Guest Blogger Mark Tolman: "Becoming Dad"

Guest Blogger Mark Tolman: "Becoming Dad"

Jonathan here: Allow me to introduce my friend, Mark Tolman (see his bio below), who I met my freshman year of college. We camped out one night  with some friends on the sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City. Why? That's another story. But back then we were just regular guys. Neither of us were the polished professionals we are now who (seemingly) have all the answers for our clients. For now, I'd like you to hear Mark's thoughts on Father's Day, not as a professional, but as a regular guy, who like me, and like you, have had to somehow figure out this whole dad thing...

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The Answers You Get

The Answers You Get

I often remind people to be careful when seeking my advice and counsel: "Do you want the answer you want to hear or that is easiest to hear or do you want the answer you need to hear even if it's hard to hear?" For example, on one daddy daughter date last year with my teen girl I asked her, "How am I doing as a dad? What can I do better or differently to help you?" The answer I got really surprised me.

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"Because I'm the Man..."

"Because I'm the Man..."

Friends, I am still astounded (even though I should know better) when I hear some men use the "argument", "Because I'm the man" to get their way and to exert control over their partners. That this still continues in this day and age is really amazing... and pathetic. Yet it does still and it takes all my professional training to keep from... Well, I won't say. Fortunately, there are many men who have long ago rejected that worn-out oppressive model. 

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Dads, Testosterone and Intimacy

Dads, Testosterone and Intimacy

As a marriage and family therapist, sex therapy is a common part of my practice. Often, people (men) worry that they aren't having as much sex as they used to when they were first married and that must mean there is something wrong with their marriage. This often leads to conflict in the marriage. 

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Happy(?) Fathers Day...

Happy Fathers Day! To those of you who have, or had, great dads, rejoice!

I know, however, there are many who had absent fathers, abusive "sperm donors" and/or down right crummy dads. For them Fathers Day isn't a day of pleasant memories of the man who mentored them into adulthood, but is a day of harsh memories and broken hearts.

Honoring the Dishonorable?

Further, many feel guilty or conflicted when it comes to the spiritual injunction to "honor thy father." How does one honor a father who lived dishonorably through broken vows, infidelity, being a deadbeat dad, absent, neglectful or abusive? You don't have to love him. You may or may not be able to forgive him yet (or ever, depending). So what do you do? How can you honor a dishonorable father?

The answer is simply this: You "honor thy father" by doing better than he did and by passing on better than you got.

And that you can do.

Update 10-8-12: In regards to honoring the unhonorable, today I found this great answer on Quora by Jon Davis, "Perhaps the best thing my father ever taught me is that there are times when you will only make the problem worse with your continued presence." Take a moment to read the whole thing. Very touching and insightful.

Update on Father's Day 2015: I received the following note from a friend and colleague. She has allowed me to share it here anonymously:

"I read with great interest your article on honoring the dishonorable father. Thank you for the link to that...and I appreciate your comments. My Dad was a horrible man... and each Father's Day is kind of a mini PTSD episode. Thankfully, it gets smaller each year, but each year is still painful.

"My father was a horrible father—a selfish, mean, abusive drunk. He died over 20 years ago, and I can honestly say I don't miss him, and I rarely think of him. He bet a family friend that I would NEVER finish college. And I did... with honors. He died four months before my graduation. I buried my honors cords with him along with a note describing my feelings of hate and love for him... and my forgiveness... despite the fact that he refused to reconcile our relationship before he died. His exact words..."Not interested."

"He was a favorite in his AA community, but he was not real. I think he would rather have died than admit some of the truths about himself... and the truth that he had been sexually abused by his father (which we found out after he died). After his death we also learned that he had sexually abused my older brother... and on a certain level I believe that I always knew that. What I learned from him was fear, guilt and shame. I truly cannot honor him in any way. But I do, with every part of myself, honor God, my Father in Heaven, who has taught me that it's okay to honor myself and my ability to find a better way. I also honor great fathers, like you, whose little girls won't have to feel like I did for many years.

"Thanks for listening, my friend. Happy Father's Day!"

Her story is EXACTLY what this post was about. I asked her if I could share it as I think others need to know they aren't alone and there are those who somehow found a way through the mess—with grace and dignity and a life well-lived. I sure do honor her, and all like her, for being chainbreakers and forces for good in the world.

Peace to all.

Want to be a great dad? Study the masters...  More posts on being a father, husband and man.

Teaching Children Anger Management

Taught 11-year-old daughter learning to control her anger is as learnable as controlling a car via the speedometer, steering wheel, gas/brakes of emotion regulation. She felt bad before about not being able to control her anger and was crying, poor thing.

I'll post the copies of the worksheets she and I came up with together and sometime I'll describe the process in greater depth. For now, let me just share: She felt empowered! I love being able to help my children navigate the tricky waters of life.

Any Dad's Relate to the Work of the Woman, the Craft of the Father?

From one of my fav movies. Any dads relate?

"I stand outside this woman's work. Now starts the craft of the father." —Kate Bush, This Woman's Work, from the movie She's Having a Baby

Please honor the mother of your children. Work your craft to be a father of honor.

BONUS: "This Woman's Work" cover by Maxwell

Hanging with the Fam

July in Utah is big. I mean crazy big. Utah goes all out. Not only do we celebrate the Fourth of July, we also celebrate Pioneer Day on the 24th of July. Every city, large and small, has their "Days": Steel Days, Fiesta Days, Swiss Days, etc. Each with their own festival, often with parades, a carnival, fireworks, picnics, car shows, music, outdoor movies, rodeos and all kinds of celebrations and activities for families. This last month I saw at least four different fireworks displays each one bigger or as big as the last.

My two older children are at the age and stage of life where they're preferring to hang with their friends. So during our town's Steel Days festivities I got to hang out with my younger two children (while my wife took a much needed break). They walked/rode in the Children's Parade, we ate lots of yummy bad food at the Children's Fair, and we went to the City of Fun Carnival (FYI: if you've ever seen the movie The Sandlot then it's the exact same carnival you saw there and it was filmed in our town, American Fork, during Steel Days. Pretty cool, eh? So there's our claim to fame!). Great time hanging with the family.

Several years ago, a neighbor asked my wife, Kara, "So what are Jon's hobbies? What does he do for fun?" She told him simply, "When Jon comes home, after seeing me, he seeks out the kids and plops down and starts playing with them. That's what he loves to do. That's his fun. I guess that's his hobby: Our kids."

My wife's observation of me made me feel great. I didn't quite realize that myself, but it was true—and still is. Hanging with the fam is my preferred activity. I realize though, that that's not the case for everyone—That many good people struggle with finding joy in hanging with their fams. And I'm not sharing this to say, "Look how great I am" though you're more than welcome to look. ;-) I am sharing this to say that I attribute our relationship success to many great TEACHINGS and many great MENTORS and many great PRACTICES and many great DECISIONS. Those same great teachings, mentors, practices and decisions are available to you as well. The great relationship is in your reach. I have distilled these teachings, practices and decisions into the following publications (all are available at

Take the time to learn from the best down-to-earth practices that I've gleaned from long personal and professional experience combined with the best research- and evidence-based approaches that really work. Take the time to create an atmosphere where hanging with the family brings out the best in you and you in them.

Fathers' Day Picture Says 1,000 Words

We just returned from a two week road trip to see family in the Smokey Mountains of Tenesee and in Washington, D.C. While in D.C. we attended church on Fathers' Day with my cousin's family where I spied this dad zonked out with his little guy on the foyer couch. Been there. This picture says so much.

As a father of two girls and two boys I caught as many desperate cat naps as I could snag wherever and whenever I could. This father and his baby boy brought a lot back and I felt for him: For his exhaustion, and for the sublime honor and pleasure to be so entrusted with such a profound little life.

I don't know anything else about this guy as a father—whether he's a patient, nurturing man or short-tempered and distant. I do know this scene though. I do know this moment. I do know the desire of wanting so badly to be a good dad and not always knowing how to do that. I'm sure he's doing his best though and for that I wish to honor this anonymous father.

Father is a powerful word and Fathers' Day can be a powerful focal point. Fathers' Day can be a time for joyous celebration of the great men in your life who taught you how to be a man, a husband, a father. Or it can be a bitter reminder of the power of masculinity poorly and even abusively applied. Or it can be both. Depending on the kind of man your father was makes Fathers' Day a joy or a trial.

I have often pondered with my clients (and with myself) the scriptural injunction to "Honor thy father and thy mother." Unfortunately, many people's father's choices and behaviors were heinous and destructive and so very far from honorable. How does one "honor" such a father then? The answer that makes the most sense to me and the one that brings me a sense of both freedom and peace is the simplest: Whether your father was honorable or dishonorable you honor them by simply doing better than they did.

Yes, giving fathers due respect and acknowledgment is wonderful, of course. And certainly learning from them and carrying on the good that they have taught is wise. However, what every parent wants most for their children (to the point of wanting it so bad for them it aches) is simply for them to do better than they did; to have what they didn't have; to be wiser, smarter, more capable; to simply be happy.

So to honor my fathers (my biological father, my step-father, my many grand- and great grandfathers, and certainly my Heavenly Father) I try to learn from their wisdom and from their folly. I try to do better than they did or than they knew. The simplest way, and most profound way I have found to do this is to invest my heart, mind and soul into loving my children's mother and honor her with words, commitment, friendship and service. Doing so has provided for my children a secure home they need and thrive in. Further, by loving my children, my treasures, through continuing to develop my patience, my ability to be fully present with them, and making sure they know without a doubt that their dad is absolutely crazy about them then I am able to not only honor my fathers but also honor myself as a father by teaching my children, through example, how to do it well. From that example, I trust that my dear ones will improve upon my abilities in their own unique ways for their own children.

So, reflecting on Fathers' Day I wish to express: A simple "thank you" to my fathers; My deepest gratitude to my children for teaching me how to father them, and; My love forever to my wife for making me a father by giving me the four greatest joys of my life.

And to the unknown sleeping dad and son pictured above I just wish to say, "Keep up the good work. It looks like you're off to a great start."

Husband Training 101

I'm giving a presentation called "Husband Training 101" in my old Michigan stompin' grounds next week for my step-mom's Women's Conference. Some people have recoiled against the choice of word "training" as they think it sounds demeaning somehow--like training a dog (what's demeaning about training a dog? Okay, I know, I get it--the problem is that I'm supposedly comparing husbands to dogs. Am I? No, I are one! Husband, not dog, that is...). My point is that good training in ANY aspect of life tends towards mucho better results (sports, work, school, and yes, marriage, family, parenting AND even husbands).

But, what do you think? Add a comment below.

My reasoning is simply based on the very definition of training (bolds and CAPS added by me...):

train•ing |ˈtrāni ng | noun

the ACTION of TEACHING a person or animal a particular SKILL or type of BEHAVIOR: in-service training for staff. • the ACTION of undertaking a COURSE of EXERCISE and diet (i.e., DISCIPLINE) in PREPARATION for a sporting EVENT (i.e., marriage or family life): you'll have to go into strict training.

Phrases: IN (or out of) TRAINING undergoing (or no longer undergoing) physical (or RELATIONSHIP) training for a sporting event. • physically (or RELATIONALLY) FIT (or unfit) as a RESULT of the AMOUNT of training one has UNDERTAKEN.

Yeah, heaven forbid we get trained in our roles as husbands to be well-prepared and skilled. Heaven forbid wives learn effective and respectful training methods to teach particular skills or preferred types of behaviors. Instead, let's continue to argue, fight, and bicker and/or continue to stonewall, shut down and ignore each other all of which is much less demeaning than "training."

Rant out.

Come see me! If you're in Kalamazoo, MI on March 8th or 9th come check out my FREE (yea!) presentations: "Stress and Anxiety: Mastering Strong Emotions"; "Husband Training 101"; and "Building Strong Families with 'ACCCTS'". Go to My Speaking Cal for more details. Do it!