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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

A Lesson in Loss

“Please keep the socks on!” She takes them off. “Honey, it’s cold, keep them on!!” She takes them off and grins. “Look, I really think you should wear those socks. Come on!” (my voice gets louder and more impatient). She dances with the socks through the living room, throws them in the air and giggles “no socks, no socks, no socks”. That’s my two-year-old. At the same time my six-year-old is creating a big mess on the kitchen table when he spreads playdough literally everywhere, including into the food I’ve just prepared. My nine-year-old sits on the sofa and calls me for the twentieth time to read him his Asterix-comic. Paralysed I just stand there, watching the scenery. I feel like a bystander at a party, where everyone is having fun but me. Tears fill my eyes. I could scream. Or cry. Or just run away. Or maybe all three.

Normally, I would say that I’m a quite balanced, patient and easy-going dad and man. I love being a father and I’ve been supporting other fathers and men for more than 12 years. I did a lot of research, published a book on fatherhood and my wife and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on childhood, schooling, parenting and life. All sorted then?

Bang! The truth can sometimes feel so much harder and more painful than we think. It’s like looking into the mirror after a sleepless night, expecting to still look awesome. This year reality struck and I was reminded how much I still need to do, how much my inner child still needs attention, and how easy it seems to leave past wounds unattended and push problems aside when you live a busy life, trying to meet everybody else´s needs, especially my kids.

MEETING RESPONSIBILITY

At the beginning of last year, my father died. It wasn’t unexpected as he suffered from a tumour in his throat. No operation, no therapy could help. While he was getting treatment he nearly passed away twice. Both times I immediately took the plane to Berlin to see him, laden with anxiety and fear. Each time I wasn’t sure whether I would be too late. Sitting next to his hospital bed – or later with him, in his home – was painful. He couldn’t talk and I tried my best to interpret and meet his physical and emotional needs. I felt responsible for him. Caring for his physical needs, sharing these intimate moments with my dad, who I did not feel close to for so many years, felt strange at first, but then, to my surprise, quickly became natural. I cooked nourishing food for my mother and held her when she cried. Even though my childhood was nowhere near perfect, it felt like I was able to give a little bit of nurturing back and my parents both very much appreciated my practical as well as emotional support.

THE LAST TIME

The last time I saw my dad was three weeks before he died. When we met, I somehow knew this was going to be the last time. Forever. The relationship between him and me wasn’t always the best. In our family we didn’t talk much about feelings and emotions in general. My parents had certain expectations of life and my siblings and I. However, the problem was me; I didn’t comply. I had my own ideas, I didn’t follow their hopes and dreams for me. Instead I made plans of my own. Following my dreams, my aspirations, my hopes. So, I didn’t finish university, didn’t apply for that “safe” 9 to 5 job and didn’t opt for a mortgage that would have enslaved me for the next twenty or so years.

My dad wasn’t present when I made important choices in my life, like leaving Germany. Often silence was his disapproval. He only voiced his concerns a few times, in regards to our parenting and our children’s education. In his world there was little space for alternative routes.

The very last meeting with my dad wasn’t easy. We only had one hour. One hour where his medication didn’t fog his mind, one hour where I could talk to him about us. He wasn’t able to speak but pen and paper gave him a voice, for the last time. I didn’t use our precious minutes to blame him for our difficulties. Nor did I judge him. I held his weak, cold hands – and gave love. Under tears I told him about the beautiful things he did for me. Stories about grandchildren that he hardly ever saw, and memories from my childhood – like how we went to the woods to collect mushrooms every autumn – were my last present to him. We looked in each other’s eyes – silence, tears, hugs, unspoken words, connection and love. Then he wrote a few words onto a piece of paper. His last present to me. Those incredibly heartfelt words mean a lot to me, never before had he been so open and vulnerable towards me.

I had ignored my own body’s signals for too long. The anxiety, the worries, the good and bad memories.

CLOSING A CHAPTER

Three weeks later my father died. I went back to Germany to see my mother, my sister and to fulfil my mum’s wish to say a few words at the funeral. I did my best and comforted my mother whenever I could. At the same time I believed that with the funeral and the farewell to my father, I could also close another chapter from my past and childhood. I thought I had made peace with him. However, it wasn´t going to be that easy.

Months passed and family life got busy. New jobs, moving and some other challenges were added to our daily job of parenting. Processing my father’s death, my inner wounds had no space in my mind and soul. I could feel that something wasn’t quite right with me. I started to feel unwell, tired, irritated, impatient, snappy and I had back-pains which I remember from my early twenties. At night I was tossing around or waking up shaking and sweating. Still, I kept going. To the point where I collapsed. Two days after my dad’s birthday. He would have been seventy-three.

At the hospital they couldn’t find anything. I was healthy. However, I still felt the back-pains and dizziness, so I tried my luck with an osteopath. Meeting him changed everything. I thought he would do some bone-breaking moves to get them into their right place, so I would feel better. Instead he did something so much better for me. He listened. For an hour I was just talking – about my children, my job, the changes in my life, and my dad. Subconscious and unresolved emotions and feelings made their way up and reminded me that they were still present inside.

After the long talk he examined me. I kept talking and more and more stuff was brought to the light. Again, he was listening, asking questions and taking care of me. He concluded that my breakdown was a panic attack and that I mainly needed to deal with the emotional aftermath of my father’s death and the big changes in my life. He could see some problems with the liver and subscribed supplements.

I had ignored my own body’s signals for too long. The anxiety, the worries, the good and bad memories. And I’m not alone on this ride: according to several studies, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, “long-term effects of parental loss indicate that filial bereavement can impact both mental and physical health, with men being more likely to report physical health issues.” These studies show a rise in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, especially when the person has not received enough support during their bereavement. Even though I’m not depressed and my wife had supported me well after my father had died, I still had taken too little time to grieve and take care of myself.

I decided that’s where I had to start now. I wanted to be that loving, patient, calm and empathic father again. Pushing problems aside didn’t help at all. My osteopath suggested to start writing an honest letter to my father, without caring about grammar or spelling, and knowing that nobody would ever read it. Every day. To speak about all unspoken things and to offload the heavy weightg I’ve been carrying. Then, when I think I’m done, I should forgive my father everything as I would forgive myself and finish the letter with a feeling of peace and love. Well, I’m still writing and I feel the burden getting smaller and lighter with each page I write.

For my physical health I started to do yoga and tai-chi. I love the movements and deep connection between body and mind. I feel more grounded, calm and strong again. I also keep going with sticking to a vegan diet, with the occasional treat.

Also I decided to get help from a psychotherapist. It took me a moment to get easy with that step, but I pledged to become healthy again – emotionally and physically. The wise words “if we want to take better care of our children, we have to take better care of ourselves” by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, became my mantra. I want to be the hands-on dad again who can listen with empathy and patience. This is the least I can do for my family. And, do you know what my father had written in his last few lines to me? “You have chosen your path wisely. Keep going!” Yes, dad, I will. Promise.

This article was originally published in The Green Parent.

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Environment, Guest Posts, Society

Why We All Need To Stop Worrying About Climate Change (And What To Do Instead)

I’m writing this from my little desk in my children’s ‘reading room’ (where we also keep the Xbox). I’m surrounded by their books, piled up on shelves, scattered on the floor. ‘Brave Bitsy and the Bear’ gawps at me as I tap at the keyboard and, if I glance out of the window, I can see a picture perfect view of spring in rural Cornwall.

And this morning I read about the collapse of the insect population, decimation of soil productivity and saw — for the fifth (or is it sixth?) time — someone share that post by academic Marc Doll about how woefully positive the narrative on climate change is that we’ve been given by the IPCC.

And in the room next door, my four-year-old (who wants to be a dog) and seven-year-old (who wants to be a marine biologist or live in Minecraft, I can’t be sure which) are fast asleep.


Personally speaking, it’s hard not to feel worried and stressed about climate change.

For most of the summer last year I carried round this edgy feeling, a sense I was already living in a dystopian nightmare.

Somewhere inside me I think I’d already given up. Resigned myself to the collapse of civil society and eradication of so much of life on earth.

Along with this, a sense that I’d been deeply irresponsible bringing my children into such a world.

Given that you’ve chosen to read this, I wouldn’t be surprised you have experienced or are going through something similar.

The reason I’m writing is that I feel that I’ve come to a different place with it all, and I want people to know that the narratives we’re sharing and behaviours we’re encouraging in each other are potentially working against us.

What I want to tell you might be difficult to read. It might be triggering. And if it is, that’s probably a good thing.

What I want to tell you is that the anxiety we’re producing for ourselves — while it feels very much justified — could be a symptom of everything we’ve been doing ‘wrong’ and is making things worse.

And the alternative isn’t inaction but instead wiser action.

Hear me out.

Stressing ourselves into consumption

Like me today, many of us are being constantly bombarded by facts, figures and narratives that tell us our days on earth are numbered, that it’s our fault and that it’s also largely out of our control.

This is impossible for any human being to process and still remain calm. Things that present a threat trigger us into a stressed state. When we feel helpless in the face of that threat, everything gets much worse for us.

In this stressed state we change physiologically — we become more problem-focused and look for other people or things to blame.

This is a function of our evolutionary development. In more precarious times it’s been critical in keeping us alive but in this instance it’s not helping.

When we enter this state we are incapable of thinking creatively or compassionately. We look for quick fixes, easy solutions and bad guys.

We also want to consume more. We crave salt, sugar, fat, simple carbs. We’re not hungry it’s just that our bodies are gearing up for the fight or the flight.

And as a result of these changes, in this state none of us are fit to act wisely. We haven’t got a hope of addressing complex problems or creating a future fit for everyone.

The difficulty is that in this state we feel utterly compelled to act. The function of the state is to deal with the perceived problem — to flood our bodies with stress hormones so that we can do whatever it takes to make it go away.

The sneaky thing is that we might not even realise that this is going on, because we’ve got so used to it.

It’s not just the obvious, adrenaline-infused headspins I’m talking about, triggered by a stranger shouting abuse or being chased by a dog.

What I’m seeing all around me is people operating at a low level of stress and anxiety, triggered by perpetual busyness and information overload.

It’s almost like our lives are being engineered this way. Cuts to benefits, dismantling of free healthcare, Government openly allowing the majority of wealth to be passed on to those who are already most wealthy.

And we seem to be ‘happily’ participating in making life more stressful — busying ourselves into the ground, glorying in our busyness and our achievements from it. Actively choosing to consume news that makes us angry and fearful.

This news now includes a constant feed of existential threats, taking many of us to an extreme level of baseline stress.

Given the challenge we’re facing — one that’s complex, systemic and long-term, if we carry on acting from this place we’re going to really screw it up.

Not because we’re stupid or bad, we’re just on the wrong setting.

How we got here in the first place

Climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems seem to be the result of persistent, rampant over-consumption.

This is because our modern society is a consumer society. It’s based on one simple idea: that consuming will meet your needs.

We’re educated to work, so we can earn money, so we can pay for things things so that we create jobs, so people can work… and so on.

To keep this going we’re told that if we don’t consume the products and services offered to us then life will be more uncertain and we’ll be less than we need to be — loveable, sexy, successful.

Once upon a time religion and spirituality would have played a more active role in our lives and, at its best it would have reassured us that ‘you are enough, you are loved, have faith’.

Conveniently religion has been made the enemy of rationality and the domain of nutjobs, so consumerism has helpfully stepped in to take its place and shore us all up against our insecurities.

Its message is instead: you are not enough, you are not loved, there is no reason to have faith but — lucky for you —here are some things you can buy to make you feel better.

Some of them we know are bad for us: smoking, alcohol, fatty, processed foods.

Others we think are harmless but still serve to numb us: Netflix boxsets, gym subscriptions, smartphones.

And some masquerade as the answer but are really just part of the same system — insurance policies, private healthcare and the multi-billion dollar ‘wellness’ industry.

None of these things can or will ever meet our unmet needs for love, connection or trust in the world so we continue consuming, throwing more things into the bottomless pit inside.

We try and do it consciously. New industries pop up to give us what we want without the guilt — sustainably sourced, vegan, fairtrade — but even aside from the minefield that is working out whether it’s really ‘sustainable’, it’s still built on the same system.

A system built on a disconnection from your needs, that can never leave you satisfied with who you are and the world around you.

The future is not a zero sum game

We’re being led to believe that the society we’ve built has to ‘collapse’ if we’re to save the world.

The message is that all the things you rely on to keep you safe: jobs, booze, Netflix, specialty coffee, vegan sausage rolls (etc) are no longer part of a viable future fit for everyone.

The sense is that when these things disappear, life will be unbearable. That we’re going to turn on each other.

We’re presented with a binary choice — save the planet and live a miserable existence, or accept that some populations (plant, animal, human) will have to act as collateral damage to ensure a quality of life that vaguely resembles our current one.

I believed this until a good friend of mine, Charles Davies, said:

And I thought: Dammit, he’s right.

We’re being fed — and feeding each other— a lie.

The lie is not that we won’t have to radically change the way we live, or that many people (some of the most vulnerable) will experience severe economic hardship and loss.

The lie is that the future *has* to be worse than the present from the perspective of human experience.

The lie is that letting go of our current way of living is a bad thing.

How about we dismantle that lie?

In my experience we seem to be more unhappy than ever before. More physically and mentally ill. More divided than ever. More stressed about our impact on the world.

And yet we are told that taking apart the trappings of the world that create these outcomes is a bad thing.

We tell each other almost gleefully: you need to be scared! This way of life we have can’t go on!

Be scared? Who on earth wants this way of life to go on??

Our current model of relating and cooperating is built on a model of disconnection.

Educated and co-erced into disconnecting from our needs in order to be good participants in a consumer society.

And (as I was reminded in a conversation Brendan Montague, Editor of the Ecologist website) that it’s this disconnection from ourselves that leads to the disconnection from each other that in turn leads to disconnection from our environment — which is the only thing that has enabled us to create the extractive, destructive system we have in place.

Disconnected from your needs. Seeing others as threats or problems to be dealt with. Walking around with a tightness in your chest because you feel the world our kids are growing up in is being trashed.

Numbing ourselves with dopamine hits from glass screens between consuming things we don’t need to make ourselves feel semi-satisfied for five minutes.

No. What meets our needs is connection.

Connection to ourselves, to others and the world around us.

Feeling at home in our own skin, having meaningful relationships and being friendly with our neighbours. Creating things that feel like they matter, with like-minded people. Being in natural environments, caring for living things.

These are what help us sleep at night, that make us feel whole.

They are also the enemy of consumer society, which is why it’s evolved to reduce their prevalence in our lives.

When we get these needs met we stop throwing endless consumer products, services and experiences into the void that can’t be filled.

And when we stop doing that, we start creating a different kind of world together.

I’m not saying that we don’t also need to make clear and difficult choices about the lives we live.

Personally I turned down two jobs last year because they were with companies that were involved in promoting consumerism in an active way.

I’m self-employed and so is my partner. I earn nearly half of what I did a few years ago working in take-every-job-that-comes-along-regardless-of-what-they-do-because-I-am-a-freelancer mode.

We don’t always meet our overheads. It can seem pretty precarious (financially speaking) at times.

But two things make this a choice that I can stand firm with.

Firstly, this way of life has put me firmly back in the role of active parent and community member. I’m more available for my kids, I’m more involved in their lives. I volunteer at the local school and I help to run wilderness sessions for Dads and kids some weekends.

Nothing money could buy will give me what this gives me.

Secondly, I have found that in order to do anything different requires me to disconnect from my needs again. It takes a kind of energy that I’m no longer willing to spend. My kids and my neighbours can have that instead.

I’m not for a second judging anyone else’s choices. We’re all doing the best we can to get our needs met. There are reasons I’m able to do this and others might not, and there are many (many) things about my life which I know are very unsound, ecologically speaking.

Away from stress, towards connection

Given all this, ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘green new deals’ will never offer the solution we need if they are built on the fundamental idea of citizen is as consumer, working to earn, earning to spend, spending to consume etc.

I think the fundamental answer lies instead in rebuilding our lives around connection.

And this has to start with coming down from our persistent, stressed state.

If we are facing complex, systemic challenges we need to be able to bring our full capacity and creativity.

We need to be able to see and hold multiple perspectives, cross divides and have healthy conflict.

None of this is possible if we continue to stoke the fires of stress and anxiety in ourselves and each other.

My invitation is to recognise that any time you’re looking for quick solutions, or people to blame that you’ve lost your way.

To see that looking after your mental health, staying calm, being open-hearted is the most subversive act of our time.

Recognise that if you would love other people to live in a certain way or see the world from a different perspective, this is only going to happen if they sense you’re not judging them to be wrong.

Know that the thing that’s most firmly under your control is how you show up for your children, your neighbours and your wider community.

This rules nothing out — from this place we can still protest, dismantle, subvert.

You might still feel this is far too measured: “There’s a fight on our hands — a fight for our children’s future! How can you be so irresponsible?”

As a martial artist, ex-doorman and someone who’s been in a few violent confrontations I can tell you with certainty that if there is a fight, it’s not the angry, anxious person who wins.

It’s the person who is very, very calm. Who is totally present and has no sense of wanting to hurt you. They are very comfortable using whatever means necessary but without malice or pleasure, simply because it gets everyone to a better place.

It’s already happening

I can already see a growing recognition that connection, inclusion, creativity and celebration are the keys to a genuinely better future.

You can see it in the best of the climate protests — garden bridges, calm nonviolent protest , dancing police officers.

And in the growing popularity of secular spiritualism and spaces for new ways of relating (like circling and real relating).

People are slowly but steadily finding that their real needs are met more consistently in self-awareness and relationship than they are in quick fix consumption.

We can’t all join a five-day protest and we’re not all ready to sit in a circle and talk about our feelings but that’s not what’s being asked of us.

The invitation is to start building the new society from inside each of us.

Resisting the urge of distraction and consumption, rejecting the voices (inside and out) calling for us to divide ourselves, not taking in any more information that will stress us out.

Instead showing up to each conversation with family, neighbours and community with genuine willingness to engage in something different, knowing that it’s one of the most likely paths to a better future.

To be a calm, loving human, raising calm, loving kids (if you have them) and fostering a calm, loving society.

Even if that means dismantling a load of stuff in the process.


My name is 
Max. I show people how to listen to their needs, realise their ideas and deal with all the conflict that shows up in their lives with skill and ease. I do this from my smallholding in the rural Southwest of the UK.

About Max St John:

Showing people the way home by connecting to what’s there and working with what is. Get clear, fight well, move naturally. www.maxstjohn.com


This article was originally posted here

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Believe Me: Our Parenting Will Bring The Change!

Some people turn to me and say with a serious face that times are dark and quite hopeless. Wherever you look on our globe, you see aggressive people ruling countries, old conflicts breaking out again, mass-shootings in schools and churches, men in politics, media, clerical institutions and – well basically everywhere – found guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Being harsh, loud and careless is seen as a sign for self-confidence and prerequisites for economic success and peer recognition. The white man over 50 is still in power and barks his orders and commands via 280 characters into the world. 280 characters don’t allow much space for deep conversations, emotions or reflections. Whoever doesn’t fit this old-new picture is marginalised: gay, black, a cry-baby, a softy. Man-up. Don’t be such a girl. Yesterday’s old fashion is the new.

I don’t buy it.

“How much evil throughout history could have been avoided had people exercised their moral acuity with convictional courage and said to the powers that be ‘No, I will not. This is wrong, and I don’t care if you fire me, shoot me, pass me over for promotion, or call my mother, I will not participate in this unsavory activity.’ Wouldn’t world history be rewritten if just a few people had actually acted like individual free agents rather than mindless lemmings?”

Joel Salatin, an American farmer, lecturer and author, said this, not me.

I don’t expect you to get shot, to kill No. 45 or to start a world revolution. And, yes, we all need jobs to pay our bills. But, hey, you can choose your place of work and not sell yourself to evil Nestlé. And there are many other choices YOU can make: voting, telling the world what you think, buying/not buying, doing your own research, questioning authorities… the list could go on. You’re much bigger and more important than you think. Use this power.

The world seems darker than… well, since when actually? Are we really facing a new dark age or is it just Rupert Murdoch and his golfer friends who vomit their manufactured realities into our faces – 24/7 and worldwide?

I don’t think we’re doomed. Yes, there are countless challenges waiting for us to be solved through amazing solutions. I don’t have all the answers right now but there is plenty of hope that humankind will find its balance with nature and Mother Earth. I believe in a future of peace, equality and solidarity. We’re the generation of transition. Transition from the old world, the world of war, aggression and ego, into a new world of empathy, kindness and care.

You and I were probably not parented in the most peaceful way. That’s how it was. I imagine our parents tried their best, but they came from a generation with even more violence, bribes and punishments. And they had far less research and help available than nowadays. No blaming, no shaming from me – just reflecting and thinking how we can improve.

We – our generation – have the ultimate chance to get it right. We can change current moods  around, we can help our children to find the answers and solutions, to equip them with skills in becoming humans in the full meaning of that word . Yes, we have to work damn hard to get there, set-backs and disappointments included. Good parenting, I believe, is here and now the most important job to set a strong foundation for tomorrow’s life.

Gentle, peaceful parenting is the way: respecting our offspring from the moment they enter life. Whatever your children do, stay connected. Be the best role model you can possibly be – the way YOU treat your kids, your partner, friends, neighbours and other people will have a great impact on how your children will see their world and learn life and social skills. Speak with respect, listen without judging, see the possibilities and support their dreams – regardless of gender or age. Help, show kindness and care wherever you can. Switch off violent and negative news (or at least reduce your intake on news). Be authentic, be human. Apologise and hug. Love and cry. Plant trees, run through the woods, paint rainbows, buy some organic veggies from your local shop and dance salsa – do whatever brings happiness to you and your children. Open your heart and mind.

We have choices. We have skills. We have voices. We are not alone. Let’s start. Let’s unlock the chains. We hold the keys in our hands.

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

My Fighting Boys Needed This Help To Reconnect

Over the last few days my two sons, 9 and 6 years old, were fighting with each other – and I don’t mean the kind of normal arguments between siblings. Shouting, screaming, banging doors, accusing, teasing and also physical aggression between them became their way of communicating. My wife and I tried a lot: we spent more time than usual with them individually. We talked, negotiated, guided, listened and supported whenever possible. Nothing seemed to work. The fighting got worse – to the point that they would really physically hurt each other. You know how painful it is to watch that?

Yesterday morning I called for a family meeting to tackle the issues. We all sat down in a circle. I guess my boys expected from their parents a lecture about their behaviour. So they sat with little interest and the typical let’s-finish-this-quickly-facial-expression in front of us. But I didn’t meet their expectations.

Instead I started our meeting with opening my heart and saying words of appreciation to them: “I feel a lot of happiness when I see you caring for your brother and sister. There are so many beautiful things you did to help them!” – And to my other son: “You are always so happy and bring laughter and joy to our family. You show so much kindness and care when you see someone being sad or lonely. Thank you!”

After our words-of-appreciation warm-up we talked long and intensely about the events of the last days. We reflected, listened and connected. We brought some issues to the light, but it wasn’t easy at all and in between I felt that we’re not getting close to a solution. Well, not yet.

Before we finished the meeting I asked both my boys if they could think of three actions they would do in favour for their brother. Three kind actions a day, at least. It could be anything: kind words, an invitation to a game, reading a story to the other one… something to bring joy. My suggestion didn’t go down that easily, unfortunately. I didn’t want it to be a burden for them either. So, I left the topic unfinished. With a more or less heavy heart we carried on with our daily routine.

But what I noticed shortly after the meeting was a change. My sons spent their day together with a lot of playing, supporting each other (like in the old days) and laughing. Whenever I could I joined their fun and listened to their adventures. In the evening, on the sofa, I talked to my eldest again. He was asking about my suggestion from the morning. At first he seemed skeptical and discouraged. Why should he do three (!!!) things for his brother? That annoying, irritating brother! Hey, boy, your brother is awesome. You feel irritated or annoyed? Those are YOUR feelings, your thoughts and it got nothing to do with him. He tries his very best as you do. As we all do. “Really??” – can I read in his face. Really!

After a long talk about kindness, brotherhood and love, he turned to me and said: “Papa, tomorrow I’ll try that. I’ll see whether I can do one thing, or even more, for my brother!” What a great and warm promise. Even if you don’t get there my son, you are willing to try.

And you know what? Today I didn’t say anything. I just watched. I just listened. I was present. And they both took care of each other, and their little sister, that my heart melted. I saw kindness, I felt the bonding and I could hear the fire of excitement. So much love. So much connection. Thank you boys!

Guest Posts, Society

An Open Letter to My Daughter Gracelyn in the Era of Donald Trump

Dear Gracelyn,

Today I write this letter to you so that you might better understand the tumultuous transformation that’s currently underway in our nation. For while your mother Shonnie and I are doing our best during your childhood to shelter you from adult concerns, I’m guessing that you sense a disturbance in the Force.

As you know, we have elected Donald Trump as our president. I believe Trump is unworthy of the office. He behaves like a spoiled schoolyard bully; he puts himself and his needs before all others; he refuses responsibility for his actions; he says hurtful things about women, people of color, those with disabilities, people from other countries, and anyone who disagrees with him. He even said it’s OK for someone to objectify his own daughter and speak about her in a disrespectful and demeaning manner.

In response to the mean-spirited actions of our president and some of our other so-called leaders, millions of Americans, including your mom Shonnie and me, are taking action—calling and writing our elected representatives, attending mass marches, organizing to elect worthy candidates, and more—to help create a more loving, fair, and eco-friendly society. And we are doing our best to discern how to be with you and how best to prepare you for life in times such as these.

First of all, we will strive to demonstrate love, partnership, sharing, and being good community members by how your mother and I live our lives. We’ll also do our best to get out of your way so that Gracelyn can be Gracelyn, so that you can dive headlong into life and live it exactly as you see fit. We will make it clear that you have our blessing whatever passion you follow—art, ballet, Wild Kratts, rock hound, yoga, the Moana movie, or music—and whatever work you later choose—brain surgeon, teacher, artist, corporate CEO, dancer, parent, accountant, writer, surfer, or any other. Whatever your choices, we will support you and give you our steadfast love.

You are perfect exactly as you are. And, you possess all the inherent qualities you need to live a full and fulfilling life—authenticity, personal power, creativity, curiosity, courage, compassion, persistence, resilience, and a spirited sense of humor. Regardless of what’s going on around you, never doubt that you can create exactly the life you desire.

A new day is coming, sweet girl. As the author and activist Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” And you can help bring this day into being, by the way you are—with yourself, with others, with every living thing.

I deeply respect who you are and what you’re about in the world, Gracelyn. Your innate wisdom, kindness, and sense of justice help sustain my hope for the future. One final pledge: Please know deep in your heart that your mother and I will always love you, all ways, no matter what!

Your dad,

Bruce

The letter was originally published in the June 2017 issue of WNC Woman and here.

Bruce Mulkey is an essayist and author from Asheville, North Carolina. He has previously contributed to WNC Woman’s Y-chromosome issue and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, and The Good Men Project. He currently spends much of his time writing his memoir (A Tale of Two Fathers: The Memoir of One Man and His Two Daughters Born 42 Years Apart), playing handball, trail running with his wife Shonnie, and doing his best to keep up with a high-spirited six-year-old on the meandering footpaths of the Appalachians. Learn more at brucemulkey.com

 

 

Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

4 Things Dads Should Teach Their Daughters About Balancing Health & Beauty

4-things-dads-should-teach-their-daughters-about-balancing-health-beauty
A Guest Post by Tyler Jacobson

I was going through Pinterest one day, and I noticed something. The website, which is traditionally most popular with women, was full of photos depicting other women who fit the average supermodel physique. Glancing down at the titles of the pin boards they were placed in, I saw titles like ‘Thinspiration’, ‘Fitspo’, and ‘Goals <3<3’.

What first hit me hard was thinking of my wife. I wondered if on her Pinterest account, or perhaps any other, she might have similar boards. If she filled galleries with photomanipulated images of alleged perfection, pitting her own image against those of what we have been pushed to believe is the ideal. The very idea that she may have fallen victim to such thoughts, this beautiful, perfect woman I loved, broke my heart.

But then, a much darker thought occurred to me: little girls are seeing these same messages. Looking at a couple of the boards confirmed that at least some of them were no more than teenagers. And in the descriptions of each image were phrases like, “How I want to look by next summer”, or “I need to stop being so fat.”

What are we teaching our young girls? How many of our daughters are suffering under the same negative sense of self, and how many will grow up to be women facing the same self-hatred?

Being Proactive: Teaching Our Daughter’s Balance

The solution, I truly believe, begins at home. It is too easy as a father to take a backseat with daughters, leaving the majority of lessons to come from their mother. While not a conscious decision for many of us, it just feels more natural to split the parenting between genders. Who would know better what a young girl goes through than their mother?

But this is a view to be overcome. Fathers have just as much responsibility as mothers to help teach their children (all of their children) to love and respect themselves. On the topic of finding balance between health and beauty, that effort is all the more crucial.

Our girls are living in a time where everything from their phones to their computer screens are bombarding them with messages about what is normal, beautiful, and a goal to achieve. We have to be there to teach them the reality, and to foster a sense of acceptance and self-love based around who they are.

These are four lessons that I feel are our responsibility as fathers to help teach our daughters about health and beauty.

Lesson #1: The Media Lies

Looking through those images on Pinterest, it is plain to see that they are unrealistic. It isn’t a problem isolated to social media, either. Just typing ‘Photoshop in magazines’ into Google will show you the ridiculous ways the media will manipulate photos into fitting an ideal that no one is capable of reaching in real life.

That picture of Taylor Swift that your daughter is staring at, wishing she matched up? Everything from the clearness to her skin to the size of her thighs have been altered with software. And that is after all of the makeup, corsets, careful posing, and lights have been added to hide “imperfections” spotted by the photographer.

Lessons #2: There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Body Type

There is no “right size” for a human being. Some women are tall or short, heavy or slender, stocky or petite. The world is full of all types, and all types are beautiful in their own right. What it doesn’t show is what is inside that person, the things they are capable of doing, the strength or limits of their bodies.

We have to get away from this concept of an ideal. It is individuality that makes someone stand out, not conformity to a clothing size. If we teach our daughters that their worth isn’t related to their frame, and that they are worthy of respect no matter their type of build, we can steer the conversation to more productive avenues, such as their interests, talents, and achievements.

Lesson #3: Health Is a Holistic Process

Health isn’t all about weight. It isn’t even all about the body. Health is a holistic issue, which means it is the combination of all factors that make up a whole person.

You are truly healthy when your body is nourished and cared for, your mind is calm and strong, and your emotions and stable and happy. At least when they are those things most of the time…we all have bad days.

Lesson #4: Self Image Is The Most Important Image

It is impossible to ignore what people think of us all the time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to show our girls that the real opinion that matters is their own. Sure, someone might say they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, not have clear enough skin. Who cares?

As long as they can look at themselves and see that they are healthy, happy people with their own skills, talents, personality and qualities (both good and bad), we have done well as parents. A measured and largely positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

Our Mission Is To Save Our Daughters

Girls face constant examination, ridicule, and an unfair standard that is hard to understand as men. We are rarely confronted with the same standards, and so it is easy to forget the stress being put on their self-esteem.

As fathers, it is our job to help put a buffer between our children and these false images of perfection. We have to teach them to be happy with themselves, and to see the beauty in their individuality. To show them that it is health that matters, not waist size, or how thick their eyelashes are.

If we can show our girls that they are smart, strong, fun, and healthy, we can change a culture that is designed to hurt them. That sees well worth the effort.

 

tyler-jacobson-large-squareTyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teens and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys.

Connect with Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin
(Images provided by Shutterstock and Tyler Jacobson)