Step One: Showing Up

(This is the first post by our new contributor JB. Please take a moment to check out her profile in the Contributors page)

A CHAMPION DAD…that sounds daunting, no doubt. Since I heard the name of the blog, I have been considering what this means, where I’ve experienced it. My own dad is a champion in many ways, my husband is in others. But this week I met a champion dad who has come through the fire. Better yet, the defining characteristic of this individual is that he ran into the fire to sit with his daughter. And share in her hurt.

Life isn’t easy, we always want the best for our kids, better than we had. Yet sometimes they have to face hardship and real soul wrenching, gut piercing pain. And we all wonder how we will ever survive. But we do, together.

Have you ever gotten the call? The call that the world is on fire for someone you love? Time slows down and your stomach drops? I’ve gotten a few, thankfully only a few. But this is a part of life. And this amazing man, when he got “The Call” from his adult daughter was driving to work. And he did what any Champion Dad would do, said “I’m coming” and started the long drive to get to her a few states away.

Work and responsibilities fade away when we are faced with the reality of heartfelt need from our children. Now, he couldn’t fix the problem, bring her fiancée back to life. But he did the most important thing any father can do…he showed up. In talking with him later, he revealed his feelings of helplessness, and while he wasn’t doing anything in that moment, he was BEING her dad. Being present and sometimes that’s the only thing that a parent can do. But this was only possible because of a lifetime of showing up in big and little ways – soccer games, hanging out with her friends at their house, conversations driving places, offering advice and laughter in the small moments. I hope and pray that my kids will know that both my husband and I are always there for them, ready to show up.

C.S. Lewis said, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” This is something that is tough to remember when the kids are little and I’m trying to get my work done, but I’m trying. It’s these small moments, the daily interactions and rituals that seem silly and exhausting sometimes. But they build up to a lifetime of trust. What can you do TODAY to make sure you have that critical connection? Wait for the bus, toss around the ball for a few or let your daughter paint your toenails. The little moments of action are all training for the tough stuff. If you are conditioned, you will be able to show up and BE the Champion Dad that you truly are.

JB

Photo by Jordan Whit via Unsplash

Tricks to Becoming a Master Listener

“Are you even LISTENING TO ME??!!

Have you ever heard those words spoken to you? Chances are, if you are like me, you have probably heard them a lot. In my life, I generally hear this from my wife and truth be told, she has been well within her right to do so.

The fact of the matter is, I have always had difficulty listening to others. It is not that I am not paying attention but has more to do with the fact that I get so excited to share that I jump in or cut someone off before they are done speaking.

I work at becoming a better listener. I try to remember all the simpleton advice too like maintain eye contact the whole time or be patient and wait your turn. I have now come to realize that this advice is very shallow and generally meaningless if you lack interest with whom you are listening to. I now know this and am teasing it out in life:

The depth of our relationships reflect and are in direct proportion of how deeply we can listen to the other person. Deeper listening = deeper connection.

But about a month my listening ability changed forever. I was listening to an interview with Robert Greene (author The Laws of Human Nature) and he said something that struck me like a lightening bolt that I never thought of before. It was (paraphrasing here):

“Why is it that we are not a good listener? The root of it is that we are more interested in ourselves than we are of the other person. Some may deny, but the truth is we are more interested in our own thoughts, ideas and things that we are certain about, than about the other person, what they are saying, and what is going on inside of them.”

How true!!! He went on:

“That person we are talking to is more interesting than we think or imagine that they are. They are a book. Think of people in our life as characters in a movie. What motivates them? They are more interesting than we think! They have had traumas, family issues, successes…”

WOW! Sounds simple but it is so spot on and practical. The trick here that is transforming how I approach conversations now is this:

When conversing recognize that our initial assumptions about that person (or simplified story about them) is false or at best incomplete. Fight the urge to put forward your ideas. Instead be patient and ask yourself things like what are they feeling right now? Or, why do they think this? Be a seeker of their what and their why.

Practicing these little thoughts will automatically make you a better listener.

Strong connected relationships comes down to the quality of the listening and emotion not how much you have shared about your thoughts and ideas.

Quality of listening wins over quantity of exchanges.

As humans, we are a social animal and how well we can work and listen to others will determine how far you can go in life.

Big reminder to wrap this one up: At first glance we are not seeing the other person for who they are but are only seeing reflections of our own projections we have made about them. Don’t believe your stories about them. Fight the urge to interject and ask why. They will reveal their true self to you the more deeply you listen.

Be well

-MJ

.Photo by Kyle Smith via Unsplash

Champ Dads..The Marvel Way

While rummaging through my old book collection I came across one of my most cherished books from when I was a kid: How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way.

As soon as I saw it I was once again captivated by the possibilities contained within. Almost immediately I searched for the page in the picture above (please take a moment to read it). This section spoke to me back then and speaks to me know. It has to do with how to draw a typical hero and how to draw a villain.

When I was younger (and even now) everyone wanted to root for and cheer for their favorite hero! However, when it comes to drawing a hero..well if you have drawn one you have drawn them all. Yet, villains are a different story. Although we love to hate them that is where all of the creative fun can be found. This conveyed to me a very important lesson to be learned:

-It is our unique imperfections that provide ALL of our opportunity for growth in life-

Let me unpack this a little bit (or should I say draw a complete picture). If we didn’t have all of our shortcomings, flaws, and weaknesses then we would not have a mountain to climb. Having our struggles to overcome paves the way to growth and accomplishment. There is no happy ending if there isn’t something to overcome. Tragedy leads to victory. Just watch any of the latest Marvel movies that have come out.

So returning to the book, Stan Lee points out (my words not his): perfection is boring, formulated, and easy. Yet flawed characters…YIPPEE…time to have some fun. Now, I am strictly speaking about drawing characters here. Since heroes generally have to look the same, writers provide them a flaw when story telling so they are relatable and likable (Superman…kryptonite..DC I know..forgive me). Flaws give us something to root for in another and something to work on within ourselves. With this being said here is another habit I am personally working on:

-Learn to love and embrace your imperfections. They are what make you unique and wonderfully you. You can only change something that you have accepted. You will know when you have accepted it when there is no shame, guilt, or blame present-

To finish out this post I would like to use the Marvel theme, twist it a little, and apply it to Champion Dads:

Champion Dads are where all the fun is. We are not perfect. We come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, cultures, and backgrounds. We strive to be better everyday for our family, friends, and society. While we might not ever be perfect, we exercise giving grace within and with out. We do the best that we can with what we have got and when all else fails..be goofy. We recognize that victory is not the realization of a goal but rather found in how we cultivate and nourish the journey.

Be well

-MJ

Endless Distraction

I would like to share a story today about something that, my guess, has happened to many of us. I was putting a puzzle together with my daughter and felt the vibration of my phone go off in my pocket. Instinctively, I reached down to see who needed me in that moment, only to find out that my phone was not there. My phone was upstairs on my bureau where I left it. This is what some refer to as the twitch.

This moment upset me. It had happened before but I usually just shrugged it off. Not this time though…had I become so programmed that I am mindlessly feeling and reaching for things that are not there?!!

That day I tried to figure out just how programmed I had become…how deep are the roots of this mindless habit? The following were my painful observations of my behavior.

*When I retrieved my phone from my bureau I instantly checked it to see if I “missed” a text or a call. And every few minutes impulsively pressed the home button to light up the screen.

*While driving I felt the twitch again only to see my phone on my dashboard where I kept it.

*Standing in a long line at the store, I reached for the phone to pass the time.

*Three more times in the evening I felt the urge to check and use the phone to review emails, texts, and run various games.

Needless to say I was a bit disgusted by how strong the twitch’s calling was. I felt tremendous anxiety when I did not follow through on the urge.

I am now working to correct this terrible habit.

It has been almost a week since that fateful wake up call and I have had time to dig into how it has impaired my ability to be in the moment.

The twitch signifies a larger problem. It is not only about a phone but really the impulsive nature of needing to have constant input or distraction in one’s life. Look around and observe- chances are that you will see people walking with their head down lost in their glowing device. Or, perhaps they are in a line catching up on Facebook. Or, they are checking their phone quickly at a stop light. Or, worst yet, reading their phone while they are spending time with their kids.

The twitch, to me, is all the noise that sucks the magic out of the present moment. Why do we need to get lost in our device? Why do we need constant distraction?

I remember the days when I did not have a phone. In my down time (line at store, waiting room, sitting with nothing to do) I would think and allow my thoughts to sort themselves out. It was so beautiful to allow my brain a break where it could process out all that happened in the day. Anxiety was less. Happiness was more.

It is my guess that the rising levels of anxiety in adults and children are directly linked to constantly being distracted. The constant streaming of noise we are force feeding our brains is impairing its ability to decompress and recharge.

Maybe it’s time put the phone down for a while and take back control.

You’re not going to miss anything…In fact, you will be gaining….gaining back all the precious moments…the magical interaction real life has to offer…your kids laughter…a sunset…or just watching the day pass you by.

How awesome were the days where we had nothing to do but hang out and have a real conversation with…..hold on…just felt my phone….UGH!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Jens Johnson via Unsplash

3 Habits to Help Disable Depression

In the year 2000 I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. To think about this 19 years later still provides chills down my spine…and not in a good way. You see, depression changes a person forever. Although, I don’t suffer on a daily basis I can always reach out and touch it. IT is there. Now, in many ways, it is like a caged tiger. I have learned skills and thought processes that have kept it in a safe place…But it is still there, pacing back and forth…Every once and awhile letting loose a guttural growl as to say “never forget”.

For me, I have never been successful at describing what depression is like to a person who has not gone through it. IT is hell. It is an emotional roller coaster of uncertainty (when I could feel emotion). Imagine a world without color, without vibrancy, while every little stress put you in a place of despondent despair. There is no exit sign or escape while the dread in your bones has one constant theme: It is over, it is over, it is over.

So that was what it was like for me. Yet, here I am! I came back and my aim every day is to live life on my terms and help others do the same.

This post is for Champion Dads who are currently in the despair. The following three things helped me immensely. They provided me a foothold to start to gain back a little normalcy and control in my daily life. Even current day, I use these three things to make sure I keep that cage strong. (Remember, these are things that worked for me. I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist and am not providing advice…I am just sharing ideas).

1. Practice thinking in the present moment. A common occurrence was my head was filled with future worries and past dwellings. My head would say things like:

Future- “I hope the rest of my life isn’t like this” or “How am I ever going to go on this way?”

Past- “I just want to go back to the way I was.”

Past and future thoughts have no place in reality. One is a reflection on what has long gone while the other is an illusionary projection. Neither are real. When I caught myself dwelling back or worrying forward, I would replace the thought with “Mike, your only job right now is to experience all the sensations of the current moment”. An example of this playing out is as follows:

Imagine tying your shoes and worrying about all the crap you have to do today. “Stop, right now just focus on how perfect I can tie the shoes. What do the laces feel like? Let’s focus on how tight I need to tie them. How do the shoes feel on my feet?”

By repeatedly reminding ourselves to return to the present moment we can ease the burden of overthinking.

2. Practice not judging everything you see. I owe my brother big for this line of thinking. It is hard but good. On one of the worst days of my depression we went for a walk and I tried to explain how disconnected I was. Here is a snippet of that conversation:

Me: “Look at all these pink flowers. Before I could feel how beautiful they were and I would know how beautiful they were. Now I see them but I feel no connection..it is like someone severed my cord to life.”

Brother: “Why does the flower need to be beautiful? Why can’t the flower just be the flower?

BOOM!!! Things are not the judgements we place upon them. Allow things to be as they are. Things are neither good, bad, right, or wrong. When we can be in the present moment without incessant judgement, things can be just as they are. We don’t need to waste thought/energy on placing them in our made up boxes of judgements. (Good practice with people too)

3. Be of service to others. On days where I could not effectively do #1 or #2, I would go out and help someone else. This way I could stop the narcissistic behavior of ME ME ME thoughts. When we focus on helping others we find ourselves naturally in a present moment state. Our focus shifts from ME to them. This step is magical to me and that is why I love my current career in adult learning.

So there they are…three ideas. I hope they help. They help me everyday.

Let’s take small steps and build habits to bring forth a better tomorrow.

-MJ

Photo by Melissa Mjoen via Unsplash

You Are The Fire

THE GIFT OF FIRE- As told by Anthony De Mello

There’s this guy who invented fire. He takes the tools for making fire and goes up to the north, where there are some tribes shivering in the cold. He teaches them the art and the advantages of making fire. And the people become interested. They learn. And what do they know? Pretty soon they’re cooking, they’re using the fire for building. And before they had time to say thanks to the inventor, he had disappeared. He didn’t want any thanks; he just wanted people to benefit from his invention.

He goes to another tribe, and he attempts to interest them also in his new invention. But he ran into a snag there, see? The priests began to realize how popular the guy was becoming and how their own influence on the people was diminishing. So they decided to poison him. A suspicion arose among the people that it was the priests who had done it, so you know what the priests did?

They had a huge portrait made of the man. They put it on the main altar in the temple. They devised a liturgy by which the man would be honored, a ritual; and year after year, people came to pay homage to the great inventor and to the instruments for making fire. And the ritual was faithfully observed. But there was no fire. No fire. Ritual. Remembrance. Gratitude. Veneration. Yes. But no fire…

****

This story is my favorite from Anthony DeMello. Anthony was a Jesuit Priest who saw things as they are (not as prescribed by his own faith). I often remind myself of this story as I guide my children the best that I can.

The true purpose of this story is not whether or not dogma is good or bad (that is lazy shallow thinking). The message here is that the fire maker’s purpose was show that everyone can do this fire making stuff! He helped people learn and awaken to their true fire making potential.

And so it is with ALL OF US: We are the fire of the world. At our best we help others awaken to their own potential. Today, I will work hard to bring my fire into the world. Today, I will be patient with my children and help them discover their own unique fire within. Today, I will listen better to their story and coach them where needed. Today, I will offer my hand to anyone who has forgotten that they too can spark a flame in this world.

You are the fire of life. Let’s go out there and fan the flames and help others awaken to their potential.

Be well.

-MJ

Photo by Ryan Wong via Unsplash

Three Steps To Morning Freedom

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily”

When I first became a dad, well…everything changed. The first thing that changed was now I had to take care of another tiny human better than I have ever taken care of myself! Ok, so my wife and I got this! (Yeah, totally needed her because watching me hold a crying baby looks about the same as a caveman holding a log that is on fire…This doesn’t seem right…what do I do, what do I do???? HHAAAAAA!!!)

The second thing that changed is my sleep schedule. It wasn’t in their owners manual but kids don’t care how late you stay up or how much you had to drink the night before. When kids wake up….THEY WAKE UP so full of life and ready to go! They don’t “get” that dad made some poor decisions the night before. So I would have to drag my sorry butt out of bed.

So with that being said here are three things that completely changed my morning dynamic and saved my sanity. The following will transform your mornings from playing catch-up and resenting their energy to being functional, loving, and in control.

#1 and #2 are about habits. #3 is about forging a relationship.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether or not you’re inspired”.- Octavia Butler

1. Wake up every day before for the kids. I try to wake up at least a full hour before they wake. This grants me some quiet time where I am not distracted (aka ME time). Since my quiet time happens in the morning I have plenty of energy to enjoy it and get all of my ducks in a row for the day. Try this out! You will see that it is so much better than trying to find quiet time after the kids have gone to bed for the night (I mean, why have quiet time when you are already burned out?!)

2. Wake up at the same time every morning. It does not matter when you go to bed, just build the habit of waking up at the same time. It does wonders for your body, even on the days you may lack sleep (science has my back on this). Your body has its own natural rhythm and waking up at the same time allows a good routine to form. Current day, I wake up without an alarm between 4:30 and 5. If I can do this you can too! I used to be a natural night person. I made the shift originally because I wanted to read a book but would fall asleep shortly after I started reading at night. Now I have a beautiful peaceful habit.

3. When your kids wake immediately spend five to ten minutes giving them your full attention (no phone, or fractured attention here). This is what is referred to by L. Tobin* and Jeanine Fitzgerald* as first hour needs. If you can fill your kids up right off the bat with touch (hug), acknowledgement, humor, conversation, nutrition, love, etc- they will be so much more well behaved in the day and compliant to your voice. Really, this one is a miracle at work. Just fill them up with as much love as possible and watch them go…in a content state. I also use this tactic as soon as I get home from work. The key here is to create an environment where they feel and know that they are valued. (Bonus fact: did you know that 80% of what you communicate with another is purely non-verbal….yeah words don’t tell the story)

In conclusion, I work these three things every single day. I love my kids but hey….I also love me. Maximize your down time when you have the most energy for it (you deserve it)…and while your at it, fill your kids up with love and acknowledgment (they will return the favor).

-MJ

*L. Tobin What do you do with a child like this?

*Jeanine Fitzgerald- The Dance of Interaction

Photo by Japheth Mast via Unsplash