Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Holiday Season Appeal to Dads

At the Upbeat Dad Organization, the cornerstone of what we try to do is build long-lasting family relationships – primarily focusing on the father-child relationship. Based on our experience, when fathers are lovingly engaged in the growth and development of their kids, family bonds are stronger and kids tend to grow into well-adjusted persons who become positive influences on society. When dads are disengaged and neglect the responsibility of helping to raise the kids they help to bring into the world, the mothers have a greater burden in giving them all they need to become productive members of society.

While many of us celebrate the wonders of the family unit, I readily recognize that many do not enjoy those same wonders. Some find this season to be very difficult because of a variety of reasons. Many children do not quite know what it’s like to celebrate the season with their dads. And unfortunately, many of these dads just don’t get it – they don’t understand why they need to be around for their kids.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, each night 24 million kids in the United States go to bed without their biological father in the home. Without a doubt there are many reasons for this statistic. Therefore, there is no one solution to fix the problem. In some cases, the fathers are to blame; in other cases, it’s the mothers; in other cases, it’s the family court system; and the reasons go on and on.

With this brief post, I’d like to challenge dads to make a new commitment during this season. You may ask, “Why not address the moms? Or the court system?” I do address these at different points on this blog. But by nature, I believe that although there are forces that one cannot control, one should focus on that which he can control. So I try to empower fellow dads to work through the obstacles that do exist – with the family court system and with other forces – so that through it all, the father-child relationship is preserved. 

Earlier this year, I met a single mother while at a speaking engagement and she shared that the moment she told her boyfriend that she was pregnant, he disappeared and she has not seen or heard from him since then. As extreme as that situation may be, I believe that many of us men become emotionally - if not physically - distant when it comes to raising our children. We do not see ourselves as vital contributors to their upbringing so we disengage and watch from the sidelines, figuratively speaking.

As men, we are driven by accomplishment – in our education, our careers, in athletics, even in winning the heart of our favorite girl. We get a feeling of euphoria when we get that much desired raise or promotion; a sense of pride brings out that smile in us. We give each other high-fives when our fantasy football team has a great weekend!
When it comes to our roles as dads, however, far too many of us do not embrace the thought of accomplishment that comes with being active participants in the raising of our children. We willingly “burn the midnight oil” to complete projects that helps us shine in our careers but do not have the same zeal in helping our kids to complete their own projects.

We want them to become straight-A students but quite often we don’t have the patience to work with them along the way. My own daughter – now a 15 year old – struggled quite a bit in her studies when she was younger. I had a choice and I’m glad I chose to sit with her, then with her teachers, then with her tutors to get her on the right track. Today she makes good grades almost effortlessly. I believe it’s due in large part to the fact that she knew I cared about her success scholastically.
It is easy to be passive in our approach to fatherhood but I believe that such an approach inevitably yields undesired results. We set goals in our careers; why not set goals in our roles as dads? Why not set goals to spend more meaningful time with our kids? Why not set goals to be their strongest advocates as they look to see what they want to be when they grow up?

As we enter this holiday season, let’s do some self-examination and see what more we can do. Even as I write this, I know that I can do more. There is always more that we can do. I often say that our children are with us for a relatively short time; but that short time helps to determine how they will live the rest of their time on earth.
We cannot expect them to naturally gravitate towards success when we ourselves didn’t gravitate towards success in our studies and our professions. With hard work and determination, we succeeded. Let us now take the same approach – hard work and determination – to play our part in the success stories of our children.

May you and your family enjoy a wonderful  holiday season!

The Upbeat Dad

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Helping Men Through the Pain of Divorce

It seems that recently, more and more, I've been meeting men who are going through the pain and turmoil that comes with the divorce experience. Whether I'm at work, church, traveling or just in social settings, increasingly I've been meeting men who are hurting. Some have been married for years; others are relatively newlywed - 2 years and under; some were actually never married but were in relationships headed for marriage but somehow got derailed on the way to the altar.

All of these situations seem to have a common thread - the pain is very real. And seemingly, because of certain societal expectations, many of these men have a difficult time dealing with their emotions. They have challenges trying to reconcile their true emotions with stereotypes such as "real men don't cry."

Perhaps, as you read this, you're a man dealing with the new normal - life without the person you thought you'd spend the rest of your life with. And perhaps you think that your situation is unique and no one else is feeling the turmoil that you're experiencing now. It could very well be that as you read these words, you see this as your last glimmer of hope in your state of hurt. Maybe you’ve seen your life savings and investments wiped out in a maze of attorney fees, child support and alimony payments. And perhaps for the first time in your life you find yourself sitting on a psychologist’s couch  sharing your innermost feelings.  

With all of this in mind, I've decided to share these words that I believe will be an encouragement to you. You see, I can very much relate to the pain and disappointment that comes with the ending of what I thought was the relationship of a lifetime. If you should meet or speak with me, what you might witness on the surface is lots and smiles and laughter. But if you look a bit further, you'd see that beneath the outer surface are the battle scars from past relationships gone wrong. The wounds have healed for years and I've come through the storm just fine. I'm now happily married with 2 kids. But still, I can very much relate to the present suffering of the hurting who I have the privilege of meeting.

I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. The marriage ended formally in 2002 but because we had a daughter - a 4 year old at the time - for the next few years it seemed that I was always dealing with some new post-divorce issue relating to her. On this blog, I've shared different posts about my own journey - posts such as:

The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad

The battle scars that I refer to go back to even before that marriage. In the mid-90s, I experienced the ending of the relationship with my college sweetheart. That might sound like no big deal today but at the time, it sent me into a tailspin because for 3 years we talked about the wonderful married life we would live together. And somehow it all seemed to fall apart overnight. As bad as that experience was, it paled in comparison to what came a few short years later - a messy divorce with a child involved.

All of this preliminary information on this post has brought me to the point of saying this: life goes on after relationships end. And if we take the right approach, we can come through the storm virtually unscathed, with an even better outlook on life.

Each time that a relationship ends, I believe that we are left with 2 basic choices: yearn for the rekindling of that relationship or move on with the rest of our lives. As fundamental as that sounds, in practice, it's not always such an easy choice. When people don't recognize the simplicity of these choices, sometimes what results can be quite alarming - things such as:

- depression
- domestic violence
- drug and alcohol abuse
- suicide
- murder
- murder suicide

Extreme, though these may sound, believe me when I tell you that, under the right circumstances or wrong circumstances, I should say, even the most warm, gentle, kind-hearted person can be so negatively affected by a broken relationship that these issues become associated with them.

Having had disappointing ends to a few relationships I can say with certainty that it's better to move on. The harsh reality is that we can't control other people so, regardless of how we may feel about the possible future of a relationship, it takes two people to make it work. And if one party is no longer interested, there's very little one can do to change them. We can wish and pray that there's a change of heart but unless there is such a change, we have to either move on or be stuck in a perpetual state of yearning for the past.

As men, we can be stubborn. And believe me when I say that I've dealt with some stubborn men over the past few years. Their wives or girlfriends leave and they are so determined to get them back that they adopt uncharacteristic behaviors in that pursuit. In some cases, they win them back. In other cases, when they are unsuccessful, they have a hard time moving on so they become bitter. As I went through my own divorce, a gentleman who mentored me told me, "It is better to become better than to remain bitter." (Read To Become Bitter or Better:The Choice is Yours for more about this topic.)

Here's something that has worked wonders for me. Just like when a loved one dies, we go through a period of mourning. And then, in time, we recover and move on with our lives. In the same way, I believe that it's best that we mourn the death of our relationships. It's difficult and very painful to see the love fade to the point of death; that's why the period of mourning is so crucial. But after the death and burial, it is best to resume living, slow though the process may be.

To become completely healed and whole after a broken relationship, I believe that forgiveness is necessary: forgiving the other person and forgiving yourself for any and all hurt. Forgiveness entails holding someone blameless, even if they can be blamed. Letting go and leaving them blameless is such a powerful tool because it releases us from the chains of bitterness. (Read Forgiveness: The Key to Healing After Divorce)

I know some people - both men and women - who are never quite the same after divorce. They live the rest of their lives thinking about the one that got away, rather than moving on and embracing the gift of life. I think it's best to move on, live your life and you'll be fine.

If you're a dad, keep in mind that divorce means you're no longer a husband but you'll always be a dad. Issues of custody and child support can be overwhelming but just know that through it all, you're always and forever a dad. That's one of the things that kept me sane throughout the turmoil that ensued following my divorce. That marriage ended 10 years ago - it's a distant memory. But our daughter's a wonderful, well-adjusted 14 year old high school freshman who still has the love and admiration of her mom and dad.

Here is something that has kept me going - and I believe that it can work wonders for you as well. After going through the ending of my marriage, I thought how good it would be if, after the storm subsided, I could encourage other men who experienced a similar plight. My experience wasn't for me alone - it was for the hundreds and thousands or even millions of men and women who are left with the choice of picking up the pieces and moving on or being forever stuck in a rut because of the pain caused by divorce.

The vast array of family law issues that can really be a financial and emotional drain on even the most optimistic person. So as you come through the storm - as you certainly will - strengthen those who also deal with these unique feelings.

Today, I'm in a much better place. I've had custody of my daughter for the past 5 years. I'm happily married to a wonderful woman and we have a precious 2 year old son. I know all this would not have been possible had I not made the choice 10 years ago to let go of the pain and move on.

I would have never had the insight to start the Upbeat Dad Organization without some of the lessons that I learned in that very challenging chapter of my life. Perhaps you can do something similar after making it through your storm. Or maybe you have family members or friends or co-workers who experience the hurt that comes with divorce. You can help them to get back on the right track. My point in all this is that the experience isn't for you alone - it's meant for you to strengthen others.

I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you. Life is a precious gift and although divorce is something that many of us experience, it doesn't have to mean doom and gloom. As you come through it all, devote yourself to making it through the storm and coming back stronger and better than ever. You can and you will, if you embrace the principle shared here. I'm pulling for you and so are many others throughout the world.

Enjoy the rest of your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Sunday, July 26, 2015

With Low Funding For Education, How Can Our Kids Still Succeed?

I recently learned on NBC Nightly News that here in the United States, there have been significant cuts in the education budget in many states. Beginning as early as pre-K, school funding has been on the decrease and thus, kids in this country are at a disadvantage compared to their peers around the world.
I saw on the site  that in a recent comparison of students in 57 industrialized nations, US students finished 16th in science and 23rd in math. Their peers, particularly in Asia, consistently scored higher on standardized tests. US students start off behind and, as a whole, throughout the entirety of their formal education, they remain behind.

I don’t get much into politics, as I find it to be quite divisive. However, I know that in political circles there are some who advocate the dissolution of the Department of Education. I don’t quite know their rationale but I think that this is one of the indicators that speak to a bigger issue – there is an increasing cause for concern about the state of the educational system.

So where do things go from here? And why should there be cause for concern? Well, I believe that the real consequences for these actions will not become evident until the kids who are now in school become adults. I strongly believe that the future of a nation can be traced to its emphasis on the education of its youth. These youth will one day be the “movers and shakers” in the “real world” – as doctors, lawyers, politicians, accountants, etc.

I have a 13 year old daughter who is about to enter high school. I also have a son who will be 2 in a few weeks. So this is a subject matter that’s very close to my heart; I have a great concern not just for the nation and its citizens but also for my own children. It is an issue about which we should all have concern because it’s only a matter of time before the consequences are manifested.
Now, in the perfect world, each of us as parents would get our kids into the best institutions with the best resources and the best teachers. And if any such school is found to be lacking, we could take our kids out and put them into the right kind of school to help them to learn and become high achievers. That’s what happens in a perfect world. But then we come back to reality and realize that that utopia doesn’t really exist.

So what can we do today, as parents, in a world of limited educational and household budgets? A lot more than we might think. I believe that this is the perfect environment in which to demonstrate just what “love in action” can do. When we love our kids and are willing to do everything in their best interest, we begin to realize that we are not quite as powerless as some would have us to think.

Here’s something that should make you excited – in today’s world, information is as free flowing as ever. At no point in all of human history has there been such ease of access to information. The internet, as well as social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, has made ours “a small world after all!” No matter the subject matter there are readily available resources literally only a click away.

The personal computer has changed the way we live. I have seen them slowly become everyday tools both in the home and in the workplace. In recent times, we have seen a rise in popularity of smart phones and tablets. These brilliant inventions can be used for just fun and games. But they can also be used as tools of education unlike any we have ever seen. They continue the digital revolution started with computer.
When my teen daughter was a child, I recall buying different electronic learning systems like LeapPad and Hooked on Phonics. They were great tools and helped her tremendously. In today’s world, we have even more choices. If we are able to invest in something like an iPad or other such tablet, that investment can reap rewards for years. With such tools comes the ability to access hundreds of thousands – if not millions - of applications or apps. Among these are learning apps for just about every level. And many are free or relatively inexpensive.

As I mentioned, my son will be 2 soon – in less than 2 weeks actually. My wife has developed a training schedule for him that is just awesome. She has a tablet with some book and learning apps that have helped him to learn so easily. Now he can identify and name colors, shapes, and parts of the body. He can count up to 15. And he loves to be read to. He really has an appetite for learning.

My daughter begins the 9th grade in less than a month. Her first day of school is designated solely as “iPad Training Day.” Her new school has incorporated the use of the iPad as a primary learning tool and that first day is all about teaching her how to use it in her new environment. Her textbooks, class assignments, schedule, school announcements and so much more are on iPads specifically designated for her school.
My plan is to build on what the school is already doing to ensure that we get the best bang for our buck, as the expression goes. The learning environment of today is limitless and it’s all under our control. The fact of the matter is this. There have been budget cuts to education all around this country. But despite that fact, I think that this is the best time in all of our lifetimes for our kids to learn. As parents, we have so much at our disposal to help in the process.
As I write this, it’s summertime for most of our kids. What a good time to develop and implement some strategies to enable them to get a head start when they begin school. We can ensure that they do some reading on a weekly – if not a daily – basis. We can give them research assignments. They can have “internet learning time”, when they browse the web to learn about current events or about things of interest to them. Maybe they can research the profession that they have an interest in and learn of all that it takes to be successful in that profession.
When they start school, we can be active participants in their learning. We can work with them to take on additional assignments to help master their different subjects. If it’s financially feasible, we can even consider getting tutors for them. How about taking them on field trips to places that help them to get a real life perspective on concepts that they learn in the classroom? We can challenge them to set goals and get certain grades; then we can reward them when they meet these goals. There’s just so much that we can do!

The most important point that I can make in this post is this: our children’s education is primarily our responsibility. It’s not the school’s job solely to educate them. We have an important part to play in the process. My daughter just left middle school last year. And guess what? Her teachers – as wonderful as they were – have no more responsibility for her. Her time at that school is done and she’s moved on. But as her parents, my wife and I continue to carry out the responsibility we had even before she started at that school. Her education is in our hands.
I’m 100% for increased budgets for education. It is much needed. But I also want my kids, regardless of the budget approved by the State Legislature, to have the best opportunities to learn. I want them to develop an appetite for what they are taught that they do much more than required to meet the curriculum for each class. In other words, I want them to be motivated learners so that regardless of the budget allotted to their education, they will become the best in their chosen fields.

Malcolm Forbes
As I close this post, let me share a brief story with you. I recall, in the early 90s, watching an interview with the late billionaire businessman Malcolm Forbes. He’s the name behind Forbes Magazine. He was an older man at the time in his last years. He was asked if he had any regrets about life. He simply said that he wished he was born later. He said so because it was the dawn of the internet age. He wanted to enjoying the thrill of running his business empire in that environment. He had great success but he was fascinated by the digital age into which we were headed. Not long after that interview, he passed away.

Today, your kids and mine are living in the age that Malcolm Forbes foresaw and wished that he could witness. Our kids have the capacity to learn so much and do so much in this new world. They can learn to thrive in a world that Forbes could have only dreamed about. Everything is readily available for them to fully take advantage of the opportunity that they have to learn and to grow.

Let’s endeavor as parents to help them to take advantage of the opportunity. Regardless of the constraints placed on us by limited educational budgets, we have so much at our disposal to help our kids reach great heights. What an accomplishment it would be to see them prosper despite the forces that can potentially inhibit their growth.
Moms and dads, let’s help our young ones reach their potential. It’s up to you and me to help them get there. Let’s cheer each other on as they become the successes that they were born to become!

Enjoy your day

The Upbeat Dad

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teaching Your Kids the Importance of Community Service

Over the past several years, I have engaged in different forms of community service. Most recently - just under a year ago, to be precise – I started doing some weekly volunteer work with my church. Each Monday evening, we go to a homeless shelter and share some encouragement with people who many in our society seem to have forgotten about.

When I’m there, I’m amazed at the different stories I hear. Some of the individuals have had it rough for years. Many deal with substance abuse issues; others deal with alcoholism; yet others are just there because they hit a rough patch – bad economy, loss of income and before they knew it, they ended up on the streets.

Each week as I arrive at the shelter, I am heartbroken when I see the number of families that are affected by the epidemic of homelessness. And it’s particularly troubling when I see single mothers who have the responsibility of raising kids without the help of the men who helped to bring them into the world. That’s particularly troubling to witness.

As you may know from the different posts I write on this blog, the family is the primary focus of the work that I do. So when I see displaced families at the shelter, it really does break my heart. Still, it gives me renewed vigor to fight for those affected by the circumstances that led them there. I have a certain sense of responsibility to work relentlessly to alleviate the pain that so many in our society deal with on a daily basis. It helps me to fulfill my purpose as I seek to share words of encouragement with them.

When I am there, I cannot help but reflect on my plight 10 years ago. I was newly divorced and newly broke - bad credit, sky high legal bills and really hurting. I lost the house in the divorce and I had no money to even rent an apartment. You can read more about this in The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad.

I’m a professional – a Certified Public Accountant – but my reality was that I was one step away from being homeless. Had I not had loving family members to take me in while I tried to sort myself out, I really would have been homeless and if only for a while, I could have been in that very same shelter.

I recall once, during that dark period, going to feed the homeless – this time, it was under a bridge where they slept. I stopped to get some food for them and my then-4 year old daughter asked if she could have some of the food. I told her she couldn’t because “we’re taking it to give to people who don’t have a home.” She responded, “Then why can’t we eat it – we don’t have a home.” That was a harsh dose of reality because it was very true; we had no place of our own! But like I said, fortunately we had family members who allowed us to live with them while we got back on our feet.

Rodrick and daughter at the homeless shelter
Today my daughter is a well adjusted 13 year old – or as she tells me, almost 14 (she’ll be 14 this coming September). She knows how important serving at the shelter each week is for me. I generally make the trip alone, driving directly from the office. But several months ago she asked if she could come along one evening. I had never really thought of inviting her along. I guess it’s because it’s somewhat out of the way for me to stop home, pick her up and then get to the shelter on time. Plus I figured, as a student, she was occupied enough with homework and wouldn’t really have time to get involved with something like volunteer work. But she really wanted to come along to share in the work that we do.

I obliged and took her along with me. And, to my surprise and delight, she absolutely loved it. The sense of joy she had in serving and just being a part of the team providing hope and encouragement to those individuals was just a blessing to witness. I didn’t have to instruct her about anything. She came along and just fit right in, serving the people as if they were the most important people on the planet. As a dad, I just beamed with pride seeing her so involved in the process.

Since then, each week she cannot wait to go again. I’ve managed to take her along much of the time but there have been occasions on which it wasn’t feasible. But she loves coming along and getting involved. It’s not something I have taught her; I guess she has watched me and has developed a passion for doing her part to make the burdens of life easier for others to bear.

As you read this, you’re likely in a comfortable situation. You’re probably on your own computer. Or perhaps you’re on an iPad or an iPhone. Maybe you’re at work and just came across this while surfing the internet during lunch. Or maybe you’re in the comfort of your home. You probably don’t have to worry about what you and your kids are going to eat today – or tomorrow or the next day. Whatever the case, things are probably a bit better for you than they are for those who we meet and serve at the shelter each week.

I feel that we owe it to our kids and ourselves to ensure that we become involved in community service. It doesn’t have to be at a homeless shelter. It could be anywhere really – just serving others and sharing a heart of compassion with them. Maybe it’s going to a retirement home and helping to brighten the day of some senior citizens. Maybe it’s helping to paint homes in a not-so-glamorous part of town. The possibilities are endless.

We have a huge responsibility as parents to shape and to mold the lives of our young ones. During childhood I was taught the saying, “The boys and girls of today will become the men and women of tomorrow.” Before we know it, our kids will be off to college or on to chart their own courses in life. The lives that they live will be due, in large part, to the lessons that we teach them while they are young.

When we teach them the value of serving in their communities, such lessons add great meaning to their lives. The quality of their existence is greatly enhanced when they learn the responsibility that comes with being good citizens of this world that we share. And part of that process is giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

In my home state of Florida, I love the fact that, in order to graduate from high school, kids need to have a certain number of community hours of service. These hours can be gotten by working at the shelter where I serve. Or they can be done by some other means of community service. I applaud the efforts by our state legislature to help to instill in our young people the importance of such volunteer work.

For adults, however, there’s hardly a requirement. It’s something that, for the most part, we choose to do. And unfortunately, many don’t see the need to make that choice. Sometimes we hear of some who get into trouble with the law and are sentenced to community service. How sad that some only engage in such valuable service as punishment for breaking the law. To me, community service is a requirement to live a successful life. As the old proverb says, “In giving, we receive.” I have found that to be true. I’m tremendously blessed when I know that through some service I render to someone less fortunate, I help to brighten their day. These are the lessons that I seek to convey to my children.

Life is a wonderful, precious gift. When we can teach our kids the value in serving their communities then we can help them to live the fulfilling lives that they deserve. If you’re a parent, please reflect on the words I’ve shared here and if you need to get started in teaching these lessons to your kids, please do so. And it’s not so much about what we say – it’s more about what we do. Let them learn by watching us serve.

It’s never too late to teach them such valuable life lessons so I strongly encourage you to get started today.  Remember, our kids live what they learn from us. Get started and they’ll be well on their way. This is what parenting is all about – leading by example!

Do enjoy your day!

Rodrick and daughter at homeless shelter

The Upbeat Dad