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We should treat marriage with care but not because it’s fragile

Daniel_Hope_ellipse_small
by Daniel Hope

A friend of mine recently included me in a conversation about an article entitled 10 ways you are being unfaithful to your spouse — and you don’t even know it. While I don’t agree with all of the details of the article — and one of the contributors to the conversation made a good point about how isolationist many Christian marriage advisers can be. I do agree with the spirit of the advice which is to treat your marriage with care and special attention.

As Carine McCandless said in Into the Wild, “The fragility of crystal is not a weakness but a fineness.”

Actually crystal is often heavier and sturdier than the glass we use every day but we handle it with a special care. I see marriage the same way, it can withstand a lot (just ask the woman who has stayed with me for over 20 years) but we should treat it with a higher level of care than we do our other relationships.

This is also a great reminder to treat your marriage with care as you approach the holidays, placing it above the relationships you have with both your parents and your children.

With Advent Blessings,

Daniel

How loving yourself as a child can make you a better parent

Daniel_Hope_ellipse_small
by Daniel Hope

rabbirami
At the McPhee Lecture with Rabbi Rami

It’s true you haven’t seen a post or newsletter from me for a while now. I’ve missed writing and I’ve missed your responses and feedback. Since I last wrote you I have taken a job as an educator and spiritual director at the Seton Cove spirituality center. I’ve been busy learning a new job and creating course materials that I will be sharing with you and workshops and retreats that I will be inviting you to.

Most recently I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with one of our guest speakers, Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Rabbi Rami led an all-day workshop for the Cove called “The Way of Lovingkindness in Leadership” and he mentioned a practice that he does daily. The practice falls under the category of metta, the Buddhist practice of cultivating compassion and he begins by setting out a photo of himself when he was 6 years old and to his 6 year old self he offers a prayer. Here is the prayer and an excerpt from his book The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness:

“May you be free from fear.
May you be free from compulsion.
May you be blessed with love.
May you be blessed with peace.”

I was inspired by this prayer and this practice and I began right away offering this prayer to my daughters as I tuck them in at night. The power of the words and the completeness of the message were immediately felt … but I was missing a vital step. I skipped the step where I practice metta with myself as a child. As a parent this is an easy step to skip but there is a reason that Rabbi Rami begins with cultivating compassion for himself as a child, then gradually for himself in the present before offering his prayer to others. The compassion for the self must come first if it is to flow generously to those we love.

Parenting is all about sacrifice and one of the things we must sacrifice is the blame and scrutiny we heap upon our own heads. As a friend of mine would sometimes put it, “Do you think that you’re so uniquely special that you can’t be forgiven? Even though everyone else around you can be?”

I hope that I am making my point well enough right now and you’re not going to force me to make that oxygen mask analogy. I really would like to write about this topic without doing that, though it is a very accurate analogy.

Imagine offering this blessing to yourself as a child, then in your adolescence, then in your 20’s. How much more compassion might you have for the choices you have made and the opportunities you have missed? Here is another excerpt from the book:

“When the inner child is free from fear, it is free to play rather than scheme. When it is free from compulsion, it is free to create rather than imitate. When the inner child is at peace, it is capable of engaging the moment with spontaneity and freshness.”

You may then turn your compassion to yourself in the present moment,

“May I be free from fear.
May I be free from compulsion.
May I be blessed with love.
May I be blessed with peace.”

And then finally you can turn your compassion, goodwill and love toward your family with the blessing you wished your younger selves, all of whom are worthy of love and compassion.

May you be blessed with peace,

Daniel

How to teach your child (and yourself) to save money – Part II

Rilakuma10 Months of allowance well spent

In the last post I told you about how my wife and I started our daughters on a weekly, age-specific allowance inspired by a book called The First National Bank of Dad by David Owen.  I call it the Full Allowance Method because we fully allow them to save it or spend it on anything they see fit.  You can see the photographic proof above.  Those are Rilakkuma bears from the Japanese store in Epcot Disney.  These bears, identical in all ways but size and storage capacity, are one of my oldest daughter’s proudest purchases to date.  I can guarantee you that if it had been up to me I wouldn’t have allowed the purchase because I would have felt like it was a waste of money and that she would come to regret the purchase, and I would have been wrong on both counts.

I told you about our daughter’s failures and then successes — and then about our own successes and then failures in maintaining this system.  I also promised you further tales of parental failure which you can read about below.

Timing is Everything

I had mentioned that my IOU method failed because the record was kept on my phone and most visits to the store are made with my wife.  So that failed because she had to call me to find out what their balance was and the money had to then come out of our account.  We fixed part of the problem by opening them each a savings account and auto-transferring money to these accounts every few weeks.  This way we made sure the money was in their account and all we needed to do was transfer the money from their account to ours post-purchase.

But this seemingly foolproof system did have one fatal flaw.  We underestimated the energy that children can take out of you when they are in savvy consumer mode.  Questions like, “Do I buy this one or this one?” or “I just need to check one more place, I saw it here last week!” can really try your patience, especially when you did not come to the store to pick through every mystery Lego packet in search of the one shaped like a queen (real life example).

Flawed Record Keeping

My wife gave my daughters each a notebook to record their purchases so that we could go through them later and make the necessary transfers, initialing them as we went.  If they forgot their notebook then they couldn’t buy anything.  This system worked for a while but eventually we realized that even when they remembered their notebook it would take an extra 5 minutes for them to record the purchase before checkout.  And if they waited until they got to the car they would often forget to record it at all.

Both of these factors, the kids’ decision-making process and the record keeping were a time/energy suck, the burden of which primarily fell on my wife who already has too much to keep track of.

The Weekend Rule

Our carefully devised system was failing and it was time for a re-evaluation.  I decided to step up my involvement in the process and now there is a rule that unless I am there at the store with them then they cannot ask my wife to make a purchase.  They can look (or they can ask to look) but all purchases must be routed through me which has actually come as a great relief to my wife.  I called this the weekend rule but if we happen to be at the store during the week then I will be happy to facilitate a purchase — unless we are at the store for something specific and are in a hurry.

The Cash Rule

There is an exception to the Weekend Rule and that is if the girls have cash on them then they can ask my wife to make a purchase.  Power of veto remains in full effect.  I have also told them that if they make a request for cash from their account then I will be happy to get it for them with enough advance notice.

Systems that support our values

A lot of the work I do with couples and families is comprised of finding and implementing systems that support our values.  My wife and I decided we wanted our children to get a financial education at a young age so we put a system in place to support it.  When the system stopped supporting those values it was no longer working and needed to be reassessed.

I have had so many readers write me or come up to me to tell me they have started using the Full Allowance Method with their kids.  You have told me stories about your children’s buyer’s remorse, new found bargaining skills and advanced savings strategies.  Thank you for sharing these stories.  I know that teaching our children about money is such an important lesson and I am happy that sharing my family’s story has helped your family in some way.

How to teach yourself to save money

One of the most surprising things I have found is that when I have lamented not saving more money than I have or not saving frequently enough, I will look at the sub-accounts that belong to my children and see that for the past 8 years my wife and I have consistently put aside a portion of our money.  This specific money is not going to a college fund or to retirement but it is an investment in something that has shown our kids that we trust them to make their own decisions and their own mistakes.  While we do not know what the workforce will look like when they enter it, we do know that the lessons they are learning now are about more than money.  They are learning about moderation, temperance, strategy and patience.  These are valuable skills to possess regardless of the economic or occupational landscape of the future.

Time, Talent and Treasure

One of our family values that we have not tied to allowance is philanthropy.  We made the decision in the beginning not to force them to give part of their allowance to the church or to charity.  Now I wonder if that was a mistake and am re-evaluating whether to start doing this.  I believe we have done a good job of giving them opportunities to donate their time and talent, which they do regularly but making them give a portion of their allowance seemed like we were forcing them.  Now I am questioning this logic and would love your feedback.

Does making your kids give to a charitable cause feel counter-productive because it isn’t their decision?  Or is it something we should have our children do because we do it and it is the right thing — let them make their decisions about it later?

Whatever your take is on this please click below to take the one question survey about kids and giving to charity.  I can’t wait to read your response.

Frugally Yours,

Daniel

How to teach your child (and yourself) to save money


But can she be trusted?

First National Bank of Mom & Dad

When my oldest daughter was 2 I walked into her room one day and was amazed by the vast array of Band-Aids she was meticulously arranging on her bed.  Some of them were still in the wrapper but many of them had already been applied to both of her completely intact shins.  There must have been five boxes of character themed Band-Aids laid out in that room and she could not have been happier with this new pastime.It may not sound like it at this point but this was the beginning of one of the most important lessons that we have taught her so far.  But first, let me step back and explain how we ended up here.

When we were brand new parents one of the first parenting books my wife and I read was called The First National Bank of Dad by David Owen and it has since shaped the way we teach both of our children about money.The basic principle is this:  You give your child a set amount of money each week and they spend or save it in any way they see fit.  That is the basic principle and it is pretty simple and straightforward.  But we all know that what is simple in explanation is not always easy in execution —  now I will elaborate.

 

The first allowance

We started giving my daughters their allowance very early.  At age 2 each of them started getting their age each week in money.  When we started with my oldest daughter we would give her $2 in cash every Sunday.  She always had an ornate pink purse that she carried little treasures around in and she would put her cash in this little purse.  For a 2 year old she was very responsible with her things and kept up with that little purse most of the time.  She also started off strong with the saving.  She did not spend a penny of her allowance the first month.  But once she accumulated a month’s worth of savings she was in the store and decided that she had to spend the entirety of her reserves on Band-Aids.

I was not at the store when this decision was made and my wife told me later how difficult it was for her to allow this little person to blow a month of savings on something she rarely ever needed.  But she had read the book as well and Owens’ words gave her fortitude.  She clearly told our daughter that five boxes of Band-Aids would deplete her reserves.  My daughter handed over her money at the check-out and then dutifully put the receipt right into her purse.  She was so thrilled with her new wares that she had already busted into one of the boxes before they had even made it to the car.

The buyer’s remorse did not set in until the next Sunday when we gave her the allotted $2 in cash.  She went to place it in her little pink purse only to find a receipt where there had once been $8.  There were tears and there was a ton of anxiety on the part of me and my wife.  Had we made a mistake allowing a little child full reign over her money?  We weren’t sure but the book was clear about this point and we stayed strong.

Fast Forward to the Present

This was not the last time our daughter made a purchase she later regretted but I can tell you that because we allowed her to make what we felt like was a glaringly obvious mistake, she quickly became a very savvy shopper and has certainly learned how to save money.  This is actually true for both of my daughters.  And late last year when I took my family to Disney World for the first time my oldest daughter went with $350 in her savings account.  She was 9 at the time so that amounts to almost 10 months of savings.  My youngest daughter went with almost $200 and because she was 6, that means she saved over 8 months of allowance to get to that point.

Where We Went Wrong

But it hasn’t all been success on our part along the way.  One of the things we quickly realized is that coming up with $2 in cash every week is a lot easier than coming up with $16 (what they now collectively make each week).  When finding time to get them cash became too labor intensive I started keeping an IOU in a memo program on my phone.  This seemed like a great plan until we realized that our little super-savers could choose to withdraw hundreds of dollars at any given moment, effectively blowing the grown-ups budget.

It was also a burden on my wife to have to call or text me to find out how much money each girl had in their IOU account.  This extra task on top the real reason she had taken our little ones to the store to buy food, clothes or other provisions was too much.  Something had to change quickly but it took several months for us to finally figure it out.  Then one day I was in our credit union and saw an ad for the Super Star Savings Account.  This is a savings account designed for kids which is basically a sub-account that is attached to the parent’s checking/savings.

So we gave each of my daughters the sum total of their IOUs in cash and took them in to set up their accounts.  Next I set up an auto-transfer to happen twice a month, on the days I was paid, to each of these accounts. This was a slight change to the schedule meaning that on those allowance days they were getting two weeks of allowance at once. Each week I pull up their accounts and show them how much money they have to spend.

Now there is real money in their real accounts and all we need to do is keep track of it and transfer it over to our account later.  The cashflow/budgeting issue is now resolved so it has all been smooth sailing from then on, right?  Wrong!  This is an ongoing learning experience so stay tuned for how things further went wrong and what we did to resolve them.

Where We Went Wrong Part 2 (coming soon …)

Frugally Yours,

Daniel

 

Happy Valentine’s/Object Permanence Day!


By Daniel Hope

“Ultimately, our souls aren’t thirsty for a love that purchases for us—
our souls are thirsty for a love that searches for us.”

– Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Love and Object Permanence

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of object permanence.  It’s the reason babies love the game peek-a-boo.  Because when your face is obscured you literally cease to exist from their perspective.  That is why they are so thrilled when you re-appear.  Eventually we learn that the object does not actually disappear simply because it is out of sight.In the article Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine Cards by Dr. Kelly Flanagan he talks about this very concept but applies it to our adult relationships.  Flanagan encourages doing small acts that show our spouse that even though they are not with us, they are on our minds.  I would encourage you to read this short and insightful article.

In graduate school I learned that young children who have been neglected are unable to play hide-and-seek.  The reason is because the worst thing that can happen in a game of hide-and-seek is not being found, but rather being forgotten about.  The fear of being forgotten is too great and they’re unable to enjoy the thrill of it all.

This a heartbreaking story but it is also one of the greatest fears we have in our relationships.  Today is Valentine’s Day and a very easy day to show one another how much we care.  Celebrate it and make the most of this day.  But what about Monday?  On Monday who don’t you leave an index card on the mirror for your spouse with a simple message that lets them know that they are too important to be forgotten and too worthy not to be pursued.

Pursue love boldly,

Daniel

How Santa Claus Helped Me Believe in God

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HONEY, I THINK I JUST FELT A PARADIGM SHIFT!

How Santa Claus Helped Me Believe in God is something I said I was going to get out last week but the topic proved more ambitious than I realized. It really is a lofty topic and though I would have loved to have finished this before Christmas day, I am however getting it out well before the 12th day of Christmas.I have mentioned in the past my past struggles with religion and spirituality and how I went through a phase where I found comfort in replacing the word God with the word universe. The mental image the name God invoked of an all-seeing man in a white beard did not at all jibe with my newly cultivated understanding of ever-present divinity. But this all changed one memorable evening and I am pleased to report that Santa Claus himself played a big role in this transformation.

Daniel, You Make My Head Hurt

This was not a new struggle. It was a struggle that stretched back to my adolescence when my Southern Baptist youth minister would take me to Mr. Gatti’s for lunch. And what started as an invigorating discussion about theology always ended with him hunched over his plate of discarded pizza crust, head in hands, saying, “Daniel, I really don’t know the answer … and you make my head hurt.”

The onslaught of questions that finally led to his theological retreat were not antagonistic for the sake of antagonism. They were the questions that weighed on my young soul and kept me awake at night. I was in search of answers and the pat response, “you just have to have faith” didn’t seem to cut it. I realize now that sometimes faith is the only way forward when we feel the crushing weight that the universal unknown can place on us. But I wasn’t there yet and I’m thankful that my semi-fundamentalist youth minister was humble enough to admit that he didn’t know all of the answers.

But What About Gandhi?

One of my recurring questions had to do with the eternal state of the souls of people who never called themselves Christians. The tradition I grew up in was very clear about what happened to non-Christians when they died, but the damnation of entire continents just did not fit with my understanding of a fair and loving God. And when I finally asked him, “What about Gandhi?” he faltered and gave up and mercifully this happened to coincide with the end of the lunch hour.

A Crisis of Christmas Faith

This brings me back to good ol’ St. Nick. It happened that one Christmas season as my wife and I had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap that I had an epiphany. It may not seem like an epiphany to you after you read about it, but for me it was a very important realization. I was thinking back to my childhood understanding of Santa Claus. He was a very literal man who somehow squeezed down our narrow wood burning stove pipe (as we were lacking a fireplace) and left me and my brother almost everything we had asked for on Christmas morning. Then I remembered the crisis of faith I suffered when my teacher read us the volume in the Fudge series where the protagonist admitted to knowing that Santa Claus was really his parents (thanks a lot, Miss Skillern!) .

Even after hearing this I somehow clung to the childhood Santa belief for several more months. I needed it to be true until one day I just didn’t anymore. I had the paradigm shifting conversation with my parents and afterward, as part of the Santa Club, I helped make Christmas magical for my younger brother. It was an inevitable and healthy progression from understanding Santa as a real man who looked down on the entire world from the North Pole, making lists and checking them twice in preparation for that annual day of yule tide judgement — to realizing that Santa Claus was more of a spirit whose wish fulfillment duties were facilitated by my parents, now with a little help from me.

Discovering the Santa Within

And as I laid there that night I realized that my understanding of Santa had evolved even further. Now that I had a child sleeping in the other room with sugarplums dancing in her head, I was now Santa. Or rather, Santa was within me, but not just within me but within everyone else who takes part in the magic of Christmas. Santa Claus was within me as well as all around me.

Then in the middle of these Christmastide musings I made a connection that made me feel warm all over. I saw very clearly that I had taken a similar journey in my understanding of God. When I was a child it was comforting for me to think of a white-bearded man looking down on me from above. Plugging an erupting volcano with his finger or literally steering my parents’ car safely out of danger every time they drove away from me. This was comforting to me as a child but it was not sufficient for me as I grew older.

This divine white-bearded man did indeed look a lot like Santa Claus and the comparisons do not end there. But rather than go into the similarities I want to close by celebrating and acknowledging the journey of faith that I have been on. It’s a journey that does not end either. I often find myself in the position of my long-suffering youth minister who did not know all of the answers to the big questions. And my role as Santa’s man on the ground continues to change as the needs of my children change.

I hope that this Christmas season you will take a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought you to where you are in your life, your family and your faith. Reflect on it and honor it and, as the New Year approaches, allow yourself to be excited by the challenging questions and answers that the new year will inevitably bring.

Life is Beautiful, So You Should Believe in Santa Claus

 Not all lies are bad

Life is Beautiful

or untrue

This is a simple story but not an easy one to tell. Like a fable there is sorrow and, like a fable, it is full of wonder and happiness.

These are the opening lines from the movie Life is Beautiful and though this is not a Christmas movie, it is a movie that I often think about around Christmas time.  Last week I wrote about how important myth is to me and in the same category as myth we also find fable — and this fable by Roberto Benigni is one of the best I have found at illustrating our responsibility as parents.

The Truth About Santa

Chances are you have read Martha Brockenbrough’s letter to her daughter Lucy in response to her daughter’s written imperative:

I NEED TO KNOW, she wrote, using capital letters for emphasis. ARE YOU SANTA? TELL ME THE TRUTH.

Brockenbrough’s response is a masterpiece in balancing her daughter’s need to know the truth while preserving the spirit in which the initial “untruth” was delivered.  What she eloquently communicates to her daughter is that she, the mother, is not Santa but/and that Santa does exist.  Her daughter had come to a point in her maturity and understanding of the world where she was ready to know how the toys made it down her chimney every year …

. . . And now her daughter knows the truth, or does she?

Honestly, when I think about all of the things that I want to make happen at Christmas — the presents, the magic, the observation of Advent and a general feeling of holiday mirth instead of holiday stress — I realize that it is all so much bigger than me.  I know that I have to rely on some serious Christmas miracles if it is all going to come together.

I am remembering one year in particular when my oldest daughter, who is now in the Santa Club (as my wife ingeniously and spontaneously coined it), was becoming more deductive and logical.  I had to figure out a way to make the traditional Santa bells ring outside her window to motivate her to get her merry self in bed, but I had to be in the room when it happened.  At the last critical moment Father Christmas smiled down on me and I realized that if I put the jingle bells on the family Beagle and scattered kibble under my daughter’s window then Leslie and I could be present in her room while Santa made his erratic descent right outside in the driveway.  Seeing the surprise on her face and the efficiency at which she got her head onto her pillow was just as magical for me as it was for her.

Life is Beautiful

So why do I bring up the comic/tragic story of an Italian man and his son being forcibly taken to a German concentration camp with their non-Jewish mother voluntarily following behind?  I bring it up here because I think it is a perfect story of sacrifice.  The mother Dora sacrificed her freedom and potentially her life just to be in the same camp as her husband and son.  The father Guido sacrificed something else when he stood up in front of the prisoners and instead of translating what his German captors were saying, he spoke to life an alternate reality in which he and his son Giosué were part of an elaborate game which, if they were to win, promised the return of his mother with the grand prize of an Army tank.  Guido sacrificed his reality to cultivate hope for his son in an otherwise hopeless situation.

As parents, when we listen to the news and hear about the horrific things that happen in the world around us, both near and far, it is easy to believe in a world without magic.  But when we actively choose to acknowledge these facts and realities while simultaneously making the decision to create a different reality for our children we are in a small way making this kind of sacrifice.

When I grow up and have children I am going to be … a liar?

When I held my daughters in my arms for the first time, the last thing I ever wanted to do was to lie to them.  I admit a sharp pain sometimes when I would think about my oldest daughter eventually learning the less magical origin of her Playmobil house.  But that day has come to pass without any of the resentment or mistrust that I feared and now I am awaiting the approach of Christmas with one child in the Santa club and my youngest child who still very much believes in the Santa of childhood.  How do I know she believes?  Because she told my wife she was asking Santa for two rats so they can have babies, and when my wife tried to explain to her that this was not going to happen, she matter-of-factly said, “Mom, it’s not up to you.”

I admitted last week that at Christmas, Mom basically is Santa Claus, though she rarely gets any of the credit.  In this exchange with my daughter she sacrificed the credit and also sacrificed the satisfaction of putting this little smarty pants in her place with some cold hard facts.  She did however communicate that Mom and Santa are in constant communication and Santa doesn’t bring anything that Mom does not approve of, thus preserving the magic and maintaining some semblance of control.

Maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas and maybe you don’t celebrate Santa, but if you are a parent you will always be able to find a way to infuse magic into the life of your children.  Maybe you will someday get credit for it and maybe you won’t, but you don’t do it for the credit anyway, you do it because they need to believe in magic and so do you.

Wishing you magic this season,

Daniel

Husbands: Don’t be Guilty of ‘The Sin of Adam’ This Christmas

A PRO-TIP FOR MY FELLOW ‘FALLEN’ HUSBANDS

 

Adam and Eve bosch
“Sure, whatever you say dear

Everybody knows the story of the Fall of Man.  Eve was tempted by that shiny apple and all of the divine knowledge that it represented and then she went and convinced her unwitting husband to be originally sinful with her.  This is one of those powerful myths that is embedded in the psyche of much of the Western world.  It is a powerful myth but the interpretation that I opened with here makes me yawn.  Myths like these are not supposed to comfort or reassure us.  The interpreters of this story (mostly men) have retold it for centuries in a way that gives them comfort and allows them to point blame.  But myths like these are supposed to put us off balance and they’re supposed to make us cringe because the purpose is to cause us introspection which is rarely comforting.  So let’s have another look at this myth and let me see if I can help illicit the desired (or undesired) response.

A Word About Patriarchy

I have a borderline obsession with myth and symbolism and if Symbology were actually a subject, as the DaVinci Code’s Robert Langdon lead us to believe, then I might have majored in that.  But alas, I went on to study counseling so you are now reading about how myth and symbolism impact your relationship.  And when I study the myths that have shaped our society I see a lot of men having to leave to pursue things (golden fleece, knighthood, etc.) so that they may eventually return to find true love.  I also see love portrayed as something that is always beyond the reach of the starry eyed lover.  Always divine or ethereal or unattainable by us mere mortals.

So what is the problem with all of this so-called patriarchy?  The problem is that it has been ruining relationships for thousands of years.  And any time I see love portrayed as something that must remain shrouded in mystery I want to smack myself in the face with a copy of Homer’s Odyssey (Extended Annotated Ed.).  Not because I dislike these stories — they are enthralling yarns filled with intrigue and all of the elements of timeless storytelling — but because they have led us astray.

Patriarchy Kills Intimacy

If you know much about me then you probably know that I define love as an action first and a feeling second.  And while this is not nearly as romantic as believing that love can only be delivered at the tip of Cupid’s arrow or by dispatching a tyrannical dragon, it is also far more attainable.

Patriarchy kills intimacy because anything that tells us that love must be found elsewhere and not in the present moment has the potential to drive us apart.

What is the Sin of Adam?

So enough with the patriarchy lecture, what is the sin of Adam!  Okay, okay.  So that brings me to my point.  Remember what I said about the power of myth?  I believe that myth can bring us comfort but more often when we find comfort in a myth we are not learning from it.  Or in other words, if you’re not confused then you’re not learning.

We have it beaten into our heads what Eve did wrong here, but what about Adam?  It’s my opinion that the sin of Adam is indifference.  When Eve offered him the apple he simply took it and ate it.  If you don’t believe me just check this out:

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

There was this epic ongoing debate between Eve and the serpent and then it says that Adam was with her.  So what exactly was he doing this whole time?!  My guess is that he was sitting on a tree stump looking stupidly into the distance like those husbands you see outside of Dillard’s waiting for their wives to finish clothes shopping for their children.  God forbid they take some initiative in the clothing of their child or at the very least walk around the store with them and offer their occasional feedback.

Adam was indifferent and he even uses this as his defense later on when confronted by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

You see what happened?  Adam just did what he was told by his wife and when it came time to face the consequences he couldn’t be held responsible because he was merely following orders.  There was no input or debate or opinion.  Eve was engaged (misguided but engaged) and Adam was checked out.

But I Gave Her My Rib!

If we want intimacy in our relationships we have to move beyond the transactional model of old.  It is not enough to merely bring home the bacon or, in Adam’s case, give up a rib.  We all need something more in our relationships, we need friendship and we need passion.  What we definitely cannot have is indifference.  I’m certainly not saying that we have to be involved at the granular level in every aspect of our partner’s lives but when it comes to the important things, like the thing that could get you kicked out of paradise forever, we need to learn to work as a team.

How to Work as a Team this Holiday

Every year I offer this advice to husbands:  If your wife seems stressed out around Christmas it’s because she is single-handedly running Santa’s workshop.  She basically is Santa.  So how can you work as a team this holiday?  You can start with your strengths.  One of my strengths is making sure important things are added to our calendar.  So one of the ways I can contribute is by making sure all the upcoming holiday events are scheduled out: extra choir practice, violin recital, John Aielli’s Christmas Sing-Along, etc.  While we will probably miss the Sing-Along again this year, this schedule has helped out immensely so far this season and not only because it keeps us on track but because it makes me feel more like I am a part of everything.

I dedicated this post to husbands because, let’s face it, we are the ones who are guilty of this type of behavior most often — I know I am.  But we are all guilty of the ‘sin of indifference’ and remember, the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.

So husbands stop right now and practice something that a high-level event planner taught me.  Consider that you have 19 days until Christmas and think about all of the things that will happen on that special day.  Now make a list of 5 things that must happen between now and then for Christmas day to be a success.  Maybe you don’t have your tree yet or there is a present request that will require some extensive online research.  After you have finished your list go through your calendar and plug these tasks in wherever they make sense.  Then go and share this plan with your wife.  Now the two of you work together as a team to make this your best Christmas yet.

Yours with conviction,
Daniel

How to Balance Your Thanksgiving with Some Healthy Discontent

A Moveable Thanksgiving Feast

When my wife, Leslie and I lived in New York early in our marriage we realized one year we weren’t going to be able to travel back to Texas for Thanksgiving but we really wanted the whole Thanksgiving experience.   And mostly I just really wanted all of those amazing Thanksgiving leftovers.

Well, my culinary school trained wife totally rose to the occasion and just for the two of us she cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast.  The two of us and our neurotic, people-food-eating Beagle, ate to our hearts content.  We ate until we were so full we could not imagine ever being hungry again.  And then afterward, to paraphrase Ralphie from A Christmas Story, we had turkey sandwiches! Turkey salad! Turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! And gallons of turkey soup and Leslie wasn’t interested in any of it — it was all mine!


Success!

 

Every day for over a week I was re-creating our Pilgrim ancestors’ Autumnal feast from the cornucopia of our tiny fridge and freezer.  It was like eating at my favorite restaurant every single day, which may seem like a good thing at first, but after about a week it really starts to feel like too much of a good thing.  Not to mention the fact that pretty much everything I was eating was indeed perishable and/or susceptible to freezer burn.  This new short-lived tradition had come to an end and I found myself hauling the treasured remains down to the basement for the Super to throw out with all of the less noble refuse.

I think one of the most important points behind the Thanksgiving feast is that feeling of being free from want.  When we finished that first meal not only were we free from hunger, but as I surveyed the table full of future leftovers I knew the feast would continue.  It’s an incredible feeling and it’s my Thanksgiving wish to all of you that you find yourselves in this enviable position tomorrow.

But now take a moment and think about how absolutely unproductive you are when you stuff yourself into a near coma.  If the Pilgrims had celebrated like this too often they certainly wouldn’t have survived the winter.  Who would have chopped the firewood or knit the clothing that supplied warmth on those bitter winter evenings if everyone was constantly overdosing on tryptophan.

Discontent is One of the Founding Fathers of Innovation

We need to stop and give thanks for the things that we have while realizing that our discontent is often what got us these things in the first place.  It is a constant balancing act.  In 2011 I gave a SXSW Interactive talk called Why Everything is Amazing but Nobody is Happy where I took the prophetic observations of Louis CK and, with a very smart and influential group of people, explored what it means to be grateful for amazing technology while acknowledging that some healthy discontent is what first drove us to innovate.  If necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is at least one of the founding fathers of innovation.

So what does that mean for you as you come together with family and friends for this annual celebration?  It means that the better we become at holding these two simultaneous truths:  life is amazing and life can be improved, the better our lives will be come and the more we will enjoy this life that we create.

Go and enjoy this time with your loved ones, be thankful, be unproductive and come back from it all knowing that you have the power and the responsibility to do even better.  Next week I will be back with some more advice on how to make this the best holiday season . . . yet.

Yours with Gratitude (and just a touch of discontent),

Daniel

Poet Stephen Dunn on Marriage

It would be a lie to say I must choose between happiness and art. I can live with many things. Just to admit that I’ve been married for 35 years means that I’ve experienced joy and diminution and quiet evenings and tumultuous evenings and betrayal and dishonesty and tenderness and withholdings and forgiveness and cowardice and boredom and friendship.”

-Stephen Dunn on marriage, happiness and art.