What do you believe?

An excerpt from a recent conversation about religion…

Me: Why don’t you believe in God?
Abby: I don’t need to. But if he was real, he would forgive me for not believing in him.
Me: Do you believe in the devil?
Abby: Absolutely. Because if the devil is real, he wouldn’t take too kindly to my non-belief. And I don’t want to take any chances.

Her logic didn’t quite compute. I wouldn’t answer the questions like she did, but I like to challenge my assumptions and tried to take an unbiased approach to the analysis.

Matrix03If you rate this only on effort and benefit, then believing in the devil is actually the way to go. It takes no effort and you get some respect while you do it. But I believe Abby was looking at it from the risk perspective. God is supposed to be a forgiving character, so if you didn’t believe in him your whole life, he’d still be cool with you. Meanwhile, if you don’t believe in the devil, he’ll make you pay. According to Abby, a disbelief in the devil carries some major negative implications.

Belief in God may have its rewards, but I have a big issue with that reward. It’s the proverbial carrot being dangled before you. If you live a pious life, you can enjoy eternity in a luxury resort called “heaven”. But let’s be real… I’m guessing that the criteria of reaching heaven are always in flux, and acceptance is mostly based on how Saint Peter feels at that time, on that specific day. If he had a mile-long line of applicants at the gate and you were near the end, you might get the “sorry, but we’re at capacity” excuse while Pete impatiently checks his iPhone for any texts before meeting his buddies at happy hour.

In the end, although I would still answer the questions differently, it looks like Abby is on to something. Believing in the devil has less risk attached to it while being extremely easy to do. I try not to let people’s perceptions of me rule my life, so whether they think I’m a good person only provides a marginal benefit. And if they’re the type to un-invite me to their barbecue, then I didn’t want the invitation in the first place.

The little things in life

It has been an exhausting week. I’m overwhelmed. Had little sleep. Lots of work. What have I looked forward to for the entire day?


A soda. A plastic bottle containing 16.9 ounces of sweet, delectable goodness. The mere idea of this ambrosia pulled me through each work meeting, each household chore, each bout of tedious lethargy. You’ve been there– Just when the weight of life starts to buckle your knees on the way to an exhaustive collapse, one minor thing can pull you back up to finish the race.

Remember those little things. Look for them. Enjoy them.


DIY frustration

I do a fair amount of DIY projects, and over the weekend I started making a twin size bed frame for our 2-year-old daughter. I thought this would be easy, not only because a bed is a relatively simple piece of furniture, but also because when I say “making”, I’m really describing the process of completing something we bought off Craigslist.

For $40 bucks, we found two similarly styled twin beds. They’re both solid oak—a steal for any DIYer. Sebastian has been using his for at least a year now, and Sophia is ready to transition to a big girl bed. The issue with Sophia’s bed frame was that instead of wooden side rails, it came with two industrial steel beams. Not sharp enough to slice skin, but thin enough to be a hazard. I admire my kids’ thirst for adventure, but if spontaneous off-the-bed diving contests occur, their heads would whip millimeters away from the bed rail knife edge. Abby and I spent some time trying to modify the existing rails, only to decide that building new ones was the best solution.

I purchased the lumber, screws, and paint (sorry woodworkers, yes, I had to paint the oak) at the local Home Depot. The trip to the hardware store is usually where my enthusiasm shifts to caution, and eventually turns to frustration. The beginning of my annoyance starts when I glance down at my receipt to find out that I’ve blown past my intended project budget. But it doesn’t stop there– I always notice the DIY flaws after I get home. There might be a crack in the lumber, a knot hole where a nail was going to go, a discoloration in the wood. And when I get over those problems, there’s the painstaking amount of time for sanding, staining, and finishing. I always seem to forget that multiple coats of paint, stain, or varnish triples or quadruples the amount of time required. My DIY projects rarely take a day. They’re usually finished after three or four weekends.

I should learn the lesson of never going to IKEA during or immediately after a project. Walking around the display floor the other day, I saw an outdoor patio table with similar dimensions to the one I built earlier in the summer. I normally would have walked past without a second thought, but when I saw the price tag equal the mere materials cost for my handmade version, I questioned why I still undertake any projects. Simply buying the IKEA version would have taken a couple hours to set up, as opposed to the month of weekend time that I committed to watching lacquer dry.

When I finish the bed project, I still face the issue of the kids and their lack of respect for the fruits of my meticulous labor. No matter how often I remind them that a table is not a runway and bookshelves are not a jungle gym, they have a knack for turning any environment into their personal playground. It’s not that they don’t take instruction; they hear me and even verbally repeat the lessons. However, remembering those lessons and assigning importance to them rarely seems to be my children’s priority.

I know kids aren’t perfect out of the womb, but they somehow grow actively disengaged with a parent’s education. It almost seems like they’re intentionally trying to thwart me. Frustrations reach a boiling point after the tantrums, the need to constantly supervise, the need to repeat myself. They don’t learn things the first time. They don’t learn it the second time. By the third time they learn, but still disobey because apparently it’s fun to watch Daddy bristle.

As a stay-at-home mom, Abby deals with this on a daily basis. At work, I might have a break while I walk to a meeting, and I can usually get a half hour to look away from my computer and enjoy lunch. When I’m at work and talk to Abby on the phone, I hear one kid crying in the background, while the other screams defiantly. There are no breaks for a stay-at-home parent. If we were both working parents, daycare would be our savior. We would drive them somewhere, kiss them goodbye, then pick them up after they’ve been tired out. Daycare has disadvantages that I don’t want to get into, but they at least have a structured approach to teaching kids. For a few hours a day, the daycare folks take the heat off parents. It allows a parent to work or have more time for themselves. As long as parents find a trusted group of adults to watch their rambunctious offspring on weekdays, daycare allows a mom or dad to come home from an exhausting work day with enough capacity be a great parent for at least the rest of the day.

Although I complain about my DIY projects progressing behind schedule or beyond initial cost estimates, I always find myself coming back to finish them, then undertake new ones. It’s an exercise in endurance, and it took a few years to see the benefits, but now a number of DIY pieces adorn our home. They mostly fill a practical need, such as an entryway bench, train table, or shelving system, but with some artistry and a personal touch. And despite taking time and effort, I feel like they embody a sense of quality. Each piece meets my personal standards, and I trust the workmanship. Each of those knot holes, once a sign of structural weakness, has become a badge of originality. When my kids inevitably use a piece of furniture as a human launch pad, I know that the glue and screws should hold. I’ll know they sat atop my bench while they learned to tie shoelaces, I’ll know they completed their Lego masterpiece on table I built specifically for them. They’ll build their stories of childhood alongside the objects around them, solidified into the grain of sanded oak, anchored into memory through every inflicted scratch and dent.

Discipline for non disciplinarians

I’m not a rule enforcer by nature. I tend to shy away from conflict. It’s not that I’m afraid of it—I’ve done my share of verbal sparring and come away with the lion’s share of the prize on many occasions. It’s just that I find conflict very . . . inconvenient. Just a part of my personality I’ve come to accept.

When our two and 4-year-old employ the tantrum tactic to push boundaries, I give my best effort to bring the mood back to calmness. But when the soft skills fail, and the kids look the other way on empathy, simple choices, and the threat of consequences, then a whole new tack is needed. That’s when my wife steps in to lay down the law.

I’ve enjoyed the umbrella of security provided by my wife as the household peacekeeper, but there are times when she’s out of the house and the kids take the opportunity to prey on the solitary “good cop”. My first instinct to deal with their tantrums is to bribe. Flipping on the TV to Dora the Explorer or breaking open a bag of gummy bears works to calm them down. But these short-term solutions gnaw at me, as my imagination conjures up some “supernanny” figure berating me on my inability to deal with problems while actually perpetuating my children’s bad habits.

I know full well what I should do—address the issue in an effective way to train my children to behave in appropriate ways. But it all comes down to the execution. How does one do something contrary to his emotional makeup?

Here’s the solution that I’ve developed — Take on a character, and employ method acting. When I’m in character, I know it’s not really me, but I’m allowed to be the person I’m trying to be. Not only am I allowed, but I’m supposed to be that person. When I’ve taken on R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant character from Full Metal Jacket, I no longer fear my children’s inappropriate behavior, I welcome it. I want to see it. It’s a learning opportunity for them, a teaching opportunity for me.

It becomes easy to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, but your behavior has earned you a timeout. Go to your room. . . You have three seconds to start moving. . .” By compartmentalizing my inner disciplinarian, I dish out necessary behavior corrections as frequently as necessary. Please note, there is no shred of physical punishment involved, only the mental fortitude necessary to a parent for carrying out prescribed behavior modification. The timeout becomes your friend. Taking away a toy becomes easy. Only then do they realize that Daddy can dispense discipline just like Mommy can.

Other useful characters to help get me into “Bring your shi-” mode…

  • Vito Corleone
  • Any Steven Segal character
  • Yoda
  • Christian Bale’s version of Batman
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme from Bloodsport