Hello Again and Welcome Back

It’s been a long time! A lot has happened since I last wrote here. Had two beautiful girls and created a edtech startup. Although it fits into a little sentence, it was one of the most amazing and thrilling chapters of my life.

And now begins another.

I am now a part-time stay-at-home Dad. My first daughter was born when I created my startup. It was challenging to split my focus. I don’t want to do that again. The whole reason I created a company in the education space is because everything I do is for my kids. Sometimes the best way to do that is simply to be there for them, especially in their early years.

This also means, hey, I may be able to start writing again. So hello again! Welcome back.

The Potential Issues Social Media May Have on Children

If my wife and I have children someday, one of my roles as a father will be a social media watchdog. I use the term “social media” to refer to any kind of technology that enables communication and interaction with others, be it Internet, web or mobile.

Right now, there isn’t a whole lot of research or literature on the psychological impact of the Internet and mobile technologies on children. We are already seeing some of the effects though. I’ve seen nieces touch a TV screen, expecting it to be a touch screen. I’ve seen nephews expect instant gratification as quickly as an instant message. I’ve seen friends’ children using a web search to replace their memory of basic facts.

And, I can’t lie – to some extent, I’ve done some of this too. But at least I’m aware of this and try not to let this become a handicap. For young children, however, they don’t have this awareness yet. Such behaviors will shape their entire futures.

Since I haven’t found a single source of the potential issues a child may face when using social media, I decided to amass this list. I’m planning on using this list as a guide for what I may have to teach my children one day. They probably won’t encounter all of these, hopefully, but as a parent, I’d rather be prepared than not.

Over-sharing
The act of publishing too much information about oneself online. There’s a fine line between appropriate sharing and over-sharing. Where that line lies will be a judgement call for each family. At a minimum, I would think child safety is a great line not to cross. There is software for parents that monitors their children’s social media usage as a way of watching out for this too.
Privacy issues
Unintentional leaks of your private information to the public. This is in contrast to over-sharing, which is the intentional sharing of your private information. Some organizations may alter their privacy policies, or have weak ones to begin with, putting your private data at risk. The best way to avoid this is to assume that whatever you put on the web will be public one day.
Cyber bullying
An extension of bullying, except done online, where taunts and insults can be anonymous, multiplied, amplified, and remain around for a long time, if not forever. When talking about bullying, it may be a good idea to discuss how to deal with both real-life and online bullying, both as a potential bully and the target of a bully.
Child predators
Malicious adults who prey on unsuspecting young children. Fortunately, cyber-crime departments of the law enforcement are getting better at nailing these people, but it’s still a concern. Since these predators don’t just operate online, talks about stranger safety should encompass both real-life and Internet interactions.
Computer security
Malicious software that can be accidentally downloaded and installed, like viruses and worms. Some teens may be more tech-savvy than their parents and will know all about this already, but young children may not. Anti-virus software isn’t enough; education on how to keep a clean system is also necessary. This includes Internet security issues, such as phishing and insecure public wifi hotspots.
Social engineering
Malicious attempts at tricking someone through some kind of social interaction (email, IM chat, text message, face-to-face interaction, etc) to gain access to his/her information. Think of it like a con job, only with social media technology. A healthy level of skepticism and common sense may help, for both children and parents.
Internet addiction
An intense desire to be on the Internet, even at the detriment of the other aspects of one’s life: health, relationships, social maturity, etc. There is still much debate over whether or not this is clinically a real addiction, but overusing anything is never a good thing. This can include the social media, the web, video games, and even mobile devices.
Erroneous information
Data that is intentionally misleading or unintentionally incorrect. Don’t trust everything you see on the web. To be safe, always go to verified sources or double-check the information. Some older school-aged children seem to be aware of this, but younger children – and parents – may not be.
Adult activities
Any kind of media portraying adults in sexual acts. It is surprisingly easy to find porn on the web. Unless you have a parental filter, your children will inevitably encounter it one day, whether it be intentionally on a porn site or unintentionally in a random video chat. Perhaps the best a parent can hope for is that their children will have a healthy & appropriate sexual education.
Illegal activities
Actions that break the law. The Internet makes many things surprisingly easy to do, like ordering illegal weapons, hacking into a federal computer system, or unknowingly breaking a foreign law. Children may assume that because something is easy and possible, it’s also acceptable and legal. It may not be.
Hate groups
Organizations that exist primarily to evangelize their intense dislike for a particular group of people. Such groups often thrive online. Children may need to be educated about the existence of such groups, especially if they may be influenced by one, or are the target of one.
Proper grammar and spelling
Forgetting or not learning proper grammatical constructs and word spellings. It’s quicker to type in shorthand than full sentences. Some technologies, like SMS and Twitter, even have character restrictions, further encouraging the use of shorthand. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man who’s arguing that grammar & spelling is going downhill, but parents may want to keep an eye on this nonetheless.
Profanity
Words that are generally considered to be impolite and unacceptable for children. Though there are many child-safe sites out there, lots of blogs – including mine, I should say – contain profanity. Parental Internet filters will block sites with profanity in them.
Mean behavior
Words from people designed to create ill will. This, of course, is something children will face in real-life also, though misunderstandings and miscommunications are more common on the Internet. What is curt to one person is rude to another. Tempers can also run high and inhibitions low. This may be an issue for children who may be overly sensitive or insensitive.
International interactions
Encounters with people of cultures foreign to those of your family. Since the Internet is international, children may come across languages, behaviors and mannerisms from people of other cultures. This is a good thing and may provide an opportunity for a parent to teach their children about geography and other cultures, though misunderstandings and miscommunications may occur.
Dimished social connectedness
A decrease in the ability to relate to people due to heavy Internet usage. As a potential consequence of Internet addiction, some studies have reported children saying they feel alone and secluded when not using social media. Being without an Internet connection led to withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety. Others have reported a decrease in stranger empathy. Much research still needs to be done on this topic, however.

Again, this is only a swag at a list of potential issues a child may face when using social media technologies. I don’t think technology is inherently harmful. Nor do I intend to frighten parents and make it sound like the Internet is rife with problems. There are a lot of amazing advances coming from technology that will help children, such as education technologies, information access, international awareness, etc.

This list is an attempt to prepare myself for how I may need to educate my children. As with everything in life, there is always the potential to misuse social media technologies in harmful ways. By understanding what those may be, I hope to become a better-educated parent.

What do you think of this list? Did I miss anything? Is an item here really not a big deal? I would love to know what you think; all suggestions welcome. Thanks!

On Being a Social Media Watchdog

When my wife and I have kids, we decided that one of my tasks as a father will be a social media watchdog. That means monitoring our children’s social media usage and staying up on the latest & greatest Internet, web and mobile technologies that may cross their paths.

I love social media. You’ll find me on practically all of the popular services, and many of the newer ones still in “beta.” I publish frequently and share generously. But I do so with a careful eye. At least, I do now.

Way back when the word “blog” was still “web log,” I had this site. I called these writings my “Rambles.” Although most topics were personal essays that covered events in my life, many were works of fiction and some were opinion pieces & rants. It was through one of these opinion pieces that I stupidly discussed a personal issue of a friend of mine.

The friend read the piece, sent me a painful email, and I lost that friendship.

It was a hard lesson in sharing over the web. One that I will never forget; one that I will definitely teach my children someday.

Nowadays, sharing over the web is a lot more complex. Back when I started, there were no such things as privacy filters. If you published it, anyone could eventually find it (unless it was password-protected, which few did).

With the rise of social networking sites, the minutiae of who-sees-what has gotten a lot more complicated. Settings may be hard to find. You may forget to actively manage your privacy settings. Companies can change the options on you, accidentally or intentionally. Hackers could break into your account. And companies could shut down, taking all of your posts and shared items with them.

In other words, there is a thinly veiled belief of privacy that lulls some users into a false sense of security. The truth is, if you don’t want to share something with strangers, don’t post it on the web. Don’t share your password, don’t share your home address, don’t share geo-tagged photos your children or house. Abstinence is the best form of safety.

That isn’t to say sharing over the web is a bad thing. Far from it. Part of the grandeur of the web is all the fantastic things others have shared. Online communities can support, shelter and heal. News from across the world can reach you in mere seconds. Internet messaging can maintain relationships with acquaintances, people you might not otherwise talk to on a regular basis.

If you’re of the baby boomer generation, you probably remember the concept of a pen pal. For you youngun’s, that was someone your own age who lived far away, usually in another country. You and this person, this pal, would write letters to each other with a pen and paper. Hence, pen pal.

I had a pen pal once. Well, he was more like an email pal. We both were into heavy metal, so we’d exchange emails about the new bands and albums we discovered. He lived in Europe and told me all about the huge metal scene over there, while I filled him in on the American scene.

What I’ve learned over my years of Internet usage (and that encompasses the web, email, newsgroups, chat, etc) is the nuanced set of acceptable and safe behaviors. At least, I like to think so.

There’s really a range of acceptable behaviors, and it varies from online community to online community. What is acceptable in one is not in another. And even then, each individual has his/her own particular sensitivities. What offends one person may not offend another.

If that all sounds like quite a quagmire, consider all of the real-life social groups in which you belong. Your family, your classmates, your coworkers, etc. You probably have many circles of friends, each with its own set of acceptable behaviors and sensitivities. Same goes for the online world.

The big difference is you grow into each real-life social group slowly. You start with your family. Then grade school friends. Then high school friends. And so on.

Each of those groups grows with you. Each member goes through the same awkward lessons you do, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. Each painful lesson teaches you and shapes your social maturity. You learn to understand social cues, vocal inflections, body language, slang, pop culture, etiquette, boundaries, etc.

For young children, this is especially important. The first social group – the family – provides them with a safe, nurturing environment in which to learn how to interact appropriately.

But what if you’re thrown into a world before you’re ready to deal with it?

In the online world, the members vary in social and emotional maturity. They aren’t necessarily in the same range as you. There are some social networks that restrict by age and geography, but the majority do not because they want more users through inclusiveness rather than tighter but smaller communities through exclusiveness.

Along those same lines, a child may interact with his/her family, relatives, family friends, and neighborhood friends in real life. As parents, you can control this. Again, there are some emerging social networks that offer this kind of control, but the majority do not. The general fear – and it’s a real fear – is of predators. Individuals who seek to do harm. There’s a range of this too, from bullying to abduction. All of it scary and all of it harmful.

Also, social feedback exists online, but immature outbursts and reactions are more permanent. Amongst a group of friends, poor behavior can be excusable. It may even stay within the group, if you’re lucky. On the Internet, such behavior could live forever and be found by future employers.

One last point. The lessons on the Internet come much faster. Real life interactions are limited by geography. Children can only interact with the people around them. One of the great things about the Internet is its expansive nature. But for a child who hasn’t yet gained a sense of emotional and social maturity, the volume of interactions – not to mention information – can be staggering.

This is just off the top of my head, of course. I’m not a child psychologist, digital sociologist, or even a “social media specialist.” I’m just a concerned guy who’s trying to anticipate the potential lessons I’ll have to teach about the emerging world of social media. My views may change as I educate myself, find actual research papers on these topics, talk to people way smarter than I, and, you know, have children.

I should also add that I love the possibilities that technology offers to future generations. My children will learn, know, and do things I cannot even begin to fathom. And I don’t want to hold them back at all; the last thing I want to do is shelter them. Life is not fair nor perfect; there are bad people out there, as well as good. A dad can only tell his kids so much before they stop listening to him.

The crux of it all is really emotional and social maturity. Having a healthy sense of self, empathy for others, and understanding of society is, in my opinion, the key for navigating the online world. Since the Internet can be a firehose, my role as a social media watchdog will be to tighten the nozzle and gently release it as my children become ready for more.

The Future of Education

I have three broad hopes for the future of education. And I specifically mean the education of children, as opposed to adults (which has a different set of requirements & traits).

Personalized

In the future, education should be personalized to each student. Every child learns at a different pace, and through different means. Some are visual learners. Some are auditory learners. Some are experiential learners. Most are some combination of various types. It is important to understand each child and teach them appropriately. I’ve found that most experienced teachers pick up on such individual preferences already, so it’s not a matter of doing some psych profile on each new student. General interactions throughout the school year naturally offer these insights.

Personalized education doesn’t mean the learning process should be slow, however. Proper education must be challenging and push students forward with high, yet realistic expectations. But the right amount of push should be tailored to each child. Push too lightly with some, and they’ll get bored. Push too hard with others, and they’ll get get lost and perform poorly.

Emotional & Social

In the future, education should incorporate emotional intelligence and social intelligence, in addition to academic intelligence. Children should be taught to interact with one another for a common goal, like group projects. They should learn how to compromise, how to listen, how to lead, and how to fail. These projects should encompass a range of lessons, from straight-forward problems with definite answers, to complex problems that require creative solutions.

Admittedly, there are logistical challenges here. Personalizing a child’s educational pace and teaching them group interaction means, at some point, pooling students at similar paces together. That’s helpful for individual exercises, but shouldn’t be the model throughout the school year. Grouping students together can inadvertently form groups like “the stupid kids” and “the smart kids.” Students will pick up on separations like this. They key, I suspect, is to keep the groups mixed up. Pair some of the fast learners with the slow learners. Have the students mentor and teach each other.

The personalized education can come outside of group activities, where teachers provide more attention or support for slow learners.

Parental Involvement

Education doesn’t begin in a school, and it can’t end in a school. Children are learning as soon as they are born. A majority of their lives is spent not in school, but at home with their families. That is where they are learning some of the most important lessons of their lives.

Although there are socio-economic barriers for some families, it must be a priority. I don’t know how a single mother with two jobs can do this realistically, but this should be a goal. Without a supporting environment, children can easily pick up bad habits, unproductive behaviors, and other mental pathologies that can and will erase all the education they get at school.

I would love to see a program aimed not just at children, but at parents as well. Some parents, whether they admit it or not, simply don’t know how to be a supporting parent. Others have no one to turn to. Yet others have differing opinions on how to be a good parent (which is always a touchy subject). Yet, there are some fundamental truths that can be taught to all parents.

To Marriage and Families

“My parents were bitchin’ about her again,” he says into his beer.

“They don’t approve, huh?” I ask.

“Nope. They bitch about her clothes. They bitch about her job. They bitch about her lack of religion…”

“But wait. You’re not religious,” I comment.

“No. Well. I’m no atheist. But she is. They asked her about religion and she debated God with them for, like, an hour. They were not happy with that.”

We both silently drained our beers and ordered another round.

“How about her parents?” I ask. “What are they like?”

He leans back in his chair. “They’re divorced. I only met her Mom.” I waited as he studied the suds in his beer. “She can’t stand her Mom. They argue all the time. Her Mom drives her crazy. And I can see why. I think that woman is insane. Something ain’t right up here,” he taps his skull.

“Sounds like it’s going to be a lovely wedding then.”

He laughs. “Oh man. I don’t think either side really thinks we should get married. But fuck ‘em. We ain’t getting married for our parents. We’re getting married for ourselves. A wedding is for the couple anyways, right?”

I look down at the table and roll my tongue in my mouth. I take a gulp of beer, clear my throat, and take another gulp. “Well,” I finally answer. “It depends.”

“On what? I’m the one marrying her; she’s the one marrying me. Our parents have nothing to do with nothing.”

“It depends on how you define your family. My point of view is, when you marry someone, you marry into their family, all the good and bad of it. I realize this is a traditional view though, so I don’t mean to say this is the only definition of ‘family.’ But in this view, a family is not just the couple, but the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all the relatives.”

“Well, sure. That’s all part of our ‘family,'” he says with air quotes. “But from a day-to-day basis, they all aren’t part of our lives. We’ll see them for Thanksgiving and Christmas or something, but that’s about it.”

I leaned forward. “That’s cool dude, that’s totally cool. Lots of families are like that, and that’s totally cool. For me, I see it differently, that’s all. I would want all members of my extended family to be involved in some way.”

“That’s cuz you actually like your relatives,” he laughs.

I chuckled. “Sure. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not close with all of them. I wish I was closer with many of them, but the reality of it is that I’m not. That still doesn’t mean I want to see them less.” I sit back and take another gulp. “Here’s another way I look at it. I ask myself, who do I want in my kids’ lives? The answer is, I want my entire extended family in my kids’ lives. I want my kids to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone. And from both sides of the family.”

“Have you met your fiancee’s relatives?”

“Just about. Not every single one, because some live far away. But I’ve met most of them. And it’s important that I can get along with them too, because once we’re married, her family will be come part of mine. If they ever get into trouble, I’ll bail them out just as I would my own family.”

“That’s mighty generous of you,” he says with a nod. “I sure wouldn’t do that. My relatives would rape me poor.”

We both laugh. “So basically, in my traditional view, when I marry her, I’m marrying into her entire family. And she into mine. So it’s important that we both get along with each other’s families.”

“Does she feel that way too?”

“Yup. I don’t think we would have worked if either of us didn’t feel this way. That’s one of the reasons why we’re such a good match.”

“That’s cool. My fiancee and I agree too. We both don’t want our parents that involved. They don’t really want us getting married, so fuck ‘em. When kids come, I’m sure they’ll come around. But until then, this is just for us.”

“At least you guys agree,” I nod. “That’s the most important thing.”

“Yup,” he says with a smile. He raises his glass. “Here’s to marriage and families, be it just the couple or all the relatives.”

I raise my glass too. We clink glasses, then gulp down the rest of our beer.

Self-Kaizen

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement.”

After World War II, consultants such as William Edwards Deming introduced production methods such as continuous improvement to Japan. In the 80’s, author Masaaki Imai wrote a book that coined the term “kaizen” as a management philosophy in the worldwide lexicon. Toyota is perhaps the most famous practitioner of kaizen, spurring many others, including their competitors Ford and General Motors, to adopt this philosophy.

There are five core principles to kaizen:

  • Teamwork. Everyone should be an effective and contributing member of their team.
  • Discipline. Everyone should uphold discipline in their work and themselves.
  • Morale. Everyone should strive to maintain a positive environment.
  • Suggestions. Everyone’s opinions and suggestions are considered and valued.
  • Quality circles. Everyone meets together in small groups to solve problems and promote innovative ideas.

This philosophy has worked well for Japan’s business community. Although Japan’s economic gains were erased with their asset price bubble collapse in the 90’s, and this philosophy has faded in popularity, at its core, it still remains an effective framework of product and service quality and efficiency.

I’ve long used the term “self-kaizen” to describe one of my life’s main tenants. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had the mindset of self-improvement through trial & error and the advice of others. I don’t know if this urge came from my parents, a teacher, or from within, but it’s always been there.

There are five core principles to self-kaizen:

  • Teamwork. In one’s growth, there are three stages: dependence, independence, and interdependence. The last involves knowing how to work well with others, since 1 plus 1 can equal 3 in effective teams and relationships.
  • Discipline. Personal discipline is the bedrock of any self-improvement regime. Changing oneself can be extremely hard work. Without discipline, there is no improvement.
  • Morale. The lens through which you view your life tints how you feel about it. No one is more responsible for your morale than you, so learning to control your expectations and viewpoint can go a great way in influencing your daily morale.
  • Suggestions. Everyone can teach you something, whether it is what to do, or what not to do. Always be open to the advice of others. Consider it all with an open mind, even though not all advice is relevant.
  • Quality circles. Your quality circles are your closest friends. They can give you unfettered, yet constructive feedback, if you’ve structured your friendships that way.

This philosophy has served me well. Mistakes are lessons learned. The people I meet are teachers. Life is my floor mat, absorbing my falls and giving me a chance to rebound and try again.

And that is self-kaizen. At least, until I experience an asset price bubble collapse or something.

The Benefits of Public Transportation

Public transportation, I’ve missed you. For many years, I’ve been living in suburban towns and cities that required a car to get around. Now I’m back in San Francisco, a city with a fairly extensive bus system.

Before all this, I was in New York City, another city with an extensive public transportation system: the subway. It was a great way to get around. The subway operated 24/7, shuttling you faithfully from station to station no matter the state of your inebriation.

Who needs designated drivers when you have the New York subway system?

The same could be said for San Francisco’s bus system. I’m well past my days of stumbling home in a drunken stupor, but it still beats circling the block trying to find a parking spot, only to return later to find it full of door dings.

Don’t even get me started on the parking situation here. Someone once told me that there are twice as many cars in San Francisco as there are parking spots. There’s no data to back that up, but it sure seems to be the case.

Public transportation doesn’t just save you on fixing door dings. It reduces your carbon footprint. You’re saving your car’s dirty exhaust from spewing into our air. It may seem insignificant compared to the tons of pollution coming from airplanes, but it’s a start.

For some, it may even save you money. If you own a car, you are not adding to the wear and tear on the engine, tires, and other mechanics of your vehicle. Leaving a car unused for a long time is no good, but using it every day brings it closer to its end-of-life that much faster.

If you don’t own a car, you may be able to rely on the subway or bus for all your transportation needs. No car means no gas expenses, car payments, no car insurance, and no car maintenance. That can equal lots of money saved. Unfortunately, this isn’t realistic for those outside of major metropolitans.

There’s also one last benefit. The experience of it. For better or worse, there are some damn interesting characters out there. You may never encounter them if you never take public transportation.

Some of you are reading this and thinking, “but I don’t want to encounter them.” Sure, there are some parts of the city where such encounters are less than desirable, perhaps even dangerous.

For me, I like those encounters (well, not the dangerous ones). They make me feel more grounded and connected to my community. I delight in encountering people whose lives are very different than mine. They expand my world view and occasionally teach me something new.

It’s easy to become swallowed by your social circle. Your coworkers, your friends, and your family can easily become the only people you see. When that happens, it’s a quick step away to succumbing to the Us vs Them mindset, the xenophobic view that anyone who lives life differently than you must be a bad person.

Sometimes you encounter such xenophobic people on public transportation. That’s inevitable. What I hope for myself is that I never hold such a view.

I have friends who work in retail and customer service jobs that put them in contact with the general public every day. They hate it. They come home frustrated at the ignorance and stupidity that exists out there. The last thing they want to do is encounter even more of this on their commute home.

To them, I sympathize. All I can offer is an anecdote from another friend: “One of the most relaxing, yet frustrating, times of my day is the train ride to and from work. It’s frustrating when the train is late or crowded. But it can be relaxing when I slip on my headphones, tune out the world, and play a few mindless games on my phone.” To this friend, public transportation’s value is in saving money and gas, but not at all in encountering other people. I’m sure that’s the case for many others too.

Then there are others who drive to work in their BMWs and Mercedes, cutting off the buses as they talk on their Bluetooth headsets. They make decisions that bankrupt their employees, their companies, and perhaps, even their souls.

These are the people who lose touch with the general public and sometimes even hold it in disdain. They see the public as cows to be milked and meat to be harvested, instead of people who are struggling to feed their families.

It may seem I’ve veered far from the topic of public transportation. But I haven’t. There is a real value in feeling connected to your community, the good and bad of it. I’m fortunate to be in an industry with relatively low unemployment, but I see it on the faces of my fellow passengers when I ride the bus.

I’m glad we’re at least in a jobless recovery, but I wouldn’t call it a true recovery until there are jobs again.

Buses and subways aren’t the only way to be in touch with your society, of course. Community service is one of the best ways, because you’re not just encountering and realizing, you’re also helping. But it’s a start.

I’m so glad to be in a city where I can take public transportation again. I’ve missed it. When I have a family, I’ll most probably be back in a town where I need to drive all the time. Such is the reality of housing prices and schools. I promise to take my children into the city once in a while though. And to use the train and bus, of course.

So there you have it. Public transportation not only saves you from inconveniences, saves you money, and saves the world – it may also save your soul.

Domestication

“Dude, you are so domesticated.”

I smiled with a nod. “Thanks.”

“I didn’t mean that as a compliment.”

I regarded my friend with a quizzical arch of the brow. “Your jealousy is so transparent.”

“I’m not jealous. What’s to be jealous of? Pssh. I’m not jealous.”

I grinned. “Okay, whatever you say man.”

He scooted his chair to the left, pushing his coffee mug with him. “Okay, let me tell you how lame being domesticated is.”

I waved him on. “Please, tell me.”

He cleared his throat. “First, it means your girl’s got you by the balls. You gotta do whatever she says now. Be at home by a certain time. No drinking late with your friends. No more parties and hangovers. No more—”

“Hold on man, I’m going to stop you right there. Do you honestly, seriously, in all sincerity, think I still want to be doing any of those things of my own volition?”

“Yea. Well… no? You don’t, I’m guessing?”

“Damn right I don’t. I’m too old for that crap. Hangovers? Dude. C’mon. Hangovers?”

“Well, I don’t mean hangovers are the goal, they’re just the end result of a good night…”

“A hangover for me is not the sign of a good night. Maybe when I was in college, but even then, I never aimed for a hangover. Who in their right mind aims for a hangover? I never did. And as an adult, definitely not.”

He rubbed his chin. “Okay…”

“And ‘got me by the balls?’ Really? Did you really just say that?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Oh, sure,” I nodded slowly. “I know what you mean. Because I don’t go out and party all night long means my girl has me by the balls. That’s what you mean, right?”

“Yea…”

“And that presupposes that she ordered me to stay home. Hence the ‘by the balls’ comment, right?”

“Um…”

“So if I tell you I do not want to party all night long anymore, because I am a tired old man who needs his sleep, otherwise I’m a cranky bastard in the morning, does that constitute following an order by someone else?”

“Well, no…”

I sat back in my chair. “So what else you got, Sherlock? Tell me what else is lame about being domesticated.”

He shifted in his seat. Coughed. Cleared his throat again. “Fine. Point B, it means your ass no longer has freedom. You can’t just take off on a road trip, or hit Vegas for a weekend, or—”

“No more freedom. By that, I assume you mean I can’t travel on my own anymore, right?”

“Right, exactly. She either has to come along, or you can’t go at all.”

I studied the swirls of whipped cream on my mocha. “That’s not exactly true. Maybe for your past relationships, you’ve had that kind of restriction. For me, my fiancée doesn’t mind if I take off on a trip alone. She’s taken trips just with her friends, and so have I.”

He slumped forward. “Really?”

“Yea. To me, that’s a mark of a healthy relationship. Or, at least, what I want out of a relationship. Some people prefer tighter interaction. Others, looser. She and I both feel it’s important to have our own lives, as well as a life together.”

“Well, okay…”

“Then there are times when I genuinely want her along. I have fun with her. That’s why I’m marrying her! So why would I want to do all of those things alone, when I can have this wonderful, funny, beautiful person with me too?”

“Dude, you’re going to make me sick.”

I took a gulp of frothy mocha and wiped my lip. “Okay, okay. So moving right along. Are these your reasons against domestication? Seriously? You know, you’re just talking about relationships in general. Neither of these points has anything to do with being domesticated.”

He snorted. “That’s where you’re wrong! Domestication is the process of taming. You’re getting tamed, dude. That’s what I’m talking about.”

“Tamed?”

“Yea. Like, you once could do all this wild stuff. Now, you gotta be—excuse me, want to be home by a certain time, and stuff like that.”

“Oh, so you’re lambasting the process of getting older, as opposed to being in a relationship?”

He scratched his head. “What? No. Don’t confuse me. No, I ain’t talking about… no, not about getting older. I mean, you’re getting domesticated, like, you got a girl now, you’re settling down, you can’t do the same stuff you once did…”

“As we get older, none of us can do the same things we once did. You can’t sit in a high chair anymore and be spoon-fed by your Mom, for instance. Well, maybe you do, but not the average adult.”

“Funny. What I mean is, and this is reason number three: You’re not having any more fun.”

“Okay, now you’re lamenting the process of getting older, not domestication. Though perhaps you’re drawing parallels between the two.”

“Yea, um, exactly.”

“Well, I for one, relish the idea of growing older. I actually like to have more responsibilities, deal with new challenges, and adjust my life accordingly. For me, this is all very fun and exciting. I realize my sentiments are uncommon, but hey, that’s me.”

“I dunno man, that sounds crazy to me…”

“Sure. And that’s fine. You don’t have to like the process of getting older, or being in a relationship. Me, I love them. I love being in a relationship, I love being engaged, I look forward to a house and kids and in-laws and grandkids and all that. It’s not for everyone. There are a lot of people out there who don’t want this, and shouldn’t aim for this either. But I do. Each to his own, right? Each to his own.”

“I told you, man…”

I quizzically arched of the brow. “What?”

He shook his head. “You are so domesticated.”

Advice & Wisdom from Calvin & Hobbes

Who knew two cartoon characters could bestow such wonderful gifts? The gifts of laughter and wisdom. Bill Watterson, you are awesomeness with two legs.

Flipping through some of my old Calvin & Hobbes collections, I just had to pull out some of my favorite quotes. There are plenty more, but every time I open a Calvin & Hobbes collection, I find myself reading and reading and reading… and before I know it, an hour has passed.

  • “2+7=” “I cannot answer this question, as it is against my religious principles.”
  • “A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.”
  • “A good compromise leaves everybody mad.”
  • “A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day.”
  • “As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.”
  • “As far as I’m concerned, if something is so complicated that you can’t explain it in 10 seconds, then it’s probably not worth knowing anyway.”
  • “Being a parent is wanting to hug and strangle your kid at the same time.”
  • “C’mon, we’d better go outside for a while.” “How come?” “Mom’s getting that look.”
  • “Calvin, pay attention! We’re studying geography! Now what state do you live in?” “Denial.”
  • “Childhood is short, maturity is forever.”
  • “Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?” “I’m not sure that man needs the help.”
  • “Do you think babies are born sinful? That they come into the world as sinners?” “No, I think they’re just quick studies.”
  • “Do you think there’s a God?” “Well somebody’s out to get me!”
  • “Ever notice how tense grown-ups get when they’re recreating?”
  • “Everybody I know needs a complete personality overhaul!”
  • “From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.”
  • “Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.”
  • “Girls are like slugs – they probably serve some purpose, but it’s hard to imagine what.”
  • “Golly, I’d hate to have a kid like me.”
  • “History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. That’s why events are always reinterpreted when values change. We need new versions of history to allow for our current prejudices.”
  • “I can never enjoy Sundays, because in the back of my mind I always know I’ve got to go to school the next day. It’s like trying to enjoy your last meal before the execution.”
  • “I don’t know which is worse… that everyone has his price, or that the price is always so low.”
  • “I don’t need to compromise my principles, because they don’t have the slightest bearing on what happens to me anyway.”
  • “I feel a big sneeze welling up. …Which is always a sure sign that I’m not carrying a handkerchief.”
  • “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”
  • “I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know.”
  • “I had resolved to be less offended by human nature, but I think I blew it already.”
  • “I hate it when I can’t gird my loins with funny animals.”
  • “I hate to think that all my current experiences will someday become stories with no point.”
  • “I have a hammer! I can put things together! I can knock things apart! I can alter my environment at will and make an incredible din all the while! Ah, it’s great to be male!”
  • “I keep forgetting that rules are only for little nice people.”
  • “I like maxims that don’t encourage behavior modification.”
  • “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savior a bad mood.”
  • “I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.”
  • “I say, when life gives you a lemon, wing it right back and add some lemons of your own!”
  • “I should always be saying, ‘My life is better than I ever imagined it would be, and it’s only going to improve’.”
  • “I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.”
  • “I think animals are alway so cute.”
  • “I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”
  • “I try to make everyone’s day a little more surreal.”
  • “I understand my tests are popular reading in the teachers’ lounge.”
  • “I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!”
  • “I wonder why we think faster than we can speak.” “Probably so we can think twice.”
  • “I’d hate to have a kid like me.”
  • “I’m a genius, but I’m a misunderstood genius.” “What’s misunderstood about you?” “Nobody thinks I’m a genius.”
  • “I’m learning real skills that I can apply throughout the rest of my life… Procrastinating and rationalizing.”
  • “I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”
  • “I’M SIGNIFICANT! …screamed the dust speck.”
  • “I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak.”
  • “If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are?”
  • “If it was completely different, school would be great.”
  • “If mom and dad cared about me at all, they’d buy me some infra-red nighttime vision goggles.”
  • “If people could put rainbows in zoos, they’d do it.”
  • “If warped values are the price of a vicarious thrill, so be it!”
  • “If you couldn’t find any weirdness, maybe we’ll just have to make some!”
  • “If you do the job badly enough, sometimes you don’t get asked to do it again.”
  • “In my opinion, television validates existence.”
  • “In my opinion, we don’t devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.”
  • “Isn’t it sad how some people’s grip on their lives is so precarious that they’ll embrace any preposterous delusion rather than face an occasional bleak truth?”
  • “It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.”
  • “It’s not denial. I’m just very selective about the reality I accept.”
  • “It’s not the pace of life I mind. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”
  • “It’s only work if somebody makes you do it.”
  • “It’s psychosomatic. You need a lobotomy. I’ll get a saw.”
  • “Leave it to a girl to take the fun out of sex discrimination.”
  • “Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success… Flat stretches of boring routine… And valleys of frustration and failure.”
  • “Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words.”
  • “Mom would be a lot more fun if she was a little more gullible.”
  • “My time is valuable. I can’t go on thinking about one subject for minutes on end. I’m a busy man.”
  • “Nobody asks me how things oughta be! I’ve got tons of ideas!”
  • “Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character.”
  • “Now, a lifetime of experience has left me bitter and cynical.”
  • “People think it must be fun to be a super genius, but they don’t realize how hard it is to put up with all the idiots in the world.”
  • “Physical education is what you learn from having your face in someone’s armpit right before lunch.”
  • “Pretty convenient how every time I build character, he saves a couple hundred dollars.”
  • “Reading goes faster if you don’t sweat comprehension.”
  • “Reality continues to ruin my life.”
  • “So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?”
  • “Some people are pragmatists, taking things as they come and making the best of the choices available. Some people are idealists, standing for principle and refusing to compromise. And some people just act on any whim that enters their heads. I pragmatically turn my whims into principles.”
  • “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”
  • “That’s one of the most remarkable things about life. It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.”
  • “That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!”
  • “That’s the whole problem with science. You’ve got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder.”
  • “The best presents don’t come in boxes.”
  • “The only bright side to all this is that eventually there may not be a piece of the planet worth fighting over.”
  • “The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who’s putting on who.”
  • “The problem with you, Hobbes, is you’re always at a loss for words.” “I’ve found that saves many a friendship.”
  • “The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little pratice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!”
  • “The secret to happiness is short-term, stupid self-interest!”
  • “The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity the tell the difference.”
  • “There’s an inverse relationship between how good something is for you, and how much fun it is.”
  • “There’s more to this world than just people, you know.”
  • “There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”
  • “There’s no problem so awful that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse!”
  • “There’s nothing prettier than new fallen snow on a clear, freezing moonlit night. …Through a window, that is.”
  • “These are interesting times. We don’t trust the government, we don’t trust the legal system, we don’t trust the media, and we don’t trust each other! We’ve undermined all authority, and with it, the basis for replacing it! It’s like a six-year-old’s dream come true!”
  • “Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”
  • “This one’s tricky. You have to use imaginary numbers, like eleventeen…”
  • “To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible.”
  • “Today, I go for the gusto.”
  • “We seem to understand the value of oil, timber, minerals, and housing, but not the value of unspoiled beauty, wildlife, solitude, and spiritual renewal. We need to start putting prices on the priceless.”
  • “Weekends don’t count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.”
  • “Well, it just seemed wrong to cheat on an ethics test.”
  • “What assurance do I have that your parenting isn’t screwing me up?”
  • “What I like is when you’re looking and thinking and looking and thinking… And suddenly you wake up.”
  • “What’s the point of wearing your favorite rocketship underpants if nobody ever asks to see ’em?”
  • “When birds burp, it must taste like bugs.”
  • “When I grow up, I want to be an inventor. First I will invent a time machine. Then I’ll come back to yesterday and take myself to tomorrow, and skip this dumb assignment.”
  • “When I grow up, I’m not going to read the newspaper and I’m not going to follow complex issues and I’m not going to vote. That way I can complain when the government doesn’t represent me. Then, when everything goes down the tubes, I can say the system doesn’t work and justify my further lack of participation.”
  • “When you get something, it’s new and exciting. When you have something, you take it for granted and it’s boring.”
  • “When you’re serious about having fun, it’s not much fun at all!”
  • “Why should I have to WORK for everything?! It’s like saying I don’t deserve it!”
  • “Why waste time learning, when ignorance is instantaneous?”
  • “Without an appreciation for grace and beauty, there’s no pleasure in creating things and no pleasure in having them!”
  • “You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well, mine are even worse!”
  • “You know how people are. They only recognize greatness when some authority confirms it.”
  • “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don’t help.”
  • “You know, there are times when it’s a source of personal pride to not be human.”

What are your favorite Calvin & Hobbes quotes?

Premarital Counseling

I’m getting married!

My fiancee and I just attended our first premarital counseling session the other day. We don’t have any particular problems or issues. Premarital counseling is just something that is recommended to all engaged couples. It brings up common problem areas for couples, such as finances, children, in-laws, etc. These are all topics we’ve discussed before, but we figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out.

The verdict from our first session: We are an awesome couple! We have lots of the traits of long-lasting relationships. Woo hoo!

Okay, okay, enough bragging.

The session taught us some interesting relationship concepts. They may seem obvious when you read them, but it’s fascinating to think of them within the frameworks they provide.

The Five Love Languages

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” there are five basic ways that people give and receive love:

  1. Words of Affirmation – Offering unsolicited compliments and saying affectionate things
  2. Quality Time – Sharing your time and undivided attention
  3. Receiving Gifts – Giving thoughtful, meaningful gifts
  4. Acts of Service – Helping out around the house and doing thoughtful deed
  5. Physical Touch – Holding hands, giving hugs, and offering physical affection

Each of us has a preferred way of showing our love for someone. At the same time, each of us has a different way of interpreting love from our partner. Happy couples tend to be ones that communicate their love in ways that match their partners’ preferences. Fortunately, these methods of communication can be taught and learned.

For example, if the husband tends to demonstrate love through giving gifts and the wife interprets love as words of affirmation, then the mismatch may cause the wife to think the husband does not love her.

Simultaneously, if the wife prefers to show her love with words (sometimes, but not always, the way we interpret love is the same as the way we communicate it), while the husband interprets love through physical touch, then the husband may think the wife does not love him.

This tragic mismatch can be salvaged by understanding how each person prefers to give and receive love. The husband can save his money and resolve to compliment her and say “I love you” more often. The wife can add hugs and shoulder rubs to her repertoire of love.

The Circle of Care

According to Dr. Carmen Knudson-Martin and Dr. Anne Rankin Mahoney, authors of the book, “Couples, Gender, and Power: Creating Change in Intimate Relationships,” there are four areas where gender and power issues can effect relationships:

  1. Emotional Attunement – How in tune, sympathetic, and empathic one is with the other
  2. Influence – How much one is able to change the other’s mind
  3. Vulnerability – How much one is able to show and express vulnerability with the other
  4. Relationship Responsibility – How much one takes responsibility for maintaining the health of the relationship

Typically, men are not taught to be emotionally attuned, show vulnerability, or take much responsibility in maintaining relationships. By that same token, women are typically taught to let men influence the decisions in the relationship. Although these are just stereotypes, more often than not, these gender roles persist.

Problems arise because the burden of maintaining the relationship falls upon the woman. This can lead to anger and resentment over time. Long-lasting relationships tend to have a balance of these four areas, according to Dr. Knudson-Martin and Dr. Mahoney’s research.

This means husbands should strive to understand and be sympathetic to their wives, especially when their wives just want to vent and not problem-solve (which men tend to do whenever they hear a problem). Husbands should also feel comfortable sharing their emotions and asking for help.

At the same time, wives should share in making decisions for the couple, speaking their mind with the understanding that the husband will listen and respect their opinions.

Premarital Counseling

Some of you are nodding your heads as you read this. Others are scratching your chins and going, “I don’t know about that…”

I’m no marriage expert. This is just what we’ve been told. They are interesting frameworks for long-lasting relationships and marriages, however, and definitely have merit. And I’m not just saying that because my fiancee and I share many of these traits (we are so awesome! Woo hoo!).

Okay, okay, enough with the bragging. We’ve still got more sessions to take and a lot more to learn. I should see how the rest of the premarital counseling sessions go before I boast anymore.

Turns to fiancee. Winks. Woo hoo!