Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Being A Dad

     In an essay picked up for recent publication by Honolulu Metro (click here to see), I listed the four best things that ever happened to me: Received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, entrusted everything to Him, got married, and had kids. Only now do I realize that none were merit—based: I didn't do a single thing to deserve any of them, instead having received them all as free gifts—including life, health, and happiness—by the grace of God. It's true what they say that the best things in life can't be bought or earned, they're free.
     I've written much in prior blog essays about the challenges and blessings of being a dad, but here are a few memories that have stuck that I believe are eternal and will live on beyond me and that help define what it means to be a dad to me.
     When Braden was age one-and-a-half, an only child at the time, I was the coolest guy on the planet to him. Never before had I been perceived as such, so it was a heady experience, but one that also filled me with a huge sense of responsibility. I realized this cool factor when I went into the bathroom one night to shower and four, then eight tiny fingers emerged beneath the door—Braden's fingers seeking me out. Over the next few minutes, I touched my fingertips to his to let him know that I was there and wanted to play too. His chuckle on the other side and continued finger pokes confirmed his enjoyment and filled my surging heart with aching joy. 

     Jaren, my youngest at age seven, still gives me chest-to-chest hugs and enjoys it maybe as much as I do. He climbs aboard after our bedtime reading so I can say prayers while stroking his head and back, and upon completion, plant four or five kisses on head, forehead, and/or cheeks. He kisses back but for sub-par ones I say, “What kind of junk kisses were those—no air kisses!” and present my cheek for more, which he obliges with a smile. 
     Pene recently surprised me by giving me a Snoopy stuffed animal for my birthday that she crocheted herself. She and Deanne have been crocheting and knitting scarves, hats, half-sweaters, and jewelry items, but I had no idea anyone would think of making something for me. It came with a home-made card and tag for “The Best Dad” and now sits atop my bedside night stand. 

     Braden, at the age three, loved digging for worms to feed our fighting fish that we received as a gift and kept for a few weeks despite our lease that disallowed pets. We dug behind our apartment or in school fields or parks. At a neighborhood basketball court beneath an overgrown shade tree, he scraped away at the leaves and dried out, hardened topsoil while I supervised exhausted. He looked up at me, and with timid eyes and beseeching voice said, “Play with me, Daddy.” At that, how could I not? Who cared that there was zero chance of finding worms there. It was all about the togetherness—digging at the topsoil together. 
     When Jaren was age five, one of our favorite games to play was “tent”—hiding beneath my bed's quilt and comforter. “It's so dark,” I'd say in mock scary tone to which he'd reply, “It's not that dark.” I'd pretend to fall asleep and snore, until it got too hot and had to throw off the covers. Then I'd pretend to fall asleep and snore—with an arm draped over him. He'd fight to escape—with lots of grunts and moans—and if successful, I'd snort and roll over in my sleep, and drape my other arm over a different part of his body, pretending to snore again. He loved the struggle to escape—especially if I happened to tickle him in my sleep. “Wah? Wha? Wah?” I'd say to end the game as if I had just wakened.
     When Pene was yet a thumb-sucking ten-month-old toddler, she once sat playing toys with all her big-kid relatives on our living room floor while we parents and grand-parents sat around chatting. On sudden impluse, she got up, sighed, walked over to me, and thumb in mouth and free hand to belly button, leaned her head sideways onto my thigh while I stroked her head for comfort. Less than a minute passed and she stood upright, walked back to her toys, and resumed playings just as before. How's that for instant cure?
     And more recently, Pene surprised me when, as a matter of course, I asked her what she learned in school today? She said that in P.E. her substitute teacher had them write an essay about a hero. 
     “Who did you pick?” I asked. 
     “You,” she said with a pleased smile. 
     I thanked her and as my soul soared skyward, asked, “Now, what about this terrific man do you find so heroic?” She smiled and as I sensed hesitation I lifted a hand to halt her and said, “You don't have to answer” and walked to Deanne to inform her of my hero status. She wasn't convinced I deserved it, but that didn't dampen my mood 'cause Pene—one super-perceptive, wise, wunderkind—felt I did, and that was more than enough. Would that all dads get to hear such from a loved one. And may we all deserve it to some degree or other.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


     About a decade ago I asked a family friend—mother of four well-behaved, bright, balanced, friendly, and happy boys—How do you do it?
     “Consistency is the key,” she said.
     Such a simple formula but ever since applying it, I've learned its underlying wisdom:
     To mean what you say.
     To model desirable behavior.
     To stand united as parents.
     To establish a predictable, rule-following, boundary-enforcing household.
     To demand respect, obedience, diligence, and appropriate behavior.
     To enact discipline and consequences for unacceptable behaviors.
     And most importantly, to do so on a day-to-day basis. 
     This sounds tough, but doing so with positive results makes life a joy cruise—especially compared to not doing so and having unruly, rude, disrespectful, stubborn, arrogant, rebellious, disobedient, sloppy, lazy, defiant, rowdy, mean and/or resentful get-in-trouble kids that make life feel endlessly torturous.
     Having worked so well all these years, this simple formula started showing weaknesses when Braden hit his teens and started rebelling and acting up just to “get into our heads.”  I was thus ill-prepared for how difficult things would get, having lived under the impression that “Good parent that put in all the diligent hard work while their kids are still young get their reward when their kids become teens”—so said a pastor I'd heard long ago.
     I understood Braden's acting out—the transition to adulthood is fast and scary—and that it's healthy and normal for him to assert his independence, but it still left me exasperated and near desperate at times because time-outs and groundings weren't working, sending him outside (to the carport) wasn't calming him and neither was having him walk up and down the street or sending him to bed after dinner or talking with him because his torrid temper prevented effective listening or clear thinking. Having him eat alone or outside only exasperated him (and us) as did having him do all the chores. 
     In short, everything that had worked so well in years past suddenly failed. What were we to do?
     I considered corporal punishment, but wisely resisted. (To get through to him would require use of a belt or slap to the face. With rare exception, such violence should be used only for self defense). 
     I considered for a moment seeking for him or us outside counsel. But before doing so, I took stock of the situation in more objective clinical terms and observed:
     With the exception of music class, he was doing well in school (all A's and B's at the time—mostly A's in his academic classes).
     Outside home, his behavior was fine. 
     He was independent, able to handle his daily personal responsibilities mostly without being told. 
     He always attended church with us and actively participated. 
     He maintained his interest in scouting. 
     His misbehavior at home came in spurts of two to three bad days for every three to seven good days (on average). 
     His appetite, weight, exercise, and sleep were all within healthy range.
     He didn't seem depressed or to hate or fear school.
     And overall, his development was tracking fine with just occasional rough patches that needed smoothing out. Thus, we declined seeking outside intervention.
     But then outside intervention came to us in the form of God's silent prompting to allow Braden to attend a JROTC banquet that I'd said he couldn't go to due to misbehavior. By relenting, I contradicted one of my prime tenets to remain firm when it comes to discipline—a rare exception for me. I felt at peace about the decision, though, because he deserved a reward for taking the initiative to take JROTC as an extra credit class and following-through by catching the bus to school every morning by 7:00—pretty responsible for a fourteen years old! I also hoped that he'd feel guilty about going (at my expense) after acting up so much and that he'd make up for it by behaving extra-well.
     It worked for half a week.
     Then, at dinner one night, he mentioned at Deanne's prompting that he desired to sign up for a couple of end-of-year activities that would require lots of after-school practices and missing half a day of school. 

     “No can do”, I said and listed his iffy grades and already busy schedule as justifications. A tornado of fury whipped up within him and unleashed on us all in seconds. Thus, I instituted the aforementioned consequences as deemed appropriate. 
     But none of them worked. His anger didn't abate and his defiant rebelliousness intensified. 
     Two days later at the library, a random book on display about teen misbehavior caught my attention. I read a page that seemed relevant and laughed at its description of typical teen change: “The mind-set of 'I am the center of the universe' returns! Teens typically don't understand why adults expect them to conform to 'stupid rules', and they act as though the world revolves around them.” Another section about typical teen know-it-all attitudes also cracked me up. But then another section about balance and the need for parents to let go and trust overall responsible teens to make their own decisions (and mistakes) made me wonder, Am I hindering his growth and igniting his rebellion by being too strict or inflexible?
     So after discussing it with Deanne, who agreed with my plan, I apologized to Braden for my hasty decision and said, “I recognize your responsibleness in JROTC this past year. If you still want to do those activities, print out your updated grades and let me see them first. If they're OK, I'll approve your activities if you agree to change next year's music class to Japanese.” (See my prior True Expectations essay for reasons why).
     The angry tornado left and peaceful calm returned. The next day, Braden showed me his grades, which to my surprise were quite improved from mid-quarter, and said, “I'd like to sign up for the activities. I'm willing to take Japanese next year instead of music.” 
     I gave him the signed forms and told him, “Take this as a trial. If your grades hold up, next time you ask to do extra-curricular activities, I'll be more inclined to approve. Whereas if your grades drop, then what?” 
     “You won't approve,” he said. 
     I nodded and walked away.
     It's been about a week since the angry tornado's disappearance and Braden and I both feel good about his increased responsibleness, though he still acts up with Jaren at times. We'll see how it goes with his grades and how long his decent behavior at home lasts. Like a tornado, Braden can be difficult to predict. On the upside, life with him is rarely boring.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

True Expectations

     When I was a sophomore in college I asked my upperclassman dormmate—also an accountant in the making—what I should expect to get on a tough exam I had just taken that filled me with a mixture of optimism and apprehension.
     With practiced certainty he said, “Expect the worst. Hope for the best.”
     It was the best advice I could have received at the time because as I imagined an F, which wouldn't kill me, my fears subsided. And as I imagined an A, I felt buoyed. The exercise, oft repeated over time, brought me good, balanced perspective that I had previously lacked. I don't remember what grade I got—probably a B—but during the exam's distribution, I felt calm and warm, not jittery, what's-it-going-to-be-my-career's-riding-on-this tense as in past distributions. So from then on, I practiced the exercise during nearly all my anxious wonder-what-its-going-to be moments whether in academia, career, or even romance. 
     Through trial and error I soon discovered that I had to modify the exercise to better suit my needs. Specifically, expecting the worst became increasing difficult as I studied harder and harder and focused better and better in class. Why expect an F if it seems so remote? Better to expect the probable worst, I reasoned, as in a C. I still hoped for the best (A!). But I also prepared for the worst by imagining what would happen if I did get an F. (Redo the class? Change major? Quit college and become a plumber? None seemed so horrific or earth-shattering after thinking about them in those terms. After all, I loved and still do love working with my hands and the story I'd heard of a white collar professional that hated his job, quit, became a plumber, loved it, and earned twice as much struck me and made me wonder “Might that be me?” I felt okay about accounting but did I love it? I wasn't sure at that point.)
     I raise all this only because Braden, for the first time ever, freaked over a grade. Due his lying, acting up, displaying disrespectful and rude attitudes, and being negligent and irresponsible with his chores we disallowed his attendance at a couple of after school music rehearsals. I both times wrote and signed a note requesting that his absence due to discipline reasons be excused but upon Braden's return, he said that after turning them in, he was told, “Absences due to discipline reasons don't count.”
     This surprised me but I thought, What the heck? It's his problem, not ours. 
     When his mid-quarter report card came and showed an F for music, I asked him, Is this for real? 
     He said, Yes, it's due to my two absence.  
     I shook my head and smiled but later recommended that he change one of his next year's electives from music to foreign language—especially since he doesn't take music serious, having brought his instrument home to practice only five times during the past four years of music classes, and having practiced only twenty minutes or so each time. 
     With some reluctance, he agreed and got the form to switch music to Japanese.
     But then before signing the form I remembered he'd already signed up for four honors academic courses next year (which I'd approved of but wasn't confident he'd be able to handle with all B's or better) and realized that the swap will increase his overall academic challenges—Japanese being tougher than music. So I held off signing the form. 
     Two days later Braden complained to Deanne that based on his current calculations of his GPA, he's going to flunk and have to repeat ninth grade! And that it's all our fault because his F in music is what's bringing his GPA down! 
     Deanne told him it's his fault for getting in trouble and needing discipline all the time and to calm down and stop blaming us. When he refused to comply, I sent him outside for time-out. 
     When Deanne later expressed her concerns to me, I said it sounds implausible, reminding her of our family friends' daughter that got straight A's in one semester then straight F's the next but still graduated high school on time with a full-ride scholarship if she just maintained a C average or better in college, which she didn't. Whereas Braden, besides the F for music, has gotten all A's and B's “Flunking out for one F?” I said, “doesn't seem real. If you're still concerned, talk to his counselor and music teacher about it.” 
     Then I told Braden to quite talking to Mom about it and to contact the same if he's still concerned. 
     Because Braden and Deanne expected the worst, they both panicked. I, by contrast, expected the probable worst and thereby stayed calm, chuckling even. Further, I hoped (and still hope) that Braden would keep it together (his attitudes and behaviors have improved some) and pull his music grade up to C or B by quarter end, possibly even A if he can earn extra credit. Preparing for the worst (his flunking music) came easy as I imagined forcing him to switch music to Japanese next year—problem solved!  
     Funny thing, as I was composing this essay, he acted up again and so had to miss another after-school music rehearsal. I wrote another excuse note, but good luck with him pulling up his grade by quarter end now. His GPA may suffer, but if he finally learns the at-home lessons we've been drilling in him all all these years of character, integrity, competence, and responsibility, it will have been worth it. For what are grades but letters on a sheet of paper? It's what's inside that counts most. Always.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Art of Self-Defense

     About a year ago, we started Jaren on martial arts—not so much for self-defense or even self-confidence, but more so for discipline and body control. It's a non-violent martial art form, not at all like kung fu or karate with its kicks and attacks, but it is interactive requiring partner work unlike tai chi. It's also non-competitive, which for us was essential (see my prior Competitive Sports essay for reasons why).
     We've liked it not only because he's quick to learn (they promoted him to orange belt, skipping yellow belt entirely) but also because he now sits still quietly without fidgeting for longer (when required) and in general is less frazzle-headed and always wanting to do something (such as annoy his siblings), instead entertaining himself during free time reading, playing make pretend with toys, riding bike, practicing soccer, and running laps around the house. Even at school, he's been getting less notes sent home from teachers for misbehavior (although we'd still like to see that reduced to zero).
     When I told Norm (a karate black belt instructor) about signing him up, he said, “I hope it's not one of those fufu clubs...”, meaning lacking real-life practical application possibilities. I stayed quiet because yes, by Norm's definition, it is a fufu, work together, always help your partner out, do it right so no one gets hurt type of club. The older youth in particular do a fantastic job mentoring the lower ranking youngsters and Jaren will one day get to do likewise when he gets older and better. And what's wrong with that? I wondered. Isn't that even more valuable than a “beat the crap out of 'em even if they're bigger and stronger than you are” type club? After all, our world hardly needs more violence.  
     Norm, short and slender as a youth and now rotund, has always been prepared for a fight, even carrying a buck knife everywhere for awhile (perhaps he still does), so machismo certainly shapes his view of what makes a good martial arts club. Whereas, I, by contrast, though taller and sinewy-looking with some measure of athleticism (or so I delude myself), view fight as absolute last resort and the carrying of weapons as counter-productive (for as statistics show, gun owners are far more likely to get shot than non-gun owners. Though knives aren't guns, pull a knife on certain assailants and they'll go for the kill rather than run—not a smart self-preservation tactic. Norm owns several firearms, by the way.)
     I saw a terrific women's safety program on TV decades ago in which a long-time police veteran said that women's number one safety tactic should be avoidance (stay away from sketchy situations, trust your gut, know your surroundings, be alert, look people in the eye, appear strong and confident, go out in groups, avoid drinking with strangers, and always drink responsibly). If tactic number one fails and a non-physical confrontation occurs, tactic number two should be flee (run toward others; shout, “Fire!”; and don't believe anything the aggressor says.) Finally, if the above fail and physical confrontation occurs, tactic number three should be fight to escape (stomp the sole of a shoe on the aggressor's shin and foot; kick; scream; shout No! Stop! Let me go!; bite; shove thumbs deep into the aggressor's eye sockets; grab the aggressor's privates and pull unrelenting; and urinate/defecate if undressed—anything to get away). Upon escape, flee and avoid (back to tactics number two and one).
     I liked what he said and shared it with my sister Joan (who freaked over it for awhile—good, if it got her to act more prudently) and other women in my life. One of the key take-aways for me was that self-defense is not about out-fighting an aggressor but about outsmarting him and not being the next victim. And what's true for women's safety is true for anyone.

Other security tips he shared:

When shopping, don't wrap purse straps around appendages that could get broken or dislocated in a tug-of-war against a 250 pound thug, rather unzip the purse, wrap its straps loosely around the purse's body, and hold the bundle like a clutch. If a thief grabs it, it'll explode open sending its contents flying. No thief will bend over to search the ground for the wallet that contains the cash he wants. He'll flee and possibly drop the purse when he realizes it's empty.

Keep a wad of rolled up $1 bills with a $5 bill showing on the outermost layer in the purse. If alone and confronted with an aggressor with a weapon who demands money, show the wad, say “This is all I got,” throw it over his head so it lands far behind him, flee in the opposite direction and scream, “Fire!” He'll go after the money he wants and let you go.

     The officer started the program by saying that statistics show one in three women will be assaulted during her lifetime but that each woman can reduce those odds against her by doing common sense things mentioned in the show. Perpetrators always hunt for the easiest mark they can find. Be a tough target and they'll give up and look for someone easier. He also emphasized that past victims should not feel the least bit responsible for what happened to them, no matter what they did or didn't do, because it's always the perpetrator's fault. And that violent crime happens every day and will continue to happen, sometimes even to the most careful, prepared, and physically imposing person, so all anyone can do is his or her best to avoid being the next victim—vigilance and preparedness being key to reducing those odds.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


     I've been feeling the need for rest recently and more importantly God's call to rest, so I did just that the other week by taking a half-hour afternoon nap after work one day and more significantly by not posting to my blog, even though I had a first draft essay done and entered in the computer.
     I'd been so habituated to posting once a week from between Monday to Wednesday that restraining was difficult. But restrain I did 'cause anxiety had been building and posting had come to feel more and more like burden than pleasure, and though ideas for essays came, I forced myself not to write, knowing that rest was necessary and would do me good, restoring balance to my life and rejuvenating my desire to write. 
     For by prioritizing weekly postings to maintain high search engine optimization over spending more time with the kids—Jaren and Pene in particular—I'd made suspect tradeoffs as my blog will always be there but my kids won't.
     Braden had selected and I'd purchased for us a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Goodwill awhile ago and Jaren seemingly read my mind and hinted the other day, “...it will be fun to work on...”
     So we did.
     He helped me hand-sort the straight side pieces and the whites, pinks, and yellows (it's a 100% nature photo of a gentle waterfall beside a field of wild flowers) and assemble the sub-sorted side pieces, while I continued to sub-sort. 
     And at the library the other day during a relaxed lunch break (no checking e-mails or blog stats or doing other have-to-do-chores) I chose another book to read to Pene: a love story—the first I've read to her—about love in the true sense of the word, not Hollywood's fake version. The memoir describes a female Asian American Californian living the fast life in Hong Kong as a successful columnist/reporter/editor who dates a rich snob, feels dissatisfied, and then meets a humble East Indian writer who shows her the simple beauties of life, love, and family—worlds away from her chaotic family upbringing and glam single life. She breaks up with her boyfriend, lives within budget, reevaluates her life, and marries the East Indian—a sequence that to her resembles a fairy tale. 
     Now Pene, at this point in my eyes, has unlimited career potential and like the author could achieve worldly success in globe-trotting fashion should she ever choose to do so. I hope she does see the world outside Hawaii, which is just sooo limiting and is one of the reasons why I hope to move to the East Coast after retiring in about 2020, so she and Jaren can go to a nearby university at more affordable in-state tuitions. 
     And like the author, Pene could find a wealthy shallow lover to live with who'll pick up her tab for everything except clothes and incidentals, something I pray will never ever happen.
     As I read to her, I add my personal observations and commentary and edit out the heavy topics (about psychological defects and the author's abusive dad who develops mental illness) and instead focus on the love story and scenes of beautiful India that remind me of Deanne and my own love story. For like the pair in the story, Deanne and I, after an initial introduction and hardly any time spent together, began a long-distance correspondence that grew (for us after another short meet up) into love. And like the couple in the story, we came from near opposite sides of the world, with distinct and disparate cultures, dialects, and values that we had to, or rather got to, combine into our own. Coincidentally, Deanne, like the author, suffered a difficult childhood (but not nearly as bad) and I, like the author's fiance, have deep roots in my rustic Hilo birthplace (his was in a century old faded glory mansion in the old part of Delhi).
     So as I read I hope Pene catches that there are unlimited possibilities as it relates to career, residence, marriage, and life, and that the everything-has-to-be-local-Hawaii mindset that afflicts so many locals ought to be avoided because beautiful as Hawaii and its people are, there's more to life than just here.
     Since starting my rest sabbath the kids and I have gone on more after-dinner walks—times of enjoying, winding down, and interacting, which we hadn't done much of lately. 
     And I've spent more time with Deanne in bed just before leaving for work and before bedtime, which can be sooo soothing.
     Our busy week prior to my sabbath would probably have seemed to many whose lives are jam-packed with activities like a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. Nonetheless even we (and I in particular) need these occasional rests in addition to our usual weekend afternoon naps and sleep-ins. And I assure you that after awakening from that late weekday afternoon nap before dinner, I felt more restored and centered, a feeling I hope everyone that needs it gets to experience some time soon.