Dear Dad, You’re Doing It All Wrong (A Letter to Myself)

parenting

Photo Credit: Andrey Zhukov via Compfight cc

Dear Dad,

You’re doing it all wrong.

Eleven years ago, the doctors handed you a little, pink bundle of vulnerability. You were twenty-six years old, and you walked out of the hospital entirely responsible for a brand new human being. A whole person. As if that were a totally sane thing to let you do. It scared you. They eventually handed you two more little people. It was supposed to get a little easier each time.

It didn’t.

You never got less afraid. You never got more certain about how to be a dad. So you decided to make it up along the way. You can stop feeling bad about that—it’s what everybody else is doing, too. The problem is, you improvised by listening to the voices in the world around you, instead of listening to the voice coming from the world within you. You can forgive yourself for that, too. The voices around you are loud and persuasive.

They told you achievement matters most. So you stressed about school districts and kindergarten homework and guitar recitals. You secretly kept score in your head at first grade soccer games. You thought scoring goals was the goal of life.

But can you remember?

Can you remember what it was like to be just a few years out of diapers and to score a goal on the soccer field? You didn’t care about the score and you didn’t start planning for your future soccer scholarship. No, you whipped your head around to be sure they were looking. The real goal was to be seen. The real goal was to have someone to celebrate with.

Dad, you can stop spending all your time trying to get them into school, and you can start taking the time to walk them to school.

The Last Marriage Post You’ll Ever Need to Read

Marriages aren’t destroyed by lack of knowledge. They’re destroyed by our unwillingness to listen to the knowledge we already carry within us…

marriage

Photo Credit: LyndaSanchez via Compfight cc

Around this time last year, in Chicago, we were in the middle of a polar vortex. The thermostat hovered around zero. The schools were frequently closed. It was painful to go outside.

And my wife went to New Orleans without me.

It was a business trip, and she went out of her way to make provisions for the kids and me—she even flew her mother in to help with childcare while I was at work. Nevertheless, on the night the thermostat short-circuited and I discovered dog poop wedged in the couch cushions, she sent me a video of her enjoying Bourbon Street.

And I got as bitter as the weather outside.

When that happens—when I feel like I’m on my own and nobody cares about me—I put a big, invisible wall between me and everybody I love. When she returned from New Orleans, I wanted to be good to her but, to be honest, I also didn’t want to. So, I wasn’t. The problem is, after a few weeks, I was lonelier than ever and I just wanted my wife back.

I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish it, though. I felt like something big needed to change. I felt like something new needed to happen. I got away for an evening to brainstorm ideas, but I couldn’t come up with anything. Until I realized:

I had fallen prey to three big fallacies about how to make a marriage thrive.

The Unspoken Reason For Every Failed New Year’s Resolution

Our New Year’s Resolutions don’t fail because we lack willpower. They fail because we have too much willpower. They fail because the thing we want most is the thing we never say aloud…

New Year's Resolution

Photo Credit: Mink via Compfight cc

The desk is collecting dust.

I look at it and it drives me crazy.

My oldest son is in fifth grade, and his homework demands have increased dramatically, so he’s asked me to help him study more efficiently. Typically, he has completed his homework at the kitchen table, with the family moving to and fro around him. We decided this was distracting, so we set up a study nook in his bedroom. A place to be alone with his schoolwork.

But the only thing sitting alone is the desk.

He hasn’t used it.

I look at the dust-covered desk and I get frustrated with his lack of commitment and resolve. I look at the desk and I grumpily tell myself I won’t give him help the next time he asks. Yet, as I look at the desk, the dad in me can’t keep the psychologist in me quiet. And the psychologist in me looks at the desk completely differently:

It’s not a reflection of his lack of desire. Rather, it’s a reflection of his deepest desire. When we don’t change, it’s not because we can’t. It’s because we won’t. It’s because we want something we’re not saying more than we want the change we’re saying out loud.

The 5-Minute New Year’s Resolution That Will Make All Things New

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T.S. Eliot

mindfulness

Photo Credit: julianrod via Compfight cc

We’re going to take down the Christmas tree.

Again.

Last year, it was depressing.

Not because the holiday season was over, but because we’d done it before. Many times. It felt like, somehow, after a year of striving and scrambling and doing and accomplishing, we were right back where we started. Square one. We hadn’t progressed; we’d returned.

Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. If you can’t accept that, it can be pretty depressing.

That’s what the African immigrant told me. Right before he fired me.

The Top 10 UnTangled Posts of 2014

I grew up in the age of MTV video countdowns. Every day, the music network counted down the top ten videos of the day. And every New Year’s Eve, it counted down the top one hundred videos of the year. On the last night of the year, my family had a ritual: we’d eat junk food, watch rented movies (on VHS), and then just before midnight we’d watch the last few videos of the year-end countdown. I can still remember Bono singing “With or Without You,” right before the ball dropped in 1987.

UnTangled

New Year’s Eve in Seattle Photo Credit: sea turtle via Compfight cc

I loved that tradition. So, I’ve made it a tradition here at UnTangled, too. For those of you who joined us during this lap around the sun, the last post of the year is always a list of the top ten UnTangled posts of the year (ranked by number of Facebook shares). And then I list “the best of the rest” (ranked by how much I enjoyed writing them!). Thanks for joining us this year, and I hope you enjoy the countdown.

And for all of you who’ve been through this ritual with me before, thanks for sticking with us. There was a time in the not too distant past when I couldn’t imagine having a community like this. Now, I can’t imagine not having it. I’m looking forward to another lap around the sun with you in 2015.

But before we do, the countdown.

Happy New Year!

The Top 10 UnTangled Posts of 2014:

10. Promises to Our Boys About Manhood (On the First Day of School)

9. The One Illusion We Cannot Afford to Believe In

8. A Father’s Letter to Young Women (About Getting Naked)

7. A Father’s Letter to Young Men (About How to Treat a Woman)

6. Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine Cards

5. Why I Waited a Month to Write About Robin Williams

4. A Dad’s Letter to His Son (About the Only Good Reason to Get Married)

3. Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

2. The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to Marriage

1. Words from a Father to His Daughter (From the Makeup Aisle)

The Best of the Rest:

10. Why I Stopped Teaching My Kids the Wrong Lesson About Hard Work

9. Why Nobody is Interested in the Secret to Self-Confidence

8. How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

7. How Losing Your Senses Could Make Sense of Everything Else

6. The Virus is Coming

5. How to Feel Joy (With These Five Little Words)

4. The Best Way to Respond to a Compliment

3. What Were You Made to Do?

2. Three Metaphors for the Outdated Institution of Marriage

1. 3 Ways Frozen Subverts the Usual Fairy Tale Rules

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

————— 

Next Post: Why Lines Make Us Sick (and How Circles Can Heal Us)

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Why the Stillest Silence Always Comes Before the Greatest Gifts

Whether you observe Christmas or not, the order of the celebration has something to teach us about being human: the stillest silence always precedes the greatest gifts…

true self

Photo Credit: Mandajuice via Compfight cc (cropped)

The red light always flashed reliably in the dark distant sky.

When I was young, every Christmas Eve, my family traveled to a nearby town to visit relatives, and then drove home through miles of cornfield. For most of the drive, in the distance, there was a tower with a red light blinking on top of it. For years, I wondered if it was Rudolph’s nose. As I grew older, the mystery of it wore off, but I still watched that red light blink rhythmically in the black night sky. It’s difficult to remember a single childhood Christmas gift, but I remember that red light. It was steady and still.

It was the icon of a silent night.

Now, many years later, as I talk with people about this holiday we are about to observe, most of them tell me they prefer the silent night over the celebratory day that follows. Our hearts, it seems, gravitate toward stillness. Why? Because our hearts know silence always precedes the one gift all of us are truly searching for:

Our true selves.

When Did You Stop Asking for What You Want?

It’s a Saturday morning in early December, which means I’m sitting at the kitchen table with the kids, a cup of coffee, and a discussion about all the Christmas gifts they want. I’m annoyed by all the asking—it seems a little materialistic—so I decide to rain on their parade:

gift

Photo Credit: Jamie In Bytown via Compfight cc

I ask, “Which month do you like better—December or January?”

And of course they all scream, “December!”

So I ask, “Most of December, you don’t have any new gifts, but in January, you have all your new toys. If the gifts are so great, why do you like December more?”

They roll their eyes and ignore me and the stream of requests begins to flow again. As I listen, though, the stream of requests is my answer. What makes December so joyful for kids?

They are given the freedom to want and to ask.

Which is More Important, Your Marriage or Your Children?

The answer is your marriage, and the answer is your children. The answer is neither. The answer is both. The answer, actually, is to begin asking a different question altogether…

marriage and children

Photo Credit: chrisjtse via Compfight cc

Two months ago, one of my posts about marriage was picked up by the Huffington Post and went viral. In it, I wrote, “Our kids should never be more important than our marriage, and they should never be less important…Family is about the constant on-going work of finding the balance.”

I expected it to be an unpopular statement.

But as the conversation unfolded some people said, “He’s right, your marriage is more important.” And others said, “He’s right, your children are more important.” My statement had become like a Rorschach inkblot test: everybody projected their own beliefs onto it.

Or, rather, everybody projected their way of thinking onto it.

The 8 Reasons We Should Wish Each Other Crappy Holidays

Happy holidays! Joy to the world! Peace on earth! Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! This time of year, season’s greetings ring out everywhere. But as a therapist, they can ring a little hollow, because this is also the time of year when my phone starts ringing…

Merry Christmas

Photo Credit: nicola.albertini via Compfight cc

In the midst of a season advertised as joyful, a therapist knows the truth: suffering doesn’t go on hiatus for a season. In fact, it is often intensified by the season. But a therapist also knows:

We get to our happiness by admitting our crappiness.

Revealing is the beginning of redeeming.

Confession is the birthplace of connection.

What if, this holiday season, instead of trying to be extraordinary, we let ourselves admit, reveal, and confess the ordinary struggles of our human lives? This is easier said than done, because when we’ve been told our whole lives we should be a certain way, we sometimes need permission to be a new way. So, from a therapist’s office, here’s some eight-fold permission to be more fully human this holiday season:

A Letter of Thanks to You

gratitude

Photo Credit: Amber B McN via Compfight cc

Dear You,

Yes, you.

Thank you, Faithful Friend. Thank you for the grace you give—the grace that reminds us we’re okay, good enough, even lovely. Thank you for being a space where we know we don’t have to do anything or impress anyone to be worthy of love and belonging. For being the embrace that doesn’t go away. For being the family we choose.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Exhausted Parent. Thank you for being bone tired because you care enough to pay attention. Thank you for remembering—no matter what the kids try to tell you—eye contact matters more to them than any iPad ever will. Thank you for looking them in the eyes, when all you want to do is close yours. Thank you for loving them enough to give them all of you, and then loving them enough to let them go.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Rebellious Spouses. Thank you for rebelling against the consumer disease. For refusing to treat your marriage as one more commodity in a world of purchased things. For refusing to make it a transactional place where you get what you you’ve always wanted and, instead, insisting it is a sacred place where two people learn to give what has always been needed.

This world is a better place because of you.