Feb 28, 2012

Put Me In, Coach!

A year ago at the end-of-season wrestling banquet my youngest son was honored as “best newcomer”.  This year, he qualified for the State wrestling tournament.  I want to show you a video of Gideon.  It will surprise you… it’s doesn’t have a moment of wrestling action it.  This video holds the secret of how a kid goes from buying his first pair of wrestling shoes to being one of the sixteen best 170lb wrestlers in his state.  Just watch – it’s only 40 seconds – and I’ll explain everything afterwards.

The video shows Olathe Northwest assistant coach Mike McLaughlin talking to my son after his second loss in the double elimination tournament – he was done at State.  What do you see?  Do you see a sore loser?  Maybe a soul-crushed athlete?  Do you see a coach blowing his stack over poor performance?  There was plenty of that at State, PLENTY!  But none of that here.  Let me tell you what I see.

I see an enthusiastic, positive coach and I see a young athlete soaking up that coaching.  I have to tell you, filming this scene may well have been my proudest moments as a dad – people love coaching my son!

This wrestling season, in lulls between action on the mats, I read Carey Casey’s Championship Fathering which reveals the three aspects of what the National Center for Fathering believes makes great dads – loving, coaching, modeling.  As the season wrapped up and my son attempted his championship run, I realized that coaching only works if the “target” is coachable.

I like Casey’s “coaching” concept.  (I hope you’ll check out the book.)  It is said that “practice makes perfect” and dads run the practices, preparing our children for successful engagement in the world.  As I watched my son receive encouragement from Coach Mac, I reflected on what I’ve tried to do on the home front to raise children who value coaching. 

I’m engaged in my children’s lives (maybe more than they’d like sometimes).  I know what their world looks like and I make a point to talk to them about it.  After competitions and even activities at school and church, I ask for them to tell me how they think it went.  I offer both encouragement and constructive criticism – for them personally and about the group.  I’ve also learned to give them time to chill out before talking.  It’s not always helpful to talk to a child about what they did, right or wrong, before they have time to realize it themselves.

When coaches and teachers are involved, I always ask my children to talk to me about what the instructor said.  I learn the quality of guidance they’re getting and I get to reinforce my children’s learning.

I try very hard to help my sons build a “big picture” view of the world and of their engagement in it.  Wrestling matches come and go.  Presentations at school come and go.  Dates with pretty young girls come and go.  As dad, my job is to help my children understand their gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses, and how to maximize all the good things about who they are.  Some of the best coaching I’ve done comes in the off-season.  Let me explain. 

I think Coach Mac got a lot of
good coaching along life’s
way, too.
  Here, between matches,
Mac sits with his dad, Tom,
who carefully watches entire
tournaments, sizing up the
competition, and making notes
about our boys.
  Good stuff.
In Gideon’s first year of wrestling, he was often a downright bad sport.  He’d suffer a loss, storm off the mat, and toss his head gear.  At the time I told him to knock it off, but I also spent a lot of time in the off-season talking about maintaining his cool, that competition is a test of his skill at the moment, not a referendum on his humanity.  This year he’s taken his beatings with greater dignity and sportsmanship… and I’m as proud of him in his losses as his victories. 

I’ve also learned to actually tell my children, “I’m proud of you.”  I seriously could care less if they win or lose.  My pride is anchored in their effort and character.

Last word.  As I began cobbling this post together, it dawned on me that being coachable goes a long way past the gymnasium.  My oldest two sons are making their way into the workaday world.  They are very blessed to have mentors (coaches for grownups) who are helping them grow from being “newcomers” to being top level contributors in their fields.  I see a lot of coaching transference from preschool soccer to running a business.  I’m happy to say that my boys are still listening with open ears to people who want to help them grow and excel.  I’m proud of them.

Clark H Smith

Feb 14, 2012

This Valentines Day, “Think Velcro”

Gorgeous and I the day we met.
Married eight months later.
Still married twenty-eight years later.
How blessed am I??
Today, our nation celebrates Valentine’s Day – a day of celebrating loving relationships, especially romantic relationships.  Full disclosure, my wife and I have never participated in the day’s festivities – no cards, no chocolates, no dinner dates.  I want you to know, however, never a night goes by, year round, that my wife doesn’t have fresh flowers on her night stand.  She’ll tell you I sprinkle her with imaginative “sweet nothings” and expressions of love throughout the year.  I do not fail to celebrate the fact that this wonderful lady manages to love me.  That said, it’s still Valentine’s Day and I want to encourage dads to think about how to nurture the healthy romantic relationships of their children.  Specifically, what do we tell our children about sexuality and marriage?

Here’s my “big picture”. My faith, wisdom, and life experience teach me the following:
Sexual intimacy, first and foremost, is about creating the next generation.
Children develop best in a home founded by a married mother and father.
Marriage secures mother-father relationship, thus securing a healthy home for the child.

With those considerations in mind, I want to encourage dads to talk to their children about sexual intimacy in the context of marriage.  My parents’ generation’s prevailing approach to sex ed was to threaten boys and scare girls.  That approach is not only ineffective, but it left a lot of scars when it was finally time for sex-in-marriage.  As the father of four boys I always wondered how dads of girls advise their daughters about saving sexual intimacy for marriage.  I asked three dads to tell me their approach.  One dad has a young teen age daughter, two have very young daughters (I wondered what their long-term plan was).  Here are some excerpts:

Sex is not a taboo topic in our home; it is a beautiful thing in Gods eyes within the context of marriage.  I tell her is that she is a very special, beautiful person and is to be treated with respect by all her peers.  Just recently her mother and I were talking to her about boys, raging hormones and wandering boy eyes.  It is important that she present herself in a Godly fashion in both her appearance and her behaviors... not putting herself in a place to become a temptation to one of Gods sons.

Similar to our next two dads, DadOfTeen tries to put sexual intimacy in a larger context.  Rather than scaring his daughter away from sex, Dad says “it is a beautiful thing” at the right time, in the right relationship.  I think Dad is doing his daughter a favor by explaining to her that she needs to consider what’s going on in boys’ minds at this stage of life.  Yikes!!

The concept I want to impart to my girls at this stage of their life is to demonstrate how a man who loves them should treasure and cherish them.  I demonstrate this through how I treat their mother and also how I interact with them individually.  This will establish a template for a loving relationship that I believe they will seek out when they begin to look for a mate.  As they get older and the time comes for the birds and the bees talk, I will explain that sex is a wonderful gift from God given to us as a means to maximize our joy & connection with our Spouse.  If we experience the bonding of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, it weakens the connection that God intended us to have with our future spouse.  The more times we bond & un-bond ourselves (think velcro) to someone, the lower our capacity to experience the full blessing of marriage as God intended.

“Think Velcro”… ok, that’s a first for me, but it makes perfect sense.  Sexual intimacy undoubtedly creates an emotional bond from the female toward the male (affection in the opposite direction is not always there).  BabyDaddy#1 is right on that girls should consider bonding and “unbonding” carefully.  He’s also giving his daughters a great gift by setting a high standard – they will expect to be treated the way they saw their father treating their mother.  Set that bar high, Dad!!

Our daughters need to know that they don’t have to be someone they’re not in order to make a boy happy.  I think that so many girls fall into the trap of premarital sex due to insecurity.  So it’s up to us as fathers to make sure their self-confidence is strong going in to puberty and teenage years when boys and emotions about boys begin to kick in.  [I intend to] build our daughters’ self confidence in who they are as our daughters, and daughters of Holy God, not some pubescent, hormonal teen.  [I also want to] teach them the many ways to express their love and affection for people without having to offer themselves before marriage.

A theme is emerging here, BabyDaddy#2 sums up what all three dads talk about – context and age-appropriate expression of love.  Sexual intimacy is the ultimate expression of love (I thought the radio ad said a Vermont Teddy Bear was!) and marriage is the ultimate relationship.  They should be paired together.

Finally, dads, here’s a freebie from me to you on this Valentine’s Day.  I want you to check out this Victoria’s Secret model.  Yes, really check her out!!!  Kylie Bisutti is a top-tier fashion model who quickly made her way to the Victoria’s Secret runway.  And then… well, like I said, check out her story.  (No, I would NOT get you in trouble with your wife on this of all days.)
And sorry about the 30sec ad at the start.
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player 
Watch the video and then I strongly suggest you share it with your daughters… and your sons for that matter.  Sexual intimacy is the most spectacular human experience.  It’s also a complex experience that, in my most humble opinion, finds it fullest and healthiest expression in marriage.  I hope this gives you some ideas for continuing to talk to your children about their sexual health and happiness.

Clark H Smith

Feb 1, 2012

Out of the Corner of Their Eyes

Are you ready for some “super” football?  I’ll be watching this Sunday to see if New England establishes itself as a dynasty or if “Peyton’s Little Brother” improbably moves into the family lead of Super Bowl wins.  But I have to tell you, I’m just a tad nervous about all the stuff that’s packed around the game.  Anyone remember 2004 and a certain half-time show “mishap”?  “Wardrobe malfunction” gets millions of search results – it’s almost everyday language now. 

And the ads that pay for our gridiron gala are almost universally designed to offend what I think are reasonable standards of decency.  I firmly believe if they even thought they could get away with it, GoDaddy.com would broadcast strippers on a pole at every commercial break.  (Here’s a preview of an Acura Super Bowl ad that I can support enthusiastically.)

Please don’t think I represent the Prude Police.  I’m not trying to legislate morality for the rest of the world, but I am responsible for the moral development of my children.  And even though, in time, they‘ll take ownership of their values, I have to begin the training of their hearts and minds in my home.  

My view is that sex is a wondrously glorious thing AND I think it is a wondrously private thing between a husband and wife*.  Football is a spectator sport.  Intimacy, by the very definition of it, is not.  Each year, many (most?) Super Bowl commercials gen up raw lust to push their wares.  Somehow, in the midst of this hormone carnival, I want to help my children (I have four boys) understand that a) they are being manipulated, and b) the whims of the world should not form their view of women or of marital intimacy.

If, to a greater or lesser degree, you share my concerns, here are some approaches to dealing with all the nonsense coming our way. 

First, you know it’s coming.  Ad agencies have been perfecting their message for months; why don’t you spend some time getting your message across?  What do you believe and what have you taught your children about sex and gender relations in general?  Repeat and reinforce that message before the Big Game.  By the way, my friend at National Center for Fathering / Father.com have put together a set of articles that will be a big help in this area.  

I tell my sons, “That’s not your wife.  That is someone else’s wife (or potentially so).  I do not want someone else having sexual feelings for my wife.  Accordingly, I should not have sexual feelings for someone other than my wife.”  

A conversation with daughters would go along the same lines, but I would add this, “Darling, sometimes this world looks at women merely as sex objects.  I’m sorry for that.  I want you to know that sex with your husband will be a spectacular experience.  As for the rest of the world, I don’t want anyone else to think about you sexually.  I really don’t like commercials that portray females simply as objects of sexual desire.”  Of course, you’ve got to scale these conversations up or down depending on age.  

I know a lot of dads may get queasy with such frank talk, but let me ask you a question, if you’re not talking to your kids about sex, where are they going to get their information?  GoDaddy?

That brings me to my second point – your children are expecting you to talk to them.  How do I know?  Let me paint a picture for you.  You and your child are together; you may be in the living room, you may be in the hardware store.  Something happens; a word is spoken, a gesture is made, something out of character.  What happens?  I call it the “corner of the eye” experience.  Out of the corner of your eye you see that your child is watching you out of the corner of their eye.  They are checking on you, they are measuring you to see how you are going to respond to what just happened.  With their little eyes they are asking you, “Can I use that word?  Can I make that gesture?  Can I cop that attitude?  Can I dress that way?  Can I stare at girls/boys that are dressed that way?”  

You, dad, are the gatekeeper of your child’s heart and mind.  Stand guard!  What are you going to let pass through that gate and into their lives shaping them forever?  Do you want your daughter thinking that unless she wiggles her tush like that, she’ll never find love?  Do you want your son expecting all he needs to do is use the right body spay and four girls will fight to make love to him?  Hmmm?

Here’s a simple truth.  What one generation doesn’t take a stand against, the next generation will take a stand with.  Dad’s, man the gate!!  The values that your child will embrace – either yours or GoDaddy’s – will be decided this Sunday… and every other day of their young lives.  Do your duty.

Clark H Smith

*This perspective of sex-in-the-context-of-marriage is informed by my faith and my traditions.  Not everyone comes with the same approach and I know the idea of marriage is being tested right now.  I can tell you that extensive scholarly research and my work with numerous couples through the years confirm that the best place for sex is inside marriages.  If you'd like to talk about it, I promise you a gracious dialogue - send me an email.