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inspiration parenting relationships

Parenting: Instructions Not Included


Young couple with father who is too busy to be a parent.

I had a good childhood compared to what kids are going through these days in a complex, ultra-competitive world. There was one weird thing about my upbringing, however, that I’ll always remember. I feel it bears mentioning because it’s something that parents can easily forget, even though it’s so obvious.  I’m talking about the simple truth that children aren’t born with an a priori knowledge about the way things are in this world.

My father, Morton, was a good one as fathers go. He was a good provider, a mensch in every sense of the word. But I swear he had the idea that kids were born with a full set of instructions enclosed. Like a model plane. I don’t know how he acquired this orientation. Maybe he forgot what it was like to be a kid. He once told me his parents were “teachers.” Then why wasn’t he like them?

Morton grew up to become a super-busy entrepreneur with the responsibility of two growing businesses on his shoulders. There wasn’t much left of him when he came home after the pressures of a twelve hour day at the office. Really, though, Morton needed to make more time and save more energy to be a father. It seemed like he just wanted us to be around him and grow up straight and tall, all by ourselves.

Morton fully grasped the idea that things don’t happen by themselves. He built two businesses into thriving, large scale companies. Why, then, did he think that children can grow up properly without constant attention? My father died eleven years ago, so the answer will forever remain a mystery.

I imagine most parents are great teachers. They know how much fun it is to teach kids something new. Children love to be taught about mostly anything, especially by a caring parent in a gentle manner. I suppose, therefore, this article is intended for my Dad and the few high achieving, constantly busy parents who have missed out on the joys of bringing up a child.

I started saying things to my daughter when she was only two years old. I knew she wasn’t going to fully understand these things until later in life. Something told me to start pouring the positive instructions in as soon as she began to speak in full sentences. One of the most important things I feel she heard from me early on was this: “You can do anything good you put your mind to.”

I don’t think anything in the world can replace positive, enabling statements like this one spoken at an early stage in a child’s development.  Simple statements like, “You’re so good,” “You are beautiful,” “You can do that,” and “Good job,” can make a huge difference in a child’s motivation, achievement, and sense of well being as an adult.

It doesn’t take much time to say something positive to your child every day. Keep it simple and keep it literal.  Young children don’t barricade their minds.  Whatever you say to them goes straight into their subconscious. If you have to correct your child, do it in a way that engages their cooperation.

From early on, I spoke to my daughter as I would to an adult, always respecting her feelings and intelligence.  To be honest, it wasn’t that hard because my daughter is an only child, and she had good qualities to begin with (thanks mostly to my wife’s DNA). We are fortunate that our daughter began life with good characteristics. Most children do. Obviously, it takes more than good ingredients to make a happy and successful adult. It takes good bakers (parents) to make the cake.

Today, my daughter is happy, enthusiastic, and married to a great guy. She is a successful Assistant State Attorney. To extend the clichéd metaphor; “the proof is in the pudding.”

Looking back on my life, I ask myself: “What have you done that is truly important and beneficial to this world. I have to say my greatest contribution, by far, is my daughter.

David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.

 

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Essays inspiration life Making Changes memories motivation Nostalgia personal growth philosophy

Chart Your Course to a Better Life


Fantasy green road to magic bright fairy tale forest.

The Enchanted Forest of Childhood

There was a wooded lot two houses down from my home in the neighborhood where I grew up. We called it “the woods.” At times, the lot became an enchanted forest.  This was especially true when I invited a friend to play in the woods with me.  One of my friends shared my enthusiasm for vintage horror films.  We transformed into monsters and created our own scripts using the enchanted forest as our stage.

One afternoon, I remember playing Frankenstein to my friend’s Wolf Man.  I can still clearly remember scenes from this “play” forty years later. When our time together had almost expired, an invisible alarm clock sounded inside me. We had to return to my house. My friend’s mother would be calling any minute to arrange a pickup. I stood at the border of the woods, one foot in the wilds and the other on the neatly mowed grass of an adjacent home. This is the thought that ran through my head:

Next year we’ll be in seventh grade and we won’t be able to do this anymore.

Another alarm clock had sounded, only the chimes of this one struck an infinitely more somber note.  The chimes said the time had arrived to put this chapter of my life behind me.  I was not in the least bit happy at the news.

The  Paradox of Growing Up

Growing up is often associated with pain, and I am certainly no stranger to this experience.  Growing up is scary.  We have to separate from the umbilicus of parents, stand on our own two feet, compete for a niche in society, establish loving relationships, become parents, and face death at the end of our journey.  Truth be told, I’ve never really wanted to grow up. To this day, I am not a big fan of “putting away childish things.” But it seems growing up is something a human being cannot avoid if he or she desires to lead a constructive, creative life.

Here’s a trick I’ve learned that makes the medicine of growing up a lot easier to take—ladle in generous doses of daily joy.

You may be thinking (or laughing to yourself and at me): How do I do that with the uncomfortable pressures and time crunch of work and family responsibilities?  Relax.  We’ll get to the answer, but first, we need a little more background.

I get stuck creatively and psychologically if I’m not experiencing joy on some kind of a regular basis.

The Power of Joy

Bergsteiger auf einem Gipfel im Gebirge bei Nebel

Obviously, joy is a precious and elusive commodity.  It takes effort and a multi-faceted strategy to experience it.  Joy is the elixir of life in my universe.  It is the oil that allows this machine called me to run smoothly.  When I’m feeling joy, I’m more creative.  My work reaches a higher level.  I am more motivated.  I want to expand my heart and mind. I want to do what it takes to reach my goals.  I am more equipped to help others.  When I’m feeling joy, work becomes play.  I’m back in the enchanted forest with my sixth grade friend.  Resistance evaporates in the presence of joy.

Where does this joy come from?  It comes from within me.  It comes from within you.  The only way to find the joy that does not depend on something outside of ourselves is to establish daily practices that uncover this innate joy.  Since we are all unique individuals, we have to find the way to tap into this joy, or source, that we resonate with, that works for us.  The only generalization we can make is: JOY IS WITHIN YOU, waiting to be discovered, if you haven’t discovered it already.

The Path

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I’ve had to go out of the mainstream to find my joy.  It hasn’t been easy, because I’m a very conventional person.  Yet, something inside me kept pushing me to find an undefinable something more.  I was always attracted by the idea of finding God within me, but the Eastern inspired approach of dissolving the ego never remotely interested me.  And it is obviously impractical and inappropriate for survival and success in our Western culture.  I would add that it’s also a mentally unhealthy approach.

Thankfully, I’ve found that any ego destructive approach is totally unnecessary.  Through my research and personal experience, I’ve learned that consciousness has evolved beyond the concept of ego dissolution.  There’s nothing wrong with a healthy ego.  We need one in our Western civilization to survive and enjoy our lives.  I’ve found a path that honors both the individual self and the universal self.  It’s a path of embodied consciousness.  It embraces both transcendent and every-day awareness.

You Are More Than You Think You Are

The foundation of my practice is meditation.  It is my gateway to a reservoir of inner peace, joy, and love.

What do you want?  Don’t settle for less than you deserve.  Anything is possible.  Peace is possible.  Love is possible.  Joy is possible.  Find it.  It is waiting for you in the depths of your heart.

David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.

 

 

 
Categories
musings reflections

Light In The Tunnel Of Youth


I heard his footsteps enter the kitchen. I sat at the breakfast table, afraid to glimpse the advancing Bengal tiger, my father.

I didn’t have the stomach to gaze into his piercing green eyes. My mind saw those eyes jumping from the bushy, long hair straggling down the back of my neck, to the rumpled, black T-shirt I had pulled on shortly after stumbling out of bed. Those X-Ray lamps of his would finally come to rest on the doodles and paint droppings on the blue jeans I had worn for most of the past year in art school.

The footsteps halted. I imagined the Bengal tiger crouching on all fours, sizing up its prey. Minutes passed. The silence became unbearable. There was nowhere to run. The tiger had me cornered. I turned in my seat, almost like a revolving door. I held my breath as well as the awkward position.

My father leaned on the kitchen counter dressed in a navy, pinstripe suit accented by a red silk tie and powder blue business shirt. His eyes focused not on me, but on his perfectly manicured nails, like a high-priced trial attorney adopting a nonchalant pose before tearing into a hostile witness. He looked up at me suddenly.

His eyes always darted back and forth when he was angry. My father’s gaze was rock steady on this day. I did not perceive him to be calm, however. His slack posture spoke to me of something else, something entirely new, and horribly unexpected. My legs grew numb, perhaps from the ridiculous position I sat frozen in.

“Please say something,” I managed to blurt out.
His face held no expression now, as if a gremlin somewhere inside his body had flipped off an electrical switch.

“When you finish art school,” he said, “my responsibility for you will be finished. You’ll be on your own. If you end up ‘nowheresville’, it will be your unhappiness, not mine.”

My father continued to regard me with that terrible, neutral expression. His keen eyes bore into mine. I was certain he could hear my heart beating double-time inside my chest.

“I have to go to work now,” he said, and marched with a purposeful stride out of the room.

I turned and stared vacantly out the kitchen window into the back yard. I saw myself as a teenager, smashing plastic golf balls across the lawn for hours with the rusty seven-iron my father had given me from an old set. I blinked. The memory vanished.

It took a full five minutes to convince my legs to lift me up from the table.

In the next few days, I realized my father had done me a favor by bluntly pointing out what the consequences of my actions were apt to be, at least as far as my relationship with him was concerned.

His words shed a cold, clear light on my attempted escape from the pain of growing from a boy into a man. This recollection may have made my father seem cruel, but he was never an unkind man. Perhaps he could have “gilded the lily” more in his advice to me while growing up, but not on this occasion. He did not speak to me with malice or hurtful intent. He spoke honestly and with deep concern, and his words altered my future indelibly for the better.

Categories
reflections

Miss Crisson


The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.

She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.

Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.

Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.

I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.

It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.

She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?

She came to class every day, in the full bloom of womanhood, apparently without suitors or romantic prospects of any kind, already resigned to premature spinsterhood. Perhaps Miss Crisson was a lesbian, stuck in the unenlightened nineteen fifties, a prisoner of her strict upbringing, afraid to explore her sexuality, without compassion for herself or anyone else. Her sharp rebukes for the slightest infringement of class decorum were, I realize now, a sign of frustration, the invisible weights Miss Crisson carried on her broad shoulders. We didn’t see those weights because children see only with their hearts. They respond to kindness, humor, patience and love. They don’t understand why an adult would possibly want to act any other way.