midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “father-son relationship”

What Brown Can Do for Me

What can Brown do for me?

Brown can hire my son and give him real-world, corporate, big-business experience in his chosen  field in college; offer him a sturdy rung on the base of the career ladder; teach him about the discipline, responsibility, accountability, integrity, honesty, Daniel_UPSteamwork and communications that comprise effective work environments; play a role in his maturation; and help him build a financial nest egg before launch into the adult world, all while he is still a teenager. That’s what Brown can do for me – and my 19-year-old son Daniel.

After years of watching United Parcel Service’s (UPS) television ads asking, “What can Brown do for you?” and seeing the brown vans with the brown-clad delivery personnel rolling through my neighborhood, I never expected that the world’s largest package delivery company and provider of supply chain management solutions would be hiring my son as a college freshman to assist with its information technology and data management operations.

For some time as a high school senior, Daniel seemed indifferent about work. But he made a 180-degree turn in his attitude, initiative and motivation, without undue parental pressure or requirements.

He started during his senior year in high school as a restaurant worker, preparing food and grilling in the kitchen and helping customers behind the service counter. To my surprise, he chose to maintain his job after enrolling as a freshman at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), even though his employer was 30 minutes away from campus. He kept that job for nearly his entire freshman year.

In his freshman spring semester, Daniel, a computer science major, attended a job fair on campus, connecting with UPS, which hired him as an intern. Among the benefits of an internship at UPS are that the position is paid, and it lasts more than a semester, or even a year. UPS’s internship can last throughout a college career, as the company uses its internship program as a recruitment tool for grooming future full-time employees.

Of course, since Daniel is a computer science major taking a full load of computer systems, math, informatics and science courses, and I am a liberal arts major who has worked in journalism, public relations and the social sciences, I have a hard time understanding what he is doing day-to-day.

But this is what I got from his description: Daniel works in the world of Big Data, which Wikipedia describes as “data sets that are so large and complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate,” and includes challenges such as capturing data, data storage, data analysis, search, sharing, and other functions. As someone who is perplexed by Small Data, I am quite impressed.

As Daniel describes it, he is an application developer who deals in the areas of customer engagement and quality control. He tracks and monitors UPS data centers and deals with code that helps keep track of data. He helps ensure that UPS’s delivery technology is working for its customers. He is a trouble-shooter.

As a father, I am proud and gratified to see my son holding down a professional job, working as a colleague with adults, becoming more independent, developing a work ethic, learning the value of earning a living and of saving for the future, investing in himself, juggling work and school, and evaluating through experience what he would like to do with his career before he is tossed into “the real world.”

Many young adults wind up directionless in their 20s, and squander precious time trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to identify interests and passions, and how those can translate to making a living, or in working in dead-end jobs in which they have little interest or future. I know a few fathers whose sons have dealt with these challenges, and both the fathers and sons have had difficult times as a result, both as individuals and in their relationships.

So what can Brown do for me? Quite simply, it is helping my son get a good start on his adult life, which brings me peace of mind. And that’s invaluable for a parent.

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Guitar Hero

Guitar-MusicStand (2)At neighborhood events, I often see my former guitar teacher, my neighbor who has a guitar studio within walking distance where I once took lessons. And then, inevitably, a wave of regret and guilt washes over me.

I feel compelled to tell him every time that though it seems like I quit, that I really haven’t. No, not me, no quit in this mule. I haven’t given up, at least not in my mind. I’m just on a long, long hiatus. He humors me and listens, probably thinking, “Yeah, sure, I’ve heard that line before.” But I’m serious.

I’d love to be able to play guitar well. I surf YouTube videos of guitar performances and marvel at the seeming ease with which the musicians strum and pick, no need for sheet music. What a thrill it would be, I imagine, to play some kick-ass rock song before an audience with both hands working instinctively to reach the right notes and chords.

But that’s skipping right over those pesky factors of study, practice and work, the disciplines required to develop a skill, no matter if one is highly or modestly talented. Author Malcolm Gladwell promotes the “10,000 Hour Rule,” stating that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required even by the most talented to become truly masterful at a craft or skill. At the one studio recital sponsored by my teacher in which I performed, I verged on Choke City, getting through my piece shakily.

My original inspiration to pick up the guitar goes back 25 years. I had a friend who took guitar lessons. It struck me that I was missing out by not being able to play a musical instrument. I regretted quitting the clarinet as a kid after playing through 6th grade. Music is one of those things that’s easier to learn as a child than as an adult. I remember playing in the Holiday concert and feeling like I had the songs mastered.

I quit playing in school mostly because I didn’t like having to carry the instrument back and forth. Lame excuse, but my parents didn’t force me to continue.

A decade after my friend introduced me to the idea, a colleague’s husband donated guitar lessons for a fundraiser auction. I bid and won the lessons, and stayed on as a student for several months. But then the usual excuses intervened — work, time constraints, two young kids, a 30-minute trip to the teacher’s house — and I stopped. Not quit. Stopped temporarily. Someday, I vowed, I would pick it up again.

Flash forward eight more years. When we discovered we lived in a guitar teacher’s neighborhood, we signed up my 12-year-old son Daniel for lessons. Aha, a chance for redemption! Soon after, I signed up as well.

It was clear Daniel had more aptitude than me, and/or his youth enabled him to develop skills faster. He performed at several recitals, and skillfully played more complex pieces than I could master. As it turns out, college freshman Daniel is strong in math and computer science, disciplines that emphasize patterns, sequences and intervals, and have correlations to music. But he lacked passion and commitment. He didn’t want to practice, and though I encouraged him, I didn’t force him.

About 18 months into his lessons, he announced he wanted to quit. As much as I tried to convince him about his high talent level, and the opportunities he could have if he continued progressing, it didn’t change his mind. It was like having a conversation with the young me, determined to quit the clarinet because I couldn’t envision the benefits. I hope Daniel returns to guitar some day on his own desire. The talent is there.

I continued with the semi-monthly lessons until the night nearly five years ago when I broke my leg in a soccer game. I had become proficient enough to play a book of 20 Easy Pop Melodies by bands such as the Beatles, Rod Stewart and Kansas, just for fun. But I discontinued lessons during my recovery, and lost motivation to practice as a situational depression set in. I never got back to it. I had just started my 5 1/2 year run in a graduate program, and, you know…the usual excuses.

I still have my guitar — actually, Daniel’s guitar — and the lesson and song books. I took the guitar to the beach last summer for my seasonal gig teaching tennis, vowing to pick it up again. But the guitar stayed in its case.

Practicing an instrument is something like exercising. The hardest thing about running for me is stepping out the door. With guitar, it’s putting the music sheet on the stand and taking the guitar out of the case.

April 26, 2017 marks the five-year anniversary of my broken leg and surgery, which signaled the end of my guitar progress. It would be a good day to take the guitar out of its case again. I haven’t quit. I’m just waiting for the right time — any time except the 12th of Never.

 

(Not) A Chip off the Old Block

Academically, my son Daniel doesn’t take after me – except for the fact that we have each attended college. And in today’s increasingly specialized and technological economy and job market, I’d say that’s good for him.

As a freshman computer science major and bioinformatics minor, Daniel is taking a heavy dose of computer programming, biology, statistics and math. I predict he will separate DanAdam2_PotomacHallhimself from the masses who hold college degrees, which no longer guarantee entry into the professional world, by going the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) route and will find himself in demand in the job market. No post-college Parental Unit Domicile (PUD) basement-dwelling likely or necessary for him!

I, on the other hand, took an occasional math or science course three decades ago at my liberal arts college – only enough to meet the requirements to graduate – and overdosed on philosophy, history, political science, economics and English courses, emerging with a smorgasbord-style International Relations degree that led to nothing in particular.

But in that era, being a generalist with a broad liberal arts education could still work as a professional launching pad for many occupations. It’s not that it can’t work today, but it just appears harder.

Industries can be more selective in hiring graduates who more closely fit the profile for their jobs based on their degrees, internship experiences and technical and industry-specific knowledge. Those without more targeted, specialized and immediately marketable degrees will flood the “generalist” markets, like education, communications, sales, fundraising and social services, creating the immense competition that has left many college graduates on the sidelines.

While teaching tennis at an beach resort last summer in the midst of my career transition to counseling, I talked with a doctor at Minnesota’s renowned Mayo Clinic after a tennis clinic. His wife also was a physician. He had two kids in college, and explained his parenting philosophy about his kids’ college education. He did not take a laissez faire approach, like many parents who allow their kids to “find themselves” – or not – by experimenting and dabbling with a variety of subjects with no clear idea of where they were heading. Guessing and floundering, and possibly wasting time and money, was not acceptable, he emphasized. If his kids were going to attend college, he demanded that they have “skin in the game” and demonstrate a well-thought out plan outlining what they would study, and how their field of study would lead to a career path and jobs immediately after college, based on real-world economic and occupational data. Otherwise, the parental money pipeline would be disconnected.

It made sense to me. And immediately after my discussion with the doctor, I was struck by pangs of guilt: My daughter Rebecca was about to enter her senior year of college as a liberal arts major – sociology and French minor – and I had never really had that practical conversation with her about the real-world application of her college pursuits. I was the laissez faire parent!

That’s not necessarily a bad approach. There’s value in allowing your kids to make their own decisions, find their interests and passions on their own, and take responsibility for the outcomes. Parents foisting their own interests, desires and fears upon their kids to either force or influence them to take a certain path rarely works – at least not over the long haul – and typically ends in resentment. But I still felt remiss about possibly leaving Rebecca unprepared for a world that can be callous and crush souls.

So I called Rebecca that August day, knowing that merely mentioning the idea of developing a plan for her post-college life early in her senior year could ratchet up her stress level. She assured me that she was considering various ideas and researching careers, and that she wasn’t approaching her pending graduation flippantly.

That was enough for me. I could check off the Parental Duty box next to “Advise Child of Importance of College Choices.” I’ve never been a hard-ass parent. I have confidence Rebecca will find her way, just like I do with Daniel. And even though their career paths will be different, I’m glad both will be making their decisions based on what they want to do, not based on my ideas of what they should do or on pursuing a path based on fear that they won’t succeed. Because they will succeed if they have the desire and interest.

There are no strings attached to my investment in their college educations. I’ll guide where I can and when and if I’m asked. Otherwise, they’re on their own, and I know that’s the way they want it.

Learning the Value of Work, Intrinsic Motivation

I put on a jacket I hadn’t worn in nine months, stuck my hand in the pocket and pulled out a forgotten, folded paper. It was a job application form that hadn’t been filled out for Grotto Pizza, a popular chain in Delaware beach towns that recently expanded into our Maryland suburb. My find triggered the memory of a conversation my wife Amy and I had with our son Daniel in the car on our way to dinner at the pizza chain where I had picked up the application.

The gist of the conversation that March 2016 evening was that we expected Daniel to work after he graduated high school later that spring. I advised that the new pizza restaurant was looking for employees and recommended he fill out an application. Daniel expressed resistance to working – or perhaps just to me suggesting where he should work or what he should do – advocating for a last summer before college of doing whatever he wanted.danielshophouse

It got a little tense before we got to the restaurant, Amy and I frustrated at Daniel’s nonchalant attitude toward working and earning money for himself. We were concerned about him adopting an attitude of privilege. For a couple of years, I had recommended to Daniel that he get certified as a lifeguard because we live in a community with 23 pools, or that he work at a summer camp. But he didn’t take up my suggestions. Lifeguarding would be boring, and he didn’t want to deal with younger kids, he said.

So imagine my surprise when a month after our frustrating conversation, Daniel announced that he had found a job opening on his own and had an interview scheduled at Shophouse, the Asian equivalent of Chipotle Mexican Grill, also owned by Chipotle. He had two interviews, including a group interview with the whole staff to evaluate whether he would fit in, and got the job.

A second surprise came at the end of summer 2016. Daniel easily could have decided it was nice having his first work experience, but he was done with that chapter and on his way to college. Instead, he decided he would keep his job while going to school.

He has been like a utility infielder at Shophouse, working the grill, preparing food, explaining the menu and serving food on the line to customers, and operating as cashier. He is working his way to a promotion to kitchen manager. I dropped in one night recently for dinner, where he made me a chicken with peanut sauce bowl. I watched him serve customers, thinking he had come a long way in working with adults and learning about the responsibilities of a job.

He is developing a good work ethic, always arriving to work on time, doing whatever he is asked to do and embracing the team concept of his employer. He also is learning about saving and the value of money, spending on things that are important to him but saving most of what he earns for the future. He earned straight A’s during his first semester of college while holding down his job.

I am proud of the way Daniel has embraced his job and the pride he shows in his work and earning his own way, while juggling a rigorous academic load. I am cheered that he is learning about the concepts of individual responsibility, quality of work, working as part of a team and his ability to direct his life with his choices, work ethic and attitude. He already has started applying for summer internship jobs in computer science, his chosen field. His self-motivation has blossomed.

Several times with my kids, they have gone on to do things I had wanted and encouraged them to do, but they did it on their own and in their own way and time, not in direct response to or because of my nudging or urging, or so it has seemed, though maybe my fatherly advice and wisdom had an influence. I’ve always told my kids that it is preferable when they do things out of intrinsic motivation – based on their own desires and interests – rather than out of extrinsic motivation, such as pleasing their parents and getting the old fogies off their backs. I’m glad they are learning this lifelong lesson, as Daniel’s employment endeavor indicates.

Father Knows Best: A Tale of Political Nepotism & Campaign Finance Chicanery

My first-person account of my run for public office — the narrative nonfiction book Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics — is replete with examples of corruption, malfeasance, deception, power plays, lust, shenanigans, shell games and other mechanisms that help office holders keep their buckets full and padlock the iron gates against intruders.

Here’s another political power tale that didn’t make the cut for the book from Sirenian Publishing, but includes some of the elements and may be added:

[NOTE: Names have been changed. Facts haven’t]

Shenanigans Galore

For a campaign story that contains multiple political shenanigans rolled into one endeavor — nepotism, cronyism, money shell games, political dynasties and bosses, powerful slates created to enrich one candidate, muddled, misdirected or deceptive fundraising requests, fatherknowsbestcoyness about poorly concealed political intentions – look no further than the Orlovski family from Dundalk, a blue-collar community neighboring Baltimore known for its brick row houses and supplying labor to the once-thriving, now defunct Bethlehem Steel plant and shipbuilding yard. Dundalk’s population decreased 27 percent over a 30-year period, tracking the decline of its lifeblood industries.

Dundalk is the type of place known for spawning old-style, pro-labor Chicago-like political bosses who dominate the landscape, strangle power like a World Wrestling Entertainment chokehold and determine who will rise to join the elite club, one that apparently commonly includes members with the “Jr.” suffix. After a half-century of rule, octogenarian Maryland Senator Marvin Rockledge, Jr. of Dundalk announced in 2013 it was time to leave the state legislature after 52 years and 13 consecutive terms. A media report said Rockledge rose to power after joining a local Democratic political club and getting a request (or a non-negotiable order?) from a club political boss known as “Iron Mike” to run for state delegate.

Family Dynasty

Rockledge didn’t leave the legislature empty-handed; he descended from the throne holding hands with Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., throwing his support to his hoped-for successor at Orlovski’s fundraiser and Senate announcement event the day after Rockledge made his retirement intentions known.

Orlovski, Jr. had a valuable political boss in his corner: his father, Jimmy Orlovski, Sr., a four-term Baltimore County Council member. Certainly, the senior Orlovski’s status as the east-side’s leader in the 800,000-population county surrounding Baltimore had something to do with Jimmy Orlovski, Jr. being appointed in 2006 to fill a vacated Maryland delegate seat at the tender age of 23, a year after starting a teaching career.

Later that year, young Jimmy won election to the Maryland House in his own right, and was re-elected in 2010. As it became clear that the aging Rockledge was on his last legs as Eastern Baltimore County’s state senator, the money shell game involving new political slates with altruistic-sounding monikers and influential, well-heeled politicians began.

Money Shell Game

First, Baltimore County Executive and rumored 2018 Maryland governor candidate David Denison transferred more than $100,000 from his campaign account to A Better Baltimore County Slate in early 2013. Members of that slate included Denison, Jimmy Orlovski, Sr. and two other local politicians.

Around the same time, another similar-sounding slate – Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate – was established. That slate was comprised of the Orlovski father-son duo and three other local candidates.

Then, in early 2014, A Better Baltimore County Slate transferred $90,000 to the campaign account of Orlovski, Sr., even though he had announced he was retiring from the Baltimore County Council. So, in essence, Denison had given Orlovski, Sr., who had previously campaigned for Denison, a huge pot with which to play kingmaker by redistributing to other preferred candidates on his way out of office.

For some reason, Orlovski, Sr. held on to that $90,000 gift, which, when combined with his existing campaign fund, armed him with nearly $200,000 heading into an election in which he was not running. He gave sparingly to several Baltimore County Leadership Fund candidates during the 2014 election cycle, keeping his own account stout.

Perhaps that was because son Jimmy Orlovski, Jr. already was flush with cash and was running against a pauper Republican candidate that the political news outlet Center Maryland called a “non-entity” in a Democrat-dominated district that had elected the same Democrat to the state Senate since the 1960s.

Perhaps it was overconfidence – or a case of political hubris. But there must have seemed no way Billy Roy Townley, a former steel worker for more than 30 years with no political experience whose bio said only “attended” – not graduated – high school could defeat the two-term delegate Orlovski, Jr., an educator pursuing his doctorate in public policy who had already risen to chairman of Baltimore County’s House Delegation in the Maryland legislature and whose father was the widely-known, influential politician at the county level.

Money No Match for Anger

Jimmy Jr. outspent Townley by 20 to 1 in the election year — $242,000 to $12,000 – and, stunningly, lost, apparently the victim of the region’s shrinking Democratic labor vote and the trend of struggling, angry white working class voters bucking The Establishment and changing allegiances, the kind of surge that two years later powered Republican Donald Trump to the presidency.

Orlovski, Jr. “ran into a buzz saw of discontent in Dundalk, where voters were apparently sick of the three Os: the Orlovskis, [Maryland Governor Martin] O’Malley and Obama,” the Baltimore Sun analyzed.

Jimmy Jr., an acknowledged rising star among Democrats with all the insider connections, was unceremoniously tossed out, replaced by a political nobody, an outsider whose only listed credentials included membership in United Steel Workers of America and the Dundalk Moose Lodge, and service as a deacon and choir singer at the local Baptist church.

I can only imagine the Orlovskis incredulity at the family dinner table. The burgeoning family political dynasty upended by a career lunch-bucket steelworker who might not even have held his high school General Equivalency Diploma (GED)? Perhaps Pops should have slid Sonny an extra $100,000 through a slate financing scheme before the election so Jimmy Jr. could have enjoyed a 30 to 1 spending advantage. But in politics, as in baseball, there’s always next year.

Follow the Bouncing Dollar Bill

It didn’t take long for the Orlovskis to jump-start a revival for Jimmy Jr.’s now-moribund political career. A month after the November 2014 election fiasco, the Orlovski duo began fueling the family’s political rebirth. Just follow the bouncing dollar bill:

Jimmy Sr. transferred $130,000 from his own campaign account to the Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate, whose five-candidate membership included both Orlovskis.

Two days after that transfer, the Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate wrote a $130,000 check to Friends of Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., easily avoiding the law that limits transfers between candidates’ campaign accounts to $6,000 in an election cycle. Maryland slates are permitted to transfer unlimited amounts to the campaign accounts of individual members of the slate.

So, let’s review, diagram and simplify. Essentially, County Executive Denison gave a boatload of his cash to a slate comprised of a handful of candidates with the philanthropic-sounding goal of improving the community, A Better Baltimore County.

That slate gave $90,000 of the county executive’s cash to a politician who was retiring, thus had no need for campaign money, Orlovski, Sr. Senior funneled the county executive’s money, plus some of his own, through a second slate, the Leadership Fund, to which he belonged.

The cash sat in the Leadership Fund just long enough for the check to clear before that second slate dumped the whole lump sum of $130,000 into Orlovski, Jr.’s coffers.

Within nine months, the Leadership Fund Slate was shuttered, its apparent primary purpose of enriching and regenerating the Orlovskis political endeavors having been served.

Convoluted Political Resurrection

Like many ousted politicians, Orlovski, Jr. promptly signed up for a $90,000 lobbying gig with Baltimore City’s transportation department in 2015, where he could take advantage of fresh ties to influence former legislative colleagues.

Soon after, Orlovski, Jr. launched his political resuscitation, in convoluted fashion. In 2016, Orlovski, Jr. formed something called “Better Baltimore County,” not to be confused with A Better Baltimore County Slate, which was closed in January 2016. The website for Better Baltimore County described it as an organization created to “tell the stories of…unsung heroes and to inspire creative new partnerships.”

The Better Baltimore County website also included an authority line (Authority: Friends of Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., Ken Brandt, Treasurer) indicating it was tied to Orlovski, Jr.’s ongoing political campaign committee, designating the website as political marketing material. The same authority line appeared on Orlovski, Jr.’s personal website, which did little more in 2016 than promote Orlovski, Jr.’s Better Baltimore County and his career and personal background without announcing any particular political aim or office.

Orlovski, Jr. sponsored a fundraiser in August 2016 that the Dundalk Eagle said fueled speculation that he was considering a campaign for public office. Center Maryland reported earlier in the year that Orlovski, Jr. was one of three Democrats mobilizing to replace County Executive Denison, whose term would expire in 2018.

But Orlovski, Jr. remained coy, according to the Eagle, claiming that the money raised would fund his new creation, Better Baltimore County, giving only a vague nod that he was “keeping an open mind about 2018.”

The fundraiser was advertised on Orlovski, Jr.’s personal website, which makes no mention of Orlovski, Jr. being a candidate for any political office. So, what was the money contributed really for, Orlovski, Jr. the politician or some nebulous conception to promote people, businesses and organizations of Orlovski, Jr.’s choice through Better Baltimore County, honorees who, of course, could return the favor and assist Orlovski, Jr. in the event of a future Orlovski, Jr. candidacy?

Which begs the question: Was the benevolent, business-oriented Better Baltimore County and Orlovski, Jr.’s political quest one and the same, just an extension of an ambitious man’s ambiguous political campaign, as intertwined as the two entities were?

Nowhere on the Better Baltimore County website did it indicate that the group was registered as an official nonprofit organization or that it had any director, staff or supervisory board. In other words, it appeared accountable only to Orlovski, Jr. Apparently, Better Baltimore County was Orlovski, Jr. and Orlovski, Jr. was Better Baltimore County.

Was the organizational creation with the noble-sounding name, Better Baltimore County, just an ornamental tool used as a smokescreen to generate money for the real purpose: to help Orlovski, Jr. return to public office?

Orlovski, Jr.’s intention to highlight positive community works and foster collaboration may have been pure. But as an outsider looking in, Better Baltimore County and Orlovski, Jr., the overthrown politician, seem so enmeshed that I can’t help but think there is something concealed going on, if not downright disingenuous.

But it is not surprising, nor unusual. It is just part of the tangled web of politics that is best and most readily, expediently and successfully spun by insiders, for their advantage, to feed what often grows to an insatiable desire to wield influence, attract followers, bask in the limelight and gratify ego – and for many, Orlovski, Jr. certainly possibly included, to also advocate for their notion of the public good in the process.

Going, Going, Gone!

A week ago I lugged my son Daniel’s mini-refrigerator and cartful of computer equipment to a cramped dorm room at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and officially became an empty nester. My daughter Rebecca left home for good later the same weekend to move into her new apartment at the University of Maryland.DanAdam2_PotomacHall

Since I’ve been gone all summer scraping together income to fuel my midlife career transition odyssey – except for one-day-per-month visits back home – teaching tennis at the Sea Colony Tennis resort in Bethany Beach, DE, the kids’ flight hasn’t fully registered with me yet. But when I return home for good on Labor Day night, I’ll be faced with the fact that my role as a parent has changed.

My kids have become so much more independent in the last year. Rebecca spent a semester in France and traveled throughout Europe. Daniel became more social, broadened his circle of friends, with whom he traveled to Ocean City, MD for Senior Week and California over the summer, connected with a steady girlfriend, got his first job at which he is advancing and earned college scholarship funds.

They’re becoming young adults, and our relationships will change. I am curious what those relationships will be like.

Since they are attending colleges nearby, they’ll be around on occasion, but now their college residences are their primary addresses. I am going to miss having one or both kids around the house on a regular basis.

I’m thinking the transition may be easier for me than for parents in an intact family. My kids lived with me only half the time for about half of their childhoods, since they were 9 and 7, because of my divorce. I always felt sad when I brought the kids back to their mom’s on Sunday evenings after a week with me, knowing I was going back to an emptier house and that I would likely only see them one time over the next week for dinner. The necessity to adjust to the back and forth, every other week arrangement I hope will help me adapt to this new transitional scenario.

Still, there’s nothing like your kids branching out on their own and establishing their independent lives to let you know you are advancing to new and later stages of life. I taught many kids tennis this summer and met their parents. I couldn’t help thinking those parents were me a decade ago, enjoying family vacations at the beach and doing fun kid things like walking the boardwalk at night and sliding the water park during the day. When I told tennis parent clients that I had kids also, though older at 20 and 18 and in college, I had a hard time believing it myself.

Rebecca has talked about becoming a teacher recently and of possibly following her boyfriend, a chemical engineering major, to some yet to be determined destination after college. Daniel will be pursuing studies in the computer science field at a university known for its strength in that area. They both have promising futures. I’m proud of how they have developed and the people they are. I hope I have had a positive influence on them and will remember some of dad’s “pearls of wisdom” that they probably didn’t want to hear when I offered. I implored both kids to take Spanish; they each took French. I think Daniel already may be happy that I highly recommended dorm life to him when he was considering other college living arrangements.

I look forward to developing and nurturing close and warm adult relationships with both kids. I hope it happens. It will be a two-way street from here on out. Both kids will have to desire that too and give our relationship love and care to help it grow as we all mature.

The kids are gone and one long and crucial part of my parenting journey is over. It’s been a challenge, a great learning experience, an honor and a joy, but also tinged with some tumult, sorrow and readjustment resulting from the family breakup and my second marriage. I am eager to see what the next phase will bring and know I will need to work at staying connected.

The kids are gone. In the coming weeks, I’ll learn how prepared I am to accept it.

5 Basic and Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned about Parenting

As the younger of my two children closes in on his 18th birthday, I offer five basic parenting principles that I view as important in raising well-adjusted, self-sufficient, industrious and confident children.

I didn’t invent them, and by no means was I always exemplary in following these practices — I had to learn, and still am learning, from my own mistakes and bad habits — nor are Parentsmy 20-year-old daughter and high school graduate son perfect or devoid of flaws or insecurities. Neither are your classic All-Americans or stereotypical overachievers. But they are on good tracks in their lives, have done quite well for themselves, and, importantly for me, rarely caused me any worry, grief or stress that more troubled children can cause parents.

I also have realized these aspects of positive parenting in my counseling masters’ program and associated internship, where I saw the havoc wreaked by destructive or neglectful parenting.

  1. Express caring, love and pride often. Parental expression of the positive emotions toward their children can have a lifelong impact on their self-esteem, self-image, confidence, security, well-being and overall feelings about themselves. As long as these expressions of positive emotions are genuine and backed up by actions, I don’t think you can overdo it. On the flip side, parents who frequently express destructive emotions and feelings, such as anger and disappointment, or who excessively criticize children through mocking, condescension, belittlement or other abusive behaviors, cause their children great damage that they invariably will carry into adulthood and will have tremendous difficulty in undoing.
  2. Promote independence; let children make their own choices within reason and accept responsibility and consequences. A relatively new phenomenon in parenting is the “helicopter parent” – those parents who hover over their children and try to protect them from any wrong move or negative consequence and cushion or fix any disappointment, failure or mistake. Kids aren’t fragile; they’re resilient. But when you hover too much, they don’t use their resiliency muscles and they atrophy. As a result, it seems there’s a trend toward a large generation of young adults that has trouble breaking away from the safe cocoon of over-protective or over-indulgent parents. The sooner kids are given responsibility for their decisions, the more they will take ownership over their own lives and the less they will blame others or external forces for whatever doesn’t go their way.
  3. Show up…and be present. There is no better way to let kids know you care about them, and to help them feel attached, secure and loved, than to show up all the time, every day, unless circumstances absolutely prevent it. Show up to elementary school concerts, dance recitals, athletic events, birthdays, sleepovers (not to stay overnight, but when pickup is needed), and all other activities important to your kids. When you show up, provide encouragement and positive feedback, even if you find fault with their “performance” or “effort.” Separate the child from the action. In other words, don’t let a child feel unworthy because he didn’t perform well. You can offer constructive criticism or advice after the positive words, lending your wisdom and experience to aid learning, but not to tear down or damage confidence. And when you do show up, do your best to be truly “present,” not distracted or off in your own distant world. Kids will know when you’re paying attention.
  4. Model good behavior and caring, respectful relationships. Kids will model what they observe in the most important relationships in their life – those with their parents. Their behavior, manners, work ethic, diligence, emotional regulation and respect for others likely will pattern after their parents’. If they see their parents treating each other and other family members poorly or disrespectfully, they likely will display aspects of that behavior themselves within the family and with others.
  5. Live a disciplined life. As psychiatrist and well-known author Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, undisciplined parents breed undisciplined children who carry bad habits and behaviors learned in childhood into adulthood. These problems stemming from a lack of discipline that are hard-wired during childhood often are extremely challenging to break and can dog individuals for a lifetime, causing dysfunction that can damage individuals’ self-functioning and ruin relationships. Undisciplined, out-of-control parents usually live chaotic lives in unstructured environments that rarely produce disciplined children.

The Empty Nest

Recently, when I’ve told people what my kids are doing – and even what I’m doing for the summer — some have made a comment like, “Oh, so you’re going to be an empty-nester.”

I’ve never thought of it that way. That’s what you call old people in 55+ Senior Living Communities who play a lot of golf and tend to their gardens. At least, that’s the image “empty nest” conjures.

But I’m in the midst of a milestone week of activities that serve as markers letting me know that “empty nest” status, while not fully realized, is progressing toward inevitability unless we suffer a “failure to launch.”

The thought of it makes me wistful for my own relative youth as a newer parent and for the times when my kids (seemingly) needed me more. Maybe they’ll still need me — or better yet, want me — as an integral part of their lives through their process of leaving the nest. I’m confident we’ve done our best as parents and the kids are ready to move on as they should with their lives as we adapt to new roles and arrangements.

My son Daniel attended his senior prom on May 20 and will be graduating high school onDSC00043 May 25. He looked great, a handsome young man in his tuxedo with the purple vest, bow tie and kerchief to match his date’s dress.

I’m proud of Daniel. He assumed a heavy academic load in high school, taking many Advanced Placement and Honors classes, and earning college credits through AP exams and several community college courses. He certainly took on more academic challenges than I ever did, which is perhaps also a sign of the increased pressures placed on kids today and more intense competition, and handled them with confidence and a cool resolve. He was admitted to the university of his choice, and received some scholarship money, for which I am both proud and grateful.

He also became more engaged socially. I could see his growth and development, and more of his personality emerging as he matured from a freshman to a senior. He joined about 30

DSC00050

Daniel (second from left) and friends. A sharp bunch! Lucky girls! 

classmates for a pre-prom party (and parents’ photo-shoot marathon). It was a joy to see him interacting with so many friends and acquaintances.

 

He also recently got his first job at a restaurant, taking on adult responsibilities and earning his keep, another sign of the bird discovering its wings to escape the nest.

And of course, there’s Senior Week at Ocean City, MD in early June, the rite of passage. There will be debauchery, but I’m not worried about Daniel. He has a good head, thinks independently and makes his own decisions. I just told him to “be smart.” His step-grandma was sterner and put it another way: “Don’t be stupid!”

My daughter Rebecca has been spreading her wings for a while, most recently all over Europe while on a college junior year study semester abroad in Lyon, France. She’ll return at the end of May, and surely will be busy reconnecting with friends, looking for work and arranging senior year.

I’ll be teaching tennis this summer in Bethany Beach, DE, as part of my career transition to counseling, while on break from classes and internships. The kids will be bouncing this summer from their mom and step-mom, and traveling with friends. I’ll come home to visit, and hopefully they can visit me at the beach.

So we’ll be scattered and all pursuing our own more independent lives this summer. I’m anticipating the idea of an “empty nest” may start sinking in.

Fly Free Kids, Fly Free!

It’s a new year, and things are new, especially for my kids.

The little ones are growing up and fleeing from the nest, and there’s nothing I can do about it!

In 12 days, my 20-year-old daughter Rebecca, a student at the University of Maryland, will board a plane for France and a semester abroad. I’m proud of her for being curious and adventurous, and I’m glad to support her experience attending college in France and traveling throughout Europe. I’m sure it will be an experience that will last her a lifetime, which has more value than any other way you can spend money beyond your basic survival needs.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little worried about the terrorist activity in that part of the world, with the attacks on Paris nightspots and the Charlie Hebdo newspaper. Thanks ISIS devotees, I’m sure your benevolent God would be pleased to know us parents sending kids to Europe for an education and to see the world have a little more reason to worry, other than just being an ocean away. Mission accomplished!

Regardless, I predict my daughter will return speaking fluent French, with international contacts for her Facebook account, cravings for tartar and newfound confidence for navigating the world.

My 17-year-old son Daniel, who also just gained admission to the university of his choice for Fall 2016 (and even got some scholarship

DanielFirstDrive

Son Daniel set to roam free the first night he had his drivers license

money to boot!), got his driver’s license just over a month ago. Since then, he’s been a social maven, driving himself to all manner of social gatherings, and even going clothes shopping for himself at the mall. He’s been given the responsibility and trust to be independent.

 

My kids, who I remember driving me crazy as I tried to corral them in the grocery store as 4- and 2-year-olds, running down aisles and toppling piles of boxes on shelves, are most assuredly growing up and on their way to becoming self-sufficient, productive young adults. I’m proud of them for that, and will shamelessly take a little credit for myself for providing at least adequate parenting.

I don’t believe in being a “helicopter parent,” hovering over the offspring to try to solve all of their problems and protect them from any mistakes. I believe in giving them their independence and responsibility, allowing them to make their own choices (within reason, while they are still attached to their parents financially), and keeping unnecessary worrying to a minimum.

That means one thing, unless or until there is a major hiccup that absolutely requires a helicopter rescue: Fly free kids, fly free!

Fatherly Words of Wisdom to a Son

PIC_0228With Father’s Day in three days and my son’s 17th birthday two days after that, I figured it was as good a time as any to dole out some fatherly wisdom. I gave my son a heads up that I was thinking of writing about my sage and hard-earned advice, and even offered him a few pearls as a preview to try to get his buy-in. I thought I’d blow him away with profundity, or at least cleverness, but it didn’t have that effect – more like, “Yeah, whatever.” At least he didn’t yawn, or if he did, only mentally. (I should add here, for the record, that my son is a great kid and I’m proud of him.)

Whether he wants it or not – and most teenagers don’t and I can’t blame them and I’m sure I also was that way at 17 — I’m going to give it to him. Because that’s my job, that’s what parents do. Here, eat your spinach, it’s good for you, and you’re going to like it, because I said so, and I know and you don’t!

In fairness, he’s heard some of this before. And admittedly, not all my insights are deeply profound. And some of these may be more, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But I believe when he is an adult, he will hearken back, and realize some of these nuggets actually were on target…and that’s why it will be required reading! Eat your spinach! (I actually have semi-required my kids to read certain newspaper articles about young people who have it tougher than them.)

The Top 25 Fatherly Words of Wisdom, with some overlap and in no particular order, except the first one, which is meant to be shocking so he’ll pay attention to the rest:

  1. Nobody gives a crap about you. Yes, this is harsh, overly dramatic, and for those who are even modestly lucky in life, not even true. But we all find out soon enough that the world can be cruel, so we might as well be ready for that.
  2. Cultivate your resilience – you’ll most likely need it
  3. Be the best friend you can be to your friends and the best relative to your family members
  4. Cherish your significant other/always have their back
  5. Focus on making your life fulfilling, meaningful and enjoyable, not on accumulating (live as Spartan as you can)
  6. Develop self-confidence/believe in yourself (and fake it until you make it)
  7. Be proactive/avoid passivity
  8. Lead
  9. Be courageous/have courage of your convictions
  10. Find a passion and pursue it
  11. Don’t procrastinate
  12. Drink socially, not to get drunk
  13. Eat healthily and exercise
  14. Practice self-reliance
  15. Strive for authenticity
  16. Be bold/take smart risks
  17. Find your own meaning of spirituality
  18. Be generous
  19. Be compassionate and seek to understand others
  20. Beware of your anger/deal with it when you know you have it
  21. Accept responsibility
  22. Invest your money early and often
  23. Invest in yourself and don’t shy away from self-promotion (Look out for Number One).  No one will do it for you.
  24. Give back to a cause that is close to your heart. You will benefit spiritually and emotionally as much as those to whom you have given.
  25. Embrace the mind-body connection and nurture both – you will need each in good shape for a long time.

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