Originally dedicated to helping parents raise inspired, self-confident children based on the Great Aspirations! characteristics,
the weekly newspaper column “Two Dads” written by Doug Hall and Russ Quaglia in 1999 gives a father’s witty perspective on inspiring children.

Great Dads Play GREAT SPORTS!

Remember when weekend play meant going outside, finding whoever was around, and playing whatever seemed fun at the time?  When the big kids taught the little kids how to choke up on a bat, kick a football, or shoot a foul shot?  When sports were fun for everybody, regardless of skill level?  Well we do, and it’s important you do as well.

The world of kids sports has become over competitive, over parentized, and over organized.  It’s time to get sports back into the family.  That’s right…kids and parents playing together.  A number of years ago my good friend Dave Raichle created a program in Cincinnati called Great Sports!  The program is designed to bring moms, dads, sisters and brothers together to participate in a semi-organized day of sports fun.

The Great Sports! program is set up for Sunday afternoons from 1:00-4:00, and centers around a variety of different sports.  Whether the activity basketball or kickball, the goal is to divide into two groups and spend two hours just playing together.  But there is one catch.  In order to play, the kids have to come with at least one able bodied parent willing to run around and join in the frenzy.  As Dave says, parental “dump and run” is not allowed.

Programs like these are important for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, sports are a great vehicle to drive parents’ interaction with their kids.  Running down a field laughing and jostling each other can help dads and kids feel close to each other in a way no conversation ever could.

Second, sports provide us an opportunity to both teach our children and to share in their joy as they improve their skills.  There’s nothing better than seeing the gleam in your kids’ eyes when they make their first catch or hit their first homerun.  And nothing makes a dad more proud than bragging, “I taught them to do that.”

And third, sports is a universal language that cuts across all age levels and abilities.  You don’t have to be a Michael Jordan to have fun playing ball.  Your kids really don’t care whether or not you can fade away and dunk; just getting out there and trying makes you a winner in their eyes.  And with your encouragement and praise, you have the power to make them feel like MVPs as well.

To get you in the game, here are some of Dave’s exciting sport activities.

•  Super-Cool Street Hockey Find an empty parking lot and make a quick rink with landscaping timbers or two-by-fours.  Buy a puck, play in Rollerblades or your sneakers, and make an afternoon of it.

•  Chicago Softball For a new twist on softball, use a 16 inch ball and no gloves.  A great extra large ball is called the “Official Clincher” and made by deBeer.  You can find one by talking to your local sporting goods store, or looking on the web at

•  Kids Volleyball Played like regular volleyball, except that you catch and pass the ball to a teammate, then throw it over the net.  If it hits the ground, that’s a point.  This version’s a lot easier for young ones to play, and it promotes teamwork.

•  Ultimate Football Part of the NFL’s official Flag football program, Ultimate football is a wonderful, fast-paced kids football game for young kids.  It allows everyone to play and equally touch the ball, so it’s great for both boys and girls.  Call Lynn Dinanno at (212) 450-2562 for more information.

With as many as 70 parents and kids at a time showing up to play, Dave Raichle’s Great Sports! program has been a huge success .  It’s an amazing program–and examplifies how valuable sports can be.  Dads need this uninterrupted play time.  It’s a chance to meet and hang out with each other.  It’s an opportunity to encourage and support the efforts of other parents.  And, most importantly, it’s a way to show the your kids how special they really are!  So dads, there are no excuses for you to sit on the sidelines.  Find a park and organize your own Great Sports! program–I guarantee you’ll have a ball..

If I hear “why” one more time..

It is absolutely crazy how many times we can be asked “why” by our kids.  Just when we think we have exhausted all the possible whys another is surely to follow.  Why is the sky blue?  Why are peas green?  Why are carrots good for your eyes?  Why can’t I stay up?  Why do I have to drink all my milk?  Why, Why, Why?

There is only one thing that is more amazing than the number of whys we get asked.  It is the fact that we always seem to have an answer.  (Even if we have to make it up.)  The only other option is to fall into the easy trap of proclaiming, “because”–and we’ve all done that.  Saying “because” certainly does not deal with the inquiry; but, it does send a clear message to the kids that we have heard enough “whys” for a few minutes.  The question is:  Is that the message we really want to send?

When kids ask us why, it is not because they want to make us crazy, it is because they want to know something.  Educators call this learning; parents call it being curious.  Being curious and learning go hand in hand.  It is our role as parents to foster curiosity at home.

Once we think we have mastered the why question from our kids, we need to get them to the next level.  That is having them ask “why not.”  As stated earlier “why” promotes curiosity and “why not” promotes creativity.  The point here is that we want not only inquisitive kids, but also kids who can take the next step and provide meaningful solutions to complex problems.

Our whole society was founded on the fact that great individuals asked why and why not. If Jefferson hadn’t asked “Why not buy Louisiana?,” we wouldn’t have had the Wild West.  If the Wright Brothers did not question “Why not fly like birds?,” we would not have frequent flier miles.  If Columbus did not ask “Why not sail around the world?,” we would all be cramped in Europe today.

Here are some ideas to get the curious and creative juices of your kids flowing:

• Big Top Research shows that kids who have attended events like the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, who have watched Walt Disney style videos at home, and/or who have Lego style building blocks at home have a significantly greater sense of Curiosity and Creativity than those who have not.  Give your kids these kinds of classic experiences.

• Cool Crafts Kids go bananas at the chance to build, paint, shape, and mold.  Gather some cardboard, popcicle sticks, glitter, pipe cleaners, markers, glue and beady eyes from a fabric or craft store and see what ideas develop.

• Animal Hunt Take your kids for a walk in the park and look for signs of animals–tracks, sounds, scratches on the trees where a deer may have rubbed its’ antlers.  Look in the sky and under rocks and logs.  Show your children how to use field guides, Scout handbooks, internet sites, or encyclopedias to track down their findings in print.

• Out and About Town Your best source of leads for cool stuff around town is in your hands – this newspaper!  On any given Saturday or Sunday, this paper lists concerts, festivals, art shows or small town festivals celebrating some sort of local pride–from sauerkraut to honey bees.  Load the kids in the car and go check it out!

You’ll never know the potential of your children if they are discouraged from asking why.  As you open their creative spirits, don’t be surprised if you, too, start questioning.  Why not?

DADS – just say YES to spending time with your kids

You can’t watch an hour of television without seeing an ad for a new automobile or a commercial about drug abuse in America.  Rock stars, television personalities, and politicians all have the same message…stop using drugs.  Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on this campaign to have kids “just say no.”  Ask yourself, has it worked?  Just say no!

Young children are being inundated with commercials and inspirational speakers talking about the downfall of drug abuse.  Kids are not stupid.   They know they shouldn’t use drugs. They only need to hear that message a couple of times.

The reason drug use is still so high is that the powers that be are missing the point.  Using drugs is not the problem; it is only the symptom.  The real problem is that kids are bored out of their minds, they see no hope, and–most important–they feel like they just don’t belong.  Kids are still turning to drugs because they believe there is nothing else.

Well, here’s a news bulletin: we dads are the “something else” they need!  It is our responsibility to get our kids excited about things.  It is our job to help them realize they have endless potential and the future is theirs.  And, it is our mission to make darn sure they feel valued in their own family.  It’s called establishing a sense of belonging.

Belonging is the best way to protect your child from the corrosive effects of peer pressure. Human beings are, by nature, social animals.  And when you don’t fit in, you’re likely to try anything that might ease the pain of not belonging.

The research data is clear.  Children who have a significantly higher sense of belonging share these factors:

• They come from families that sit down for dinner together more often

•  They spend more time with their dads on regular weekdays

• They spend more time with their mom on regular Saturdays and Sundays

• They watch less TV during the school week

As a concerned parent, you naturally want to instill in your child the deep-down understanding that, no matter what, he or she can count on that sense of belonging.  So, how do you begin?  Here are some ideas:

• Share a Book Kids with a strong sense of belonging come from families where their parents read to them.  The act of sharing a book with a child has a way of generating a sense of connection and belonging that no TV show or video game can provide.

• Remembering Get out your old photo albums.  Show your child your bad haircuts, your goofy grins, those silly glasses you used to wear.  Share the successes and the failures of your childhood.  The more human you are, the more your children will be able to connect with you.  And, by sharing, you will forge connections that will resonate throughout your child’s life.

• Mail Time If you don’t live with your child, there are ways for you to make connections, too.  Send your child postcards.  Kids love getting mail.  The message can be short and sweet.  They’ll be thrilled you took the time to write something especially for them.  This doesn’t end as they get older.   My children are in college now.  I send them picture post cards when I travel from where ever I am.  My notes are not very serious – just a quick note that makes a connection.

It doesn’t take money or fancy training to give your child the advantages that go along with a sense of belonging.  Let’s stop worrying about getting our kids to “just say no” to drugs and begin as dads to “just say yes” when it comes to spending time with our children!

Psst here’s what dad really wanted for fathers day

A gift expert once said that gifts are a means for communicating to others what values we want them to develop. A brother might give a book on self-reliance to a sister who has low self-esteem. An uncle might give his nephew tickets to a ball game to get him more interested in sports. A wife might even give her husband bread-baking lessons. The message: Bake the bread, don’t just earn it.

A quick tour of the local mall last weekend some pretty pitiful ideas that were being pushed on unsuspecting kids and moms as the ultimate gift for recognizing Father’s Day.

There was the “My Goofy Dad” display of merchandise at the Walt Disney Store, funny but in a really stupid way. In other stores, dorky shirts and hats abound — the type that only Chevy Chase would wear in his father films. Again, funny — but really corny. Finally, as ties have disappeared from the workplace, tie manufacturers are working to keep the business. So everywhere there are ties with foolish designs and sayings on them, trying way too hard to look hip and fun.

Don’t they get it? The dad of the new millennium doesn’t like wearing neck tourniquets.

The desire to put some fun into Father’s Day is a worthy goal. But these executions are weak attempts.

Down deep, every dad wants to kick back, laugh and connect with the family — to relive those magic moments he had with his dad. But it’s tough. It’s a cruel joke: The times in our lives when we are most productive at work, when we have the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder the fastest, are also the times when we are most needed as a father, the times when our children are growing.

Moms, kids, stepkids, it’s time to start some new traditions for Father’s Day, and you can begin with this one. It’s time to have some genuine fun and excitement. Let’s build memories this Father’s Day — the kind that last.

Here are two strategies for making magic memories with Dad – any weekend this summer

— A Spirit of Adventure. An element of risk, of wow, of audacity generates authentic fun and excitement. What could be more exciting than shooting off a model rocket and seeing it parachute to earth? Most toy stores have a complete, ready-to-fly model rocket set by ESTES for $19.95. Moms, for the ultimate gift, buy two rockets (one may get stuck in a tree) and lots of extra rocket cartridges.

If rockets don’t work for you, try remote-control boats, planes or a pair of remote-control cars with a chalk race course on the driveway. The key is to stimulate a spirit of adventure.

Make the day really memorable by packing a picnic lunch of Dad’s favorite foods, the Sunday paper and even a portable cassette player with music from when he was in high school. Find a favorite spot, relax and have fun together.

— Dad Fest ’09. On holidays that are traditionally family-focused such as Father’s Day, there is a tendency to isolate ourselves from others. It may surprise you, but most men are pack animals. Like dogs and wolves, we like to be in a group. It’s just that our hectic lives don’t make this easy to do. Moms, this Father’s Day, gather together a group of your friends and hold a “Dad Fest.” Make it a big surprise. If your dad loves sports, gather at someone’s house or the park for Wiffleball, ultimate Frisbee, softball, basketball, touch football or kickball games. Cook up some burgers or chicken, and don’t forget the lemonade, ice-cold beer and marshmallows for the kids to cook over the fire.

When dads play together, it’s as if a magic spell comes over them. In an instant they are 10 years younger — and full of energy and enthusiasm.

Moms, kids — trust us. Dads love a sense of adventure and to leisure sports. Make it easy on them, and they’ll love you for it. You’ll be making a new tradition. And traditions are the glue that helps build a family.

Parenting Idea – Breaking free from the nothing, fine, nowhere rut

        Have you ever tried to start a conversation with your child and felt you might as well be talking to one of those Magic 8 balls? Sometimes we have to practically turn our kids upside down to get a response — and when the kids do open their mouths, they close them again after one or two words.

            It’s a common concern. The first word most kids learn to say is “Dad,” mostly because D’s are easier for them to spit out than M’s, as in “Mom.” Shortly after that, they utter their first sentence: “Duh, Dad.” Before long, they know three more sentences: “Nothing,” “Fine” and “Nowhere.”  

             “Nothing,” “Fine” and “Nowhere” come in handy for responding to any number of parental inquiries into a child’s well-being, his current activities or her future plans — as in, “What did you do in school today?” or “How are you this morning?” or “Where do you think you’re going?”

            “Nothing,” “Fine” and “Nowhere” are easy ways for kids to get themselves off the hook for those questions. Naturally, you want more than that. You want to engage them, draw them out and immerse yourself in their eloquent, elaborate conversation. But how?

            You can start by asking more specific questions. Mix it up — toss them an occasional curve or slider. And don’t give them easy outs. Try asking questions that call for more than one- or two-word responses and, above all, listen to what they have to say. Then ask follow-up questions. Like, “What did you learn in science?” or “What did you have for lunch?” or “Say, just where are you planning on going today?”

            The bottom line is that we need to show we care. It’s not so important that we have to know what happened in science class, or what the nutritional lunch habits are for our kids. We need to show them we are genuinely interested in their lives, and talking WITH them, not TO them, is important to us as dads.

            Here are some other ideas:

            — Encourage Connections — Track the number of times you make meaningful connections with your child in the coming week — not impersonal conversations that begin with “Do you have your lunch money?” or “Time to get ready for practice,” but real one-to-one contact. Then set a goal to double it over the next week.

            — Oh, What a Great Day! — Over dinner, invite each person at the table to tell about something good that happened to him that day — something he’s thankful for, something that made her happy, something that left her wondering. Give your children the chance to be on center stage, to have everyone listening to them and only them. 

            — Show Them You’ve Been There, Too — Remember what it was like to be in first grade? They weren’t necessarily the “good old days,” were they? To understand the issues our children face, it helps to revisit our own insecurities, hurdles and hardships — and to tell our children about them.

            — Prime the Pump — Storytelling encourages curiosity and creativity. Make up your own story-starters to launch you and your kids into all kinds of stories that will help put them in the conversation mode. For example, your story-starter could begin, “Once, I found a dollar on the sidewalk …” or “Once, I was so scared I …” or “Once, I laughed so hard I …” And then what happened?

            Once you’re rolling along with a good story, it will take you to all kinds of wonderful places you never knew existed.

            Then, when you’ve gotten your kids past “Nothing,” “Fine” and “Nowhere,” listen to what they have to say. And keep listening. Let them interrupt you, even when you have your favorite power tool in your hands.

            You’ll be showing your kids you really do care about what they have to say — and that what they say matters. And once they know you’re listening, they can begin to build solid foundations for their own meaningful, life-long aspirations.

How to be a hero to your kids

All dads want to be heroes to their kids.

            Being a hero to our kids is something we dads tend to care more about than our female counterparts. It’s a trait that’s mixed in somewhere in the deep, dark genetic jungle of the male mind-set.

            Each of us wants our kids to see us as an intrepid Indiana Jones type with an exotic personal history; a superhuman being from whose chest bullets bounce; a fearless individual beneath whose mild-mannered exterior beats the heart of a lion.

            That’s what we want, anyway. Granted, it’s awfully vain of us. We feel good about ourselves when our kids look up at us and say, “Way to go, Dad!”

            On the other hand, it makes good, practical sense to cut a heroic figure in your child’s eyes. Why? Because kids are going to find heroes somewhere. In the absence of a more immediate hero — such as yourself — their impressionable minds are likely latch onto any number of flashy role models that the media dish up to them on a regular basis — from Axl Rose to Snoop Doggy Dogg, from the Spice Girls to Dennis Rodman.

            Our apologies to the aforementioned celebrities, whose contributions to society are beyond reproach. But you get the picture, don’t you? As far as heroes for your kids are concerned, it’s a clear case of better you than those guys.

            How do you get there? First, build trust with your child. And the numero uno way to start doing that is to keep your word. When you promise to spend an afternoon with your daughter at the zoo, DO IT. When you tell your son you’ll be home from work at such-and-such time so the two of you can shoot hoops, BE THERE.

            It works the other way, too. If you’ve told your child he or she can expect a certain consequence for a certain form of negative behavior — like being grounded if she ever sets fire to the neighbor’s cat again –- FOLLOW THROUGH, even when it would be more convenient or otherwise easier for you to look the other way. You owe it to your child to be consistent. Besides, you can’t be a hero if your child doesn’t respect you -– and it’s hard to respect a patsy.

            Here are a few other ideas:

            — Once Upon a Time -– Ask your kids to tell you about heroes they may already have. Tell them about heroes you had when you were a kid –- and about the real people from your childhood who had a hand in shaping you. Look for common denominators between your heroes then and your kids’ heroes now, then talk about those traits. Decide for yourselves what it takes to really be a hero.

            — Historical Heroes -– Read to your children from books about real-life heroes from history. What was it that made people like Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King Jr. worth admiring? What kinds of difficulties did they face? What lessons from their lives can you and your kids apply to your own?

            — Hero Books -– You’ll need a notebook binder, a stack of magazines, markers, scissors and glue. Label a series of blank sheets with the following prompts: “My dad is my hero when …,” “My mom is my hero when …,” “My favorite teacher is …,” “My favorite athlete is …,” “My best friend is …,” “When I grow up, I want to be a …,” “My favorite TV hero is …” and so on. Then sit down with your child and clip photos, phrases and images from the magazines to fill in the blank pages. Identify characteristics your child sees as being important, talk about them and, together, consider which ones may have more meaning than others.

            — Young Heroes -– Sit down with your kids and read biographies about amazing young people, such as Anne Frank, Thomas Edison, Amadeus Mozart and Ryan White. Help your children see that one doesn’t have to be a grown-up to set a shining example.

            — Follow the Leader -– Be a leader yourself. Set examples in your own life and in your community. Let your child see you doing the right thing, making the right choices and following the Golden Rule.

            All kids want their dads to be heroes, probably as much as we want them to see us that way. They WANT us to be people they want to be like. They look to us to mold their perceptions of what’s right, what’s wrong and what truly matters.

            It’s serious stuff, this hero business. But you don’t have to wear a cape, body armor and a winged helmet to be one. What you have on right now is good enough. So what’s the holdup? You can do it. Be a hero.

Helping Children Deal with Fears

          When it comes to trying something new, your child is a fraidy cat.

            Being a fraidy cat isn’t all bad. Kids who don’t exercise some degree of caution are kids who don’t look before they leap. Emergency rooms are filled with them

         On the other hand, it’s important for a child to have a spirit of adventure, especially in terms of being willing to try new things. This is what enables a child to grow. It’s what fuels aspirations in childhood and beyond.

            Remember when your child was a baby just learning to walk? She hauled herself up on her two chubby legs and fell, got back up and fell back down, on and on and on until, finally, she took her first step, then the next, then another after that. And in fairly short order, she was wobbling off into a world packed with new adventures.

            At some point, however, the toddler touches a hot stove or steps on a bumble bee. It happens to all of us. That’s when we begin to learn what it means to be afraid. Some of us are born with the ability to shake it off and keep going. Others learn fear’s lessons TOO well — to the point of paralysis.

            Kids encounter all kinds of scenarios where fear can be a paralyzing factor, especially when they’re trying something new — learning to ride a bicycle, jumping off the high board, stepping up to the plate, strapping on a pair of in-line skates, walking on stage for that first piano recital. All are fraught with potential for failure, embarrassment and humiliation — all can be reasons for a child to decide against even trying. What dad has not flinched at hearing the words, “But I caaaan’t”?

            As a dad, it’s your job to find ways to help your kids push back the boundaries of fear, teach them it’s all right to fall short, and show them that once they’ve taken that first step, they can take another and another after that.

            Here are some ideas for emboldening that fraidy cat in all of us:

            — Best and Worst — Take a long, hard look at the task your child faces. Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On one side, write “Best Case.” On the other, write “Worst Case.” Work with your child to fill in the columns. What positive results could come from trying? What’s the best thing? What’s the worst? Once a child realizes that the worst that could happen really isn’t all that awful, he or she is more likely to take the plunge. In the process, you’ll give your child a simple framework for weighing future risks.

            — Courage Connections — Find ways to attach “training wheels” to your kids’ first-time experiences. Hold your daughter’s hand at the edge of the pool and jump in with her. Put your arms around your son to show him how to swing a bat until he’s comfortable swinging it on his own. If you can’t be there for the challenge itself, be there waiting for them at the other end. In whatever way you can, take away the feeling that they’re going through it alone.

            — Turn Losses Into Wins — It’s OK to fail as long as you learn something from it. Be willing to let your child fail. And talk to your child about the times you took risks and failed. Tell them what you learned from those experiences and how you made adjustments so that, the next time or the time after that, you accomplished what you set out to do.

            — Stepping Stones — Sometimes a task can be broken down into smaller, easy-to-handle pieces a child can use to build up to the real thing. Let’s say your kid is apprehensive about getting his first haircut. Start small and work your way up: Snip a lock of his hair with a pair of scissors to show him it doesn’t hurt, let him see you getting your hair cut and surviving the experience, take him to the barber shop and let him hold the clippers in his hand. Show kids how to eat away at their fear, one bite at a time, and they’ll respond.

            After all, it’s not as if kids enjoy being fraidy cats. You can’t eliminate your kids’ fears totally, nor should you. Keep in mind that every child’s level of risk-taking will be different. Acknowledge their fears, encourage them by helping them work through their fears, and then, whether they win or lose, celebrate their efforts. That’s how you turn a fraidy cat into the king of the jungle.

It’s time to stop whining and start believing in our kids

            As mentioned in the purpose to Brain Brew Cafe – my writing is all about inspiring idea for thinking smarter and more creatively.   The primary focus may be on innovations and business – however I’ll also be writing about other areas where ideas are needed and that personally interest me.

          One of those is parenting.  A number of years ago I wrote a column called Great Aspirations! for Universal Press Syndicate with Dr. Russ Quaglia, director of the National Center for Student Aspirations at the University of Maine.  Here on the Brain Brew Blog, I’m going to take those columns from 10 years ago and update them.

            The focus of the Great Aspirations! column and parenting workshop is on helping parents inspire their kids. Think of it as a practical workshop for helping you become the kind of parent you promised yourself you would one day be.

            Most specifically, it’s about tangible ideas for making a difference. It’s about hopes, dreams and, most important, IDEAS to help you encourage, inspire and shape your kids into confident, happy, motivated children.

            Today more than ever, I believe parents need a source of hope. Everywhere you look folks are whining about the erosion of the American family, the crisis in education and the shortage of old-fashioned common sense. From the president to the halls of Congress, on radio talk shows and in editorial page commentaries, the air is filled with the rhetoric of whining. Enough already!

            These blog posts comes from a no-whining-allowed perspective, one that’s worked with real kids. In fact,  school-focused Aspirations programs, led by the National Center for Student Aspirations at the University of Maine, have delivered the following remarkable results among public school students:

            — a 150 percent increase in national proficiency test scores

            — a 50 percent increase in grades

            — a 72 percent drop in discipline problems

            — a 25 percent decline in absenteeism

            And that’s just the start. Research also confirms that children with high aspirations are far more equipped to resist peer pressure, drugs and alcohol. They also are more excited about learning, have greater ambition and a greater sense of overall happiness.

            Great Aspirations! is about taking wisdom and inspiration from the school-focused Aspirations programs and making it available to parents.

            I believe in moms and dads. I believe that moms and dads, stepmoms and stepdads out there want to do the right thing for their kids. The challenge is that in this chaotic world, it’s hard to know what to do.

            I believe it’s time to believe.

            As parents, it’s time to believe that all of our children have something special and unique within them.

            It’s time to believe, beyond a doubt, that we influence their futures and mold their lives every time we sit down and spend a moment — and every time we don’t.

            It’s time to believe that the smallest things we do — and don’t do — make a difference in the lives of our children, and that these small differences add up to something significant over time.

            Most important, it’s time to believe wonderful surprises are just waiting to happen. All of our children’s hopes and dreams are within their grasp — all we as parents have to do is reach out and believe in them. Once we really believe, our kids will have the foundation for unlocking their true genius!