Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legos — Yeah, We Got 'Em

Last week I read this post by a mom that has a love-hate relationship with Lego blocks. I know where she's coming from. All five of our children have gone through Lego phases. I have two that are true Lego-maniacs. We have been accumulating Legos for at least a decade and a half. We literally have thousands of Lego blocks. (Maybe tens of thousands.)

Legos are kind of like the force in Star Wars. They have a light side and a dark side. On the light side, says the mom, Legos "are hours upon hours of fun" and "help young minds conceptualize, construct and be creative."

On the dark side, Legos "are eye-popping, jaw-dropping, brain-blowing expensive." Legos never stay in one place. They are insidious. They end up in the most remote nooks and crannies of homes and automobiles. They end up on the floor. And then you step on them, as Tim Hawkins explains in the following video.

I'm not as down on Legos as the mom is. I think that there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I grew up with my own Legos. The blocks we had back then were actual blocks. That is, they were blocky. We didn't have all of the amazing shapes, configurations, and colors that Lego offers nowadays.

While I was careful to keep my few personal sets apart from the family's conglomerated Lego collection for most of my formative years, all of the Legos eventually ended up in a bucket. After years of being played with by five boys, the bucket sat in the laundry room until my parents started having grandkids come over. Then the Legos enjoyed hours of play once again.

That is part of the answer to the incredible expense of Legos. They are timeless. Yes, we have Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, ninja, alien, and other themed Lego sets, but the blocks continue to be played with long after the sets have disappeared into the larger Lego collection. Legos are useful for decades while the latest $60 computer game is useful, on average, for about 90 days.

Legos are also pretty high quality items. Years ago I bought several sets of another brand of Lego wannabe blocks. The kids detected the difference right away. I scoffed at this at first, but you know what, they were right. The other brands simply aren't as well made as Legos, even though, they offer some cool looking sets.

My wife sometimes despairs about the mass of Legos that migrate around our home. We've got one boy right now that has great difficulty taking apart any Lego creation that he has lovingly crafted from his own imagination. After a play session the floor of his room is strewn with completed sets that he will only put on the shelves at greatest urging.

But the hours and years spent with Legos beats many of the other pursuits in which kids commonly engage nowadays.

Yes, Legos are expensive. Yes, they get scattered all over. But in the end, I think they are worth the hassle. I can see us having thousands of Legos around our house for many years to come.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dinnertime Blues

My wife complains that there is no single meal that she can prepare that every member of the family will eat. It's true that some of our children are rather picky about what they will eat. But I know that I am part of the problem too.

It seems like everyone from church leaders to mental health experts to doctors and dietitians to the government has for a number of years advocated families sitting down to home cooked meals together. The benefits of doing so are said to include:
  • Stronger family relationships.
  • Better communication skills.
  • Lower food bills.
  • Healthier eating.
  • Better physical and mental health.
  • Better academic performance for students.
That's a pretty impressive list. Why would anyone give up such bountiful advantages?

Well, it turns out that trying to have a regular sit down family meal each evening can be pretty challenging. Part of the problem is the variable schedules of family members. Once children reach the age where they have their own schedules outside of the family, trying to get everyone together for a meal at a specific time can be very difficult. Add to this the demands on parents' time and it becomes darn near impossible in a family the size of ours.

Then there's the problem with variable dietary issues. The problem started with me years ago when I decided to get serious about losing the 40 lbs I had gained in the year following our wedding.

My lovely wife has never quite dealt with the same kind of propensity to pack on weight that has plagued me throughout life. Yet she joined me (most of the time) in my newfound healthy dietary regimen.

Once kids came along, my diet diverged from the common family diet. You see, my diet fulfilled all of the health gurus' recommendations, but it was far from tasty. Moreover, food preparation under my eating plan was difficult and time consuming. Although she has constantly supported me in my health pursuits, my wonderful wife simply couldn't bring herself to try to force little kids to eat that way.

I know people that say that they will never have a picky child. They will simply tell the kids to eat what is prepared or to go hungry. I suppose that could work in real life if both parents can maintain a hard stand. But we can't bring ourselves to implement a Soviet Politburo style of parenting.

We thought we had the eating thing figured out for our kids. Most of them ate broccoli with delight — until they were about four or five. Then vegetables became anathema to them. (Except for my daughter, who still adores certain vegetables.)

We have two children that absolutely refuse to eat eggs in any form. (Except perhaps in baked goods.) We have a child that won't eat turkey at all. He'll eat some chicken, but never turkey. We have a child that would eat only protein and fat if he could get away with it. Another child won't eat anything that is primarily protein.

This is maddening to my wife, who makes efforts to prepare family meals. Thankfully we've got two kids that are somewhat more adventurous in eating. Alas, one of those has an allergic reaction to coconut and has to be careful about dining adventures.

We've tried all kinds of things. The occasional pot roast seems to go over OK, except with the anti-protein child. We can get pizza, but I usually won't partake of it. Even when we get pizza, we have to get both pepperoni and cheese (only) toppings. We used to be able to do pancakes, but some of our kids won't even eat those nowadays.

The upshot is that evening mealtimes often require the preparation of three or more different meals. It is not uncommon for various meals to be prepared and consumed at various times throughout the afternoon/evening. Other times we've got everyone eating at the same time, even if they might not be eating the same meal.

It's not that we are unappreciative of the benefits of a daily sit-down family meal. It's that we simply can't bring ourselves to go through what it takes to get there. It doesn't seem to be worth the effort, fighting, whining, etc.

To those that are far better than us at this, more power to you! I applaud you. You inspire us and we aspire to be like you. But we're still a long way from the ideal.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The New Incivility Is More of the Same

Last month a letter to the editor was posted on the website of my local newspaper in which the writer complained of rising rates of incivility. As evidence for his claim he cited rude students and casual dress in our schools.

While it is obvious that American society has in general become increasingly casual in everyday dress and grooming, I am not sure that civility has in general declined. Patterns have changed somewhat, but are we truly less civil as a society? I am dubious of such a claim.

Are students by and large more rude than the previous generation? Well, those of us of that generation would probably think so. But we might be suffering from what I call Four Yorkshiremen syndrome. I'm sure we all had to walk uphill both ways to and from school in driving snow too.

I wrote a response to the letter on the newspaper website. When the letter was published in newsprint my retort was included as well. I basically questioned whether our society was less civil than it was between 1882 and 1959 when over 4,700 people (most of them blacks) were murdered by lynching while relatively few were brought to justice for the murders. Maybe they didn't have coarse content coming via cable TV back in those days, but we have relatively few unprosecuted cases of mob 'justice' nowadays.

So maybe we're less civil in our words and rhetoric nowadays than we were a generation ago. I'm still dubious. Films a documents survive that demonstrate the crass and vicious language that was plentiful during the late 60s and early 70s. The kind of racist and misogynist language that was common in the 1930s and 1940s would be shocking to us today. Some everyday slurs of yesteryear might even be legally actionable today, depending on the situation.

I'm afraid that our civilization has a long track record of acting shockingly uncivilized. The patterns of incivility change with time, but they continually wash over us like the ceaseless waves of the ocean.

I could be wrong about this. I note that every time anybody does anything somewhat controversial (or even reputed to be controversial) nowadays they are subjected to death threats. This means that there are people out there that at least fantasize about annihilating those with whom they disagree. Moreover, they have no qualms about voicing such insidious dreams to their real or perceived opponents.

To be sure, there are a few out there that not only harbor such fantasies, but actively seek to carry them out. We generally regard them as mentally unstable. They may be relatively few, but their existence means that all death threats have to be taken seriously.

I do not know whether the death threat phenomenon has grown in recent years or if we are simply more aware of it. Maybe technological advance simply makes it easier for angry people to communicate with their intended victims of intimidation than it used to be.

But I'm still not convinced that we are a significantly less civil society than in the past. What is considered acceptable behavior changes over time. Perhaps the overall level of civility ebbs and flows somewhat. But its general pattern is likely relatively constant.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Education Bubble II

Last month I posted about how educational subsidies are a significant factor in driving up the cost of higher education. I asserted that we are building a bubble of false value similar to what happened in the housing market. I did not think myself a good enough prophet to accurately forecast how this would play out.

Perhaps it is important to understand why people seek a college degree. It is generally understood—and is heavily promoted by the higher ed establishment—that the chief purpose of getting a college education is to improve one’s career prospects. Although some have suggested that this shouldn’t be the top reason for going to college, spending $50,000 to $150,000 and four to six years of one’s life to improve one’s academic understanding without expecting to be compensated throughout one’s career is simply unrealistic for the vast majority. The fact is that most people pursue a college education to improve their career prospects and — whether they admit it or not — to enhance their social status.

Writer Joshua Fulton adds some fuel to the arguments in my post with this article on the Ludwig von Mises Institute website. Fulton begins by explaining the role a “free” university education is playing in the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt. After noting that nothing provided “free” by the government is actually free, Fulton cites the incredibly high rate of unemployment among college graduates (especially recent graduates) in countries like Tunisia and Egypt that heavily subsidize higher education.

There simply isn’t enough demand for what these graduates are trained to do. Their less educated counterparts have fared far better as far as employment goes. They are performing jobs for which demand exists. Few of these are high paying jobs. But a job that pays something is better than no job at all. Fulton notes that those that are angry, idle, and well educated have played a significant role in many revolts at least since the French Revolution.

While the U.S. isn’t currently running in the same realm as Middle Eastern countries that fully fund college education, “we are headed in the same direction.” Fulton writes:

“From 1997 to 2007, full-time enrollment in US tertiary education increased 34 percent. The average college student graduates with $24,000 in debt, a 40 percent real increase from 1997. In 2008, only 57 percent of students enrolled in a four year college graduated within six years. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 52 percent. The underemployed as a group may be as large as the unemployed in America. For example, in 1970 only 3 percent of mail carriers had a bachelor's degree, while today the number is 12 percent.”

Fulton explains that government aid promotes higher ed inflation. This is not dissimilar from the way subsidies skewed the housing market.

Only 40 percent of student loans are actively being repaid. Since government picks up the tab on defaulted student loans (that are subsidized via low interest rates already), the system is rife with perverse incentives. Lenders feel free to give loans to those that would otherwise be considered a bad risk. Debtors that have been pushed into this trap while still very young feel less obligated to pay. For-profit universities are among the greatest benefactors of this taxpayer largess.

When it comes to student debt, many of the benefits are privatized while many of the costs are socialized. That’s a bad system.

As we continue along this trajectory, we will eventually cross the point where education consumers perceive that the cost of the average college degree outweighs its value in the labor market. When that happens the education bubble must burst as did the housing bubble when a similar realization hit that market.

As I said in my previous post, I don’t know if the bubble will rapidly collapse or will slowly deflate. I’m not prescient. But the day of reckoning must come. It will no doubt result in a lot of pain.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day Gifts

I gave my wife a card for Valentines Day this morning. I made the card on the computer last night. We were at a local variety store on Saturday evening when I confessed to her that I had no Valentines gift for her. This wasn't for lack of trying.

I told my wife years ago that I refused to give her flowers for Valentines Day. My reasoning was that each time I had done so (even at significant cost) the flowers died quickly. When you think about the production and distribution chain that goes on in the fresh flower industry to supply the Valentines demand, you will realize that stock must be produced earlier, stored longer, and shipped over longer distances than average. The result is flowers that wilt sooner than on average. (The same phenomenon happens at Mother's Day.)

On a side note, I worked doing deliveries for a local flower shop when I was a teenager. I only worked the big flower giving holiday seasons: Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Christmas. It was a tremendously fun job. Recipients were always very happy and treated me wonderfully.

I used to think it was a great treat to get my wife fine chocolates for occasions such as Valentines Day. My wife loves chocolate. But she limits herself to a tiny amount each day in the interest of health. Having a whole box of really good chocolates around, she advised me, encouraged her to overindulge, which made the chocolate experience less enjoyable. Besides, her practical side frets about the high cost of such delectables.

I learned long ago that Valentines Day is not the proper occasion for giving completely practical gifts. Thus, things like kitchen appliances and utensils are lousy Valentines gifts.

My wife really appreciates it when I buy her clothes. I think that part of the reason for that is that she knows that doing so is a huge sacrifice for me. I hate shopping for clothes. I don't like to shop for my own clothes, let alone shopping for clothes for others. My wife has often showed me the colors and styles of clothes she likes. But I note that even she agonizes over purchases. Imagine how difficult it must be for me.

In an effort to do something nice for my wife for Valentines Day, I made four different forays over recent weeks into womens clothing sections at stores. Three of those times I had a male child in tow that was embarrassed beyond expression to be in such a place. Each time I eventually despaired of finding something that would be acceptable.

So as we were doing some mundane shopping on Saturday evening, I confessed my dilemma to my wife. She walked me over to the spot where seasonal womens clothing items were on display, noted that she had always wanted some Valentines themed socks, and picked out a package with several pairs of such. It felt very unromantic.

A few weeks ago, I finally responded to a spiritual prompting that had been nagging me for some time. One day while my wife was out of the home I sat down and printed up a number of small hearts. On each one I noted some quality that I loved about her. I hid these messages in various spots where I was fairly certain that she would find them. She found most within two days. There were a few that popped up later. I notice that she uses one of those hearts as a bookmark.

This morning when I got up I saw a small heart shaped box of chocolates on my bathroom counter. I rarely indulge in such treats. So, although I was appreciative, I didn't bother the open the box. After I worked out, my wife asked if I had opened my box yet. I immediately surmised that the box must contain something other than chocolates, so I opened it to find a stack of small paper hearts. On each one was written a memory about our first date.

These were very good memories. We were lined up on a blind date by one of my former Boy Scouts, who wanted somebody to double date with him on a cookout up in the mountains. I was completely smitten that very first night. It didn't take long to discover that my then-to-be wife also felt strongly that we needed to be together. We hit it off very well together.

My wife explained that she wanted to give me a Valentines gift that was as good as the early Valentines gift I had given her a few weeks ago. Although I felt like I had blown this gift occasion, it seems that a gift given several weeks ago has somewhat compensated for my shortcoming this time around. I once again praise God for my wonderful wife.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Criminals Working the Suburbs

I live in a nice quiet neighborhood where most homes are 15-25 years old. As long as we've lived here children have played freely around the neighborhood without parents having to be too concerned. Everyone kind of keeps an eye on their neighbors.

Last week a neighbor of mine was doing stuff around the house and in the yard before getting ready to head to a shift of work that started in the early afternoon. He is a detective with a local police agency. Some people are home in my neighborhood in the middle of the day on a weekday, but many homes have nobody home at that time.

My neighbor noticed a guy wandering from door to door that looked out of place in our neighborhood. So he just kind of kept an eye on the guy, who was carrying around a handful of flyers. Before long he noticed that as the guy was going from door to door he never left a flyer at any home.

In the meantime, my neighbor finished his chores and got ready to leave for work. But instead of leaving the neighborhood, he parked down the road and watched the apparent peddler. He noticed that when someone answered the door, the guy seemed eager to move on to the next house. But he also watched the guy try the door at some homes where nobody answered.

Finally my detective neighbor went up to the guy to chat with him. The guy claimed to be a vacuum salesman. But he knew nothing about vacuums. He couldn't explain what his flyers were about. He said that he had been dropped off in the neighborhood by his boss. But he didn't know who his boss was nor could he describe the boss' car. Besides, the guy looked a lot more like a drug peddler than a vacuum salesman.

Finally my police friend asked the man to verify his identity. He was unsurprised when the man first produced a fictitious name. But my friend has been doing this kind of work for a long time. He was soon able to get the guy's true identity. Although he hadn't broken any serious laws while in our neighborhood, the man had several outstanding warrants for his arrest. My police friend packed him up and hauled him to jail.

For the first time in its history our neighborhood saw a spate of crimes last summer. Items went missing out of garages. There was some vandalism. A couple of homes were broken into. One was ransacked pretty thoroughly.

Then a neighbor caught an unfamiliar 14-year-old girl in his garage in the middle of the day. The girl took off running. This man can no longer run, so he called the police from his cell phone. They came immediately and caught the girl only a block and a half away. She led them to her older accomplices. The neighborhood crime problem dried up after that.

That is, it dried up until autumn. Then a spacious home in the ritzy adjoining neighborhood was ransacked while the owners were out of town. The police said that this was a job by experienced thieves. The home is highly visible and near a thoroughfare. But the criminals got away without anyone noticing their activity.

A couple of police neighbors have said that they are seeing more crime in the suburbs lately. Criminals are expanding their markets. So we have been told to be more aware of what is going on in our neighborhood. Watch anyone that doesn't look like they belong to see what they are up to. Don't leave garages open. Don't leave valuables in cars, especially in open sight, even when the cars are parked in a garage.

We have also been told to watch to make sure that people that appear to be service workers in the neighborhood are really working for one of our neighbors.  We have been told to be careful about who we hire to come to our yards and into our homes to do work.

A manager of mine said that her parole officer husband came home for lunch one day to find a parolee doing yard work at his neighbor's place. The neighbor had seen the guy with a "will work for food" sign and had brought him home. The parole officer knew that the guy was there merely to case the joint. Besides, his activity was a clear violation of his parole terms.  So back to jail he went.

I guess my neighborhood isn't quite as innocent of a place as it once was. Residents will have to be more vigilant than in the past. But over time I suspect that continued problems will cause people to relocate and will bring a different type of resident into the neighborhood.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What Is Childhood For?

Amy Chua made headlines — and earned herself some death threats — when she released her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Some vehemently expressed their displeasure with Ms. Chua's intensely disciplined approach to child rearing, which she details in her book.

The Chinese born Chua, a super achiever that is a law professor at Yale, wants her daughters to be as accomplished as she is, or even more so. She views their childhood as training for such a future. But she admits that trying to micromanage the development of her children is an uphill battle when they are surrounded by American culture.

Americans have a long history in taking a more relaxed approach to childhood than Ms. Chua's Chinese culture. For one thing, individualism is much more deeply rooted in the American psyche. Americans pride themselves on being more than cog in a wheel; more than a playing piece whose personal desires are expendable for the "greater good" of society.

James Bernard Murphy of Dartmouth writes in this WSJ op-ed:
"Children are not merely adults in training. They are also people with distinctive powers and joys. A happy childhood is measured not only by the standards of adult success, but also by the enjoyment of the gifts given to children alone."
Murphy lists three "unique blessings of childhood."
  • The gift of moral innocence.
  • The gift of openness to the future.
  • Freedom from the grim economy of time.
"We parents," writes Murphy "are so focused on adult superiority that we forget that most of us produced our best art, asked our deepest philosophical questions, and most readily mastered new gadgets when we were mere children." So there is value in childhood in and of itself.

Murphy then launches into a discussion about longstanding deep philosophical differences on the purposes of childhood. Aristotle considered childhood a necessary evil. "By contrast," says Murphy, "Jesus frequently praised children, welcomed their company, and even commanded adults to emulate them."

After noting that parents try to straddle the paradox between preparing children for adulthood and protecting them from it, Murphy goes on to suggest that parents would benefit from "taking a reflective time-out from teaching our children to discover how much we might learn from them."

Childhood for me was preparation for adulthood. But it was also filled with periods of joy, pain, boredom, innocence, and learning. While too much free time can lead to unhealthy pursuits, I believe that too little unstructured time is also counterproductive.

All parents have hopes for their children. Most do what they can to realize those dreams. But some parents go overboard, living vicariously through their children, attempting to force the child to become what they want them to be. They have too little appreciation for what their child is right now.

I have frequently seen high achieving kids whose parents have stepped over the line from being their support system to being dictators that give their kids little room to learn to think and act for themselves. For years my Dad was in a position to interact with a number of youth and their parents. He quickly learned to see the difference between kids that were good because they chose to be good and kids that were good simply because they had never been permitted an opportunity to choose otherwise.

I'd be the last one to tell Ms. Chua how she ought to raise her kids. Each of her daughters will likely grow to be the kind of fine person their mother is. My kids, on the other hand, will have to be satisfied with being the kind of person each has chosen to become.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Making the Sabbath a Delight

A few weeks ago I participated in a lesson about the Sabbath day. The instructor said right off the bat that he didn't want to get into a big list of Sabbath dos and don'ts. After all, during his earthly ministry the Savior seemed to have great contempt for that kind of approach to the fourth commandment. The instructor wanted us to focus on the essence of Sabbath observance.

Keeping the Sabbath holy is of little concern to many people nowadays, so it requires a conscious effort to do so. But why should we bother? Why can't Sunday be just another weekend day to spend as we wish?

The instructor helped us understand that the Sabbath is a symbol of our covenant relationship with God. How we act on the Sabbath can reveal much about how we truly feel in our hearts toward God. Is God important enough to us that we will spend one day out of the week focused on his concerns rather than centering on our own concerns?

While the Sabbath is a day to rest from our labors, it is not a day to rest from God's labors. The manual from which we were studying reads:
"The purpose of the Sabbath is to give us a certain day of the week on which to direct our thoughts and actions toward God. It is not a day merely to rest from work. It is a sacred day to be spent in worship and reverence. As we rest from our usual daily activities, our minds are freed to ponder spiritual matters. On this day we should renew our covenants with the Lord and feed our souls on the things of the Spirit."
The lesson manual provided a number of thoughtful suggestions about how one might go about sanctifying the Sabbath.
"We should consider righteous things we can do on the Sabbath. For example, we can keep the Sabbath day holy by attending Church meetings; reading the scriptures and the words of our Church leaders; visiting the sick, the aged, and our loved ones; listening to uplifting music and singing hymns; praying to our Heavenly Father with praise and thanksgiving; performing Church service; preparing family history records and personal histories; telling faith-promoting stories and bearing our testimony to family members and sharing spiritual experiences with them; writing letters to missionaries and loved ones; fasting with a purpose; and sharing time with children and others in the home."
A few things to be avoid are also mentioned. But perhaps the best guide for what is appropriate on the Sabbath can come from questions like these from the manual:
  • Will it uplift and inspire me?
  • Does it show respect for the Lord?
  • Does it direct my thoughts to Him?
For my own purpose, I think I could add a few questions, such as:
  • Could I look my Savior in the eyes and honestly tell him that my thoughts and activities are worshipful?
  • Is what I am doing unselfish or am I being self centered?
  • Am I really worshipping God or am I worshipping at the altar of the carnal man?
I believe that each needs to earnestly answer questions of this nature for himself. I mention earnestness here because it is easy to delve into all kinds of silly justifications for selfish behavior. One can judge one's own behavior. But unless we have a calling to do so, we should refrain from judging how others answer these questions.

Our family long ago came up with a few traditions that we hope will foster proper Sabbath worship. Outside of church meetings, we keep Sundays for family. In a tradition carried over from my wife's upbringing, our family members don't hang out with friends on the Sabbath. One Sunday, one of my children disapprovingly noted that the neighbors had friends over. I had to correct him and explain that our family policy applies only to our family and that it is the neighbors' responsibility to determine how best to keep the Sabbath.

On the other hand, we long ago decided that being sedentary did not necessarily equate with being worhipful. Trying to keep a houseful of young kids still on Sunday didn't work out very well for us. So it is not uncommon to see our kids jumping on our trampoline, swinging on our swing set, and riding their bicycles on Sunday afternoons. We don't play sports on the Sabbath, but I'm not going to judge the family that is shooting hoops in their driveway on Sunday.

Although I came from a rather devout family, we had quite a different approach to the Sabbath when I was a kid. While my parents rested after the day's church meetings, we kids would hang out with our neighborhood friends. We would play football and basketball. We would go hiking, ride our bikes, and would generally goof off. When we got a bit older, we would ride our motorcycles in the foothills north of our subdivision.

I became an avid skateboarder during my teen years. I was pretty good at it too. (I can barely stand on a skateboard nowadays without losing my balance. BTW, back then skateboarding was an activity rather than a way of life.) Some Sunday afternoons found me and my friends riding down a nearby mountain pass on long boards, running challenging slalom courses in the high school parking lot, cruising neighborhood roads, or ripping around a nearby concrete reservoir when it was empty (which required trespassing).

I've heard all of the arguments about how the kinds of activities I have just mentioned can be worshipful experiences. But let's be honest. I know how I feel when I am truly in a spirit of reverence and worship. I never felt that way while engaging in those activities. Although I personally feel that it's OK to engage in some physical activity on the Sabbath, I also think that it has to be kept in proper perspective.

We long ago came up with a family media policy for the Sabbath. We don't use media devices unless the purpose is to have a worshipful experience. We don't watch entertainment features or sports (even on Super Bowl Sunday). We are circumspect about the music we listen to. We avoid shopping online.

Despite our (what some have told me are ultra strict) family Sabbath rules, I am the first to admit that we are far from perfect in our Sabbath observance. More precisely, I am far from perfect in keeping this commandment. Our family structures help, but I also find myself still thinking selfish thoughts and doing selfish things. Sometimes I am lazy and a little rebellious. Although I fall far short, I really try (most of the time) to make the Sabbath a worshipful experience.

Sometimes I do the right thing outwardly while inwardly grudging it. I'm still working on making proper Sabbath observance a delight (see Isaiah 58:13). But I have also received great spiritual and familial rewards from my efforts. When I do the Sabbath right I get a level of peace of mind and spiritual energy that I don't achieve when I'm shoddy in my Sabbath observance.

There are times when I love doing the right thing. I hope to grow more in that direction as the years pass.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Can Exercise Ruin Your Marriage?

I recently found this WSJ article about exercise widows. I read it with interest since my wife has put up with my exercise habits for many years now.

The article discusses several families where at least one partner is an exercise fanatic. I soon discovered that my daily exercise sessions are nothing compared to those of the athlete hobbyists mentioned by the writer.

One man spends so much of his spare time focused on his triathlon training that he neglects his wife and kids, the oldest of which is 11. The wife works out too, but nothing like her husband. She views his exercise obsession as a selfish fetish. She warns that he is letting precious family opportunities slip away as his children age.

The husband makes no apologies, suggesting that his wife should have realized what she was getting when she married him; although, he started his intensive exercise regimen when their third child was a year old. He says it is more of the same challenge hungry nature that caused him to get two law degrees, an MBA, and his position as a private banking executive.

A couple of marathoners featured are both in their 50s. They met at an older age at a marathon and both have run hundreds of races. No problems are mentioned, but neither are children. Couples without children to deal with have much more time and energy to devote to personal pursuits.

A third couple in their 60s seem to get along just fine, although, she’s a long-time health conscious marathon runner and he’s quite the opposite. He admires his wife and supports her training and races.

It seems that spousal resentment of a partner’s involvement in endurance sports is quite common. One “psychologist, triathlon coach and blogger” calls it “Divorce by Triathlon.” Still, it makes me wonder whether the exercise obsession is a cause or a symptom of marital discord. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Exercise is hardly the only obsession that can cause or point up marital problems. There are any number of activities that are often engaged in by one spouse to the exclusion of his or her partner. Think of the stereotypical golfer or the fanatical football spectator.

It can be something other than leisure too. Many have been guilty of failing in their family duties by spending too much time at work or even engaged in charitable causes. Maybe we’re just focusing on exercise fanatics because exercise has risen dramatically in popularity over the past couple of decades. More people are doing it so that it is more noticeable as a marital issue than in the past.

I am grateful that my wife has put up with my obsessions over the years. Sometimes she’s had to rein me in a bit. There is a lot of that kind of thing in most successful marriages. Such marriages not problem free. But they do address and arrive at acceptable resolutions to the most serious issues.

Going back to the family where the husband appears to be neglecting his family, I wonder if he wouldn’t be engaged in some other time consuming pursuit if he wasn’t doing triathlons. It does seem (from the brief description in the article) that he is giving up some of the most important life relationships, or at least the opportunity for building such.

I am reminded of a lady that told of her father-in-law. The man and his wife had made it their major focus to raise independent children. They sought for the best opportunities and pushed their children to take opportunities far from home as early as possible.

The man retired early and the couple moved abroad, where they lived an idyllic lifestyle. Contact with the children and grandchildren was accomplished at a distance and through rare brief encounters. After the man’s wife died, he came to realize that what he craved most was a close relationship with his family.

The man tried reaching out to his descendants, only to discover that he had no effective relationship with them. He had been so successful in training his children to be independent that he and they didn’t really know each other. He found it impossible to build connections at that point that should have been fostered decades earlier.

I can’t help but wonder if the triathlete featured in the WSJ article might not someday find himself in a similar boat; living a lonely life having swapped fulfilling family relationships for weekends of challenging races.