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The Dad Vibe

Dads do it differently!

Dads do it differently. Not better. Not Worse. Just different.

That was one of my main points in my keynote speech “What Dads Really Want…” which I delivered last week in beautiful Penticton, BC.

My room was full of childcare service providers, moms, and actually, a great number of dads! I wanted to challenge them, and now I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to carefully consider and examine your core idea of what a dad is, what a dad does, and what a dad wants.

Dads are not dummies as we are often portrayed in popular culture.

Dads do not babysit their children and neither does a mom.

Dads just want to be treated as a parenting equal – an achievable role to be earned, not just granted.

Dads want just as strong a relationship with their children as mom does, but he may have a different approach to getting there. Mom may need to turn judgment into curiosity and recognize his different style and method will end up at the same destination; a loving bond with his child.

When I started speaking on parenting in the early 2000s, I was still talking about the ‘changing’ role of the father. But now, that role is not changing anymore; it is finished ‘changing’! The 100th monkey/tipping point has arrived and involved fathering is the societal norm now. Just like littering in the 1970s vs. today, an involved father is what we see.

I know not EVERY dad is on board yet (that is part of our collective mission), but how dads behave, in the day to day lives of their children, has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Fifty years ago, to receive a trophy for “world’s greatest dad”, you were a protector and a provider; your children had food in the bellies, shoes on their feet, and a roof overhead. That is absolute bare minimum today.

Back then, dads tended to be more remote and authoritarian, dad was tougher to get to know -- sure he would play with you from time to time, but his main role was to keep order in the house and everyone IN LINE. Mom, if faced with too many shenanigans, could always drop the greatest threat known to a child, “Wait till your father gets home!” Then dad would walk in, home from a tough day, and be thrust into the role of disciplining a terrified child. Today, when kids hear ‘Wait till your father gets home’, they are excited and can’t wait!

Dads today have more passion, patience, and presence than ever before. Their KIDS don’t know anything different, and would shake their heads in disbelief if told that years ago dads were not that involved. You only need to look at a school playground at 8:15, a school field trip, or a soccer field on a Saturday morning - at least half of the parents present are dads; would you have seen that 30 years ago?

At the end of the day, like the feminist women’s movement of the 60s and 70s, we, as dads, want equality, freedom from stereotypes and gender bias. I am thrilled to be a voice and part of the movement. I am a DADvocate, not a zealot or crusader. What we are after is recognition as equal parents, not put on pedestal or having parades thrown for us.

In the same way women are after equal pay in the workplace, we are asking for fathers to not be treated like second-class parents or mom’s helper.

With no disrespect to the late great Martin Luther King, who was also fighter for equality on a larger scale, I too have a dream. A dream deeply rooted in today’s families.

I have a dream that one day, all parents will be treated equal. Both in the home and at work. No more “Mr. Moms” or “Mrs. Dad”.

We will no longer need “father friendly” programs as all programming will always consider BOTH parents needs.

I have a dream that one day, moms and dads can sit down together at the table of parenthood and we will live in a society where parents will not be judged by their gender, but rather by the content of their character.

I have a dream today, that although dads do it differently, their contribution to the family will one day be seen as just as valuable as mom's.

Are dads equal? How do you see the role of dad today? Is dad an equal in your house?

Until next time…





The day I lost my daughter

There is nothing better than Daddy-daughter night at the mall. It’s a night of nothing but holding hands, shopping, ice cream and “sometimes treats”, and laughing all the way.

It was pure magic, until we hit the big department store. While we were looking at shiny new toys, I wandered into the next aisle of electronics. She was now engrossed in a TV show on one of the thousand TVs.

I returned to show Jack what I found.

“Hey Jack, should we buy one of these?”

Silence. Nothing but chatter from the TVs.

“Jack?” I called out. Nothing.

“Jack?”, a little more panicked now.

I had my back turned for literally 10 seconds.

Where did she go?

I moved like a trained navy seal “Call of Duty” special-ops agent. I searched aisle by aisle. I walked fast, didn’t run, but walked crazy like those Olympic walkers.

Nothing. How could she have gotten far? She is fast, but only when motivated by Hello Kitty or candy.

Candy? Dammit. Strangers have candy. Creepy men with white vans and no windows have candy.

My panic becomes very real. It had been maybe 45 seconds now. My pulse quickened. I felt hot and flushed and suddenly very sweaty.

I saw every person in that store as a possible suspect (I didn’t see them as possible help).

I need to find my daughter.

I hate to admit that, in reflecting back to that awful 3 minutes, I was hesitant to ask for help because I didn’t want to be judged by strangers as a neglectful, bumbling dad, possibly perpetuating the stereo-type of absent-minded dad, a stereotype good dads fight daily.

I’m a great involved dad!

I write a parenting column!

I have a parenting book coming out!

I am the Dad vibe guy!

But right now, this superdad had lost his daughter.

Should I alert the store staff? We always tell the kids to look for someone with a name tag. Maybe she was at customer service. There might be more judgement from staff, but surely I can’t be the first parent to lose a child in their giant confusing store.

No. She can't be that far.

Jack?

My steps had become clumsy as the fear was driving the ship now. With every second that ticked, the worst case scenarios kept getting more and more nefarious.

Think. Think.

Fight or flight adrenalin was pumping through me and I was getting bloody frantic. I thought about the exits out of the store. There were 3. I do this exit search ever since my wife and I started watching “The Walking Dead”. If there is a massive zombie attack, I need to know where my exits are. This data was useful now during this massive panic attack!

Think Jeff Think.

I should initiate a nation wide AMBER alert? They could lock down the entire mall! How would that look?

No, the creepy child collector may already be outside, a lockdown would only slow down the pursuit.

I need help. I need to call in reinforcements.

I need to swallow my stupid pride and ego and find my daughter. I saw another family and asked if they had seen a little girl with a purple shirt. They had not, but thankfully became involved in the search.

I felt embarrassed but grateful for the extra eyes. Other strangers and staff joined the search party and we fanned out like lava through every aisle of that wretched store.

Time elapsed – 2 minutes now. 2 minutes without my daughter. Would I ever hug her again?

Suddenly, like a bolt of dumb lightning, I remembered the pillow aisle where we had played on a previous trip to this store. Surely she would not have gone all the way back there? I ran to the sleep section like I was escaping prison.

I saw the blanket racks. I hit the deck, and laid down on my belly and looked under all the racks.

Nothing.

Wait. I saw a shoe. Was it a shoe? Or am I hoping that is a shoe? Is my mind playing sick tricks? Was it a purple piece of paper?

Then I heard a giggle. I ran and pulled back the blankets to reveal my beautiful smiling daughter.

“Jack!!!!!!!”

“Hiya daddy! You found me! Why are you so sweaty?”

In less than 3 minutes, I had experienced the entire range of human emotion; worry, confusion, terror, anger, embarrassment, sadness, grief, joy, relief, and then anger again!!

I hugged her tighter than every before. If I’m being truthful, I probably hugged her a little too tight as my anger, fear, and worry faded away.

I saved the long lecture and lesson for a calmer time later that night. I had my daughter back. My search party rejoiced in our sweet reunion. Through tears of joy and relief, I gave the nameless strangers (*that were briefly suspects), thumbs up and waves as I still clung to my little girl.

Today, I recognize the sheer panic and absolute fear in the faces of parents who have temporarily lost a child. I get involved immediately and offer to help. Perhaps its instant karma or paying it forward, but I am grateful for the help I received and for my good fortune and happy ending.

I also recognize the fear and worry in a child that has lost his/her parents. I step back from the child and tell them that I am going to find someone to help. Then I notify a store employee. I help indirectly because I am a stranger and I do not want to cause the child to panic and run.

Obviously we try to always keep an eye on our children. But if we do get separated at the mall or amusement park, we have 3 strict rules which we constantly remind the kids BEFORE we go (to try and set everyone up for success).

  1. If you get lost, STAY in a public place where you can be seen. Don’t hide or go anywhere with ANYONE. We have a meeting place, “If we get lost, come right here!”, a fountain, the Ferris wheel, customer service, etc.
  2. Call out to MOM or Dad. It’s ok to yell out ANYWHERE if you are lost and scared. Being silent makes you harder to find.
  3. If it’s a store and you get lost, look for someone with a uniform, or name tag, a cashier is perfect.

If they can’t find someone with a name tag, then search for a woman with children. I hate to admit this, but statistically she is least likely to harm them. She can help and maybe even call your cell phone if your kids know the number.

If you want to read more, this site, along with many other “Kid Safety” sites, have great tips for lost children; whether it’s at the mall, amusement park, or even out in nature.

I will never ever forget that awful day when I lost my daughter. I hope that you never have to endure the absolute panic I endured that day. Having a well rehearsed safety plan can really minimize the terror of losing a child.

Have you ever temporarily lost your child? Brave enough to share the details? Send me an email at [email protected]

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Talk to your kids for 7 Minutes?

I try to keep my writing light and interesting, but sometimes I preach. Today is a preaching day because I came across a very alarming study yesterday…

According to this study, many parents spend less than 7 minutes a day in communication with their children.   That is shocking, scary, and terribly alarming!!!  7 MINUTES!!!  I spend more time in the washroom.   And if, on average, men tend to communicate LESS than women, then this might be RED ALERT boys!  Take us to Def-Con 2!

Now before you get your ginch in a pinch, I know we all lead busy lives.  We work, we pay bills, we play golf, we try to have a life.  We rush our over-scheduled children around from one activity to another (oh FYI, ‘busyness’ doesn’t equal good parenting!) 

Who has time left to talk with their children? 

There are 1440 minutes in a day; even if you take away the minutes spent at school and asleep, there are still a TON of prime minutes lost every day.  What is QUALITY time to you?  If life is where you put your attention, where is yours?

START in the MORNING!  How different would your day be if someone lovingly stroked your head, whispered kind words, and spent 5 minutes gently rousing you from your slumber?   All right, stop thinking THAT – ya dog.  I’m not trying to be crude or silly.  But indulge me for a second, try sitting on the edge of your child’s bed as they sleep in the morning. Collect the eyes before you connect. Stop yelling, “TIME TO WAKE UP!!!”. I am not a crazy person, I know mornings are chaotic, but try this for one week and you will be amazed. 

ZIP YOUR LIPS!  I know I am saying TALK but sometimes we, as parents (and dads), need to just listen.  True communication is two people talking and actively listening to each other.  As men, this is not always our strongest suit.  Try looking at your child (or partner) right in the eyes when they are speaking and really focus on their words and body language. 

Teach your children how to listen by showing them how you listen to them.   As men, we are also programmed to fix problems.  We listen (at first), assess, and then wait for our moment to dispense our incredibly brilliant solution.  Sometimes we just need to listen and zip it – especially in the teen years.   Trust me.   Be present and quiet, and they will keep talking and sharing…

SPEAK WITH not AT!   I will pose my final point as a series of questions, answer these questions honestly, and the path to the magic kingdom of true connections awaits… 

  • Do you speak WITH your children or simply AT your children?  
  • How much is one-way directive, monologue communication? (“Clean your room!  Take out the garage!  How many times I have told you to…) – YUCK! 
  • How much communication in your home is in response to conflict?  *30%?  50%?  80%? 99%?  
  • How completely do you listen to your child’s opinions and feelings?  How often do you seek out your child’s opinion? 
  • How much time do you spend in meaningful dialogue with you child/children?   5 minutes?  7?   20?  60? 

If you answered honestly (and poorly) above, fear not… here are some simple ideas for you… 

  1. Ask more open-ended questions - Questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no.   “What do you think…”  “WHY do you think...” “What would happen if…” 
  2. Stop using the excuse that “my kids don’t talk” – How was your day – FINE – What did you do?  NOTHING.  Simply ASK BETTER QUESTIONS!!  Turn judgments into curiosity! 
  3. Follow your child’s lead and interests:  “Tell me more about FACEBOOK…” – What makes the Wii better than an Xbox? 

Frankly, I was startled by the 7 minute notion and I want to enlighten (scare) you and force you to think about the day-to-day life within your own family, especially over the summer months and possible extended September holidays.   

We can ALL spend more time talking with our children.   We can always up the quality minutes – what is the minimum we should shoot for?  20 minutes?  30?  80?   Whatever your number is now, increase it – double it!!! ‘Talk’ about a WIN-WIN-WIN situation for you, your child, and your family life.  For every minute spent in meaningful dialogue with your child, their attachment to you grows exponentially. 

PICK YOUR TIMES -- Set aside time just to listen and get to know your child.  While driving to and from activities maybe a hidden gem for quality time, family meal times and bedtime remain the best times for connecting.   INSIST on Family Meal Times – buck the drive-thru trend!   And then read, snuggle, and connect with your children before they close their eyes… 

Too often, we choose to make other activities in our lives a higher priority.  Parenting is a privilege.  Make it your first priority.   Turn off your computer, put your Smartphone down, and go engage your kids in something fun!   

Remember, kids spell LOVE = T-I-M-E! 

How many minutes do you spend communicating with your children?  Please brag or confess… how would your kids rank you?  I will jump off my soapbox now, but I hope this starts the dialogue… 

Until next time…





A stranger touched my child...

The Bad Touch:

When a stranger Touched my little girl

I tickle and wrestle with my little girl and my little boys too, when they initiate.

They have granted me that privilege as a caring, loving father.

I will not tickle and wrestle with your children. Aside from being wildly inappropriate and crossing boundaries, they do not know me.

As a family, we have been living through a massive house renovation. Our little house has been a bee hive of activity, activity done by strangers; electricians, drywallers, plumbers, and carpenters.

The kids have watched all improvements with excitement, until Monday of this week. First it started as a tickle of my daughter, then a quick wrestle with my son.

Why was this complete stranger touching my children?

The most respectful interpretation is that this man, a father himself, was innocently reliving his rough housing past or perhaps didn’t know how else to interact with young kids. The least respectful interpretation is terrifying to me and I shake with anger.

I believe what was most upsetting to us, as parents, was that the kids felt weird about it too, knew something was wrong, but didn’t have the skills to do anything. We have spoken about this kind of scenario many times with hypothetical situations and role play. They have also received instruction on strangers and safe touch at school.

How do you teach your children about strangers so they will recognize an unsafe situation for what it is and apply their skills?

Without sending mixed messages, how do we teach that not everyone is nice and there are bad apples out there that need to be feared?

We focused on 4 areas: Talking to strangers, the Tickle List, Trusting instincts (and no secrets) and Safe touch areas.

While “Never talk to strangers” is an old cliché with some merit, we do want our kids to talk and interact with strangers when mom and I are present. We want them to be friendly and respectful and these skills need to be practiced and developed.

I don’t want my children to fear all strangers or the world in general. If they need help, they may need to find a stranger – ideally one with a uniform on, a name tag on, or one with children. If 99 people out of 100 are safe and kind, that one creepy bastard terrifies me and I need it to alarm my children.

As an exercise, we went through a list of people we knew, and “if they were allowed to tickle or wrestle with you”. Most of our family and good friends were on the “YES Tickle” side while the mail man, workmen, some family, bus drivers, and even teachers were on the other side.

The stranger talk led to an interesting age appropriate discussion on “safe” touches and “not-safe” touches. We have declared the parts of your body that are covered by a bathing suit are never to be touched by anyone except mom, dad, or the doctor (“because they are in the body business”).

As parents, we need to be constantly vigilant to keep our children safe. While we can fear total strangers, statistics might suggest bigger threats to our children’s innocence might be closer to home.

I want our children to trust their instincts; to develop and hone these instincts – to “listen to that little voice that says this doesn’t feel good” (my son’s explanation). Kids need to judge people by their actions, not by who they are in relation to the child. Many family trees have crooked limbs full of creepy uncles.

We talked about how strangers should NOT be interacting with them if we are not present. They need to fear the man who needs help looking for his little dog or the stereotypical stranger with candy or an Xbox that needs testing. We have no secrets in our house. That is our best defence against a creepy stranger that might insist on secrecy…

This is a continuing conversation in our house on the topic of strangers. Every future conversation touches on these points, but I want to know from you…

How have you dealt with strangers who have touched your children and/or the talk and tips you have used to help prevent and minimize stranger danger?? Do you disagree with our approach?

Please help continue the conversation so all of our children can remain safe!

 

Post your thoughts to www.thedadvibe.com or email [email protected]



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About the Author

Jeff Hay… is a Kelowna based writer, motivational speaker, parenting coach, and father of three. Along with writing for Castanet, Jeff also writes for the Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, and the National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States.  When he is not playing his favourite role of “DAD”, Jeff is speaking throughout Canada as a popular parenting educator and working on his website – www.thedadvibe.com and his parenting book for Dads, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!” Jeff dedicates his life’s work to improving the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

E-mail Jeff your thoughts or questions anytime at [email protected]

 




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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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