Archive for December, 2017

December 30, 2017

New dads….. this is for you:

by Rod Smith

A week of Mercury columns written to a dad-to-be….

A colleague and his wife are soon to be joined by a son. Earlier this year he informed me that he respected my insights. I published these 5 columns as letters addressed to Zach as he prepares for the arrival of his son. What amused me was the amount of mail I got telling me that mothers are important and that girls too are born. I am going to run this today in the hopes that it will be passed around and that a few new parents will read and be edified. By the way I am fully aware that mothers are important and that girls too are born. My friend and colleague Zach is about to be a DAD to a SON and the letter is to Zach….:

• Day 1

Dear Zach:

I am delighted to hear you will become a dad to a son in January and delighted you respect my insight.

Before the baby is born:

You have probably noticed a shift in some of your thinking since you know you will soon be a dad. Trust this. It’s the “divine download.” It will continue from now on and it won’t ever stop. Any understanding you think you lack will be yours when you need it.

You are the only dad your son will ever need and you are sufficient for this joy, this 20-year active assignment, by which time he’ll be fully prepared and launched.

Relax always. Your capacity to relax will be among your greatest gifts you offer your wife and son. Anxiety is useless. It helps nothing. Babies need relaxed parents more than perfect cribs or the latest new-baby stuff. On that matter buy as little baby stuff as possible. Most of what’s suggested as essential you will never use.

Open a savings account for your son immediately. Contribute to it monthly until he’s ready to manage it himself. No withdrawals at least for 30 years.

Decide now that you will share in every joy and responsibility with the baby. Apart from the obvious (breast feeding) there is NOTHING you cannot do.

• Day 2

The birth

Be there and involved every step of the way. If hospital policy won’t allow the father to be present choose another place for your son to be born. Be present for your wife.

Try to be the first or second non-medical person to touch your infant son.

Remember exactly where and how you first touch and hold him. This will be something to tell him during his toddler years, and, if he’s like my boys, it will be something he holds onto.

With my first-born I was the first non-medical person to touch him.

Within three minutes of his birth I gently placed my two fingers a little left of center upon his chest before holding him.

I met my younger son on his seventh day. I held his sleeping face in my hands to greet him.

These moments are important to me. They are seared with love into my memory; they are touchstones of first encounters.

They make interesting toddler-talk and undergird the narrative of belonging. They are touchstones I need more than the boys appear to need them.

I access these intentional memories it when things are beautiful and when things are tough.

• Day 3

In the first weeks:

As the time approaches for your son to enter this fabulous world you will hear a lot of talk about sleep deprivation. Don’t let it bug you.

The night hours are invaluable: the joy, peace, and communion you will enjoy with your boy is something you will forever remember. I found this (almost) always to be a time of rich communion. Sometimes I was too tired to enjoy it. Many babies sleep through the night from a tender age.

Invite your extended family into your baby’s life early and a lot. They too want to love and bond with your son. The more committed people you can gather around to love him the better. If it takes a village to rear a child (chickens a raised) then the village must be invited to do so as soon as possible.

Babies need space. Give the boy time to be alone. Let him begin to learn he is a separate being who belongs to a very loving community. This is a wonderful rhythm that you and your wife will be in charge of setting.

You and your wife are the experts when it comes to your son – he needs the two of you to enjoy him and each other as much as possible – more than he needs any clinical theory, routine, or rigidity.

• Day 4

Here are some early principles that really helped me when my children were very young:

Don’t start something you can’t continue or that you don’t want to continue. For instance, I came under some heavy criticism because I never gave my sons pacifiers (called “dummies” in some cultures). I’d seen so many battles with parents over these things that I decided my sons would never have them. It seems parents need pacifiers more than the child. If this “deprivation” has lasting negative repercussions we are unaware of them.

The understanding that I was my infant’s home. Home is not our house or his crib. It’s me. This gave me the sense of freedom I needed to explore the world with my sons. While my sons were with me – about 30 countries later – they were home. The pediatrician (Dr. Yancey) who taught me this is worth his weight in gold.

Talk to your son a lot right from the start. Tell him about your day. Tell him what you are thinking, reading, and planning. Engage him in conversation as you would any person in the room with you even though he’s just a few days or weeks old. This is good for both of you. He’s learning he’s more than deeply valued and included, your voice soothes him, and you are learning to share your life with your son.

• Day 5

I trust you – and other dads-to-be have enjoyed the week of columns about babies.

Here’s the last one, perhaps the toughest:

You are not parenting for dependence or for independence but for interdependence. Everything you do is for your son’s greater, highest good. He’s not your trophy or a sign of your success or your means to regaining your unhappy childhood. He deserves complete freedom from delivering you or your wife from any unresolved issues. Parenting is the growing-up machine and it will do its wholesome work on you – if you allow it. Please, welcome it. Resisting will prolong the inevitable.

Your son comes loaded. Like you, he comes jam-packed with latent talents, latent skills, and potential waiting to be unfurled, guided, and trained. It’s your joy to help him identify and welcome all that he is into a context that will welcome and embrace all that he is. There are only really two things that will help you to do this well: first – be sure you are embracing and allowing your skills and talents and dreams to be fulfilled. Second, get out of his way.

I will close with a lines from a poem that have been my guiding light:

“Selfhood begins with walking away; love is proved in the letting go” – Cecil Day Lewis, Walking Away.

May the cumulative joy of a millions happy and fulfilled dads be yours.


[Readers: your responses, reflections, additions are always appreciated]

December 29, 2017

High or low? You decide….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Friday

Lower-functioning people, like lower-functioning families, are mind-bogglingly predictable. They invade boundaries, war over roles, suffer and inflict jealousies, wade in unresolved conflicts, wholesale gloom, demand inordinate attention, collect wounds like trophies, and are critical of any who cut loose of their tired patterns and conversations. They are usually rigid, right, and religious.

While I have empathy for such people and families, although it is usually wasted, and while some require intensive help to break their repetitive orbit, until such individuals and families are ready for change, the helper (counselor, therapist, coach) will spin his or her wheels on the client-designed treadmill until the helper becomes part of the client’s low-functioning litany of moans.

Higher-functioning people and families are wildly unpredictable. They care about what works, about what is kind, and how all or most people can benefit from their actions and attitudes. Who is in charge, who is honored is of little interest to them, largely because such concerns are eclipsed by the level of meaning that comes with living.

• I hope you will get ahold of your life before someone else does.

• May you define yourself before someone else does.

• May you escape rigidity, religion, and being right, and find it replaced with ambiguity, faith, flexibility, and fun.

And, may it also be true for me.

December 28, 2017

Last column of the year…..

by Rod Smith

The next time we “see” each other in the newspaper it will be 2018!

It’s 28C in the Durban area and negative 13C in Indianapolis as I write.

We did have a white Christmas.

Distance, weather, and many gross and subtle cultural differences separate me from you, but writing “You and Me” for all these years and getting loads of mail, has served to connect me to you and hopefully you to me.

This column will begin it 17th year in March 2018. By grace alone its impact has spread from the Mercury to a loyal and growing readership in about 160 nations.

Thank you Mercury readers. Thank you Mercury leadership and administration.

You have helped me write myself well (or at least well-er) and afforded me a platform to reach lots of people.

May you all have a happy and safe New Year.

In closing for 2017:

Yesterday I referred to my father’s idiom, Don’t carry your fish in a violin case. It stimulated questions.

Allow me illustrate:

In 1994 my dad and I visited a bookstore in Indianapolis where he saw a sign announcing “Books by the Yard (meter)”. It dawned upon him that people buy impressive looking books for show.

“That,” my boy, he said, “is carrying fish in a violin case.”

December 27, 2017

Guiding idioms…..

by Rod Smith

Monkey’s wedding; buite blink; binne stink; and boer maak a plan are terms I frequently use around here. Here being the Midwest of the USA and about as far removed from where those terms originate as possible. Life is beautiful; life is brutal I coined quite some time ago when I saw the principle working in my sons’ lives. Don’t carry your fish in a violin case echoes in my head from my dad:

  • Monkey’s Wedding – the sun is shining and it’s raining. The metaphor is obvious.
  • Buite blink; binne stink (Afrikaans for if the outside shines the inside is probably rotting) – a person who puts excessive energy and focus on outer appearance is probably attempting to conceal a stinking interior.
  • Boer maak a plan (Afrikaans for a farmer will find a way to make it work) – no matter how dire a situation there’s a plan or a compromise available.
  • Life is beautiful; life is brutal – like the proverbial horse and carriage, the beauty of human experience seems inextricably attached to the brutality life also offers.
  • Don’t carry your fish in a violin case – flee pretentiousness at all cost.
December 26, 2017

The doldrums are for planning…

by Rod Smith

I call these few days between Christmas and New Year the doldrums. They’re a breather: a time to drift between calendar high points. I get nostalgic. I experience strong elements of necessary regret as I wait for the promise of the new calendar year to kick in.

I am always reminded:

  • Integrity, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation – all captured by the word holiness, is local. By “local” I mean immediate and with the people with whom I share every day life.
  • If it (idea, principle, program) doesn’t work right here, now and with this family member, neighbor, colleague, it’s worthless.
  • All worthwhile positive change is first internal – the outward follows the inward. It may be convenient to switch this – thinking the inward follows the outward – but doing so is a waste of time.
  • It is possible for people to regard each other with deep, authentic respect but it is impossible without commitment to profound listening. All love begins and is demonstrated with listening and listening takes commitment and time.
  • Things are not fair or reasonable or kind while one party is gaining or advancing at the expense of another.

Please, let me know the things you think about as you prepare for your year ahead. I know we can learn from each other – it just takes a commitment to listening.

December 21, 2017

Miracles abound if you know where to look…..

by Rod Smith

Here are a few of the miracles I have encountered face-to-face this week:

  • I see a young boy and his mother walking their dog. An observer wouldn’t know the woman spent almost three years alone in a central African country negotiating with shady officials to get the boy adopted and then home. She decided she’d do this when she was on a mission trip the toddler was found abandoned and close to death in a dumpster. Her husband and three daughters got behind their mother and the seemingly endless journey of love to bring the boy to the USA began.
  • That man behind the newspaper at the coffee shop whom you may hardly give a second glance: he’s a living miracle. Unless you were told you’d never know that he disappears for weeks at a time to a central American country to perform hundred of surgeries pro-bono.
  • That guy over there with his family at breakfast: you’d never know that he also started a non-for-profit corporation that has “planted” and oversees over 65 schools in three central African countries.
  • That elderly woman crossing the street has not touched a drink in 45 years.

Look around – ask questions. Miracles abound. They are as near to you as they are to me.

December 19, 2017

I was touched by Monday’s column……

by Rod Smith

“I wanted to let to know how touched I was reading your column on Monday. Clearly the young man needs to re-connect with his father and is looking for a way to do this. I come from a long line of bitter and interfering mothers, no-speak divorces, and long family feuds. It takes courage and firmness but with your guidance I believe this young man will find the strength. I have managed to settle many family estrangements in the family. It has taken patience and now it is all worth the while. Years later everything is easy. Thank you for many pieces of good advice. I ready your column daily. It is the first thing I turn to in the newspaper.”

It is understandable when things do not go well with a spouse or a child to think that it is that relationship that needs the focus. The man or woman who does mind his or her business with his or her parents (even if the parents are uncooperative or even deceased) will find freedom in the most unexpected ways. As this husband to be reconnects with his dad and realigns his connection with his mother (on his terms) he will find courage and love within him for his wife-to-be that he never knew existed within him.

December 17, 2017

Wedding plans…..

by Rod Smith

“I’m 28. I will marry a wonderful woman in August. My mother brainwashed me with venom about my father for 24 years. He lives nearby. I hardly know him. I think I want him at my wedding. She is threatening to boycott if he is invited or there.”

It’s your wedding. Except for your mother’s friends whom you want included, the invitation list (under these toxic conditions) is none of her business. Allow your mother hostage power now means you can expect her to try to wield similar threatening power over other matters in your married life.

The good news is you have several months to complete important work with both parents.

Contact dad. Invite him into the slow, deliberate process of deeper, appropriate, father-son intimacy. (Use your own words). Suggest a bi-weekly breakfast and tell him there will be no talk whatsoever about your mother. After a few breakfasts include the “wonderful woman.”

Stand up to your mother. Tell her you want her at the wedding but it is an invitation she may always decline. Include her on other plans – the challenge is to not alienate your mother but to clearly define your response to her controlling ways.

Defining yourself to both your parents will do more for your long-term fulfillment than anything else you do.

December 16, 2017

Healthy client signs….

by Rod Smith

Ten ways I can tell clients are becoming stronger, healthier – some of the following begins to occur:

• They get spunky; they question authority, play with the rules, and break (benign) codes of behavior.

• They ignore the negative comments from others, comments that would formerly have impacted them.

• They (increasingly) reject the role of a victim – even if they have been one.

• They (begin to) see the bigger picture of their lives and they begin to strategize for what they really want.

• They (begin to) pay the price of wholeness – this means forgiving others, making things right wherever possible, and being clear where the lack of clarity lead to problems in the past.

• They (begin to) initiate their own fun instead of waiting for it to come to them.

• They grow in the ability to take full responsibility for their lives and blame no one anywhere for anything.

• They are aware of “sideways” frustration and anger and therefore careful not to visit unresolved issues on the “wrong” people – like taking out work frustrations on people at home.

• They (begin to) serve others in ways they’d never before though possible.

• When facing choices they take the choices with the most risk and ambiguity.

December 14, 2017

I am angry too, if I am honest….

by Rod Smith

Of course families all over the world deal with the pain of separation. Perhaps South Africans deal with it a little more than others.

This letter moved me very deeply:

“I have just read your column about family. My eldest daughter and her husband and two children emigrated on the weekend. This all happened very quickly, as a result of a good job offer. When we first heard about the possibility I was supportive on the outside but hurting terribly on the inside. On waving goodbye to them at the airport I was swamped by a sense of utter loss. It’s difficult to get a grip on it, and deal with it. My wife is also battling but she holds it all in. Perhaps its because where they have moved seems almost a parallel universe, but very far away. There is knowledge that its unlikely we will see them again for some years. The grandkids are very young and the thought of missing out on their growing years is hurting. I guess I am very saddened but thankful too that they will have an opportunity to grow up in a safe environment. I trust this hurt will subside. The feeling of emptiness will fade. I’m angry too, if I’m honest. Family is everything to me.” (Published with permission)