Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Education in the Fatherhood School of Hard Knocks

This morning I had an interview at a local radio station here in Miami – Hot 105. I was there to talk about the Upbeat Dad Community Forum that we’re having next week Thursday, February 10. While I was in the lobby waiting to go into the studio, I was speaking with a lady who was also there for an interview. We had an enlightening conversation as she shared with me the work that she does in the community of South Florida.
When we spoke about the forum, she was quite interested in what I had to say. Then she asked this very intriguing question, “What qualifications do you have to teach on the topic of fatherhood? Are you a psychologist? Family therapist?” How profound! I didn’t get the sense that she was being negative and questioning my credentials – she just wanted to know how I came to the point where I teach on such a topic. I have been asked those questions on a couple of other occasions. Wanna know my response? Well, here we go:
My response was, “That’s the beauty of what I do! I’m a father like any other father. Most persons in the general population do not have formal training in psychology or the behavioral sciences. So they relate to me and the message that I share.” Isn’t that something?
10 years ago, I was minding my own business as a Certified Public Accountant. I have had aspirations of being a motivational speaker since the mid 90s. I had a contract with an international seminar organization and I traveled throughout the United States and overseas teaching seminars and workshops on various topics.
But when I sensed that my travels were taking their toll on my then family, I put those aspirations on hold. My wife and daughter came first. So I went back to having a regular job in accounting – one that had no travel involved. As much as I love to travel, to me, family comes first so I had to put those thoughts into action.
As I shared in the post, The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad, in the early 2000s (a little over 9 years ago), I went through a very difficult, challenging experience when my marriage ended in divorce. I was devastated. I lost most of what I had accumulated from a material standpoint. I really didn’t care about those things anyway – I only cared about continuing to be a loving father who’s highly active and involved in my daugther’s life.
I am no different from most people I know – a regular everyday, hardworking person who loves the institution of the family. But when my family went through the turmoil of divorce, I was left with the choice to remain active in my daughter’s life and do what I believe is best for her or just let the legal process dictate the direction of her life.
Had I just committed to paying child support and seeing her every other weekend, the courts would have been happy with me. I would’ve been just like any other father who’s happy to take a back seat and hope that his child turns out ok in the end. But as far as I see it, I would be a failure as a father – because I would’ve allowed the process to cost my daughter and me the close bond that we share today.
Each day, families all across the globe encounter the hungry lion called divorce. I call it a hungry lion because as long as you stay away from it, you’re gonna be ok. But when you encounter it, it’s ferocious and can shred you to pieces. When these families encounter divorce, very few parents are adequately trained in a professional sense to handle the situations that arise. But those who experience the turmoil that sometimes ensues can share of their very personal experience with the process.
Over the past 12 years, I have been a father so I have gained great knowledge and practical experience. But the past 9 years – the period when divorce became a reality in my life – have given me what I believe to be equivalent to Masters Degree in fatherhood.
Think about this: I had to learn how to continue being a loving father during the awful divorce. Then the divorce ended so I became a father who had his child come by a few days a week for what they called, “visitation.” I hated that term – how do you go from being a dad to a visitor? I recently heard that in Florida they now call the concept “time sharing”. That, I totally endorse.
Then when my former wife moved back to her home state, I had to learn to be a long distance dad – calling my daughter daily and going over her homework over the telephone. I called the school and her doctor to ensure that I was in touch with what was going on with her. In the ideal world, I would’ve had a good working relationship with my former wife at that time but the reality is that I didn’t. My daughter would come to me during the summer and holidays but during the school year, I was a long distance dad.
Then 3 ½ years ago when my daughter came to live with me primarily. I had to become a daily dad, instead of a long distance dad. So going to PTA meetings and teacher conferences became the norm. Taking her to school and picking her up after school while trying to grow a brand new company wasn’t easy by any means. But the rewards were so great! I got to see her go from struggling scholastically to being on the honor roll. That didn’t come accidentally – I had to learn why she wasn’t making good grades and then helped to create the conditions under which she would excel. And excel, she did.
Almost 2 years ago, I got married again. I had to reassure my daughter during that transition to having a new household member that she is and will always be a top priority. And just 6 months ago, we welcomed our son into the world. This was also another teachable moment for me to assure her that all is well and there’s no need for a sibling rivalry. She will always be my first child and she has the opportunity to mentor her little brother.
So I guess you can say that for most of the past 12 years, I have been enrolled in the school of hard knocks. No text book or professor could have taught me the real world, practical lessons that I have learned throughout all of this. I respect the formal education system immensely. But I know that I’m a better father and a more qualified spokesperson on the issue of fatherhood because of the route my life has taken the past several years. I often say that after the divorce, I was left with a choice – and I chose to become better instead of remaining bitter.
Quite interestingly, some of the most avid readers of the Upbeat Dad blog are psychologists and family therapists. Two weeks ago, I met with a colleague, Barbara Greenberg, an author and a clinical psychologist. She visited the Miami area for a booksigning. I love the work that she does helping parents understand their teens. Just yesterday I had a lengthy conversation with Sue Atkins, a parenting expert and TV and radio personality based just outside of London, England. Both of these ladies do great work helping families in different ways. They’re formally trained experts in their fields.

They both attest to the fact that the journey that brought me to the point of become a parenting expert in my own right is breath-taking. Sue’s favorite expression when we spoke was, “How fascinating!” I don’t really seek accolades but the fact is that this work, the Upbeat Dad, is impacting lives all over the world. And that is my satisfaction – not anything else. I’m just a regular guy who’s an advocate for children. I am really not on the side of fathers. Neither am I on the side of mothers. I am 100% on the side of children so I seek to do my very best for them.
Perhaps as I get more involved through my work, I will take classes to obtain greater knowledge. I’m an avid reader and I love to read the writings of other persons in the parenting field. All this knowledge when put to good use can help families navigate their way through the issues and challenges that life presents on a daily basis.
I really look forward to the forum next week Thursday. The background and details of the event can be seen in the following postings:

If you’re in South Florida, come on down – we’d love to have you!
If you’re ever faced with challenging situations regarding your role as a parent like I was so long ago, I hope that you make decisions to do what’s best for your kids. It was never my goal to go through emotional turmoil and financial hardship so that I could speak to others about the role fathers should play in kids’ lives. Life threw me a bucket of lemons – I just chose to make lemonade and the result is that my daughter is better for it. And the privilege to share with the world the lessons I’ve learned is one I will never take for granted.
Our kids are a joy and a wonder. I hope that each of us will always seek to do for them what is best.

Do enjoy your day.
The Upbeat Dad

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