Businessmen with Integrity, Part 1: The Asphalt Man

In this series, I’ll be sharing stories about local business men and business women who possess rich amounts of integrity.

It’s a trait I like to cultivate in my children and myself. I also look for it in the businesses I work with and make purchases from.

Problem is, quite often the businesses I have frequented or hired for services have fallen short of my expectations. So when a company or professional exceeds them, I like to tell everybody I know about them.

This summer we decided to have our driveway repaved. After four years of Wisconsin winters it was overdue.

I hired a man named Steve Smith of Badger Asphalt to do the work. He gave me a fair price, did an excellent job, and took some time to educate me about asphalt (this was actually more interesting than it sounds).

When a couple of the cracks Steve filled re-cracked, I gave him a call. He came back to my home with a smile on his face and retouched them all. When I called him back two weeks later to tell him the retouch wasn’t matching the rest of the driveway, he arrived at my home within the hour and fixed the problem. (Note: traditionally the crack filler goes on first because it’s shiny. Then the flat black liquid asphalt goes on top).

Again, Steve had a smile on his face, and was glad to do the work. He never complained, or asked me for more money. Steve did his job well, and he did it with integrity. I admire him for that.

If you happen to live in or around Madison, WI, and need your driveway repaved, I think you’ll be happy with Steve Smith of Badger Asphalt. Tell him Daddy Brain recommended you.

You can reach him at: 608-242-4089.

And remember, you are not alone …

Star Wars Episode 7: Dads are not Droids

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …
… Daddy Brain’s children thought he was a droid.

At least that what it seems like sometimes. Like most kids, mine are constantly demanding my attention – either to play, eat, bathe, or break up an argument about something that nobody will remember 20 minutes from now.

All in all, I love my role as a Work At Home Dad. But alas, I am not a droid. I can not recharge my battery in one hour like my iPhone. And I struggle with processing all the input that streams into my brain all day long. Working on growing my speaking career, caring for my boys, my wife and myself – not to mention actually mowing the lawn every once in a while is a constant struggle. And it’s exhausting.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and he told me that my quest for “balance” was impossible – especially if I’m constantly trying to have a balance between work, family and self on a daily basis. I think he’s right. Quite frankly, everything is cyclical – whether I want it to be or not. Sometimes the focus needs to be on work. Other times on play.

Above all, I need to recognize when my wife or kids need me. Although this is paramount over the former two things, it’s sometimes difficult because it involves being flexible. And being flexible means occasionally letting go of what I have planned. Finally, I need to make sure I take good care of myself so I can do all of these things well, and have a clear head to know where to direct my attention first.

Like my good friend, R2D2 the astromech droid, all I can do is my best.

May the force be with you.

And remember, you are not alone …

Acting with Kindness & Patience isn’t Always Easy …

The other day I got to thinking about how I’d like to treat my family vs. how I actually treat them. I found a disparity between the two, and realized I have some work to do if I want to give my wife and boys more of the following:

– Respect
– Love
– Understanding
– Wisdom
– Knowledge
– Belief in themselves
– Nurturing
– A feeling of being protected
– A feeling of being cared for
– Financial comfort

I share these thoughts with you because in the face of exhaustion and stress, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what’s most important in our lives. Taking a moment to be mindful about how we treat our family can help us refocus.

The result? A happier, healthier personal (not to mention professional) life.

And remember, you are not alone …

Embrace Your Freedom (or Happy 4th of July)


July 4th, 2010

This morning, I got to thinking about the freedom we have in our country.

Unlike with communism or a dictatorship, where there is less choice, Americans have the freedom to create and live the life of their dreams.

But there’s a problem.

Although America offers people freedom, many people shackle themselves within the belief of limitation – that they are either not worthy or not capable of fulfilling their personal legend. Even though they’re given freedom, they accept tyranny. And they are their own tyrant.

Even though I’m a motivational speaker and I believe that anything is possible, I sometimes fall into the trap of limitation. It’s an ugly trap that tries to push away the things we want, and make us believe that the attainable is out of reach. On this 4th of July I wanted implore you to listen to your heart, not the lie of limitation, and follow your dreams. If you don’t know what they are, click here to figure them out.

Remember, at one time America was the little guy, while Britain was a powerful country. Odds were that we were going to lose. Yet we still won our freedom, the very freedom you hold in your hands today.

What will you do with yours?

Even if you feel like an underdog, you have the power and the right to live your dreams.

And remember, you are not alone …

Where’s the Dad in Toy Story? (Part of the Dads Are Not Second-class Parents Series)

Since the recent DVD release of Toy Story 3, many people are raising the question:

Where’s the dad in Toy Story 3? Or in Toy Story 1 and 2 for that matter?

Over the summer my family and I went to see the latest installment of the series. As always, Pixar did a great job with the film – except for one thing:

Dad was not represented in the film. Not even a mention.

It’s the same issue I had with the first two installments of the trilogy, and it taps into a much larger problem where dads are treated as second-class parents.

At first glance it may seem trivial, but what kind of message are we sending to the children who are watching this film? Not to mention the negative impact of countless TV shows, ads and commercials where dad is either not present, or portrayed as a negative stereotype (breadwinner, dope, moron, insert your most detested dad stereotype here, etc).

This type of miss is especially surprising to me from Pixar, who usually pays close attention to the details (which is part of what makes them great filmmakers).

When a boy (in this case Andy) is leaving home for college, why in the world wouldn’t dad be there to wish him well, help him load up the car and hug him goodbye? This perpetuates an archaic perception of dad as the non-present half of the parenting team. Even if Andy’s parents were divorced, any respectable dad would have at least called his son on the phone.

These days, this is not only an unfair representation, it’s also a horrible example for children to grow up with. And let’s not forget poor mom who’s expected to do everything! I for one find it offensive and insulting. What do you think?

And remember, you are not alone …

Additional Dads are Not Second-class Parents Articles:
– Part 1
Part 2: And Then There’s Dad
Part 3: A Divorced Dad’s Perspective
Part 4: Dads Need Help Too
A Question for Dads: Have You Been Treated Like a Second-class Parent?
(share your story)
– Part 5: Perceptions & Paradigms

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The Daddy Brain Workshop Series

The Daddy Brain Workshop in Madison, WI

Three 1-hour sessions focusing on issues that concern dads:

DAD’S EMOTIONAL LIFE
Wednesday, May 12th from 6-7 pm
Traditionally, dads have not been encouraged to talk about their emotions. But feelings like frustration, inadequacy, stress, sadness & fear need to be addressed, not suppressed.

DISCIPLINE
Thursday, May 20th from 6-7 pm
Positive and negative forms of discipline are discussed, as well as how we treat our kids on a daily basis (beyond discipline). Brain development is also touched upon.

GOALS FOR DADS, KIDS AND THE FAMILY
Thursday, June 3rd from 6-7 pm
How to define, set and attain goals – even in the face of obstacles like exhaustion, negative emotions, lack of time and stress.

All workshops are @ The Madison Public Library, Sequoya Branch. 4340 Tokay Blvd, Room A. To reserve your seat, or for more info, call Joey @ 608-216-6760, or e-mail daddybrain@live.com.

Have a group that would benefit from these workshops? I offer 1-day sessions and can travel to your town – wherever that might be. Feel free to e-mail or call me to discuss.

And remember, you are not alone …

Where Have You Been Daddy Brain? Time Management and the 80/20 Principle

You may have noticed that the frequency of my postings has dropped from 2-3 per week to about once per month. It’s not that I don’t have anything to talk about. Far from it. But recently things have changed pretty dramatically, and for the past three months I’ve found myself on a journey back to balance.

On January 20th, 2010 I was laid off of my job.

Wait, don’t feel bad. It was actually a great gift. For months leading up to the layoff, I had been wondering how I was going to make the transition from full-time copywriter to the next phase of my life – a combination of professional speaker, book author and freelance copywriter (a crucial ingredient until the former two professions get some momentum).

Believe it or not, I’ve had less time (and less energy) to blog since I was laid off.

Which leads me to an interesting concept I stumbled upon recently in a book called, The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss. In his chapter “The End of Time Management,” Ferris speaks of Pareto’s Law (also commonly known as the 80/20 Principle), which has vastly changed my life for the better. I’m hoping it can do the same for you …

What is Pareto’s Law?
According to Ferris, it was originally a “mathematical formula he [Pareto] used to demonstrate a grossly uneven but predictable distribution of wealth in society – 80% of the wealth and income was produced  and possessed by 20% of the population.”

But that’s not what I found interesting. The effects of this concept go WAY beyond Pareto’s original intention. It relates to each and every one of our lives – from time management, to what we do with our time to begin with (and who we spend it on).

Ferris goes on to explain, “80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. Alternate ways to phrase this include:

– 80% of the consequences flow from 20% of the causes
– 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort and time”

Since I’m only able to work about a 20-hour work week (1. because that’s all the hours I want to work and; 2. family stuff won’t allow for much more than the 20 hours anyway), I started to examine everything I do in a day. From e-mails, to how I go about procuring work, to what I actually work on – I used a pair of questions Ferris asked to determine what’s effective and what’s been a waste of time.

1) Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
2) Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?”

Pretty simple. Pretty powerful, too. Some of the things I realized were that my hour-a-day online job search was basically a complete waste of time (although I do love using my Mac) – while referrals, developing my speaking career and contacting literary agents has been manifesting positive results. It’s important to remember that activity (being busy) is not the same as accomplishment.

How about the greatest source of my problems? Me. I’m not kidding. I was getting in my own way by letting stress, anxiety and worry get the best of me – and drain my energy. That had to stop (still working on this).

The good news is that I had some well-developed goals when I got laid off, so my transition had a clear focus from day one (if you’d like some help defining, setting and attaining your goals click here, or search keyword “Goals” in the search box on the right).

The truth is, you don’t need to lose your job to make a transition to a better life. Whether it’s managing your time, or setting goals for a better life, getting started now is the best way to reach your destination.

Picking up Tim’s book is well worth the investment. It’s full of great information, ideas and tools to help you accomplish some short-term goals. And it’s a good read. If nothing else, it will expand your thinking and show you that there are other ways to live (and manage your time). For more on Tim’s book, go to Amazon.com.

And remember, you are not alone …

Meet Lizzie Beckwith: Comedian, Writer, Mom …

There’s a milestone occurring here @ Daddy Brain. Some might say it’s simply the fact that I’m posting something new (which is another story I’ll detail soon). In reality, it’s the fact that this is the first time I’ve ever highlighted a mom (other than my wife) on this blog.

I’m keeping it in the family (she’s my cousin), but the reason I’m highlighting her is because she’s funny. And she’s written a book that makes an excellent gift for mom (Mothers’ Day is right around the corner) called, Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation.

According to Lizzie, “this book is not one of those traditional, all-too-earnest parenting guides that, for generations, have sucked all the fun out of child rearing. The foundation of my Guilt and Manipulation family philosophy is simple: we do things a certain way, and everyone else is an a**hole.”

“Is that something you should put on a bumper sticker and slap on your minivan? Of course not — that would be trashy. But in the privacy of your own home, you can employ essential components of Guilt and Manipulation to mold the little runts ruthlessly yet effectively into children you won’t be embarrassed to admit are yours.”

Who is Elizabeth Beckwith, you ask?
Other than funny, Lizzie is a mom of two and the wife of a fabulous guy who shall remain nameless to protect his identity. Lizzie is at the forefront of a new movement: moms being funny about parenthood. Once an exclusive club for dads attempting to cope through comedy, Lizzie offers up laughs in her non-parenting, parenting book. What’s interesting, at least to me, is how the book’s honesty (often laced with sarcasm) really made me think about how I parent without beating me over the head about it.

Lizzie is also a stand-up comedian who has appeared on various talk shows, including The Late Show with Craig Kilborn and Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. She’s also appeared in TV shows, film and and has graced the stage of many a comedy club.

And now, a few words from Lizzie about comedy, her book and Grandma Frances …

Daddy Brain: Other than your comedic nature, what provoked you to write this book?

Lizzie Beckwith: When I was getting ready to have my first child, I was reading a few “real” parenting books and started to find them terrifying. They all stated the importance of having a definitive parenting philosophy, and I didn’t really have a clue what that would be for me. I have always maintained that I was raised by the best parents in the world, so I decided I just wanted to do what they did. They were neither dictators nor pushovers, but we (their offspring) always wanted to please them and feared disappointing them.

As I tried to deconstruct how in the world they managed to be  easy-going, loving parents and yet still pull off being the kind of parents you would be horrified to disappoint, I thought of all of these funny anecdotes and stories about growing up. I realized that my parents kept us in line by giving us non-stop encouragement while at the same time using the horrible example of others to teach us right from wrong. We lived in fear of being like “those jerks!” that my parents were so disgusted by. So, when we did do something bad, we were filled with so much guilt, there was no need for any formal punishment! I joked that if my mother wrote a book it would be called, Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation, and then I thought, “Hey, I should write that book!”

DB: Why have you chosen comedy as your form of communication? Why not another genre?

LB: I’ve been obsessed with comedy since I was a little kid.  I don’t know how to communicate any other way.  That’s just the way my brain is wired.

DB: Why is stand-up comedy so intriguing to you? Have you ever used a chair?

LB: When I was a kid I used to rent all of those “Evening at the Improv” videos, and I just devoured them. I loved stand-up comedy, but it didn’t occur to me right away that it was something I would ever do. One night when I was about 16, I went to a coffee house with my friend and an open-mic was going on. That was the first time it hit me, “Oh, if I wanted to do this, I could actually do it.  Here.  At this place.”  I went back the next week and performed comedy on stage for the first time. It was thrilling.  It is one of the only artistic mediums where you know instantly if something is working or not. Musicians can hide behind the blare of their guitars, with stand-up, either people are laughing or they’re not. I loved the instant gratification.  Of course, some nights, I wish I was holding a guitar.

DB: Who is the funniest comedian on earth? Why?

LB: I have so many favorites, that’s tough for me to answer, but I think I’ll go with a childhood favorite,  Bill Cosby.  I have so many memories of watching “Bill Cosby: Himself” with my brother, Patrick, and just weeping.  Cosby can weave a story like no one else.  Story-telling comedy is the most difficult type of stand-up because if you lose people early on, there’s not easy exit.  Cosby is a master story-teller. What he’s telling you is hilarious in and of itself, but the way he delivers it — that just brings it to another level.

DB: If you inherited $500 million dollars tomorrow, what would you do with your life?

EB: I would still be pursuing the same dreams, I would just have a nicer bathroom floor to cry on.

DB: Finally, what is your favorite memory of our Grandma Frances? What do you remember the most about her? What are the similarities you see between our Grandma and your mom as a Grandma?

EB: There are so many vivid memories of Gram.  She really was such a strong presence, when she entered a room everyone hopped to attention, it was like General Patton walked in. You knew she was gonna inspect you and make a biting comment based on her observations, but it all came from a place of love. Gram wanted you to be the best possible version of yourself and she would be openly frustrated with you if you fell short of what she believed you could be. It didn’t matter if it was your career or your hairstyle, Gram expected the best out of you.

I guess the thing I remember most about  her was her commitment to prayer. If you were in trouble, Gram would stay up all night saying the rosary for you — and I mean, all night. Not just one prayer at the end of the day kind of deal, she would be lighting candles, saying novenas, praying the rosary — she did it all, and she did it with love and she never complained about it.

I miss her so much sometimes.

Often I’ll hear some kind of political story on the news and wonder what Grandma would have said about it. Gram read the newspaper cover to cover every day until the day she died. She always knew what was happening in the world, and she always had an opinion on it.

As far as the similarities between my mom and Gram as Grandmothers, I would say the common thread is their need to feed their grandchildren. That’s a big one, food. My kids love my mother’s food so much. My son is much more inclined to eat something if I tell him I’m making it “the Grandma” way.

– – – –

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Lizzie Beckwith. For more about her book, visit Amazon.com.

And remember, you are not alone…

Life is like a puzzle…with a lot of pieces

A couple of weeks ago I bought a 1,000 piece puzzle for the family to put together. When I looked at all the pieces, scattered on one of our play tables, I realized it was a lot like life. Let me explain…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no one clear answer for anyone. No matter what you’re struggling with or working on, there’s not one sentence, exercise, vitamin, book or coffee blend that will make everything right. There is no instant answer. Instead, each day is like a piece of a huge puzzle.

If we focus on placing one piece in the correct place, each day builds on the previous one — just like a puzzle. If we try to put a 1,000 piece puzzle together in one day what happens? We fall short, get frustrated and perceive our inability to accomplish the goal as failure. The thing is, unless you’re a puzzle genius, there’s no way you can succeed if you try to do the whole thing in one day. Simply put, your goal is too large.

When I started looking at life this way, it greatly simplified things. Each day, I could either place ONE piece correctly, or fail to place it correctly. Since it’s a 1,000 piece puzzle, some things would clarify after only a couple of weeks — while others would take years to take shape. This simple analogy is a great starting point to look at goals. (Click here for more details on this subject, or search keyword “Goals” in the search box on the right).

What am I really talking about here? Perception.

We either see a situation as hopeful or hopeless. If we believe we can accomplish something, we will. Eventually we will find a way. If we don’t believe, then we won’t. Either way, we’ll be right.

How you perceive your life defines whether you become a shining star, or a burnt out porch light.

I realized that if I shift my perception a few things immediately change:
– I use less energy being positive than I do being negative
– If I’m perceiving a situation as positive, then I’m more likely to think, speak and act positive. This draws positive energy to me like a magnet (just as being negative draws negativity to a person)
– It makes things better for the people around me. My positive attitude helps improve their lives. It puts them in a better mood, and I’m more likely to be helpful instead of a hinderance

Have you taken a look at how you perceive things lately? Here’s a link to an article called The 7-day Mental Diet. It can help you eradicate negative thinking, so you can create a better reality for yourself and your family.

And remember, you are not alone…

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Loss and the Erosion of a Human Being

Feelings of loss permeate my existence. They often lie just below the surface of my conciousness, occasionally jumping out like flying fish that pop out of the ocean. Problem is, the feeling does not disappear back into my subconscious. And there are more fish than ever swimming around and popping up inside my head.

Loss seems connected to every facet of my life right now. Each one seems to have eroded a little piece of me. And although I’m working on rebuilding myself (the topic of a future blog post), I’m missing pieces. I’m incomplete, which makes rebuilding all that much harder.

What kind of loss has worn on you? Here’s a brief list of what I’m struggling with on a daily basis:

Loss of energy; loss of time with my boys; loss of our two daughters; Grandma Frances; Grandpa Rick; our families in New York (we’re currently living in Wisconsin); loss of my youth; financial stability; loss of intimacy; loss of the relationship my wife and I had before we had kids (dates, holding hands, long talks about something other than survival, romance). Until recently, I had lost my dream of making the world a better place.

Something I often wonder about is the loss of innocence. I still remember when I lost mine as a child. It happened on four separate occasions – all of which involved my father. Am I contributing to the loss of innocence of my boys?

I feel so burnt out. Every week, a little more so, making the week before somehow seem more bearable. I feel hopeless that I will never accomplish some of my big life goals.

But then I realize: these are only feelings, and they’re based in fear. Fear of more loss, which equates (at least to a degree) fear of failure. These fears are a poor representation of my reality. Whether these negative perceptions become my reality is up to me, because FEAR is really False Evidence Appearing Real. This is an acronym I’ve learned, and it’s true.

But knowing this doesn’t make the fear magically go away. I am afraid of loss, and I’m connecting all of the losses in my life to my current situation, fearing more loss.

I’m having trouble getting things done. Goals that, for the most part, should be easier to accomplish. What makes it worse is that these goals, once accomplished, will put me and my family in a better place.

My wife says I’m being hard on myself. She’s right. But you know what? It’s up to me to do these things. There’s nobody else who’s going to do it for me. My family is depending on me and I feel like I’m failing.

I’m struggling. Why is it so hard to admit that?

Beyond all of the emotion, all the exhaustion and the pain, I realize the biggest loss would occur if I gave up. I refuse to give up, and so should you. As long as we’re breathing we can change our lives, we can help others do the same.

So after this fairly depressing article I have something to ask of each and every one of you:

Please don’t give up.

And remember, you are not alone…