Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Things I Learned about Parenting from Star Wars

Spoiler Alert: There are key Star Wars plot points inside this piece. I shouldn’t need to warn anyone, as the original movies were all released 30+ years ago, so if you haven’t seen them and are shocked by any revelations here, that’s on you.

During both of Mrs. Dude’s pregnancies I received suggestions of must-read pregnancy and parenting books from more than a few people I knew and myriad more that I didn’t. I did explore a couple, partially to pacify those who had shared their recommendations and also, more frequently, to help me fall asleep on those I-can’t-freakin’-do-this pre-delivery sleepless nights.

But there is another source of parenting tips I’ve reflected upon countless times over the last 5+ years since the Little Dude was born. And now, with Father’s Day once again upon us, I want to share with you some of the great parenting dos and don’ts I learned from one of the most infamous movie fathers of all time, Darth Vader.

1) Be present for, and with, your children: As Vader was pretty much a deadbeat dad, albeit for very atypical reasons, his son was lucky to have his old man’s former mentor (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) looking out for him during his most impressionable period. Sure, being raised on a farm in Tatooine by his father’s stepbrother Owen was probably not nearly as exciting as a childhood spent roaming the Death Star, but Luke received a good education (also from Mr. Kenobi), had a large outdoor area for playtime and ultimately proved to be a high moral character Jedi…despite his father’s best/worst/completely nonexistent efforts.

2) Don’t give your kids trendy names: Luke & Leia were excellent choices given their time and place in history. Context and family history are important, but when selecting names for your children, consider that they are the ones who will have to live with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s got to be difficult to be taken seriously in a professional workplace with a first name like Boba, Qui-Gon or Jar Jar.

3) Support & encourage your children’s interests: Luke was a skilled farmer thanks to his uncle’s tutelage, but he always yearned for something more than a normal (i.e. boring) desert life.  If not for Obi-Wan and Yoda, both of whom were contemporaries of Luke’s father, Luke might not have achieved his true destiny as a Jedi Knight. As it turned out, Luke was probably subconsciously hoping to earn his father’s respect, or at least attention, when he trained to become a skilled Lightsaber user. I doubt either of them anticipated how that one was going to turn out.
If only Vader had used his Lightsaber for dental hygiene instead of evil.
4) Use Your Words: In both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, father and son Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were brought together via one-on-one physical combat. They shared a common dearth of quality time together, so it might have behooved them and their nonexistent relationship to air their grievances (i.e. Luke about his abandonment and Vader over his son’s refusal to join the family business and join him over on the Dark Side). When children are not mature enough to fully express themselves as they wish, they often resort to hitting, hair pulling or other physical actions and reactions as a method of communicating a message or getting the response and/or attention they truly crave. “Use Your Words” is teaching them that verbal communication is a more effective method for earning a desired outcome. Had Vader been a stronger communicator with better grasp of his emotions, he might have been able to convince his son to join him in the family business. Does it matter that said business was less than legit? Not really, after all, family is family.

5) Don’t Be a Jerk: Vader sliced his son’s hand off with a Lightsaber AND THEN finally revealed that he was Luke’s father. It’s well known that children learn both positive and negative behaviors from observing their parents’ habits and actions. Vader shouldn’t have been surprised when after forcefully removing Luke’s limb in the heat of battle, that Luke returned a year later and did the same exact thing to him. Darth should have considered the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, which Luke obviously took quite literally.

All of the above being said, the Star Wars saga is about family, relationships and dealing with others you may not see eye to eye with. There will always be issues up for debate (maybe Luke should have listened to his father and joined the Dark Side, with the goal of turning everyone good again?) but maintaining open lines of communication can help clear murky things up. I haven’t shown the Star Wars films to my son yet, but I think he may soon be due. After all, I know I can hardly wait for Part VII, aka The Force Awakens, which will be released later this year, on December 18!. Maybe we’ll find out if Luke settled down and had a family of his own. I’m hoping he taught his own son a lesson or two, unlike his father ever did for him.

Happy Father’s Day and May the Force be with you.


Disclaimer: I wrote this post as part of my participation in the Fandango Family Digital Network. I was compensated accordingly, but all content and opinions contained within are mine entirely, for better or worse. Come hang with the FF team on Facebook, too. 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Why and How and Thank You Very Much

Over the last four years, I’ve shared stories with you of birth and death, sickness and health, not to mention bodily functions, birthday parties and bubbles. I’ve shared elated and somber, and all else in between, just as is the normal flow of life’s constant waterfall.

Why I’ve done this requires a twofold answer:

1)   To have a record of ups and downs that my boys will hopefully want to read some day to restore memories they were probably too young to hang onto.
2)   To scratch the left-brain itch that brought me from Ohio to Los Angeles 15+ years ago to become the TV writer I never became.

But how I’ve done it is a different story, and one I’ve never really talked about. It’s not that it’s a secret, but rather I must admit that it’s only recently that I’ve realized that I’ve taken this privilege for granted: every word I’ve published in the last four year has been possible due to one person, and she’s known around here as Mrs. Dude.

Today my wife Shana turned 40 years old. We were just kids when we met, if you consider 27 the tail end of adolescence. Now a dozen years, a couple kids, 5 homes and an incalculable amount of joy she’s brought me later, I want to present her with a small fraction in return.

When I’ve had deadlines she’s never blinked an eye while I’ve sequestered myself with my digital quill and ink until the task is complete. Oh, and those incredible conferences which have literally changed my life? My wife is the one who encourages me to go, despite my entirely-self-imposed guilt, even knowing how much extra work it means for her on days when I’m not home to get the boys fed and delivered to school on time in the morning, make dinner or get them bathed and bedded for several days in a row. Needless to say she carried and bore the two Junior Dudes, too, which are tasks obviously way out of my wheelhouse. 

And for all this, I say thank you, Shana.

Through nearly eight years of wedded bliss and stress, plus another four of dating/engaged trepidation, I’ve been beyond fortunate to have the world’s most calm and patient partner by my side. When I get frazzled about being late to a 3-year-old’s birthday party, she’s the one who restores logic to the equation and reminds me that no one will ever remember or care that we arrived 10/20/30 minutes late. Clearly this is an unintended side effect of marrying a math teacher.

I tend to be my own harshest critic and those moments when she returns me to earth often make me feel not only like I’ve just discovered an endless canteen while lost in the desert, but also that I didn’t know water even existed.

Though I know she’ll likely not see these words, given how hard she works at her full-time job, tutoring other kids on the side AND co-grooming two of the sweetest, yet most devilish, boys on earth, I felt compelled to share this for her, and for our boys, and for you to know how we all got where we are today.

It was legendary rock concert promoter Bill Graham who once said “They’re not the best at what they do. They’re the only ones that do what they do”, about pioneering jam band the Grateful Dead. Excelling at any chosen task is a challenge. Blazing a trail and doing things unlike they’ve ever been done before requires patience, vision and endless supplies of energy. I was beyond fortunate to hitch my wagon to someone who has off-the-charts levels of all three and who helps instill those traits in our family on a daily basis. For this, I am grateful and I trust that my boys will realize someday how lucky they are to have such an incredible mother and role model.

I’m even luckier to call her my wife.

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