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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Music Appreciation

Music is the universal language of mankind.- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I enjoy driving my kids to school in the mornings, it is an opportune time to chat and catch up on their lives and then wish them well on their upcoming day. Usually I have the three high-schoolers with me in the Jeep, and while we share some of the same musical tastes, for the most part they listen to more modern music than I do. Here I am using the term “music” very loosely, at least when compared to my usual definition of the word.
This brings me to my central thought for the week. For most of us, music is a window to remember thoughts and feelings we were experiencing the first time we heard a particular song or piece of music. For example, the reason I still listen to Elvis on occasion is his music reminds me of good times with my mother, as she and I would watch Elvis movies; I love the Beach Boys because of the feeling of sun, beach fun and youthful exuberance their tunes represented. Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested, “Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.”
I read a survey recently that showed when people have a celebration or tragedy; they want to hear traditional church hymns at a funeral for example, even if they normally attend a more contemporary service or do not attend church regularly. During the Christmas season we sing carols and at New Year’s Eve celebrations we still sing “Auld Lang Syne” even though few of us even know what a “Lang” is anymore. The afore-mentioned study, proposed the reason people are comforted by those songs is largely the memories they have of family and closeness in times of celebration or tragedy.
This brings me back around to our morning rides to school when I’m tortured by my kids’ musical tastes. I have come to realize they, like me, listen to what they do because of the memories they created and friends they were with when they heard these songs in the same way I did years ago. I also recognize that music has a generational identity to it, my personal guess is societal, and political pressures, influence these choices. If I hear something in the music I find objectionable such as lyric content, we can and usually do, have a conversation about what affect and effect the music has on them.
The bottom line is each of us as parents can choose to listen to the music our kids listen to with an open mind, or to discount their musical choices as “not really music.” When we do that, we run the risk of discounting the feelings and memories that make the music “music” in the first place. While I still have to steel myself on occasion when they insist on listening to a band that evidently received their instruments via mail order a few weeks ago, I still listen intently and try to ask intelligent questions about what message the band is trying to say and use that for fodder to spur conversation about their lives.
I must admit that while “Foo” is always something to fight against, I do hope those poor five guys who have been marooned for several years now are rescued soon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Family Traditions

Last week I wrote about one particular family tradition that I hope all families will take advantage of, that of parent and child outings that we call Daddy/ Daughter, or Mom/Son dates. These “dates” are a fantastic tradition that allows a parent some quality one on one time with each of their children and eventually your kids will carry on this tradition when they have children of their own.
This week I want to talk about other traditions you can do as a family. Some of these traditions you probably already do or you have some other traditions you have started as a family. Keep doing them! Your traditions can and should be as special as your family is and reflect your family’s individuality. Many family professionals agree that most strong families have strong family traditions and these traditions reflect family interactions within the family unit, extended family, and the community at large.
Family traditions also provide a backdrop for good time and pleasant memories that the family puts in an “emotional back account” to be drawn on during hard times. This emotional bank account pays dividends twice: once when the deposit is made during the family activity or the acting out of the tradition as family connections are formed and deepened; then again during emotionally trying times as family connections are tested and strengthened. You might ask, “I agree family traditions are important, how do we develop them in our own family?” I am glad you asked.
Perhaps the easiest and most common family tradition is sharing a meal together. For most of us this is the evening meal, but for other families it can be breakfast. I have written about this tradition before so rather than review it again I will just suggest that you spend whatever energy you have to as a family to make this one happen. If you ask everyone to be prepared to discuss his or her day and perhaps something they are thankful for, this can be a very valuable tradition.
Most families celebrate birthdays, but have you ever thought of halfway celebrating half-birthdays? At the six-month mark for a family member’s birthday you make a half cake, buy (or make) a small gift, for half a day treat the honoree with special treatment and maybe sing half of “Happy Birthday”.
Here in the great Northwest, where we have a veritable cornucopia of outdoor activities available year round, start the tradition of “family activity day” so each Sunday (maybe after church), a different person in the family picks an activity to do together. It can be as elaborate as skiing or rock climbing, or as simple as a nature hike in a local patch of woods.
Speaking of church, as I mentioned several articles ago I do not intend to promote one religion over another or religion at all for that matter, however marriages and families that go to church more than once a month together are far more likely to be healthy than those that do not.
In keeping with this line of thought, may I suggest volunteering as a family for a cause everyone in the family agrees is important, such as feeding the homeless, working at the humane society or anyone of a hundred worthy causes around town that need the help. You will likely become closer working together and spending time together, and you may be more appreciative of your own family if you experience people who are not as lucky as you are, to have a wonderful, loving, family to love and rely on.
Tagline: Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Different Kind Of Date

Last Saturday I was at the Doughnut House on Government Way, eating a doughnut and drinking chocolate milk that had been cut with some white milk (because chocolate milk straight out of the carton makes me flop on the floor in a chocolate induced fit). My wife shakes her head sadly at me for not being able to handle what we call “girl chocolate milk”; my “watered down” version is euphemistically referred to as “boy chocolate milk”. However, I digress; back to my doughnut.
As I took my last bite of sweetened, fried dough I noticed a little girl strut through the door with her dad. I very purposely use the word “strut” because I don’t know of another word that could describe the vivacity and panache she exuded with each little step. She was blonde haired and blue eyed, about two years old. She was wearing pink princess shoes and little sunglasses that very coolly covered those pretty blue eyes. In fourteen or fifteen years, she will only be missing the convertible with the top down to stop half the clocks in Kootenai County. She only stood two foot nothing but I couldn’t help but wonder how God managed to stuff six feet worth of attitude in someone only two feet tall.
Here is a young lady that knew what she wanted, and while polite, very matter-of-factly told her Dad what she wanted. After getting her doughnut and milk, she took her Dad to an empty table, climbed in to a chair and talked to her Dad about all kinds of things. I couldn’t get all of what she said, largely because my wife and daughters kept telling me and each other how cute she was. “Of course she is cute”, was all I could think, the angels themselves must have fought over who got to deliver her to her parents.
I do not know where Mom was; hopefully, she was at home enjoying a little uninterrupted sleep. The important part was that dad and daughter were having a fine time. I am sure she is too young to remember the day, but I am praying her Dad won’t forget it. If he reads this, “Dad keep it up”; for the rest of us with kids, we should try at least once a month to have a “date” with our kids. Just one of us and one of them, doing dang near anything, where we can open our ears and let them tell us what they need to talk about; then we gently pass on whatever bits of wisdom we have acquired through a life of trial and error.
I am passing this along because my own daughters remind me all the time of past “Daddy-Daughter dates” and let me know when it’s been too long since the last one. They are old enough now that I can already see that they will cherish those times far into adulthood. Moms, I don’t mean to leave you out, dates with your children are just as important and fulfilling to each of you.
A last bit of advice to the Dad we saw last Saturday, “I hope you have a bottle of that hair dye for men and clean your shotgun often; she is going to be a heartbreaker and you are going to need both!”
Tagline: Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at