Category Archives: Family

Married People Are Less Miserable

Apparently staying hitched is the recipe for less misery, if not happiness. From the Washington Post:

In a new working paper, Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John Helliwell show the effect of marriage on a lifetime of happiness. They find that married people are generally happier, and that the “happiness bonus” from marriage is strongest right in middle age — when you need it the most.

“One hypothesis that could explain why the U-shape in life satisfaction over age is deeper for the unmarried than the married is that the social support provided by a spouse helps ease the stresses of middle age,” they write.

This “social support,” as it turns out, is one of the lynchpins of marital happiness. It’s not simply enough to be married — it has to be a goodmarriage. The study finds that the happiness benefits of marriage are strongest among spouses who consider each other their best friends, and that this “best friend effect” is substantial. “The well-being benefits of marriage are on average about twice as large for those (about half of the sample) whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors conclude.

Where is the Internet?

BoingBoing has an excerpt from the book “I Work at a Public Library” that is a prime example of far too many conversations I’ve had with people I won’t name (because I’m nice that way):

A man keeps wandering up to the desk to ask computer-related questions:

Man: How do I make the computer like a typewriter?

Man: There are squiggly red lines on everything I type. What do you suppose that means?

Man: The computer keeps asking me to save my work to a disk and I’m not interested.

Man: Now, eventually I want to make a website. Do I just get the framework up and going using the typewriter function? And do I just save it to a floppy to get it up on the website? And can I do any of this on one of your computers, or do I just take the disk home and do it there? Where is the Internet?

Man: Maybe you could help me make a website. How long do you think it would take? I have about an hour.

Friends and family, you know who you are.

Today’s Teens’ Tepid Take on Transport

My kids, all three of them, have had an extraordinarily luke-warm attitude towards getting their driver's licenses and based on conversations I've had with some of their friends' parents they aren't the only ones. Sure there are still plenty of kids chomping at the bit to get their licenses the day they turn 16, but the percentage of kids who don't seem too excited about it seems much higher these days than when their parents were that age. Why is that? Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen might provide a clue in his answer to the question of why he's so excited about the potential of car-sharing services:

Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they'd rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?

Today, ask kids if they'd rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There's a huge social behavior reorientation that's already happening. And you can see it through that. And I'm not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by "I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don't have to worry. I don't have to make car payments. I don't have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility." That is freedom too.

While Andreessen is talking about the future of car sharing services (which by the way seem much more likely to succeed in dense urban environments than in small urban/sprawl environments like where my family lives) he's stumbled on an important influence on our kids today – they don't need cars to connect with their friends because they have smartphones, computers and game consoles to connect.  Sure their parents had phones, but with the exception of the lucky few who had their own phone lines in their bedrooms they had to share the phone with the rest of their families and had zero expectation of privacy. Today's kids don't just have private phone conversations they have the ability to have private video chats which their parents could only dream about 30 years ago.

In the case of our youngest, who is well into his 17th year of life and has no desire to get his license, he doesn't even have to leave the living room to play games with his friends. Thanks to Xbox Live he plays games with/against them all the time. His dad had to use that shared family phone to call his friends to coordinate a time to meet at the arcade to watch each other play Galactica. Once that beautiful day in the early 80s rolled around when he got his first Atari system he called his friends over so that could play Atari football head-to-head!

The point is that teens are decreasingly equating a driver's license with freedom. In fact our youngest has flat out said that he's dreading getting his license because he doesn't want the responsibility. On the other hand his dad is pushing him hard to get the damn license so he doesn't have to keep getting out of bed an hour earlier than normal in order to get the kid to school in time to catch the bus to the career center!

But I digress. There truly is a large behavioral shift going on with the younger members of our society. Thanks to the mortgage meltdown many young adults no longer assume that homeownership is all that their parents thought it was cracked up to be, and now that people have mobile networks at their disposal they're no longer socializing in the same way either. Of course kids will still want to get together to party and act like the fools they are, but how often they get together and how they get there is changing very quickly and those habits and patterns will last into their adult years. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

A Guide to Man Training

It's interesting to be the father of a young woman who is in college and dating. What's interesting is not the act of dating – I really don't want to think about the whole thing – but the realization that she's saying things about her boyfriend that her mother (and the unfortunate ladies I dated before meeting her) likely said about me. I get to hear them because I'm usually in the vicinity when she's talking to her mom about this stuff, and I get the call when her mom isn't available for some reason. Any port in a storm, right?

What that means is that I'm in the enviable position where I get to observe that confounding species, the dating woman, from a safe perspective. Kind of like watching a lion from a blind. Anyway, it occurred to me that while the advice she's getting from her mom is invaluable there's a certain perspective that only a dad can provide and it might be helpful to share. Without further ado here's some dating advice from a wizened, middle-aged dad who doesn't want to see anyone get hurt:

  1. Some guys just aren't domesticable so you need to figure out where your line is and when he crosses it you MUST be prepared to cut and run. 
  2. Prioritize. You can't have it all so figure out what's important to you and look for that in whoever you're dating.
  3. If he's an ass to people he thinks aren't important, like waiters and desk clerks, then he'll probably be an ass to you some day.  This really applies to everyone, not just guys you're dating.
  4. This one's important – if a guy treats you like crap when he's been drinking, even once, then you absolutely must dump his butt. If a guy lays a hand on you in any way without you wanting him to then you must not only dump him but get the authorities involved. Also, don't tell your dad until after the jerk has been locked up so your dad doesn't do something to get himself locked up.
  5. If a guy says he can't stand your friends then dump him immediately. One caveat: if he doesn't like one of your friends and that friend is kind of high maintenance then he might be doing you a favor. In all other cases he's likely an insecure, jealous jerk who wants you all to himself and that's not healthy for anyone.
  6. Don't think you can change his fundamental character. If he's not "nice"when you first meet him then he's not going to magically become nice just because you've cast your pretty eyes on him and granted him the favor of your company. Ain't gonna happen.
  7. Don't forget that you really are unreasonable sometimes and that your expectations can be out of whack.  You're human, not perfect, and you shouldn't take it out on him when he points it out (at least the first time).
  8. Don't ask your dad for dating advice. Secretly he wants you single so he'll likely give you some really bad advice like, "Break up with him and enter a convent." Reserve dad for the important events like threatening to castrate your ex if he doesn't leave you alone.
  9. Listen to your mom or another older woman in your life if your mom isn't available. They've been training men for a long time so you might as well take advantage of their experience. 
  10. Remember that whatever redeeming qualities your father might have it took the women in his life (mother, wife, sisters, aunts) a very long time to beat them into him. Unless you're dating a far older man – something I most definitely don't recommend since older, available men are usually that way for a reason – you'll have to live with the fact that you're in the man-training business for the rest of your life. Men don't come ready-made and we should all have "much assembly required" tattooed on our foreheads.
  11. Last point and it's the most important: your heart will be broken. Whether it's from a break up or from his insenstivity your heart WILL be broken. That's what happens when you open yourself completely to another human being. And that's okay because you'll recover and when you do you'll be far stronger and more prepared for running the marathon that is life. 
  12. I lied. There's one more point: ice cream helps recover from heart break. Alot.
  13. I double-lied: Calling your mom helps too, and in a pinch you might be able to talk to dad AND he might be able to resist giving you advice for once.

Well Duh

Sometimes you just have to be slapped upside the head to have some sense driven into you. I was catching up on some reading and came across this piece from Sasha Dichter and these words struck a chord with me:

In today’s world we all are continually experimenting with the lines between connection / productivity / responsiveness and distraction / rudeness.  Two colleagues of mine suggested the following four rules for managing incoming email and handheld devices, which I liked:

  1. Turn off desktop alerts of new emails coming in (the little box that pops up)  (in Outlook: File > Options > Mail > Message Arrival > Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert”)
  2. No reading email before breakfast
  3. No reading email while in transit
  4. No phone or email in the bedroom

My own scorecard is as follows:

  1. I turned of desktop alerts for new emails about a month ago and I love it.
  2. I almost never read email before breakfast and when I do it’s a sign that I’m under a crazy deadline or stressed for some other reason.
  3. Hmmm.  I made a rule a couple of years ago not to look at my phone while in elevators, and I’ve stuck to that (it had become a reflex), but I spend enough time in transit that I don’t know that I can commit to this one.
  4. I do have my phone in the bedroom but I can honestly say it’s 95% as a time-piece and alarm

In reality these four rules are a really low bar.  Increasingly I think we will all be playing with the limits and rules that work for us, and everyone’s line will be different.  What makes me nervous is when I get reflexive about checking.  That sort of unconscious behavior feels unproductive. (Emphasis mine)

My wife has flat out told me it annoys her how much I check my phone. At the table, when we go to bed, etc. and today when I was checking out at a store I realized I was checking my phone even before the clerk was saying thank you. In other words I'm being exceptionally rude to the people around me, and what bothers me most is I'm certain I'm missing signifcant chunks of conversation with my family. My kids are only a few years from flying the coop permanently – two of them are already in college – so this is just crazy behavior. Do I seriously want to waste the limited days they're still under my roof with my nose stuck in my phone? Obviously not.

For some reason it took reading a stranger's blog to bring me to that "Well, duh" conclusion. I plan on using some of his rules augmented with some of my own to do better.



Unbelievably, at least for me, Celeste's and my oldest son turns 21 today. As in 2-1 and able to legally drink in any state in the union. How the heck did we get here this fast?

Normally I'd say he's a great kid, but these days that would be wrong because he's a great young man and not a great kid. He's beginning to make his way in the world by going to school, holding down a job and generally being a productive member of society. He's already encountered some bumps in the road and I'm encouraged by how he's dealt with them without losing what really makes him special: his caring for those around him and his incredible sense of humor even on a bad day.  Honestly I couldn't be prouder of him and I can't wait to see what the next 21 years bring. The future is very bright for this kid, er, young man.

Happy birthday Michael!


Erin, Michael, Justin