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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

When my family was much smaller and younger, we lived in a small Pacific Northwest logging community called Quilcene.  Now, one might read and so pronounce that name in a plain straightforward fashion like “kwil – seen.”  However, like almost all dialects of the English-speakers language, there are hidden sounds only the locals know about.  This is a sure fire way to identify outsiders (i.e. “people from not around here”).

Small Blue Boat Reflection in Port Townsend Harbor

Small Blue Boat Reflection

The local populace pronounces it “kwila-seen.”  It is the shibboleth (or is that sibboleth?) of the local dialect.   Fortunately, no one is killed over such a goof.  I believe the sound is correct and reflects the American Indian languages of the area (e.g. the Quilayutes).  It, after all, also being the name of the local tribe that used to inhabit the area.  (The Quil-a-cenes were later absorbed into surrounding tribes, most notably to the south on the Hood Canal in the Skokomish tribe.)  Unfortunately, some early English speaker’s attempt to Anglicize the word missed the short “a” and so we are stuck with Quilcene, which is much better than what the original American-European settlers of the area wanted to call it:  South Burlap.

Into this small community, my family settled.  My oldest son, Gareth, was a new-born.  A couple of years later, Cara, our oldest daughter was born at home.  Four years after, our youngest daughter, Julian, was born at home there too.  The locals quickly educated us on the correct pronunciation of the word.  This, along with learning that everybody was related to everybody else, was one of the most important lessons to learn in this small community.

Almost everyone in this community earned their living from the logging industry.  Those that didn’t were employed in some seafood related industry.  Oyster farms still do a thriving business there to this day.  Logging, however, will probably never be what it once was 25 and more years ago.  Our neighbor Bob was one of those hard-working loggers.

Bob was known for delivering firewood for many years around the Quilcene, Brinnon, Dabob areas.  He made a living doing the hard work of pulling out old trees, cutting them, splitting the cuts, and delivering it.  Most people relied upon wood heat to get through the cold, damp winters of Washington State.  “Bob the Woodman” was their main source for good dry wood.  Success at that allowed him to branch out into selective logging and clearing lots for people building homes along the curves of the Quilcene and Dabob bays.

Bob was a good neighbor.  Our properties joined one another on seven acres of wooded property.  Red Cedars and Douglas Fir inhabited most of the property.  This made a perfect play ground for my oldest two kids.  Of course, as conscientious parents, we were always careful to keep our eyes upon our kids.  Our oldest son had a habit of running off and disappearing from our presence.  This made us a little more paranoid than normal parents, if there are such things.

Seagull Reflection

Seagull Reflection

Despite our best vigilance, however, our son had a habit of wandering off.  This led to his getting into all sorts of mischief even before the age of five.  There was the time he showed up two blocks away across Highway 101 in his diaper standing in front of the local gas station.  There were the two separate occasions he discovered bald-faced hornets nests.  On the first occasion, he poked it with a stick.  He and his sister got stung.  On the second occasion, having learned from the first one not to poke it with sticks, he threw rocks at the nest.  He and his sister got stung.

As you can imagine, his penchant for exploration and getting himself into trouble only expanded as he grew older.  This explains his mother’s premature grey, his fathers premature baldness, and the slight twitch in the corner of both our right eyes.  Nature or nurture, whatever the cause, gets started awful early.  Too early in my book.  I think kids should be born educated and ready for the work force.  It would eliminate a lot of social problems.  Alas, but I’m not the Creator.  Good thing too, probably.  Giving birth to college kids would be incredibly painful for mothers.  And, how would you explain nursing?  “Come here, sweetheart!  It’s time for your lunch.”  “Aw, mom!  You’re embarrassing me.”

One of the advantages of raising your kids in a rural setting is that they learn so much by just being outdoors.  It truly is an amazing experience and opportunity.  I feel sorry for kids who grow up in the city and don’t know their way around a good wooded patch of ground.  My kids spent countless hours examining nature.  They learned a lot.

One time, my wife caught our oldest son, at about three years of age, exploring the biosphere of the upper canopy of the trees about 30 feet off the ground in his rubber boots.  He learned that, if he didn’t break his neck carefully descending the tree, his mother would kill him.  Another time, I taught my son about heat transference through convection with a steel burn barrel by telling him, “Don’t touch the barrel, it’s really hot”.  Then, he immediately tested my hypothesis by touching the barrel and getting a nasty blister on his hand.  Then, there was the time I took him to explore the mud flats of Quilcene Bay at low tide.  We were having the time of our lives seeing all kinds of tidal land creatures: hermit crabs, worms, clams, snails, and plant life.  About two-hundred yards from shore I suddenly realized he was barefoot.

“What happened to your boots?” I demanded to know.

“There way back there,” he pointed.

“Where?”

“Back there,” he kept pointing.

“How did they come off?”

“The mud took them off.”

I picked him up.  He still had his socks on but now they were as black as the mud of the bay and hung thick and wet about a foot down from his feet.  I held him out away from me as his socks swayed in the wind.

“Come on,” I said.  “Let’s go get your boots.  I think we’re done for the day.”

I reached down and pulled off his socks and then tucked him under my arm, carrying him like a sack of potatoes.  The extra weight made the mud pull on my boots too.  This was as much a father’s education as a son’s.

I looked down at him.  He was watching the ground pass underneath us.  “Did you have fun?” I queried.

“Yes,” he replied.  “I like the worms the best.”  He turned his head toward me and smiled.

“Of course,” I said and smiled back.

We found his boots stuck in stride just as he had left them.  The thought to stop and retrieve them or to put them back on again never seemed to occur to him.  I suppose he was too fascinated with the bugs and creatures and keeping up with his dad.

The problem with growing up in a rural setting is that property boundaries can sometimes be fuzzy.  Locals know one another and cross each others property almost at will.  Those really familiar with each other don’t even bother knocking on one another’s door.  They just let themselves in and yell, “Hello!?”  That’s country living for you.

This was difficult for my kids to learn also.  Our neighbor Bob had all kinds of fun equipment for a young boy to play on.  Gareth particularly liked the heavy equipment that would appear from time to time on Bob’s property.  He was always amazed at their size and imagined in his little mind what they could do.  One of his favorite pieces of Bob’s equipment was a skidder.  This is used by loggers to move logs around.  However, it doesn’t move anything when it’s batteries are dead because a 4 or 5 year-old boy was playing on it and pushing buttons.  It takes a long time to charge a skidder’s batteries back up.  Plus, it is not something Bob appreciated discovering when heading for the woods at 4 or 5 in the morning.

Broken Sand Dollar

Broken Sand Dollar

Bob had incredible patience with our son. I only heard him yell across our properties a few times, “Gareth!!”  By then, Gareth was almost always already home after we discovered that he had wandered off yet once again.  This let us know that our son had probably gotten into something.

As a logger, Bob had access to small seedling trees that were used to replant clear-cut areas.  Bob had a stretch of property on the opposite away from us that he decided to replant.  Good naturedly, Bob invited Gareth along to show him how trees were planted.  If they are not planted properly, they will die and the tree and one’s labor will be lost.  One must have a proper depth to the hole to make sure and get the full root system in the ground.  You don’t want any exposed root area.  Then, one covers up the roots.  However, the tap root needs to be as straight as possible, so a short, small tug is given on the tree when it is buried to help ensure this.

When investing in the life of the child, I believe it is important to give them, as much as is reasonable possible, exposure to many different things.  Who knows what will “take” in their little hearts and minds that causes them to decide to become a mechanic, doctor, nurse, plumber, lawyer, carpenter, or even forester.  Who knows the potential within the heart and mind of a child?

At the same time, who truly knows what is going on in those spaces?  When Bob returned from the woods the next day, he discovered that my son had pulled out all 100+ trees that he had planted with him.  Did they need to be recounted?  Did they need an “extra pull” to make sure they were straight?  Did they simply need to be removed because their place only appeared to be temporary?  We will never know, I suppose.  That’s a lesson we’ll never learn.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (October, 2011)

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The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This is for all my friends who are parents.  While it is written from the mom’s perspective, even dads can appreciate this humorous perspective.  [author unknown]

When I was younger, I remember receiving the inevitable homework assignment to write an essay on “something I am thankful for.”

Then I’d spend a lot of time sitting in my room trying to figure out just what in the world that could possibly be, and I’d end up writing down everything I could think of from God to environmental consciousness.

But after having children, my priorities have clearly changed:

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful to have been born the USA, the most powerful free democracy in the world.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for Velcro tennis shoes. As well as saving valuable time, now I can hear the sound of my son taking off his shoes — which gives me three extra seconds to activate the safety locks on the back seat windows right before he hurls them out of the car and onto the freeway.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the recycling program that will preserve our natural resources and prevent the overloading of landfills.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for swim diapers because every time my son wanders into water in plain disposables, he ends up wearing a blimp the size of, say, New Jersey, on his bottom.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for fresh, organic vegetables.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for microwaveable macaroni and cheese — without which my children would be surviving on about three bites of cereal and their own spit.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the opportunity to obtain a college education and have a higher quality of life than my ancestors.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful to finish a complete thought without being interrupted.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for holistic medicine and natural herbs.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for pediatric cough syrup guaranteed to “cause drowsiness” in young children.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for all of the teachers who had taught, encouraged, and nurtured me throughout my formative years.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for all of the people at Weight Watchers who let me strip down to pantyhose and a strategically placed scarf before getting on the scale each week.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the opportunity to vacation in exotic foreign countries so I could experience a different way of life in a new culture.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful to have time to make it all the way down the driveway to get the mail.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the Moosewood Vegetarian cookbook.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for the Butterball Turkey hotline.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for a warm, cozy home to share with my loved ones.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for the lock on the bathroom door.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for such material objects as custom furniture, a nice car, and trendy clothes.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful when the baby spits up and misses my good shoes.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for my wonderful family.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for my wonderful family.

[author unknown]

Sharp Edges Sign

Sharp Edges Sign

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Outward Posture, Inward Rebellion

There is something innate in human nature that makes most people want to conform to the social mores of a group to be accepted. It is the way we identify “those who are like us” and “those who are not like us.”  Even those who consider themselves mavericks, loners and social outcasts often conform to way of behaving and dressing that identifies them with all the other mavericks, loners and social outcasts.  As such, paradoxically, they become a part of their own self-identified group even though they want to exhibit their individualism and anti-group attitude.

No where is the propensity to want to identify with a particular coterie more evident than in or among religious and political groups. Even then, political assemblies do not hold a candle stick to the divisive nature of religious groups.  This is not just an issue with any one particular religion, but all religions.  Christians used to murder one another over doctrinal distinctives as quickly as Muslim Sunnis, Shias and other Islamic sects do today in the Middle and Far East.  Hindu castes war with one another and tribalism is known to rule many parts of the warring factions of Buddhists.

I am not able to speak to the other religions state of division, but I am not the only one among Christians who are dismayed at the lack of charity and love many Christians show one another from different doctrinal streams. This is especially ironic given the particular emphasis its founder, Jesus the Messiah, place upon “loving one another” in the Christian community.  It was these loving, grace-filled communities that were supposed to be a sign and witness to the rest of the world that God’s Kingdom had truly come to earth.

Without denying what is clearly described as the central tenets of the faith that all Christians can agree upon, nor marginalizing what all can agree Scripture clearly identifies as sin, it seems to me that there is a lot of room for allowing others to follow Jesus according to the dictates of one’s own heart and conscience without imposing those upon others.  Alas, this does not seem to be the case.  Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, Christians are determined to cluster in groups for the only particular purpose of identifying “who is in” and “who is out;” like they have some decision in the matter of who actually gets into heaven and who doesn’t.

So, we like to bunch ourselves around labels: conservatives versus liberals, fundamentalists versus evangelicals, pentecostals versus charismatics, dunking baptizers versus sprinkling baptizers, social gospel versus proclamation gospel, baby baptizers versus baby dedicators, congregationalists versus presbyteries, hi-church versus lo-church, liturgical versus non-liturgical, King James version only versus modern translations, traditional church music versus contemporary church music, denominational versus independent non-denominational.  And the grouping goes on and on and on.

It would be one thing if this was simply an attempt to gather like minds and hearts to worship and learn together. This could be done while at the same time recognizing and embracing other Christian fellowships that have different expressions and doctrinal emphases.  Sadly, this is not the case for the vast majority of churches and their followers.  The pride of triumphalism creeps into the gang gathered that emits an attitude that communicates, if not expressed overtly and outwardly at least inwardly, that they are the “only true” believers on God’s planet.  God must laugh, or weep.

All that we seemed to have accomplished with such behaviors is to confound nonbelievers and tarnish our testimony to the One we are striving to follow. Then, to make matters worse, our efforts to ensure group conformity in beliefs and behaviors only produce among us disingenuous and hypocritical believers.  The disciples we produce are able to spout our dearest doctrinal truths and exhibit, at least while within and among the group, the expected pious behavior.  Thus, they have an outward posture that says they genuinely belong to the Christian sect, but inwardly struggle with rebellion that will express itself sooner or later.

Once again, human efforts at religion create a human-focused and human-energized faith system. A faith system that holds in bondage its followers to a scripted religious expression and holds at a distance anyone who is at variant with that particular expression.  Is doctrine important?  Yes.  Is righteousness or right-living important?  Yes.  However, outward conformity to either of these without a change in heart only breeds a deadly religious syncretism where faith and belief do not really change attitude and heart.

Extending love and grace to everyone on their spiritual journeys, no matter where they may be in them, is the only way to live in the communal unity Jesus called his disciple to attain. Instead of attempting to identify “who’s in” and “who’s out,” what if every Christian fellowships goal was to identify where people are on their spiritual pilgrimage?  What if Christians permitted one anther to cluster around like interests and similar spiritual journeys without rejecting or disparaging other Christians of different interests and dissimilar spiritual journeys?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my household, all four of my children are different from one another. They have different abilities and talents; dissimilar likes and dislikes; as well as a various mix of personality traits from their paternal and maternal side of the family.  In my household, I do not attempt to make them all like the same thing.  They do not all have to play the same sport or same games.  Even the formation of their behaviors and beliefs has taken on unique and interesting paths.

I do not love any one of them more than any other. I love each of my kids dearly.  I cannot imagine my household without them.  Each of their character, sense of humor, way of doing things, seeing things, approaching things and processing things adds variety to our family life.  Yes.  Sometimes it is frustrating and even maddening.  At the same time, all of our differences can bring hilarity and light moments.

The point is this: we do not sit around the dining room table trying to identify who is really part of the family and who is not.  As amazingly different as we are all from one another, there is enough family resemblance to assure us that there is no mistaking our family tree.  Instead of picking one another a part with differences, we attempt to celebrate them.  And, as we mature, those very traits that once drove us to distraction when we were younger now become the most endearing qualities we love about each other.

We are not a perfect family. We have our dysfunctions for sure; just like God’s family here on earth.  What if God sees his family like this?  What if he loves each of our clusters, fellowships and groups as much as the next one?  What if he looked upon us with loving eyes and just wished we would honor and love each other the way he esteems and loves us?  What if he recognizes our spiritual quirks, illogical dogmas and inconsistent righteousness and loves us anyway and wishes we would do the same for each other?  Imagine that for a moment.

In truth, humanity is broken. Along with the rest of humanity, Christians are broken people seeking healing and wholeness in their Creator.  In the long run, it may suit our efforts toward personal healing and wholeness and seeing God’s Kingdom truly come to earth if we simply stopped and rejected our own religious posturing.  Rather than expending so much energy identifying “who’s in” and “who’s out,” if we took time to recognize our own tendencies toward inward rebellion, we may be more apt to extend grace to others.  This, in turn, may allow us to broaden our acceptance, care and love to all our spiritual siblings in the heavenly Father’s household.  It is, after all, his house and not ours.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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It is one of the duties of every dad to teach their sons how to shop for their mothers for special occasions. Someday, they will be taking time to shop for their wives.  It will not due to have an uninformed son blame his father for showing up on such occasions with gifts of hardware or household items as many urban legends go about men.  No, it requires patient instruction and modeling on the part of every father.  This is why I took our oldest son, who was about 14 at the time, with me shopping for a Valentines gift for his mother.

I have always tried to include variety and creativity in my gift shopping for my wife. Over the years I had learned that a steady supply of items from Bath and Body Works was not satisfactory.  Gifts cards were considered impersonal and jewelry was not always a choice due to finances since buying cheap jewelry proved to communicate an opposite message.  The usual candies and flowers are considered “everyday items” and not for “special occasions.”  So, as you can see, the whole shopping mission for special occasions could prove challenging.

This particular year I decided to look for some pretty negligee items, which I had not purchased for my wife in some time. We were home schooling our oldest son.  So, for an opportunity to take a break, I asked if he wanted to come along.

Hey, I’m going Valentines Day shopping for your mom.  You want to come and help me pick something out for her?

Without thinking about it, my son, seeing an opportunity to get away from school work, jumped at the chance.  “Sure!

We arrived at our local mall and I headed to a couple of stores to compare prices and items. It was then that my son began to grow suspicious.

What are you looking for, dad?” my intuitive and inquisitive Middle School son asked me.

Oh, I don’t rightly know yet”, I avoided.  In truth, I was not really sure just what I was looking for at the time.  I just had a general sense of shopping direction.

Finally, we came a cross a wonderful sale of items at Macy’s in the mall. None of the other stores were even close in price and since Macy’s is always considered a high-end store, I figured I could not go wrong.  I immediately dove into the women’s personal wear.

My son stopped in the store aisle at the edge of this particular shopping section and stared at me wide-eyed.

Dad!  What are you doing?!” he cautiously asked.  Alarmed to see his own father boldly going where no Middle School boy dared to tread.  “I’m not going in there!” he loudly whispered.

Oh, come on.  You’re shopping for you’re mother for Pete’s sake.  No one’s going to think you’re some kind of weirdo.  Besides, you’re with your father and it’s a Valentines Day sale so everyone’s going to naturally assume we are shopping for my wife and your mother.  Now, come on,” I goaded him but relished in his unsettled nervousness.

I looked around. The store was practically empty since it was just before noon on a week day.  Besides a couple of checkers, there were only one or two other ladies at the other end of the store.  One of the checkers was an older, grandmotherly looking lady who was seemed to be watching us with some amusement.  I smiled and nodded her way.  She smiled back at me.

I started looking and sorting through a few frilly night gowns and picked out a couple. I looked over at my son who was still standing nervously in the aisle looking away in the opposite direction.  I had the distinct feeling he wanted to disown me at that moment.

Hey,” I called over to him.  “I need your help.  Come hold a couple of these for me.”

He looked horrified.  “What!?!” he protested.  “No!

Aw, come on!” I countered.  “I need you to help me.  This is why I invited you to come along…so you could help me.”

Dad,” he objected, “if I had known that this was what you were going to be shopping for I would have stayed home to do school work!

What!?  And miss an opportunity to help me do something special for your mom for Valentines Day?”  This was turning out to be more fun than I had expected.  He really was afraid of see-through garments!  Of course, I knew this and would have been just as horrified at his age.  Passing the bra or panty section of the local K-Mart store was enough to turn me red then.

Well, the sooner you help me the sooner we can get out of here and get home,” I offered.  “Now, get over here and hold these.  And don’t let them drag on the floor.

Obediently, my son wound his way through garment racks and scantily dressed mannequins until he reached me. I held out the night gowns I had picked out to him.  He gingerly took them as if they were breakable items.  Then he quickly glanced around the store.  I don’t know who he was afraid of seeing.  It was not like as if any of his friends would be venturing into this department.  That is, of course, unless they had fathers like me.  Then it was pretty much ‘anything goes.’

I moved on to another rack but my son stood rooted to the spot I left him.

What are you doing?” I asked.  “Follow me.

He shuffled over behind me and followed, gently holding the garments at arms length in front of him.

Don’t let those touch the floor,” I said loudly enough for the checkers to hear.  I looked at him.  He smiled at me because he suddenly got that I was having fun at his expense.

I can’t believe you’d drag me away from my schoolwork to shop for ladies items with you,” he protested.  “This is just wrong.”

Hey,” I bantered back to him.  “I didn’t twist your arm and make you come.  You volunteered on your own.  It’s not my fault that you didn’t ask what we going to shopping for.”

Canadian Geese Goslings, June 2008

Canadian Geese Goslings, June 2008 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

As we wandered in and around the clothes racks, I came upon a table with a variety of ladies lacy underwear. I suddenly arrived at a fun idea.  I picked out several, one at a time, and handed them to my son who took them with his other hand.  Now he was draped with ladies intimate apparel.  Nightgowns held up on hangers in one hand.  Panties gripped in the other hand.  A face of growing dismay glowing red in between.

You’re doing a great job!” I offered in encouragement.  “I think we have what we need.”  There was a look of relief that came across my son’s face.

We approached the check-out counter.  “I am going to buy these,” I said, pointing to the panties.  “Not those,” I indicated by pointing to the nightgowns.  The kindly elderly woman nodded and smiled.

But my son objected, “What?!  Why did I carry those around?” he asked.

Well, because I liked them at first.  Plus, it was fun watching you carry them around.”

The grandmotherly checker snickered.

My son was old enough by now to be on to me and he smiled a sort of wry smile knowing that he had been caught up in one of his dad’s games.  “Oh, I get it,” he replied.  “You better not tell anyone about this – ever!

Sure,” I offered.  “Fat chance of that,‘ I thought to myself.  “This experience is going to have some fun mileage on it.”

Later, we bought a cute little flowery box, rolled and tucked the pretty underthings for his mom into the box. Then we went to a flower shop and asked the florist to deliver the flowers with the box to my wife where she worked – at a local elementary school.  Later, I learned that she received the flowers and special box at her lunch break and to the delight of fellow-teachers in the teachers lounge opened the box with its contents for all to see.

And that,” my dearest son, “is how you shop for the woman you love and show her how much you love her.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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One of the joys of being a father is the utter delight of embarrassing your children – intentionally. Most parents, particularly of teenagers, are already aware that their mere existence is a complete humiliation to their pre-adult progeny.  So, I figure, since I am already on the top of the list of “The Most Uncool People in the World,” why not go the distance with it and have some fun?

This, of course, does not ingratiate me to my children. It may contribute to the cost of their therapy after they leave home.  But I figure they will be on their own insurance by then anyway so, since it will not cost me anything by way of insurance co-pays, why not have fun at their expense?  (Albeit sometime in the future.)  If anything, it will lend to me in my old age a few moments in which I will be able to sit in a lounge chair, recall a favorite memory of such times, and chuckle to myself, “Heh, heh, heh.”

On one particular occasion, I was with a couple of my children in a local K-Mart store shopping for the regular household items that requires one to make a special shopping trip to such a store. As we were wondering around looking for whatever particular item we needed, a wonderful opportunity presented itself for me to have fun with my kids.   Not one to miss an opportunity for a family bonding moment, I pounced upon the fatherly inspired idea.

We had just passed, for the second time, the sporting goods section of the store. Thrown together in a caged basket was an assortment of men’s and boy’s sports-cup protectors.  They were being offered at a great discount price.  More importantly, they were loose and unpackaged.

Now, there are two types of people in this world. One type would look at the disorganized assortment of sports gear for male genitalia and think, “What a mess?  How disorganized and unsanitary!  Who in their right mind would put these out there like that and expect them to sell?”  On the other hand, they may sniff at such an unprofessional display of merchandise and yet see a bargain and pick up one or two.  After all, you never know when a child, sibling, or male friend may need one.

Then there are the other types of individuals: These types of people pass such a display and snicker.  They immediately see the mischief one could have with such loose and easily available items like these – especially like these.  These are probably the same individuals who in high school, and perhaps even college, arrived early to biology class so as to give the classroom’s skeleton model an interesting pose for fellow students and teacher as they arrived to class.  This type of humor is highly developed and approaches a level not reached by the aforementioned types of people.

I am not sure which camp I fall into – probably somewhere in-between. I will freely admit to the fact that having pre-teens and teenagers in my house now for a number of years has definitely figured into my evolution as a human being.  My children would argue that I have devolved; well, and perhaps my wife too.  I like to think of it as a higher level of unconsciousness; a near numbing psychological nirvana.

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, June 2008

Burnt Cathedral, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, June 2008 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My muscles of self-restraint are not what they once were in my more conservative younger days. When we passed the sports aisle for the second or third time, I succumbed to my whimsical idea of humoring my children midway through a boring journey of looking for an average, unmemorable household item.  I grabbed one of those sports-cup protectors and placed it over my nose and mouth.  Then, doing my best James Earl Jones impression, aka “Darth Vader,” I turned to them and declared, “(Wehhhhh…Whoooooo….) Kids, I am your father!

The look from my children was a mixed reaction. One thought it was hilarious; one thought it was ridiculous; and one was frightened.  The frightened one looked as if she wanted to pinch herself and cry out, “No!!!  Wake up!  Wake up!”  As if she was in some type of nightmare and bad dream.  Clearly not all my children get their full compliment of genetic material from my side of the family.  It was a good thing their mother was not there.

Recalling this event time and again for my children continues to bring me joy. I am convinced that it is a formative moment in their upbringing.  Even now, they cannot remember what the household item we were shopping for that day was; but they all can vividly remember that event.  Never underestimate the power of an embarrassing moment.

While they may not appreciate it now, I just know that someday, when they have pre-teens or teenagers for themselves, they are really going to appreciate this very important life lesson. One day, they too could be walking down a sports aisle, see a loose, unpackaged sports-cup protector and ask their kids, “Hey!  You want to see something your grandfather taught me?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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10. “Honey, you mind changing the channel?”

9. “How ’bout a watermelon seed-spitting contest? You first.”

8. “You think this is bad. I remember that time I broke my leg ….”

7. “I don’t see how you can stand to lie there and do nothing all day.”

6. “Careful, Dear. Those are my piano playing fingers.”

5. “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Heh heh heh.”

4. “Smell this sandwich. I think the mayonnaise is old.”

3. “I don’t know, Honey. Those epidurals are awful expensive.”

2. “Knock, knock ….”

1. “Eeek!  Some of those colors are not in the crayon box.”

[author unknown]

Machine No Brain

Machine No Brain

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