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The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.

Your Princess and Kissing Those Darn Frogs

I just finished reading a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” by Wendy Shalit. Although the book was written in 1999, its wisdom is timeless. Indeed, it is quite remarkable to watch Shalit skillfully illustrate the troubling cultural messages being communicated to girls and young women about their bodies, sexuality and femininity. This book is still a must-read.

In any case, the book has caused me to think quite a bit about the role that fathers should play in protecting the innocence of their daughters and in helping them develop a healthy, resilient and positive self-image--a tall order indeed in a culture that increasingly seeks to sexualize our little girls. (We now have retailers that are making thong underwear for 11 year-olds and skinny jeans for toddlers.) My view has always been that a father’s role is to help his princess find her “prince” (i.e. her self worth) without “kissing all the frogs.” For sure, today the frogs are more plentiful and aggressive in their call…And the stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of poor decisions can be long lasting and quite dire.

A case in point is the recent situation that actor Lawrence Fishburne (Mystic River, The Matrix) faced with his 19 year-old daughter, Montana. She agreed to star in a pornographic video to help her become famous. She stated, "I view making this movie as an important first step in my career. I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me.”

Clearly, Fishburne was not happy with this situation but Montana wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, to block the release of the video, Fishburne’s friends even offered the film producer what he apparently considered too “modest a sum” -- $1M for all of the copies. The producer distributed the film and it reportedly sold so well that he offered Montana a multi-picture deal.

Granted, Fishburne’s situation is somewhat unique but you have to wonder why a daughter whose dad is an accomplished actor would choose this route to fame. But, the script of Montana’s life is a familiar screenplay with a predictable narrative. It’s worth noting that Fishburne and his daughter’s mother divorced when Montana was very young. You have to wonder if he was "on location" when Montana was a little girl making the critical decision whether to embrace or reject the immodest “Kardashian type” messages and values celebrated daily in our culture. All dads should be mindful that if you “exit stage right” from your daughter’s life, you are bound to miss important “cues.”

Ironically, frogs can be quite alluring and very deceptive. But, outside of fairy tales, there is no “magic” in them. And, that’s why our daughters need involved fathers who have built strong enough relationships with them so that they will listen when he says “be careful what you wish and what you kiss.”

A Little Girl Named "Inspiration"

Last Friday was a tough day for me. I had just boarded a subway train heading to my first of three speaking engagements. I was already pretty tired because I had to take another early morning flight. To make matters worse, I wasn’t looking forward to a tough call about this year’s budget with our VP of Finance in preparation for an upcoming board meeting. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult "sledding" so far this year due to the fundraising environment. We need lots of help and it seems like I am working twice as hard to raise half the funds. Indeed, I was a bit discouraged.

Then, I saw her.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old and she was sitting right across from me next to her mother. She had just the cutest little face, which was framed with a flock of perfectly twisted braids. And those eyes. Well, they were like big brown shiny buttons and they were locked on me like a laser beam.

Now, anyone who knows me knows well that I am a “sucker” for little kids. But, since I was in a bit of a funk, I was stubbornly determined not to engage her. Plus, I had to prepare for my important speech about fatherhood. So, I turned back to my work.

But, she would have none of it. I looked up again. And, there she was staring at me. She was transfixed. So, I had no choice. I smiled. And she lit up like a Christmas tree and smiled back as if to say, “Gotcha.”

I looked at her mother—who seemed to be carrying a heavy burden—and noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. And, I could not help but wonder where this little girl's dad was and when was the last time he smiled at her. In any case, before I could consider this more, the train stopped and the mother grabbed the little girl’s hand and headed for the door and then they disappeared into the crowd.

I doubt that I will ever see those eyes again. But, I will never forget them. And, I doubt that I will ever know this precious little one’s name. But, I have given her one nonetheless. I will call her…Inspiration.

The "Sorry" Language of Love

In 1970, the buzz in Hollywood was about the romantic movie Love Story. The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and made stars and household names of the young actors Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. Even if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t have it in your Netflix queue, you have most likely heard the famous line that MacGraw’s character uttered early in the film: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Now, I was preteen when I first heard this line and even then it didn’t sound quite right. Granted, I didn’t know much about relationships and romance but I had done enough wrong to those that I loved to detect a flaw in the logic—despite the poetry of the line. Sadly, I must dispute the words of philosopher William James who once said: “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” Unfortunately, given the power of pop culture and pop psychology, I think that many have embraced this absurd and convenient retort, especially those who have trouble with mea culpa.

I was reminded again of this line a few days ago when I came across a book by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas called: The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationship. You may be familiar with Chapman from his many books on “the five love languages” where he asserts that we generally like to receive love in one of five ways: acts of service, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, quality time or physical touch. The problem is that we usually give love in the manner that we like to receive it and this may not be the right love language for one that we are seeking to love. In short, it’s the receiver, not the giver, who determines if an act is loving.

In any case, Chapman and Thomas have developed a similar model for the language of apology. They argue, rather convincingly, that an apology, just like giving love, is not really effective unless it’s expressed in terms appropriate for the receiver. Below are the languages of apology that they have discovered:
  • Expressing regret: “I’m sorry” may be the first words expressed in this apology language but you will need to clearly express what you are sorry for. For example, if you inappropriately spoke harshly to one of your kids and this is their language, you will need to be specific and say, “I am sorry that I lost my temper and raised my voice at you.”

  • Accepting responsibility: This apology begins with the words “I was wrong” and then explains what was wrong with your behavior. For example, you would say to your spouse that you were wrong for not planning well enough to get home in time to pick up your children from school.

  • Making restitution: This apology language is focused on “making it right.” So, if you forget someone’s birthday, and this is his or her language, you can’t just say that you’re sorry. With a person who speaks this language, what they really want to know is “Do you still love me? and making restitution helps assure them that you do.

  • Genuinely expressing a desire to change your behavior: This apology needs to be linked to a plan to keep the behavior from occurring again. If this is a loved one’s apology language, in their world, apologizing without a sincere desire and demonstrated behavior to change is not apologizing at all.

  • Requesting forgiveness: For someone who speaks this language, the words “Will you please forgive me?” are critical. In their mind, if you are sincere, you will ask to be forgiven.

I really believe that Chapman and Thomas are on to something here. A “love story” without apologies only happens in the movies. Indeed, love means always having to say you are sorry. Ironically, the title of the Love Story theme song, which won an Academy Award for best musical score, is “Where Do I Begin?” If you want to restore and/or maintain relationships with your spouse, the mother of your child, or your children, I suggest that you begin with an apology.

One final Olympics-fatherhood reflection...

One of my favorite things about the Olympics was the personal stories of the competitors. (The sleep deprivation from staying up way too late watching the Olympics…not so much!) Natalie had a great post recently highlighting the role that Apolo Ohno’s father played in motivating him to excel in speed skating. I want to briefly comment on another well-decorated Olympian – for this athlete, being a dad was the motivating factor in his story.

During one of Bode Miller’s alpine ski races, the commentators on TV remarked on the change in Miller between the Torino Olympics in 2006 and the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. As the commentators said, Miller “talked a lot of trash” and partied a lot in Torino and despite being a contender in five races, he left without any medals. But, the NBC commentators noted, this year we saw a humbler Bode Miller, who ended up winning gold, silver, and bronze at Vancouver and becoming the most successful American skier in U.S. history. I would venture to guess that his change in attitude has something to do with the fact that he became a father between the Torino and Vancouver Olympics – his daughter Dacey was born in February 2008.

This San Diego Union-Tribune article describes Miller’s commitment to being involved in his daughter’s life, to the point of even cutting down his time in ski competitions. Miller told Tom Brokaw on Nightly News that no medal or victory celebration compares to being a dad and spending time with his daughter, which he said is the best experience ever. Maybe Miller’s new attitude and motivation at the 2010 Olympics came about, in part, because he now has someone more important than himself in his life – his daughter – and, as many dads can testify, becoming a father brings a change in perspective that often affects every other aspect of life.

The Vancouver Olympics are over and we wait four years to potentially see Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller at the next winter Olympics. But for both these athletes, the impact of fatherhood, either as a son or father, will continue well beyond their athletic careers and that’s worth more than any gold medal.


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