Defending Your Family

Dear Mr. Dad: Every day there’s a story in the news about violence—whether it’s a terrorist, a mass shooter, or some other nut job. I feel bad for the victims of this violence, but I’m also feeling extremely helpless. I’m thinking about signing all of us up for some kind of martial arts lessons but I don’t want to teach my kids to be violent. I read in one of your columns that you have a background in martial arts. Do you recommend a particular style?

A: I completely understand your feelings of helplessness. Every time I hear one of the stories you’re talking about, I experience exactly the same thing.

Martial arts are wonderful for many reasons: they’re often a great workout, help build coordination and balance, increase self-confidence and self-esteem, improve memory, instill discipline and respect, and, of course, teach you how to defend yourself. But martial arts—particularly traditional styles—aren’t magic. First, no amount of martial arts training will protect you from a bomb or a sniper. Second, most martial arts are a sport, which means they emphasize safety and fair fighting (more on that below). You’ll need to practice for a very long time before the techniques you learn will be useful on the street.

The one exception—the skill you can learn right away—is perhaps the most important one of all: “situational awareness.” Like it sounds, situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings, observing other people’s behaviors, recognizing potential threats, and identifying potential escape routes. Situational awareness (which includes keeping your cell phone in your pocket when you’re walking around) will help you avoid many dangerous situations before they even happen.

My frustration with the lack of practical skills in traditional martial arts is what led me, after years of experience with Tae Kwon Do, to Krav Maga, an Israeli style that’s essentially street fighting—no choreographed forms (kata) or metaphysical discussions. I think I learned more practical techniques in my first month of Krav than in a decade of TKD.

As great as it is, Krav Maga focuses on defense—reacting after someone has started to attack you. The problem with that is that if you’re being attacked, chances are the stress will make you forget all those fancy weapon takeaways, joint locks, and other multi-step techniques. So I became interested in a new approach that’s becoming more common: a totally streamlined system that’s designed to do as much damage to your attacker as possible.

I had a chance to experience two of these, and they were both great. Damian Ross’s Self Defense Training System (myselfdefensetraining.com) teaches a small number of brutal strikes (including punches to the throat and eye gouging) that are easy to learn, can be used in almost any situation, and are absolutely devastating.

Tim Larkin’s Target Focus Training (targetfocustraining.com) has a similar philosophy: “Violence is rarely the answer. But when it is, it’s the only answer.” The goal is to reduce your attacker to a “nonfunctional” state by methodically and viciously attacking vital targets.

One thing you’ll have to overcome if you’re opting for Ross’s or Larkin’s approach is your natural aversion to hurting other people. In martial arts, when you’re sparring, you land a blow, score a point, and then back out. The idea of gouging eyes and breaking knees seems unfair. In the ring, that’s true, but in a real-life attack, your attacker won’t be playing by the rules and you can’t either. So you’ll have to get comfortable with the idea that to protect your family from violence, you (and they) may have to do severe, possibly life-threatening violence, to someone else.

###

 

Photo credit: unsplash.com/ Martin Kníže

Preventing Concussions is a Real No-Brainer

Dear Mr. Dad:  My kids (7, 10, and 12) are excited to sign up for sports in a few weeks, but with all the talk about concussions, I’m more than a little concerned. Plus, I just saw the new Will Smith movie, Concussion, which scared me even more. Short of not allowing them to play at all, is there anything I can do to lower the risk that my kids will get a concussion?

You’re absolutely right to be concerned about concussions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, nearly 250,000 children under 19 were treated in hospital emergency departments for a sports-related concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). There’s no question that many, many more young athletes suffered concussions but didn’t seek medical treatment.

Not all that long ago, people—especially coaches and athletes—didn’t take concussions very seriously. Athletes (mostly male) who “got their bell rung” were often encouraged to get back in the game as soon as possible. Today, scientists know that concussions are far more serious than just a bump on the head, and only about 10 percent of concussions involve a loss or consciousness (which includes “seeing stars”). Concussions are actually a type of brain injury that happens when the brain gets banged against the inside of the skull due to a sudden impact. They can cause a variety of short- and long-term damage, including memory, language, and concentration problems; irritability, moodiness, and other personality changes; difficulty making decisions; and more.
[Read more…]

Maybe I’m Just Not Cut Out to Be a Dad

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a new dad—my son was born two months ago—and although I hate to admit it, I’m not feeling much like a parent. My wife wants me to be as involved as she is, playing with, feeding, talking to, and changing the baby. But I’m honestly not that interested. I was perfectly happy with the way my life was before. As you can imagine, my wife is rather annoyed with me. So I’ve got two questions for you: Aside from making my wife happy, why should I be involved? And is there something I can do to get more interested in fatherhood?

Those are two great questions—ones plenty of new parents struggle with but are afraid to admit they have. After all, we live in an egalitarian time and men and women are supposed to be equal partners in parenting, and we’re all supposed to fall head-over-feet in love with our babies from the second they’re born, right? Reality—as you’ve discovered—doesn’t always work out that way. The truth is that not everyone is born with the desire—or is cut out to be—an involved parent. And political correctness aside, not every couple is fully egalitarian. That said, there’s another facet of reality that you have to confront: Yes, you may have been happy with your pre-baby life, but you’re in a very different place now, and things will never be the same.
[Read more…]

SIDS: Every New Parent’s Greatest Fear

healthy babyDear Mr. Dad: A few years ago, my sister’s three-month old infant died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My baby is now the same age, and I’m in a panic worrying that the same thing will happen to him. I’m not even sure I understand what SIDS is and what the risk factors are. More importantly, is there anything my wife and I can do keep my son from suffocating to death?

A: In the U.S., around 4,000 babies die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome every year—that’s about one death per thousand births. That makes SIDS the most common cause of death of children between one week and one year old. Before we get to risk factors and how to reduce them, we need to clear up a big misconception: SIDS is not “suffocating to death.” According to First Candle (firstcandle.org), SIDS is “the sudden, unexpected death of an apparently healthy baby under one year of age,” whose death remains unexplained even after an autopsy.

Unfortunately, despite millions of dollars spent on research, there’s no consensus on what causes SIDS. However, many experts believe that the most likely culprit is the baby’s failure to wake up when a breathing problem (such as sleep apnea) happens during sleep. There aren’t any medical tests than can reliably identify high-risk babies. But here are some of the known risk factors.

  • Certain types of brain abnormalities increase SIDS risk.
  • SIDS is most common in babies two to four months old. Ninety percent of deaths happen to babies under six months.
  • SIDS takes more boys than girls. Multiple-birth babies and preemies are also at higher risk.
  • African American and American Indian babies are more likely than white babies to die of SIDS.
  • It’s more common in cold weather when respiratory infections are more likely.
  • It’s more common in families where one or both parents smoke, share a bed with their baby, put the baby to sleep on his or her stomach, overdress the baby, or cover him or her with fluffy bedding.

Despite all those risk factors, SIDS remains unexplained, which means that most babies who succumb to it don’t fall into any of the above categories. There’s no surefire way to prevent SIDS. But there are a number of proven ways to reduce the risks.

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back. Until about 1994, doctors thought that babies who slept on their back would choke on their vomit if they spit up. It turns out that babies are smart enough to turn their heads. SIDS deaths are more than 40% lower now than before the recommendations changed.
  • Don’t smoke and don’t let anyone who does near your baby. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke (even before birth) are at high risk for SIDS. According to the CDC, chemicals in cigarette smoke may interfere with babies’ ability to regulate their breathing.
  • Don’t overdress the baby. A number of studies show that overheated babies can fall into a deep sleep that’s hard to wake from.
  • Put the baby to sleep on a firm mattress: no pillows, fluffy blankets, plush sofas, waterbeds, shag carpets, or beanbags.
  • Give your baby a pacifier at bedtime. A number of studies show that pacifier use greatly reduces SIDS risk. That may be because it helps keep airways open or because pacifier-sucking babies may sleep less deeply. But does it really matter why?
  • Encourage your wife to breastfeed. Research shows that breastfed babies are 60% less likely than formula-fed ones to die from SIDS. They also tend to be lighter sleepers. Plus, breastmilk strengthens the baby’s immune system, which is always a good thing.
  • Don’t panic. SIDS is a devastating, horrible experience for any parent, but try to remember that 999 out of 1,000 babies don’t die of it.

Photo credit: Unsplash.com/Giu Vicente

Sex-Starved Dad: Don’t Get Your Hopes–Or Anything Else–Up

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a new dad and love everything about fatherhood. But my marriage is fraying. Our baby’s birth was uneventful and my wife’s OB told us that we could have sex again after six weeks. He’s eight months old now and my wife and I have had sex exactly one time since the birth. That’s it. I’ve tried talking with her about this, and her response is that she simply has no sex drive anymore. I’m 27 and my sex drive is pretty healthy. I feel bad bugging her to do something she apparently doesn’t feel like doing and I don’t want our relationship to end over this. I’m trying to be as sympathetic as I can, but is it normal for women to lose their sex drive for this long after giving birth? Is there anything I can do to increase her sex drive?

The reason most OBs tell new parents to hold off on having sex for those famous six weeks is that it usually takes that long for the woman’s body to recover. But that six-week guideline can lead to unrealistic expectations, which in turn can lead to resentment and relationship strain. Sound familiar? The reality is that plenty of couples take as long as a year to get back to their pre-pregnancy and pre-baby sex life.

Here are a few of the many factors that could be putting a damper on your wife’s sex drive:

[Read more…]

Unmarried Dads Have Rights Too

60Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant and we’re having some major relationship problems. I don’t think we’re going to make it. I’ve been very open about wanting to be a big part of our child’s life no matter what, but she has already started excluding me. She doesn’t tell me when her doctor visits are and refuses to take a labor and delivery class with me. I’m worried that she’ll keep excluding me after the baby arrives. What can I do? Do I have any rights here?

A: Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of attorneys about this exact subject and many of them have told me the same thing: that dads—even if they’re not married to their child’s mother—have almost as many rights as mothers. But they almost always add that courts are generally more likely to enforce mothers’ rights than dads’.

Before you do anything else, I suggest that you talk with a lawyer. If you’re worried about the money, there are a lot of organizations that offer free or low-cost advice, as well as help filling out all the papers and getting them to the right places at the right time. It’s essential that you do this now: mistakes made in the early stages of a custody issue can lead to all sorts of problems later. Be aware that many legal clinics are reluctant to help fathers.

Once you’ve got that process started, take a few minutes and think about what may be going on in your soon-to-be-ex’s mind. To start with, all those pregnancy-related hormonal ups and downs can affect her behavior. Besides that, being a single mother isn’t easy and she’s probably concerned about making ends meet, daycare, where she’s going to live, and how she’s going to be able to raise a child by herself.

You have three goals: first, to show her that you understand what she’s going through; second, to show her that you really want to be involved in your child’s life; and third, to make sure that involvement actually becomes a reality. Something as simple as telling her that you’ll be available to care for the baby when she goes back to work (assuming that’s true)—will help you achieve all of those goals.

There’s also a fourth goal, although this one’s harder to accomplish: to educate her about the many ways your involvement will benefit the baby and the mom (besides providing support, which, of course, you’re legally and ethically obligated to do). For example, your involvement during the pregnancy reduces the risk that the baby will be born prematurely and that the mom will suffer from post-partum depression.

If the two of you can’t have a civil discussion—or at least a rational one—see if you can find someone you both trust to make your case.

Hopefully, her current, unreasonable attitude will turn out to be temporary. Once the baby is born and she has the time to recover, her thinking might be less guided by emotions and more by the desire to raise the child in the best possible conditions, that is, with the presence of a loving and supportive father.

If she doesn’t reach that conclusion on her own, talk to your lawyer about what you need to do to ensure that your rights (and your child’s) are protected. And don’t forget about your responsibilities. Putting money aside for your child (starting now) and documenting everything you do to fight for your right to see him or her will show a judge that you’re committed to being an involved dad.