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Learning to love Dexter

Thanks for the emails and calls asking when The Dad Vibe would return, it’s nice to be missed (says my ego).  

With four energetic children, a cool, loving wife (married again in April), a busy, full-time entertainment business, and back in school full time for my master's in counselling psychology, 2016 has been incredibly busy.   

“We are all busy, jackass!” screams my dark passenger, Dexter, who I have named as the voice of my self-talk.   

He has a bit of an accent and is a total a-hole.

Heading into Christmas last year, I had such great momentum, writing for Today’s Parent and Huffington Post. 

But now, having been off writing since January, I (my ego) wanted to return with a killer article, one that would change lives, perspectives, and set the Internet on fire as a brilliant viral sensation.  

However, now, I just want to share something simple that is changing my life: self-love.

I am not talking about pleasuring myself, rather simply showing myself some compassion, understanding, and love. 

My master's has really been an examination of myself – in my relationships as a father, husband, son, and global citizen. I have opened up the Jeff schematics and cautiously taking a peek inside. 

I’m discovering things I like and things that need to change.

First, I beat myself up daily for things done and not done, said and not said. We all make decisions every day, some great, some terrible.  

Sometimes, I am a great dad, sometimes a great husband. But sometimes, I say and do dumb things, and treat myself harshly when I do. I need to be more gentle and kind with myself. 

In my research, I discovered the work of Kristin Neff, PhD (her TED Talk) and her brilliant work on self-compassion.   

From Kristin, I learned that we all need to include ourselves in the circle of compassion, giving ourselves the same kindness, care, and concern we’d give to a good friend.

If your buddy was going through a tough time, perhaps a bitter divorce or grieving the death of a loved one, and he wanted to come over and just vent, you would be there. 

You would listen, validate, acknowledge, and accept that there is suffering and pain. Your empathy and compassion would kick in. 

But what happens when you are suffering?

When I am beating myself up for everything I am not doing, I (Dexter) say things to myself that I would never say to a friend – “You are lazy, you will not make it, you are a loser … etc.”  

Self-judgment, self-doubt, and self-criticism are incredibly debilitating both physically and mentally. With self-criticism, we are both the attacker and the attacked.

Using Neff’s ideas around mindfulness, we need to validate, acknowledge, and accept that we are suffering, in order to give ourselves compassion.  

I am not letting myself off the hook, but rather acknowledging a tough time.  

We know how to be a good compassion friend, so be kind to yourself – you are the phone-a-friend friend that is always available.  





Brink of divorce? Wait.

“Your one idea saved my marriage.”

The Good Men, a biweekly men’s group that I run, has a simple mandate: To help each other be better men.

Better fathers, better partners, and better people. No sacred circles, hand holding, or kumbaya. Just talking. 

We all love our group. It is a chance for men to talk, to laugh, to share, to give difference perspectives. And occasionally, we save marriages.  

Late last year, one of our men was in a deep dark relationship rut. He was, in his words, on the brink of divorce. They had already talked about dividing up their stuff, and their kids were asking who they might be living with. 

Nothing was working. He felt no connection with his wife, no love, no sex, and no friendship. Nothing but door slamming, yelling, constant fighting, frustration, and lots of space growing between them.  

Luckily, we managed to pull him back off the ledge and helped him to pause and reflect. He credits our group and the one idea offered with changing everything.

Let’s back up. Once the fireworks and excitement of a new relationship have started to simmer down, relationship life begins, and all couples enter a new phase. 

Come on, did you honestly think you could stay in that stage forever? Who would get any work done?  

It isn’t even physiologically possible. The chemicals responsible for that passionate loving feeling (adrenaline, dopamine, noradrenaline, phenethylamine, etc.) all start to dwindle and level off. Suddenly your perfect lover has faults. Why did he or she change? 

Actually, your partner probably hasn’t changed at all, it’s just that you are now able to see him or her more rationally rather than through the blinding hormone-driven passionate love, sex, and blissful infatuation. When a couple hits the simmer down phase, the relationship is either strong enough to endure, or it ends.

So, our helpless friend on the brink felt there was no hope. He had a very negative perspective on his wife, their marriage, and his ceiling of happiness. Everything was bad.  

The idea I offered wasn’t my own. I would love the credit, but I borrowed it from my Gottman Couples training. It is, simply: 

Maintain a positive perspective.  

When you are in a negative perspective, at least five things happen:

You are hyper-vigilant
You are constantly judging, looking, watching to catch your partner doing things wrong, to support your negative opinion of them.

You are hyper-sensitive
There is a massive magnification of feelings around a negative event, and little things are constantly blown out of proportion.

Nothing rolls off your shoulders
You become score-keepers, and everything is tit for tat 

No one gets the benefit of the doubt
No one gets a respectful interpretation of their behaviour, only the worst interpretation which continues to feed the core negative image you have of your partner.

You don’t bite your tongues and take the high road
You give in to contempt and hostile comments. You take cheap shots at each other, and each other’s character (and maybe family members too).  

Are you in a negative perspective of your relationship?

If so, put on a different pair of glasses. You are missing out on all the good stuff that might be happening, because all you see is the darkness.

Looking at his wife through a positive perspective worked for our man on the brink, and it just might help your relationship too. What do you have to lose? 

Look for the person you fell in love with. He or she is right there in front of you.

Until next time. . . .

 

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My genetically average kids

My kids are athletically genetically average.

I am ok with that.

We have exposed our children to as many activities as life, time, and money will allow.  

We tried hockey.

We tried soccer.

We tried baseball.

We tried rugby.

We tried dance.

We tried ballet.

We tried theatre.

We tried basketball.

We tried karate, Taekwondo and yoga.

Our kids were okay at all of them. They tried hard, they worked hard, and they had fun. Never the star of the team, but always a valuable part of the team.   

Should we have picked a lane and just focused on one sport, like hockey? Should we have looked for spring leagues, power skating camps, and hockey academies to accelerate and improve skills?

I don’t think so.

We accept what is. Sport for kids should be fun, not a job. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it ain’t the infinitesimal chance of making the NHL or the Olympics, it’s happy, confident kids.   

While dedicating weekends and weeknights to hockey wasn’t super appealing, the costs of elite rep hockey are staggering, from equipment to coaching, camps and even hotels at faraway tournaments. 

Could we afford it? Maybe for one kid, but I have four children. Does only the one that shows the most promise get to go, and we buy colouring books for the others?  

Don’t even get me started on the politics of elite sports, like hockey or figure skating or the crazy parents that inhabit those worlds.   

I will openly admit, though, that I do struggle with the notion of not pushing my kids in activities. If they show promise and interest, am I doing them a disservice by not making maximum opportunities available to them? I want my kids to know sacrifice, working hard, and dedication as cornerstones for a strong adult work ethic, but should hockey, for example, be our chosen vehicle for these life lessons? 

Because we have jumped around from activity to activity with our kids, never spending more than two seasons at any given activity, our children have never really had the chance to improve skills over time. Was that a mistake?  

Exposing them to different sports was important to us, but also important was allowing the children to choose their activities. Their sport/activity resume looks like a job-jumpers work experience nightmare, but it’s what they wanted. They would choose a sport because they wanted to try it, not because they thought it was what we wanted.  

I coached my oldest son for year at hockey. He loved it and I loved it, and he was good. Not great, but he enjoyed it. However, he was lukewarm when the topic came up the following season. I was worried that he might choose to play to please me, and unless he is bolting out of bed and really jacked for a 6 a.m. Saturday morning practice, I ain’t pulling teeth. So we chose not to play hockey, and he did break dancing that fall, with no regrets.     

I don’t want to live vicariously through my kids. I have a life and so should they: My ego is my ego, not theirs.

I was fortunate enough to play every sport growing up, and was pretty decent too.  Sport can be tremendous source of confidence and self esteem. Now, I enjoy sport for the exercise and social connections. That is what I want for my children, to have the skill set and coordination for many sports. Shoot, pass, skate for beer league hockey. Leave the left wing lock to the pros.  

TAKEAWAY POINT: Where is that balance of push and pull? Knowing when to encourage your kids to help achieve a higher level, or accepting what is, and letting them choose their own path of experiences? 

Although parents can be terrible judges of their own kid’s ability, you still know your kids best. Be honest, do they really love it? Or do they love it because they think you really love it? Forced participation can not only hurt the self esteem of your child, it can make them resent you. 

Every parent’s goal is a happy well-rounded kid. If pushing your child to excel is working and you are blessed with an elite athlete, then go for it. But for the rest of us, let your kids lead their way to happiness by providing opportunities for a variety of activities and experiences.  

Be a fan and cheerleader on the sidelines, with front row tickets to the best game in town. 

Until next time. . . .

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"Santa's dead??"

Dearest Santa,

I know you are reading this letter at your busiest time, and for that I do apologize. Having paid my dues in Christmas retail, I always hated the shoppers who ran into the store at closing time, but I do need to talk to you about this Christmas, and my four children.

Our youngest is only 19 months, so he is blissfully unaware of your magic, and also unaware of the unrest and suspicions swirling around our house. 

I am not sure if your Scout elves, Gabriel and Elizabeth, who, of course, witnessed the entire interrogation, were able to fill you in on my Christmas Dilemma, but here’s the skinny (sorry Santa – bad pun).

The three older kids surrounded me last week and demanded to know if I was Santa. Isn’t that hilarious?

“You always want us to tell the truth Dad, so tell us, are you Santa?”  

The question, straight from left field, hung in the air like a drunk uncle’s B.O. at a crowded family gathering.  

Inside, I was shocked, surprised, and a little sad at the question (I thought we had more time, another year at least). 

Overtly, I winced, sighed, and stammered. I thought about playing the “Santa comes to those who believe” card, or the more effective “Santa-Soup-Nazi-card” – “No Believe in Santa? No Santa for you!” 

Instead, I turned the tables and asked why they might think I was Santa.  

Their flimsy arguments revolved around three key points –

Logistics, China, and spatial load constraints

How could Santa get to EVERY house in the world, all in one night?
 
Why were you outsourcing your North Pole toy manufacturing factories to China? (where they discovered our Elf on the Shelf was made).

How could your ONE sleigh hold all of those toys for the four billion children of the world?   

I marvelled at their wit, logic, and common sense, but then I realized the even bigger gift: My egocentric children were finally realizing that there are others in their world? How exciting. It’s a Christmas miracle! 

Santa, I love you, and I love the magic of Christmas. It is hardest for my oldest boy, who, in the same week as this Santa inquiry, also learned at school about periods, menstruation, and tampons (he then polled every women in his life on whether they were wearing a pad at that moment).   

Straddling these two worlds of Santa and impending puberty is tough, so how can we keep the innocence and magic alive as long as possible? I am sure you have encountered this before in your 1600+ years, so I am open to your suggestions, and look forward to your crafty ideas.   

Thanks for listening, and enjoy Mexico in January. Don’t forget the 50+ SPF sunscreen.

Lots of love, big guy,

Jeff

xoxo

PS Feel free to keep my wife on the naughty list.  

Until next time, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a safe and happy holiday with family!



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About the Author

Jeff Hay is a Kelowna-based writer, motivational speaker, parenting coach, and father of four.

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 speaks throughout Canada as a popular parenting educator, working on his website – www.thedadvibe.com, and writing his parenting book for dads, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!

Jeff dedicates his life 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 does not warrant the contents.

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