Category: Parenting

Stories and insights garnered from my experience as a parent.

On this day 35 years ago my grandfather, Sid Sperling, departed this earth. He left behind a loving family, many great memories and an indelible mark on those that knew and loved him. He lived a full and happy life. Along with my grandmother, Essie, a strong bond was created with each of their 11 grandchildren. My life has been underpinned by the strong sense of love, community, compassion and care modelled by these two wonderful people. I don’t just think of Grandpa on this day, the day he left us, I think of Sid and Essie often and feel grateful they were a big part of my childhood. But this time of year inevitably brings these memories to the fore and also makes me think of others who have lost people they held dear. It’s not a sadness I feel, though I miss Sid and I miss Essie. I miss others too, who are no longer here. These precious people who helped build my life, now live with me like characters in a book. Sometimes I see them in dreams, sometimes they are just thoughts that drift across my mind. One day I will be like them, existing as a memory in other people’s minds. No, it’s not sadness I feel. It’s a weird determination that at some future point, when I’m not here to do it in person, that the thought of me will make someone smile. That’s what Sid and Essie have given me. That’s how I remember them. What more could they have hoped to give?

18 December 2018

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road to Nowhere

One of my earliest memories is of the thought of my own mortality. The pink tiles in the upstairs bathroom, glistening from the steam of the bath, breathing in the hot air, feeling the warm water on my skin. Then goosebumps rising quickly as I’m lifted from the water and covered in a towel. Patted down and dried then left to stand in front of the bar heater. Its searing coils radiating warmth through the room. Then the thoughts. What will happen to me when I die. Will I remember being me? Will I continue in some way forever or will I simply cease to be?

Someone must have said something to me, one of my pragmatic, matter of fact parents. ‘You’ll live, then you’ll die. You’ll grow old first, so don’t worry.’ They were brought up by parents ensconced in faith. My grandparents may or may not have believed in the faith they were raised in, but tradition held great sway in their lives. It structured their activities, with a sense of obligation, community and natural compassion that was beyond faith. They truly cared for people and that is what drove them. My parents abandoned the religion and the tradition, but not the compassion. They favoured logic and rational thought which also gave rise to a fundamental respect for others.

So, when my 3-year-old self, asked about death I was told about death. I wasn’t pampered into thinking there was some kind of paradise waiting for me beyond this life and neither was I told that if I was bad I would spend an eternity being tortured in a fiery pit. Nevertheless, those ideas crept into my worldview by nature of the broader culture I grew up in, through TV, movies, school and my friendships with people from different backgrounds.

Fear sits at the heart of ignorance. When you are young, and you don’t know any better it’s easy to be scared of what you don’t know. For some, faith assuages fear and for others, it inflames it. Despite my parents’ pragmatism, I felt fearful of what I did not know. And rather than scaring me into belief, ideas of purgatory ultimately inflamed my sense of injustice. Armed with rational thought I gained the confidence to not fear unknowns outside my own experience. Rational thinking instilled by my parents told me that no one really knows anything. They only profess to know. They may declare their theory as fact, with heartfelt conviction, but uncertainty lies at the heart of all supposition.

Uncertainty might create fear for some but it helps me define what is truly important. Faith may be a driver of good deeds and bring fulfilment to many, but rational thought can also lead an individual to realise fundamental truths. For me, compassion is at the core of my outlook and my decision making. Doing no harm is logical to me. I can see it’s derived from a moment in my past where I knew nothing, where all I felt was the warmth of the room around me and the love of my parents. Enveloped in a snug towel, after a warm bath, I’m not entirely sure why my young mind leapt to the idea of mortality. Perhaps because it was such a beautiful moment and I didn’t want it to end and at some level sensed how transient and therefore how very precious it was.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road to Nowhere

A rare evening out with friends recently was interrupted by a request for UberDad services. I explained to my rarely seen friends how the high-tech system works. Teen offspring sends a text to book UberDad to drive teen offspring to a movie. UberDad interrupts rare night out with friends to collect teen offspring and friend. UberDad reminds teen offspring of the essentials; shoes, jacket, keys, wallet, phone. UberDad then delivers teen offspring and friend to cinema and hands over money for movie tickets + cash for the candy bar. For some reason, it costs more to produce a box of popcorn and a wax cup full of soft drink than it does to make a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s also highly likely the teen staff members manning the cinema candy bar and box office have been delivered to work via their UberParents.

Teen offspring and friend watch the movie while I return to hang out with my friends and wait for the inevitable text, booking me for the ride home. Unlike other parts of the share economy, UberParenting is a one-way sharing experience that costs the driver at various points in the journey. Price surging can occur at any stage and drivers should be particularly careful of teen offspring’s destinations as they can directly affect the contents of an UberParents wallet.

Driving teen offspring safely from experience to experience is not unlike other aspects of parenting. What we give and what we get back is not measured in dollars. Teen offspring with UberParents are probably lucky we love ‘em. An understanding some teen offspring may well grasp, but it’s much more likely to be something they won’t appreciate until they are literally in the driver’s seat, delivering their own loved ones from place to place. That’s unconditional parental love for you – it’s a seed you plant for a flower you may never see bloom – regardless you must plant it.

* Disclaimer – The author has no association with Uber but does have a long history as a parent taxi. Driving services are limited to family and close friends and as indicated in the story are provided for no financial gain and may actually incur a financial loss. Karma is perhaps a more appropriate measure of these actions, however, humility prevents the author from clarifying further on this point.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

My son is obsessed with getting a new smart phone. He’s 12 years-old, has recently started high school and was given a second-hand phone for emergency use. Most days now our conversations start with him asking me if he can have my phone or some other variation on any one of a number of ideas that result in him getting a newer phone.


‘Dad’, he says, ‘you’ve never ever bought me a phone before.’ This is true. His mother gave him a second-hand phone that was gifted to her. So in fact no one has bought him a phone. But does a 12 year-old really need the latest and most expensive phone? In his mind the answer is yes. In my mind the answer is no. ‘Dad’, he says, ‘if you worked harder you could upgrade to a new phone sooner and then I could have your old phone.’ He forgets his older sister is next in line. She’s been using the same older model phone as his for much longer and has never once complained. In my mind she is much more likely to get my current phone should I decided to upgrade.


This conversation has become a regular dance between us with him hoping at some point I will cave in and throw my current phone at him (not literally though he would be ready to catch it). With this in mind I’m now more and more ready each day with a different outlook for him. Rather than indulging his scenarios I’ve taken to answering obtusely. Here is an example.


‘Dad,’ he says, ‘the new iPhone will be out in October, you should upgrade. Then you could give your old phone to one of your children and buy a new older model for the other child. The slightly older models will be cheaper then.’


‘I see,’ I say. ‘I think I’ll just buy your sister a new phone and keep my old one. I’m happy with it.’


‘What about me?’ he asks indignantly.


‘Well the thing is,’ I say, ‘less is more and more is less.’


‘What?’ he asks awash with confusion.


‘The more you ask me the less likely you are to get a new phone. Constantly asking me is annoying and so asking more will get you less. Your sister never asks. She doesn’t annoy me about getting a new phone so in that case less will become more.’


‘That’s not fair,’ he says.


‘No,’ I say, ‘you’re right, it’s not fair. Not fair that I should have to have the same conversation over and over. The more you ask the less you will get. The less you ask, the more likely you are to get what you want. I acknowledge your request for a new phone but just so we are clear, every time you remind me, what I will be hearing is ‘dad take longer’. Less is more and more will get you less. Ok?’


‘But dad?’ he says.


‘It’s your choice my boy.’ And choice is actually what I would like to give him. Not the choice between the latest models of smart phone, but a choice not to suffer unnecessarily. A choice not to have the idea in his mind that his life is somehow incomplete without a very expensive product. There are enough struggles and challenges ahead without having to spend time and energy desiring a product that is created, packaged and marketed with such relentless seductiveness. As these products are almost completely irresistible to adults I can’t blame my son for being caught by the shiny glint of such an object of desire. I’m somewhat unsure if I will achieve my goal of helping him be free from this relentless and self-inflicted struggle. A struggle that is turning out to be a defining characteristic of our time. I feel like I’ve only recently overcome it myself.


In a very practical way wanting less does free you to have more things of value in your life. The time spent desiring objects becomes available to you for use in pursing more meaningful things. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from my son just now, but regardless I will keep answering his call for a new phone with my own pre-recorded message.


More is less and less is more.


Evan Shapiro

Author - Road To Nowhere

Have you ever taken kids to a café, restaurant or pretty much anywhere that has required them to wait for something? I recently took my daughter, son and nephew out for breakfast as a school holiday treat. They wanted Belgian waffles from their favourite café.


It was a little busy when we arrived, however we were seated quickly and ordered. It didn’t take long for the inevitable questions to start. ‘How long will our waffles take?’ my son asked. Like most children mine have developed a strange but understandable assumption that I know everything, that I am somehow tapped into a deeper understanding of the space time continuum in a way that they are not yet able to access. To them it must seem like I have my own internal WiFi connection and I’m not sharing the password. This connection, they assume, allows me to answer questions that are otherwise impossible to answer. In this case I clearly have no way of knowing how long the waffles will be. I’m not working in the kitchen, I’m not employed by the café, I don’t know how many orders are before us, I don’t know how long it actually takes to plate up the waffles and carry them out to our table. But of course they think I should know.


It’s at these moments I see I have a clear choice. I can 1) get annoyed and be cranky or 2) I can make them think. If I’m doing my job as a parent correctly, then I should always choose to make them think.


‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘Do you have a stop watch on your phone?’ I ask.


‘Yes,’ my son replies.


‘Then start it now and when the waffles arrive you will know how long it takes.’


My daughter at least is amused and starts her stop watch. My nephew smiles with an expression of understanding that I’ve said something that makes sense but frustration that it doesn’t answer his question and my son rolls his eyes but starts his stop watch anyway.


I relax as my coffee arrives and we all wait expectantly for the waffles. Occasionally they glance at their stop watches but they don’t ask me again how long it will take now they are in charge of measuring the reality. We are free to discuss other topics and I begin to wonder if this is a one-time winner for me or if I can add it to my parental war chest for future use. Only time, measured on a stop watch, will tell.


Evan Shapiro

Author - Road To Nowhere

My daughter is in her last year of high school and as the final exams move ever closer I can see that she is well on the way to being an adult. The constraints of child-hood; going to school, wearing uniform, being told to clean her room, living by parental and school schedules, now all appear like ill-fitting clothes. Life is one size too small and she’s ready for bigger and broader experiences.

This has got me thinking about being a parent and about our roles in life. I’ve always aimed to provide her with a safe and secure environment as well as opportunities for development. I’m certainly very happy with how she has embraced those opportunities and become an interesting thoughtful human being. If there is hope for our species, it’s in the minds of young people like my daughter.

But soon she will no longer be my child and may well leave home to continue studies, to travel or work. She will go into the world and be an adult responsible for her own decisions. For many parents this stage is unsettling. For me it’s liberating and I’m excited to watch what she does with her life.

There are many ways to look at preparing a human being for life. We can build a nest or cage, that is both nurturing but constraining. Offering comfort, support and boundaries. When they leave we can feel empty, all that time and effort and then suddenly they are gone, all that remains is an empty cage. Or we can look at parenting as building a platform, a launching pad for the future. I much prefer the latter. I like to think I’ve given my daughter what she needs to dive into the world and make of it what she wants. She is not an extension of me. Her purpose in life is not to correct mistakes I or others in her lineage have made. Her purpose is to live the best life she can. Actually her purpose is up to her. From me she will always have the support and grounding to restart if needed or to keep flying higher. And I look forward to being a parent to an adult-child and sharing life experiences that don’t involve me always having the answers (unlikely as it may seem), sharing experiences between human beings, not just between father and daughter.

Our roles in life are what we make them and they change all the time. It seems wrong of me to resist that change and far better to embrace it.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

Recently I saw a social media post from a teacher I know in Nepal. It showed two young children sleeping in the streets of Kathmandu. I found the image heartbreaking. I don’t know who these children are, if they have been helped or if they continue to live life on the streets. Having worked with the 108 Lives Project in Nepal I know I have helped some children and I know other people who have done and continue to do the same. But here in front of me was a picture of two children that I could see but have no way of helping.

One of the challenges of providing aid is coming to understand that you can’t save everyone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and perhaps you can do better for the people around you even when you feel powerless.

When I was faced with divorce I had two young children. One thing that became very clear to me and their mother was that the kids had to come first. This turned out to be the best prism by which to focus decisions. For my part I chose to remain an active parent and over time my ex-wife and I have forged a strong co-parenting practice. I believe this helped fast track recovery from our own negative feelings brought on by the divorce, enabling both of us to provide loving happy childhoods for our children.

The news is flooded with terrible things happening to children, from unprecedented refugee numbers, famine, drought, poverty, ecological disaster, slavery, violence and sexual assault. Like many people I waver between outrage and apathy. The life I am living is filled with demands, responsibilities and distractions that often make me feel powerless in the face of human tragedies.

What I can do however, is offer an idea and that is to put the rights of children at the forefront of every decision. I ask it of myself, I ask it of you and I ask it of our leaders. Imagine if everyone truly put the welfare of children first? It sounds idealistic but surely it is something that as a species we could get our heads around. Children are vulnerable and deserve protection and nurturing. Our apathy gives them the opposite of what they should have and a future as bleak as their childhoods. We can start by combatting our own apathy and examining our choices through this simple idea. You don’t have to be a parent, just a human being, it is no more complex than that. Once you drop the pebble in the water the ripples can be far reaching.


Spending a week away camping with my family recently was both deeply relaxing and at times extremely frustrating. As I experienced moments of frustration, though I couldn’t always stop them, I could however observe myself as the feelings took over.

Why was I getting frustrated in the first place? This was a family holiday, camping right on the beach with amazing wildlife all around and nothing to do but swim, nap and find a good spot to read and relax. I have one word that explains it. Family! I love them, but sometimes they trigger my frustration like no other human beings can. Our interchange with each other is based on years of behaviour. We all have our likes, dislikes and oddities. We can make each other laugh hysterically but we can also drive each other crazy.

I set my agenda early. Reading. I wanted to sit and read. And I told them, I told them all, don’t hassle me because I want to read this year. I’d seen others in the group do it, why couldn’t I?

As I sat in my camp chair in the shade of our makeshift living space determined to enact my chosen course of relaxation my loved ones around me had other ideas about what constituted relaxation. I love having a good chat, but can’t they see the book in my hand? Food preparation, an understandable distraction. Outings; can we go to another beach? Can we go for another swim, can you come out with us and catch waves? Yes of course, I love all those activities, and naturally it’s only fair I take my turn shared among the adults for beach safety. BUT I WANT TO READ!

Everyone had their time table and it seemed that their plans for one reason or another required action by me to enable their desired outcome. This is not a complaint, it’s just what I observed, more about myself than about them. I looked long and hard and wondered how I had contributed to being an enabler, a provider, a necessity to others, a conduit they had to pass through in order to obtain something. How did I come to hold that position? I wasn’t the only one of course. There were a few of us in the group that also filled a similar role for our respective dependents. Did we create this way of being because we want to be in control? Was it just a side effect of being a parent? Was it because I take my responsibilities seriously and I like to make sure those around me are looked after? If so why was I frustrated by it? I’m not one to shirk my responsibilities. On the contrary I would feel guilty when attempting to enact my own desires to relax to the point that, when the opportunities to relax arose, I found myself asking if anyone needed anything? I invited interruption. I maintained the structure of dependency equal to or perhaps even more than those I was ‘responsible’ for.

It wasn’t my wonderful crazy family after all, well not totally. It was me. I was responsible for how I interacted with them and it was up to me if it was going to be different.

Let’s see what happens next year when I sit in my camp chair, book in hand. I think I’ll make a few signs to hold up to help re-educate my loved ones and myself.

‘I’m not moving but I’m actually really busy right now’,Before asking me, ask yourself’, perhaps just ‘Do Not Disturb, information download in progress’ or ‘I love you, but please go away.

I guess I’ll see how it goes. Ultimately it’s my choice to go with the flow, swim against the tide or step out of the water.

My legs are knee deep in swampy reed infested water. I wade through hoping soon my efforts will take me to a place of respite. A simple cool but dry patch of earth is all I seek. A space where my body doesn’t need to struggle to achieve basic functions, like walking.

‘Do Sumo Wrestlers float?’ This amongst many other questions and various sound affects that come from my 10- year-old boy are part of the swampy waters my mind moves through on it’s path to an island of clear thought. What is it exactly I want to think about that is so important anyway? My next book, that cool short story idea, my next blog post, online marketing, self development? It all swirls around and is blocked by ‘Do sumo wrestlers float?’ It’s a fair question. My 10 year-old is trying to make sense of the world in the same way I’m trying to make sense of the world. Are Sumo wrestlers strong from muscle or from just being big and fat? Does having more muscle make you sink? Does being fat make you float?

I want to answer the question but I don’t have an answer. I tell him sumo wresters aren’t just fat. They are really strong. I tell him perhaps we shouldn’t use the word ‘fat’. Is over-weight any better? Being over-weight implies there is a correct weight and that someone has gone over it. How is that better than using the word ‘fat’? I don’t want him taking people’s differences and defining them into negative stereo-types, but how am I, as a parent, supposed to fight against media propaganda, against a sea of messages that are conditioning and shaping all humans, including my son, including myself?

It doesn’t change the fact that at the core are two very good questions. 1. Does muscle make you sink and does fat make you float? 2. Is this question any more or less of a distraction than any other question?

A distraction from what? That’s a third question. A distraction from thinking what you think you want to think?

While writing this I helped my son with homework, I made both my kid’s lunches. I had a coffee. I tweaked my website, I texted hellos with my girlfriend. My mum came in to get help connecting to WIFI and to ask my teenage daughter if she wanted any washing done. My daughter needed help with directions to work experience and I also had to stop her from sticking chop sticks into the toaster to retrieve oversized burning bread. The bread wasn’t fat, it was oversized. I didn’t have time to do the dishes or work on my novel before leaving for work.

The Sumo is still in my mind as I move through the swamp. I think about looking up the answer to the question but it’s one of a thousand questions that my son has asked me. What about the other multitude of questions racing through his mind that he’s not asking me? I’ve decided not to ponder the question any further? Pondering the reason the question is being asked is more revealing. What I had decided was a swamp of unwanted information that was hindering and halting my progress is just a means I’m using to filter incoming data. I can look at all these activities and thoughts placed before me as burdens, as obstacles, as a swamp to wade through or I can appreciate them as the rich texture of my experience.

The need to shape and form and organise information so prevalent in my son’s relentless questioning is something I’m happy I’ve passed on to him, even if it was just via DNA and not as a result of my parenting style.

My intuition tells me that Sumo wrestlers probably float and then after a while sink, just like the rest of us, unless they take some action to get out of the water they’d probably drown. Then of course they might float again.

Perhaps that’s what I’ll tell my son. Of course by the time I see him after school and offer my answer to the original question it may well have been replaced in his mind by another flow of seemingly unrelated questions. My best course of action is to enjoy where his mind takes mine. My thoughts will be waiting for me when I choose to see them.