Friday, March 23, 2018

cat's in the cradle

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw, I said, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that's okay
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
Said, I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you coming home, dad?
I don't know when
But we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then

- Jen Chapin ("Cat's in the Cradle")

The song "Cat's in the Cradle" has been on the rotation in my office building's Muzak, so I've heard the song a couple of times in the past weeks while in the bathroom.  I'll tell you, that's a hard song to listen to as a father.

I expect that everyone here has heard it before, but listening through the lyrics it's pretty heavy-handed.  I also understand that the song is from a different era, and I think that accounts for the image portrayed in the song.  There are certainly dads today who could be well-described by those lyrics, who really prioritize their job over their kids, but there are probably many more who feel like most decisions are trade-offs, and working a job is caring for the family.

Our two kids are now nine an eleven.  Our nine-year-old daughter loves to spend time with me, and I love spending time with her.  We read together, watch TV together, and sometimes get opportunities to talk.  I'm enjoying this now as much as I can because I know that I'm not guaranteed that the relationship won't change as she gets older.  When I know I have something that's going to keep me from home before her bedtime it saddens me because I know she enjoys our time together too.

Our son is eleven, and I spend what time I am able to with him.  However, like I did when I was younger, he values his alone time very much.  He has things he enjoys to do, but the natural father-son things like sports, board games, and Legos aren't on that list.  I try very hard to find things that will keep his attention that we can do together, and I try very hard to find good topics of conversation.  I feel that we've made recent progress, but it is a real challenge.  His natural tendency is to wander back to his room as he gets bored.

My schedule is also packed.  I tend to work late, I teach in church, I'm on the church board, I regularly meet with different folks in the church, and I do other random things that fill the calendar.  I have avoided work that involved travel, but I still frequently feel a tension between the importance of time with the family and time with my other responsibilities.

Probably the issue that I most have with the song that opened this post is that it's written from a mildly selfish point of view.  Spend time with your kids now, or it'll be your fault that they aren't around to meet your needs later when you want to spend time with them.  What most concerns me has less to do with those regrets and more to do with the fact that these are the kids' formative years.  Their perspectives of everything in the world are going to be based on a foundation of what they learn and experience now.  Their abilities or lack thereof later in life are being set based on what happens now.  How can a parent affect things when they can only be around so often?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

brain health

This past year I have been devoted to improving my health, especially as it relates to my cholesterol level.  In a not-so-humble brag, I was able to bring my overall cholesterol down 68 points (and, less importantly, lose 42 pounds) in just over a year's time, so the effort has not been in vain.  Given this new focus and my increasing age, I am starting to think more about how my lifestyle now will affect my quality of life when I am older and how it will affect how long I live.

One concern that I've had for a while is that there's Alzheimer's in my family.  My grandfather on my mom's side had it, and his mother probably had it as well.  While my dad's side of the family is clear of the disease, I take after my maternal grandfather in a lot of respects, so it would make sense that I get this risk factor from him.  This makes the following video hit close to home.

I've gotten the cardio-vascular health issue under control for now, for the first time in my life, and I am actively attempting to learn new things at a far greater volume than I have in past years.  This is the good news for me.  There are other risk factors I haven't addressed, though.  Specifically, I've got downright horrible sleeping habits, and I allow stress to get to me more than I should.  Since my last step toward being healthy in my old age was addressing eating and exercising habits, sleeping and stress habits are the next logical step.

I have always had trouble going to sleep on a good schedule.  Part of that has to be genetic, but part of it stems from the observation I've made about how I handle stress.  I figure I'll need to address how I handle stress if I'm to crack the code of sleeping properly, so that's priority #1 for me now.

So, my question to everyone else out there is what do you do to manage stress, and do you find you get enough sleep during the week?  Do you have any helpful strategies you follow to manage that?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

everlasting deodorant

A while back--around fifteen months to be exact--Golden bought me a two-pack of deodorant. This isn't ground-shaking news, but I've long believed that my deodorant lasts longer than usual, so I decided to keep track of precisely how long it actually takes me to use up a typical stick of deodorant. The last stick I used lasted from mid-October, 2016, to this past Sunday (January 14, 2018).  I thought it took a year-and-a-half for me to get through a stick, but fifteen months is still pretty close.

I started to think that maybe everyone's deodorant habits are like mine.  However, a quick online search returned people in forums stating their stick would last anywhere from one to six months.  That immediately makes me second-guess whether I'm a walking case of B.O., but I really don't think I am.

I think the reason I use less is the same reason I don't wear cologne.  I find the scent overpowering, so I am sparing in my deodorant use.  My sense of smell is a bit more sensitive than average, so I consciously try to avoid adding too much strong scent to my person.

I'd ask how long everyone else's deodorant lasts, but that might be too personal of a question.  So, I'll ask a related question instead.  Does fifteen months for a stick of deodorant seem excessive, or about right?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

the same old

The last couple of years have felt rather different from any I've experienced in my short adulthood, at least politically. This is partially because we do live in odd political times where standards that applied before no longer do. However, that being acknowledged, many of the issues being argued in politics and the problems with the political system are as old as the country is.

I am just now wrapping up listening to the audio book version of David McCullough's biography of John Adams.  In this, I have been struck by the number of issues that are still resonant today.

Foremost among the problems in the political system are people's loyalty to party over country.  Adams himself is presented in the book being aghast at the party-ism he saw, though he did represent a party when in office.  The book goes to great lengths to illustrate that his fellow Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton, caused him as much trouble as the Republican-Democrats did.  Hamilton was to Adams like the modern-day tea partiers to establishment Republicans or Bernie supporters to establishment Democrats.  The sense is presented that many Federalists didn't believe that Adams was enough on their side on some matters.

Another issue McCullough presents is how many people picked and chose their media coverage based on whether they presented the political slant that they agreed with.  Furthermore, the papers that sided with one party over the other were ruthlessly savage to the opposition, and one gets the sense that they weren't overly concerned with accuracy.

It is partially because of the savage press that Adams committed what many consider to be his most shameful act in signing the Alien and Sedition Act.  This was partially anti-immigration legislation, which apparently is not a new thing, and partially legislation to limit what was called seditious speech against the government in power.  I personally believe that this act is a black mark on Adams' legacy, but it is interesting that recent immigration actions by the current administration that feel like a new thing are not new at all.

It's almost only mentioned in passing in the book, but one of the early debates in the country was whether having a national bank was reasonable.  This sounds very much like the Libertarian and somewhat Trumpian rumblings today of, "Wouldn't it be better if markets ran themselves rather than being managed by the Fed?"  That view toward the national bank was more mainstream then than the anti-Fed view is today.

The Federalists were seen as the war-mongering party of their day, as there was a major push by Hamilton to go to war against post-revolution France.  Adams was called a monarchist in part because he favored a good trade relationship with Britain that was imbalanced against the Americans, which was the equivalent of decrying someone as unpatriotic today.  Likewise Jefferson, the figurehead of the Republican-Democrats, was labeled as an irreligious and immoral person.  These are still go-to attacks for some candidates.

The book spends time discussing the work put into establishing trade deals, and at least one ill-conceived embargo that backfired on Adams' son when he voted for it in Congress.  Those are both scenarios that are salient today.

One final thing unrelated to politics that has struck me about the book is the different amounts of time that Adams spent with his different children.  He spent a lot of time in Europe, and his oldest son--John Q. Adams--was there with him much more than any other member of the family.  Later, Adams' two other sons turned out to have very significant issues, with one dying of cirrhosis of the liver, and one wonders if this is partially due to them being left behind when their dad traveled away.  This makes me feel fortunate that I have not had to travel away from my family for work as many others have had to.

Monday, October 02, 2017


When thinking about today's topic, my mind keeps going to the old SNL skit below.

When I started watching my calories this past March I very purposefully avoided putting too many rules in place.  I figured if I started trying to manage carbs, or sugar, or anything else I'd eventually give up.  So, I kept it to simply managing calories, and that was a very effective approach for me in cutting weight.

In the course of managing my calories I noticed a side benefit to this as well that minor digestion issues that regularly flared up for me largely died down.  Over time, I have concluded that this is because my fiber intake has increased some as I've started eating more low-calorie fruits and vegetables.

This confused me a little since the way fiber helped me seemed to be the opposite of what it's reputation is.  I was visiting the bathroom less frequently rather than more.  The jokes I had always heard were always about how fiber kept you chained to the toilet.

With this evidence behind me and having learned about some of the purported benefits of a high fiber diet I decided a few weeks ago that I would increase my fiber intake.  If increasing my fiber intake a little helped out my digestion increasing it a lot would make it even better, right!?

WOW, have I learned a life lesson!  Specifically, it is not wise to increase your fiber intake between 50% and 75% overnight.  The body has to adjust to this new way of life.  Fiber has to be stepped up gradually.  The problem is, this is hard to do.  Too much fiber produces just so much gas (Sorry for that detail!), but too little fiber will not adjust my body to being able to handle the volume of fiber I need to have in my diet.  Furthermore, it's not always easy to know whether I've properly hit my fiber target.

So, I'm hopefully at the tail end of this adjustment period.  Having gone through this, I really don't ever want to fall off the fiber wagon because it'll be painful getting back on.

Friday, September 22, 2017

capturing value

Years back in Managerial Economics, the very first class that I took as part of my MBA program, the very simple concept of capturing value was presented.  The example used to illustrate the idea was something like the following.

Person 1 wants to sell a car and Person 2 wants to buy a car. Person 1 values his or her car at $8000 and person 2 values that car at $10,000. There is therefore $2000 worth of value to be captured.  If Person 2 purchases the car for $2000 he or she has captured that amount of value in the transaction. If he or she purchases the car for $9000 both individuals capture $1000 of value.

With a few notable exceptions, most of the classes I took in that program could be boiled down to, "These are the strategies you take to capture the most value."  I even had one instructor who I respected a great deal state that a business person's primary objective is to collect the most margin dollars, which is another phrase for capturing the most value.  If you understand the nuances of this, you're more or less an MBA, I guess.

What is noteworthy to me is that this is slightly different than the economic story that I usually hear people tell laypeople.  One illustration I heard a radio personality provide was the following.

To understand Capitalism imagine I need $20. I then go to my neighbor and agree to exchange one hour of my time to mow his yard and he gives me $20 for that time. Through this arrangement we both get what we need. I get the $20 and he gets a mowed lawn.

On the very simplest of levels this works, but there's a reason that this is not the example provided to business students.  Business is not the art of creating value, but rather it is the art of capturing value. If I run the business I'm less concerned with who creates the value than I am with whether I get to capture that value.

When I hear someone present an illustration like the above I now figure that they haven't gone through business training, or I assume that they have a vested interest in their audience having an incomplete understanding about how business works.

This distinction is important for a few reasons.

First, the mowing example is typically in line with what parents teach their kids.  It's actually a good example to use to explain a minimum wage job.  It's probably not a good example to give someone who is looking to establish a career, though.  There are many types of jobs where the worker captures less value than the business.  All else being equal, it is in a person's best interest to look for fields in which workers are able to capture more of the value that they personally create.

Second, the mowing example implies that there's a yard out there to mow and that I have the skill to mow it.  While this has always been the case, automation is changing the economy such that the ratio of unskilled work to skilled work is decreasing.  Some people have the means to "learn how to mow" and some do not.

Third, this understanding is key to grasping the value or danger (depending on your perspective) of a union.  One of the things a union provides is a guarantee to capture a specific amount of value for the worker, and on the flip side a union causes a business not to be able to capture specific value from its operations.  FYI, I have no strong opinions of unions in general.

There are other reasons for understanding the distinction, I'm sure.  I'll stop at two for now, though.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

feel loved

When you think of the feeling of love between spouses, boyfriend/girlfriend, or whatever, how do you define it? What does it mean if a person feels loved? I believe that this is the most fundamental difference between men and women, and this discovery is a multi-year process that I am still walking through.

A long while back I wrote something about not needing to feel loved. Ultimately, I've determined that this is not true, but only because of the way the word is defined. Almost every time I have heard the phrase "feel loved" used it has been applied to some need I identified as feminine. I don't generally have the same needs as a woman, so that verbiage feels inaccurate.

I really did not think in terms of actually needing love until Golden and I read The 5 Love Languages together a few years ago, and that only because the author kept speaking in terms of "feeling loved."

However everyone has needs.  That's part of the human experience, and I'm certainly no different.  If those needs are or are not getting met I have not historically gauged it in terms of whether I, "feel loved," though. I have discovered over the years that the phrase, "feel loved," makes more sense to the women in my life (especially Golden) than other phrases that I might use.  While to me the words might be "respected/disrespected" or "important/insignificant," the words "loved/unloved" appear to communicate feelings better.

Now, when I think of whether I or anyone else feels loved I try to reinterpret, "feel loved," with, "feel like my needs are getting met." I know these aren't perfect apples-for-apples phrases, however this makes much more sense to me.  While we all have different needs, we are all alike in that we do have needs. So, this is how I am resolving this minefield of a phrase.