Fathers and Sons – Mountain Leadership

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An unfortunate reality…

Most educators spend more time with other people’s children than their own.

As a student, and parent, this has worked out very well for me. I’m grateful for our teachers, mentors and coaches.

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Last season, I spent a lot of time in Vail and noticed a gap between Vail Resort’s youtube clips and my actual experience with their first responders. I’ve been considering, “What are the qualities required to lead in the mountains?”

This season, there’s a new boss for Vail. She’s done fantastic work at Beaver Creek and I’m sure her team will sort it out. Everyone looked super-peppy during opening week. Maybe the grumpy guys retired?!

I spent months mentally rehashing my letter to the new boss. Gradually, I turned my “you could be so much more” mojo inwards, towards making myself a better father.

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Since my son could stand up, he’s been passionate about heading uphill. I figured it would take me a decade to get him up to speed. I underestimated the guy and we’ve had a lot of fun over the last year, skiing, camping and hiking.

My son has been eating up The Way of the Warrior Kid. There’s an unexpected overlap between the Code of The Warrior Kid and what he learned at his Buddhist preschool. The code fits with what I’m seeking to achieve in my own life.

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So that got me thinking… rather than figuring out how to fix grumpy ski-patrollers, why don’t we train ourselves to be the change.

  • The best memories of my life (and my son’s) are in the mountains
  • It’s a project we can enjoy for many years
  • It’s a beautiful legacy to leave him
  • It’s local
  • There’s no judges, tournaments, competitions or rankings
  • It provides huge motivation for me to stay in the game

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What would our code look like? Here’s a draft and we can make it our own over the next few years.

  • Fit For Purpose => strong, durable, resilient
  • Skilled => able to get where we need to be, in any conditions
  • Peer, Teacher & Student => learn from the experienced, share our knowledge and work with others
  • Prudent => pause and consider consequences
  • Prepared => we carry extra so we can help others
  • Calm, Humble and Patient => Knowing I need much more of this at home, I will practice it in my favorite environment. These traits are also on my (hotshot) son’s “to do” list.

The lesson here isn’t about the mountains.

The mountains are our story.

The lesson is to pay attention to passion and use childhood interests to create a value system for navigating the world.

Let’s fill the world with positive memories for our children.

Ownership Within A Marriage

2019-10-30 06.41.45Here’s a parenting challenge we’ve been dealing with for a few years.

If we don’t get her out of the house, 90-minutes after she wakes up, then our daughter gradually becomes anti-social. She doesn’t like to putter around. We’ve been muddling through for years. and it is why I used a ton of sitters => to get her engaged and into her day.

As I’ve phased out help we’ve been forced to deal with things we’ve been avoiding (article here).


 

I’m certain every marriage has repeating conflicts not between spouses => conflicts that give rise to frustration between spouses.

The conflict is never all that big.

Easy to endure for a little while.

But it repeats.

As it repeats, frustration morphs into bitterness towards the other spouse.

There is a simple fix.

Make it crystal clear who owns the situation.

  • Saturday mornings => down to me
  • Organize a swim meet => down to my wife
  • Get the kids to gymnastics, ski team or water polo => down to me
  • Sunday mornings => down to my wife

So when conflict arises, I know who’s in charge.

This helps me:

  • let go from outcome when I don’t own; and
  • own my frustration within my domain => instead of sliding into blaming… fix it, or grind it out.

 


 

With ownership assigned, we need a process for assessing if the job is getting done.

This can be tricky!

With babies and toddlers in the house, I could not reconcile my leadership principles with my marriage principles.

#1 being => I will never ask my spouse to do something I am not willing to do myself.

I do not like spending time with toddlers. So I used a lot of childcare, preschool and after school activities (~50,000 hours). It was a difficult, but temporary, time.

These days, I chuckle and remind my wife that the kids will start moving out “soon.”

Soon being eight years.

 


 

Increasing My Capacity To Own

Over the last two years, I have put the key elements of “my life” into the time before my family wakes up, or when the kids are in school.

Going back five years, I made my daily schedule visible to my spouse.

These two changes created the capacity to own more of my family life.

I also changed my attitude. I am willing to take on, or eliminate, anything. I’ll either do it, or eliminate it.

Own the predawn, live an open life and fix repeating pain points.

In this case, better is better.

Growing Up

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Our oldest turned 11 this month.

We are past the fog of the early years and moving away from a moment-to-moment focus.

The way things have played out:

  • 0-6 years old => learn to get along with others
  • 6-12 years old => learn how to learn
  • 12 years old onwards => learn how to live independently

With a desire to prepare the kids for Phase Three, I ask myself, “How do my kids see me act?”

I find myself lacking at this transitional point.


My kids’ teen years will not be well served by listening to me complain. Complaining is endemic in my demographic, usually about the shortcomings of others.

Most my complaining is internal.

Likewise, they won’t be served well by watching me manage a team of staff to cater to their every whim. You see, my strong marriage (today) is a function of a decade of outside assistance around our home. Creeping ever-upwards, this outside help had a side-effect of my kids getting used to being waited on (and me doing less at home).

Beware of the double-whammy => complaining about the staffing required to take care of things you’re unwilling to do.

So I need to change, but what should I change?

My situation or my attitude?


Start by considering what you know is true. In my case…

We have stable finances, a loving family and good health

I’m thinking that this indicates that I need to adjust my attitude rather than my situation.

That block quote is a worth considering in your own life.

Are your problems your problem?

My problems aren’t my problem. I have great problems. I’ve done a good job of improving them.

But it is more than my attitude that needs adjusting.

An improved attitude will correct the faulty thinking inside me but it will not prepare my kids to live in the world.


My kids have _really_ short memories => they are completely dominated by the recent past.

With this in mind, I’ve been playing a new game => introducing my family to TINA (there is no alternative).

The game is cutting outside assistance (nannies, sitters, au pairs and cleaners) and consolidating our schedules. It’s a test if outside help really helps.

We are three-quarters of the way through a reduction of ~4,000 hours of annual assistance. TINA forces us to “work it out” and gives us an incentive to train the kids.

Now, being pointman on cleaning our toilets has not improved my life.

However, and this is an essential insight, my_life_is_no_worse after I have removed the outside assistance.

This lack of negative impact makes me wonder, “Did the decade-long upward creep of spending actually made my life better?”

In the heat of the preschool years, it most certainly did.

However, my kids aren’t the only ones growing up.

Helping Kids

lexi_11I’ve been playing a game where I greet “challenging” kids by name and try to chat with them.

I am leaning against an urge to avoid them.

I aim for a kind word because it is tough to go into an environment, daily, where you’re not fitting in.

An environment where you could be forgiven for thinking that you are being told that “you” are unacceptable (rather than your behavior).

Some of these kids have no safe haven.


I was asked,

If he was your kid then what would you do?

I’ve been thinking about it => Kindness and Mastery.

I would teach kindness by improving the way I interact with everyone around me => his lack of kindness is likely taught at home.

I would find a way for the kid to demonstrate mastery to someone.


Consistent Role Models => I’m in my kids’ lives and I am modeling the behavior I expect from them.

I’m showing my daughters the sort of husband I would like for them. I’m showing my son how I’d like him to act in the world.

The role model doesn’t need to be you.

In certain domains, it is better if I act through peers & coaches.


Where’s The Win? => for yourself, and your kid

  • Where is the “win” in your life?
  • What are you projecting on to your family?
  • What can your kid excel at?
  • If he’s disengaged then are you fully engaged?
  • Might he be mirroring your relationship?

If I see a challenging kid do something well (sport, kindness, reading) then I go out of my way to give them props.

Around my house, I am quick to point out when my kids do something better than me and I acknowledge my mistakes.


Sports => If you find yourself with an aggressive kid then give them a socially acceptable physical outlet.

Moguls, cliffs, chutes, mountains, camping, water polo, medley swimming, jujitsu, BMX, skateboarding…

…activity is superior to modeling anti-social behavior on electronics.

The activities my kids most enjoy don’t have a scoreboard and we don’t go near judged sports.


For lollapalooza effects, combine the above => demonstrating mastery to a male role model will reduce anti-social behavior in boys.

Our children will get the attention they crave one way, or another.

Where Markets Fail

2019-10-06 15.14.46A decade ago, I tried to assemble a group of investors to build an aquatics facility in Boulder. The project was getting its land for “free,” yet we struggled to get the economics to make sense.

Fortunately for my family, the taxpayers of a neighboring county approved a school bond issue that financed a world-class aquatic facility.

My kids have some of the best memories of their life associated with this building.

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I’m reminded of a few things each time I visit.

It’s impossible to capture the value given, and problems avoided, by making athletics available to all the young people of your community.

The picture below shows what I mean: 8-18 year olds improving themselves, daily.

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I’m grateful to the taxpayers, school district and people who made it happen. People I’ll never know.


The facility is dedicated to our veterans and there are plenty of memorials around the property to spark conversations.

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#1 for me is the plaques remembering the district’s graduates, who died in foreign wars. Most were just out of high school, not far off the age of my kids’ favorite cousin.

Tom was CJ’s age when he was killed in Vietnam.

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That’s a lot of living given up, by people I’ll never know.

The older I get, the more I feel their sacrifice.

When people talk about the challenges facing our country, they’re correct.

However, the challenges are not unprecedented. I will never know what it’s like to go to war out of high school and watch my buddies die in a foreign country.

My kids might not understand for a while.

Time and Attention

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Early in my fatherhood journey, I created an effective cover story => the need to generate cash for the family.

My cover story was a socially acceptable justification for being away from my family.

As additional kids arrived, and I watched my wife deal with the day-to-day, it became obvious that my avoidance strategy would not take my life where I wanted it to go.

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I have a quirk => I “see” and “feel” the risk of future regret.

Due to my quirk, I will usually choose the path of least regret, regardless of short-term pain.

My thinking went like this… having been through one divorce, is my avoidance strategy moving my marriage towards where I would like it to go?

And this… you know, my friends tell me that parents have very little impact on their kids, even if that’s true… Do I want to spend the last twenty years of my life wondering if the kids would have had a better outcome with me around?

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Once I re-framed, the choice was obvious.

Time to do a better job at home.

However, at that point, mourning for my past life set in.

It lasted for five years!

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A key parenting principle:

if you show interest in something I enjoy then I will reward you with time and attention

In offering myself to my family, I seek to offer my best self:

  1. We do it their way – their speed – their level of competence.
  2. I don’t teach, coach or instruct. We simply spend time together.
  3. We do the activity one-on-one.

My primary goal is to establish the link between:

  • fun – Dad – camping
  • fun – Dad – skiing
  • fun – Dad – biking
  • fun – Dad – hiking

No agenda with regard to pace, duration and difficulty. No agenda!

Keep the trip short. The pictures in this blog are from an 18-hour mid-week camping trip. As another example, our youngest has precious memories of skiing with me => initially, the skiing took less time than the driving!

Train before the training. The world gets a better version of me if I’ve done a workout first.

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So if you’re feeling bummed, or avoiding life altogether, then get out of the house and start making the association between fun and what you like to do.

As I tell Axel in the backcountry…

It’s self-rescue or sit down and die.

By the way, if you look deeper then you will see the association of “fun” is really between you and your kid.

…or you and your spouse.

A Better Set of Problems

2019-09-14 07.05.49My favorite place in the United States is Blue Sky Basin.

From Blue Sky, you can look west and see The Mount of the Holy Cross – it’s a humbling view, which reminds me of beauty and personal insignificance.

Mountains are good that way!

2019-09-13 14.44.34When I tell folks about my mini-adventures, they might say “I wish…”

  • I wish my spouse…
  • I wish my kid…
  • I wish my boss…

Pay attention to your spoken wishes, and do.

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Am I willing to do whatever it takes to turn my wish in to reality?

Using my son’s hiking, I have insisted, “I will never…”

  • drive long distances
  • walk slowly
  • carry everything
  • give up “my day”

Going deeper, unlocking the benefits of marriage required me to modify what I thought were my best qualities.

Well, do you want it enough to change?

2019-09-14 07.45.21.jpgSecond, pay attention to the reality that you’re going to feel the same!

Memory is different than experience…

…and my experience often feels like a problem.

My experiences are largely forgotten, replaced with new problems I dream up. Fortunately, I am free not to take myself too seriously.

This insight, requires paying attention and not taking my thoughts too seriously in the moment.

I started by noticing my #1 habit that was clearly making things worse => acting on anger in low-stakes situations.

What is your #1 habit that’s holding you back?

2019-09-14 07.52.57.jpgWith a bit of luck, I have a few hundred Blue Sky laps remaining.

Each time I look over to Holy Cross, I’ll be reminded of a job well done.

Fill the world with reminders of your best self.