Freedom of the Mind

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste” was the original slogan of United Negro College Fund, and has been one of the most successful advertising slogans since the 1940’s. Unfortunately, just because a slogan is well-known does not mean the principle is well-understood. Through advancements in technology, access to information has taken off and there is a near endless amount of educational information available to the general public. At the same time, there is also a near endless amount of entertainment content available to the general public. This means we constantly have a choice in what type of information we are consuming.

Since our brains are endless repositories, we can never be in danger of filling them with too much information. There is no need to worry about being too smart. There is a need to worry about being ignorant. Whether its willful ignorance (don’t want to know) or passive ignorance (never knew that before), we should constantly strive to enlighten ourselves and throw away ignorance of the past. While your past may be filled with dogma or opinions of others that you have accepted as truth, it is never a bad thing to question everything.

How many others were constantly questioning everything since they can remember? Why is the sky blue, why is it so cold in the winter, why does a loving deity send people to be tortured forever, etc. We are the lucky ones, with a natural instinct to not accept everything at face value and go from there. For most of us, the process of awakening to reality happens at some point. There are others who don’t have it so lucky. Many people whose natural instincts to question were either weak from the start or were taught out of them by authority figures in their lives. Authority doesn’t want you to question, it just needs you to blindly follow.

Enter- tribalism. Many people have a need to belong to a certain group and appreciate the simplicity of a dualistic choice, us versus them. Left vs. right, Yankees vs. Red Sox, God vs. Satan, Muslim vs. Christian- these are all examples of current tribes. Ignorance creeps into tribalism easily, allowing you to only see one picture of reality. It is nice to feel like you belong and that fulfills an essential human need, so it is easy for people to fall in these traps.

I fell into this trap many times and some of my tribal affiliation still lingers, but more as guidelines instead of rules. It is hard to fight the urge to have a simple worldview again because considering different viewpoints will always be more difficult than holding onto a familiar viewpoint. Change does not come easily, but it is one constant in life and essential for growth. Your strength is defined by your adaptability to change.

Just remember, an open mind is a free mind and a free mind is capable of anything. Listen to opposing viewpoints and consider different sources of information because if anything is worth believing it can withstand challenges. Don’t be afraid to go down some rabbit holes or to see things that don’t fit with your worldview. These are all ways you can grow intellectually and see the world through a more accurate lens.

Happy Friday!

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Posted in Society

Crisis of Direction

Millennials get blamed for “killing” everything from traditional retail stores to the latest accusation from Bloomberg, that they are killing American cheese. This type of thinking is minimalistic and completely ignores the fact that change is one of the few constants in this world. Almost every generation has seen younger generations as a threat to their status quo and worried about the potential implications for the future. People have been trying to explain the effect millenials are having in the marketplace, but there is a surprising lack of focus on the underlying causes.

My generation has been a part of the new information age and the monumental rise of technology since we were children. I went from reading magazines in the library to using the library computers for fantasy baseball and emailing friends; from passing notes back and forth with friends at school to logging on AIM or Yahoo Messenger to speak with friends online. We lived through a giant leap in technology and were able to experience everything as it came. At the same time, there were more women in the workforce than ever before and the definition of family unit was constantly evolving with parents spending less time with their children. The divorce rate rose to almost 50 percent and the ideal relationship also underwent an evolution. Hollywood portrayed this dilemma in many ways, with movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom and The Parent Trap that became coming of age films for my generation.

A study of teenagers in the United States asked “Are you a very important person?” In 1950, 12 percent said yes. Fifty five years later, in 2005, 80 percent said yes. This suggests a monumental change in the way children have been raised and definitely contributes to the trope of the “Me” generation. We have been raised with the ideal that you can accomplish anything if you just work hard and make it happen. The ideal that shuns realism and instead puts rhetoric above experience.

Combine these changes in home life and societal expectations with all of the technological advances, you have a generation that was forced to adapt to profound changes at the drop of a hat. As we matured and became full-fledged adults, we struggled to reconcile the realities of the world with the idealistic values we were taught. Similar to realizing that Santa Claus wasn’t real, we had to face the harsh reality that the idealistic world we were educated for did not exist. Also, the educational ideal became a four year college degree for everyone. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, our workforce underwent a sizable shift as service industry jobs exploded and became the first jobs for a lot of us. The only problem was that they were not just the first jobs, but the only jobs available as we were coming out of high school and college. Many friends of mine were facing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt when the only jobs available didn’t even require a high school diploma and paid around minimum wage.

We have been forced to adapt and are doing the best we can, so as illusions fall apart around us we must constantly update our expectations to the world as it is. There is a crisis of direction for many of us, but don’t worry because we will find our way through it in the end. Let’s continue to “kill” whatever industries, problems and challenges that stand in our way and conflict with our understanding. Let’s create a better world with updated and realistic expectations for our children.

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Posted in Family, Society

Parenting in a New Age

Parenting can take on many forms, especially in today’s landscape. Blended families are more common than ever before; same-sex marriages with adopted or inherited children are becoming more common since the laws have become more accepting of different situations and single parent households are normal for a lot of children due to various factors. “Traditional families” as some would call them (Father, Mother and children) are in the process of becoming less common due to changing social norms. Each of these forms of parenting comes with its own inherent challenges.

I was raised in a traditional Midwest family setting. We were taught the importance of the family unit, the fact that marriage is forever and that discipline is black and white. My parents are conservative Christians who firmly believe in the “sanctity of marriage” and the moral standards of their church. This furthers the black and white outlook of discipline and morality- the Bible commands children to obey their parents and talks about the struggles of parents with disobedient children. The religion also teaches divorce as a sin and the teaches that divorced parents should not remarry or would be the same as adultery in God’s eyes. The Christian community has become more tolerant of divorce and LGBTQ rights in the past decade or so, but before that most churches taught that being gay was a sin and marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

There are many issues that come with this method of thinking. It is nice to have black and white beliefs, but unfortunately the world is almost never that simple. I agree that children should obey their parents in most cases, but what happens when the parents tell them to do something immoral or illegal? What happens when parents teach their children hate? It is natural for a child to push their limits to figure out their place in the world and it should be encouraged, not beaten or coached out of them. We can learn how to interact with the world around us by trying different things and seeing the outcome. Also, there is a big culture shock when these children get older and start to come face to face with reality. They don’t want to look down on their gay friends or be mean to other people just because they have different tastes in a lover. They also see many of their friends with divorced or single parents and realize that other types of families exist and can thrive as well.

Parenting, no matter the situation, is a huge responsibility and should be celebrated. In all types of family units, the most important aspect of parenting is unconditional love. Discipline is also very important, but should be flexible and open to explanation. Children need to know there are boundaries and certain behaviors like hurting others will not be tolerated. Beyond the golden rule, parents can choose many different morals or standards for their children to follow. One of the toughest aspects for parents to deal with is societal norms within their towns and peer groups. If your family or living situation is different than the majority in your area, your situation will become increasingly more complicated. Children look to their friends in an attempt to gauge where they stand in society. It’s not easy to be different and every kid is unique, so understanding and empathy are very important. If our children know we care and are willing to have a two way conversation, we can inspire them and give them the help they need to make their way through life. 

Recently an article has been circulating about relational aggression (https://lindastade.com/girls-and-their-frenemies-2/)  and it got me thinking about my experiences in school. As one of the shortest boys in my grade, I was at a pretty severe disadvantage in relation to boys and girls. When I was in the first few levels of school, I was picked on relentlessly by both sexes for my height and scrawniness. As I got older, the mocking and bullying turned into a different, more subtle form. It was mostly social exclusion- not getting invited to parties or people’s houses, not being able to sit at certain tables and being completely ignored by others when I tried to talk to them. This psychological warfare has persisted into adulthood and is even more subtle now. Parents form groups based on growing up together, being involved in similar activities or based on similar social status. The families stick together that can afford to vacation in Florida or another country every year, that can afford to have a camper and boat and a house, and the ones that can afford to not care about how much they spend on non-essentials. The children of these families typically do not learn hardships or struggle and grow up to be in the same types of groups as their parents. This is one of the roots of relational aggression and just another symptom of the income inequality issue, which is one of society’s biggest problems and is only getting worse. Despite all this it is important to remember there are always exceptions to the rule and good people exist in every socio-economic category. 

Children do not get to chose what kind of family they are born into, what values they will be taught, what financial ability their parents will have and countless other things. They do imitate us, whether consciously or unconsciously, and how the parents behave will set a baseline for the kids’ expectations. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on us as parents to teach our children through our actions and words how to survive and succeed in this world. If we can get along and work through our differences with other parents, it will help demonstrate a better outcome for our children in their peer groups. Taking responsibility and not being the victim or placing blame is a good lesson to teach our children. Let’s be the ones who don’t give up in changing the world, one step at a time. 

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Parenting is hard, don’t make it harder

For a frame of reference, I have two children from my previous marriage and am expecting my second child from my current marriage. My first marriage was very rushed- after just three months of dating came the news that a baby was on the way. Before she was born, not knowing each other very well but feeling the pressure from both families and society in general, we decided to go ahead and get married. Looking back, I have learned from my choices and realize how wrong that decision was. I also know my experiences have led me to be who I am today so I wouldn’t take anything back at the same time.

Early on after my first daughter was born, life threw some wrenches in my plan and my ex-wife was able to get a better job that required moving to a different area. St. Louis is an amazing city and growing up a Cardinals fan, it was one of the top destinations for me to end up. The only problem was, I became the stay at home dad in this situation with a five month old baby. Did I mention I was 21 at the time and had no friends or anyone I knew in the area? This made the situation very hard, adjusting to being a parent at such a young age and adjusting to the stigma of being a SAHD. This was 2007 and there were not a lot of men in my position, definitely not a lot around my age. It was difficult for me to adjust but I just focused on my daughter and learning how to be the best parent I could be. My ex-wife was happy with her job and her situation there was a lot different than mine as she had made friends at work. Once a month, I would get to visit with friends back in my hometown and it felt like a cruel tease. After less than six months, I forced the issue to move back home. It was too much for me to feel so alone and deal with all the struggles without any friends or family to be there with me.

Once I got back home, I found a great job in sales and put my daughter in day care. My new job boosted my self esteem and showed me that I could be successful in life. Unfortunately, at the same time my daughter was miserable in the day care. Early on in her life, I established great daily routines with naps, meals and bedtime. These routines went out the window at daycare- she wouldn’t nap, cried all the time and went to bed very early every night right after getting home. Despite how well I was doing at work, it was incredibly hard to see my daughter struggle so hard and something had to give. Eventually, things reached their breaking point and I got a part time job to work around my ex-wife’s job so I could stay home with my daughter again. We got back to a nice routine and several months later found out she would be having a little brother.

When my son was born, I had been working third shift and never full adjusted to a different sleep schedule myself. It was scary to not know if I would be so tired I would pass out sitting down on the couch at anytime. Something had to give once again and I devoted full time to being at home with both kids. Despite a rough marriage, I will always look fondly on this time because of how much me and the kids bonded together. We went for walks, went to parks, cruised around town and had fallen into some great routines. My ex-wife was offered a better job if she transferred to the Champaign area, we found a duplex and moved within a couple weeks of the news. This move was a lot better than the move to St. Louis because I was still able to visit family and friends pretty regularly. I was also able to work part time at a job I was very familiar with in lawn care sales. The hours worked around her schedule and I was very successful during the hot season. I will always remember catching the fireflies with my daughter, that was her favorite thing to do all summer for a few years.

After a year and a few months, we were able to move to our current hometown and settled in on a nice cul-de-sac. We made a promise to the kids that they would not have to worry about going to a different school, we would keep them in the same school system. Within the next year, I found a job as a local reporter for a daily newspaper and was able to bring the kids to almost all of the events that I covered. I worked at least 50-60 hours a week but it was worth it because the kids were able to be involved in so much with me. This was covering our new hometown, the events and school sports and diving into the local community. I had picked up a lot of anti-social qualities being in a unique position for awhile (SAHD), but this job allowed me to toss them all to the side and go back to being the people person I always was before. It brought me and the kids even closer together and I took a ton of pictures, not only for work but a lot of the kids as well. After six months, the company folded and I was left without a job once again. That’s when I picked up as a freelance journalist doing stories for local newspapers here and there.

I had an amazing experience in Mexico City for my best friend’s wedding in 2013 and saw what true love could be like. I yearned for this love but never had it with my ex-wife or anyone before that. I made it my mission to try to save the marriage and find the love that was never really there. This only made things worse and I ended up with frustration after frustration when I couldn’t make it happen. I went through some heartbreak and was divorced by the following year. Even in my darkest places, I would still have to hold it together for the kids and a lot of that saga has been chronicled in my past blog posts on here. When my saga ended here, I had found the woman I was hoping for in every way and finally found true love like I always desired. She had a year old son coming into the relationship with a birth father who was not in his life at all, so I took him as my own and am in the process of formal adoption. Me and my current wife have been through a lot together and have been married almost a year now. Our relationship has only grown from the first date where I knew she was the one and told her I loved her (It was early, but when you know you know). We have dealt with a very tough relationship with the ex-wife, with joint custody although not always able to work together due to some lingering animosity over certain events that I don’t want to drag up here.

Ultimately one of the biggest struggles is with two different parenting styles and ways to raise the kids. While being very close and with a lot of nurturing, I use a more authoritative parenting style with clear expectations but also the ability to reason with the kids. I believe the kids first parenting strategy is not the best way, it should be family first. Many decisions I have made have been all about the kids, from staying at home, staying in a loveless marriage for so long and giving up big opportunities in my career to stay at home. These decisions ultimately made things a lot harder for them because I had to almost completely start over after the divorce. We are just now where we wanted to be, through working hard and putting all members of the family into consideration when making decisions.

My daughter was in travel softball for a year and competitive cheerleading for a few years. All of the time spent traveling to practices and tournaments and all of the money spent was hurting the family as a whole. If I had used the kids first mentality that is so prevalent nowadays and I had been guilty of using in the past, my whole family would have suffered and we would end up being without a house, van and the things we have worked so hard to achieve. My son also did travel baseball for two years. These traveling activities/sports add up very quickly and place a huge burden on the whole family to either be at every event and be broke the next few weeks or to be missing out on these big events. Just this year, I had to give up Fathers Day weekend and a few other of my days with the kids so my son could still go to his traveling baseball games, only to still feel a huge financial pressure and put us all in a position where every weekend and week was taken up by baseball.

The travel baseball industry alone is valued in the billions annually and is only rising every year. It is understandable that parents want to give their kids everything they can and make all kinds of sacrifices in the process. It sounds good on paper, but when you consider the effects to everyone else in the family it turns into something more complicated. If everything is for the kids, where do the parents come in? When does it become too much for the other kids in the family? These were tough questions and motivated me to take my daughter out of competitive cheer and my son out of travel baseball for next year. With another daughter on the way, we need to prioritize the family as a whole and use our money wisely to be able to do some activities for all of us but not let it get out of hand.

Parenting is hard because there are so many factors at play. Modern society places a lot of value on putting the kids first, but I think that is also one of the biggest reasons for divorce. In putting the kids first, parents have neglected themselves and their happiness. There is a great article from The Guardian that puts this in perspective: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/07/parents-advised-put-children-second . I have left a lot of my story out for now, but will cover more in the future here. Thank you for reading and I would love to hear your feedback.

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Everything

Finding you has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. For someone that loves to write you have left me speechless so many times it is the most powerful testament to our love. I always dreamed of finding someone who would appreciate and love me for all that I am, and you have shown me the deepest love and appreciation.

I could never doubt your love, it is more powerful than a tsunami with the force to flood me with the greatest passion I have ever known. Setting me on fire so intensely, the flames could consume the entire planet. Fulfilling all of my dreams and hopes, there is no better feeling than knowing you are mine forever.

I wake up every morning thinking of you with the first thought that comes out of my brain, and smile so bright it lights the whole house like the light of the sun itself. Your heart is fully in sync with mine, beating in perfect rythm like a beautiful song that never ends. The war drums of our hearts can conquer anything that stands in our way and together we make a fantastic chorus that the angels could only hope to replicate.

I could never love another, I could never even see anyone else with any type of desire because everything I have and everything I am is yours. There is no end to our love, only a perfect beginning. Time is only a creation of man, for our love there is no such thing as time… Like trying to quantify the age of the universe no one could ever know for sure how long we have loved and will love each other. 

We were meant for each other and have both suffered through some terrible things, but in a second it was all worth it when we felt the most intense feeling we never imagined possible. All our walls came down and instantly there was no space between us, we became one. Nothing could break apart what has been molded together since before time started being counted, our love is a bond stronger than any adhesive or molding known to man. 

I will always give all I am to you and do everything I can to make you the happiest girl in the world. I give you my heart, my soul, my mind, my dreams, my insecurities, my trust and my everything. There is no one else for me but you, and we will share forever as one. You are one to come, the one I always hoped was out there and now I know. I will always be forever yours and hold you in this life and the next ones. 

I have found my everything 🙂

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Light in the Darkness

When I felt like no one could understand my heart, there you were. I gave you little glimpses and you took them in like they were your own. I thought magic didn’t exist, but you are making me believe.

Your eyes tell the story of what’s behind them, a beautiful soul that searches for the same thing I am searching for. Connection beyond understanding, truth that doesn’t need words to describe it. Even without a voice, your words lift me constantly and remind me there is still hope to find what I am searching for.

Your beauty shines with the light of a thousand suns, piercing the darkness and consuming me with its transformative power. I feel alive when I am talking to you, like I’ve never lived before I felt the warmth of your attention.

Your heart is like an endless ocean, showing its beauty on the surface and bringing life even to the darkest depths. I can see the endless care you have for the ones you love, and my heart desires nothing more than to be connected to yours. 

Your soul reminds me of days long past, like the words of Osho it will always remain timeless and amazing. An old soul with a present awareness, you have more to offer than anyone stuck in the loop of modern culture could realize. Buried beneath the surface it cries out for only the things that matter, love, connection, honesty and integrity. Driving your ambition to change things for the better, it constantly guides you to the truth few can see. 

If the universe has a plan, I hope it will bring you closer to me. I hope for nothing more than the deepest connection with your heart, and to see us rise together to greater heights than the space above the clouds. Together we can rise to the stars and hold them in our hands, we could find passion so great it sets the planets ablaze and keeps them in their perfect place in the galaxy. 

Will you be the one to come, the one my heart has been searching for since I have had breath? I  am eager to find out, but until then glimpses will be enough to sustain me and your words will keep my attention as long as you find me worthy. I am here and I am ready, let’s find out the answer together. 

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Posted in Love

Searching for Love

Real love, I keep reaching for it only to fall short. Like bait on the end of a line, it’s tugged away when it seems just within reach. Something too special to just fall into place, it has become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My heart is full of love and I am ready to give it away. It overflows like a flood, searching for someone to consume in its transformative power. I have been hurt in the worst way, but I have become stronger than I ever could have imagined. Despite everything, I am still ready to give what I have to someone who will appreciate it. 

More than fleeting emotions and butterflies, the love I offer is as constant as the sun. Constantly surrounding you with warmth and shining light upon your beauty. My love is not passive or just on the surface, it is an active volcano. Overflowing with lava, coming from the depths of my soul.

It does not seek to control though, it only appreciates and supports who you are. Based on honesty, respect and appreciation, the foundation is firmly placed on solid ground. Love based on purely passion and feelings is like a skyscraper built on sand, it will sink deeper and deeper until it collapses and destroys everything in its path.

I will keep reaching for real love, not out of desperation but out of desire. I know there is someone out there to share this life with, to give my heart freely to and accept theirs fully in return. If you give me your heart, I will treat it like the most precious crown jewel. 

I don’t just want company, I want the deepest connection to your soul. Like two metals fused together, our souls could not be separated once they come together. You will never wonder if I still care, you will see it everyday in my actions and affection. 

Do you want this love too? Do you want to stop chasing fools that only seek a small piece of you, only to quickly move onto the next shiny thing? Are you ready to believe in something real, and then to see it played out better than your wildest dreams?

I am ready… Will you join me?

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