A Sustainable Legacy

To be a successful father, you must keep two thoughts in the forefront of your mind: 1) do all within your power to leave the world in better condition than you found it and 2) strive daily to leave to leave better children for the world. Both are necessary to leaving a sustainable legacy of wise stewardship.

In my experience, the former happens primarily at work, while the latter work out when I am at home or on vacation. I think about both all of the time, in fact, thoughts about me or my needs seldom punctuate the steady flow of ideas, plans and action steps that I hope will accomplish my goal of successful fatherhood. It’s not that I don’t enjoy myself, neither do I feel myself a martyr for the cause of the future, but I recognize as I have mentioned on occasion that my fulfillment depends squarely on my ability to assist others to their fulfillment.

Enough about me, what about you? On which topics are the bulk of your mental calories burnt? I find it encouraging when you voice agreement with my thoughts and ideas (and enlivening when you don’t), but I find it seriously inspiring when I hear how you – in specific terms – are working to leave the world a better place and if applicable, to leave better children for the world we are so privileged to share.

On Parenting and Flying

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable . . . after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.” ~ Gene Cernan

I’ve learned a great many lessons as an aviator over the years, all of which have left me a better pilot. What I didn’t expect, however, is that those experiences would also improve my parenting skills.

Here are a few of the lessons I discovered in the air that, properly heeded, can make a you a more capable parent on the ground:

  1. A good pilot doesn’t manhandle the controls. A good many pilots are “Type A” personality and they must learn to resist the temptation to force the aircraft to submit to their will. Most aircraft are inherently stable and as such respond more favorable to a gentle touch. Lesson learned: Just as a thumb and a finger on the yoke are almost always more effective than two clenched fists, finding the least forceful intervention when dealing with children provides for an overall smoother experience for both parent and child.
  2. A good pilot uses all available resources. This is true in both pre-flight planning and during the flight. In small aircraft a pilot may even enlist the help of his passengers to keep an eye out for traffic on a busy day. Lesson learned: children love to participate, long to be helpful and love new challenges. Look to include them creatively in what you are doing, especially around the house. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have more experience than you.
  3. A good pilot stays ahead of the aircraft. Many aviation accidents occur because an inexperienced (in relation to the craft or the mission) pilot gets behind the aircraft in his thinking. This is an uncomfortable and unsafe position that every pilot finds himself in at some point in his flying career. In such critical moments he must take a deep breath and say to himself: “Fly the airplane.” Lesson learned: Your children are going to get out ahead of you every now and again. Don’t sweat it! You’re an adult and there is no better time than this to take a deep breath and bring your experience (both to-do and to-not-do) to bear on the situation.
  4. A good pilot learns not to let distractions consume his focus. Distractions are inevitable. A strange noise, an unfamiliar sensation, an unusual sequence of events can happen when you least expect it (if not during every flight over large bodies of water). Take note, keep it in perspective, but don’t forget to…yes, you guessed it…fly the airplane! Lesson learned: Be willing to be surprised by your children. They will inevitably come to you out of left field, despite your best attempts at making them good little girls and boys. Stick to the basics where you can…there is no replacement for a loving, caring and attentive parent. By the way, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected with your children. They will love it!

As I mentioned previously, parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Do Your Part

In January 2009, Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson river after a mid-air collision with a flock of birds. Everyone survived. You have likely heard Captain Sullenberger’s story, but for the first time we have a chance to hear from Ric Elias, who was sitting in the front row of that flight.

Ric’s realizations are important. Forged in an emergency, as life-changing moments often are, Ric describes the three things he learned in those few precious minutes before the plane crashed in this chilling, yet inspiring clip:

Ric Elias, Flight 1549

Have you had such a moment in your life, or courtesy of the life of another close to you, a moment where you come to terms with what really matters and finally turn your back on what does not? Your lifespan – for better or for worse – is relatively short and the sooner you realize how absolutely precious each moment is, the better.

Make the most of your day today and be at rest with anything which detracts from that goal. Focus your energy on building creative momentum, rather than obsessing about that over which you have no control. Relinquish your death grip on the past, stay on your toes in the present and keep an eye and an ear trained on the future.

If you wait for the big moment to happen, you’ll likely be twiddling your thumbs for a long time. If you handle the little things right before your eyes to perfection (or as close to it as you can), handling the big things will be just another walk in the park. Nota bene: any victory in life, whether it is your own or that of one of your fellows, creates momentum for the entire body of humanity.

Do your part to conserve that momentum. Once you do, you’ll find it hard to be satisfied with mere conservation. Believe me, you’ll be inspired to add to the momentum by creatively handling every single situation that comes your way.

Laugh, Love, Live!

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” ~ Yiddish Proverb

I have the good fortune to put my sons to bed most nights and I have to admit that it takes everything in me not to get them amped up when they make me laugh. Four and five year olds are funny! As a father I am always on the lookout for opportunities to develop my sons young minds, and one of my favorite approaches is through the use of humor.

Humor is a powerful form of expression. Used properly, it serves many purposes. Humor can free the mind of tension, uplift a saddened heart, bolster a flagging spirit and bring perspective in ways that serious discourse cannot. There have been a number of times in my life where a friend lightened my mood by clowning around, telling a joke or bringing back fond and funny memories and vice versa. Humor and the laughter that ensues are powerful medicine.

Laughter also distances us from life’s challenging experiences. Humor, rightly timed, helps us to step back from that which looms large in our minds and hearts, get perspective on the matter and move on. If you can be buried under the weight of the difficulties in your life, you will be. If, however, you open yourself to the currents of inspiration that flow naturally from a humorous friend, you will rise up.

My sons are particularly fond of funny word games, plays on words and rhyming yet nonsensical word substitutions. If you develop a love for language in children, they will be set to learn for life. You can greatly expand your understanding of language by learning the subtle nuances of language-based humor. Learn language, especially its underlying grammar, and you then have the building blocks in your vocabulary to learn anything else you set your mind and heart to learn.

Life is a serious matter, but be too serious and life will slip through your fingertips before long.

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Magical Life Lessons

Today’s consideration comes to us thanks to a quarter, an HVAC register and two little boys. My sons were performing magic tricks this weekend, one of which involved the use of one of each of my son’s quarters. This was not a run-of-the-mill trick, for the goal was to create a new quarter, not make one disappear.

Unfortunately, the show went terribly wrong. My eldest son accidentally sent my youngest son’s quarter rolling toward the register and it then fell – tinkity-tink! – through the grate and into the duct. Instead of producing another quarter, the trick generated a flow of tears from my youngest son, for it was his quarter that had been lost.

Rather than indulge my youngest in mourning his loss overly, I sought instead to use it as an opportunity to help him handle the energy swirling around the painful situation more effectively.

I asked him what happened.

The reply took a couple of minutes as he choked it out between sobs, but he finally described the nature of the problem. Something he had was lost and he didn’t know how to get it back. I then asked how crying was going to help get it back. He looked at me, puzzled by the approach I took, and said, “It won’t, Daddy.”

As soon as he spoke the words, his brother apologized and offered to help fish it out of the vent. I instructed them to both go to the utility drawer to get a tool that might help us get it out. They returned moments later, my eldest with a flat-tipped screwdriver and my youngest with a tape measure.

I thanked them both and then came lesson number two from the event.

My older son said in a perhaps not intentionally disdainful tone, “Daddy, a tape measure is not going to help in this situation!” I very quickly replied “Well it is the perfect tool to get the job done”, partly to defend my youngest son’s feelings and partly because I did have a plan to make good use of the tools that came my way by their little hands.

Image by Gregg Hake

I used the tape measure as a fulcrum and the screwdriver as a lever, which prevented any damage to the floor or my hands. As soon as the register was up, I quietly commented to my eldest son that he should always be thankful for the tools given to him by others, no matter how foolish or useless the gift may seem. He got the point.

But we didn’t get the quarter.

It rolled well beyond reach and though we had a chance to clean the duct (it’s amazing what lurks in there!), it took another magic trick to recover the quarter. While I was twenty-five cents poorer at the end of the day, my sons learned two priceless lessons.

Quiet Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” ~ Maya Angelou

My father is a man of quiet courage. I’ve always admired his graciousness and desire to help others, his love of family and passion for life and I wish that every son could have a father as consistent and supportive as he is.

I watched him sit quietly yesterday evening with his granddaughter nestled in his arms and the look in her young eyes said nothing short of: “I have found heaven on earth.” The hushed and tranquil scene gave evidence of a certain quality of peace that emanates from one who is courageous, a peace that both soothes and inspires.

Fatherhood is a bountiful privilege coupled with a sacred responsibility. In my opinion there ought to be specifically designed classes that prepare young men for fatherhood – lessons to ensure that a young man is good and ready to take on the job. The fact that home economics has been dropped from most public and private school curricula is to me a tragic omission that leads to unprepared parents with unrealistic expectations.

Several topics should be covered in such a course:

  • Budgeting
  • What you need in your toolkit
  • Typical home repairs
  • The importance of play
  • How to read to children
  • Encompassing without smothering
  • Protecting without hovering
  • Meal time etiquette
  • Handling pressure
  • Setting routines that change over time
  • Growing with your child

I could go on! Those topics are just a few that stood out to me relative to my childhood and I know that a little thinking on this matter could go a long way to change the world we share over time.

Many people are needlessly and terribly handicapped by their childhoods. They wobble into their adult years with blind spots, flat spots in their skill sets and holes in their character. It’s no wonder the world is the way it is when you stop to think about it. We’re not preparing people correctly. We’re missing the important things in the mad search for knowledge and facts.

I cannot thank my parents enough for the solid foundation they gave me in my childhood and I hope that each one of you, dear readers, has at least one or two things that you truly appreciate about what was provided for you during your formative years.

If so, please share!