Column

A Woman’s (other) Right to Choose

C-Section, VBAC, TOLAC, and Birthing in America Today.

I’m going to step out of my comfort zone (which is mainly football, the economy, family vacations, specialty cocktails, craft beers, my job, and the Rolling Stones) to call out a tragic trend with major physical, mental, and spiritual health implications for women, men and children alike: C-Sections, and the collective campaign to cut.

One in every three babies born in the U.S. is via cesarean, totaling 1.3 million every year, often by coercion and unnecessarily.

Every 24 seconds (i.e. now, and 10 more times before your popcorn is ready), a healthy American woman is sliced open with a scalpel, her newborn baby cut from the womb, yanked through muscle, and dragged from the abdominal wall. Violently pulled away from Mom, her only (and shared) source of rhythm, warmth, life, love, and light, baby is handed off to a towering, foreign, Neanderthal Dad, then shuttered out to a cold, steel, sterilized room, where baby frantically searches for a nipple while Goliath (dad) is equally confused, confounded, and ill-prepared (firsthand experience here).

C-Section is now the #1 inpatient medical procedure. Is this really a problem, or am I just cooking up another reason to complain?

While few may care about this subject, everyone should, and here’s why…

The Health Factor

We (on the fringes) are beginning to understand that whole person (i.e. physical and mental) wellbeing are largely tied to having a healthy, thriving microbiome —the (mostly good) bacteria living inside and all over our bodies. They act as colonizers that shape our lifelong health, a symbiotic relationship between vertebrates and microbes. Chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes have now been linked to differences in the gut’s microbiome, which may be more significant for some than even lifestyle choices.

Babies, effectively sterile or without bacteria on or inside them in the womb, pick up their first batch of this flora in passing through the birth canal during normal delivery.

Sounds bazaar at first, until you think about it. It’s another complex ecosystem, characteristic of life itself, which of course it should be (because it is).

How about that? Nature at work, in her amazing, life-giving intricacy.

As another of mother’s defenses, it ensures a better chance to thrive outside the womb. Not something to play fast and loose with like a found quarter beside a Vegas slot machine, it’s really a time-tested, time-honored, biological mechanism carved into our species through millennia by the river of life, and one that should be respected and remain intact with labor except under emergency circumstances.

The Emotional Factor

Look, I’m about as sensitive as course-grit sandpaper in an old coffee can out in the garage, with the emotional quotient of a giant baboon, but I imagine the C-Section feels like an evolutionary air-ball thrown up at the buzzer. Six million years of instinctual, DNA-level programming, usurped in minutes by men in white coats with needles, knives, monitors and machines. Childbirth is not just a rite of passage, it’s the rite of passage and raison d’etre (from a biological standpoint) for women, and an integral part of the transition between carrying a baby inside (as one) and becoming its mother.

Childbirth is all of these things first, and a medical procedure second (if at all).

The Collision Course

It’s easy to point fingers at the medical industrial complex. The interventions today are lined up like dominos, often leading to the inevitable. At 24 and 31 years old, trusting in our OB/GYN (reading much about caring for a baby and none of delivery itself), we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our doctor suggested induction a week early for our first (Mia), and we said, “Sure. Why not?” Who wouldn’t want to schedule an event this big and get your ducks in a row during a mutually convenient time?

Inducing labor is done with Pitocin, a prescription medication that causes intense contractions, regardless of the body or baby’s preparedness (let alone the phase of the moon or other of nature’s cycles). This led to failure to progress fast enough, manual breaking of the water (with a plastic hook, if you can believe it), followed by more Pitocin, an epidural anesthesia injection into the spinal cord (to numb the pain from all of the Pitocin-induced contractions), and suddenly fetal distress and emergency surgery.

Who knows, but maybe Mia wasn’t ready?

Next came Ryder, pictured above after being pulled through a gaping wound sliced right into the midsection (which later become infected), before the inevitable hand-off to me (devoid of breast milk or a proper birth canal, thinking mostly of the coming NFL playoffs…). Ryder was cut out by an OB who remained positive on VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) up until the third trimester, then campaigned against it for three months, breaking our will. With twins now expected in January, the VBA2C is proving elusive. Most OBs or midwives won’t touch it. The dominoes have fallen.

Time will tell, then, if as a family we hit a 50%, 75%, or a 100% cesarean rate, in any case bringing up the average from one in three nationally.

Conclusion

Have we not learned to trust the infinite wisdom and rhythm of life itself, hardcoded into our DNA over the sands of time? When did obstetrics become surgery?

Today, they no longer bother to train OBs in breach delivery (baby positioned feet first), but only to cut, early and often. Somewhere, a dove cries (into a coffee can in the garage with a giant, weeping baboon, Wild Horses playing in the background).

I could pound on the healthcare system all day long, or tie this right back to the institution of government (as I often do, another easy target), but maybe it’s more visceral than that. Maybe it’s a reflection of the times we live, and the growing chasm between the modern human experience and the natural world.

Maybe it’s hubris. We’ve done a lot of amazing things as a species, but cannot and should not lose sight of our place in a much larger and complex natural world. An ecosystem doesn’t work without diversity of organisms. We should no more sterilize our bodies or babies than we should sterilize the Earth itself. We should honor, admire, and take cues from the beautiful, awe-inspiring symbiosis all around us in life itself.

So, expectant mothers and fathers of the world, question the wisdom of modern medical interventions that may increase the likelihood of an unnecessary C-Section. Don’t get bullied, bamboozled, or coerced into induction, Pitocin or thinking that cesareans are without long-term health implications for you and your children.

Trust in Mother Nature, and let her ride back into your life on her Spirit Horse, hair flowing down to her waste, mud on her hands, smile on face, and spark in her eye…

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What I’m (Not) Thankful for This Year

Sick as a dog (the flu), with a colossal miscalculation at work (overstepping my bounds in trying to get a deal to go our way), I’ve had better days. But, one foot in front of the other, down but never out, I’m especially thankful this Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for the beautiful world around me (despite being stuck at a computer longer than any creature should), the opportunity to put my feet on dirt, hold my wife and kids close, and wake up to the sun over the horizon with a bounty on my holiday table.

I’m thankful for the ability to think for myself.

Frankly, we are shoveled shit as a populace, and I am thankful that I don’t lap it up like a slobbering dog. I am thankful that many are not so pliable to believe in the backward myths that permeate from the confused and the indoctrinated, the mind-numbing memes from all angles of media, corporatism, and government droned down upon us from the marketing and money machines in New York, Los Angeles, and DC.

On this Thanksgiving Day, the mood strikes me to call BS on 12 totally random factoids (meaning like a fact, but not really, because it’s total bullshit)-

1. Kids need scheduling and constant oversight (heck no; self-directed, imaginative play is much better for their little minds, bodies, and spirits, right?).

2. War is good for the economy (war may be the health of the state, but for all others it brings death and destruction, which are terrible for all, excepting only the few).

3. We should all lather ourselves and our children with SPF 50 sunscreen anytime we step outside the front door (please, get some vitamin D you cry-babies).

4. Inflation is necessary and we should undercount it, massage the statistics, and then aim for 2%, which is really 5% (hogwash; inflation discourages savings and destroys the social contract, making the rich richer and the rest indentured servants).

5. Homework is good for kids (homework sucks, and you know it).

6. Consumer spending drives prosperity (backwards; it’s savings, or capital formation which drives investment and productivity growth, thereby enabling spending).

7. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day (how did the breakfast lobby sneak this in? All meals and snacks, regardless of race or religion, are equally important, although aside from Bullet Coffee, dinner is the only one I observe).

8. Deficits don’t matter (yes they do, Mr. Dick Cheney, you bonehead, and we are mortgaging our future to waste and spend without any prudence at all).

9. Russia (Iran, North Korea, etc.) is our enemy (this is scapegoating for our own political incompetence or to further the agenda of the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in WWII, warned us about).

10. Red meat and bacon are bad for you (total BS; eat nothing but red meat and bacon and you’ll do great, especially if grass-fed/pasture-raised).

11. They hate us for our freedom (they hate us for sticking our proverbial noses everywhere).

12. The rise in mass-shootings is a gun-control issue (whether you support gun rights or not, the rise in mass shootings is not statistically correlated to a liberalization of gun laws, so it must be something else, one or some of many environmental factors that have changed over the last few decades; my sneaking suspicion’s lean towards psychiatric meds with suicidal and homicidal ideations…it’s on the damn bottle, right?).

Factoids are easy targets, but enough for now. Each deserves a column of its own, but it’s time to sit down for a roasted turkey dinner with all of the fixings. The Pilgrims and Wampanoags of 1621 are rolling over in their graves (in between servings of yams, stuffing and cranberry sauce) under the cold ground in Plymouth, Massachusetts tonight at all of the hypocrisy and propaganda shoved down our throats in the year 2017.

It’s a racket everywhere you turn, from healthcare to higher education, right down to the currency system, and a sucker is born every minute.

Today, I’m thankful that you or I, dear reader, are not one of them.

I’m thankful for the wind through the trees, the sunlight on my skin, the way my wife’s eyes turn up and to the right when she smiles, and how my eight-year-old Mia is turning into a young lady right before my very eyes. I’m thankful to live in a country where liberty remains important, if not sacred (like it once was).  I’m thankful to be able to prove myself in the workplace. I’m thankful for our service members and their can-do spirits, despite their unnecessary deployments and overstretched engagements all over the world as the empire begins to buckle under its own weight.

I’m thankful for the chance to share my ideas with you, and to build the BadDaddy community of free-thinking, free-spirited parents that don’t slop at the trough every time the dinner bell rings from the grandmasters pushing paper in the halls of power.

Today, I’m thankful for Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (despite all of the foolishness).

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Business Travel Tips for the Family Man (or Woman)

Romantic as it sounds, business travel can be brutal, especially when leaving a wife, newborn baby, or toddlers behind. Another missed connection, another tiny bag of peanuts, and another Godforsaken Marriott. Kill me already.

I say this with a straight face, even as I sit on the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane, Australia, fingers wrapped comfortably around an ice-cold beer (except when they creep gently over to a warm plate of sausage rolls). It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is radiant, the food delicious, and the air is crisp. An attractive young woman on a small stage sings the most beautiful version of Hallelujah I have heard or imagined, while her guitar gently weeps along in perfect tune.

I’ll concede “brutal” doesn’t describe this scene. It’s more like a corner of heaven tucked away on the other side of the globe. There was a time (not long ago) when nothing could be more welcome or invigorating. Today, lost in the acoustic melody with a family and young children at home, a balloon-artist tugs at my heart-strings with reminders of my little ones (they love those!), and I miss my wife (she would dig this song…).

With international trips now spanning 10 days or more, the weekends afford me an unwelcome respite from the hustle and bustle. Sitting idle or aimlessly wandering the sights alone for two days between meetings proves difficult. The biggest difference has been the dynamic at home. Strange how things change with more time away, from a family anxiously awaiting your return, to one that gets on without you.

It’s a necessary adjustment, and I’m proud they aren’t pining for daddy. Nonetheless, with it comes a touch of melancholy, floating in like the morning fog. Perhaps it’s hubris, or the fear of missing out. You’re having fajitas and guacamole without me?

Service members will laugh. Two weeks do not a deployment make. But the risk they know well is falling out of rhythm. The show must go on, and it goes on without you.

After weeks on the road, it takes time to get back into the family “swing”. Little things that became routine, endearing even, like my snoring or affinity for getting the kids riled up before bedtime, suddenly become disruptive. It’s like Neanderthal man, loud, towering and ugly, swooping into their delicate lives, knocking over furniture, cackling, drooling and hooting after more than 40,000 years of extinction.

While some of that is inevitable, here are 10 simple ways to keep things running smoothly at home through the strain of business travel-

1. Call daily, except if you’re exhausted after a long day, and then don’t. Text a sweet nothing before bed and save the call for the morning, especially if it involves managing rat-race minutia or conflict resolution. Wait for sunrise, when you’re refreshed. If it seems overwhelming or bicker-worthy, you’re too tired, and it’s the wrong time to do it.

2. Stay positive. Your spouse is not the complaint department. Why must we dump every trivial little injustice on our significant other? No one likes a complainer, nor should they shoulder that burden. Save it for when you need constructive advice, not the opportunity to be the victim. This will improve the relationship you left behind, and your performance on the road. It starts with the stories we tell ourselves and each other… “The plumber’s bill is what?! Don’t worry, I got it. My flight? We got stuck on the Houston runway for six hours with no air-conditioning and toilets that wouldn’t flush, but I got a ton of work done, and the Marriott has never looked so good. The meetings? There were setbacks, but I was ready, and I fully expect to close the business. For now, I’m happy to put my feet up, order takeout, and think about you. What a lucky man, I am.”

3. Before you say all that, ask about her and the kids’ day. A good rule of thumb is to listen twice as much as you spend talking about yourself or your trip.

4. Unless you’re rarely away, skip the souvenirs. No one needs more airport trinkets, nor to be conditioned to receiving them, especially at a young age. Reuniting as a family is the best reward (exception: if you miss a birthday or anniversary, buy something nice).

5. Don’t cheat. What happens in Vegas, usually stays in Vegas, if you brought condoms, but at what cost? Your marriage and family are sacred; the most important things in your life, worth much more than 45 minutes of new sex with the 26-year-old blond sending signals from the booth across from yours at the LV Convention Center. Trust is cultivated in years and lost in minutes, and you cannot keep secrets from yourself.

6. Pick 1-2 destinations each year, and bring the family. In the last 12 months, Ashley and the kids came with me to Anaheim (Disney!) and Seattle in July (the best time to go).

7. Write a letter home, and drop it in the mail. Flip the stamp upside down for a little-known sign of affection from a simpler time. Address each kid and the wife with a tidbit just for them. Everyone is looking for some attention, and letter-writing is a lost art.

8. Thank her for being supportive, and managing everything at home. It’s hard on her too. Be mindful and open to changes in the routine, and don’t be upset when no one takes the bins out to the curb on trash day. After all, you’re irreplaceable, right?

9. Impose a four-drink nightly max (see #5 above). You are not 25 anymore. It may be Sales Rally, but head to your room after the 3rd or 4th cocktail, and catch an episode of SportsCenter or Shark Tank. You’ll thank yourself in the morning when you hop out of bed like you got shot out of a cannon, catch up on email, then head to the gym before nailing your presentation. It beats-the-hell out of struggling through the day as a hung over mess, or untangling yourself from the disheveled, unfitted sheets and pealing Jane from Marketing off your sweaty body so you can pop a Red Bull, rush a shave, and clamor into your meeting 20 minutes late, dehydrated and bloodshot.

10. If it gets too strained at home, you’re not doing everything else right. Reread 1-9, and if you need to scale back on travel, pick your battles, and delegate if you can. Family first, right? This one is hard for me since I consider financial security a family priority, but I am making emergency preparations for the twins’ arrival in January. With the minivan purchased, we are now shopping for an Au Pair. How’s that for commitment? The first year with two new babies won’t be any easier if I don’t hit my numbers.

So, there you have it, my friends, from one road warrior to another.

Earth shattering? No, not really. Common sense, informed by experience, and they go a long way together with faithful execution, like a cranberry old-fashioned and a Cowboy’s game on Thanksgiving Day. I’d say #5, then #8 carry the most weight. Lies and betrayal are toxic; avoid them if you can. And gratitude, sadly, may be the first thing to go with closeness, but should never go another day unacknowledged.

So, grab your wife by the jeans, pull her close, look her in the eye, tell her you love her, and that you’ve got to go hunting for a few days. She’ll understand.

Then hop on your flight, go be the stand-up guy you were born to, and close some deals like a champion. Christmas is coming, and Santa’s got to fill those stockings up tight.

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Youth Football and Head Injuries

To play or not to play?

In 1958, football overtook baseball as America’s past-time, and we haven’t looked back. Today, HALF of the top 10 broadcasts are football-related.

But, trouble is brewing in pigskin-paradise.

High-profile suicides like legionary linebacker Junior Seau and season-ending injuries for marquee players like Aaron Rodgers put a massive spotlight on the risks of football. A recent report examining the brains of former NFL players found of 110 of 111 studied – 99% – had degenerative brain disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

Parents have a tough choice: Should we let our kids suit-up and play this dangerous game we so revere?

It’s a crisis of conscience. The NFL is king in America, but repeated blows to the head are not good for the brain. My college roommate posed the question that many of us parents will soon face: “Would you let your son play tackle football?”

I paused as the question hung in the air, thick like pea soup. I answered yes, then began to qualify, defend, and dance. “I would never push him, but if football becomes his passion, I’ll make sure he knows how to hit, and how to take a hit, and let him play”.

Even as I write the words, my confidence wanes. Ashley calls them “idiotic”, given the information we have. Indulge me though as I piece together yet another case for derangement of duty (idiocy), like I’ve become famous for in our home.

Aside from playing smart (head up!), the keyword for me is “passion”.

A Boy’s Life

My memories of football – like BB guns, campfires, go-carts, capture-the-flag, fireflies, snowball fights, and dirt-bikes – are vivid and cherished.

Five nights per week, as the summer gave way to changing leaves, rustled by a cool wind through the Maples, dozens of us converged on bikes from all directions to Binney Park for practice. We ran, then stretched, and with the formalities behind us, we lined up and hit. Except for the QB (spared for game-day), every play was run at full speed, and full contact. The tackling drills were awesome; two boys, two sizes, firing off the line “on go” for a collision in space, encircled by the team, eyes glued to the action.

One boy – defense or offense, maybe the bigger though often the smaller – got the better of the other with each crack. It was a modern-day duel among boys, one as old as life on earth itself, like young bucks locking antlers in the wilderness.

Form tackles were praised by coaches while the glory from peers came from the hardest hits. Steam from the hoots, hollers and catching-of-breath in the cold air forming a smoke ring above us like an ancient Indian tribe, elbows on shoulder pads, white pants turned brown and green, grass and dirt chunks stuck in facemasks, and smiles wide.

Legends were born in Binney Park, and the lore only grew on game-day.

“Breakdown!” barked Coach Porter for the 100th time, his steely eyes glistening under the glow of a setting sun, passing the baton to the rising Harvest Moon.

As practice ended, pitch black by then in the November chill, we hung our helmets over the right handle bar to ride home unencumbered by safety devices for the head. Rarely did I feel more alive breathing in the fresh air, peddling up the steep hill to Riverside – a spiritual awareness, myself and the world in tune in the church of boyhood.

Football is a brutal, carnal sport, even in 6th grade. The most dangerous thing on the field is the helmet. Wrists often snap by kids “putting a head on the ball” to jar out a fumble. I remember wincing of pain, eyes closed tightly, when they carried TJ Ostruska off the field with a broken bone. Or the head-on collision of Carlos Alvarado in the championship game, our best and fastest player, with a gifted and rival opponent. It was the rare hit with an equal momentum from both sides. They bounced off each other like billiard balls, each landing flat and still for several long minutes on the field, coaches, players, and parents hovering nervously, mouths open, and eyes wide shut.

If any of them have CTE, dementia, or depression today, I don’t know. But at 39, it’s early for my generation, and may depend on how far their football careers went. Is it worth the risk? It’s a tough question for parents, easily put off with self-delusion.

We can start by trying to steer our children into safer sports; kids surely get some of the same benefits from baseball, basketball, soccer, or swimming. Having dabbled in those too though, it’s hard for me to overlook my personal experience and connection to football. It’s intangible, a coming-of-age story about self-awareness, comradery, tribalism, competition, teamwork, and masculinity. I lost more of those drills early than I won, but I watched, I worked, I grew, I dug deeper, and I learned a few things.

Some boys are drawn to the physicality, and love the game of football like no other. They excel at hitting, tackling, throwing, catching, juking, blocking, or running people over.

It’s a primal connection, not easily replicated. A rite of passage, like bighorn rams charging each other at full speed to knock horns deep in the high country.

And it’s healthy, for boys to organize and compete in this way.

To hell with any society so “evolved” — pacified, bland and impotent, severed in its connection to the natural world — to demand of them emasculation. Boys can and should learn to be strong, competitive, and masculine, without disrespect or encroachment. A gentleman warrior knows and cultivates the power he holds inside his heart, between his ears, and in his hands, learning when and how to use it honorably.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, my impassioned plea for a barbaric, violent, and beautiful game. It’s one of emotion, nostalgia, testosterone, and yes, perhaps a little idiocy.

But we’re lucky enough to live in the age of technology, wearable devices, and the Internet of things. A quick search turns up helmet monitors, which have now become a reality, measuring the impact and frequency of collisions to the head. For Ashley and other moms, let’s do some research together, decide how much is too much, set some guidelines, and ask our kids to play smart, or not at all. Take control.

Head up, and lead with your shoulder, son. And keep those feet moving!

Otherwise, let the boys be boys on the football field. They might learn a thing or two about themselves, and the world. “Hut-hike!”

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Eight Kick-Ass Alternatives to Candy for Halloween

At the risk of surrendering whatever I had left of my coolness or youth, embracing the role of crotchety-old-man while still in my 30s (barely), I’ll pose a question: Why are we sending our obese, diabetic, chronically-ill children rolling around the neighborhood to stuff pillow cases with sugary, processed nougats so they can gorge themselves until their glazed eyes pop out of their skulls from the spike in blood sugar?

Are we trying to kill them, and if so, could we not save a few $100k by pushing them out into traffic or drowning them in the tub? Sorry (too dark!), but you get the point.

Halloween kicks ass in many ways. The cold, crisp air, the general spookiness, the leaves changing colors, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, pick-up football games, jack-o-lanterns, haunted houses, scary movies, walking the neighborhood with seasonal beers and specialty cocktails, cute kids in cute costumes and cute moms in sexy ones (the witch, the nurse, the schoolteacher, the cowgirl…best day ever for the NFL’s Charger girls).

And who doesn’t enjoy hunkering down on a Snickers, Reece’s, Kit-Kat, Butterfinger, or Twix? Damn those nougats. So full of chewy, pleasure-releasing nougaty-goodness that more than half of the US population will have a chronic disease by the time your children are 18. One in every three kids alive today will develop diabetes.

The primary culprit is too much refined sugar, a trend kicked into high gear in the 1970s when our all-knowing, well-intentioned government opened the first salvo in the misguided war-on-fat. Misdiagnosing the problem with grand opulence (per usual), manufacturers then took the baton, extracting and replacing healthy fats with refined sugar, jumpstarting industrial food-processing and modern “food science”. Enter stage-left the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and leaky gut, to name a few. Newsflash: refined sugar and processed foods are the root cause of chronic disease.

Don’t even get me started on the damn “Food Pyramid”. The biggest joke in the history of mankind, the cronies in Washington trotted it out in 1992 like gospel, indoctrinating us all with baseless BS. Six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta as the foundation of a healthy diet? How do we entrust this institution to deliver the mail, let alone manage the money system or military after that monumental display of incompetence?

To hell with the propoganda, and go ahead and smash the pyramid over your knee. As parents, it’s our job to take control of the traditions we hold dear, to shape these for our kids. The power is ours to keep what’s good, and change for the better what’s not. Every day is an opportunity to tackle another challenge. Clear eyes, full heart…

Damn I’m good; I should be on Oprah.

With that in mind, we tackle Halloween. It’s time to wake up and recognize the torment we cause our children with refined sugar and processed junk. Quite simply, cut the cord with candy, and embrace the “trick” component more so than “treat”.

Eight Kick-Ass Alternatives to Halloween Candy

1) Bang-snaps. No friend of mine growing up would ever choose a candy bar over a box of bang snaps.

2) Punching balloons. The Sylvester Stallone of balloons.

3) Random chotskies and party favors from Party City. I really can’t stand this crap – worthless plastic trinkets from China; total garbage. Avoid it if you can, but if you need an easy way out, it’s cheap, kids 4-7 love it, and it’s better for them than candy.

4) Balls. Geometry’s perfect shape. Just get a bucket full of balls, all sizes (bouncy balls, tennis balls, golf balls, ping-pong balls, beach balls and marbles, to name a few).

5) Balsa-wood planes. These are fun, cheap, and full of wonder about the physical world.

6) Glow-sticks. They’re going to want to snap these and have some fun right on the spot.

7) Beef jerky. My wife and kids vote this one down in favor of roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, which are also a great choice. Get the kids hooked on healthy, delicious snacks that don’t destroy your body’s organs and systems.

8) Run a neighborhood raffle. Each visitor pulls a ticket, and the next day pick a number (or numbers) out of a hat. Prizes include $20 (or whatever you would have spent on candy) plus household games and toys your kids have outgrown or are tired of. If you don’t want the hassle of holding a subsequent get-together, display the winning number beside your door, and each kid that picks it gets a buck. If you’re budget is $20, and the winning number is six, just put 20 sixes in your basket (and a bunch of other numbers). Plenty of variation on this one. Your house, your odds!

These are a starting point, but get creative and think of some more, then go ahead and add them as suggestions in the comments field.

What about all the treats your kids bring home? In our house, this is a negotiation. I make a cash offer (or use points), and wind up buying most of their candy (except for a few pieces) at a price point we are both comfortable with.

Between school lunches, not to mention sugary holidays like Halloween, Easter, and Valentine’s Day, plus another inevitable birthday party every week, kids get way too many sweets. The result is often a lifetime of poor health, failing, scrambled body systems, and rotten teeth. When it starts this early, the responsibility lies with us as parents. We can play the victim and blame society, or fix the problem.

At BadDaddy, we fix things (or blame ourselves). This one’s easy, and what better time to start than Halloween. So go ahead and be the change you want to see.

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POTUS, Politics, and Parenting

According to BabyCenter.com, the American Dream is on life support. Our biggest fear as parents is that our kids won’t get the opportunities to reach their true potential. They will scrape by, crippled with debt, unable to find meaningful, rewarding careers, left behind in flyover America by a cut-throat, globalized economy and an out-of-touch electorate. Broke, destitute and totally unfulfilled, they’ll live in our basement at 40 if we’re lucky, and we’ll share a refrigerator box under a bridge if not.

“Parents are afraid their children won’t have an easy go of it because they aren’t having an easy go of it. Many are struggling to make ends meet”, says author Pamela Paul (Parenting, Inc).

After five centuries of steady progress, ours is the first generation whose standard of living is below that of our parents. Projecting that decline to our children is a major source of parental anxiety.

Is this fear rational? Absolutely.

This trend has been in place in America since the early 1970s, with intermediate peaks and troughs on a downward slope. The reasons are many (I’ve floated a couple about debt and paper money), and while they may debatable, there is no arguing that it’s gotten harder to provide financial security, even with two spouses working.

I remember the childhood homes of many friends in suburban Connecticut; few as parents today offer anything comparable. My neighborhood in Austin, TX was built by young families thirty years ago, but is mostly empty-nesters now, as couples with young children can’t afford to buy in.

What can we do today to prevent this path of decay for our kids? How can we set them up for success? Are doing everything we can?

Take Control of the Narrative

It all starts in our heads, with the stories we tell ourselves, and our children (who will adopt our stories). We can begin by freeing ourselves of the anxiety of victimhood.

Sure, we can log into Facebook and blame Donald Trump, the Clintons, Barrack Obama, or George W. Bush, pointing to the “A Team” that the other side trots out as better suited to save. We can hitch our families’ hopes and dreams to the grand plans of Bernie Sanders, Chris Christie, or Elizabeth Warren. If only “our guy” got the job as POTUS, everything would be okay. Flowers and unicorns, right?

If the last 20 years taught us anything, it’s that your political party will not save us. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and shame on me.

Ridding yourself this fantasy is liberating, like smashing down a door with a sledgehammer, hitting a walk-off grand slam, or chewing a stick of Juicy Fruit in a 1980’s TV commercial.

The presidential race has become a dog-and-pony show, infested with sociopaths and pampered circus clowns who know little other than how to regurgitate cheap soundbites for television cameras. Their reign of mindboggling incompetence is unblemished by success of any kind in decades.

Turn it off, and tune it out. Unless you are truly inspired, don’t even waste your time at the voting booth. Your civic duty as a parent is not to get dragged down into the dirt with the pigs. Not voting when there are no worthy candidates is a vote itself. Starve the beast until it comes up with more thoughtful, prudent arguments, and a vision for the future informed by the examples of history. Everything else is mere pandering.

There is no longer any meaningful distinction between the mainstream republican and democratic parties, just two sides to the same debased coin minted by lobbyists. Don’t give them the satisfaction of “taking sides”, nor let them bait you into fabricated arguments designed to divide and distract while they empty the coffers.

The world is not black and white, nor should it be seen that way in anything other than a caricature. It’s brown, blue, gray and green, with vibrant color, turmoil, and wonder. We live in a great country, on a beautiful planet, relatively speaking (ever been to Mars?), despite not because of the major political parties and their string of blunders.

Remember the black-and-white-cookie episode on Seinfeld? Were we not further along in a post-racial America than one would assume when turning on the TV today? Why? Is it because the powerbase prefers we point fingers at each other rather than understand what’s really going on behind the curtain?

Our Future is Yours and Mine

Social Security and Medicare will not be there for your family, so unshackle yourself the chains of giving a damn. They are massively insolvent (i.e. bankrupt). Spilled milk.

Grandiose government benefit programs like these are giant Ponzi-schemes, the short-term products of favorable demographics, vote-garnering politicians, and a timely bonanza of fossil-fuel extraction (three-hundred million years of life on earth carbonized underground, converted to instant but fleeting economic activity). Sure, we’d love to have these programs forever, but the accounting doesn’t work.

We can means-adjust them and/or phase them out, not because we want to, but have no choice, and we’re adult enough to understand the difference. We’ll have to scale back the global military empire too. There isn’t any arguing with math equations.

Relish the Now

Seize the opportunity afforded by the information-age. Never has knowledge and know-how been so easy for the individual to obtain. Our children can achieve mastery on so many subjects from the comfort of home and at no marginal cost. They can start early, building skillsets in areas they love with total freedom to explore. What sets apart the great ones isn’t their formal education or inheritance, but an unrelenting thirst for knowledge and willingness to work. Politics and presidents be damned.

Yes, much of the world is catching up to America’s living standards. The arbitrage afforded by the first-mover-advantage combined with favorable consequences of WWII (the US dictated monetary terms and had the only manufacturing base not left in a smoking pile of rubble) is closing, but this was inevitable.

Other countries are simply following our early model of liberty (not perfect here, nor anywhere, and I am not suggesting either). But, that means opportunities are opening all over the world for your kids. They need not be chained to the shuttered factory in Detroit. Let Detroit and America reward the risk and ingenuity for entrepreneurs to invest and re-purpose those factories. Let people and capital go where they’re treated best. We can embrace and encourage the inevitable feedback loop called progress, and the more quickly we do, the more quickly the pendulum swings back to our shores.

And let’s be clear: it’s not really a bonehead politician’s fault any more than his populace, always proceeding in the affirmative when presented with the flimsy prospect of getting something for nothing, pushing invoices ever further into the future. Things move in cycles, and it’s time to pay the piper, re-learning some important lessons of history.

Let’s learn quickly, and without war, and tune out the charlatans that know little the laws of prosperity and more the platitudes of snake oil salesman, scapegoating, and empty promises. People go mad in herds and often at the behest of sociopathic storytellers, and only come to their senses one at a time.

So, one at a time, open your eyes, and tune out the propoganda. Put your kid on your shoulders, go to a ball game with your neighbor, then pop a stick of Juicy Fruit on Monday morning and take a bite out of the global (or local) economy. Sell something to somebody, back it with a guarantee, and do it with a smile.

Liberate yourself of the lie that you must identify with a finger-pointing political party. Collaboration is what the country and your children need most right now. So get your ski’s shined up, and grab a stick of Juicy Fruit…(sorry I love that commercial).

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No More Nagging: A Manager’s Guide to Point-System Parenting

I asked my six-year-old Ryder to drive out-of-town with me to pick up a used glider for the twins due in February. He wanted to stay home, but I insisted. He should get a sense for “helping” his dad (though a squirt his size isn’t much help with furniture). On the way, he kicked me, told me he hates me, I’m “a terrible daddy”, and he wishes he “could crush me like a bug” (he gets that from me, but when I say it, I’m joking).

The No-More-Nagging Point-System video and downloadable Matrix.

I wavered between defeat and resolve, and then rage (from a cauldron, primitive and deep inside me). How could he have so little respect for his father? Where is the fear? When a father asks for help, a son helps! Maybe I should put him to work in the fields!!

Fifty years ago, he would have gotten the belt. In the go-go 1980s, the “corporal punishment” of the day became the spanking you and I remember best, and later the fully emasculated “timeout” (ugh). No tools left in the toolbox, and the EQ (emotional quotient) of a giant baboon, I was dumbfounded. The bubbles (from my cauldron) screamed he should be taught his place in the pecking order, but the modern-day, Dr.-Phil-version-of-self knew that was not only illegal, but almost certainly wrong.

Expectations

Raising entitled brats is one of my biggest fears (aside from world governments puffing out chests and pointing fingers like well-armed schoolyard goons…).

Being a dad is like walking a tight rope.

The hardest part is not all the extra work. Doing everything for kids is a giant pain-in-the-ass, but it’s also manageable, solved like most problems with the right combination of time and money. That part is mainly sacrifice, or as an economist would say, “opportunity-cost” (things to think about before having sex without condoms…).

The tricky part is getting kids to do the tough things for themselves. Raising well-mannered, mindful, disciplined humans too easily becomes a battle of wills. In a rat-race world, it’s much more efficient to pick up the mess, make their meals, do the projects, and skip table-manners altogether (this becomes painfully obvious when the family is out to brunch and you realize the kids are like chimpanzees, hooting and spreading ketchup all over themselves like it’s face paint). It’s called a fork damn it!!

In a cosmic twist of satire, we are conditioned to raise entitled brats, especially if our mind is elsewhere (like trying to support a family in a world with an elastic money supply controlled by cronies). Lulled to sleep by the babies you thought you were having, they gradually turn into boys and girls who grow to be men and women (while you’re trying to overshoot KPIs at work, put away some savings, find time to throw the football, scratch items off the wife’s honey-do list, pay the mortgage, the credit card, and the car payment, plus replace the damn dishwasher before it explodes again…).

In the early years when parenting habits are formed, you have no choice but to do everything for them. I got this…it’s my job to fix things when they cry.

We get accustomed to this, as do they. You can easily go the next 4-6 years on autopilot, then find yourself on the side of a Texas highway being abused both verbally and physically by a six-year-old Mussolini. “Bad daddy! Bad daddy! Bad daddy!!”

The risk of getting this wrong is a grave one. Spoiled little humans will not only be ruined socially, but totally unequipped to handle a world that is far from fairytale, even for those lucky enough to get ahead in the game. The ultimate irony awaits the unprepared: To have given everything as a father, and failed so miserably.

My daughter Mia is better, but also in for a tough dose of reality. Life is harder than she is used to, but she is better at moving on from disappointment, collaborating towards compromise. Looking back, we had higher expectations of her. When Ryder was born, Mia became the “big girl”. Suddenly expected to do more for herself, she did just that.

Ryder was “the baby” well past four years, and because of his volatile temper (which we can trace to food sensitivities), we became conditioned to pander his every whim, letting those toddler demands turn into the entitled attitude of an aspiring dictator.

The key, it seems clear now, is to ask more of your little ones every day. “Duh”, all the moms are thinking. Bear with us, ladies. Dads always learn the hard way. Dish out consequences regularly (un-fun as it is), lest you become a doormat.

Have I done this? Not as well as I should, but I am getting there. The key ingredient I can bring to the discussion (as a giant baboon, but also a manager in the workplace) is an incentive-based system, with clear, consistent rules, that’s easy to understand and automate. A system that provides feedback to children and brings harmony to the household. A welcome respite from constant nagging, and the battle-of-wills.

The No-More-Nagging-System

Your kids can and will become engaged, disciplined, contributing members of the family, with the right attitudes, and no fuss. You just need the right system.

Watch the video (six minutes), and then download the Tracking Matrix (free).

Implementing it means first calibrating the inputs to meet your home life, i.e. modifying the allowance to suit your budget (we use $5.00 per week), adjusting chores and rewards to meet your expectations, and the interests and age-appropriateness of your children. That takes about 30 minutes. Then, just use a few minutes at dinner to discuss if daily chores and expectations are met. In two weeks, new habits are formed. Presto!

The No-More-Nagging System is automated, meaning there is nothing to log when chores are done as expected. The only occasions to log entries is if children (a) don’t perform (and they will once they understand the system, because of the incentives), (b) redeem awards, or (c) request and receive approval to earn extra points by doing other jobs.

Stop nagging, and start winning.

Shit, did I just paraphrase Dr. Laura Schlessinger? It’s times like these I feel like an old dud, and miss shot-gunning beers like it’s 1999.

External Motivators…Really Phil?

Yes, that’s what my wife said too. Many parents don’t like these, including Ashley. I get it. Kids should be intrinsically motivated, not to earn rewards, but for an inner sense of pride, and the desire to help the family. We don’t want mere point-junkies.

True, but these things are not mutually exclusive. You and I work for both pride and a paycheck, right?

The No-More-Nagging System works like life in the real world, designed to build good habits, align interests, and admittedly, just keep the damn house in order. It will also begin to confer the basics of money management, including the most important and overlooked component of financial planning, which is saving.

There is always room for improvement (i.e. paying interest on points saved? incorporating entrepreneurship?), and we will do that together. Consider this v1.0, and submit your feedback, especially after implementation. And heck, if you don’t like it, don’t use it. Stick to butting heads, or whatever works for you. Your kids, your call.

Endnote

On our way home, cooler heads prevailed. Ryder apologized, sincerely and unsolicited. I asked him why he said those things to me, and he genuinely didn’t know. I’ve never seen him so thoughtful. He wanted to understand his emotions, but couldn’t. He didn’t mean those things, but had been fully engulfed in a fit of hateful rage.

What he didn’t understand (that I am beginning to see) is that his behavior wasn’t entirely his fault. Though he must take responsibility for his words and actions (no matter how much I screw them up), it was also my fault, for conceding too much, and muting expectations of him over the years. I introduced the Point System thereafter, and he couldn’t be more excited, even about the work. He is relishing the responsibility to learn, earn, save, and spend. Now we just need to convince his mom!

Whatever you do in your home, be wary of expecting too little, unearned praise, and auto-pilot-parenting. Kids grow so fast, and expectations must grow with them. Implement systems and mindsets that reward performance and initiative, and let your kids do the rest. They will appreciate you (and themselves) long after.

Now watch the video, download the Matrix, and begin the transformation today. Presto, chango.

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Four Killer Cocktails for the Holiday Weekend

Summer’s winding down, Labor Day is right around the corner, and it’s time to switch up the cocktail menu. It’s too damn hot for another craft beer. Turn on the sprinkler, bust out the Slip ‘N Slide, and pour a round of stiff ones for the neighbors. If the kids are old enough to put themselves to bed, amen, and keep on pouring. Labor Day weekend pairs parents with cocktails like first-graders with gun-hoses and hotdogs with mustard.

It’s 5:00 in Puerto Rico, so let’s get started.

Here in Texas, beer just doesn’t stay cold on Labor Day for more than five seconds, so unless you’re shot-gunning cans of Budweiser like it’s 1999, you’re going to want to focus on spirits. Yep; the hard stuff, served on the rocks, and stiff as a wooden nickel, enough to stand up to the melting ice, screaming kids, and the cold stare of a befuddled neighbor when Skynyrd’s Free Bird comes echoing off your walls after sunset.

At Bad Daddy, we’ve got your three major bases covered, whiskey, tequila, and vodka, plus the Snakebite, a true wildcard. Save the gin for Aunt Maude, and join me for a summer stroll down easy street, where the kids always seem well-mannered, the burgers are juicy and fresh off the grill, and your glass is always half full. Good times, noodle salad.

  1. The Right Way to Make a Margarita

As simple as tic-tac-toe, the summer sombrero of spirits is consistently butchered by corporate conglomerates selling neon sugar-water up and down the grocery isles like a nuclear meltdown. I’ve had better drinks at ChuckeCheeses (mostly smuggling them in).

Just remember the ratio “3:2:1”, and you’ll get it right every time.

Three parts Camarena tequila, two parts fresh lime juice, and one part Contreau (if your budget is tight, sub Bols triple sec). Pour over ice, lean back, and put your feet up.

The secret, my friends, is not just to avoid the mixers, but buy some ripe, bulging green limes (C cups if you can find ‘em) and juice ‘em yourself. Don’t and I mean NEVER use store-bought mixer or prepackaged lime juice. You’re a head-of-household now, damn it. Get yourself a mechanical juicer. Then smash it over your knee, throw it out on the street, go back to Target with a wad of crisp fifties, and buy another one. Use it at work, call it a business expense, and deduct it on your income tax return.

  1. Ted Turner’s Big Sky Lemonade

Turn off CNN, and get your hands wrapped around Ted Turner’s best accomplishment since the 1995 Atlanta Braves. This is my official personal cocktail for Summer 2017. I’m drinking one right now.

If the Margarita is remembered as 3:2:1, this one is even easier, at 1:1:1. One part Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon, one part Contreau, and one part lemonade. Serve over ice in a tumbler. There are plenty of variations on the whiskey-lemonade, but none better than this.

I can’t take the credit; it’s on the menu at Ted’s Montana Grill in Atlanta, but I turned up the octane on the ratios like the bad-ass daddy that I am. These flavors come together like a warm summer breeze and an afternoon sun-shower under a giant Texas oak tree. Make two, set up a movie theatre out in the yard, grab your wife by the jean shorts, and pull her close. Life’s too short to quibble about finances. Kiss and make-up already.

  1. ATX Peach Tea

ATX means Austin, TX, and it doesn’t get any easier than this. I invented it one afternoon when I wanted something like an Arnold Palmer, but with a short skirt, cowboy boots, and the bounce of a young brunette in the beginning of her second trimester (sorry, Ashley just walked by…).

The ratios are 1:1 here, half Austin’s own Deep Eddy Peach Vodka, and half Blackberry Peach Iced Tea (Republic of Tea brand). Serve it over ice in mason jars. Three drink minimum, and no screen time allowed.

Tell Alexa to put on some John Mellencamp (Small Town or Little Pink Houses) and turn off the record feature for the night (sorry CIA). These taste so good the kids wouldn’t know the difference if they came packaged in a juice box. It’s like being in a Pixar movie, or that time you ate mushrooms in college. Everything is just more vivid.

  1. The Snakebite

The day will come when you’ve finally overplayed the Margarita, even done right, but still crave tequila in something other than a shot-glass. It took me twenty years, but it happened in the Fall of 2015. We stumbled on this by confusing a recipe in a token cocktail book, and have been thanking fate ever since. It’s 10x better this way.

Recipe: Four equal parts, Camarena tequila, Contreau, Drambuie, and freshly squeezed lemon juice (not lemonade). Add a few drops of Angostura Bitters to each glass after pouring over a tumbler of ice. Don’t serve these before 4:00 PM. Few have the stamina to go all day after a few rounds of Snake Bites. This one goes best with some acoustic guitar. Bust it out if you got one, or put on some Sheryl Crow.

I still remember the sparkle in Ashley’s eyes when she tried it (in a sky blue tanktop, dark tan, tight white skirt, and cowboy boots, again…).

For those that lost count, these recipes are about as strong as a steel girder, so leave the calendar open on Tuesday morning. Percentage spirits (80-proof) are as follows-

Margarita:                         67%

Big Sky Lemonade:         67%

ATX Peach Tea:                50%

Snake Bite:                        75%

Yep; a little garnish goes a long way around here, and you deserve something more this Labor Day than a shiny Coors Light warming in the hot summer sun. You can tune up or down to taste, but these are the sweet spots to start your engines.

Just confirm your guests are walking home, and hide your mother-in-law’s keys. Mine got pulled over and handed the cop her debit card after we invented the Snakebite. Enjoy!!

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The College Debt Bubble (and Six Rules for 529 Plans)

Soaring tuitions are not your problem, parents of little ones. They are of zero consequence, given your timeline, so you can focus on other injustices like saving the whales, the honey bees, or the three-martini lunch (fast going out-of-style).

Runaway tuitions will plummet 66% to $3,000 annually for public universities long before your preschoolers take their SATs. With them will crash the salaries of countless administrators and real estate values in those cool little college towns.

How do I know this? It’s a classic credit bubble, and will end like they all do.

Why college costs are so high

In plain English, we threw a bunch of money at 18-year-old kids, told them they could only use it for college, and are surprised and confused that the price went up. Duh.

This is ECON 101, folks. Supply and demand (with a ton of unintended consequences and distortions, the hallmarks of regulatory interventions in a market economy).

Okay, pretend it’s “market day” at your child’s preschool, and Connor, Caleb, and your kid all get some chips (say five each) to trade and compete for cookies. A market price develops, cookies are exchanged for chips, and the game ends. Now start over, but give them all 100 chips each. What do you think happens to the price of cookies?

In a slew of misguided efforts first to offer GI benefits, beat the Russians to the moon, and then make college “affordable”, well-intentioned, vote-seeking bureaucrats determined the government should use taxpayer funds to underwrite student loans to anyone with a pulse, and to guarantee them in case of default, even for private lenders. To limit potential losses, students, arguably our most vulnerable and naïve demographic, were precluded from basic bankruptcy protection, thereby also removing a necessary cog in capitalism that ensures prudent evaluation of risk by lenders.

Atrocious (truly a perfect adjective for this act of brilliance).

That’s right; we took out all the little things that make lending and borrowing an effective vehicle for turning savings into productivity and economic growth. Wow.

Predictably, the student loan sector boomed. Risk was socialized, if not eliminated. Teenagers, fueled by propaganda and drunk on cockeyed optimism, were pushed out like wind-up toys, directed to borrow tens of thousands of dollars without collateral or even a discernible plan to pay any of it back. Off to Party School USA they went…

Worse, we convinced ourselves that the only ticket to a successful future is higher education, regardless of quality or cost. We failed to introduce children to the perils of debt and the marketability of skills.

What is a credit bubble?

Credit is money, issued as a loan. A bubble exists where too much lending and borrowing occur, above the ability for borrowers to repay. Caused by speculative fever, government intervention, or both, prudent risk-management is removed from underwriting.

You know about these. We just had one in housing (that they’re working now to re-inflate, the grand wizards at the central bank and their ringmasters in DC).

When you create money only for higher education and tell kids their choice is binary (prestige through a degree, failure and chagrin without), you drive up tuition. Colleges did what any business would when faced with millions of new customers flush with money to spend only on their services. They raised prices, and expanded capacity.

At $1.3 trillion in student loans outstanding, we’re up from $250 billion in ’03, a multiple of 5x in less than 15 years. Credit, meet bubble (“Hi bubble, want to make babies?”).

How does it end?

We’re turning out more watered-down college grads, with increasingly useless majors (thanks to all the extra capacity). That little piece of paper that once acted as an effective screening mechanism for employers doesn’t mean what it used to. Again, supply and demand. More supply (college grads), means lower prices (in the form of wages). Poor bastards, cap-and-gown in hand, are now forced to take jobs at Starbucks, living in mom’s basement, like modern-day indentured servants.

“Congrats, Timmy, you spent four (to six) years and $80,000 at a marginal institution to get a bachelor’s degree in gender studies”.

Who would hire these kids? Sure, you might hire and train them, in spite (not because) of their degree. How long can we delude our children into this terrible deal?

The good news is, the shit is hitting the fan. One in four borrowers is delinquent or in default. Kids, ill-educated and wide-eyed, victims of a rotten system, are now calling for government to pay for free college educations for all. “Great idea, Chip. Maybe unicorns can provide it?” Sorry, but (a) nothing is free, and (b) it was your well-intentioned and all-knowing government that made it so expensive.

The answer, instead, is as old as the act of lending itself. The loans must go bad, the lenders stiffed. Because of government-backing, the ones stiffed will be taxpayers. Banks will be bailed out, and kids may be forgiven of (some) debt. Maybe.

Universities will take it on the chin, but they gorged already on this bonanza. Capacity will be reduced, worthless majors and departments eliminated, bloated administrations downsized. The cranes will come down in college towns, but most of the beautiful campuses will remain (others sold and repurposed), an ode to another bizarre experiment with central planning, money printing, and groupthink.

Where will tuitions land? Historically, a university education at a private school costs about 22% of median household income, or $12,000 annually in today’s dollars. A public school is about 5%, or $3,000 per year.

Timing

Timing predictions are tough, and like any collapse in a crony system, this will be fought by pandering lobbyists for institutions that feed at the trough of student debt servitude. But kids and parents are waking up, and wages simply cannot keep up. Tuition loans of this size cannot be serviced. If they cannot be serviced, they will not be serviced.

The whole edifice has no choice but to collapse, and should within five years. Ten is a sure-thing. If your kids turn 18 before, remember, they have options. They’ll get more experience in the real world, starting a business, or taking a commission-only job in sales and spending $20 for two books (this one, then that one). They can learn a valuable trade with an apprenticeship, or get more value looking overseas for higher education.

If they opt for college in the US today, make sure they know the implications of debt, and marketability of skills. The experience and social components are wonderful, no argument.

I relish my years at the University of Colorado (Economics, 2000)…lifelong friendships forged, a gorgeous, sprawling campus at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, keg parties Thurs – Sat nights up and down the streets in student-rented homes on The Hill, Big 12 football Saturday afternoons at Folsom Field, beautiful girls everywhere, season passes at student rates to Vail, Copper and Breckenridge, camping, hiking, and summer afternoons swimming in Boulder creek…it was paradise. (I guess I didn’t mention class, but that was good too, and I picked up a few things). Go Buffs!

But, the world today is changing.

You can access courses from the best institutions in the world – Harvard and MIT – online for free. If you want to learn, it is easier and cheaper than ever, and your best ticket to success has always been hustle. Get up early, and outwork the competition. The demand for mediocre professors will drop like a stone, as will the cost.

6 Rules for 529s

Overpriced and debt-fueled tuitions are headed for the dumpster, then what about 529 plans? Cash out, or pinch pennies and save for Junior’s big shot at Indiana State?

Full disclosure: Ashley and I don’t have one (given my views, we have not made it a priority). I reviewed them again after a request by a reader to expand on my bubble comments in the previous post (specifically on implications for 529s).

Here’s the skinny: There are two types, college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans.

For reasons stated, avoid prepaid tuition plans. Tuitions will come down, so don’t lock in now. Plus, these limit your choices long before you want to tie your children down.

A 529 savings plan acts like a Roth IRA; contributions are not tax-deductible, but earnings inside the 529 (capital gains, interest and dividends) are not taxed, if used for educational expenses. Avoiding taxes on investment earnings can increase your total return substantially. A 529 plan is worth doing if you can meet these six rules-

  1. Before opening a 529, pay off credit cards and other high (or variable) interest rate debt, max out retirement benefits (company-matching 401ks, then Roth IRAs), and set aside a rainy-day fund of a few months living expenses, in case of emergency.
  2. Use a Savings Plan, not a Prepaid Tuition Plan, and choose carefully. You can use in-state or out-of-state plans. Some have high fees (this Forbes article is good).
  3. Don’t go overboard. Your money is captive, and your limited in what you can spend it on. Anticipate costs at half of today’s rates, which leaves a 40% cushion on my estimate. Once covered, put new money elsewhere. Don’t buy into advice that extrapolates tuition increases of the last 20 years, 20 years into the future. It’s impossible.
  4. Choose investments prudently; the 529 is a shell, and inside are investment options. Average into 3-4 mutual funds with low fees and diversification with regular (i.e. quarterly) deposits, for example, (a) emerging/international stocks, (b) US dividend payers, (c) a target date fund (aiming for your kids’ high school graduation).
  5. Unless you (or your financial advisor) are comfortable allocating to value (moving money between asset classes based on relative valuation), and have a good understanding of financial markets, just buy and hold.
  6. Hold 20-40% as a cash position (i.e. money market or T Bills), waiting for a panic. You want to be a buyer when there’s blood in the streets. Deploy this into your mutual funds when everyone else is selling (i.e. like the crash of ‘08 to ‘09).

Endnote

The stories are everywhere, and the handwriting is on the wall.

We all know people who maxed out borrowing and never graduated, or can’t find a job. Perhaps you’ve also seen the for-profit education sales-machine in action, rounding up veterans, lost-souls, and the homeless to fit with student loans.

This is what the end of a massive credit bubble feels like. There are cracks in the veil, and the sooner it ends, the better. The university system must return to serving a useful function at a reasonable price, so we can stop sending impressionable young minds out into the world jaded, hoodwinked, saddled with debt, and with poor life prospects.

We will look back one day soon and it will all seem crazy in retrospect. In the meantime, don’t ever think your children are worse off for starting their adult lives four years early, debt-free, and on the road less traveled. It could make all the difference…

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The Pros and Cons of Having Another Baby

Just got the news; Ashley and I are expecting TWINS, due 02/14. An eight and six-year-old already, it’s the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Holy s—. I am completely unprepared. I thought twins only happened to couples doing fertility drugs or In Vitro.

For five years, we toyed with the idea of having a 3rd child, and at my pleading, erred on caution. Two kids are overwhelming as-is, and why dump a tried and true man-to-man defense for a three-on-two zone (let alone 4:2). Who am I, LeBron James?

Plus, we hit the genetic jackpot, rolling one of each on the first try. We got daddy’s little girl in ’09, and sure enough, we nailed the boy on round two. Bull’s eye! (The first one doesn’t really matter, but the tricky roll is making it fall the other way the next time).

So, what’s left to do?

As the clock ticked on, we decided to “let it happen if it happens”. Famous last words.

The further you get from diapers, the more only good memories remain. Cooing, crab-crawling, and first giggles stand out more than sleepless nights. Damn nostalgia.

With two more on the way, walk with me through the pros and cons of having another baby. It’ll be therapeutic (in my state of shock), and instructional for those on the fence-

Pro: You get to start the whole merry-go-round all over. They do grow up fast; we all get this now. Having little ones keeps you young. Call it prolonging the magic (like that Cake album, except it costs a few hundred thousand dollars and two decades of your life).

Con: Chaos in life is the square of your kid count (twice the kids means 4x the chaos; that’s Dora’s Sixth Law). It also means less attention per child. Suddenly, the apple-of-your-eye toddler mastering algebra and Mandarin is left to fend for herself, following you around crying because she can no longer be in your arms, and doesn’t get why.

Pro: They might lose some attention from you, but they gain a lifelong partner-in-crime. They will have each other long after you’re gone. Having a playmate or two also keeps them endlessly entertained, especially when you and your squeeze need a break.

Con: More airline tickets, hotel rooms, birthday parties, and ughh, the dreaded minivan. Can you really expect to vacation in Hawaii, Breckenridge, or Mexico with more kids in tow? At some point, you’re stuck driving around in circles on the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn Tour (“Tell them what they’ve won, Vanna”… “This whirlwind, jet-setting agenda includes 2,900 miles roundtrip in the Honda Odyssey through fabulous Cawker City, KS, Darwin, MN, Lake Nebagamon, WI, and Branson, MO”). My cousin Todd (two little girls) says the world is made for a family of four (or less). Hard to argue, given standard occupancy at two double beds, rental rates for SUVs, lift tickets, and airfare.

Pro: Make camping your family thing. The national parks are calling your name. Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier. Sorry Branson!

Con: College tuition. Actually, this doesn’t matter, given your timeline. The student debt bubble will burst soon. If your kids are young, watch and wait. If they’re not, don’t send them to college in the US without a scholarship. They’ll get more experience with an apprenticeship, by starting a business, learning to sell, or college overseas.

Pro: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and 4th of July. You will cherish these forever, and so will they. The more the merrier, when it comes to enjoying holidays with your nuclear family. Picture them all coming home for Christmas, like that movie with Craig T. Nelson (but maybe the mom doesn’t die). Take pictures, and don’t forget to throw the football, smell the turkey, relax, and enjoy the sound of laughter.

Con: More government schooling (or tuition for private school, while property taxes get dumped into the local compulsory education system). No great answers here. Suck it up.

Pro: More grandkids, eventually. My parents and in-laws are loving every minute. Grandkids bring all the joys of parenthood, with none of the burden.

I could go on with cons (pregnancy hormones? diapers? sleep training? ten more years of Disney films that begin with 20-minute self-indulgent shorts?), but I’m starting to nitpick. The big cons are mostly financial, and while those are real concerns, they are also fleeting. Your kids will be earners someday. They will be producers, not takers. Help open their eyes to how the world works, and they’ll be a net positive, in a major way, to your family and the world around them. That is assured. More to peel back on that onion another day, but our cost-benefit analysis is coming into focus.

From a guy who no longer has much choice, I am feeling confident about more rug-rats coming down the pipe. With the right attitude, there isn’t anything we cannot handle.

Final pro: You might get two-of-a-kind with one roll. Snake eyes! I’ll drink to that, and make it a double. Cheers, to starting the merry-go-round all over again. And a toast to your family, and your decision. There are no wrong answers to this question. 😉

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