Category Archives: Games

BLAST FROM THE PAST

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Every so often I wonder, am I any good at this? By ‘this’ I mean parenting. And by ‘every so often’ I mean like maybe once an hour. I can’t remember if I’ve used this analogy before in the blog but I compare parenting to a kind of approach to weight lifting I was introduced to in high school. It’s called working out to failure.

By that it means you keep lifting weights in increasing amounts, repetitions etc. until your muscles literally “fail” and you can’t do any more. This is supposed to cause your muscles to grow to magnificence. Now I’m not sure if this was a correct or advisable work out practice (I did after all around this time spend an inordinate amount of money for a piece of curved metal called “The Arm Blaster” that you hung around your neck by a strap in order to isolate your biceps when doing curls – so clearly I’m not sure I was in, let’s say, a critical mode.) However, I have to say my arms did look pretty awesome and I should know because I spent a large amount of time looking at them in the mirror. Exercising is supposed to be about doing what’s good for you but it is really often about just trying to be attractive to others then, after a while, your main admirer becomes yourself – the biggest thing that gets a workout is your vanity.

How does all this relate to parenting? Well, sometimes I think this is my parenting strategy: aiming at failure. I do more and more stuff, always increasing my goals, tasks and aspirations to be a better dad than ever – joining parent council; baking muffins in the morning to take in lunches; going online to research whether the latest issue of their favourite comic book is out etc. – until… I fail. And usually spectacularly: with yelling, ridiculous claims, stamping around and sulking (and I’m talking about Me here). This often has to do with me feeling unappreciated for what I do.

Eventually a large wave of shame overtakes me and sweeps me out to drown in remorse for a while: what a jerk. Let’s be clear here, I am NOT appreciated but the point is that’s not part of the job description. For example, yesterday my 5 year old stamped upstairs and declared with some asperity to my wife: “There’s still no soap in the dispenser in the bathroom. Daddy PROMISED to do it yesterday.” He walked off shaking his head in disgust at my flakiness.

Yeah, sorry, BOSS. Guess I missed doing that in among the laundry, cooking, and child ferrying to various activities. Please take it out of my salary. See, sometimes I can laugh at it. SOMETIMES. But not always and when I blow it it’s like all the good stuff doesn’t count. As Lyle Lovett sings:

“One bad move can turn your world upside down. It’s such a shame because you’ve been so good… up to now”

It doesn’t matter how often you get it right, if you screw up once – you’re a chump. And if you lose it when they complain, it’s double down time.

So this brings me to my latest attempt to be a “Good Dad”. I’ve been bringing my kids’ baseball gloves and a ball to school pick up time as a way to interact and play with them and also to improve the throwing of my oldest who’s form is let’s say less than optimal. But he won’t play. Neither will my youngest. My middle one is keen and that’s been fun. Also what’s happened is a bunch of his friends have joined in and since the other two’s gloves are unused they have been borrowing them. So it’s not what I imagined but still pretty fun. And then yesterday my one who plays bails in the middle of the game and leaves me playing catch with a bunch of kids from his school – most of whom I actually don’t know. But they’re into it and it’s actually fun but part of me is thinking, “Come on! None of my kids will play catch with me? What’s wrong with them? With me?” And then I remembered Neilus.

When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 12 (possibly 8) I was throwing the football with my dad in the park when out of the bushes appeared Neilus. Neilus was a big slightly goofy slightly dangerous (in my mind, anyway)  older kid who went to my grade school. He had arrived out of nowhere (well, Newfoundland which back in the 70s seemed like nowhere – this was the days of Newfie jokes, remember? Though you wouldn’t have cracked one to Neilus – he’d have ruined you). Anyway, he kind of barged in and asked to play. Slightly surprised, we agreed. Neilus was REALLY into it. So much so that I think I may have wandered off for a while and let my dad and Neilus play for a while. As we walked home, I complained to my Dad about Neilus taking over our game. I remember my Dad being kind of sharp with me and then seeming kind of sad and asking questions about Neilus. (I had no idea what the answers were) but I get (got) the sense that Neilus’ dad wasn’t around and it was kind of a sad story. It certainly affected my dad but not me so much. I forgot this story until about twenty years later.

I was walking down the street in my old neighbourhood visiting my parents. Approaching me was a big rough character. I needed to cross the street anyway but perhaps I crossed earlier than I needed to. And then this guy crossed too heading right for me. Uh-oh. But then he called me by my last name (that’s how most refer to me). I was puzzled. And then he identified himself: he was Neilus. Life had been HARD for Neilus. He was missing teeth, his hands were rough, scarred, calloused. He’d spent a lot of time in the oil fields, up north (and I suspected other places I’m happy not to have ever had to go). But he was very friendly and was eager to talk to me about his adventures. Which surprised me because we hadn’t really ever hung out. And then he asked about my Dad. He remembered that time in the park and my Dad’s kindness and friendliness and just spending time throwing a ball with him. It clearly meant a lot to him – something I just took for granted. I walked away feeling pretty humbled and (as is often the case) kind of a jerk.

So maybe I don’t know one of these kids I was playing ball with will take something from it that my own kids don’t and it will make a difference to them. Maybe it’s a good thing my kids take me for granted – the other options aren’t maybe so nice. And like working out it’s supposed to be about doing something healthy and not just to be admired or for my own vanity.

Now if I could just arrange for one of these kids to “accidentally” run into my kids in about 20 years and tell them how awesome I am maybe I’ll get some respect then…

Play To Win

Some days I feel like a winner and other days I feel like a loser and, while that’s not seen as a healthy way to look at the world, there’s not much I can do about it. I ‘m no “thought leader” whose raging success demands my outlook on life should be followed for you to attain fame, riches and accomplishments. But I’m doing alright. There’s this prevailing attitude that putting things in terms of winning and losing is negative and unhelpful and bad. Of course those people at the top of their chosen professions don’t seem to have much of a problem with competition, winning etc.

It’s just so much crap saying that things like winning and being the best at something don’t matter. Somebody like my dad would say it’s a typically Canadian attitude – celebrating showing up. Happy to be asked to the party. Happy to participate. Maybe that’s changing somewhat with the last couple of Olympics and it certainly doesn’t apply to Olympic or professional hockey but at pretty much everything else Canadians seem to be content to celebrate mediocrity or second best. I think it’s more modern than strictly Canadian, though other countries do seem to be more OK with open triumph.

Kids have to be taught to accept mediocrity. In our house we were pumped to watch the summer Olympics but, after the first few days, my second son was outraged at our performance. Why weren’t we doing better? Why did we not get more medals? I tried to give him the party line – small country, doing better than we have, we’re a winter sport country etc. but pretty soon those explanations sounded hollow to me too. Eventually, he grew disinterested in the whole thing – why would he want to watch us lose? Fair point.

I used to teach swimming and when it was time for the badges to be handed out those kids who didn’t pass and get their badges were MAD. Some of them wanted to jump back in the pool and prove they could do it. But what do we do now? We give out medals and badges for everything. It is insidiuous because it diminishes actual accomplishment. Someone just told me at a Christmas party that our school board is considering getting rid of competive sports for kids under Grade Three because of this fear of competition. It’s just so wrongheaded.

 

I remember an old Charlie Brown mug when I was kid that said, “Winning May Not Be Everything But Losing Isn’t Anything”. The focus cannot be solely on winning, you need to develop skills and teamwork and strategy and love of playing but without a chance at winning many kids who are wired that way won’t participate – it becomes some lame adult-committee-designed game that’s no fun. Turn kids loose of adult supervision and the games quickly become ruthlessly cutthroat. Kids are not scared of losing – we’re scared of them losing. When kids play tag, someone is it; when kids play hide and seek, there is a winner; when kids have a race, someone is last. These are the games kids naturally love to play and, sure, some kids are sucky when they lose but they need to learn how to deal with that. The solution should not be there are no losers it should be don’t be the loser next time. There are lots of other activities which are cooperative or expressive – keep those, they’re good – but don’t get rid of those games which are competitive. Why? Because they’re FUN.

We play to win in this house. We play a lot of games – sports, cards, board games, tiddlywinks, computer games etc.; I’ve got three boys – you keep them active or the next thing you know you’ve got the fire department at your house. And my guys do not want to lose. Every so often I try that on – “No you didn’t come in first, second and last – you came in first second, and third.” They look at me, “No, he LOST. HE was LAST. He wasn’t third.” They smell the stink of pollyannaism and reject it. Good for them.

It’s crucial for them to lose and lose often at games – but not so that they learn to like it. No. To remind them of how much they HATE it and to work hard to make sure they don’t have to feel that feeling again. Also to learn it is not the end of the world to lose and that you can always try again to win. I do not let my kids beat me at games – ever. I see what happens when dads let their kids beat them – sure the kids learn an important lesson – their dad is a loser who can’t even beat a 5, 7 or 10 year old. Ever wonder why they don’t respect or listen to you? You’ve got nothing to teach them. And you’re not helping them get any better either.

Mind you I don’t grind them into the ground – I keep it competitive but at the end if I can win, I do. Eventually they will beat me and they will know it means they have tried, persevered and improved. That something they couldn’t do they now can. OK I do occasionally gloat a little bit when I win, maybe there’s a little taunting but that sure makes them want to win all the more. And I can admit it’s going to be tough for me to take. But I will take it like a man: Smiling, shaking hands and deep inside vowing to crush my opponent next time.

Now sometimes this competitive thing can have a different outcome – the kid walks away from the activity. But this is not necessarily all bad – the kid is choosing how to spend his time and ranking his interests – it’s not so important to play that game and always lose because that isn’t fun. Again, I try and keep it within reach, and encourage them, give them tips on how to win (and these they actually listen to sometimes because in this instance you’ve shown yourself to know what you’re talking about – unlike most of the other advice you try and give them.) And as well making sure they find something they do enjoy competing at.

So backgammon is on the game schedule these days and I was regularly trouncing my second son resulting in tears and upset.

Sidenote: Do all dads have trouble with tears or is it only with dads of boys? Or just me? I actually don’t have any problem with them when it comes to injuries but I’m impatient with those tears that spring from frustration, tantrums and not getting their way. I’m sure I’m supposed to give them a hanky and tell them to let it all out but ultimately I can’t do it. It’s not doing them any favours.  I hate when people try and get around things by crying – it is essentially the ploy of the subservient person begging for charity or pity. And I don’t go for that. Ask for help, admit wrongdoing, make an argument but don’t start crying as a way to get what you want. Tears are associated with being “girly” because historically that’s the only way females could get what they wanted – out of the charity, compassion or pity of men. That was wrong and remains so today but now that women have the same opportunities as men (I know there’s an argument about that) there is no excuse for them to be treated differently. Tears are not the sign of being a “girl” or a “sissy” they are the signs of being weak and not an equal worthy of respect or who has a valid claim. That’s not the way I’d want any of my family to be regarded.

Your tears are most illogical.

Kids need to learn to accept defeat and frustrations with dignity and good grace – and then figure out how to overcome them. When my oldest gets teary because I point out that he’s rushed his work and not done a good job, I comfort him briefly but, if the weeping continues and nothing else is happening, I ask if the tears are helping get the job done? No? Well, then it seems an illogical and ineffiecient way of spending his time. He bears down and gets it done and I praise him for his hard work, his persistence and his real achievement. And he needs to learn this mental toughness because he is a sensitive and creative kid who is naturally inclined to avoid hard work and failure. I can’t blame him, I am lazy and still try and avoid doing things I’m not good at. But I wish I had learned this lesson earlier.

A couple of years ago, my middle one (likely the most nakedly competitive though the third is showing some extremely competive behaviour lately) was regularly throwing tantrums if he lost at games, kicking over the board etc. This brought back memories of my own brother who was a terrible loser. I mentioned his nephew’s behaviour to my brother and asked for any insights on how to deal with it. Turns out he’s still a terrible loser (actually I already knew that) and only really started getting somewhat of a handle on it late in life. He pointed out that phrases like “playing for fun” “making friends” etc. held no water for him – he wanted to win and winning was fun and he liked being friends with people who also liked to win.

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Here’s my brother recently winning an award for Most Promising Company.

This intel was helpful. The next time my son lost and was about to freak out, I told him that he had to learn to be a good loser because if he didn’t then people wouldn’t want to play with him (Visible reaction – ‘Who cares? Adult talking touchy-feely garbage that bears no relation to my feelings, tune it out’) and that if they didn’t play with him then he would never be able to beat them (Visible reaction – ‘What?’ Tears stopped. Gears commenced grinding and he nodded like, ‘Finally, someone is talking sense. The lies have stopped and I discover the truth’). It was like a scene out of a conspiracy film when the hero finds out what is really going on.

At last – The Truth!

I went up to my wife and told her in some excitement that I’d had this breakthrough. She was very disturbed that this is what got through to our son. But, what the hell, it worked. And I have to be honest – I don’t worry about him at all. He’s going to be alright.

Working with marblemedia again

Happy to be working with marblemedia again. Last time I got a Gemini out of it. Well, I got to look at the Gemini. From behind glass. Until security tasered me.

This time I’m working on a short script for a “sizzler” trying to sell a TV series/website format to international buyers.

BTW I have decided ‘The Sizzler’ will be my new Super Villain name. Also a good name for a hamburger. Hmm. Now I’m thinking of the Hamburglar – perhaps the worst villain ever.