Monthly Archives: April 2014

In search of Parent Role Models (Teen years)

The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires. – Dorothy Parker

Watching an episode of House yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that Dr. House has the perfect personality to raise a teenager. He knows the desired outcome and digs in like a snarling bulldog with all teeth locked on tight. House doesn’t care what you think of him, he just knows he has a life to save. With each new symptom, you can see the determination in his face, as if he were talking directly to the illness itself, taunting it: “Bring it on, bitch. This patient is not dying on my watch.”

Kevin’s brother Pix and his wife Kelly remind me of House. Kelly was a tough and tenacious step-mom to Pix’s 3 young boys, who grew up to be responsible, amiable adults. As if that weren’t impressive enough, they then adopted a troubled teen named Amber. They provided the right balance of tough love, structure and support to a kid they’d never even met until they agreed to step in after her grandmother died. You would be blown away to hear stories of what Amber was like in high school. Today she is charming, dynamic and level-headed. I’m fascinated that Pix and Kelly played such a pivotal role in her transformation.

Amber, Brian, John and Jason

Amber, Brian, John and Jason

Pix and Kelly

Pix and Kelly

Unfortunately, I’ve seen parents for whom the road of teen parenting was not nearly as smooth. Some parents suffer enormously to keep their teen in line, and are often forced to resort to special boot camps and therapy programs, only to have the wayward youngster stray into drugs or law trouble after returning home. I cannot begin to imagine the love and fortitude these parents have to muster every day to help their teen become an independent adult. But when they do it, it’s an amazing thing, and I respect every parent that keeps locked on and doesn’t give up.

Not every parent’s teen experience is fraught with intense obstacles, but it is still extraordinary to observe a teen blossom into to a thriving young adult. My sister Lora and brother-in-law Phil had a comparatively easy road with Mary Catherine, who was mature and respectful at an early age. I once asked Lora how she raised such a great teen and she refused to take credit. “She came to us this way.” I think their parenting style had a lot to do with it, though. Lora and Phil are both kind people who expressed clear expectations of their daughter. Their efforts paid off; Mary Catherine is a delightful human being.

Lora, Mary Catherine, Phil

Lora, Mary Catherine, Phil

In terms of parental struggles, our experience with Forrest rests somewhere in between.  Although he is a good kid at heart, he always seems one step away from a bad decision. Over the years, we have been called in to address any number of transgressions, including fighting with other kids (mostly verbally), skipping school, traffic tickets, bad grades, sexting, and smoking cigarettes. Each time I learn of a new issue, it feels like a punch in the stomach. Emotions of concern and disappointment swirl together in a vortex that leaves me feeling overwhelmed. And I’m just the late-entry step-parent. Kevin takes the brunt of the burdens; I really don’t know where he finds his strength.

The fact of the matter is that good parenting is hard work. Telling your teen the word “no” means you are willing to suffer more whining than a dog afraid of thunderstorms. Like House, Kevin is not deterred: he is quick to call teacher-parent meetings or seek advice from school principals. The parents of Forrest’s friends are required to call Kevin, so we can be assured that Forrest is not visiting in an unsupervised home. He mandated that Forrest go to court instead of just paying his traffic ticket fines, so that the young driver could feel the full weight of his mistakes. Kevin is determined that Forrest will experience consequences when he makes errors in judgement: Forrest has had plenty of times when he had to live without his phone or his car or seeing his friends, because he did something to warrant these punishments.

The good news is that Kevin is as quick to praise Forrest as he is to discipline. Kev has an app on his phone so that he knows class grades at all times and is always ready with words of encouragement. He pays for anything Forrest needs for sports or academics, whether it’s a laptop, golf clubs, or tutors. He does it for the same reason all parents make these sacrifices- he wants Forrest to have a solid foundation for a happy life. Kevin didn’t go to college, and hopes more than anything that his son will know opportunities that he did not. Kevin has had to work so hard for his level of success, and his options have been limited. Like any parent with an overflowing love for their sprout, he wants less struggle for the next generation. Kev is the first to admit this dynamic is part of the problem, because Forrest is a bit spoiled as a result of all this focus.

Forrest, Kev, Ang

Forrest, Kev, Ang

Raising a teen boy sometimes feels like dating a person who cheats. You find yourself questioning everything, doubting everything, and always sensing that they’d rather be somewhere else. You don’t want to be the person who looks through another person’s emails or dirty jeans pockets, dreading the worst, but it’s hard to keep the faith. All you can do is be as determined as Dr. House trying to find the obscure illness of his dying patient. You never give up, you’re willing to try anything that has a remote chance of helping that person, and you’re not afraid to be considered an asshole in the process. The end result is just too important.

So thanks to Lora, Phil, Pix, Kelly and our own parents for being good role models. With Kevin watching over him, I have no doubt Forrest will become a remarkable young man- the foundation is already there. I am honored to be a small part of the process. This kid is not going to fail on our watch.

Ladies Man in Training

I met my step-son Forrest when he was 10 years old, and even then he was already showing signs of being a bit girl-crazy. I joked with him about it, saying I was going to buy him a t-shirt that says “Forrest Loves the Ladies”.  Every day he would have a story about a pretty girl who talked to him or punched him (also known as flirting, especially during middle school years). A true ladies man was being born.

By the age of 15 he had his first girlfriend, and I will never forget how Kevin and I “fake chaperoned” his first date at the fair. We pretended to split up in order to meet again later, but we purposely kept a close watch on where they were. When they started holding hands, we were skulking nearby to witness it.

I wasn’t too crazy about that first girlfriend, for numerous reasons I would rather not discuss, but I will mention her rudeness over dinner. I suppose times have changed, but when I was a teenager we tried to impress our boyfriend’s parents, not stare at them with indifference when asked a harmless, small-talk question. She was aloof, gloomy and dismissive.

One thing that has not changed since I was a teenager is the ultimate insignificance of parental opinion. It was better if they liked your sweetie, but if they did not, you didn’t want to hear about it. I am therefore keenly aware that I have to hold my tongue about Forrest’s female friends. He reinforced that message by telling Kevin that I am the “last person he would want to hear spouting relationship advice.” I get that. So my blog is a good outlet for my opinions.

I know I can safely talk here about the young ladies in my step-son’s world because:

  1. I will change names to numbers to protect the innocent
  2. My step-son doesn’t read my blog. If I am honest, very few people do.

My favorite chickie was girlfriend #2, who made the common mistake of being too clingy and scaring Forrest away. He became so panicked by this serious relationship, he has since refused to let anyone claim they are a “girlfriend” at all. Thus my term chickie, which is about as casual as it gets. Chickie #2 was very pretty and presented herself well. In my opinion, her only deficiency was the excessive affection, which is more of a strategy error than a character flaw. Forrest fought horribly with her after the break-up, and neither of them demonstrated maturity for quite some time. Parental intervention forced both parties to act more civil toward one another, which was important because of an overlapping circle of friends.

I never had a chance to meet chickie #3, which was fine with me since she was 2 years younger than Forrest. I’m worried, though, about chickie #4, who has a distinctly different personality from the others. She is abrasive and arrogant, with not much more in the manners department than chickie #1. The worst part about #4 is how Forrest acts around her. She is a bit of an ass, and he acts like one when she is near. It it absolutely torture to watch.

We went out for sushi with them, and it was literally the longest 30 minutes of my life. It was only 30 minutes because I left before the check was even paid. The hateful things the two of them said about other teens, including chickie #2, made me go pale. I know I can’t tell him who he can date, but I certainly don’t have to be around her, and do not intend to- if I can avoid it. All I can do is pray daily that their relationship will be short-lived and that a clean, permanent fracture will end my torment.

When I returned home from that fateful dinner, I knew that the experience was a karmic payment for what my family endured during my 20 years of poor-decision making in relationships. I can recall some painfully awkward moments of guys who loathed spending time with my family, and acted like they were waiting for a root canal. Conversations were forced, dinners were curtailed abruptly.

When I returned from my sushi debacle, I wanted to call every member of my immediate family and apologize. Although I dated some true sweethearts, I know there was a solid decade of bringing home people who were less than charming. My family, true to form, were gracious and kept most of their opinions to themselves, which I appreciate tremendously in hindsight.

Knowing that my family survived my boy-craziness, I tell myself to be cool through my step-son’s girl-craziness. I must try to hold my opinions and let the kid create his own relationship path, which for now appears to be the ladies man path. I just hope he approaches it with grace and respect, and chooses chickies who know how to politely converse over sushi.

Anger-Free Zone

Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. Through the concept of “dependent origination,” it holds that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord. [July 99 SGI Quarterly]

I’ve been thinking about dependent origination and anger lately. Twice in the past month I’ve been on the receiving end of bitter diatribes from customers, rants so angry that I erupted into tears as soon as I hung up the phone. I’m not blameless in these matters; in both cases, I made mistakes. I failed to inspect work on one person’s car, and I failed to call the other in a timely manner. I accept responsibility for these oversights and have no problem apologizing. Apologizing and taking ownership of problems is what I do for a living, and it’s become a polished skill. In hostile conditions, however, that skill sometimes sits in the corner and refuses to come out until the air clears.

I do not have the kind of personality that gets angry, so it is hard for me to relate to other people’s need to fulminate. I get upset, frustrated, worked up, and vexed on a regular basis; however, I am hard-pressed to think of a time when I clouded the air with an unleashing of venomous words. I don’t say it to brag, and I don’t feel self-righteous about it; it’s just the way I’m hard-wired. I know that everyone is different, so I try not to judge.

My step-son Forrest and his mom are two people who are definitely wired differently from me. They get angry, and feel compelled to express it, especially with one another. They are both head-strong, and I hear that they’ve had screaming matches that would make me curl up in a fetal position. The blessing here is that because of their conflicts, Kevin and I are able to spend more time with Forrest, who seems to thrive when he is around his dad. The tragedy is that the relationship Forrest has with his mom has become so strained that some permanent damage may have been done. It will take a serious olive-branch, kumba-ya, soul-baring, pride-swallowing love-fest to get them back to a place of some semblance of trust. And even that is only going to be as good as the time it takes for one or both of them to get angry again.

The problem arises, as almost all problems do, from a perspective that embraces being right. Once somebody says “it’s the principle of the thing”, and starts using that principle to justify their outbursts, all is lost. My personality dictates that it is more important to get along than it is to make a point, a position I embrace more as I see that angry or insulting exchanges only result in hurt feelings, and rarely in peaceful resolution. We don’t have to convince one another of our point of view. We only have to listen and be respectful. There are many times in life we have to “agree to disagree”, or even better, take ownership and apologize.

Here is the critical point in apologizing, and I’m sure all lawyers will disagree with me: just because you say you’re sorry, doesn’t mean you are saying you were wrong. You can apologize for yelling, or apologize for someone’s frustration (aka empathy). You can apologize for the simple purpose of putting the conversation in a more peaceful place.

It’s important to remember, as you simmer in all of the “rightness” in your head, that it’s often impossible to sway the other person’s point of view. So if you are steadfastly holding to “the principle of the thing”, you are sacrificing the relationship in the vain hope that the other person will eventually acknowledge they are wrong, a tricky thing for even the most evolved human beings.

As difficult as it is to convert someone to your point of view (because, like you, they want to be “right”), imagine how much harder it is to convince them when you are expressing yourself in a state of anger. Angry outbursts have damaging effects, which brings me back to the concept of dependent arising. We cannot know all of the repercussions our words and actions will have on others. The indignant customer who yells at me feels justified; he is convinced that he is a victim of some wrong, but he doesn’t have all of the information about the situation. He certainly doesn’t have any information about what his angry words will mean to me as I sit in the middle of my family dinner. When you throw garbage out into the air and walk away, you no longer see the garbage, but it is still there for someone else to manage. Words yelled in anger are garbage, and the mess is very difficult to clean.

Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions.  How I present myself to you will impact how you present yourself to those around you, who are also affected by these interactions. The ripple effect of how we choose to behave has far-reaching consequences, and anger will always contaminate that stream. The only thing we can do at that point is wait until the anger subsides, go back to the source of the garbage-spewing and apologize to them. “I am sorry for your frustration. I take ownership in being a part of the resolution. I kindly request that our future interactions take on a tone of increased mutual respect. Here is my olive branch, will you accept it?”

Perhaps we can impact the ripples around us with greater empathy. There are reasons people lash in anger, reasons I will never know. Their wiring may not be for me to understand.   For my part, I promise to embrace the art of the apology and do my part to keep the air clean for those around me to thrive.

Our Little Masters Bubble


Plastic Souvenir Cup. If you have more than 5 stacked together, you need to find a designated driver.

During the first full week of April, it’s hard to believe the rest of the planet is not as obsessed with “our little tournament” as we are in Augusta. The Masters is such an integral part of our lives during these 7 days, it amazes me when news outlets report on anything other than the prestigious event and local repercussions. I acknowledge that there are WAY more important things happening around the globe, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in what is happening at 2604 Washington Road that we forget to pay attention. When the newspapers arrive at the dealership each morning, I see the front page of the Augusta Chronicle, appropriately laden with Masters-related stories, including a special section just for the event. I also see the Wall Street Journal, conspicuously void of anything green, and wonder how they were able to fill a paper without any golf-centric articles.

In Augusta, you cannot avoid the impact of the Masters, even if you do not attend it or work amongst it. You plan your day around the traffic, notably on Washington Road or Berckman Road between 7-9am and 4-6pm. You must also plan your meals carefully: all restaurants within walking distance of the course or a cluster of hotels will be standing room only. Hotel rooms are impossible to find, so much so that locals are forced to wait to schedule events (including funerals) until after the week is over, less they risk family members from out of town not being able to attend. (We would invite them to stay in our homes, but we’ve already rented them out and are sleeping on someone else’s floor.)

The process of renting out houses to Master’s guests is a significant chunk of the economic boon for the city, before and during the event. Because of the staggering prices some homes fetch for weekly rentals, owners spend long hours for weeks prior to the tournament in full-prep mode. They plant new flowers, purchase new linens, arrange cleaning services and contract pricey catering companies. Many homeowners spend a hefty chuck of the rental income on home improvements and necessary services, and still have enough left over for enviable vacations in exotic locations. These are the savvy locals-the ones who are able to get out of town. The rest of us are immersed in Masters conversations daily.

If you are a golf fan, you are talking about players such as Zach Johnson and Jason Day, analyzing how they are performing this year. If you don’t know golf, you still have plenty to keep you engaged in the conversation. We dissect the new pimento cheese sandwich recipe or this year’s gift shop purchases with the gravity of a political debate . Celebrity sightings are often a-buzz, and proud mentions of new Augusta National member Condoleeza Rice are often dropped. The irreverent John Daly is often found hawking souvenirs at the local Hooters, which is a destination in itself, staffed with the best Hooter girls from around the southeast.

Even if you avoid the traffic, steer clear of the restaurants and walk away from golf chatter at the water cooler, you cannot avoid the Masters logo on your social media apps. 47% of your Facebook friends have changed their profile picture to the famous flag, 32% of the people you follow on Twitter are offering play-by-play updates from the course*. You can hate golf with all of the passionate zeal in your heart, but by Sunday, you’ve absorbed so much of the tournament through osmosis, that it is hard to avoid the temptation to watch the final 30 minutes of play on TV, which is always edge-of-your-seat compelling. No matter what you think of the sport, there is something pretty powerful about the tears that flow when the green jacket is put on the champion.

With all of these distractions, you can understand why we forget that the world around us is still moving forward, creating worthwhile stories that have nothing to do with how much scalped badges went down in value because Tiger isn’t playing this year. I’m pretty sure we can all catch up on the real news next week, but in the meantime, I’ve got to see if I can borrow a ticket for a couple of hours and see what autographs I can get on my bright yellow flag.

* All statistics are completely fabricated estimates based on my own social media news feeds.