dad from day one: The Role of Control in Life (and What That Has to Do with “Guest Towels”)

Week 11.

You are looking at a picture of our “guest towels”.  If you are one of the 7 (maybe less?) males to actually be reading this, you will be just as confused as I once was to learn that despite their name, guest towels, these are not actually towels intended for guests to use.  Granted, we do have extra towels for when guests do actually stay at our home- but those are in our “guest bathroom” on the other end of the house.  As a guy, who is unable to see any logic in having guest towels in the bathroom attached to our bedroom that are actually only there to look nice and for decoration, not actually for guests to use,  I found comfort in watching many male stand up comics who made a routine out of the same topic.

I am becoming more and more aware of how little control I actually have over my own life; much less my own house.  Because another common topic that married male stand up comics talk about is the fact that they don’t know where anything in their own house belongs: like the mixing bowl, the stapler, and of course, the real guest towels that are actually intended for guests for use.  And now it makes so much more sense why it is so common for the man of the house to spend time in his “man cave”, whether it is his garage, his shop, or even the yard.  Why? Because while in his solitude, he has a sense of control over something on the land he owns or rents.

Jack's first taste of a pineapple.

I’m at a point in my life where I am constantly reminded of what little I actually do control right now.  With tomorrow reaching the 2 month mark of unemployment, the dignity of providing for my family has been surrendered. And without that, I also feel like I can’t control my time (because I feel guilty if I’m not constantly doing something constructive to find a job).  Starting on Christmas Day and ending yesterday (Groundhog Day), after my wife and son went to sleep each night, I would spend an hour or so revisiting my video game past.  I took take the time to go through all 3 Super Mario Bros. games on regular Nintendo, Super Mario World for Super NES, and New Super Mario Bros. for WII,  and beat them without using any Game Genies or Warp Zones (which again may only interest the 7 or less men reading this).  And while there is something seemingly pathetic about a jobless, 29 year-old guy cheering out loud because he beat Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time in his life; for me, it was a major sense of accomplishment.

I controled those old-school, 8-bit Nintendo games.  And in some slightly true sense, I had control over my time as well.

I think it’s easy to overlook the importance of control in life.  Why is it that if you drive into certain “bad neighborhoods” that the residents stand in the road or take their sweet time crossing the street, knowing that you need to get by?  It’s gives them a sense of control.  Why are there rapists in the world?  Well, the easy answer is “the depravity of man” or “lust” or “an unfulfilled sex drive”.  But to me it’s pretty obvious that their hideous crime is also largely fueled by a lack of control in their own lives.  For more times than I can remember, it seems any time I watch a story on NBC Dateline about a rapist, he was emotionally, physically, or sexually abused growing up.  Some people will do anything for the sense of control in their own life.

So what can I do right now?  What can I actually control in my life at this moment? I can help with the basic needs of my son.  I can control whether or not he gets fed, held, played with, and nurtured.  And perhaps the best part, I can make him do funny, weird stunts to be featured on YouTube.  Because hey, what else am I going to do until I get a real job?

Planners Vs. Procrastinators: Of Control Freaks and Slackers

I am not a control freak… except when it comes to my own time.

Despite being a pretty social person, I could essentially see myself as a loner who happens to be outgoing and have good people skills.  But my personal time is closely guarded.  And I happened to marry someone who is the same way.  That means when friends invite us last minute to an event, the answer is usually no.  On the other hand, we are such planners that if friends invite us to an event at least several days in advance, we will definitely be there.  Not only that, we will not back out of the plans or be late.

Because we are such planners, every day is already accounted for: even if the event we already planned is to “do nothing” for the afternoon.  We don’t prioritize our calendar’s events based on the seemingly most exciting thing going on.  Instead, we go by what was planned first.  I think the psychological reason behind this is that one of my biggest pet peeves is being interrupted; jumping on board with last minute plans is an interruption to my schedule.

While there are so many elements in life I can not control, my schedule is something I am able to have a decent amount of control over.  My schedule is my time; my time is my life; if I can control my time, I am therefore able to control my own life.  I may not be able to control other people, but I am able to be in driver’s seat of my own life.  Not shotgun or in the sidecar.

Heckler from the crowd: “You just wait ‘til that baby gets here… He’ll be the one controlling your calendar from now on!” Right, I get that, but… we will still find a way, to the best of our ability, to “find a method to the madness”.  (I have this habit of placing clichés into quotation marks.) Because that’s what we “control freaks of our own lives” do.  We are wired that way.  The schedule will be built around the unpredictability of a newborn, yet still in some sense, there will be a schedule and consistency.

The irony here is this: For so many of the things in life we think we have no control over, we still can choose how we react to those situations; therefore, having control over the situations.  I used to get irritated when I would be two minutes late to work on occasion.  Because I couldn’t understand why if I left at the same time every morning, sometimes I would be two minutes early, sometimes on time, and sometimes two minutes late.  Then I realized that in order to never be late, I just needed to leave five minutes earlier, causing me to always beat school buses, grannies, illegal immigrants who always drive 25 miles an hour because they are driving without insurance, and the rest of the phase of commuters like me who all left at the same time.  But now, I outsmart them all.  They no longer have control over my life (and my stress level).

Of course, not all annoying things in life can literally be planned around or outsmarted.  But when that’s the case, I remind myself that either I am in control… or the event is in control.  If my Internet isn’t working right, then I shut off my laptop and find something else to do- I don’t allow myself to become irritated over a piece of technology.  If someone is tailgating me while I’m driving the speed limit, I pull over and let them pass.  I just know that if I’m am consistently getting stressed multiple times a day and I can feel my blood pressure going up, the problem is not the problem itself.  The problem is me and how I am choosing to react.  I have to choose to be in control of my own sense of well-being, if nothing else.

I am a planner.  I can plan around certain uncertainty.  I can plan around my own unrealistic expectations.  I can even plan to be spontaneous.  But even then, I still plan for it.


The Blog Sniper (or, The Classic Case of the Compliment Intertwined with Condescending Criticism)

Um… thanks?

I’m convinced there are certain people in the world who truly can not (or will not) simply compliment another person- they feel they are doing the person a favor by also incorporating some sort of condescending criticism which picks at a minor detail to negate the positive vibes of the compliment itself.  Sort of like the way certain people can not (or will not) truly apologize, by saying something lame like this: “Well if I did something to hurt your feelings I’m sorry…”  That kind of apology translates as “I’m sorry you’re such a baby and sorry that you’re trying to make me look like the bad guy.”

Just last week when I published What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101, one of the points I touched on was “Knowing How to Actually Compliment Someone”.  Then ironically yesterday a random stranger acted out exactly what I had just mocked a few days before.  Click here (healthnutshell: Ketchup Vs. Mustard) to read a post I wrote which contrasts the types of food that ketchup and mustard are generally paired with.

In case you didn’t click on the link and haven’t read the comment I’m referring to, here it is again: Bahaha… you make a good point, but I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily. XD This is good stuff to know, but I also feel that it is a little fanatical. Thanks for the information, though!”

Here’s a breakdown of that comment:

“Bahaha”- A condescending laugh which translates as “that’s ridiculous”.

“You make a good point.”- An honest compliment.

“But I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily.” – A correction of my quirky lifestyle.  Totally missing the point, since I didn’t write the post in a tone of absolutes: “Because ketchup, in most cases, is paired with unhealthy foods that are either processed or fried.” Throughout the post I downgrade ketchup, yes, but I never say I refuse to eat it or that I don’t ever eat it.  Nor did I say that I am trying to eat healthy by simply avoiding ketchup.  Instead, I said: “So my general rule of thumb is, I stay away from foods that are enhanced by ketchup.”

“XD”- A slang symbol meaning “big smile”, an attempt to lighten the mood back.

“This is good stuff to know…” Another compliment.

“But I also feel it is a little fanatical.” – A call to put me on the defense.  Really?  I’m a fanatic just because I made an observation that typically ketchup is a condiment for less healthy foods, namely processed and fried?

“Thanks for the information…”– A expression of gratefulness.

“…though.”- In other words, “Thanks for the info, despite how laughable most of it was.”

Looking through each line of the comment, it is interesting the way this reader used the pattern “negative, positive, negative, positive…”  In fact, this may be the most perfect example I’ve ever seen of the classic case of the compliment intertwined with criticism.  That takes talent.

I literally laughed out loud when I read the comment.  Because it’s so tacky.  I think, “Make up your mind, either insult me, or compliment me, but don’t do both at the same time.  Commit.”  I totally respect someone’s opinion if they truly disagree with mine and don’t have a subtle motive to undermine my efforts.  But they have to be cool about it.  Etiquette still exists.

Otherwise, like in this case, it just becomes a joke to me.

But it’s evident from that comment that the person probably makes a daily habit of correcting everyone else, likely with a sarcastic tone, in an subconscious effort to feel in control.  Similar to the case of Some People Like Being Offended and/or Taking Advantage…

Be excellent to each other.

This event also reminds me of an excerpt of Christian Lander’s book, Stuff White People Like.  He is explaining that some white people let a little bit of positive feedback go to their heads too easily and that it eventually can get out of hand.  Therefore, he gives this advice to prevent that from happening:

“Do not dole out your praise like pinata candy… it is best to tease them with little bits of praise, balanced with a few barbs: ‘I have to hand it to you for putting KRS-One on that party mix.  I mean, you went with a pretty well-known song, but still, good job'”.

It’s just funny that in the Internet world it’s somehow more acceptable to go around criticizing people for the sake of trying to sound smarter than someone else who was creative enough to invent.  But I guess with the wave of online writers come just as many online critics.  And my guess is that the critics aren’t themselves inventing any original content- just looking to start a sophisticated food fight about ketchup and mustard.

I say let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  And when possible, find ways to truly compliment people, not find perceived fault in their creativity.  There’s not enough of sincere complimenting going on in the world.  Especially when “compliments intertwined with condescending criticism” are so popular.

Sammy sings praises, not pious put-downs.

Finding Favor is Better than Being Lucky

Luck vs. destiny.

Here in Nashville, a phrase that pretty much instantly started annoying me the first time I heard it was “networking”.  “It’s all about networking”, say the people who claim to know how struggling musicians become stars.  And they’re right.  It’s all about who you know.  Of course talent and experience have something to do with it too. 

But it’s one thing to know the right people, and another to find favor with them.  To stand out and to be special in their eyes.  By doing a quick Google search of the phrase “found favor Bible”, it becomes pretty apparent that finding favor with the right person, or with God, dramatically altered a person’s life throughout Jewish and Christian history:

Joseph found favor with Potiphar.  Esther found favor with King Ahasuerus.  Daniel found favor with the Babylonian king.  Noah, David, and Mary found favor with God.  In all of these people’s lives, their careers as well as their social and spiritual roles would never the same (in a good way) after finding favor.

Therefore, a staple request in my daily prayers is to find favor with the right people(As well as for wisdom!)  While I do believe it’s important to pray specifically for my future life plans, I also am adamant on trusting God in all the unseen blessings, detours, and surprises that come packaged with them.  Because those unseen elements in life often carry the most weight, more so than the ones we plan or have any control over. 

Finding favor with people doesn’t necessarily mean being charming, suave, or slick.  I think back to a much underrated movie I admit I really like, despite the fact it’s technically a “chick flick” and it seems no one else has ever seen it: Little Black Book, starring Brittany Murphy and Holly Hunter.  A certain quote from this movie really sticks out in my mind and conveniently ties in to the current subject matter: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” 

What others may see as luck, I choose to see as divinely ordained favor, where God appoints a person in our lives to grant a good opportunity.  That’s my version of luck. But of course, in all the Biblical cases where someone found favor with God or the right people, the favored person had already done their part to be qualified.  Noah was already a righteous man.  Mary was already a righteous woman.  Then God used them for great things. 

They may not have had the proper experience yet, but they had the right relationship with God and had paid their dues in the mundane stuff of life.  Then, it happened.  The Big Event began and they finally became active in the role they had prepared for their entire whole lives to fulfill.