Tag Archives: parenting


Fatherhood For The Masses.

I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.

I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.

Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.

They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.

And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article from The Onion.

Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.

And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.

I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.

back to school

Vignettes Of Back To School.

By: Chris Warren.

The flurry of activity known as back to school is noticeable even by those with no direct connection to this yearly spectacle. It starts after Fourth of July when the stores roll out school supplies and the TV fills with commercials featuring good looking, outgoing kids jumping around telling us how awesome buy one-get one half off shoes are. Looking past the capitalism, we who don’t have kids going back to school can find many cute and heartwarming scenes.

My niece just started junior high/middle school and I happened to be over there visiting when she found out what her class schedule would be. The “Sixth Grade Chick Information Network” went full blast with dozens of texts and social media posts. Every sixth grade girl in the land, it seems, absolutely had to know who is in what class with whom, and when.

My sister-in-law sensed my lack of appreciation for this momentous back to school announcement. With the patience of a mother who knows she is talking to someone who has no clue how Sixth Grade Chick culture works (a presumption that was 100% accurate), she explained, “It’s all up and down Facebook and Instagram. It’s all they are talking about.” I politely smile and kind of see the point. Kind of.

Less than a month prior to The Great Sixth Grade Schedule Reveal of 2015 my niece was upset about leaving her old grade school and starting junior high. She wanted to keep her friends and the surroundings that made her feel so welcomed and comfortable. I tried to think of something meaningful to say that didn’t sound like a dorky old dude was saying it. “I think that after you’ve been in your new school for two, maybe three days, you’re going to think it’s the greatest place ever.” Ok. That wasn’t too dorky old dude-ish.

If I want to maintain my status as the Cool Uncle, I have to keep it real, and not in an dorky old dude sort of way. Knowing how to respond to texts with the appropriate emojis and occasionally buying the kid some pizza bumps up my Cool Uncle rating, too. By the way, my prediction was wrong, in reverse. She thought her new school was the greatest place ever on the very first day.

My “adopted nephew” James, who I have previously written about in detail on this blog, is beginning his freshman year in college. He ultimately wants to go to medical school and become a doctor; I honestly think he has the mettle to pull it off. It was very flattering when he and his older sister made a long trip just to hang out with me for an afternoon.

We had a great time shooting guns at a local range (an outing I had regularly taken them on going back many years) followed by a pizza stop. They smiled and told me about their hopes and dreams, and more importantly, their plans to achieve them. I felt respected; they felt like they were being taken seriously. It was evident that we all were enjoying the good vibe.

As the afternoon was winding down and the kids were getting ready to leave, I had one simple request: I wanted to hear from them every now and then, maybe twice a month or so. A phone call would be awesome. An email would be nice. A text message would be perfectly acceptable. They agreed to my request, but I know how aloof college kids can be so I wasn’t expecting much of a follow through. Now I feel a little guilty for not having more faith in them; since then they both kept their word and have been in regular contact with me. I hope they know how much it really makes my day when I hear from them.

Back to school is usually a happy albeit harried period for most families. In the moment they may not realize that for some students it is a major life change. Parents will wonder in complete disbelief how all the years clicked by so fast. Every increasing grade number, every turn of the semester, every first day back to school, places students a little closer to the moment when they will be the adults worrying, wishing, and wanting the best for the young people they care about so much. It’s a genuine blessing when a few of those young people are someone else’s kids.

If you liked this article, please check out my other related posts:

The Class of 2015: Let Your Love Bind You To All Living Things.

Graduation’s Greatest Hits?

The Play Was Over, But The Plot Kept Going.

Beating The Higher Education Hustle.

The Tragedy and Comedy of Senior Summer.

Graduation Completes The Circle.

Everyone Is Wanted At D’s House.

By: Chris Warren.

Last week’s Twenty First Summer featured my thoughts about James, an impressive young man who has a heart and a brain and knows where he’s going. They must put something in the water in the midwestern USA. Or maybe they still teach kids about honor and respect and character. The evidence just keeps rolling in:

Today’s story of kindness that has exploded across the internet actually started a year ago: Three members of a middle school basketball team from Kenosha, Wisconsin walked off the court in the heat of the game to confront a fan of the opposing team who was heckling Desiree Andrews, one of their cheerleaders. Desiree, or D as she is called, has Down’s Syndrome. I’m not sure where the dividing line between ordinary sports event trash talking and cruel bullying is, but I am absolutely certain that mocking a Down’s Syndrome kid in front of a crowd of spectators is light years past that line.


The incident earned D three protective “big brothers.” She may not need them, though. Since the incident last year, she has won over the entire school in a way that indicates that the kids at Lincoln Middle School understand acceptance and inner beauty well above their grade level, so much so that they named the gym where this incident happened “D’s House,” after Desiree. It’s important to point out that this idea came from the student body, not the parents and administrators.

The cheerleading squad is a bitchy clique at most schools. Only the best looking, most popular girls make the cut, and they don’t let anyone forget what princesses they are. Is this a stereotype? Probably. But it’s not a completely unfair one. Let’s not fool ourselves: At many schools, D would not even be considered for a spot on the squad. Yet if one bothers to look past the superficiality that drives these decisions, giving her a chance makes complete sense. The real purpose of having cheerleaders is to stir up school spirit and create a positive vibe. Desiree has accomplished this goal almost singlehandedly. How on earth can anyone make an argument that she’s not a good cheerleader and role model for her school?

What is most beautiful about people like D is their authenticity. They don’t have a grasp on social conventions like the rest of us, so they are completely honest in everything they do and say. This can sometimes result in obnoxious behavior, but most of the time we get a person who is gentle and kind and childlike-innocent because that’s the way they really are. They are not capable of pretending to be anything else. People like D make terrible actors unless the part is to be themselves.

Probably without realizing it, D has forever changed many lives. The kids at Lincoln Middle School will go forward having seen for themselves the power of kindness and friendship and character. I’m going to be an optimist and say that kids today are mostly good. For every negative story about them that pops up in the media or on the internet, there are dozens of positive stories no one ever hears about. In that way, D is a cheerleader for her generation as much as she is for her team.

D’s friends both old and new learned early in life that kindness is more affirming than cruelty, befriending an outsider carries more rewards than risks, and both loyalty and dishonor will come back to you in proportion to how you gave it to others. It was not a planned lesson, but the most meaningful and lasting lessons never are. Years and years from now, as new classes of kids cycle through Lincoln Middle School, they will be told how and why “D’s House” got its name. It seems Desiree Andrews, the Down’s Syndrome kid who just wanted to be a cheerleader like all the other girls, has instead been given a permanent teaching position.

Lunch With A Teen Lottery Prize.

By: Chris Warren

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with my buddy, James. He happened to be in my area and I don’t get to see him that often, so when the last minute invite came in, I quickly rearranged my day to make it happen. I was excited. He’s one of my most favorite people, ever.

The first thing you’ll notice about James is how outwardly unnoticeable he is. He does not call attention to himself via a ridiculous wardrobe of saggy pants with his underwear and most of his ass hanging out. He is not carpeted with tattoos and piercings, at least none visible (for the record, I don’t have a problem with tats and piercings, except when they are overdone). He does not have a wild haircut. He’s a regular jeans & t-shirt type of guy. He speaks clearly and politely, in complete sentences, without profanity. The sentences sound like they had actual, meaningful consideration put into them. Only occasionally does he slip into wishy-washy teen mumble mode. James is a high school student.smartkid1

We nibbled on the free chips & salsa while waiting for our burritos. James has been taking college and honors-level courses for a while now. He talks of his plans to study science and math when he goes to university next year. He has opinions about politics and the world. It doesn’t matter if I agree with his views or not. What matters is that he is thoughtful and has a clue. James smiled and seemed embarrassed when I complimented him on how focused and together he was. This kid is so sincerely decent, likable, and intelligent that I wonder what alignment of the planets caused him to be here in the first place.

The answer is much closer to earth than cosmic good fortune. Guys like James are carefully nurtured by parents who put heart and soul into their kids. His mom & dad demanded the best from him and would not tolerate any less than full honest effort. They knew when to carry him and when to step back and purposely allow him to struggle on his own. All males, especially the young ones, live in fear of being dressed down by another male they respect. James’ dad sets a high standard and enforces accountability to it. The kid got the hint. He did whatever it took to avoid disappointing his old man.

As much as I may discount luck, I do like to tease James’ dad and remind him that he won the “kid lottery.” Like his son, he takes compliments humbly but inside he knows how hard he worked and how deeply he loved to produce the remarkable chip-munching teen sitting in front of me. The hardest work a parent does is the work no one ever sees. I know there are lots of kids from loving homes who grew up to be bums. And I know lots of kids turn out to be stellar even though their parents, if they have any, are the bums. Some parents have a winning ticket and throw it away.

James’ biggest challenge of his short life will begin this fall when he goes off to college where his parents will not be a daily presence pushing him along. He understands hard work is expected even when no one is watching; his parents’ admonishments buzzing in the in the back of his head will  keep him on task. The little kid who used to play video games with me and randomly hug me for no reason at all is now a mentally, physically, and morally strong young adult whom I am certain will one day find a cure for some horrible disease or come up with a solution to a very big problem. He knows how much he is loved (he’s still not too cool to hug me!) and proves every day that he’s been paying attention for the last eighteen years.

Mothers’ Smothering Meets The Rule of No Rescue.

By: Chris Warren.

It’s not very often two totally opposing yet in many ways related ideas come along that make me wonder if the world is becoming totally unglued or if there may be some hope of sanity after all. The latest example of “is this for real?” to pop up in my daily reads involves groups of people who typically agree with each other most of the time and have nearly identical priorities. However, for this one aspect of their lives, they are probably as far apart as they can get without leaving earth’s orbit.

First up is is the growing fad of mothers opening social media accounts for their young children, in some cases before the kids are even born. Yeah, it’s for real. Mothers (and dads too) have reached a level of self-absorption and “helicopter parenting” that they need to create an exclusive venue to display the kids’ every potty triumph and jelly-smeared face until the adorable little ones become teens who without any maternal prompting will jump on line and cheerfully mouth off all the essential details of their lives, keeping in mind how a teenager defines “essential”.

helicopter-parentThe most common reason given for pushing Junior into the social media jungle before he’s had his first diaper change, and I’m totally not making this up, is because the moms want an on line life of their own separate from the kids’ and don’t want to clog their news feeds with constant kid pictures and updates. Of course, in order to make themselves feel good they wrap their narcissism in the soft cuddly ubiquitous cloak of doing it “for the children.” It never occurs to them that the easiest solution is not to post a bazillion pictures in the first place. So instead of leaving it alone until the kids are old enough to make these decisions, parents are giving their offspring a head start. How important is it that a toddler have an “on line identity” anyway?

Years from now I’ll have a ready-made blog topic when all these babies hit middle school and realize mommy has spent the last decade or so building an on line individuality for them. They may be mortified and not want their friends to find out, but take heart future teenagers: There are very good odds that many of your peers also had a carefully engineered internet presence since before they were old enough to cut their own food, so at least it will be a zero-sum game. You can be equally embarrassed together attending group therapy to figure out why your mommies didn’t let you be you and give you the same options they insisted on for themselves. Heck, there is enough of this going around to form an official school club.

Back here on firm reality, the “No-Rescue” parenting movement very slowly gets some traction. The theory is exactly as the name implies: Mom and Dad are not going to bail the kids out of every little screw up. Forgot your lunch? Didn’t bring your math textbook home? Oh well. Bet you’ll remember next time. As gratifying as it is to hear about someone not raising their children to be overindulged prima donnas, the idea of holding kids responsible for living with the results of their own negligence is not exactly groundbreaking.8bc53f96bcc3a9c3ca2f61639e52f90e

Parents who think they’re being innovative by letting their children fall down and learn from the experience would be very disappointed to find out this is how it was done in generations past; there’s a bit of amusement in seeing young parents stick a trendy name on an old idea and then act like they’ve discovered fire or something. What’s next? Making teenagers do household chores and holding them accountable for completing the required tasks? Wow, how novel!

I’m not going to razz No Rescue parents too much because in spite of their complete lack of originality, they are absolutely on the right course. Yeah, I know it hurts to see a young person struggle with situations mom or dad could very easily resolve, but the character lesson of letting children fly solo when dealing with forgotten homework assignments and interpersonal conflicts will last far longer than a parent’s discomfort of blowing off a kid’s plea to do the dirty work for them.

It says something about our times when individual responsibility is held up as an uncommon virtue. If we were to gather these two groups of parents together and pick their brains, I am confident they would agree on most things regarding their kids: A good education, stable home life, safe neighborhoods, etc. So how is it that one group involves themselves to the point of micromanaging kids’ on line profiles before the kids are even old enough to know what they are, and the other purposely refuses to intervene and blunt the effect of every little (and sometimes big) whoopsie?

What is most unsettling about too-young kids being set up with social media accounts is that it’s not done for their benefit and minimal thought is given to what it could mean to them years down the road. It’s impossible for me to to see how giving your newborn his own Instagram has long term benefits for him. The converse to this is parents who flatly refuse to throw their kids a lifeline and “save” them from any and all of life’s stumbles. I have no doubt that both groups love their children and want the best for them; some are smart enough to see that by doing less now the kids will have more later.

The Tragedy and Comedy of Senior Summer.

By: Chris Warren.

The fun and fireworks of Fourth of July celebrations are long fizzled out and I count myself among the many who are not ready to admit the unofficial end of summer is only a month away. As the ubiquitous back to school advertisements foretell, yes, the calendar always gets its revenge. It’s the cycle of life we grow accustom to even if we don’t necessarily like it.

For last spring’s high school graduates, it’s much more than a perennial change of the season. It’s their dwindling days of having a legitimate claim to childhood, of not having to worry about anything serious, of living under the close protective cloak of parents and teachers. Within the next few weeks, their lives will change abruptly and things will never be the same. They’ve just completed a major life goal; I can’t really blame them for wanting to party, cut loose, and not give a damn about anything for a month or two.

I refer to the summer after high school graduation as “Senior Summer.” It occurs only once in a lifetime and is both a carefree joy and a sad, long goodbye as friends who have known each other for years and together shared many important experiences drift apart and go their separate ways to college, the military, a job, or mom’s basement. Sincere albeit naïve platitudes of keeping in touch will be offered and accepted, but it’s not going to be anything like the halcyon final scene of the classic hit musical Grease, when the kids graduate and begin their Senior Summer by happily singing about how they’ll “always” be together. The places and people that our young lives revolved around for four years quickly become just photos in a yearbook.

Years ago I had an occasion to stop by my old high school during my own Senior Summer to drop off a library book I forgot I still had. Being summer break, the place was empty and kind of creepy. Even though I knew the physical layout of the building in great detail, an odd feeling nonetheless came over me: “I don’t belong here. Naperville North isn’t my house anymore.” The school where I felt welcome and comfortable as a student walking the bustling halls laughing with my friends just a month or so earlier now made me feel like I was wandering around a stark alien spaceship. I just wanted to finish my business and get out of there. It felt terrible having an aversion to a place that was such a big part of my life and held many warm memories, but I knew I had checked out and moved on.

The emotional pain of leaving a familiar sphere of faces and places does have a big upside: As much as it may upset young people to let go of the only world they know, the opportunity for new and exciting experiences is breathtaking. The errand to drop off the library book was my reality check. It unnerved me at the time, but summer is fleeting and that fall I started college. I had a chance to study topics I liked and not what was chosen for me. In what can only be described as an amazing case of being in the right place at the right time, I applied and was hired for a job at a popular radio station. I had zero experience but it turns out I was a natural for yapping on the radio. No one was more shocked than me when my weekend/overnight program pulled in more listeners than some of the prime-time big shots. New friends, new school, and a new job that was a hundred times cooler than whatever my peers were doing to make a buck. All this happened less than a year out from graduation.


Teens going through their Senior Summer and feeling equal amounts of pain and joy have a difficult time grasping the idea that there is a big, inviting world out there just dying to meet them and give them a chance to make a difference with their fresh ideas. Like nearly all who came before, they will ultimately navigate through the churn of heavy feelings and doubt and learn that leaving the cocoon of high school –even if they don’t think they can handle it– has a higher purpose. It’s an essential part of the self discovery process.

This past weekend I went to visit my adopted niece because she is going off to college in a few weeks and I don’t expect to see her again before Christmas. I’ve known this young lady since she was born and I could sense her worry. “Chris, I’m so nervous about this,” she admitted, nearly in tears as she hugged me tightly. I said the only thing I could think of, unrehearsed from the heart. “You’re going to have a great time and amaze yourself and everyone with all the good you are capable of.” That wasn’t me saying something insincere just to be polite. I really do believe in her, maybe more than she believes in herself at the moment. Next year will be her brother’s turn. He is a highly motivated, dynamic kid and I’m certain he too will do very impressive things once he is freed from the limitations of high school.

It hurts to watch young people stress out over things we older and wiser folks know will pass, but there are some situations we cannot or should not bail kids out of. All we can do is smile and understand and assure them that joy and pain often come as a matched set. In my June 17, 2014 article I mentioned that the greatest trait of strong people is they know they are loved. It’s the most powerful and important feeling we can impart on our kids when we launch them into the world as brand new adults to figure out for themselves that the end of Senior Summer is the beginning of a bright and promising future .