Sunday, April 30, 2006

Disturbing book title. I saw an ad for this book in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. I found the title and cover photo, with the teddy bear pacifer in a glass of whiskey, disturbing. My mother introduced me to alcohol when I was nine-years-old. I fell off my bicycle and skinned my knee. Her guesture of consolation was to have me sit on her lap and share her glass of sherry. Right then, my nervous system linked alcohol with pain killing and parental affection. By seventh grade, I began sneaking drinks from her sherry bottle when she wasn't looking. By college, I was drinking daily, a habit I didn't quit until much later in life. My own personal experience aside, I knew when I saw the book cover that the author had younger children. When your kids become teenagers, it no longer seems cute or clever to link alcohol with parenting. In high school, drugs and alcohol become part of the social scene for many kids. Responsible parents become very concerned about the models they are providing for their kids. References to alcohol dependency and sexual misbehavior just don't seem funny any more when your kids are at risk. How are you going to advise your son that you don't want him to drink, when you're holding a drink yourself? I have not read the book; it may be quite clever. The title alone, however, is an example of how a father's point of view changes as his children grow up. To see more reviews of this book, go to the site on Amazon.com.

Male longevity. According to a story in today's New York Times, men are closing the longevity gap. According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics, women now have a life expectancy of 80.4, up from 80.1. Male life expectancy is 75.2, up from 74.8. The longevity gap between men and women, which had been as great as eight years two decades ago, is now down to five years and may disappear entirely in 50 years. We have certainly experienced the longevity gap in my family. My dad died when he was 58 and my mom lived to be 91. She had a long widowhood. The Times article focused on the impact on the lifestyle of the elderly, at home an in care facilities. It noted
Marriage lowers everyone's risk of death, Professor Lee said, but the benefits go mostly to men; women lower their risk only slightly by marrying. Similarly, a man's risk of death increases sharply after the death of a spouse; a wife's does only negligibly.

"Women are very helpful for men," he said. "Men are not very helpful for women as spouses."

Women not only do fine despite a spouse's death, they may even do better.

"In married couples, women tend to be the ones who manage the social sphere," said Laura L. Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Life-span Development Laboratory there. "They're the ones who make dinner plans and invite friends over for weekends. So a man loses a social network, whereas a woman continues to make plans and see people."

People have traditionally felt sorry for older widows, thinking they had so few prospects for remarrying, she said. The truth is, they may not want to remarry.

"They're the ones taking care of everyone; they've often taken care of a frail husband, and doing it again isn't necessarily appealing."

The article quoted a Connecticut woman in her 70s "retorting" to her husband during a discussion about whether they were ready to move to an assisted-living facility, "You've had assisted living for 40 years." That's a great line. For the men in my community, all of whom are married to working spouses, helping with housework is a fact of life. However, the article is right when it mentions that women handle the social sphere. This is probably genetic, since our species arose as hunter-gatherers where the men roamed about acquiring food.

LA Times Book Fair. My younger son gets an autographed copy of "A Cheese Related Mishap," by cartoonist Ray Friesen at the book fair today. My son is a budding cartoonist himself and showed Ray his latest effort, "Moss and C in The Leprechaun's Shamrock." Ray started drawing when he was 12. By 18, he had a comic in the local weekly newspaper and a few years later had self-published his first comic. Now his work is sold at Barnes & Noble. More examples of Ray's work can be found at www.donteatanybugs.com. I've enclosed another book fair shot. See if you can identify the mystery family (they seem to be lost).

Friday, April 28, 2006

Husband, father, decider? The New York Times recently had a fascinating article on male-female relationships titled "Never Mind Mars and Venus: Who Is 'the Decider'?" The hook was President Bush's comment that "I'm the decider and I decide what's best." As Times article put it, the president's comment "unwittingly added to the lexicon of marital relations." According to the article,
While spouses are often quick to say they jointly consider where to vacation, how many children to have, what car to buy and where to live, each is often quick to lay claim to some, if not all, of the domestic terrain."
The article goes on to note
Yet in practice, it seems that many contemporary marriages hew to a corporate management template. Donna Perry Keller said that she and her husband, Rob Keller, who live in Kalamazoo, Mich., "defer to each other's core competencies." Mr. Keller, 38, a trained accountant, pays the bills. Ms. Keller, 37, a former schoolteacher, calls the shots with their 5-year-old twins. "In situations where core competencies are irrelevant," Ms. Keller said, "we usually defer to the one who feels most strongly about the decision to be made." When Mr. Keller wanted to go to Paris to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, but she preferred a town she had never visited, they went to Paris and Provence. "A year or so after the twins were born," Ms. Keller said, "Rob clearly communicated that he would like another child if I felt up to the challenge. I didn't, so we didn't. He could tell that I felt strongly, and he never pushed the issue. For us, marriage is more a finesse game than a power game. It requires 'the suggester' and 'the discusser' as much as it does 'the decider.' "
I think the last quote points out the fact that in a marriage, the "how" is just as important as the "who" in the decision-making process. For men, it is important that we communicate our feelings about parental decisions. We need to articulate why we take certain stands, rather than just grunting "yes" or "no."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A father's grief. The death of a child is very hard on both parents. In news stories reporting on grief, we most often hear the mother's perspective, perhaps because women find it easier to discuss their emotions. Fortune magazine has a wonderful story in the current issue titled "Playing With Pain Playing with pain: Dick Ebersol lived through the plane crash that killed his son. Now he's trying to lead a recovery at NBC. Will 'Sunday Night Football' be the cure his network needs?"

Playing with pain is a great metaphor for masculine behavior. The story discusses the career of Ebersol, the chairman of NBC sports. His 14-year-old son was killed in a plane crash in December 2004 that left Ebersol severely injured. As the story reports, he returned to work six weeks after the accident and in April 2005 found himself in a meeting with Paul Tagliabue, the head of the NFL, discussing $3.6 billion dollar deal for NFL football TV rights. According to the story,
The next afternoon a group of six NFL and NBC officials convened in Ebersol's office to close the deal. After two hours of negotiating, during which the executives puffed on Ebersol's stash of hand-rolled cigars, he felt ecstatic. But just at the moment of celebration, he caught a glimpse of one of his many pictures of Teddy and felt his eyes fill with tears. He retreated to a far corner of the office. "It was the first time since the accident that I had felt really big happiness," he says now, "and suddenly I thought to myself, 'How can I feel good? He's not here anymore.' "
The article discusses how Ebersol and his wife, former actress Susan Saint James, cope with the grief. This is a quote from Saint James' words at Teddy's funeral:
It would be a terrible mistake if you, Dick, were to ever entertain any thought such as, 'I should have been home more, or I worked too much and that was bad,'" she said. "Because your passion and creativity and vision and successes and devotion to the details of your work and all the joy that you got from that was the pulse of our house - the heartbeat. We all thrived on it and learned from it, and it rubbed off on us. And once we were able to teach you to check your crown at the door on weekends, we also owned a part of it."

We are priveliged to hear this eloquent, powerful man discuss how he grieves for his son. I subscribe to many business publications. For me, this would have been just another business story, if it had not had the moving discussion of the father's loss.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Is 60 the new 40? Experts at the Milken Institute Global Conference discussed retirement issues for baby boomers. (The conference was held here in L.A., but I didn't get invited! Maybe next year). The nice people at Smart Brief have posted a blog on the conference. Here's a selection from the retirement discussion:
President-Elect of the AARP, brought the issues of how the Baby Boomer generation differed from previous generations to the forefront. Baby Boomers are diverse, not only in terms of ethnic background, but also in terms of education level and economic prosperity. Three out of ten baby boomers are minorities. Four out of ten have an education level of high school diploma or less. Four out of ten have a current income of less than $25,000, while only 1 in 10 has a current income of greater than $75,000. With improvements in healthcare, Americans are able to live longer, with a higher quality of life, but will the Baby Boomer generation be able to afford it? The current Social Security payment is $950 a month; how much of that will have to go towards skyrocketing healthcare costs for this greying generation? What constitutes "age?" John Shoven, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, would argue that we should be thinking of better ways to measure age. Such "mortality milestones" would allow for the cross-comparison of populations at different periods in time. For instance, a 65 year old man has the same mortality risk of a 70 year old woman. This means that the healthcare costs are higher for men than women at a particular biological age. Dr. Shoven also challenged meeting participants to "get beyond the idea that 65 is the age at which people are labeled as 'elderly.'" When the Social Security program was established, the predicted length of retirement was approximately 19 years. In 2050, the anticipated average length of retirement is 25 years. In order to accomodate this increase, individuals will most likely have to work beyond the current retirement age to maintain financial viability
It's funny. When you're 15, you just can't imagine being 25.When you're 25, you can't imagine being 45 and so on. And yet AGE HAPPENS. Somehow we deal with it. As we age, we inevitably get a little slower, so we just have to get wiser.

Trump kids. A story in Yahoo News recently proclaimed "Trump Kids Carving Out Own Role in Business." The story notes that

Donald J. Trump Jr., 28, and Ivanka M. Trump, 24, and they are slowly carving out a role in their famous father's real estate business while fashioning their own identities.

In cramped offices located on the 26th floor of Trump's Fifth Avenue headquarters, Ivanka and Donald Jr. have been learning the art of the deal from their father.

"They are very formidable, very smart," Trump said. "They will promulgate the brand throughout the world. I have no doubt about it."

The siblings are positioning themselves to run the company one day, hoping to build on their father's successes, avoid his failures and bolster the company's fortunes.

"That's the intention," Ivanka says. "Ultimately, it's a family business."

What lessons can humble, middle-class fathers learn from the billionaire's handling of his kids? Most of us don't have large fortunes or family businesses to pass on. Well it looks like he's helped them learn self-discipline and the value of a good education. Both of these kids graduated from the Wharton School for Business. Although Trump has had several (three, four?) wives, he seems to treat them pretty well. He seems to be a sober, hard-working guy. And he has always spoken highly of his own father. Here is one other anecdote from the story I liked:
Trump, who is not known for lavishing anyone with praise, singled out his son in front of hundreds of people at a news conference earlier this month.
Sincere praise is one of the most valuable gifts a father can give his children. I bet that compliment meant more to the son then getting a new sportscar.

Intent defeated. This morning my teenager presented us with a flyer about the YMCA field trip he is going on next weekend. Turns out they are required to bring a tent. I dug around in the garage and found a tent that my wife and I last used 16 years ago, before we had kids. Since then, we’ve visited many national parks, but we’ve always stayed in a lodge.

I spread out the tent and the flexible poles on our porch, but I just couldn’t get the thing to stand up. I spread out the unfurled tent in various positions and inserted the poles in different slots, but it kept collapsing.

I brought my son out to the porch and suggested that he figure it out.

A typical teenager, he didn’t want to bother with it.

“I’ll call Charlie,” he said. “I think he has a tent.”

Sure enough, Charlie has one and presumably knows how to assemble it.

I jammed the tent back in the stuff sack and returned it to the garage, where it may stay for another 16 years.

I consoled myself with the thought that “A wise man knows when he’s beaten.”

I just went to look up that quote in order to attribute it, but I couldn’t find it in either Bartlett’s or my Dictionary of Proverbs.

Should I take credit for the saying myself?

Here’s one proverb I did find:

“Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.”

Monday, April 24, 2006

Pardon my Zits. Here's a wonderful Zits cartoon about dads, teens and blogs. I couldn't resist. For more Zits cartoons see the King Features web page. This is the Zits cartoon for April 21.

Health czar quits, cites young son. Dr. David Brailer announced his resignation last week. Dr. Brailer, who is known as the "IT czar" in the healthcare industry, has the official title of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. He was appointed by HHS Secretary Michael Levitt two years ago. In his resignation announcement, Dr. Brailer cited the long absences from his five-year-old son as one of the main reasons for leaving the Washington DC post (his family is based in San Francisco). I heard Dr. Brailer speak at several healthcare conferences, and he always seemed like a nice guy, casual and self-deprecating. He was a passionate advocate for bringing more information technology to physicians' offices. This is a Herculean task, and he made some progress, but probably not as much as some people had hoped. Now he can get a six-figure job at a consulting company. I'm glad he mentioned his family as a cause for dissatisfaction at work. High profile government officials and CEOs can get away with this. Mid-level managers can not. Can you imagine a 40-year-old manager (male or female) at a large company saying "I can't make that conference in Chicago next week, my son has a soccer game." Peter M. Senge, an MIT professor and chairman of the Society of Organizational Learning, has written about how many large companies force people to separate themselves into two identities: the corporate person and the family person. He has noted that this will have to change as more and more people become self-motivated "knowledge workers." As men and women in the managerial workforce become more and more aware of their own potential and of the needs of their children, they are going to demand more flexible hours and family leave.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Family Policy in Germany. Today's New York Times Week in Review has a fascinating article on family policy in Germany. The photo shows Germany's Minister for Family Affairs, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, who is a physician and mother of seven. The article notes that Dr. von der Leyen has challenged some "deeply held" prejudices in German society, "chief among them that women must choose either to work or to raise children." The article notes that
Rather than vault the hurdles and shoulder the guilt, many German women skip having children. In 2005, 42 percent of those with academic careers were childless. That is double the percentage in France, which has one of Europe's highest birthrates. Dr. von der Leyen says she now wants to combine the flexible child care of France with the financial incentives of Sweden. Her main proposal, adapted from Sweden, is to shorten parental leave support in Germany to 12 months, but tie payments — up to $2,2,00 a month — to income. Higher-income families would have more incentive to have babies, while the shorter duration would prod mothers to return to work sooner She would also require fathers to take at least two months off work, if a family is to receive the full 12 months of benefits, to pressure men to take more responsibility.
Several thoughts to my American male mind. First of all, what is the role of her husband? Is he a stay at home dad? He must be. She's a doctor, a cabinet minister and the mother of seven kids (three of whom look like pre-schoolers). Second, Germany has a Ministry of Family Affairs. What a great idea! Why don't we have one? We have a Secretary of Eduction and a Secretary for Veterans Affairs. Doesn't the family merit one? Third, I like Dr. von der Leyen's idea that the father be required to take off at least two months of work if the family is to receive the full benefit (her husband must be a SAHD). FYI, in case you've forgotten, here's what "family policy" in the good ol' USA currently consists of: 12 weeks of unpaid leave. As the article notes, France "supports an extensive network of day-care and after-school centers, many open until 6 p.m." In California, we will have a proposition on the June ballot that would provide for subsidized pre-school. Because it would include a modest tax increase on the wealthy, it is already behind in the polls. C'est la vie.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Surprise party. We had a surprise party for Ed on his 50th birthday. There were about 40 guests. Just before Ed and his wife pulled up in the driveway, we gathered in his house with the lights out. We stood in the dark, whispering as he walked up the driveway. I hadn't stood in the dark with a group of other people since high school! It was a lot of fun. Turned out Ed knew something was up. His wife had been phoning us as they drove home from a restaurant, keeping us updated on their progress. After we yelled surprise and sang happy birthday, the kids raced around and finally wound up playing a video game. Some of the men settled down on the living room couch to watch the Clippers game (in LA we're all Clippers fans now). Terry gave me detailed description of his family's trip to Costa Rica. Sounded like a great trip. Saturday night in the suburbs. Wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Corporal Punishment. While surfing about on fatherhood topics, I came across an amazing story about Tony Blair that didn't get much coverage in the U.S. In a story that first aired on CNN in January, Blair admitted that he had "smacked" his older children. The story reported that
Tony Blair has revealed that he once smacked his older children -- but has given up the practice for his youngest child, 5-year-old Leo. BBC interviewer Kirsty Wark asked the prime minister about his discipline methods during his visit to Swindon in western England Blair made the frank admission in a TV question-and-answer session during his trip to promote an initiative to curb anti-social behavior. Blair was asked: "Do you smack your kids? Did you?" When he failed to reply immediately, Wark asked him: "Did it cause a problem?" Blair said: "No, I think actually, funnily enough, I'm probably different with my youngest than I was with my older ones." Misunderstanding his reply, Wark asked him: "What, you do smack the younger one?" Blair, whose children range in age from five to 22, replied: "No-no, no-no. It was actually the other way round but ... I think, look, this smacking ... I mean, I agree with what you just said, I think everybody actually knows the difference between smacking a kid and abusing a child. "But I, if I can honestly say this to you -- I think the problem is when you get these really, really difficult families, it's moved a bit beyond that." After his admission, British campaigners against smacking renewed calls Wednesday for children to be protected against all forms of physical discipline."
Terminology is very important here. While a certain percentage of the population believes it is OK to "spank" a child, most people don't like the word "hit" and everybody opposes child abuse. I think "smacking" has a particular connotation in England and may not carrying the same meaning as in the U.S. For example, "takeaway" and "plug" have different meanings in the U.K. See the "List of Words Mainly Used in Commonwealth English" in the Wikipedia. By way of comparison, can you imagine President Bush admitting he "smacked" his daughters? It would cause a worldwide furor. My parents never hit me and I've never spanked my sons. I think all it teaches is that violence works. I do believe in giving "timeouts" and sending kids to their rooms, if necessary. Thank goodness it's been a long time since either boy required that kind of discipline.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Science Fair: Tonight we attended the science fair at my younger son's school. Worried about our country's ability to compete with India and China? Rest easy my fellow Americans. Our nation's children (and their parents) can conduct science projects with the best of them. My son's project documents the effects of an exploding water balloon. Tonight, I saw some bubbling volcanoes, balancing bricks and discharging batteries. One very professionally prepared exhibit documented the cognitive development of three-year old identical twins (they were the younger brothers of a 4th grader). Fascinating. This reminded me of how B.F. Skinner raised his daughter in a carefully controlled environment. (Note: Skinner's daughter turned out fine, she did not suffer mental illness and commit suicide, see the Wikipedia entry on him). The other big dad news today was my teenager came off the bench for his HS team and earned an RBI and later scored! And this was no ordinary team we were playing against - this was Beverly Hills. They have a great school system and very competitive sports teams. Of course, it is a little strange to see a baseball team arrive in a stretch limo and not a yellow bus (just kidding).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My son working on his science project. I can report that he did almost the entire project on his own. He conducted the experiment (blowing up a water balloon) by himself and wrote up the description and conclusion by himself. I helped with the initial cutting and pasting and gluing, but once he got the hang of that, he finished it himself. My wife's friend told me I shouldn't write about my kids because "nobody likes reading about other people's children." I disagree. Decades ago, when I was a young newspaper reporter, the editor would say on a hot, slow summer day "Nothing's happening. Go out and get a picture of a kid with a dog. People love kids and dogs." Also, have you read People magazine lately. At least 50% of it is about the children of celebrities. And they probably have their nannies do their science projects.

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. Yes, you can take a picture while driving on the 405 next to a tanker truck. Here's proof. I just wanted to document my business lunch today. I had a very nice Italian meal with an old business colleague and we actually got some business done. I have to make money to support the blog (LOL). Thank God the Ventura Blvd. exit is back open. Life on the Westside is miserable when you can't get off on Ventura Boulevard.

Parenting on TV. ABC News has jumped on top of Tom Cruise's birth announcement. The ABCNews entertainment page has a story today comparing this birth announcement with Lucille Ball's giving birth in 1953. The photo is of the first issue of TV Guide magazine, published April 3, 1953. Lucy had given birth to Desi Arnaz IV three months earlier. The story notes that the Cruise-Holmes pregnancy and birth has attracted media attention around the globe. In 1953 the Arnaz baby was a big story in newspapers worldwide, and on radio, too.

The ABC story notes that

The hugely popular series "I Love Lucy" was thrown into a turmoil at the start of its second season in the autumn of 1952 when Lucille Ball announced she and co-star Desi Arnaz were expecting a baby. The production team agreed the only solution for the show was to have Lucy have a baby, too.

The bosses at CBS were alarmed. No series character had ever been pregnant before. In fact, the word "pregnant" was banned from the network. The early "Lucy" episodes that season brought a scattering of complaints about how showing pregnancy on TV was in bad taste. Aware of a possible backlash, producer Jess Oppenheimer arranged for a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Protestant minister to review the scripts and attend the filmings. The word "pregnant," for example, was substituted in the dialogue with "expecting a baby."
How far we've come! And all in my lifetime (I was born in 1951). ABC News will have an "exclusive" interview with Tom Cruise tonight. As part of the promotion, the ABC site has a display of photos from Tom Cruise's movies with captions comparing his movie roles to his new fatherly duties. For example, there is a photo of Risky Business with this caption:
His star-making performance in 1983's "Risky Business" had him running amok while his parents were on vacation -- driving around in his daddy's Porsche and tangling with Guido the Pimp. With his legendary underwear dance, this introverted kid learns, "Sometimes, you just have to say 'What the f--?'" Now that he's got three kids, will he feel the same way when they cop the same attitude?
The answer to that last question, I can safely predict, is "no." There's not much that Tom Cruise does that I would care to defend, but I would say that many dads regret their own youthful behavior. The standard for measuring a dad's behavior should be how he treats his wife and children, not how he partied as a teenager.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

RFID tags for kids? A story in the current Baseline magazine reports on a boutique kids' clothing manufacturer launching a new line that will include RFID tags. These embedded tags would enable, in theory, parents to track their children's whereabouts. (Note: RFID tags are essentially small silicon chips equipped with antennas that enable them to receive and respond to queries from an RFID transceiver or reader.) The article reports that Lauren Scott, chief executive officer of designer house Lauren Scott California, has encountered a number of technological and cultural obstacles in getting the RFID clothing manufactured and accepted by retail stores. For example, she had to try a number of different kinds of tags that were durable enough to withstand sewing and washing. Also, she tried numerous locations within the garments. It turned out that the seam on top of the shoulder offered enough space for the tag and also facilitated receiver pickup. The article explores the concerns of privacy advocates (who often oppose RFID technology since it can allow "spying" and corporate compilation of individual data). Several thoughts occur to me. First, do you really want one of these things six inches from your child's rapidly growing brain? RFID is not a totally passive technology. The chips contain a tiny batteries and they transmit microwave energy. Our entire society is increasingly bathed in a sea of low-level microwave radiation. We really won't know the full effects of this exposure for years. It took about 50 years of human exposure to asbestos before we discovered its health impact. I'm old enough to remember the fiasco over "flame retardant" clothes for children. In the early 1970s, several children's clothing manufacturers experimented with selling kids pajamas with the flame-retardant chemical TRIS in them. A clever idea, no? If your child is playing with candles, his pajamas won't catch on fire. It turned out to be a bad idea, as TRIS was highly toxic and many children had severe allergic reactions. A few even died after the exposure. A number of class action lawsuits ensued and the products were abruptly withdrawn from the market. My second objection is on more practical grounds. I work in healthcare marketing and have observed that RFID-tagged devices have been sold to many hospitals eager to cut down on the theft of drugs, laptops and other valuables. The results have been disappointing in many cases. Experienced theives have been able to thwart the devices pretty easily.

Monday, April 17, 2006

98% of men raising their own children. According to a story in ForbesLife, 98 percent of men raising children they believe to be their "biological offspring" are correct in thinking so. This comes from "the largest review of paternity and genetic test data every conducted." The story said the new findings, which appeared in the new June issue of Current Anthropology, should "help squelch the long-standing myth that more than 10 percent of all fathers are unknowingly raising children who are not biologically their own." The ForbesLife story quotes lead researcher Kermyt Anderson of the University of Oklahoma at some length. It states:
Anderson said improvements in genetic testing coupled with rising divorce rates have made paternity screening a "growing industry," with the dramatic results of these tests read live daily on The Jerry Springer Show and other "shock-talk" programming.

And for reasons linked to the potential for child-support claims, "some states have also been very big in recent years on trying to get men named on birth certificates as biological father," Anderson said. "Especially in the case of unmarried parents, but even among married parents, legal fatherhood is being established early on."

However, the new study found unsuspected non-paternity to be a relatively rare phenomenon, with rates more or less similar among the United States, Canada and Europe. Among men who felt confident they were the biological father of their child, the highest rate of actual non-paternity was found in men from Mexico -- just over 8 percent.
The ForbesLife story notes that men who discover they are not the biological father of a child "often react negatively." Divorce, or abortion are sometimes prompted by the unexpected findings. The story ends with a "perspective" quote by Anderson:
Much of this is about broad statistics. Biological dads can be very neglectful, too, and stepdads can be very caring."
Here, here! Fatherhood is a psychological, cultural and biological phenomenon. All men, even infertile men and gay men, can be psychological or cultural fathers. We desperately need more fathers of all types. Today, 25 million American children are growing up in homes without fathers. Help!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Seder dinner. We went to a wonderful seder dinner tonight. Four families, 14 kids, ranging in age from 2 to 14 years old. Although it is traditional for the "father" to lead the ceremony, our seder was led by a woman. Our wonderful hostess led the kids through the "haggadah" (the telling of the story) with the bitter herbs and matzoh, etc. The haggadah is really very male oriented, with its emphasis on the father and the four sons. Kids raised in today's world aren't clued in to the patriarchal nature of the bible. After our hostess mentioned the killing of the first born sons, one of the kids said "Why did they kill the sons and not the daughters?" This was just one of the many interesting discussions we had. Later on, I got into a fascinating discussion with a history professor about the sudden rise of monotheism (in the form of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the rapid displacement of polytheism. Did monotheism fill a need in rapidly evolvling human culture? One of the other guests is developing a new kids show for a cable TV network. That's one of the really nice things about living in West LA, you get to meet so many interesting people.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Celebridads reveal secrets. In a just published interview in GQ, Tom Cruise said he was going to classes to "understand what Katie's being going through." He also said his two adopted kids, Connor, 11 and Isabella, 13, will help take care of the new baby. If the older kids are busy, I'm guessing there will be a nanny or two to help out. Meanwhile, Michael Douglas, 61, gave an interview to the AP in which he said "being a good dad" is more important to him now than being a movie star. Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones are the parents of Dylan, 5 and Carys,2. Douglas said that "I probably care a whole lot less about roles now because I'm happily married." I'm happy for both of these men. Unfortunately, most of us older dads don't have the luxury of being "less interested" in our careers. Many of us are trying to balance work and parenting. We can't simply dial back on our careers. Those of us with teens are are are worrying about how in the heck are we going to pay for college tuition and save for retirement. Please put on the Beatles. Either "Hey Jude" or "All You Need is Love." Thanks.

Friday, April 14, 2006

More fathers in the delivery room, less in the living room. The Washington Post has a very interesting graphic (but no story) with this statistic: *75% of fathers were present in the delivery room in 2004, vs. 15% in 1960. Unfortunately, some other statistics about fatherhood are trending in the wrong direction. In 1950, just 4 percent of births were to unmarried mothers. By 1980, the rate was more than 18 percent. In 2005, it stood at 35 percent. Fatherhood is more than a biological act. It is a lifelong committment to raise a child, to provide that child with love and discipline. I do not speak as a moral authority, but as a man whose father died when I was 11-years-old. The loss of my father weighs on me every single day, as I think it does for most men who lost their dad prematurely. I don't know what it will take to get more men to commit to being responsible, caring fathers, but I'm hoping we can start with honest conversation and some good personal examples.

Internet safety for teens. There is an interesting debate going on in the commentary pages of InternetWeek about MySpace.com and other teen sites. The editor, Antone Gonsalves, called for these sites to greatly increase their security. Here are some responses from readers:
How does one prove online that he's a teenager (or younger)? You call for a "strong verification process" saying that it would be "a small price to pay," as though you have this problem solved. If you have a suggestion for how this verification process would work, and an estimate for it's cost, let your readers be the judge of whether or not it's a "small price to pay," or whether it is even really feasible." -- Scott Davis

"As a parent, I could not condone any activity that does not allow parental supervision." -- Jim Hendricks
The editor replied:
Despite not having a solution for the problem, I believe social-networking sites aren't spending enough money on monitoring their properties to make sure they're safe. I felt it was a good move for MySpace to hire Nigam from Microsoft as chief security officer."
Here at Westsidedad's house, we don't let our 10-year-old use the computer without adult supervision, but our 14-year-old can. Two reasons. First, I trust his judgement. Second, when they get to be teens, they are spending a lot of time out of the house and away from adult supervision, so these kinds of rules become impossible to enforce.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My teenage son rode the bus today. And he was very irritated at how long it took. He's used to dad driving him. I dropped him and a friend off at a movie downtown and let them take the bus back home. Before he left, I gave him a bus map and a schedule. Big deal? Well, this is Southern California. Middle-class people don't usually ride the bus. But it's good transportation for teenagers. My son, 14, is already talking about getting his driver's licence and using the family car. I don't know how my wife and I will handle that. On one hand, car insurance is very expensive. On the other hand, it would save a lot of chauffering by mom and dad. He clearly doesn't find public transportation very appealing. What does an safety-conscious, environmentally aware and financially conservative parent do in these situations? The way the price of gas is going, maybe we'll all be taking the bus in 2008.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Retirement? What Retirement! I'm reading a book on fatherhood and one of the anecdotes has to do with a 29-year-old son asking his 64-year-old father for a loan. The father, who is just about to retire, is stunned, but lends him the money (the son is unemployed). I'm 55 and my older son is 14. My wife and I have saved for his college tuition and I have a pretty good start towards retirement. In the back of my mind, I'm assuming of course he'll get a good job after college and won't need any money from me. I cannot imagine being asked by a 29-year son for money. But it could happen and if my son was really in need I would give him the money without hesitation. To be a parent is to progress through a long arc of hope, expectation, fulfillment and disappointment. When your kids are very young, their potential seems endless. When they get into middle school, society's sorting-out process begins. Some of the kids make it into advanced Algebra, some don't. As middle-class parents, we plan on our kids attending a good college and then getting professional jobs, but they may not all achieve those goals. We want our kids to be successful. Sometimes we have to let go, other times, we need to lend a hand. One of the discoveries I've made as a father of a teen is that my son needs my involvement more than ever (although he rarely articulates this). In an interview conducted on CNN on Father's Day on 1999 (the interview is on the CNN website), several years ago, Psychologist William Pollack ("Real Boys") noted how adolescent boys benefit from close association with their father. According to the report,
Pollack's research indicates that one of the best things we could give our boys is "an extra dose of dad." In one 11-year study of boys -- starting at ages 7 to 11 and running through 18 to 22 -- "the more shared activities a boy had with his father," Pollack reports, "the more education he completed; and the closer the emotional bond between father and son, the lower was the incidence of social delinquency. background-clip:Indeed, this study showed that fathers had more of an effect on their teen-age sons in their academic and social functioning than mothers did."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

President Ford's Parents: Responsible for the Pardon? The New York Times just reviewed Barry Werth's new book, of 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today. The book is a day-by-day history of President Gerald Ford's first month in office. The book's thesis, notes the Times, is that "Those 31 days and the ensuing months were a period in which some of the key players in the current Bush administration — most notably Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney — rose to power and established their mastery of intra-administration battles, a period that in some respects serves as a bookend to our own." I was in college when Ford took office. I can still remember Nixon resigning live on TV. I was living in a commune in Santa Cruz and we didn't have a television, so we had to walk down the road to a college professor's house. We all sat around stunned and relieved as Nixon gave his speech. The Times reviewer says that
Like many earlier commentators, Mr. Werth portrays Mr. Ford as a solid, forthright man, a bit naïve perhaps, but frank and well meaning. In addition, he suggests that a central factor in the decision to grant Mr. Nixon a pardon stemmed from Mr. Ford's psychological desire to forgive and forget, and his role in mediating a settlement between his bitterly estranged parents: 'Whether for the country's sake, as he said, or for Nixon's, or for his own, his decision to act swiftly and mercifully towards his predecessor revealed an overpowering inner need to put the past behind, to bury it. Like Ford's father, Nixon had bequeathed Ford a ruinous domestic state, and Ford had closed out the matter as only he could do, by taking it upon himself to try to split the difference and then seal the record as part of the agreement.'"
This is a pretty amazing assertion. Gerald Ford's parents were indirectly responsible for pardoning of Nixon. Any good father will work hard so that he doesn't bequeath a "ruinous domestic state" to his children. And if we conceive of it properly, that "domestic state" will include not just a healthy family, but a healthy planet as well.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Boy in the Bubble. I watched the excellent American Experience show on the "Boy in the Bubble" on PBS tonight with my teenager. He had a lot of questions, including "Why did they do this?" "What did the kid think?" and "Did he die?" All of these questions were answered pretty well in the documentary. The mother, Mrs. Vetter (the boy's name was David) answered many questions with great patience and fortitude. Interestingly, the father was not interviewed, nor was he even shown in still photographs. It's possible he died or got divorced and distanced himself from the case. David died when he is 12 (in 1983) after an experimental bone marrow transplant failed. I had some qualms about having my son watch a show about a child suffering and dying, but it gave us a chance to discuss some important issues. My son watched with interest and clearly understood the discussion by the doctors and family about the reasoning behind the "isolation" concept. My mother died in hospice care in 2004 when she was 93 years old. My son did not visit her in her last months, but was very much aware of what was going on, since he knew I was with her in the nursing facility. This gave us a chance to talk about death and the decisions around dying in a more relaxed atmosphere. It is hard to contemplate, but he could one day be called upon to make decisions about my death. If this should happen, I would want him to be as informed as possible about my feelings about these issues. Watching a TV documentary is one way to be presented with a death-and-dying issue. Fortunately, this show was over in an hour. In real life (and death) these incredibly painful situations can drag on for months and years.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

N.Y. Times op-ed on leadership and fathering issues. The lead op-ed article in today's NewYork Times is by author Allan Garganus and discusses the scandal surrounding the Duke University Lacrosse team. Although Garganus never specifically mentions the term fathering, he discusses the atmosphere at Duke and focuses in on the behavior of boys on sports teams at prestigious universities. Garganus notes
The university once offered respite from our country's most rabid competitive impulses. Once upon a time, there was even a core curriculum assuring that every student in every field had read the same great works, including sacred texts, Shakespeare, the Greeks. Once science reigned unchallenged by religious strictures. Once institutions of higher learning ranked ... higher. Now corporate America, athletic America, Defense Department America, form a unified competitive team. Duke's head basketball coach was recently offered tens of millions to lead a pro team. He refused, receiving a fancier leadership title and the full attention of Duke's new president. "
In his conclusion, Garganus states
When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why. This question is first personal then goes Ethical soon National. Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify. The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to Durham — and it is killing us. Why is there no one to admire?"
I can only add, where are the fathers? And by that I mean the fathers of these particular boys and fathers in general, who seem to be invisible in our culture.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Starting pitcher. For a middle-aged guy, there are few joys that compete with that of seeing your son on the mound as the starting pitcher. It doesn't matter whether it's college, high school or Little League. That's your son up on the mound. Your hopes and genes. How did he do? He walked four and struck out four. Not bad for his first time. I am most proud of the fact that he earned it. He's been wanting to pitch since our first game four weeks ago. I'm one of the coaches and could have put him in earlier, but he wasn't ready. "I don't want to have you go out there and fail,"I said. So we've been practicing after school. He has worked hard, improved his form and accuracy and he performed well. If you have a potential pitcher in the family, I can recommend Coaching the Little League Pitcher by Randy Voorhees, available at Amazon.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Should umarried men be paid to be take care of their kids? A story in Thursday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on a speech by Harvard University sociologist Orlando Patterson (photo). Speaking at the University of Pittsburgh he noted that 40 percent of American children will spend some time without a father present. More than 60 percent of African-American children live in single-parent households, nearly all headed by women. Dr. Patterson said African-American boys from single-parent homes have lower grades, lower scores on standardized tests and finish fewer years of school. He said many of these kids, raised by single mothers display "an exaggerated masculinity in adolescence...in searching for role models these boys turn to the most aggressive boys, the ones who run gangs, as father substitutes." According to the article,

Some researchers have said that many men are discouraged from taking jobs because so much of their pay goes for child support, but Dr. Patterson suggested that if they could see their money was going directly to their children instead of to a bureaucracy, that attitude might change.

He also condemned the "war on drugs" and draconian sentences for drug sales, and said a closely monitored program in which men would support their children and spend more time with them might be an effective alternative to prison.

"'It is time we started teaching parenting in the schools in a serious way," he said. "The most important skill in the world is being a parent, but we don't teach it."
I'm not sure I support the idea of subsidies to men who deliberately avoid marrying the mother of their children. I do support the concept of teaching parenting. He is absolutely right. It is the most important skill in the world. Fathering is just as important as mothering, but there are too few good role models for boys to emulate.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tiger Woods' dad is very ill. He's in a hospital, suffering from prostate cancer. This is very sad news, but there is a very nice story in the April 3 New York Times about how Tiger was raised by his dad and mom. As the headline notes, their goal was "Raising a Child First, Then a Champion." The article notes that Tida and Earl Woods's goal was "not to raise the world's greatest golfer...it was to rear a child who was free from worry." The reporter, interviewed Rudy Duran, Woods's golf instructor from ages 5 to 10. According to the article,
When he was 7 or 8, Tiger was already an amazing player, but there was no question in my mind that if he came home and said he wanted to play the piano, there would have been no anxiety by his parents," Duran said last week in a telephone interview. "They put no extra value on playing golf. Tiger was the motivated one, and Earl and Tida were great at providing an environment of unconditional love, an environment where he could excel. They were very consistent in their reaction, whether Tiger finished first in a tournament or 10th."

Please note the phrase "unconditional love." In my five years as a Little League coach, I have too often seen the reverse of this situation. In these unfortunate cases, the parent (usually the dad) is communicating anxiety about the child's performance. The result: the child feels the anxiety and performs poorly. We wish the best for Earl Woods. Let his fine handling of his gifted son be an example to all of us.

Field of drains. Although the rain stopped yesterday morning, the Little League field was soaked and all the games were cancelled. With the sun out, a few of us dads moved the tarps back to give the clay infield some breathing room. One of the great things about coaching Little League is that it plugs you into a friendly community of like minded men. All of them are middle-class dads who believe in coaching and community service. Community is a much sought after quality in our highly fragmented world. I'm reading an interesting book, Making Meaning: How Customers Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences by Diller & Shedroff (available on Amazon). The authors, who run a very successful design company, discuss how corporations work to create emotional experiences and even "communities" for customers. Here's a quote from the book,
Experiences that allow customers to communicate, or simply be heard, tend to increase satisfaction. These allow people to attach meaning to experiences - especially the meanings that are supported by social interactions with others (such as community.)"
They are talking about people getting emotional satisfaction and finding community through the purchase of products. I'm all in favor of marketing (heck, I'm a marketing consultant) but let's face it, finding community through a product is going to be pretty shallow in comparison to working in a community group, PTA or local church. One of the reasons we don't see more dads with kids in advertising (as opposed to young women in bikinis) is pure, unadultered fathering doesn't sell many products. It is about men spending time one-on-one with their kids. You don't need a fast car or a new pair of shoes. However, keeping up to date with the latest fathering weblogs (e.g. Rebeldad) is highly recommended (just kidding).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tom Cruise talks about his dad. In an interview to be published in next Sunday’s Parade magazine, Tom Cruise says his father was “weak, a bully.” In the interview, which was previewed in today’s Washington Post, Cruise said he never trusted his father, that he had to always “be careful” around him. He said his parents divorced when he was 11 and he rarely saw his father after that. According to the Post story,
Ten years later, Cruise says he reunited with his father, who was ‘in the hospital dying of cancer, and he would only meet me on the basis that I didn't ask him anything about the past. When I saw him in pain, I thought what a lonely life. He was in his late 40s. It was sad.’"
I find it interesting that Cruise is talking about his father now. Perhaps fathering is on his mind because his inamorata, Katie Holmes, is about to give birth to his first biological child. Men never stop thinking about their fathers, even if they barely knew them. Your father is a constant presence in your life, no matter how old you get. Author Gore Vidal, who is now 81, talked about his father in an interview in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Vidal said he loved his father very much and frequently dreams about him. Your dad is always there. That puts a tremendous responsibility on us as fathers. Long after we’ve left the planet, our presence will be manifested in the lives of our children.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rainy day moments #12 & 35. Another soggy day here in LA. It was raining steadily most of the morning and early afternoon. Both boys are home, since it's the first week of Easter Break. Stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) was tasked with keeping them occupied. Due to the rain, both boys' baseball teams (Little League and high school) cancelled their practices, adding to the cabin fever. I was working on a major project for a client, so the best I could do was take them to a lunchtime break at McDonalds, which is within walking distance of our house. We donned our rain gear and headed out. We passed the local flood control channel which had turned into a good sized river after the precipitation. At McDonalds, the boys had burgers (I just get a yogurt parfait). We noticed that McD's is now putting the nutrition information on their fries packages (but not the burgers). I will be watching the business magazines to see if this new health warning initiative results in a drop in fries consumption. Did you know that one small package of these goodies contains 240 mgs of sodium and 24 grams of fat? Whoa! I remember when they added health warnings on cigarettes in the 1970s. That definitely led to a increased consumer awareness and decreased consumption. It was one of the factors that prompted me to quit smoking in 1976. I congratulate McDonalds. An enlightened policy for the overweight American.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Can sex-filled TV shows and movies draw teens into promiscuity? Apparently so, according to a new study by University of North Carolina researchers. Note: the photo is from MTV's "Degrassi: The Next Generation." The study, reported on in Yahoo! News today, found that adolescents with the highest exposure to media (TV, movies, music and magazines) with high sexual content were 2.2 times more likely to have had intercourse at ages 14-16 than similar youngsters who had much less exposure. As the news story noted:
At the same time parents tend not to talk about sex with their children in a timely and comprehensive way, leaving a vacuum in which the media may become a powerful sex educator, providing 'frequent and compelling portraits of sex as fun and risk free.'"
I think most parents know these facts intuitively, yet many don't talk with their kids about sex, nor do they put strict limits on what their kids see. Here are a few tips. First, limit the number of TVs. We only have one TV and it's in the living room, so my wife and I are always aware of what's on it. Second, find a casual way to talk about sex with your kids. For example, watch nature shows on PBS. On Sunday, my younger son and I watched an excellent program on a PBS' Nature that followed a troop of baboons living near the Zambesi River. The film had four or five shots of males mounting females. (Baboon coitus takes less than 60 seconds). My younger guy asked what was going on and I explained in a matter-of-fact tone. He was much more interested in the shots of alpha males fighting (they bite and scratch and claw each other viciously). Please don't let the media educate your children about sex. Instead, educate them about the media. Explain how the TV networks operate, discuss why there are so many commercials on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. They are trying to sell you things you don't need.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

HBO's new "history" show is not one you'll want to share with your kids. It is filled with gratuitous obscenities. This is a shame, because the show does not need profanity to make history entertaining. How bad is it? In the first five minutes of his "monologue" comedian Robert Wuhl proclaims that "starfucking" (i.e. popular adulation) is the predominant motivation the American people have when electing presidents. He said Washington became the first president because he was the only "star" at the time. He goes on to explain how the American people were "starfucking" when they elected Andrew Jackson and U.S. Grant. He also used "shit" "fuck" "gay" "queer" and "asshole" frequently. The HBO cameras often showed reaction shots of the 18-year-old college freshmen in the classroom (it was filmed in a New York-area university, possibly NYU). I could see some of the young women wince when he spat out the profanities. I found it very disconcerting to see these smart, well-scrubbed kids be subjected to bathroom language. I'm not a member of the Christian Coalition, we're secular humanists. I am opposed to censorship but in favor of good taste. I think this show will fail because it has misjudged the audience. The adults who like Deadwood will not be comfortable sitting through a 30-minute classroom lecture that lacks narrative structure. Parents, hoping to tape a "fun" history show they can share with their children, will be appalled.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What does a father look like? The death of Cargo magazine has spurred a number of stories in Slate, Gawker and Poynter-Romenesko. I never read Cargo and was only dimly aware of its existence before its sudden end. Its failure raises some interesting questions about men, fashion and identity. Writing in Slate, Michael Agger notes that it is the third men's shopping magazine to fold (it was preceded by Vitals and Sync). According to Agger,
Cargo never felt like a peer, it felt more like your 'confused' friend. What's he going to look like today? The magazine veered wildly across the gay/straight divide, often in the same issue...other magazines like Details and Esquire...walk this line with more finesse."
I can't imagine a middle-class father of school-age children studying these magazines for fashion tips or spending $400 on a pair of distressed jeans. Wearing those kind of expensive fashionista garments would seem selfish, irresponsible. That's money that could have gone into your kid's 529 account. Once you have children, your identify becomes fused with your progeny. Your social status is no longer measured by how you look, but by how they look. Are they strong, healthy and attractive? Are they wearing nice clothes? Oh, your son is wearing a Little League T-shirt; why he must be a ballplayer! This contemporary social norm, the parental preoccupation with the child's appearance, may have its roots in the behavior of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In his wonderful book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, UCLA evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller discusses many aspects of human courtship display. He notes
Human courtship effort is low when first assessing a sexual prospect, increases rapidly if the prospect reciprocates one's interest, peaks when the prospect is deciding whether to copulate, and declines once a long-term relationship is established."
According to evolutionary psychology, younger single men (and women) need to spend significant sums on clothing for proper courtship displays. Once you get married and have kids, the parents' resources are poured into their children to in order assure the successful transmission of their genes. So married men don't need $400 jeans. For us, Cargo was just excess baggage. Successful fathers need knowledge, patience and love. You can't buy those at a mall.