Why I Will Never Live With My Children

There was an article in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal about “helicopter” children: children who are overly worried about their aging parents, who hover, and who take control of their parents’ affairs (to varying degrees). Or, as I see it, children who treat their parents like adolescents or perhaps even grade-school kids.

I’ve seen it in action. And I hate it. That said, I understand intervention is sometimes necessary and appropriate. Sometimes the mind is too far gone. Or the body has given out. But a child’s response to such situations isn’t helicoptering; it’s necessity.

Helicoptering isn’t a necessity; it’s a choice. Usually if not always, it’s the product of sincere concern about a parent’s physical welfare. “You might fall.” “You might leave the stove on.” Etc. Etc. Implicit in many of the comments is this question: What might happen if you’re left to your own devices? Continue reading

What Is It About Kids?

It’s not uncommon for people in the area to ask me why we moved to Carmel (Indianapolis). Especially when they learn we had lived in Colorado. Most people think Colorado is a great place to live. And it is. It’s then I tell them we moved here because of you, Vera. I add that I never thought we’d be trailing grandparents but that, despite your small statute (you’re only 2-3/4 years old), it turned out you had tremendous power. Enough power to cause me to move 1,100 miles.

Your parents came to pick you up at our house Sunday upon their return from a European vacation. You had been staying with us for nine days. It was wonderful having you here. It was so wonderful that when it came time to leave, I could have cried. (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that. It’s kind of sappy I suppose.)

Children have that effect on some of us. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because you’re a free comedy show. You make me laugh. When I mentioned to you that you were funny, you replied, “Yes, I’m funny.” But I doubt you understand. Really. I doubt you appreciate just how precious it is having someone in your life who makes you laugh. Who brings a smile to your face just by being. Who makes your heart dance.

Of course, it’s more than that. It has to be. It’s the love, too. The unconditionality of it. The purity.

You actually don’t know much about me. What I’ve done in my life. How much stuff or money I have. You can’t judge me on any basis other than whether I treat you well. Whether I love you. Whether you want to be with me.

And the same goes for me. You’re not old enough to have done anything other than to play and live. You’ve earned no degrees or medals. Landed no prestigious job. Earned nothing. You just are.

And so we play. You test us, and we provide some parameters (lovingly, of course). Self-discipline is part of living well. It’s fun to watch you grow up and learn how to live well.

Curiosity is key, too. It’s fun to watch yours in action and to nurture it. It’s gratifying to help you discover new things. To experience new things. It’s exhilarating to witness your enthusiasm. The wonder.

You remind me that curiosity, discovery, and wonder are not the sole province of small children. You make me want to spend more of my time following my curiosity and discovering new things.

That’s the beauty of relationships with small children: it’s mutual. Each can learn from the other.

I’m glad you stayed with us while your parents were away. It gave us the chance to become even closer. The hugs are firmer. The kisses more frequent. The smiles more revealing.

I look forward to helping you discover new things in the world. And to being reminded by you to do the same in my life.

Everything is new and exciting in your life. Thanks for sharing your excitement and innocence. Thank you for being you.

Wanting to Believe in Heartfelt and Authentic

Last week an engine on a Southwest Airlines’ flight threw off a blade, resulting in serious damage to the engine casing and fuselage of the plan. A window was blown out, and one of the passengers lost her life, while seven others sustained injuries. For the next 20 minutes, until the plane was able to land safety in Philadelphia, over 100 passengers lived in fear that the plane would either fall from the sky or crash on the runway. Fortunately, the pilot pulled off a safe landing.

Passengers reported that, within a short time, Southwest had sent them a $1,000 voucher for future travel and a $5,000 check. My initial reaction was that Southwest was smart: treat people well and they’re less likely to sue you. But when Southwest was approached by the media to confirm the story about the payments that passengers had relayed, here is what the airlines said:

Ours is a company and culture built on relationships. Many of the Customers on that flight have flown with us before. We can confirm the communication and gesture are authentic and heartfelt.

So was it? Was it authentic and heartfelt? Continue reading

Is Your Connectivity Making Your Life Better?

A memo written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in the summer of 2016 contained the following controversial passage:

“[Connecting people] can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Continue reading

Are You a Good Judge of Character?

I’m a lousy judge of character. Early on, that is. Once I get to know someone well, it’s a different matter (although I still tend to be too generous, even then). But I suppose anyone could say they’re good at sizing up the situation when the body of evidence is large. The true test is, can you judge someone’s character when you meet them? Or early on in a relationship, when the body of evidence is slight? I can’t. I tend to give people too much credit, only to be disappointed later when reality reveals itself.

I take some solace that I’m not alone in this weakness. Indeed, most people are poor judges of character. But that only gets me so far, principally because your grandmother is a pretty good judge of character, Vera. She’s a constant reminder of just how bad my judgment is in this regard.

The “Dunning-Kruger effect” comes to mind (named for David Dunning and Justin Kruger). Continue reading

What Will America Look Like As This Transformation Unfolds?

This phenomenon — the aging of the Baby Boomers — will transform America in a myriad of ways: economically, financially, socially, religiously, politically, and culturally. It’s going to be interesting to watch.

Perhaps the most pressing concern is the financial one. The underfunding of pensions is huge. And the increasing demands on Social Security and Medicare will be mammoth. I’m not sure how we’re going to deal with these problems. It could get ugly.

The chart also reminds me of my own situation. I’m average — average age for a Boomer, that is. I’m not at the leading edge, and I won’t be bringing up the rear. So I have a pretty good vantage point, although I’ll be more vulnerable than the point and less vulnerable than the rear to potential fiscal hazards.

Mortality also comes to mind. Statistically, it’s a long ways off, yet I know that, in real life, very few of us are the mean or median. Anything could happen at any time.

Death has a way of surprising us. I volunteer at a nursing home. Last evening I arrived and, at a place always occupied by one of the ladies I know, there was a small bouquet of flowers. My heart sank. I feared the worse. As it turned out, she had choked to death from a sandwich the previous night. I never got to say goodbye. Or to tell her how much better she made my life. That’s the way death operates.

Her parting gift to me was a simple reminder: always say goodbye and tell the person how much they mean to you.

The Worst Thing About Being a Parent

Being a parent can be a lot of fun. There is nothing quite like the experience of holding your newborn son or daughter for the first time. And then the glorious memories start piling up. If we’re lucky, that is.

Some of us aren’t. The memories for some parents are painful. Perhaps it’s because their child was born with a defective heart. Or succumbed early to a hideous disease or accident. Or was gunned down at school. For them, being a parent was akin to a nightmare without end.

Most of us, however, were lucky. Our kids were healthy. And fate didn’t bring tragedy into their young lives.

Yet it’s still not all good. For most of us, that is. There is pain. And grief. And worry. Endless worry.

Perhaps there are some perfect parents out there who can’t identify with this. I hope so. It would be nice to think parenting is something that can be done sans regrets.

But that’s not been my experience. I don’t think I had the perfect parents, and I certainly don’t think I was the perfect parent. I carry baggage from childhood, as do my own sons. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s become more obvious with age.

I suppose I thought I was better than I apparently was. Which isn’t surprising. Often you’re the last one to spot your own shortcomings. And mistakes.

Knowing that your words and actions ended up hurting your child is a tough nut to swallow. Sometimes, it hurts so much you wish you’d never had children. At least then you wouldn’t have made things worse for others. At least then you wouldn’t have been the cause of someone else’s suffering. I’m not sure there is anything worse than inflicting suffering on another, especially someone you love so much.

When I ponder the things my own parents said or did that hurt me, I know it wasn’t out of malice. They did the best they could do. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It does, however, help to negate the resentment and bitterness that might otherwise fill the void.

I was fortunate. My parents never abandoned me. Or failed to provide for me. That may seem like I’m setting the bar low. But that’s not the case at all. Alive, safe, fed and loved is no low bar. There are many kids and adults who can attest to that.

Of course, my parents did far more than clear the bar. Similarly, I tried to set the bar high for myself as a parent. But, of course, the higher you set it, the more certain it is that you will fail.

Life is hard. And we’re imperfect. Consequently, each of us collects scars along the way. And, I suppose, many of us parents carry on our backs some guilt. And sense of failure and culpability.

Or perhaps other parents don’t feel this way. Perhaps I’m merely projecting my own shortcomings and guilt.

As a parent, I have shed different types of tears. I tell myself the happy ones made it all worthwhile. I tell myself lots of things. Yet I realize in such matters I am a poor arbiter of truth. Not that it matters. It’s too late for that. It is what it is.

And so we do our best. And carry on, with both our healed and open wounds. With both our pleasant and painful memories, as well as our hopes and dreams for memories yet to be formed. Yet the memories, hopes and dreams do nothing to sooth the soul of one who feels he has let his child down.

I suppose Daniel Egan was right. “My family and I are alive, safe and fed. The rest is luxury.”


The Newest War

I think yesterday will mark the beginning of our newest war. Yesterday is the day the Trump Administration announced new stiff tariffs on solar cell imports and washing machines. China and South Korea will not be pleased. Nor will American consumers, who will end up paying more for electricity and home appliances. Some people will be pleased though. They include stockholders in Whirlpool, domestic solar cell producers (if there are any), and some people who will end up being hired by Whirlpool, although their numbers likely will be dwarfed by the number who lose their jobs in the solar industry. In short, there will be some winners and some losers in the short term. The long term is a different matter.

We’ve been down this path before so we have some idea what to expect. In fact, a lot of what’s happening these days is reminiscent of the years leading up to, and the early days of, the Great Depression. Then, the nation decided to pull back from its open border policies, both in commerce and immigration. It seemed like a good idea at the time, at least to some people. But as we know, it didn’t turn out so well.

That’s not surprising. For when one nation takes actions that hurt other nations, it’s reasonable and predictable to expect retaliatory measures. And that’s why I suspect yesterday marked the beginning of the newest war: it could well be the day the 21st-century trade wars commenced.

The problem with trade wars isn’t only economic. The larger problem is that they often lead to military wars. And casualties. And that’s exactly where I fear we’re headed. I will be surprised if we don’t find ourselves at war with China in my lifetime. And perhaps Russia, too.

Meanwhile, our stock market is looking a lot like the market in the 1920s. And we know what happened in 1929. I’m not predicting a repeat performance, but it’s safe to say there are risks that are being minimized or ignored. And that’s never a good thing.

Given extraordinarily high asset values and a highly leveraged corporate sector, along with unprecedented peacetime sovereign debt levels, it’s easy to imagine an eventual outcome that entails a lot of financial carnage, especially against the backdrop of economic inequality the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1920s. Yet we don’t seem to be concerned.

The nation chose to go in a belligerent, self-centered, tribalistic direction in the last election. It was a foolish decision, but it was the decision we made. And now we’re seeing it play out.

The worst is yet to come. Nonetheless, I suspect most of us will come through it just fine. But some of us won’t. And it’s hard to know today who the winners and losers will be. We just have to keep our ears to the ground and be quick to react, I suppose.

We’ll do our best for you, Vera. And for your parents and your uncle Andrew. I suppose it’s my main mission in life now. I consider myself fortunate to have all of you in my life. Fortunate indeed.

I Must Get to Know Him Better

My inclination is to avoid people I don’t like. The reasons should be obvious.

Sometimes I haven’t had a choice, though. Sometimes, the person was a boss. Or a merchant or contractor with whom I had to interact. Sometimes, they were classmates or teachers. Or neighbors. Or clients. In other words, sometimes I was compelled to deal with people I didn’t like, whether I liked it or not.

Usually, I tried to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes, I didn’t do a very good job of that.

It’s easy to be passive-aggressive in such situations. It’s also usually self-destructive.

Recently I came across a statement of Abraham Lincoln that cast the situation in a new light. Lincoln had this to say about unlikable people:

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

“I must get to know him better.”

I’m thinking that’s probably pretty good advice.