’re going to be concerned about finances, work, the kids, the state of the world and whether our home owners association is going to send us a letter for having our garbage can parked in front of the garage. Just like the kids, we’re faced with this reality and it’s up to us whether we’re going to embrace it and adjust accordingly or blame all of our trials and tribulations on the fact that we’re single parents with a pretty big load on our shoulders. It’s also up to us to consider taking a look at how we approach hurdles and whether we need to consider a little internal remodeling as well.

Yes, life as a single dad can be hell. It’s a lot. And chunks of it are more painful than others, especially when it comes to the kids and what you see them going through. All the more reason we need to set an example for our kids and make the best of our situation. How they define divorce is partly up to us. Let them see that we’re not going to use the divorce as an emotional security blanket. We’re not going to blame the world (or our ex) for our struggles. Pull up your big girl panties and make the best of it. Be introspective. Take responsibility. Be accountable. Let them see that yes, life sucks sometimes and not every day is perfect. But how you approach the tides is completely up to you AND them. Help them recognize all of the wonderous things they do have which, hopefully, includes a dad who is completely in love with them and thrilled to have them in his world. A dad who is there to help them overcome their own emotional tides when they rise.

 

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Happy Father’s Day

A simple post for a simple thought today.

Today celebrate the fact that no matter what your situation; whether you see your kids every day, every weekend, once a month or even if you haven’t seen them in a longer span. You are and always will be their dad. No one can ever take that from you or them.

We as divorced dads are sometimes buried in the now. We only see what’s directly in front of us because we’re so consumed with the pressures that our situation has thrust upon us. But at some point our children will have a choice. They’ll be able to come to you whenever they want. images-1

Hopefully you’re making choices today that will create the kind of relationship they want to be a part of years from now. So I say to you; love them, adore them and cherish them. They’ll know it and they’ll love you for it.

Today isn’t just about crazy ties, crayon drawn cards or long distance phone calls. Today is about reminding ourselves that we have an undeniable connection with our children. You are their dad. The only one they have. They need to have that connection with you and need to feel that you want them in your life. Remind them of how much you love them, miss them, care about them and what rock stars you think they are.

Honestly, every day is father’s day. But today know in your heart that you’re a dad. No matter what.

 

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Cowsill Life: No Walk in the Park

In today’s post you’re going to learn a little more about who I am and what I do. I typically shy away from this aspect of my life with the blog, but it has relevance this week and there is something specific I wanted to share with you.

I am a film / video director and editor by trade. My focus is primarily the music industry and documenting its stories. A couple of years ago a friend asked me to help her put together a film about a family singing group from the 1960’s known as the Cowsills. Working on the film would become a great focus of my time for two to three years and would change my views on life, parenthood, fatherhood and families in general. 285720_551273038239291_93305052_n

Getting right to the point, despite his ability to recognize and encourage so much of the talent that oozed from his home, Bud Cowsill was an abusive father. He was incredulously manipulative and selfish. And his children, in turn, feared him to the point that they never spoke to each other about what went on within their household. Truth be told, they didn’t live their childhoods, in many ways they survived them. In building the story of “Family Band: The Cowsills Story” Louise and I both wanted people to see the whole story, not just the success and the ride to the top, but the crippling affect that Bud’s controlling and abusive nature would have on both their careers and their lives as adults. With the support of Bob Cowsill and the rest of the family, we were able to to do just that. Along with demonstrating the affects of abuse on a family, our goal was for the film to help families recognize the power of sibling bonds and that no matter how dark the past, a brighter future can be found through love, communication and forgiveness.

The story of the Cowsills, I’ve learned, is not an unfamiliar one. And all too often the story is shared long after the affects of abuse have become rooted in the minds and hearts of the abused. It is a stark reminder that people often project one persona for themselves and their family, when in truth their world is nothing like what people see. For many kids, they really have no idea that their life is any different from others and that the abuse they’re engaged in is normal. It’s not until they’re older that they realize, “hey, you mean most dads don’t assault their kids?”

For me personally, the story of the Cowsills is a wake up call to any father. Louise worked much closer with the family over the eight to nine years it took to capture all of the footage, and has a much broader appreciation for the relationships between the family members. But in the short time I got to work on the film the shear impact of the role that abuse played in the development of each kid is still deeply ingrained in my own head. It speaks volumes to the impact a dad can have on his children both good and bad. Whether or not you’re abusive to your children, how you interact with them and how you approach them over something as simple as putting their shoes away, can create a pattern that will define your relationship with them throughout their lives.

We as fathers have opportunities to provide our children with so many amazing gifts. How we decide to do that will greatly affect their hearts, minds and Cowsills_gold_record_1967souls as they grow into adulthood. As I watch the finished film now and reflect on my own childhood as well as the first several years of my time as a father, it’s obvious to me that working on the film changed my life and how I view my fatherhood. It’s why I wanted to invite you to watch the film. While you do, ask yourself, “how will my kids view me ten, twenty, thirty or forty years from now?” If you’re like me, it may cause you to take a step back and adjust a few things and to see your children as even more fragile than you already do. It may cause you to recognize that we’re not just here to protect their bodies, but their minds as well.

I’ve said this before and it bares repeating. We are building our children’s memories, today. Each experience has the potential to be one that they look back on as a defining moment. It’s up to us to be aware of ourselves, our actions and our reactions knowing that one day our children will reflect and react in life based on those specific times and how we handled ourselves. What our children remember about their childhood is not 100% up to us. But as dads (and moms) we are held accountable for a great deal of it. I believe that regardless of the type of father you are today, there is always room for improvement. Working on the Cowsills film did two things for me. It told me overall I’m probably a better dad than I gave myself credit or. At the same time it showed me that every day I have an opportunity to improve.

“Family Band: The Cowsills Story” is currently airing on Showtime through the month of March and into April and is also available on Amazon.com. If you happen to watch it, I’d love to hear what you think so be sure to share your comments.

Peace.

 

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