Today’s article is especially for parents. I got together with Mark de Grasse from MegaMad Industries and we both put some of our thoughts and experiences on parenthood down.
In some societies, there are rituals or spiritual events to celebrate or prepare a young person’s transition from being a child to being an adult. I felt kind of lost the other week when my son said “I’m leaving to go back to Australia”, what do we do?
My son is 17 going on 18 and for the past 3 years we’ve been living in Spain where he was born. Before Spain, we lived in Thailand, Vietnam, and a long time in Australia. Australia is where he grew up from just a few months old to 13 years of age. That gives you some background on where he’s been and why now Australia for him.
I’m an entrepreneur myself, I like working for myself and basically look at life from the aspect of, am I happy? Yes! Continue what you’re doing. No! Stop, change and fix it. BTW. when I say “I” there is a huge aspect of ‘family’ too. I’m a firm believer that happiness of the family starts with ‘you’ being happy first. You can’t give love or spread happiness if you’re not happy yourself. I’ve always tried to prepare him to be an entrepreneur and was hoping to see him able to survive by now, or at least delving deeper into that special way of making a living. But I forgot that one can’t ever be a successful entrepreneur without making mistakes first. Hence, release and allow to explore.
Getting back to the topic at hand, I was shocked and so was his mother, we both were instantly worried and thought to ourselves “did we do enough, did we do it right?”. We were worried whether we prepared him well enough to be out there on his own because on the other side of the world is really on his own. Needless to say, we were quite emotional.
We needed some affirmation for ourselves and a bit of time to deliver some final words of wisdom. Time to retreat to nature with the family as that’s the only place one can truly be free and speak truthfully, yes, a couple of beers or a good wine can also do the trick, but my preference is exhaustion, quiet, beauty, peace, and back to basics. To me nothing beats a good night roughing it, think “honey, can you let me know if you find my feet somewhere?” kind of cold, or crawling into positions you didn’t think were possible, with the wind pounding on the tent and wondering if it’s ever going to be daylight again. Yes, it’s horrible, but to truly appreciate one needs to suffer, it sounds worse than what it really is if you train your mind. Enough on that.
We packed up, drove 2 hours to the Sierra Nevada, parked the car, secured our heavy backpacks with food for more days than we’d ever stay and started walking. At first, there is this feeling of what are we doing, this is hard!? Then you get into the zone when the endorphins kick in, and before you know it, you’re fighting in the dark to set up a tent that usually is so simple to get up but is now taunting you from every angle possible. You finally get it set up, the family retreats, you hit the sack with your wife and dog snoring in between. Your 17-year-old stays in the second tent that offers no shelter from the cold because €20 was all he wanted to spend on this adventure. Of course, you take his place only to find out that you can now write an article on 20 positions to sleep in when the ground is trying to pass on a bad dose of frostbite. Kinda like my article 20 Stretches to Watch TV and Work on Mobility.
New dawn came, as it always does, and it brought, well, just light, it was still freezing cold. I got up and went to get some water from the river for coffee and find wood to create a fire and heat up some of the body parts that we thought we lost during the night. We just sat there for most of the day, burning wood, talking, inhaling the smoke, and wiping tears from our eyes when the smoke got to us. During our deep and meaningful we spoke about what we as parents tried to achieve with his upbringing and we asked what he would do if he had children, what would he do differently? What were the things he really hated that we did? What were the things he could not understand that we did?
The key qualities that we really wanted to transfer during his upbringing were:
- Confidence (but not overconfidence)
And most importantly, instill an understanding of what health and happiness are and how to achieve that. That food and exercise is medicine. That money is not everything but happiness is.
My final words of wisdom that day were “always do what you say you’re going to do”, if you constantly let people down you will never gain their trust, and if you’re always joking about you’ll never be taken seriously. I said I was going to swim in the ice cold freezing river and I did. Mind over matter, don’t think about it, just do it. Thinking about how cold it was going to be; how was I going to get dry again; or the long walk to the warm fire in my wet undies, there was no need for any of that as it had to be done! Deal with it all after it is done. It was awesome.
In the end, you can only do your best as a parent, and no matter what, there is nothing that beats mistakes and experience as education, our only request is that none of those mistakes will ever be:
- hurting himself; or
- hurting someone else; or
- passing the point of no return
I love you son. Go, go and make us all proud.
How to Raise Two Very Different Sons
AUTHOR: Mark de Grasse
Every father wants to prepare his sons for the future, and I’m no different. Confidence, strength, intelligence, empathy, compassion, kindness, and the ability to lead are concepts that most good fathers aspire for in their sons.
What makes my situation different is that one of my sons is severely autistic while the other is completely “normal” in most ways (he’s still my son, so he’s still a little crazy).
Before I go on, I need to state that I am not alone in raising my sons. My amazing wife Jamie is our team leader and manages the details of our day to day lives. I have no problem admitting that none of the progress we’ve made as a family would have been possible without her spearheading everything.
With that said, I do have some specific “fathering responsibilities” that I think help as they grow older, this is requiring me to split my attention in three ways:
1) I need to prepare my neuro-typical son Declan to be a good person in every way a good person should be, while also preparing him to assist his brother if and when it is necessary.
2) I need to help my autistic son Damien develop as much as possible, hopefully reaching a level of functionality that allows him to have some independence when he grows up.
3) I need to develop myself to handle both requirements, while also becoming physically and mentally strong enough to assist both sons throughout their lives.
Needless to say, this can be quite a challenge. To understand the situation, you need to grasp the concept of autism on the more extreme end of the spectrum. Right now my son Damien is 6 1/2 years old, he is non-verbal, we’ve been potty training for four months, and he’s built like a linebacker.
These aspects of my son’s mental condition combined with his physical stature require additional attention over and above a typical child in the following ways:
- He attends four types of therapy which are both expensive and time-consuming in terms of travel.
- He requires 24 hour supervision and attention.
- He attends a special needs program at his school which also requires attention and management.
- He’s fast, heavy (he weighs 90lbs, about twice as much as a typical 6 years old), and athletic (he knows how to control his body very well and his proprioception goes above and beyond most kids his age).
- All communication is limited (he can say the word “mama” and can sign about 3 words) which leads to a lot of guessing and a limitation to the people who are qualified to watch him.
Thankfully, he’s a generally happy guy, loves his parents, and can figure things out. He has a kind of intelligence that we’re still trying to grasp, but it’s there and we’re happy to see it.
On the other side is my son Declan. Declan has some of the best traits of both me and my wife. Like me (at least when I was a child), he’s sensitive, kind, and goofy. Like my wife (and especially not like me), he’s popular, outgoing, and talkative. He works hard at school, he’s studious and detail-oriented, and thanks to his brother, he’s extremely compassionate towards special needs children. He’s also charming and handsome, teachers love him, and he has a knack for talking with the ladies (he especially didn’t get that from me).
While he is quite strong and confident, I believe that he needs to be a step above. I sometimes feel bad that we’re trying preparing him for too many responsibilities, but I think it leads to greater growth that will benefit him in many ways in the long run. Conversely, you can see what happens to kids that have it too easy, especially when they’re gifted and attractive.
Since Damien and Declan are in the same class in school (they’re 10 months apart and we held Damien back a year), Declan has the unique responsibility of watching over his older brother. Declan is physically pretty standard… about 40 pounds and lean (developing a 6-pack like his old man already). His strength isn’t spectacular and he’s not as coordinated as his brother.
So! There are unique needs and challenges with both of my sons, and to compound things, I’m going to need to be physically strong for at least the next 20 years. I’m 35 right now, but by the time I’m 55 I plan on having some kind of Ironman exo-suit to help with the heavy lifting.
Here are the key aspects of my “Son Development Plan”…
1) Instilling Principles
I believe that the basis of all good decision making is solid, irrefutable principles. These principles will give my sons the guidelines to make good decisions whether I’m around or not. This isn’t the full list, but these are five of my favorites:
– We help others whenever possible.
– If you don’t like something, don’t do it to others.
– You always do what you say you are going to do.
– The job is done when you succeed or fail, not before.
– You can’t say that you don’t like something until you have tried it.
2) Physical Training
Physical health and strength are important for both my sons and I. My son Damien eats like a monster (luckily his diet includes ridiculous amounts of cucumbers and broccoli every day) so he needs to stay active (which he currently does by never sitting still and jumping on a trampoline several hours a day). My son Declan needs to keep up with his brother and possibly defend him. I need to be able to lift Damien when he’s having tantrums and harmlessly subdue him in the future when he gets too big to lift (he’s on track to be like my dad, who is 6’5” and 300lbs). Here is how we’re preparing right now:
– Calisthenics in the form of trampoline jumping, push-ups, and pull-ups
– Jiu-Jitsu training for Declan and I
– Walk, hikes, and runs every weekend
– “Roughhousing” for fun (when I check Damien every 15 minutes I usually tackle him onto a crash mat)
3) Creating Habits & Assigning Responsibilities
One thing that gets through to Damien and truly changes his behavior is structure. If he knows that one task or activity will follow another, he’s fine. If you throw a wrench in the works with some unexpected change, all hell could break loose. Beyond this, my family has a lot to do and we don’t have time to mess around. Here’s how we create habits and responsibilities.
– If something has to be done daily, it’s assigned to one of us as a responsibility.
– If something is a luxury for an individual, a task must be done beforehand.
– One family members requirement is every family members requirement.
There’s a lot to each of these components, but you get a gist. Raising two sons with very different wants, needs, and goals is tough, but thanks to my awesome wife and loving children, it will be done.
Mark de Grasse is the owner of MegaMad Industries. Family man, entrepreneur, and teacher. His goal is to help you find out what’s possible. Learn more at MarkdeGrasse.com