Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"We Bonded in the Kitchen" -- Springfield Dad, Chad Carleton

Not every stepfather is so lucky. Chad Carleton admits he’s a blessed man, but he thinks some of the magic may have begun in the kitchen. “We bonded,” he said, “when we started cooking together.”

Chad got to know Jewel, his step-daughter, when he started dating Emily, her mother. She was 12 when they married; today’s she almost 16. Any parent will tell you, the pre-teen and teenage stages are not always easy. For step-parents they can be particularly difficult. It takes time to get to know each other, to learn what to expect. The biological parent, who has been around since birth, usually has an edge. That’s why Chad so values his relationship with Jewel as they work side-by-side in the kitchen, preparing meals for the family. He sees it as an opportunity to build their relationship and enjoy time together. He sees it as “incredibly rewarding” to be a positive, significant role model in a child’s life.

Chad is very candid about the importance of being intentional about the relationship with a potential stepchild. He insists, “Any man pursuing a woman with children should recognize the significance of the children out of the gate. You can’t come and go out of a woman’s life because it has a dramatic effect on the children.”

Chad explains, “I knew I wanted to be with my wife and I knew she had a child, so we were very intentional about me building that relationship. Over time it became less intimidating and it didn’t take long before I wanted another (child).” That child is their eight-month-old daughter, Isla, who loves to wheel her walker close to her parents and big sister when they gather in the kitchen.

Working together is especially important because Chad and Emily are co-owner of Everything Kitchens, a primarily on-line store for almost anything a person might want in his or her kitchen. Chad credits his wife with the store’s success and praises her ability. Given that Chad grew up in a family of all boys and admits to having very little experience with the female perspective, his understanding of how to be important in the lives of the females in his life if commendable. Though he’s young, we could all learn a lot from dads like Chad.

Cooking with Kids -- Start Early!

“They could crack an egg by themselves when they were two.” 

That’s how Paul Allen proudly describes the cooking ability of his daughters, Norah (8) and Azrah (6).

It’s clear Paul believes in getting his offspring started early.

Paul is a world class chef, having cooked his way around the world on yachts owned by the rich and famous. He trained at The Culinary Institute of America and is a former Ritz-Carlton chef. There's no question that he knows his way around a kitchen. 

These days, though, Paul makes his home in Springfield, Missouri where he focuses his energies on Farm 2 Counter, a business providing fresh, homegrown food on a weekly basis to persons living in 13 cities in southwest Missouri. Every Friday customers receive a small, medium or larger personalized delivery of locally grown or locally produced meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.

“You usually can’t taste the difference between organic and non-organic food, but you can tell when something is fresh and in season from something similar you might buy at the store.” And, Paul insists, fresh foods make all the difference as the basis for a good meal. It’s something he learned scouring local food sources in various ports of call in faraway places.

“Whenever the ship docked,” he explained, “I always made a point of going on shore and exploring the fruits and vegetables grown there.”

Today, cooking is a family affair. When Paul’s wife, Ashley isn’t caring for Lilly, their eight-month-old daughter, she cooks as well. In fact, these days the entire family often gathers in the kitchen spending time with the people they love most, making a meal they can enjoy together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy -- A Love Story about Good Dads Board Member, Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins has been a cattleman for as long as he can remember--his entire life actually. He grew up on a farm and when his father died suddenly while Robert was still a teenager, he carried on the operation with his brother until he was old enough to run the farm on his own. Robert is also in the construction business, but for the purposes of this article, we focused on his skills as a cattleman. 

Raising cattle is a long-term commitment. I know because I grew up on a farm and have some personal experience with what is required when your livelihood depends on how the livestock are doing. It strikes me that there are certain characteristics that define a successful farmer that may be common to a great relationship. I asked Robert, "What do you think a cattleman requires? What kind of person does he need to be?"

Take the Long-Term View. The first thing Robert mentioned was patience. He said, "If you don’t make any big mistakes, things usually get better in the long run. You need to be a long-term planner." Robert certainly took his own advice when he met and married Kim. They first met when she was a "skinny little 12-year-old" and he was a teen five years older. "We teased her and made fun of her then," he said, but later on he clearly changed his mind. The two of them have been a couple for 30 years and married for 24.

"You’re going to have a bad day, month, or year every once in a while," he remarked, "I only plan on making a profit 3 out of 5 years." 

Now there's some great advice for a good relationship. Take your time. Be patient. Let things work themselves out. I wonder what a difference it would make if we applied the 3/5 ratio to our marriages. Of course we want it to be sunshine and roses every day, but that's just not realistic. There are those moments, those days, and sometimes even longer when it's necessary to take the long-term view in life and love. Cattlemen know this. We do well to remember it too.

A compatible partner is key. "It’s hard to survive without a good partner. In farming, she’s not just my wife, she’s a vested partner, a hired hand, and more. We each have multiple roles." With this statement, Robert clearly demonstrates his understanding of the importance of "making the right choice," i.e., taking the time to find a compatible person who shares the same interests. Robert loves farming and he loves Kim all the more because she does too. Had he not chosen carefully, the two of them might be miserable. Even so, sharing this love would not be enough if either of them were tied into rigid role expectations. Allowing Kim the freedom to do a number of things and fulfill a variety of roles is key to their happiness.

Have similar values. It's one thing to love the idea of country life. It's quite another to actually live it. According to Robert, this is the utmost in importance. He related a recent icy weekend when they had seven calves born during an ice storm. "We were both up until midnight—wet, cold and exhausted—and just happy as could be that we didn't lose any calves. And then, we still had to get up and go to work the next day." 

"I think it was one of the moments when you realize you married the right woman--when she milks a wild cow to help a baby calf survive. . . . Kim was a city girl who always wanted to be a country girl. The first time I had to help a fallen calf I knew I had struck gold, because she had afterbirth up to her armpits and was as happy as a clam.”

I wish more couples would give the significance of shared values serious consideration when they are contemplating marriage. Share the same interests and values and you have, as Robert says, "struck gold." It's not enough to find each other fun and attractive. It's much more important that you embrace the same values and beliefs. That's infinitely more likely to get you through a lot of cold and snowy nights out in the barn-- or other difficult places where couples might find themselves.

Good Stock:  A good cattleman looks for the proper genetic characteristics. Robert has approximately 100 head herd of the Beefmaster breed. This particular breed was developed by a Texas rancher who combined the Shorthorn, Hereford and Brahman breeds to get the characteristics of cattle that do well in cold winters and the hot, humid summers of Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. In a similar way, if you want someone who will share similar interests and values, it's important to look for "good stock," i.e., someone with strong character and good family values. 

Robert agrees. "This makes a big difference when you raise children together. We could have sold our farm years ago, but we could not think of a better environment in which to raise our sons. We have raised three very responsible and well-adjusted young men."

At the same time, this doesn't mean that Robert and Kim think of and react to the world in exactly the same way. "Kim is a super-sensitive lover of life and she has a very hard time accepting the death of an animal. I’m an old callous cowboy with the idea that 'things die.' She thinks I’m insensitive at times. When we lose an animal, she takes it hard. We approach things differently. I need to remember this."

I love the way these two think. Perhaps that's why they've been such good hosts and role models for other couples--young and old. Together they bring a measure of tenderness and toughness that makes them hard to resist.

In summing up what he knows about farming and relationships, Robert had a few closing thoughts. "Learn to pick your battles," he said, "in business, farming, and relationships. I don’t fight every situation. On a farm, there’s always so much work to do that you have to choose what matters most, like good fences, the health of your cattle and so on. You deal with weeds, rocks, etc. later. We’re very open. We’re not afraid to talk. We bring it out. There’s no skeletons. We concentrate on what is key to success in life and love and get to the rest when we can."

I knew I liked Robert the first time I met him. Now I know why. He has a great handle on what's important in life and how to keep the main thing, the main thing. Plus, he married a wonderful woman.

Call me grateful for two terrific role models,

Dr. Jennifer L. Baker

Monday, February 4, 2019

Loving and Respecting Your Wife for the Long Haul

“Respect your elders and especially your mother!”

That’s one of the principle behaviors Eric Graley wants his kids to grow up knowing.  It’s Sabrina, his wife of 16 years, he says who helps him to be successful as a driver. When he decided to drive over the road more than three years ago, it was a decision both of them weighed in on. Sabrina’s opinion was also considered when he moved to drive for Prime in 2018. “She’s my rock,” he says, and adds, “I wouldn’t be driving without her.

Eric Graley has been driving an 18-wheeler for three and a half years, the past year for Prime. He is also the father to three daughters and a son ranging in age from four to 15. Eric serves as a trainer for new Prime drivers, spending up to six weeks (or 30,000 miles) with a new employee. He enjoys it; the money is good; and he views driving as a way to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his family. “Driving for Prime, I’m able to provide a good life for my wife and kids,” he states.

Just because he’s gone from home six to eight weeks at a time, does not mean Eric is not thinking about his family. The stuffed animals from the kids that Eric has on his dash in the truck and the daily phone check-ins mean they are often on his mind. “Every morning,” he explains, “I try to video call and check in with each of them—even for just five minutes, to find out what they’re doing and tell them I love them.” 

Eric also stresses the importance of including his family by telling them where he’s at and where’s he’s going. (The day we caught up with Eric he was headed south out of Colorado in route to Laredo, Texas with 43,000 lbs. of yogurt.) He told us, “I try to take pictures of things my kids are interested in seeing.” His 12-year-old daughter, for instance, likes to see snow and city lights, so Eric has sent her several photos of snow. The night skies of Houston, Dallas, St. Louis and others have also been included. Noticing and photographing some of her current interests help her know he is thinking of her. He said he had a similar experience with his older daughter who was fascinated with cactus for a time.

Eric says he also likes to bring his kids small gifts when he comes home after a month or two on the road to see his family for a week or two. This might include a dream catcher in honor of their Native American heritage or a new beanie baby. “It’s not the size that matters,” he explains. “It’s that I want them to know I’ve been thinking about them.”

As much as he loves his children, Eric insists he would not be where he is today without the love, support and encouragement of Sabrina. Perhaps this, and his southern heritage, is one of the reasons it’s critical to him that his children learn to “respect their elders,” and especially their mother. When he comes home he does everything he can to make her life easier. Even when he’s on the road, he’s not afraid to be stern with the children if necessary.

“Sometimes,” he says, “I give them a stern talking to. At other times, there might be a group scolding.” If necessary, he’s not afraid to add, “You don’t know when I’m coming home.” And although it’s not easy to discipline children you’ve been missing, Eric says he is not afraid to do what’s necessary to help his children develop into respectful adults who use “Yes, mam” and “No sir.”

“If I need to deal with some misbehavior,” he explains, “I try to do it right away after I get home so we can get it done and over with and enjoy the rest of our time together.”

We wondered if Eric talked to his trainee drivers about more than driving, for instance, about how to stay connected with your family even when you were gone. Eric’s response was swift and certain. “Trust your wife and don’t act on ‘bad dreams,’ i.e. the thought she’s not being faithful to you.”

“I’ve seen marriages ruined simply because a guy acted on a ‘bad dream.’ Keep including her in your life on a daily basis and it will make things much easier.”

From Eric’s perspective, success as a driver means making it a family affair. Respecting, valuing and loving your wife or partner is an important first step. Staying connected with your kids while on the road is the second. Together, they form a powerful bond even when dad is driving over the road.