Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!
I recently saw the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie and it was pretty cool. This is not a review, but more of an observation on the theme of fatherhood that is deeply rooted in this movie. As stated above, I am going to share some info that will spoil the movie for you if you have not watched it.
You have been warned.
We are introduced to Kylo Ren, the new Sith character, who is the son of Hans Solo and Leia, and the grandson of Darth Vader. Right away, you see that Kylo has daddy issues. These issues seem to stem from Solo not being present in Kylo’s life and it is clear that Kylo’s daddy issues have encouraged his joining of the dark side. I wasn’t surprised to see this plot in the movie. There are so many young people I interact with that fall into a, sort of, “dark side” due to a broken or absent relationship with their father. What was interesting to see is how Hollywood portrayed the devastating consequences of a young man not having a positive relationship with his father. Not only did the consequences affect the individual, but the surrounding community as well.
Kylo has a moment in the movie where he interacts with Rey, the female protagonist, and Kylo senses that she has some kind of attachment to Solo. Kylo cynically says, “He’ll disappoint you.” In this interaction you see that Kylo is very emotional when he talks about his father. At one point, Kylo is conflicted between the light and dark side of the force. He even asks for guidance from his dead grandfather as he speaks to Darth Vader’s beaten helmet in a room. I believe this struggle is driven by Kylo’s desire to know his father, yet he is angry about being deserted.
Kylo’s anger has distorted his understanding of living a good moral life. This anger has also poured into Kylo’s interactions with the world in general. Kylo murders, orders people to be murdered, and eventually murders his father. The monstrous weapon— the Death Star on crack—destroys several planets all because of this deep anger and rage.
Kylo is a wounded young man. Maybe this is a stretch, but I believe this story can be seen as a metaphor for what can happen to young men when fathers are absent. Solo may be a stand up guy in the galaxy’s eyes, but not being present in Kylo’s life seems to have done some major damage. Maybe Kylo showed great promise to be a Jedi and he was sent away to train and that’s why Solo wasn’t around. Maybe, but clearly Kylo has daddy issues.
In my line of work, young men who don’t have fathers are more likely to be angry and have emotional issues that don’t always remain in their own hearts. Usually this anger pours into all they do and say, and onto those they interact with. I unfortunately have too many stories that constantly remind me of this reality. I’m not saying these young men will grow up to be like Kylo, but it definitely wounds them. There are many reasons why fathers can be absent in a young persons life. Therefore, I cannot make any judgments. Neither can I say that a fatherless child will automatically become a bad person. Individuals with very good, holy and present fathers make bad choices too.
As my wonderful wife pointed out a distinction needs to be made between a father that leaves their child out of selfishness, versus a father that needs to leave due to a deployment, or job that demands a prolonged physical absence. The latter are still present to their children, maybe not in a physical-corporal-right-in-front-of-you sort of way, but the relationship with their child is established. Relationships between fathers and children that have prolonged absences can still communicate via phone, Internet, mail, etc. and continue to nurture those relationships. I know of many young men and women whose fathers are away on business or deployments that have solid relationships with their fathers.
Maybe J.J. Abrams is using this movie to communicate the importance of a good relationship between a son and his father. Maybe he isn’t. Whatever the case may be, the need for fathers to be present, engaged, and attentive to their sons is very important and something that, not only affects the individual, but everyone they come into contact with.
There are many young men who grow up without fathers and turn out to be great people. However, studies (this is just one site out of dozens) show how difficult it is for children—especially boys—to grow up without fathers.
As we close this year and begin a new one, let all fathers be more attentive to our relationships with our sons and our daughters. There is no greater force than the impact you will have on them.
Feeding my daughter is possibly one of the worst things ever! Maybe I’m over reacting since a few minutes ago I was “reasoning” with her to eat the plate of food in front of her.
I honestly do not understand why it is so incredibly difficult for her to eat her food. I use to think that maybe what I cooked for her was gross, too spicy, too bland or maybe too green. However, the more I interact with my daughter the more I realize that Bill Cosby was correct: children have brain damage.
Proof one: Daughter begs for a PB+J sandwich. Begs! I lovingly prepare the sandwich. It isn’t just a PB+J; it is a PB+J+L (‘L’ is for the love). I present the sandwich to my daughter. Daughter rejects the sandwich, “I no-wan-it!”
I stare in absolute shock as confusion and rejection seep into my being.
“What do you mean you don’t want it? You just begged for one?!” Claire crosses her arms in front of her and says once again, “I no-wan-it!” I take the sandwich and eat it myself. I hate to waste food. Less than 5 minutes have passed and Claire comes back to the dinning room asking for her sandwich. Asking is too nice. Demanding for her sandwich is more like it. I tell her that I ate it. Claire begins to cry because I ate her “favorite sandwich”.
Scenario two: Claire has a friend over the house for a play date. Claire asks for a PB+J (believe it or not she does eat them). I proceed to make a PB+J with some of that ‘L’. Surprisingly, Claire doesn’t want it anymore. I offer carrots and tomatoes (two of her other favorite snacks). Claire rejects my alternate snack and walks away. I turn to her friend Bennett and ask if he would like a PB+J with carrots and tomatoes. Bennett says, “Yes please”. I gladly begin to hand him the plate when suddenly Claire returns with and inexplicable hunger. She is ravenous and needs a PB+J with carrots and tomatoes. Bennett is willing to share and Claire devours the food—she asks for a second sandwich and eats…all…of…it.
Whenever we take Claire to the babysitters and ask, “Did she eat well?” I hear, “Oh yeah! She ate everything!” It seems that at every other place except her home, my daughter is cooperative and a vacuum cleaner towards food. I honestly don’t get it. It hurts my brain to try and process. What is even more ridiculous is the fact that my wife and I could cook the same thing that a neighbor, friend or hobo would make and 99.9% of the time Claire would chose their meals.
Ok, I’m done. Rant over.
We’re getting ready to cross over the threshold of the holiday season. I wanted to share this post from last year this time. I know it was something that really centered me during the craziness of running around, shopping and family life. I hope you enjoy–again.
My daughter never seizes to amaze me.
As a father I recognize that my duty is to help my daughter grow emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically. I, as well as my wife, spend many of our hours in the day helping our daughter to grow and learn. Recently Claire learned how to pray. As Catholic Christians, all of our prayers begin with the sign of the cross. It is a simple, yet powerful gesture that sums up the faith and the power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Claire kind of sort of can do it. Usually she lifts her hand towards her forehead and then brings it down towards her chin in a circular motion. Wax on, wax off sort of thing. We’re working on it.
Our prayer time with Claire is short. After Claire attempts the sign of the cross she places her palms together…
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Horse costume. Check. Flag with fleurs-de-lis. Check. Sword. Check. Home made Saint cards. Check. Fifteenth century French-like soldiers helmet and armor.
Umm…we may have to improvise.
All Hallows’ Eve, also know as Halloween is right around the corner and my wife and I are preparing our daughters costume. We have started a tradition in our household where each year we dress our daughter up as a particular Catholic saint. Last year she was St. Clare of Assisi after her namesake. This year she will be St. Joan of Arc. One of the things we are adding to this years Halloween tradition is that we will have our daughter give each home she visits a homemade card with a picture of St. Joan of Arc on the front and a little bio of her life on the back.
There are many Christians who have various thoughts on the matter of whether or not to celebrate Halloween. All Hallows’ Eve is literally the eve of All Saints Day (November 1st) in which we celebrate the life of all the amazing Saints that have lived their lives for Christ in an exemplary way. All Saints is part of our Christian history and therefore a big deal. I am a Youth Minister and I believe that God uses young people to change the world. If you don’t believe me, pick up a bible and read it. Many of the stories in the scriptures where God calls someone to do something amazing, involve a young person (i.e. David, Mary, the Apostles, etc.). I find Halloween to be an incredible opportunity to go and share those stories and the stories of the saints with people who may never get a chance to hear them. Also, it gives my daughter and opportunity to be one of those young people God uses to change the world. More on that later.
Think about it this way.
When else do we have an opportunity to go to a stranger’s home and be greeted with a genuine desire to see us? Sure it’s about candy and maybe we can say it’s expected of people to open their doors and greet us. Regardless of why people open the door the reality is: they are opening their doors to us. My daughter is very cute. Put her in a horse costume, with a sword in hand and people will listen and do anything she says. Claire is learning about St. Joan of Arc and my hope is that by the time we go out trick-or-treating she will be able to say, “I’m St. Joan of Arc. Thank you (in reference to the candy she’s receiving), here’s a present for you (as she hands the Saint card).”
We’re working on the enunciation.
Will people read the Saint card? I think they will at least look at it since a cute toddler is giving it to them, and maybe later that night they will read it. Will this card change their lives? Probably not, but it is hard to say. We don’t know how a person may react to a mixture of the Holy Spirit, our family’s prayers and a cute child dressed as a Saint.
Here is the other thing.
The reaction of the person who is receiving the Saint card is only part of the equation. My daughter learning to creatively share her Catholic faith is the other part. Claire needs to learn at a young age that her faith is not hers to keep. Claire (she’s 2 and a half) needs to be able to experience evangelization (aka sharing the faith) at this early age so that she realizes that this is normal, and what all Christians are called to do. Experts say that at this age kids absorb everything they hear and see, so it makes sense that we would want them absorbing how to share the faith as well. Evangelizing is not limited to special holidays and seasons, but Halloween gives our family an opportunity to do this together in a safe, and easy way with people we may never get another chance to connect with.
Discovering fatherhood requires that I take every opportunity I can to help my daughter grow and become who God is calling her to be. It also requires that I help my daughter learn that the gift of faith we have is so precious, so awesome and so needed in our world. Halloween will come and go, but the opportunity my daughter has to share the life of St. Joan of Arc will help her be a better follower of Jesus and with a little luck, some prayers and a cute costume we may just touch someone’s heart.
Toddlers have a ton of energy. I know—understatement of the year. My daughter is no exception. Friends of ours that have toddler boys tell me all the time that Claire has the energy of a boy. My wife and I have realized that Claire is definitely the most energetic girl in our group of friends. Actually, Claire is the most energetic out of the girls and boys. Don’t get me wrong; I love my daughter’s energy and enthusiasm for life. It’s just that her energy takes so much of mine.
We have found that if Claire doesn’t do something that can use up her energy, life will get stupid real fast for all of us. So here is this father’s recommendation for wearing your toddler out:
Season Passes: Amusement parks are not the only places that offer season passes. We have a children’s museum, a local farm, and one of those fall plantation type places that all offer season passes very close to our home. I recommend getting one for each season. Ask for them as birthday, or Christmas presents to lessen the financial burden on you. My daughter loves going to the farm in the summer and early fall. Claire literally chases chickens, plays in a tree house and builds sandcastles (giant pile of sand provided). In the winter months the children’s museum is a place to run around away from the elements and still burn energy. We literally just got back from a plantation farm that’s open only during the fall and Claire ran, jumped, chased animals, saw pigs race and is now in deep sleep.
Malls: My daughter and I have made it a tradition now of going to Costco for a hot dog, soda and slice of pizza. The Costco is connected to the local mall, which allows for us on rainy days to get lunch and also walk around the mall. The mall has an indoor play place that she can go and play with other kids. My neighbor and I did this a few weeks ago and it was great. The play place is enclosed and offers comfortable seating for worn our parents to sit and watch their child’s batteries drain. If there isn’t a play place in the mall you can play chase, I spy, and many more games that have your kids moving and running around.
Classes: Claire has taken a ballet class and now is doing a gymnastics class. Again, this could be something you ask for as birthday or Christmas presents since it can be expensive. My wife recently took Claire to a gymnastics class and texted me after saying, “Claire is sweating from class.” At first I didn’t really know why she was texting that to me, but later that day I found out that all that energy burned resulted in an epic nap and some quiet study time for mommy.
Backyard: We were blessed to have received a free swing and slide play set for our backyard. I actually built the beam enclosure for Claire to be able to play in it. For us, the backyard is a simple way to burn some energy—especially on those days where you don’t have the desire to go anywhere. Whether Claire plays on her play set, or chases the dog we are always able to wear her out this way. Having different games that require thinking, skill and exercise are perfect for backyard fun.
Chores: So I do a lot of chores around our home since my wife is spending most of her time studying for her nurse practitioner degree. Getting Claire to help me with chores is another way to burn some energy. I will sweep our floor and then have Claire take her little toddler broom and sweep up behind me. Claire helps with the laundry, whether it’s putting it in or taking it out. Claire also helps with prepping meals (as best a 2 year old can). These things take more time when my daughter is helping, but it gives her the satisfaction of having helped me. Plus it helps her burn energy.
Special Events: Check your towns website, or newspaper for special events that may be taking place. It is not uncommon for fairs, shows, etc. to come into town. Although these are not things you can consistently do with the kiddos, it may be a one-time thing that really excites them and more importantly wears them out.
Hope these are some helpful ideas to help wear the kiddos out.
The picture above is from one of our bathrooms. We have a crucifix in every room in our home to help us remember that God is always present. In the bathroom where this photo is from, I placed the crucifix in this basket. It wasn’t that I ran out of nails, or that there wasn’t a good spot on the wall. I remember putting it in this basket because it felt natural—Jesus amongst the normal everyday mundane stuff.
St. Josemaria Escriva has an amazing quote that has always stuck with me, “Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or we shall never find him.” This crucifix in the bathroom reminds me of this reality: that our lives are always filled with the mundane and the sacred.
So my wife, daughter and I were at Mass like any normal Sunday afternoon. We were praying and trying to keep the 2-year-old from crawling under the pew. My wife and I take turns holding Claire and helping her to experience Church as best a 2-year-old can. Sometimes it is easy. Most times it is challenging.
After communion I’ve made it a habit of having Claire sit on my lap to pray with my wife and I as a family so that she recognizes the sacredness of this moment. For Catholics, when we receive the consecrated bread and wine we believe that it is the true, real and total presence of Jesus (the same Christ that walked on earth 2000 years ago). So it’s a big deal for us to emphasize this moment with Claire. Claire will normally sit on me, close her eyes and put her hands together to pray. On this particular Sunday she did the same. As we sat enjoying this moment of grace it was interrupted by the mundane reality of a full bladder.
As I realized that Claire had completely unloaded on me I stood up and sure enough it was dead smack on the middle of my pants crotch region. I sighed out loud, picked Claire up and headed to the bathroom while holding her a little lower than normal to shield myself. In the bathroom I laughed out loud. The urine spot on my khakis’ looked as if I was the one who peed on myself. I laughed out louder at the irony of it and Claire asked, “What’s funny Papi?” I responded, “Life baby. Life is funny.”
Claire and I bolted through the main door of the Church and headed to the car. Claire was maintained at crotch level in case we bumped into anyone. We made it to the car and waited for my wife to meet us. As I sat in the car I smiled and thought of Escriva’s quote, “Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or we shall never find him.” It is so true.
Claire peeing on me did cause us to get up and leave the Church, but what I realized is that it hadn’t changed the moment of grace we were experiencing. Grace came with us to the bathroom and was with us as we laughed. The sacred was with us as I cleaned myself, as I thought of how embarrassing it would be to have to explain this to someone as we left the Church. The bathroom was not the typical place we experience prayer and grace, but it was this Sunday.
The things we consider mundane and ordinary typically dominate our lives. These ordinary, mundane things are not bad; they are good and certainly necessary. More importantly I believe God is present in these ordinary moments. Maybe for you its experiencing God while cleaning up a mess your kid made, or dealing with the chaos of a work situation, maybe its experiencing a moment of grace in traffic when you are bumper to bumper on the interstate. Rarely do we have experiences of the sacred in perfect, extraordinary situations. Not too many of us can say that an angel appeared, or a light shone down on us, and a voice from heaven spoke. Most of the time the sacred presents itself in the ordinary everyday situation. Thank God for that because I personally don’t find myself in many extraordinary situations.
When I stare at the crucifix in our bathroom I am reminded that all moments are sacred. That whatever is happening right now is a moment of grace if I can see it. Do you see God in your mundane, everyday ordinary moments? Look again. You might just find Him in the most extraordinarily ordinary of places.
At a blissful time in our daughter’s young life we were getting two, 3-hour naps a day. It was amazing. The amount of stuff that my wife and I could do was quite impressive. I personally broke the first 3 hours into chores, followed by the second 3-hour nap with some TV, video games, or napping myself. There were moments when Claire’s first nap wasn’t a full three hours, but that was okay—you always had the second nap to make up for it.
The day finally came when that late morning nap disappeared. I wasn’t informed. There was no, “Hey dad you might wanna brace yourself for this.” It was taken from me. I’m not going to lie; there were some man tears shed over the loss of the first nap. Eventually, I was able to pull through and condense all I needed to do into the only remaining 3-hour nap. Many an awesome project had been accomplished via the naptime we had left. Rebuilding the patio deck and painting/remodeling the downstairs basement were the major things (each took 3 months worth of nap-time, and bed time sleep).
I think that dreaded day is almost here. I knew it would come, but I don’t want it to be here already! In the last few weeks my wife and I have both noticed its presence slowly creeping in. Of course, I am alluding to Claire not napping anymore.
(Pause for man tears)
The last few days Claire has not napped. Honestly, it is my fault. The Saturday it first happened we were visiting family and Claire was playing with her cousin. My mom didn’t think to put them down, and honestly they didn’t show signs of sleepiness. The next day I made sure I put her down for her nap. I had her milk, storybook and doll all set up. Claire went to her room and climbed into bed without an issue. “Have a good nap” was said, and I proceeded to go and read for a while. I could hear Claire playing in the room through the monitor. It was clear that there would be no nap in that room. ‘She might need me to go in there and remind her’ I thought to myself. I went in and told her to settle down, but 5 minutes later she was hollering, “Papi, come here!”
There are those moments in life where one is left baffled at what to do, say or think. This is one of those moments.
Every now and then our daughter will do things that we want her to do without having to tell her. I know it’s shocking to me too. Examples of such things range from eating all the food on her plate, to cleaning up after a coloring session, or simply sitting quietly while playing with her toys. Usually I am thrilled to see that Claire will do these things without us having to say anything. I will stare at her as she chomps away at her food. I will smile proudly as she cleans up her messes. I will gaze in wonder as I see my little girl’s imagination at work while she plays.
And that’s usually when it all goes down hill. When we make eye contact.
As I stare at my daughter from across the room she gets the sense that I am looking at her and if our eyes lock it causes her to snap out of her good-behavior-mode. It’s the weirdest thing in the world. Claire will go from well-behaved kid to insane toddler in a matter of seconds. I’m not really sure why my wife or I locking eyes with her can cause Claire to change what she is doing, but we have quickly realized that if we do not want to interrupt her calm, cool and collected moments we cannot make eye contact with her.
I recently read an article that says that the human mind can actually sense when someone is staring at you—it is quite fascinating. There is a “gaze detection system” in our brain that is responsible for recognizing when someone is staring at you. There are clear benefits to this but when it comes to our toddler we have realized that we do not want to be detected by the said system. When Claire’s “gaze detection system” gets her to lock eyes with us she will stop eating, recognize that she was cleaning up instead of making a mess, or realize that she has been quiet for more than a minute and therefore must do a lap around the house while screaming at the top of her lungs.
As with most things toddler, there is a balance with how you deal with them. Apparently locking eyes with them is also something that we need to find a sweet spot for. My wife and I will call each other out during dinner if we stare at Claire for too long. “Don’t make eye contact!” will come out of one of our mouths. Quickly we will stare at our plates hoping the “gaze detection system” was not alerted and Claire will continue to eat.
Never a dull moment with these little ones that is for sure!
The last few weeks I have noticed a significant change in my relationship with my daughter. I don’t really know how or when it happened but it is palpably different. Claire and I have been hanging out and doing stuff like normal but I find that I am able to interact with her on a deeper level. Maybe it’s the fact that she can communicate with more than the word “no”. Claire is talking so much these days. Her ability to construct full sentences, and express her thoughts and feelings has changed the dynamic between us. I love it.
I know it sounds weird but I feel like I have a relationship with her now. Obviously, my wife and I have been in relationship with Claire since the womb, but the majority of womb to two has been meeting her needs. At this stage we are still meeting her needs, but there is more to it.
We took Claire to an amusement park last week and it was a blast! We had her ride the kiddy rides and she loved them. At one point there was this kids rollercoaster that we got in line for. I was a little apprehensive about it because it jerked around quite a bit. I had decided that I would keep my arm around Claire’s neck for extra support and comfort just in case she freaked out when the coaster started. As we got our lap belts fastened I gave Claire a pep talk, “This is going to go fast baby. Don’t worry I will be here with you ok?” Claire was too excited to care about what I was saying. I positioned my hand around her and was ready for a frightened kid. We had our first drop and Claire had an ear-to-ear grin that was accompanied with a loud “weeeeeee” as her arms were raised in the air. It was awesome.
After we got off the roller coasted my wife and I asked Claire what she wanted to do next and she responded with, “ride again.” We went from ride to ride eventually ending the day at the water park. The whole time Claire and I were hanging out there was this palpable difference. Claire interacted and laughed with us; she would run up to stuff and say, “Papi look!” I would respond with, “Wow! That’s amazing.” My daughter and I are growing in our relationship together and I love every minute of it.
I guess all parents recognize that at some point we will do more than change diapers and feed our kids. The reality of it happening is so cool and moving. This little person that I have the blessing of raising is fun, full of personality and someone I really love spending time with.