Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

When you get to the point of having kids, one of the impacts is that you likely get to see how much things change between your experience and theirs.  There are countless things written about how the pace of change is higher than it has ever been and how it is growing faster and faster. Even with regards to written information I saw something that said what was produced (mainly on the internet) in the last two years exceeds everything created in the prior two hundred.  I used to have an expectation when I was very young and had just learned about the library that by the time I died I could read everything. I realized how wrong that was pretty quickly and this pace of creation has sealed the deal. Asides from not wanting to read everything any longer (there are far more topics I really have no desire to explore in any way either fictionally or non-fictionally) even in the areas I am intrigued about there is far more material than I could ever consume in a lifetime.  

This is just one area where the pace of change is incredible, but the things that drive me loopy as a parent and make me wonder how different it is from my parent’s experience with me as a child continue to increase all the time.  I am a pretty simple guy at heart and I’ve settled in to a belief that I can keep myself quite content and busy for decades with access to my library and a streaming service or two when I want some video entertainment. Even some of these things, that are normal now, are still a recent novelty and that was more of what I have been thinking about for the last few weeks.

As I study history it is fascinating how even within someone’s lifetime and certainly just a little beyond that, nearly everything has changed incredibly.  Just 100 years ago (which can be in a few centenarian’s lifetimes even now) WWI was still going on. Weapons that caused ghastly amounts of damage and suffering were being used such as the machine gun and the various forms of gas on the battlefield.  Gone were the “gentlemanly” days of battle when things happened mostly one on one. Many of the people who were living then could have remembered back to the Civil War and carnage they entailed and been amazed and how much more killing could be done just a few decades later.

Depression era family

People now in their late 70s and older would have been alive for at least part of the Great Depression.  The lack of ability to get even the most basic or resources was everywhere and is a stark contrast to the “worry” we have today with the vast social safety nets put in place by most developed nations.  Food pantries, unemployment and other social welfare programs and other safety measures exist to at least provide some cushion in times of hardship. Life in the US at that time was already far ahead of most other nations, in part because we had escaped the devastation of lives and infrastructure that most of the rest of the developed world had gone through.  The progression through WWII and the decades after was ever increasing and as technology started having a daily impact lives were transformed.

The home became full of gadgets and appliances.  Washing was no longer done in a tub with a washboard and elbow grease and clothes left to dry on the line but instead was able to be done in a machine that did a lot of the work.  Initially you still had to run the clothes through rollers to press the water out, but quickly faster spinning machines were able to suck the water out using the power of centrifugal force and clothes dryers appeared.  One could say progress slowed on the clothes washing front but even recently we have seen HE devices that use less water and cleaning products and keep driving innovation forward. Every other aspect of home life was transformed in similar ways.  Brooms and dust pans gave way to vacuums and Roombas. Outhouses turned into indoor plumbing.

TI-99/4A, the catalyst for my life’s work

As I move through middle age, I am amazed even over my relatively short lifespan so far how things have changed.  I still recall black and white TVs in our and my relatives homes. I recall when I had to watch what was on when it was on on a small set of channels I could count on my hands.  I remember cars that were gigantic and having a difficult time getting information about topics. I remember encyclopedia salesman, and vacuum cleaner salesman and other salesman visiting our house.   I recall being fascinated with typewriters that could “erase” mistakes with a white ribbon and then typewriters with tiny displays, that then led to spell checking before it went to the page and then led to my kids saying “what’s a typewriter?”  The horse and buggy lasted for hundreds, even thousands of years, but we’ve seen entire product life cycles comes and go in a span of a few years or decades, being made obsolete by something else, that was repalced by something else. In the short time I have been on this earth, we went from live TV only, to VCRs, to laserdiscs, to DVDs, to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, to streaming on demand.  Similar changes have taken place with written formats, where books and newspapers and magazines are not electronic on Kindles and websites. I used to have to go to the library to look something up and now I can see it in seconds. We used to laugh that the processing power in our calculators when I was in high school was more than that in the lunar module that had landed on the moon barely twenty years before that and now we look at those calculators like the more arcane relics ever.  They might as well be abacuses for all the computing power they had compared to the smart phone I have now, which dwarfs my TI-99/4A computer I got for Christmas when I was 12. It came with a speech synthesizer, as TI was a pioneer in that technology, that plugged in on the right side and is larger than that smart speakers you can buy now that connect to the internet and are computers in their own right. Now my smartphone or car will talk to me and I can talk to it. All the speech synthesizer could do was talk to me.  The shame.

The change my parents will see over their lifetime will be dwarfed by the change my wife and I will see and it will likely be dwarfed by the change our kids will see, but I’m at the point now where I wonder if this is a good thing and how to stay grounded in that, how to manage that change so it does not overwhelm us and make us irrelevant, or worse, do us harm.  I recently came across a study that shows that brain scans of kids who engage with screen a lot show an thinning of the outer membrane of the cortex that is used to engage with the physical world. No one knows what that means yet, just that it is there, and it is beginning to be shown to be tied in a causal way to changes in the environment around us that we have embraced.  Could similar things have happened with earlier generations as we moved from walking everywhere to riding in carts to motorized transportation in our musculature and ability to support our own bodies over a lifetime? Highly likely, but these changes did not occur multiple times over one lifetime as they do now. When I got that TI-99/4A I knew that is was the start of something amazing but I in now way predicted anything close to where we are now and I still likely have decades to go before I die so I have no clue what will be the landscape in various areas of life compared to now.  When I watched the Jetsons as a kid, I could not wait for my flying car before I was 30. That did not happen, but I have a phone in my hand that is thousands if not millions of times more capable than that TI computer was in about the same time period. So while I cannot predict what the change will be, I now it will happen, and I have to determine how to handle it.

My concern now returns, as it does often as a parent, to my kids.  I think I am seeing a lack of capability in dealing with change in a healthy way.  I’ve talked about this in other posts about attention spans and inability to focus, have patience or do other things.  My concern is that just like I cannot foresee the change itself I believe our kids are doing things that they have no idea what it will cause them years down the road.  Are their brains developing in ways that will cause problems? I recently heard about the latest popular thing among kids, Mukbang, which is watching videos of people eating.  When I was a kid I has a hard enough time watching the real people around me eating, let alone searching for and then watching other people I do not know eating on a screen. I struggle with simply thinking that this behavior is not an indicator of something else.  But what? Is it good or bad? Does it indicate that we are not going to head to more extreme version of entertainment or is it the opposite, the shutting down of ambition leading to finding that watching someone eat a bowl of noodles is “strangely satisfying” as one kids described why they watch Mukbang videos.  Are we transitioning further into a state, as happened with texting years ago, where people would rather do something virtually than do it in person? What does that mean for our development as a social species? Does this help us drive more division and hatred because we no longer need to be civil to each other, because we can just sit around and watch other people eat and be strangely satisfied?  You can likely continue this butterfly effect for quite a long time, if not forever.

Is that fact that we struggle to find jobs that satisfy us a cause of dissatisfaction with work or is a symptom?  Work used to involve getting together with people and talking and working on things in the physical world together.  Now we e-mail and Skype and play with virtual models. We analyze things and microsegment and divide things into smaller and smaller pools because we can make simple ad clicks on a website turn into thousands of dollars if we just get enough interest in whatever we are saying or doing (some of the top Mukbang producers are making over $10,000 a month, making the “job” of eating and filming yourself doing it far more lucrative than the average income of a US household).  What does that mean? What behavior does it drive?

Overall I see the struggles in anxiety and depression just with our own kids and I begin to wonder if it is not a form of inability to deal with change.  In a world where change is constant and we are supposedly so good at it, are we reaching a point of overload, and are our kids the canary in the coal mine telling us enough is enough through the mental health issues that are becoming more prevalent?  I am concerned that the rate of change makes it impossible to study the impacts of change on us and we move on to the next topic to study because we do not have the time to figure out the impact of one change before we change again. I have memories of living in a time that was very different to fall back on.  I enjoy sitting and reading for hours because I learned I could do that. As I begin to think more and more about what I will do after I stop needing to work, I see a life more and more about basic things like reading, walking, talking with people and sharing time with them. As I watch my kids I see them mainly engaged with screens and I get more and more unsure if they would even be capable of that.   And maybe that’s OK, but maybe it’s not. And what is they determine it’s not but they’ve damaged their neurology enough that there is no going back? Where if they are not plugged into the matrix that they will have a mental breakdown and go into some new form of psychosis? My wife and I increasingly are having discussions about things we are amazed to see our kids are not capable of dealing with as we did at their age, almost as if they lack resiliency, sticktoitiveness and passion.  I see younger employees unable to focus and devote the diligent and sustained work needed to solve big problems. Will that ultimately be what slows down the pace of change? Wouldn’t it be ironic if the rate of change breaks the mechanisms in the human brain that allowed us to impart the effort to get here in the first place and causes us to stagnate as a species?


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Transitions – Part One

Posted: December 5, 2018 in Finances, Philosophy, Tools

Over the last few years (2014-) our lives have progressed through several transitions.  We both changed jobs, we added a few pets (admittedly not high on my list of favorable transitions), some kids legally became adults by hitting their eighteenth birthday (I will talk about that a bit in an upcoming post) and I began walking us down a more intentional path towards our “golden” years, though my target is to get us there sooner, through a process that has become known as FIRE (financially independent, retire early).  This last transition is one I will spend some time talking about in this post.

For those not familiar with the term, let me start with a bit of background.  FIRE is the goal of “buying your freedom” from work and making the conscious decision to be much more intentional with your decisions on what to do with your money with the goal of increasing our saving rate and/or lowering your expenses.  You can find a lot of detail about the math and the ideas on sites more devoted to that, and since my goal right now is to not convert this blog into a FIRE site, I will leave you to dig around on those sites if you want to get into the nuts and bolts, but I will likely talk more about concepts related to this as I go forward as it has become a big focus for me basically beginning in 2016.  You can find people who retired in their 30s.  I just read an article today about a woman who retired at 28 in New York City.  The variations on the how and why are endless and as the reaction moves from “you did/are doing WHAT!?” to “tell me more” the mainstream media is starting to take notice of this not-so-new lifestyle choice that prioritizes a meaningful and enjoyable life over the consumption driven lie that Madison Avenue likes to convince us is how life works.

So our unique story is that the E part of FIRE, by the nature of when we began is not so early.  As things sit now if all continues on the plan I hope to walk away from a job I must do about ten years earlier than I would have if I stuck with the traditional model and worked until my federally approved retirement date.  I am still about ten years from that point (a little less, but we’ll deal in round numbers), but the focus being shifted coupled with a less than joyful work situation for me in the last year has raised the level of urgency in my head quite a bit, which leads me to things like writing this post about it.  I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at houses in areas we have thought we might want to retire to, beginning in earnest a retirement budget in our budgeting software we use so make sure that the target level we’ve set really works for us (I plan to spend 2019 refining that and capturing expenses in enough detail that my wife and I can sit down and look it over and see if it seems comfortable and know our target seems solid).

I’ve always been relatively frugal (by American standards anyway), doing what I thought was a good job as keeping stupid expenses as bay.  As I got better jobs and the higher pay that came with it I was never a fan of keeping up with the Jonses.  I drove what I felt were relatively reasonable cars while colleagues went with the luxury lines, massive SUVs and sports cars that tend to come with a typical middle class American dream.  The inflatable house was never something that drove me either, feeling the need to expand the square footage per person available just because the bank said I could, like so many people fall prey to.  I was pretty proud of myself, that is until I started to learn about FIRE and get exposed to the thinking of the community.  It began to show how far I still could go.  My particular journey began as many do, with a quest to validate something I felt was right with some evidence.  In my case it was the long held belief that the insane amount in retirement calculators from large investment firms like Vanguard and Fidelity were not realistic and that we’d be just fine with less.  A lot less.  When I ran numbers in those calculators I kept getting values between $5-$10 million dollars as what I should be targeting, and try as I might, I could not envision how that was explainable.  I set out in late 2015 to find some discussion, with strong logic and math behind it, to back up what I felt in my gut was true.  I was expecting to find something that showed a decreased, but what I cam across was nothing short of life changing, a transition of massive proportions. I searched for a long time, finding more of what I thought was garbage, and eventually I stumbled upon a site that had been around for a few years at that time but one I had never heard of called mrmoneymustache.com (known as MMM for short).  The specific article I started with was ‘The 4% Rule: The Easy Answer to “How Much Do I Need for Retirement?”’  As I read it, I felt I had found exactly what I was looking for, but little did I know I had found so much more.  I had heard of the 4% rule before but it was couple with the 80% rule as well, which was what was spouted off by the investment firms who said you need 80% of your income to retire on, so if you did quote well at your job over time and got a salary a ways into six figures, which in my field of technology is certainly quite possible you would need $4+ million which was better than the calculator numbers but not by much.  The part of MMM’s philosophy (what I came to learn was a core principle of the FIRE community) that hooked me was that if you could get your expenses down you could retire on less.  A lot less.

I sampled a few other posts on the site and was amazed as what I was seeing.  I very quickly followed a link he had on his home page that let you start at the first blog post and then spent the next three months reading every single post consuming it voraciously, until I was done with the hundreds of posts.  It’s been joked from time to time that Mustachianism is a cult and boy was I hooked.  I now am a frequenter of the forum section where like minded folks can talk about all types of topics.  It really is a great community and if the FIRE concept intrigues you in the least, I’d suggest a visit to the site.

As I was moving through this material and sharing with my wife, the transition began.  I had a new focus for the retirement target and it was not to wait until 67 and it was liberating because it was clearly doable.  The challenge we have is that we came upon this concept quite late in our lives and have the baggage of some poor (by FIRE standards) choices that were made, but as a wise man once said, “you have to begin where you are”.  The discussions at times became heated because I would share what I was learning, and my wife was thinking just because I spoke about something, that I wanted to go do that.  The most obvious one of those was MMM’s focus on a car being a huge drain on savings and so you should bike everywhere and only use the car for long road trips or when you had to transport things you could not on your bike, like construction supplies.  I clearly understood that our bed was well made at that point, and was not proposing we sell our cars and bike thirty miles to work (MMM does bike year round in Colorado and has several posts about not whining about biking in winter).  I was just sharing to show some of the radical thinking that could be used to drive down costs that help you get to the 60%+ savings rates needed to get to FIRE in a 10 year period.  The part that was missed in this was that using the principle of begin where you are, we were not starting out from $0, so we can still hit the 10-12 year window without being so radical.  I did however want to make as many changes as we could that fit within our reality.  We also have the added challenge/goal of being at the phase of life that we want to help with our kids college costs, though not at the fully funded level that is still lingering with some parents.  With six kids though, even a partial funding is still substantial.  So we have not moved, nor are we planning to move, to within a few miles of our jobs so we can bike, but we are being conscious about our car expenses, looking for the cheapest gas with Gas Buddy, waiting for sale where possible on big ticket items like tires (just replaced the tires on my car after 83,000 miles during a sales event where I got to buy 3 and get the 4th for $1, and replaced them with the same Kumho tires with the target of getting 83,000 out of this $300 set), and likely not buying new cars going forward (since I keep the cars till they fall apart I always figured getting new was best and frugal, but not so sure after reading many articles about it in the FIRE community).  This has shifted my mind set to a much more engineered and focused exploration of how to maximize our dollars for happiness, including the happiness of retiring early.

We are targeting around $40-$48K per year as our expenses so that translates into $1-$1.2 million in savings, a much more palatable (and possible) target.  This is well below the 80% of what we make target that is most popular out there, and therefore makes for some interesting conversations with family and friends when it comes up.  The load lifted by not having to figure out how to support a much crazier target is immense.  That target is still pretty generous by FIRE standards and I am hopeful we may be able to lower it a bit however we need to plan for a target that is doable for us, not simply accept what others have accomplished.  There are some people in the FIRE community, known as Extreme RE who do things on $12K per year and love it.  The accepted FIRE level is $25K or less.  We are moving into what is known as “fat FIRE” with our level because we know we are leaving excess luxuries in the budget, but I still do not feel like we are going hog wild because I’ve seen a lot of fat FIRE targets of $60-$80K and we are still quite a ways below that, so I feel great about what I will call our Goldilock’s FIRE level.  Not to small, not to big, but just right, especially for us.  I do think we could do $30-$35K pretty easily but targeting a bit more gives us some added things which may be important as we want to travel with the kids or be able to host a bigger event or two each year that may cost a few thousand dollars and we have that room to do that.  We’d then have our social security on top of this as we move into normal retirement age and that gives us even more cushion (and also why I think we may settle on a lower number as we’ll have the added money later).  The benefit of a lower number is we hit the target sooner and can make the ultimate financial transition that much faster.

So that is a lot about one of the biggest transitions we’ve gone through in the last few years.  I will get into some of the others in future posts, and as I said at the start, I know more will be said about how frugality and maximization is impacting choices.

Proverbs 14 is a wonderful text that most Christians are familiar with.  As a book written mainly by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, any chapter is a great trove of what it means to be wise, but chapter 14 stands out as one of the simplest ways to determine your standing in this era of quick quizzes.  You can read through Proverbs 14 like a Cosmo quiz; am I this or am I that and then add up the score at the end of the 35 verses and see on a score of 0-35 how wise (or conversely how foolish) you are.

Today I wanted to focus on two specific verses, verse 14 and verse 29 as I find myself assessing how we are doing as parents all the time using these two measures that God has so wonderfully provided.  For those not familiar with them, let me reprint them here.

Verse 14 says “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his.” Verse 29 reads “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”  I’m going to talk about each of these individually and how I feel they should impact our lives as parents.

One of the things anyone who knows me understands pretty quickly is that I love personal finance and helping others with it.  I’ve been contemplating ways to start financial coaching as a side hustle because I think my combination of financial simplicity joined with a humble Christian spirit of wanting to help can benefit a lot of people.  I’m not looking to write books or be on TV, just to help people and as a bonus maybe make a little extra money to help my family.  One of the first concepts that anyone needs to grasp as a motivation for not spending (which leads to saving, which is the goal) is compound interest.  You may have even heard the statement attributed to Albert Einstein (most likely falsely but done so nonetheless to add some weight to the importance of it) that goes something along the lines of compound interest being the most powerful force in the universe, the eighth wonder of the world.  That he who understands it, earns it and he who does not, pays it.

Again, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound interest is what happens when you let money just sit in some instrument that provides a return.  What happens is that you earn a little interest that first period, and then in the second period you earn interest on the whole balance including the interest you earned before and ad infinitum until some point in time.  If you make a sound investment in a stock of a great company such as GE (less great this week after its last announcements), a very small amount of money invested when the company started would be worth millions today.  And this is just over a little more than 100 years.  This is an example of the power of compounding and we can see it at work all over the place in the financial world.

I believe we can take this same principle and looking at Proverbs 14:14 as our base and, understanding that God’s promises are eternal, apply this same concept to the power of influence we have through our connections.  As with any of the statements in Proverbs 14, you can be on the wicked/foolish side or the wise/godly side.  As the Einstein quote explains, if you are a fool you pay the interest, so it can drain your savings just as quickly as it can add to it, if you make the wrong choices on where to let compound interest work in your life.  With our kids we also are making an investment by showing them how to live with what we say and do every day.  We can live for the world and it’s ephemeral, short-term “rewards” or we can live for God and His eternal purposes and rewards.  Verse 14 tells us we can be guided and satisfied by what we do in following God, or we can have our fill, reap the cost, of backsliding to the world’s way of thinking about anything.  Every “investment” we make in our children can have eternal consequences.  Every word we say, every action we model they take in and it impacts them from that day forward.  What we then have the ability to do is change what happens in the world to a greater and greater degree the more time that passes.  How our children develop and how they treat others including their children continues to ripple outward and grow and the number of connections and generations grows.  We can radiate good out into eternity by making the right investment today.  Imagine what the impact you have today will have on this world 10,000 years from now, 100,000 years from now.  It is just hard to wrap our heads around that but if we return to the financial analogy, the impact we see in just 25 or 100 years is impressive, but if we calculated that out for 10,000 years it would be mind-blowing.  This is what God offers all of us to understand in life, and as a parent I think about that a lot.  Our decisions echo in eternity.  This is why God fights for every soul to be saved, because he understands the impact the compound interest of our actions has.  What we do today does not only impact today, it effects and changes everything that happens into eternity.  Can you even begin to think about what that means?  Does the awesomeness of that weigh on you as much as it does me?  That, and nothing less, is what God has given us a chance to impact.  What will you do with that awesome power?  I try to make it impact my thinking as often as I can and it helps me understand the importance of standing for what is right, asking What Would Jesus Do, and driving in the positive direction as much as I can.  Will you let this sink in and reassess your thinking?  What verse 14 challenges us to do is realize we cannot always change our position, but we can always change our disposition.  And that is the lesson of compound interest when applied to parenting.

Moving on, let’s look at verse 29.  I’m sure we all have heard this many times but do we really get what it means? Let’s walk through a scenario we all face many times as parents.

I ask my kids to do things, such as clean up around the house.  After I asked the first time, in a few minutes I heard raised voices.  When I approached I found they were arguing about who had done the most, complaining to each other that one or the other was not pulling their weight.  I asked them kindly to stop and keep working.

After a few more minutes, I returned to find them bickering about who was going to do what.  Who would vacuum, who would pick up the socks.  I stepped in again, got them to be quiet and told them to finish the job.

Finally, the third time, I checked out the results after they said they were done.  What I saw was very lackluster and not the result I expected, and they explained they did not understand what a clean basement looks like.  At this point I lost it and yelled at them about how they never help around the house, how they make no effort, how they never listen, how they never show any respect and I stormed upstairs as they started flinging their feelings at me.

I stood there thinking two things. Why am I having this discussion?  I should just tell them what to do and if they don’t I should just bring the hammer down and remove all their privileges! but the second thought pierced me to my soul, deeper than any basement could ever be, I let my anger get the best of me and I am acting like a foolish child.

I do not remember exactly what I said when I calmed down and laid out my expectations clearly along with consequences of not being able to use the space later if it was not clean in the future to help the lesson sink in but most importantly in these time I need to understand If I am going to help these kids grow up emotionally and teach them to appropriately express their anger, than I need to grow up myself. 

God never says to not get angry but he does give us example like verse 29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” that are meant to clearly explain the consequences of improper anger.  We look and act like fools.  God never said we should not be angry, but he did warn us to not let anger turn into sin.  The easy way out is to think that losing our cool is human and natural and happens from time to time, but we are called to be better than that.  Let’s not take the easy way out, let’s help our kids learn how to behave like caring, rational adults and not like raving fools.

With a lot of kids, there is always a lot going on in our house.  It takes effort to not get angry, and we can say it is worse with more people, but those are just excuses.  God does not give us criteria for when it is OK to be a fool because we just can’t handle life.  His criteria, like him, are absolute.  Unrighteous anger is always a sin and as such we should avoid it.  Like any habit, this takes conscious effort.  It takes having a plan on how things will be addressed.  I have a plan, and even though that plan is when I feel my emotions getting the best of me to step away and regroup, I sometimes fail to execute the plan.  I need to then ask God and those I was inappropriately angry with for forgiveness.  However if we circle around to the earlier discussion, these actions have eternal compounding interest built into them.  Do I want people around me to learn that what we should be compounding is anger, or should we be compounding love?  Christ makes that answer very clear for us and we need to get better at laying the troubles we cannot handle, those that make us angry and irate like exes we cannot control, at His feet and try to emulate Christlikeness and show that we trust God.

So, can we be more like Solomon and less like ourselves?  I believe we can, but I know it will be hard.  Every sinner is on a road to improvement right up till they leave this world and then I am not sure if it continues in heaven or not.  I won’t be able to update this blog once I find out, but I do thank God for the fact that he gave us a Cosmo quiz right there in the Bible in Proverbs 14 to go down and assess ourselves and the ability to reach out to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance to fix the warts we find.

This philosophy was a short synopsis for my parenting style that I heard at one point, and recent events as I’ve watched other parents around me over the last year just made this rise to the top of things I wanted to share on this blog.

The most recent example of “preparing the road for the child” is helicopter parenting, but it existed in other forms before that in coddling etc.  Some people, my wife included, feel I’m too harsh in my goal to never have our kids come home after they finish with college, for example, but this stance is bred directly out of the desire to prepare the child for the road.  I’m having to live in the same world they if they were to come rushing home.  My preparing them to understand that one of the key tenets of not having to do that is not spending above your income they should have no reason to need this proverbial “safety net” that has become all the rage lately and for some reason seems to have brainwashed otherwise rational adults into thinking that somehow “now is different”.  It’s not.

There have always been challenges.  In the 70s when inflation was over 10% and interest rates were even higher, there was not talk of kids moving back home.  When unemployment soared during the Great Depression people were struggling and such but there has not been anything I could find of this mass movement back in with parents.  Why?  Because the parents were in the same world they were in and this shift of making it OK to prepare the road for the child was not as prevalent as it seems to be today.

If the situation existed that I am a financially astute and responsible adult and the world is in such a state that I could only survive by dipping into savings each year, then we have a rational argument for a younger adult, not having built up that savings, to be unable to make it on their own.  That however is not anywhere near the situation in the US today, contrary to media hype of the sky falling.  Preparing kids for the realities of life puts them in a much more resilient situation.  There was a recent discussion I was involved in with folks trying to figure out how much they pay for for their high school kids.  One mom was feeling guilty because her daughter wanted to do dance but every week’s competition to team went out for a fancy dinner instead of doing something like a pasta party at a parent’s house, got their hair and nails professionally done for a hundred dollars a week and a bunch of other expenses.  She was uncomfortable telling their daughter this was just not doable in their budget and she’d either have to pick another activity, forgo some of the pre and post activities the other girls did or find a way to cover those expenses herself (like a job).  Some other parents were trying to convince her of all the reasons she just needed to find a way to suck it up and go into debt for her daughter to have this high school experience.  I knew my viewpoint was in the minority so I caught up with this person later and shared my perspective and it led to a really good conversation and she was relieved to hear someone who was not just buying into the spend, spend hype because it would somehow damage out kids if we did not make this happen.  It was another example where people were just killing themselves preparing the road for the child and the wondering why they hit to the rock or the pothole in the road later on because mom and/or dad was not there to pave it over or push the rock on to the shoulder.

The learned helplessness this creates in children is often overlooked.  A slight hiccup occurs and the child cannot figure a way forward without immediately calling the parent.  Somehow then people are surprised when this behavior continues for decades after their kids are “adults”.  I feel we do a disservice to our children when we do not prepare them to be independent, autonomously functional human beings.  There are fewer and fewer guardrails in the world these days.  More institutions lack customer service on any level and unless you understand how what you are asking for is to be delivered you will struggle your entire life ending up on the short end of the stick.  Everyone would like the easy way out, but not having that grit or resilience comes with a cost that is many times not understood until the emotional and relational damage is far too great.  I’d much rather coach my kids through the bumps and bruises and have them excited when the achieve something through hard work of their own than clear the obstacles entirely and then when I’m not there they stumble and fall and are clueless why.

I may not be the most popular parent in the room, but I know that if I focus on giving them the tools that is far more valuable.  We seem to have forgotten as a society that if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime.  In the same way if you make your guide “prepare your child for the road and not the road for the child” you give them what they need to handle the eight-lane highway, the treacherous mountain road, or the unpaved cow path all on their own.  It gives them more sources of pride and gives you a lot more energy back to handle all the roads in life you have to deal with yourself.

My heart hurts. It hurts because I know that with my strong faith in God, if my heart hurts, I can only imagine what others without that hope are feeling.  For weeks, actually months, I have been feeling this way but unable to put it into words.  I have been paralyzed into inaction, slow decisions, lack of enthusiasm for doing something.  It’s been there and I know I did not enjoy the feeling but it had become common even normal, but the Spirit inside me has kept fighting against the oppressive weight that I could not name.  God, as He always does, pulled together a few things into my small sliver of the universe and made things a little clearer and resulted in this post.  With the confluence of national events, an ailing woman who verbalized her feelings and a baseball team I have adored my whole life, my frustration and this weight have become clearer.  I am paralyzed by fear and loathing.

That’s still not truly correct in naming what I feel, it is not fear that I myself am feeling, it is frustration for the cult of fear I see stifling many around me. It is that initial thought that save for the grace of God within me, I could be like them.  And that makes my heart hurt for my nation and my fellow people in it.

I have spent the last few months mainly interacting with people I directly know, trying to exercise some influence over something I hope I can influence rather than coming here to a medium that reaches many people that I do not know directly, and therefore feel that I have less influence over. Yet a big part of the reason I started and continue this blog is the share my thoughts on what is effecting our and our children’s lives, and it helps me to get those thoughts on paper (or screen, as it were).  So like the ailing woman I referenced above who finally returned to her video blog after months of absence and explained that the reason she had not posted any videos was that they all felt irrelevant, I felt this morning that I just need to get my thoughts out there and let God do what he wills with them, in the hope that perhaps we can all move past this paralysis I see.

We have a national election here in the US that is so detestable that it has sucked the life out of our nation, and I feel what I am seeing is a national version of something described during the NLCS Game 3 last night. The announcer indicated that hitting and executing on a baseball team is contagious.  As one or two batters enter a slump it seems to drag the whole team with it.  But the hope is that one hit can be the first step to turning that energy around and suddenly having a whole team executing again and doing no wrong.  That last little nugget of information was the key to connecting all that I had been mulling over for the last couple weeks of what has been occurring for the last several months or year with our national spirit.  I see a nation stagnant, might I say paralyzed, by fear.

I am not that old, but am old enough to remember a time when all around me there was a buzz in the air of the possibility and promise of America and of being an American. Even leading up to and after horrific events like 9/11 that buzz was firmly present and palpable.  Only in the last decade or so has it been fading to a dull roar, then a small short circuit and now on the brink of being snuffed out, I fear, forever.  For you see, much like a small group of nine men can “catch” negative thoughts and actions and struggle mightily and fail to extricate themselves from that, a whole nation infected by the fearmongering drivel of media and a candidate can take those final steps into the abyss, perhaps never to return.

I am angered by the fact that when I was in high school and college, my outlook and my nation’s outlook was one of extreme, maybe even delusional hope. It was fueled by a leader, Ronald Reagan, who while perhaps a showman like Donald Trump, was a showman with an entirely different core.  Reagan was a master at using poetry, artful delivery, and wonderful turn of phrase to inspire hope and desire for every person living in America to look for the best in themselves.  Yes, he was an actor who turned into a President, but even as a young adult I could see the goodness emanating from the man like the bright shining hope he told us America was to the world.  And the nation gladly followed.  We were still under the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and had just emerged from gas lines in the 70s and staggering inflation that made mortgage rates so high that today while we complain about the horror of 2-3% were laughable and should have been stifling.  But the mood of the nation, and most importantly of the leader, made us all look past those things that were patently worse than anything we face now, while we have a buffoon posturing to “Make America Great Again”.  So today, I have children who do not truly look forward to the future, who talk down about themselves and their abilities and who are more and more infected by the spirit of sadness that has become the national mood.  Just like the Cubs in these last two weeks of October, our national mood is contagious, and it is making us all sick.  This makes me angry to the core.

Our entire focus has been moved from nation to self, and the vile nature of that, of what God clearly tells us in Scripture will eat away at the soul of a man, is on display for all the world to see. In my own circle I have a father who became a citizen in 1995 yet has never seen the point in registering to vote because the hope he saw in America when he immigrated here in the 60s is gone.  I have a mother who wants to vote but feels it is pointless because she cannot see a path forward.  I have a brother and a sister-in-law who excuse Trump’s behavior and core character as things to look past for possible good.  I have a smaller and smaller circle of family and friends I can even speak to about current events, including my wife, because this entire cycle has turned so heart wrenchingly sad that people would rather angrily say they no longer want to talk about it than do something about it.  It is a paralysis driven by hopelessness and perhaps fear and anger.  It is why I am sharing here to hopefully provide that last piece of the puzzle for someone to make positive change in their home, their neighborhood, their community.  This is done in the hope that with those small “hits” we can turn the mood of the nation around to one of hope and excitement rather than continue to be dragged down by an irrational fear of what is not.

My brother, normally an intelligent and very well spoken person, regularly spouts off that Hilary Clinton is personally responsible for six million deaths. He seems to believe that Putin is the nicest guy we’ve ever had in charge of Russia and that the only reason he is acting this way, invading Ukraine and trampling on human rights, is because Hillary and Obama have single handedly backed him into a corner and made him do it.  If not for our leadership we would be vacationing together in the Urals with Putin sipping champagne and converting Russia to a democracy and their citizens would enjoy unparalleled riches.  I heard some women at work excusing the sexual talk of a presidential candidate as “stupid things guys say” because they were not sure what to do.

God teaches us that He is in control. The fear I have with this election is that too many feel that they are in control and that with their vote and their rationalization of their vote, that they can see all the interactions like what Supreme Court nominees someone will name, what legislation they will get enacted and what the world situation will become because of it.  Nine men who sit together in a dugout, dine together and live together in hotels on the road, and know each other and have the same common goal cannot see clearly what their actions will accomplish in the world, but individual voters are making decisions about how thousands of people totally unattached to them will act based on which box they check and are delusional enough to feel they have the omniscient power to foresee what only God can see.  Scripture is full of verses that teach us that as long as we try to influence events rather than leaving them to God, our efforts are due to fail and only destruction is the result.

So how is one to decide? Again, we only need to look to God for the answer.  Seek the fruit of a person’s life to decide on their intentions, for God uses everyone to execute his will.  He can use Hilary, and yes, he can even use Donald Trump, but when we overthink things and look past the simple truths that He tells us to use, we try to wrest control from God and that path leads only to destruction.

This brings me to the other word in my title that I have not explained yet, loathing. I have never in my life used this term to describe my feelings towards anyone.  The simplest definition is “feel intense dislike or disgust for”.  Other examples are, “feel repugnance toward, not be able to bear/stand, be repelled by”.  The only person I have ever truly felt this way about is Donald Trump.  The book of Ezekiel uses the word loathe multiple times to describe how the nation of Israel will look upon themselves for their practices.  One of the key themes of Ezekiel is the need for individual responsibility and national accountability before God.  When the media states that this election is for the national soul of America they are not being hyperbolic.  Again, it is between God and them if they are saved, but even if they are not, God uses everyone for his purposes, and these views are very truthful.  Electing someone who is as far from servant leadership as you can be and who has not a shred of public good will as fruit of his life is a mistake.  For all we can say about all the other candidates, while their motives may be misguided, and may be self-serving to a degree, they are not anywhere near the entire lack of national good that we see from Trump.  For getting us to this point, for being a candidate for President, for keeping the national mood on fear and hate I loathe Donald Trump and have since he stepped on the national stage and announced his candidacy for the Presidency by lying about Mexican immigrants.

We are down to three weeks until the election. God is in control and our nation will be used for the purposes He chooses to fulfill His plan, but we can make it much worse for ourselves by denying that omnipotence.  My plea to those who feel that Hilary will pull this nation apart or destroy it is to know that she is not in control.  We are however in control of who will be in charge of our national mood.  I have hope for my beloved Cubbies because they have Joe Maddon at the helm and he exudes hope and positivity.  The Cubs players have rallied around their manager, even waking him up on the plane heading to Los Angeles in the middle of the night so he could talk to the team and lift their spirts.  As a young adult, even with all the challenges in our nation at the time, every time Reagan got on TV to address the nation, even though I knew it was about something sad or sinister or dangerous, I waited with hope KNOWING that at the end of whatever he had to say, I would feel better than how I felt before he started.  When we have a national crisis can any of us truly say we want to go to the front of the plane and wake up Donald Trump to give us inspirational words of hope and solid plans of action that will make us feel better at the end of what he had to say than when he started?  God has placed the answer in your heart to that question, if only you have the courage to listen to it and stop listening to the excuses we all make about why a despot is “not so bad” and things will work out OK if we put him in power.

I did my daily quick news review this morning to the horrible realization that it has happened again; Trump has said something even more ridiculous and outlandish than the previous thing he said that I was hoping he could not top.  Yesterday his bombshell was a hint that perhaps, just maybe, gun owners should take things into their own hands and make sure Clinton does not infringe on the Second Amendment.  This was of course quickly discounted by supporters as a misinterpretation, but in Trump’s own words “ya know..”

The realization I have come to over the last few weeks is that this is a golden opportunity as a parent to discuss some really crucial issues about character, responsibility and accountability with our children.  This to me is the silver lining in this freak show that is a Trump candidacy.

While people go around claiming things are misinterpreted or that is was a mistake, I use it as an opportunity to explain to my teenagers that as you rise in level or responsibility (or responsibility you hope to gain by, say being elected President of the United States), you must become less and less ambiguous in what you say, because words have impact.  At certain levels you cannot hide behind, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  If a CEO made a comment at a company meeting that “Sales are good, but sometimes they start to slide and it that happens, then, you know, maybe I need to make some decisions”, expecting that some people will not speculate about those “decisions” being something that the CEO did not mean or would not contemplate is a very, very poor response.  The simple solution is to be clear.  The CEO could say, “we will need to determine how long we can proceed at the lower sales rate before we need to make decisions about plant closings and staff reductions”.  Is that a great message?   No.  But it is clear.  In a similar manner, I expect Presidential candidates to not give fill in the blank responses.  Trump could have avoided controversy by instead saying, “if you do not want your Second Amendment rights endangered, then do not vote for Clinton”.  Instead he chose, to say something which could be implied and then denied with a wink and nod, when more sinister implications were drawn.  It was a deliberate choice and it is important to show our children how and why these seemingly small choices have large implications.

A key ability that we all need to develop is a really solid “BS meter”.  To do this involves a lot of work, and this election cycle is offering a real world example to use to teach our kids why it is worth the effort.  It is very easy to be lemmings or sheep and get led down the path to the cliff or slaughter by a smooth talking con man (or woman).  To have your BS meter working you need to learn enough about  a lot of things to actually be able to make a decision yourself on the merits of an idea.  In this case understanding the limits of presidential authority, the checks and balances of the government, what is and is not in the Constitution, what impact the Supreme Court can have and when they get involved and when they do not, knowing how to do your own research to fact check something “many people” have told someone, and being able to think logically and factually versus emotionally are just some of the skills and knowledge one needs.  The implications of not doing this in a presidential election are staggering and educating our children on this is a great opportunity.

So I attempt to have conversations where we calm down and just walk through the real issues.  We strip away the emotion of moving to Canada if someone gets elected and instead talk about what might be a better response and what we can do instead to improve our system rather than take the easy way out and just give up.  We get to talk about why not voting really is a poor option and the value of living in a land where you get to vote and contrast that with areas of the world where people literally die for that opportunity.  We get to talk about why words matter and why saying someone “just” did or said something is letting people off too easily at times and how to gauge when that time really is.  We get to look at why a President does matter in an era when we are being spoon fed BS about why they are no different than a Queen in England or an Emperor in Japan.  A disengaged citizenry is exactly what dictators love to prey on.  They reach for the fear of what we might lose, or what might be done to us and expand than into a monster that is hard to ignore.  Let’s take the time to educate our children about how to turn on the light, open the closet door and see that the boogeyman really does not exist and to see the importance in being smart enough to see what really is there.  The issues we face every day and in the election are real and serious.  The people that will lead us when we deal with them should be the same.  Knowing how to use your BS meter to ferret them out is a skill our children will need for a lifetime.

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.