Family

Teach your kids at all times. When necessary, use words.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that our kids see and hear everything we do and say as parents.

While their faces might be glued to their iPads, it doesn’t mean they don’t notice everything.

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to model for them positive behaviors.

They are watching, and they will imitate.

My kids see me lifting weights daily, they see me reading and writing, they see me working from home, and they know where my meditation cushion is.

Just the other day, my five-year-old ran over to me to tell me that he wants to have muscles like me and wants to start working out with me.

He sees me every day toiling in the basement with weights and knows that’s a positive thing he wants to imitate. That made me happy when he said it.

He also often asks me to read to him, usually when he sees me reading. I’m happy to oblige him and we’ve been reading Jocko Willink’s Way of the Warrior Kid. The book is too advanced for him to read on his own, but I make him point out his sight words on every page to reinforce what he is learning in school.

I want my kids to value physical fitness and discover the joy of learning and questioning, so I make it a point to ensure they see me when I do those things.

I encourage them to not accept everything at face value and to not be afraid to question me or authority figures. If they disagree with something I’ve asked them to do, I give them the opportunity to make a logical argument to me. This is to ensure they don’t grow up to be automatons who are afraid to question future teachers, professors, bosses, or perceived elders. As Socrates said, “To find yourself, think for yourself.”   They are still finding themselves and must be allowed to think for themselves.

Zac Small, in his instructive book, Fatherhood for Modern Times, wrote: “Your children are going to follow your example, not your advice.” This book was helpful for me in internalizing the fact that our kids are always watching and imitating, and I’ve been consciously trying to parent with this constantly in mind. This extremely valuable book is currently on sale for only $9.25 using the code 4THEDADS. I encourage all fathers to read and apply it.

Be that example by showing them and modeling behavior for them. Don’t just lecture them and expect it to get through.

It won’t.

Just as our kids see and imitate the positives we do, they also see clearly the negatives.

Imagine my surprise when my son called his sister an “asshole.” When I asked him what he said he repeated the word (I’m kind of proud he stood his ground). He said he heard me saying it about someone. 

Though he doesn’t always appear to be listening, the fact is he does listen.

It made my wife and me more careful with our language around the kids.

Likewise, if your kids feel constant tension between Mom and Dad at home, they will internalize that this is what a marriage is like.

If your kids see you come home from work and immediately retreat into your “Man Cave” to drink beer all night alone, they will think this is what fathers do.

If your kids see you let the negative news on TV affect your behavior, they will more likely let external events they have no control over affect their emotions and actions.

They see our positive and negative behaviors and they strive to emulate us. This is a remarkable gift since we as parents have the power to model the types of behaviors that will make our kids more successful, happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as adults, and they are a captive audience.  

We must all take this responsibility seriously. It’s easy to see their heads buried in their electronic devices or in schoolwork and assume they aren’t paying attention or listening.

This is false.

I’ve also begun self-censoring what I listen to in the car when they are in the back seat. When my daughter pointed out a “Fuck” in a song I was listening to, I knew I couldn’t continue to listen to everything I might want to.      

The behaviors we model will be different for each parent depending on your own values and interests.

That’s perfectly ok. What works for me and my family doesn’t work for everyone.

But, understand that they are watching, and we have the opportunity to help them every day as they grow into adulthood. A famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

This is how I view parenting. To change it slightly into a parenting and non-religious context: “Teach your kids at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Our daily actions repeated and visible to them count more than our words. Let’s make those actions positive and helpful to them as they develop into adults and future leaders of families and communities.

You Don’t Need Permission To Celebrate

Our son is graduating kindergarten next week. He’s our third and final child and, I’ll be honest, we’ve been savoring all the moments in his life since we know we won’t get to experience them again.

When schools were closed back in March and there was still uncertainty about how long the COVID crisis would last, I told my wife that the kids would not be returning to school this year, no matter what the City government was saying at the time. It was obvious it wouldn’t be going away in a few weeks.  

When I said that, we both realized that this would mean we would miss out on the end of year kindergarten festivities, including his graduation ceremony.

I know it’s only kindergarten and he will have many much more important graduation ceremonies in his future. There is something, though, about the joy that a small child demonstrates during special moments.  

We grieved a bit that we would miss seeing him sing songs with his friends, walk across the stage to accept his diploma, take pictures with his teachers, and take him out to a meal of his choice.

We grieved for a very short time and then got to work.

The fact is we don’t need a school ceremony to make him feel special. We decided we would create our own special day for him to replace what he (and we) would be missing. I recognize that the way we were feeling was probably more about what we would be missing – i.e., watching our baby get lauded – rather than what he would be missing since knowing him he’d rather not get dressed to go to a long ceremony at school.  

The graduation day is next week, and we are prepared. We bought him his own cap and gown, we’re having family over, we’re getting cake, the choice of dinner is up to him, and Mom is making him special items.

We’re making his day special. We know how hard he’s worked this year, particularly since as a December baby he’s in school with some kids who are almost a full year older than he is.

The key is we don’t need to wait for permission to celebrate or rely on the State to create out joy. We’re going to make the day even more special for him than a long-drawn-out ceremony in a hot auditorium could ever be.

To me, this shift in thinking from what could have been to what we will create was key. We could have chosen to focus on the negatives, but instead we turned the situation around and turned it into a positive.

Kids throughout America have been through a traumatic time. They’ve been thrown out of their routines, not been allowed to play in playgrounds, and missed their friends.

Those parents who have done it right have minimized the disruption as much as possible and turned what could have been a bad into a good. I’m inspired when I hear of what some fathers I admire have been doing with their kids.

That has been our goal these last three months. I think we have succeeded. We are closer as a family than ever before. With the normal activities not available to us, we’ve had to get creative. This broke whatever moribund routines we were in and broadened our horizons.  

We’ve created new family traditions. One of the things I most admire about my wife is her ability to create new family traditions seemingly out of thin air. She seems to will new ways of celebrating into existence.

I am grateful for these last few months and, I’ll be honest, I’m dreading the world getting back to normal. We’ll probably never have an opportunity to spend such a sustained period of time together as a family like we’ve had, and I know I will eventually miss it.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned once again as we’ve designed my son’s graduation celebration:

  • Don’t rely on school or anyone else to celebrate your children;
  • Get creative;
  • Never stop creating new family traditions; and
  • Find ways to turn negatives into positives.

Why You Should Not Always Listen To Your Elders

Growing up I was often given the admonition to “listen to your elders.”

The underlying assumption was that by virtue of one’s age alone, a person had accrued sufficient wisdom to guide those of younger generations.

While the passage of years does presumably give a person certain life experiences, a blanket “listen to your elders” statement does not take into account the kind and type of experiences that “elder” has accrued.

As my teens turned into my twenties, then into my thirties, and now into my forties, I have learned the valuable lesson that someone’s age on its own is not sufficient for me to allow that person to speak into my life.

Age is simply not a barometer of the quantity or quality of wisdom a person has.

I was duped.  

I would argue that when a young person is told to “listen to your elders,” the one saying it is trying to mold the younger person into one who is pliable and compliant to those in positions of authority.

This command is, thus, used as a bludgeon to keep younger people in line and unquestioningly obedient to authority. Respect must be earned – and being alive for a large number of earth rotations around the sun is not nearly enough to earn it.

Our Children Learn From Us

This is the lesson I try to impart to my children. Those who wish to speak into their life must earn that right, and they should never blindly trust or submit to anyone. When kids are taught to unreservedly “listen to your elders” it leads to unthinking, passive, complacent, and submissive adults.   

As my friend, The Polite Savage, said:

“As a parent if we instill obedience, submission to authority, and reinforce complacency as opposed to encouragement, curiosity, and self worth, we are subconsciously setting the stage for bullying.”

I have found that some of the wisest people I know are younger than I am. Conversely, some of the most unwise people I’ve come across are older than me and thus, technically, my elder. If I allowed such people to speak into my life, I would be doing myself and my family a disservice.  

Instead of “listen to your elders,” young people should be taught to respect those of all ages, but only follow those who have demonstrated through their actions and experiences that they are worthy to speak into their life.

I can give numerous examples of people in their twenties who are crushing it and who I listen to when they speak on matters of entrepreneurship.

I know men in their thirties who, while they have been a father for shorter than I have, bring so much wisdom to the topic that I would be stupid to not listen to them merely because I am older than they are.

I also know men who are older than I am and who have given me profound guidance on marital issues that have helped improve my life.

All of them walk the walk and have demonstrated to me their knowledge and wisdom. They have earned the right to speak into my life.   

Ultimately, it’s about swallowing your pride and understanding that the answers can, and do, come from people of all ages and backgrounds. There is no monopoly on wisdom and truth, and it can come from unexpected places.

If we are lazy and simply pay attention to those older because they are an “elder,” we don’t serve ourselves well, and we will miss out on many other sources of wisdom. This way of thinking closes off our minds to new knowledge.

At this point in my life, I have developed the quality of discernment and can spot from a mile away who is full of shit and bloviates about topics they know nothing about. While I show such people respect, I would never follow their counsel.  

Discernment and humility are the keys to the puzzle. Take the time to recognize who is worth listening to and be humble enough to consider their advice no matter their age or perceived experience level.

The right experience and true wisdom are much more important than age or outward expressions of confidence.

Fathers should encourage their children’s innate curiosity and help guide them towards the ability to discern who is worth allowing to speak into their lives and who isn’t.

If we do this, we will create children with critical thinking skills, humility, a healthy skepticism for unworthy authority, and greater self-respect.  

Hunter Drew is one of the examples I cited above of a person younger than I am who has proven himself to be wise and who speaks into my life. In his wonderful resource, Fatherhood For Modern Times, he goes into detail on many of these issues that are so important for raising children into critically thinking adults. I encourage all fathers and all who aspire to be one to pick up a copy.

I’m Failing and Winning at the Same Time

I’ll admit that I’m not getting as much done during this quarantine period as I expected.

I thought I was going to spend this time writing and otherwise producing.

That hasn’t happened.

And it’s ok.

I’ve discovered that it’s hard for me to think and write when the kids are home all day. Those who are parents of young kids know that they are always hungry. This means multiple times an hour I have to stop what I’m doing to get them snacks, drinks, defuse an argument, or find a toy they misplaced.  

I am also trying to spend as much time with them as possible. This means daily walks or hikes when they are done with their school work, which usually happens by noon.

I also want to spend time with my wife and, frankly, when given the choice between writing or sneaking upstairs with her, the latter wins every time.

I am also fortunate to still have a job and am working from home. That also takes chunks of time out of each day.

I have also not missed a single basement workout since I cannot let my fitness slip.

I could get angry at myself for not accomplishing all I wanted, but I don’t see it that way. It’s ok to set goals and adapt to the circumstances. In fact, I would argue that this approach is better than being rigid and inflexible.  

I have a lifetime to do productive work, but this dedicated 24/7 family time will probably never happen again.

I intend on taking full advantage of it. That’s why I don’t see how I’ve been spending this time as a failure.

If you are not doing as much “productive” work as you expected but are connecting to your family in ways not usually possible, I’d call that a win.

If, on the other hand, you are sitting around watching Netflix, drinking beer, and eating chips all day, then I would say that’s a loss and there’s still time to make a change.

Ultimately, I see it this way: family time is productive time.

I may not finish writing the book I meant to finish. That’s ok.

I may not come out of this fluent in Spanish. That’s ok.

I know this. My family will remember this time fondly as a time when we were all together making memories.

As a father and husband, there’s not much more I can ask for.   

That’s why I’m failing and winning at the same time.

Note: During the time I wrote this my son asked for a banana and five minutes later asked for an orange ice pop.

Sons Rely On Their Fathers To Teach Them How To Be Men

Young boys are often taught that their innate qualities and nature are, in some way, defective, and that they must bury those parts of themselves to fit in to the dominant culture.  

While I can’t directly control what my son is explicitly and implicitly taught in school or in the media, I can control the lessons we teach him in our home.

The most important lesson I teach him is that masculinity and men throughout history are heroic. I will ensure that he internalizes this positive message and always remembers it.   

He will know that male kings, presidents, emperors, philosophers, poets, artists, scholars, novelists, artisans, builders, farmers, soldiers, fathers, and so many other anonymous hard-working men through millennia, built and shaped our world, and continue to do so.

They created democracy, wrote most of the great works of literature we still study today, refined philosophical thought, created much of the art in our museums, designed and built the great skyscrapers and bridges that are ubiquitous throughout our world, discovered life-saving medications and vaccines that saved untold numbers of lives and alleviated suffering, defeated our enemies and died in horrific numbers keeping our world safe, and lived quiet unassuming lives raising and protecting their families and passing on important lessons to the next generations.  

Men throughout history have been and continue to be heroic.  This is the message we must teach our boys in our homes because we know that revisionist history wants to focus exclusively on the negatives perpetrated by some men throughout history.

My son and I will continue looking at pictures and videos of American soldiers, many of them so young that under new laws they would not even be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes today, storming the beach at Normandy, and dying by the thousands in the desperate quest to free Europe from the Nazis.

We will watch Civil War movies featuring thousands of young men marching towards each other in formation with full knowledge they would probably be cut down by a musket ball.

We will discuss the role of monks during the Dark Ages who painstakingly hand copied great works of ancient literature, thereby preserving those works for all posterity.

Push Back Against the Cultural Narrative

Modern society today tries to tell boys, like my son, that he is responsible for the ills perpetrated by others in the past. He is given the message that there’s something wrong with him, and that he should sit still, shut up, and comply.

There’s not a chance I will let that happen.   

Fathers of sons must counteract these messages that our sons are bombarded with in school, on television, and everywhere else they turn to remind them that masculinity is heroic.

This is why it is so important for fathers to be familiar with history – real history – not the politically correct stories that masquerade as history today. We must be prepared to inspire our sons with tales of heroic men throughout the centuries who, through their actions, built and sustained the world.

At that same time, we as fathers must always demonstrate to our sons our own heroism by forging ahead against the culture by taking care of our bodies and health, improving our minds and spirits, financially providing for our families, and protecting our families in every way possible.

It is up to us to push back against the dominant cultural narrative before our sons internalize its false premise.

If we don’t do it, no one else will.

Never Cede Your Responsibilities to Anyone Else

Our sons must also know that they do not have to do great public acts to be heroic. Countless men throughout the ages and today lived quiet anonymous lives leading and protecting their families and shaping the next generations. They are no less heroic than great leaders of nations.

We go to work, and we know statistically men are far more likely to work in the most dangerous and deadly of occupations, and we provide through the sweat of our brow. We serve as moral teachers, as our guidance helps direct our sons’ innate quest to want to push boundaries and explore. We teach them how to be good at being a man and to be good men (for a greater discussion of the difference between the two, see Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men).

My son and I talk about when violence may be the answer. The fact is that sometimes it may be necessary, but those instances are rare, and must be reserved for proper purposes.  

We discuss justice, and what it means; honor, and how to maintain it; true friendship, and how to find it; and marriage and family, and how to find a wife who will be a true complementary partner.

As he grows up, we will continue to discuss what it means to be a man and the responsibility we have to protect our family from all kinds of harm. He will understand that if he acts in certain anti-social ways that there may be consequences. In short, he will learn the lessons that I learned and that generations of boys learned until recent times.

Fathers, our sons are counting on us to encourage their innate curiosity and desire for action. They need us more than ever to teach them how to be men, heroic men, who will lead in the future and help shape the course of world history.

Let us teach them well, and never cede this responsibility to anyone else.

Hunter Drew recently released a wonderful new resource called Fatherhood for Modern Times, which is an actionable guide for fathers today. I have been working through it and finding different strategies to implement in each chapter. It is a multimedia guide and includes a video and audio file for each chapter of the book. Check it out!

How I’m Making Our Quarantine Productive and Enjoyable

It seems hard to believe how much the world has changed in the last two weeks.

The Governor of New York has asked New Yorkers to not take part in any non-essential activities, and to stay home and away from other people as much as possible. This means we are effectively quarantined at home, and I’m not dreading the next few weeks. Things could be much worse than being asked to stay home with my family.   

After a crazy past week, things should settle into a routine. The teachers spent last week scrambling to put into place a distance learning plan, so the kids are beginning school remotely again.

I’m determined to use this time wisely and productively.

There is no way I will ever be a Netflix and Chill kind of guy, and I have to ask my wife or my daughter how to even turn on the TV.

Here are ten things I’m doing during this unexpected time home:

Write at a minimum 2000 words a day. I’m working on a few different projects, and this will provide me the opportunity to spend more time writing.

Work on a new language. I’m currently working through Pimsleur Spanish. I’m on Day 3 and enjoying the way the material is presented. It’s time to learn a new language! Thanks to those who voted on my Twitter poll and helped me choose Spanish.

Reading Classics I haven’t yet read. I’m currently reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Next up is Orwell’s 1984. While I have read 1984 in the past, it was many years ago and, besides, I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it was a few weeks ago.

Finish audiobooks I’ve been working on for a while. I am currently listening to Sex at Dawn and I Am Dynamite (a biography of Nietzsche). It’s time to finish them.  

Hike in the woods with the kids. My kids are growing up as urban/suburban kids. We are going to change that by hiking many miles of nearby trails.

Continue  my daily meditation practice and increase the time for each session. This has been going well since the New Year, and I am going to continue.

Lift weights in the basement. It doesn’t have close to the variety of equipment I have in the gym, but that’s not an excuse. It’s time to get creative and not let my workouts suffer.

Yard work. We have been putting off some cleanup of our backyard for too long. Now is the time to do it.

Schedule an hour each day with my wife to just talk. I described a good way to spark conversation here. I enjoy our talks and we are going to have them every day.

Continue to wake up early.  I like to wake up before the rest of the house stirs so I can spend it alone planning and thinking through plans. I can’t let this slip.  

Although we are living in a weird new world filled with uncertainty, if we use this time wisely we will look back on it as a time of productivity and increased closeness with our loved ones.

I am determined to make that happen.

Pals

It’s likely that every male who is a member of Generation X watched 1988’s movie, Young Guns, many times.

I know I did. It’s quite possible that I watched it a hundred or more times.  

The movie was a romanticized telling of the story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators, a group of young men Billy was associated with who sought to avenge local merchant John Tunstall, whose murder kicked off the Lincoln County War in New Mexico.

The Old West.

Outlaws.

Betrayal.

Guns.

Friendship.

What’s not to love. 

Young Guns II gave us Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which I continue to believe is one of the best songs in their collection.

In the first movie Billy, played by Emilio Estevez, gave his famous “Pals” speech when Chavez, ably played by Lou Diamond Philips, sought to leave the Regulators, saying:  

“See, if you got three or four good pals, why, then you got yourself a tribe. There ain’t nothin’ stronger than that.”

This speech was created for the movie, but it captures a real truth that all men should internalize and strive to achieve.

Find Your Tribe

Although the word “tribe” traditionally refers to a group of families who share the same culture, language, and traditions who have banded together, it has been co-opted in modern colloquial parlance to refer to a group of unrelated friends bonded by common interests who have, in a real sense, become a family, even though they are not blood related.

Tribe equals family.

The fictional version of Billy the Kid was on to something.

Now, I know the term “tribe” is used by marketers when identifying the demographics of potential customers, but I am using it in a much more important and personal sense.   

Every man should have at least one, but preferably several good male friends that become, in effect, family to them.

In the modern world where extended families often live far apart from each other the concept of “family” has a different understanding than it did hundreds of years ago when multi-generations of blood relatives lived together or nearby in the same village.

Today, many people don’t have the fortune of having extended family nearby. And, when they are, oftentimes deep-seated family issues exacerbated by the modern world prevent families from getting along, let alone acting like a “family.”

We all simply need family support and structures, and our friends can – indeed should – provide that for us in part.  

What Does Male Friendship Look Like?

There is mature friendship and immature friendship.

Immature friendship includes the posturing and flexing you see competitive young men sometimes do in the presence of other young men. Not yet experienced at life and its complications, and unsure how to manage their emotions, some friendships among young men is of the immature variety. They constantly seek to outdo one another and impress each other. Some of the features of these immature friendships are what far too many writers on culture call “toxic masculinity” and unfairly and incorrectly ascribe to all men.   

Another feature of immature friendships is the tendency of some groups of young men to lack a moral compass – in effect they lack the ability to say “no” to each other – and there is no one friend willing to step up to be the moral lodestar of the group.  

Let me explain. True friends don’t let other friends get themselves into trouble by doing stupid things without calling them out or trying to talk them out of it. True friends know each other well, and care for each other and seek to stop each other from doing something that might mess up his life. They look out for each other. Within immature friendships, too often no one looks out for the other to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this since it’s not right or it will hurt us or someone else.”  

Finally, immature friendships include an element of non-friendly competition. Men are by nature, competitive and, yes, my goal is still to outlift my friends in the gym. That’s friendly competition. There are no consequences if they lift more than I do, nor will I try to sabotage their efforts. Within immature friendships it becomes unfriendly when, deep down, your “friends” are hoping for you to fail, or in extreme cases, actively working to ensure your failure.

Until the last five years, I would say many of my own friendships were of the immature variety. There was simply no one there to tell me “Chris, you are fucking up and you are being an asshole, cut the shit.” Instead, most of these immature friendships had the complete opposite dynamic, and my friends encouraged me to do stupid shit, because that’s just what we were all doing, and I would ruin the fun if I didn’t.   

Mature friendship, on the other hand, the “pals” mentioned in the quote I began with, is characterized by a deep concern for the well-being of the other, which means looking out for each other at all times.  

This concern is manifested in your friends calling you out on your bullshit. The fact is they probably know you better than almost anyone and know when you are posturing or acting in a way antithetical to your values or well-being. I think of the scenes in the old cartoons where there is an angel on one shoulder of the protagonist and a devil on the other shoulder, and both are telling him to act in certain way. A mature friend acts as the angel on your shoulder calling you to be the best version of yourself, and the immature friend can be viewed as the devil on your shoulder telling you the complete opposite.    

True friends celebrate your victories with you unconditionally. They root for your success and are genuinely pleased when you achieve it. Likewise, they mourn with you when you don’t.

With mature friends, you can completely be yourself without any filter. You can express concerns, fears, disappointments, and confusion and, likewise, don’t have to hide your joy when you succeed. Immature friends want what’s best for them, and the relationship is built around how they can benefit from the friendship. Mature friends truly want what’s best for each other and think about how they can be helpful to the other friend.  

My Life

For the past five years I have been blessed with mature friendships with two guys. In many ways, we couldn’t be more different; in fact, the only thing I think we have in common is our shared love of working out. We don’t all get together in person too often since it’s hard to make that work with our busy lives and kids and wives. Yet, we talk in some way pretty much every day. We help each other in our various business pursuits without any expectation of compensation. We are a sounding board for each other about business, marriage, fatherhood and, yes, working out. We share our daily ups and downs with each other. Yes, there is a lot of shit-talking that takes place, but it’s all in good fun.

They know everything about me and know how I think, and the same is true vice versa. By now, they can tell from the tone of a text message if something negative is going on in my life that I haven’t shared and will not be shy about asking what’s going on.

They have been there for me, selflessly, whenever times have been rough, and I know they will continue to be there in the future. I hope I have also been there for them in the same way.

They have seen me and heard me at my worst, and also at my best.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through some difficult situations, all of which were caused by my own faulty thinking, without them recognizing it and showing me my errors, even when I resisted. And, oh do I resist when I think I’m right about something and someone confronts me about it.

These are the people I would want my wife to call for help if anything were to happen to me who I can trust with my family, my finances, and any secrets I may have.

This is mature friendship, and I am thankful for it. They make up my tribe, family in the deepest sense of the word.

I know it is not easy to develop such friendships, though I do believe men have an easier time forming them than women do. As an observer it appears to me that some women are more likely to smile at a friend to her face and talk negatively about her behind her back than men are. That’s just my own observation unsupported by any empirical evidence that I know of.

In recent months, my own circle of trusted men has increased with my membership in the Fraternity of Excellence (FOE). Just last night, I participated in a face-to-face Zoom call with about 30 other men where we discussed the concepts of integrity and authenticity with each other. Besides getting to know each other online and through face to face calls, it seems that every day there is some kind of unofficial FOE in-person meetup happening.

If you are a man who is having difficulty finding mature friendship, as I defined it above, I encourage you to give FOE a try, even for a month. The men inside push each other to be the best we can be, call each other out when we are not acting the best we can, and support each other through difficult times. I know, besides the friends I described above, that the men in FOE are also there for me, and I for them.

That’s priceless.

To learn more about FOE, click here.

 

Money, Money, Money…

Managing finances is one of those issues within marriages that frequently causes conflict.

I can say that, in my own marriage, we have never had arguments or even disagreements about money.

It just hasn’t happened.

Not now when we are living comfortably, and not when I was still in school and making very little.

While I know there are several different ways of doing finances as a married couple, I will share what has worked for us.

Transparency

We have and have always had joint bank accounts.

Period.

Venmo, part payment tool and part social media platform, allows you to see who is paying who and for what purpose. Admit it, you creep Venmo too to see which of your friends are paying each other. I can’t be the only one.  

I was struck when I first started using it at the number of married couples who send money to each other for their share of the household bills.

I’ve seen “mortgage,” “rent,” “electricity,” and other explanations that indicate one spouse is paying another his or her share of a regular household expense.   

I’ve even seen one spouse pay another for his/her share of lunch.

This means that they have separate bank accounts and keep at least partially separate finances.

Frankly, I didn’t realize anyone did it this way, naively assuming that everyone just shared money with their spouses in one pot that pays for everything, like we do.  

I could not imagine sharing the payment of bills in this way within my own marriage.

Perhaps my situation is not the norm because my wife is currently a stay-at-home mom. With that said, even when she worked full-time this is still how we handled finances.  

I am particularly cognizant of reminding my wife again and again that the money in the account is not my money – it is our money – no matter what its source. This means she doesn’t have to ask me for permission to spend anything, just as I don’t have to ask her permission to spend.

Now, this doesn’t give either of us carte blanche to blow through the account, and neither of us would ever do that. We both have complete trust of the other. Any large purchases within our home we are both always involved in anyway. She knows, for example, if I am shopping for a car.

We are constantly communicating about finances so there are never misunderstandings, ever.

There will be times I will say something to the effect of, “try to limit the use of the debit card until a check I’m expecting arrives in a couple of days. Use the Amex instead until then.” This isn’t an example of control, since I am also following the same admonition. It’s simply my way of saying the account is a bit low at the moment.

Sharing an account means we are fully transparent with each other. If I was blowing money on hookers and cocaine, she would see the large withdrawals and I would expect her to question me about it, and vice versa.

Our joint accounts extend to our credit card. We each have an Amex charge card on the same account. Using this card keeps us disciplined since we must pay it in full at the end of each month. We use the card mostly for the points, which we convert to airline miles for trips. The flights for our December vacation to Jamaica were paid for using these miles.

This transparency means that neither of us have secrets or opportunities for arguments about money.  We talk things through.

Finances are just never an issue. This was true when we had no income, when we were jointly making $35,000 my first year out of law school, and now.

Allowances

At the beginning of each week, we withdraw an agreed upon sum of money from the bank and split it evenly. This serves as an “allowance,” for lack of a better term, for each of us for the coming week.

This is our personal spending money for the week to be used for whatever we want.  I’ll be honest, I end up putting large chunks of my allowance into my dresser drawer as a sort of savings. When I go on vacation I prefer to use cash, and this mini-savings becomes our spending money during those times.

The allowance amount varies depending on the week and the current financial condition. 

The money in the drawer is also used for buying each other gifts. Of course, if I buy something from a store on the credit card or debit card, she is able to see that I bought something, which can make it hard to surprise each other. The easy solution to that is that we sometimes use some of our saved cash for presents. Each of us have also had a family member order items online for us for complete secrecy.

Do What Works For You

I understand that the way we do things may not work for everyone. We met so young and had nothing in the beginning, so when we started opening bank accounts it just made sense to make them joint. I know those who meet later in life when both parties are established in their careers and already have separate bank accounts may view and do things differently. I am not saying our way is the only way or the right way, but it has worked very well.

My suggestions for those contemplating marriage are:

Discuss Financial Issues before Saying “I Do”: We know that finances are big flashpoint for many married couples. Have the discussions for how you will manage your finances before getting married. This is important. Make sure you share the same values and same goals and are on the same page so there are no surprises or misunderstandings after the wedding.  

Include Money Management in your Vetting: Let’s face it, marriage is a risk and divorce is costly for men. When you meet who think is the girl of your dreams, examine how she spends money. Is she in major debt? Does she make impulsive purchases? Does she save money? These are important questions to consider as you prepare to tie your finances together hopefully for the rest of your lives. If your future wife is compulsive in spending, and can’t stop herself, it may presage other issues, other than financial, down the line.

Be Transparent, Always: Don’t lie about money. Just don’t. Neither of you are children, and you should be able to communicate without fear. Of course, you may not always be able to buy what you want when you want it but communicate what is important to you and work together to spend your money in a way that not break the bank, but still allows you to enjoy life. Lying about finances will inevitably lead to lying about other issues and lead to a marked lack of trust.  

Assign One Spouse the Job of Paying Bills: This is my role in the house. I keep track of bills and pay all of them online (well, except our lawn care company, which doesn’t give that option). With one person responsible for knowing due dates, it will eliminate any confusion and inadvertent blown deadlines, thereby eliminating opportunities for recrimination.   

I understand that every couple has their own system, and some have separate accounts. I am not being critical and would never urge anyone to change something that works well for them. There is no one blueprint for a successful marriage. It depends on a variety of factors, especially the values of the two partners.

There are so many stresses involved in the modern world, particularly for those with children, and it’s sad when married couples allow disagreements about money management add to it.

Don’t let that happen. Talk through these issues. Talk about your values. Find a system that works for you. I recommend full transparency and a joint financial life since I believe it generally leads to greater trust and a better partnership.

On Sincerity in Marriage

The word “authenticity” and all its variations are overused.

Everyone wants to be authentic, and the word is used often in the self-improvement world, perhaps too often.  

It’s an overused word, and I’m not going to use it now.

Instead, I’m going to use a related concept, “sincere.”

The words have a similar meaning. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “authentic” means “being what it claims to be; genuine.”

Sincere” means “honest; not false or invented.”

They mean the same, and I prefer to use “sincere.”

“Sincerity” and social media don’t belong together. They are different animals.

We all know this on a visceral level. Social media has been a part of our lives for more than a decade and, while we recognize the benefits it provides through the connections it forges, it is also very easy to see its drawbacks, and they are many.  

We all know that it’s often used to paint an idealized portrait of users’ lives, while glossing over the not so great or forgettable parts.

It can be thought of as the press release version of real life. A press release is, after all, a form of propaganda where an organization presents its best face and tries to control the narrative. Any organization that issues press releases does so with the hopes that the narrative it writes will be the story that makes it into the newspapers.

Good reporters will dig deeper beneath the surface level of the press release to find what’s missing. Press releases serve a purpose, and that’s to paint an idealized portrait desired by the issuer while ignoring anything that can appear to be negative.

There’s nothing better for a communications professional than to see their press releases printed verbatim in a news outlet. It means they have won, and the narrative they pitched has become the accepted truth, whether it’s the whole truth or not.  

Danger always exists when a company starts to completely believe its own press releases. At that point any remaining sincerity is gone.

I’m guilty as charged in having using social media to present the parts of my life I want to present to the world. It’s always fun to post about the good stuff – vacations, life accomplishments, date nights, and special occasions.

But for all of us, those feel good posts tell part of our story. After all, it’s uncomfortable to write about disappointments, failures, hurts, and other forms of vulnerabilities. It potentially paints us in a bad light and runs counter to the positive narrative – our own version of press releases – we’ve constructed around our lives.

I’ve decided I’m going to make efforts to attack this problem head on and act with greater sincerity on social media. I will show my defeats as well as my victories.   

Sincere Communication

Patty and I have been together for 25 years, since I was 18 and she was 16 years old.

TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the Billboard Number 1 song, Kevin Costner’s disastrous Waterworld was flopping in theatres, and ER and Seinfeld were the top-rated television shows.  

The years since then have been a veritable journey filled with many, many ups, and also many downs.  

At times, we have hurt each other, disappointed each other, made each other angry, sad, and even despondent.

We all love to remember the good parts of our lives and try to bury the bad parts, but both the good and the bad are what make us, us.

Is it possible to expect anything different from flawed humans than to try to eliminate the bad while elevating the good? After all, we want to feel good about ourselves, and it’s a basic survival instinct.

Without the totality of our experiences we would exist as someone other than who we are right now. While we would still have our physical bodies, we would not be us.  

The passage of time has taught both of us, I think, the value of being fully sincere with each other.

We have been discussing and trying to live a concept we are calling “Sincere Communication” for the past year.

What does this mean? Briefly, it means we talk… a lot.

We don’t try to hide behind any masks and strive to show our true selves to each other at all times, even when what we are revealing or discussing may not show us at our best or it may be ugly in some way.

It means we have no fear about sharing our darkest thoughts or feelings with each other, and we will not judge the other for being human. As with social media, it’s s always easy to share happy thoughts; but those that live in the shadows are much harder to reveal, even to the person who has been your partner for so long.  

Far too often during the past 25 years, one or both of us held back parts of ourselves from the other due to fear and not wanting to rock the boat. This led directly to many bad times.  

Holding back parts of ourselves doesn’t happen anymore.

If something is bothering me, or vice versa, the expectation is now that we will discuss it without judgment and without expressions of anger. We will accept it is part of the reality of the other person, and work through it if it something that needs to be worked through.   

I hate using the word “safe space,” since it rightly has negative connotations, but I want to co-opt the concept for our form of Sincere Communication. Our home is, in fact, a safe space where we can and do live without fear in our communications with the other.

It is safe for us to be real with each other at all times, and about any topic.   

Disagreements will happen. Whenever human beings come together there will always be disagreements, but Sincere Communication helps prevent those disagreements from morphing into smoldering conflagrations.

A good analogy, or at least the best I can come up with, is controlled burns in forest management. Such controlled burns are purposely set because they help keep forests healthy by providing many benefits, such as reducing flammable materials, recycling soil nutrients, and providing an opportunity for new vegetation to grow. These controlled burns are much better than unplanned forest fires that could quickly turn into out-of-control catastrophes, ultimately taxing resources to the breaking point and destroying the forest, all wildlife in it, and the surrounding areas.      

If we had lived this way for the entirety of the past quarter century, we would have been able to prevent problems before they bubbled over the cauldron. We would have had greater intimacy because sharing everything with another person brings you close, exceedingly close.

We have full access to each other’s minds now. She knows me, and I know her, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.   

It’s obviously not possible to go back in time and erase bad moments, but it is possible to create the life and relationship we want now by breaking negative patterns and living with Sincere Communication.  

It is not easy at first, particularly when you are so accustomed to holding things in for fear of looking bad or ceding ground in an argument; but it is necessary. Just like a controlled burn of a forest might look scary and dangerous to an outsider, some conversations can appear to be fraught with danger initially due to fear.   

We continue to live this journey every day.

Just as I made the decision to no longer present the sanitized version of life on social media, we jointly made the decision to no longer present to each other the sanitized version of ourselves.  

Life is messy.

It doesn’t always go according to plan.

It includes inevitable pain, failure, and disappointment.

And, that’s ok.

Accept it, enjoy the ride, and live it with sincerity.

My Childhood Encyclopedia Set

Growing up I had an encyclopedia set on shelves in my bedroom.

I don’t know how they got there or when they got there. They were just always there. 

The set was a bit out of date, but I credit that encyclopedia set with instilling in me the love of learning and reading that I’ve always had.

I devoured that entire set, probably reading the entire thing several times throughout the years.

It became a trusted friend, a comforter when I was feeling down, and a source of discovery and joy. While learning something new probably doesn’t compare to Columbus’ first sight of land, in my childhood mind new discoveries in those books probably carried equal excitement.  

Today we have instant access on our phones to whatever information we want whenever we want it. It’s a different world. The difference is my encyclopedia set didn’t come with the distractions that my phone does.

Growing up in the 1980’s, however, my encyclopedia set put the whole word at my fingertips. I spent countless sleepless nights on my bed getting immersed in various topics with the soft lamp light glowing dimly, while staying as quiet as possible so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.

One topic, particularly in history, always seemed to lead into another, sending me down various rabbit holes as I sought to make sense of whatever I was learning about. The best part was, after years of having them on my shelf, there were still nuggets in there I had never read or had forgotten.

I still remember the used book store smell when I cracked a volume open. Even today, when I sense a similar smell it transports me back to those sleepless nights reading alone by lamp light.

It strikes me that children today will never get to experience this. After all, who still has encyclopedia sets in their homes when we have Wikipedia on our iPads? Kids today, even if they are interested in learning, face the danger of distraction on their devices.     While so much more information exists in cyberspace than can ever be put in actual books, the fact is the books don’t have cat memes, social media, or Roblox to provide distraction and instant dopamine hits.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I realize now that my time alone with my encyclopedia set was learning for the love of it.

I loved learning alone with total freedom. At the same time, I hated the stifling school environment where the learning felt forced and was simply not fun.

I guess, in a sense, my time with my encyclopedia set was a more intellectual version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for me where I was free to intellectually transport myself where I felt led.  

This is completely different from the curricula-based school environment where children are trained to be subservient cogs who will eventually trade their time and souls for money in our modern-day economy. They don’t learn to love learning for the sake of learning and exploring the world and their minds.  

It was freedom, and it taught me that learning is fun.

I am so grateful that my parents put those books in my room. I know that is the reason I enjoy reading and learning so much still to this day. I also know it’s the reason I still know, to this day, a whole host of random facts.

This love of learning just to learn is something I try to instill in my kids, though it’s hard because of the constant distractions that bombard their minds constantly. It’s a struggle, but it’s one we as parents should undertake. If kids are not taught that learning can be fun, despite what they experience in school, they will never develop intellectual curiosity and a sense of wonder at the world as a whole.   

That’s tragic.