On Children by Kahlil Gibran

A good friend from high school sent me this poem. I love it.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Trust

Two weeks ago, we drove to the Las Vegas airport with our 15–year old daughter. We went inside and escorted her to security. We made sure she made her way through security before leaving.

Our daughter was on her way to Dallas to visit her boyfriend.

Were we worried she’d be safe?

What if she made unwise decisions?

What if she didn’t have fun?

I thought about these and other concerns parents have about their children. My spouse and I spoke about them together and with our daughter. We confirmed the details of her trip and knew she’d be taken care of while in Dallas so we decided she was mature enough to make the trip.

Above all else, it comes down to this: We trust our daughter.

She makes wise decisions regarding her free time, her schooling, and her friends. She has a track record of making wise decisions. That could change, and I’m sure she’ll have ups and downs. But we are trying to raise our children to make most of their own decisions.

I grew up in a church where many decisions were already made for me. It’s easy to offload a good chunk of parenting to the church without giving it much thought. I believe my parents assumed the church would teach me about a number of important topics ranging from alcohol to sex.

My parents and the church were in total agreement so whatever I was told at church was an extension of their rules. My spouse and I are not raising our kids in a church which means we need to have these conversations with our kids instead of assuming it’s happening elsewhere.

I am certain that we will make mistakes. We were both raised in an orthodox religion so it’s been both a challenge and relief to learn as we go. I believe that our children will be better off in the end.

As for the trip to Dallas? Our daughter returned home safe and sound. The only problem? She’s ready to go again!

Giving Thanks

After the last of the meat was removed from the turkey, the dishes placed in the dishwasher, left-overs bagged and put in the fridge for tomorrow, I had a few moments to contemplate the day without hungry kids pulling at my sweatshirt.

The week had been a rough one with Kim having tooth pain and two root canals within a 4-day period. A couple of kids were coming off illness that kept them home from school. Like most holidays, Thanksgiving snuck up on us while we weren’t quite ready to face it. With new meds in hand, we decided on Thanksgiving Eve at 9:30 pm while standing in the bakery at Harmon’s that we would attempt to make a traditional dinner because that’s what our kids wanted more than anything over the fall break.

And we pulled it off. Well, we were not ready to eat till 6:30 pm, but we prepared the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams and the pumpkin cream pies that take two hours of constant stirring over a hot stove.

I sat at the table and listened to the kids tell corny jokes to their aunt and uncle whom our kids love to death. At one point, Anna’s laugh so we obnoxiously ear-piercing loud that I considered asking her to tone it down a notch. But I decided to sit back and let it go because they don’t have this opportunity to laugh and spend time with aunts and uncles and cousins very often.

Later in the evening Kim’s brother and spouse stopped by with two more relatives from Costa Rica. Our living room was so full of kids that the adults sat on the floor next to our lit but otherwise undecorated Christmas tree. I sat back against the wall exhausted from the day’s activities and watched the kids run back and forth. Our guests from Costa Rica spoke Spanish to each other while my brother-in-law translated for them. Luca played Christmas tunes on the piano while the boys played Super Smash Brothers.

I loved every minute of it.

In spite of a tough week of sickness, we ended it on a high note with family and friends. The food tasted wonderful, but what made the day special was spending it with people who value our friendship and accept us as we are.

No Turning Back

How many time has someone told you that happiness is just a matter of being yourself?

It seems so simple. But I’m convinced we often don’t mean it. Or we mean it but only within a narrow range of behavior.

Schools, companies and churches reward compliance and attempt to categorize us based on traditional roles. Teachers reward a very narrow band of behavior. Companies reward predictable behavior. It seldom pays to rock the boat at work. Churches reward members who toe the line, and punish those who question why things are done a certain way.

I’ve spent most of my life being the person I thought my parents, teachers, friends, and church leaders wanted me to be. In high school I was rewarded by performing well in sports. I wasn’t expected to be a stand-out academic. When I was called to serve a mission, I assumed I should pack my personality because “being myself” would be the best way to meet and convert Germans to my beliefs. The first time I was dismissed in class I understood that what the church actually wanted was a doctrine spewing clone that never went off script.

Even as I write this blog, I’m aware that a few people come here expecting me to write a certain way and use language that’s not upsetting. Recently I’ve been told that I shouldn’t write about my beliefs because they are too personal and they upset others. This has never crossed my mind because I figured if what I wrote was upsetting anyone, they could stop reading what I write.

This blog is one place I can be myself. I’m OK that my children know where to find it and have enjoyed the questions they bring to me after reading it. They know I make a lot of mistakes. My son read my post about being married before and had some tough questions for me. I was caught off guard, but the result was a memorable discussion with my son who came away knowing a bit more about my life, even if it included periods for which I’m not proud.

I’m struggling to figure out what it means to be me. My entire belief system came crumbling down a year ago. It’s been challenging to pick up what pieces are left and see how they fit into my new life. My beliefs have ostracized family members and cost me a few friends which has been the worst part of it all. On the flip side, I’ve had a lot more people with similar theological struggles reach out to me and provide support. But most of them are looking for a sympathetic ear because they are in a situation where making their beliefs known could cost them their marriages.

But there’s no turning back. After nearly 5 decades of allowing people to define who I am, I’m taking a step towards being the person I want to be rather than the one others expect me to be.

This Is What It’s Really Like

One benefit that’s come from starting my own business and working from home has been the time I’ve been able to spend with my children. When I had a longer commute and worked a corporate job, I was occasionally able to attend important school events like awards assemblies or field trips to the zoo.

These events are planned in advance. I always looked forward to witnessing first hand how my children interacted with adults and their peers. Kim handled the day-to-day activities while I cherry-picked the best activities which I could join.

But now that I’m home during the day I see events for how they actually are.

Yesterday my daughter woke up sick. Two years ago, I would have patted her on the head before darting off to catch the train, hoping she’d feel better. But now I found myself sitting next to her  as she threw-up whatever medication she’d taken 10 minutes earlier. As I headed to the bathroom to dispose of the meds that had thankfully found their way into a large plastic bowl, I said to myself, “This is what it’s really like.”

Mothers will probably laugh at my naiveté. Of course that’s what it’s like!

So while I now understand that I’d make a miserable nurse, I’m also learning to connect with my children in ways that were not possible when I was away 12 to 14 hours a day. Like last week when I took Luca to get fitted for contact lenses.

Our oldest daughter is nearly 14 years old. She’s the first to remind me that I’m not earning myself any coolness points by wearing shorts, flip flops and a hoodie around town.

I found myself sitting in the lobby while Luca was escorted back to the exam room. I figured I’d see Luca in about 30 minutes if everything went well. So I was surprised when the receptionist approached me and said, “Luca asked if you’d come back to the exam room to be with her.”

I was surprised. The door to the exam room was open, and I could her chatting with the doctor. But I made my way to her and took a seat in the corner. “Are you ok?” I asked.

She nodded.

I sat there for the rest of her exam, wondering what my daughter will grow up to be, but thankful I still have a few years with her before he goes off to college. Between friends, schools, and music, I’m not left with a large chunk of time to spend with her.  I know the time will come when she’ll leave home to make a life of her own.

But it felt good to feel that there are times when she still wants me by her side.

Lunch Detention

I found myself in the principal’s office this morning. Sitting across the desk in my University of Utah hoodie, I explained how my son had been bullied by another student this past week.

At least I think he’d been bullied. My son is in first grade, and he loves to tell stories about how he’s been wronged on the playground. My job as his father is to believe his version of the story. One day he had scratches on his face. The next day his lip was swollen and bloodied.

And then yesterday he ran to the car after school to tell his mom he’d been placed on lunch detention. I have no idea what lunch detention is, but it sounds as serious as a heart attack.

So I made an appointment to speak with the principal.

Had this been my first child, I would have acted rationally and notified the police, called an attorney and notified the local news station. But this is my fourth child, and I wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy to meet with the principal without a Diet Coke because I stayed up too late watching Seinfeld reruns.

I explained to the principal what my son had told me. He listened. He then asked a few questions before telling me his plan to solve the issue. I told him how much my four oldest children enjoy attending his school. We shook hands, and I returned home.

One benefit of having children at a later age is that I feel more prepared for these situations. Sure, I want to make sure my son isn’t injured at recess. But I don’t pretend to have all the details of what happened on the playground last week. My son can be agitating at times. OK, much of the time. It’s very possible he’s as much to blame as the other boy.

Before my son went to school this morning, Kim sat next to him and asked, “Can you think of something nice to say to this boy? Maybe he just needs a friend.”

I like that approach. We all need a friend.

Learning to Wet Shave

I purchased my first Braun electric razor in 1987 while I was living in Germany. Up until that time I shaved using cheap disposable razors. That’s what I watched my father use, and I figured I’d continue the tradition of blue Gillette razors and gooey aerosol shaving cream.

My father told me I’d eventually want to move to an electric razor because it would be easier to navigate the numerous chin scars with a blade behind an aluminum foil. I found his words to be true after plunking down about $200 for the nifty Braun gadget. Without prepping my face with any oils, lotions or creams, the Braun glided over my face removing the day’s stubble in less than three minutes. No mess. No cleanup. I couldn’t imagine ever going back to a razor of any kind.

And then last year I came across an article from Lex Friedman titled,  The Wet Shave.

I was curious, but it all seemed a bit overwhelming. There was a list of required items to purchase and learn to use. I had upgraded to a third generation Braun unit, but wasn’t happy with the closeness of the shave it delivered, even when I frequently swapped out a new blade and foil. So a couple of months ago, I decided to give wet shaving a try. I began to add an item here or there to my Amazon shopping cart until I had what I needed.

I’ve waited a couple of months to write up my thoughts on wet shaving because, frankly, it’s an ongoing learning process. It reminds me of skiing where the first few times totally suck because you fall down so often you’re constantly cold and wet. I would have given up wet shaving after the first few times had I not read from others that using a safety razor comes with a learning curve.

After the first week of wet shaving, I wondered if I could return everything to Amazon.

After the second week, I was bleeding a bit less after each shave.

But the third week, I was determined to master the art of wet shaving after Kim mentioned how smooth my face felt.

I’m still a long way from mastering the wet shave if that’s even possible. I haven’t yet packed up or sold my Braun, but I haven’t used it in over two months either.

Here is the process and products that are working well for me today. They may also work well for you, but don’t assume that’s the case. Experiment and figure out what works well for you. I shave right after I get out of the shower while my skin is still a bit damp and relaxed.

I rinse my face with warm water before I do anything. While my face is wet, I take a shaving brush and run it under the warm water. I give the brush two shakes and then swirl it around William Mug Shaving Soap in a shaving bowl.  You don’t need a lot of soap.  As for the shaving brush, I’ve tried a few, and prefer the ones with synthetic bristles. You can drop a lot of money here on badger, boar, or horse hair brushes, but the Parker synthetic is just about perfect.

I then swirl the brush with soap around my face until it’s evenly covered. The goal here is to lift the stubble making it easier for the blade to reach and cut. I do this to one side of my face so the soap doesn’t dry out.

You’re now ready for the razor. I really like the Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor because it feels sturdy and stable in my hands. Unlike plastic disposable razors, the Merkur doesn’t require much pressure at all. The weight of the Merkur provides just the right about of pressure against your face to remove the stubble. Press too hard, and you’ll be donating some skin to the sink. I shave one half of my face at a time, and I start with my sideburns before moving to my chin, neck and upper lip areas.

You will need to keep a number of blades on hand. The number of blade options is absurd, but I prefer the Personna Double Edge Razor blades after trying a few brands. I swap out a new blade after every five shaves, but your mileage may vary.

Only shave where you’ve lathered. The quickest way to cut yourself is to run the razor over a dry area of skin. If you miss an area, lather your face before going back to your razor. I use the Williams Mug Shaving soap on the first two passes. It lathers well and is cheap, but it’s unscented and far from indulgent. One reason to wet shave is to pamper your skin, so on the third and final pass, I use a more expensive shaving cream from Taylor of Old Bond Street. I love the grapefruit scent and the rich cream feels wonderful. Like the soap, you only need a small dab of cream to lather your entire face.

Once I’m finished with the razor, I rinse it off and place it back in this stand from Perfecto. It holds both my brush and razor.

While my face is still wet, I run this alum block over my face. It acts as an astringent and closes any razor nicks I inflicted upon my face. It stings a bit and acts as a reminder that running a blade over bare skin is not something to be taken lightly.

I let my face air dry before applying an aftershave lotion. I have never used lotions on my face because I can’t stand the feel of any oily substance on my face. But I’ve found two aftershave lotions I really like. The Neutrogena Post Shave Lotion doesn’t leave my face feeling oily and is affordable.

If you really want to pamper yourself, grab the Aveda aftershave. Kim bought me some of this for Christmas, and I have no idea how she expects me to go back to anything else.

I’m still learning how to best take care of my skin, but I love the close shave that only a real blade can provide. It takes some patience to learn how to maneuver the blade around my face without gouging my skin. I’m learning to ease up on the pressure of the razor as to not nick it up more than it already is around my chin area.

The biggest downside to wet shaving is that it takes now takes me about 10 to 12 minutes to shave compared to 2-3 minutes with my Braun. But I’ve found this is also one of the benefits of wet shaving that I enjoy the most. Shaving used to be as exciting as brushing my teeth. Now I look forward to the days I shave because it slows down my morning and gives me time to indulge my skin.

I find the whole process relaxing and a great way to begin my day.  It might be time to box up the Braun.