Tag Archives: parenting

Dave Smith Guides Dads’ Survival

Wherever men gather — on the sidelines of their kids’ games, at a Compo cookout, by the transfer station — the conversations are the same.

“How’s it goin’?”

“Good. Kids, wife, work — all good.”

Then it’s on to the next topic: the coach, the meat, the trash.

Much of the time, of course, it’s not “all good.” Far from it.

The kids are acting up. The marriage is rocky. The job is stressful.

Most men don’t talk about that stuff.

Dave Smith does.

The Madison native — a baseball player at Trinity College, and graduate of Harvard Business School — his wife Jeanne and their 2 children moved to Westport in 2008.

They’ve had 2 more since then. His career as a leadership coach has flourished.

Dave and Jeanne Smith, and their 4 children.

But his side gig — a weekly blog called “Dads’ Survival Guide” — sets him apart from the stereotypical suburban father.

“It’s always been secretive that being a dad is a struggle,” Smith says.

“If it’s a secret, you feel isolated. And that can lead to drinking, substance abuse, gambling — or worse.”

“Worse” includes suicide. Several years ago, a friend took his life.

“Dads who had known him well had no idea he was struggling,” Smith says. “It broke our heart to realize he had struggled alone.”

He organized a few “dad barbecues,” to get conversations going. Then COVID hit.

“Wow! If things were not hard enough for dads before …” Smith says.

He does not downplay the difficulties facing moms. But, he says, women are more socialized to talk things out, and seek support from friends. “Men put on an act. We never admit anything is wrong.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Smith began writing. His subjects were ideas that hit home: dealing with teenagers. Dealing with money. Dealing with emotions.

Screenshot from a “Dads’ Survival Guide” post.

He sent his stories to friends. They passed them to others. Dads are not big on writing back, he says, but occasionally he hears “Man! I’m going through the same thing!”

Smith says up front: “I don’t have the answers. I just try to put a voice to our struggles. I put it out there, that we’re all struggling with the same things. And it’s okay to talk about it.”

Simply hearing another man put words to feelings is a revelation to some men, Smith says.

His posts on marriage and parenting issues get the most response. He recently wrote about reactions when a child lies.

Kids’ emotional well-being is an important topic. So is the mental health of dads themselves.

“A lot of dads struggle with depression,” Smith says. “But there’s nowhere besides AA or rehab where you can talk about it.”

His goal is to continue to be “as open as possible. I want to put a voice to values and beliefs. Dads tend not to think about things like that.”

Dave’s “Dads’ Survival Guide” forces them to think.

So perhaps the next time one man asks another “How’s it goin’?” the answer may not be “all good.” Get ready for an answer that may be far more honest than that.

(To be added to the “Dads’ Survival Guide” distribution list, email davidosmith7777@gmail.com) 

(Dads — and moms, and everyone else — can help support “06880.” Please click here to donate.)



Positive Parenting Postcards

Parenting is hard.

Everyone knows that. It’s like saying “I-95 sucks.”

But every Westport parent has gotten that reminder 3 times in the past 3 weeks. Colorful postcards arrived in local mailboxes. They bore our “06880” zip code. They began, “Parenting is hard….”

Then they offered tips, to make talking with your kids a bit lest difficult.

The cards come courtesy of the Westport Prevention Coalition. A subcommittee of Westport Together — the collaboration between Positive Directions, Westport Public Schools and PTAs, and the Department of Human Services — its current charge is to raise parental awareness of teenage behaviors around alcohol and drugs.

That’s particularly important now, says Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt.

As Westport opens back up after the pandemic — with proms, graduation and other rites of spring looming after 15 months of unprecedented demands on adolescent life — parents may not realize what the “new normal” is like.

“Westport has sometimes turned a blind eye toward teenage drinking,” Watt says. But recent focus groups revealed that during COVID, some youngsters held Zoom drinking parties. Marijuana use may have also increased during quarantine.

The front side of one of the postcards …

Each postcard bears a different message.

One assures parents that teenagers value their opinions, and learn from observing priorities and choices.

It advises parents:

  • Talk about your expectations and rules.
  • Be open about your own stress, and model healthy ways to handle it.
  • Make fun family time a priority.

Another postcard reminds parents about Connecticut’s “Social Host Law.” Anyone over 18 faces arrest and imprisonment, lawsuits and legal fees, loss of homeowners insurance, and fines of $2,000 — one for every underage youth — if alcohol is used on their property. That’s true even if an adult is not present.

A third postcard notes that “new” marijuana — not the kind they might have smoked years ago — has been engineered to be “many times stronger than nature.” The card covers vaping THC, and the effects of the drug on brain development and addiction.

… and the back.

Each card includes a QR code, to scan for more information.

Four more are planned. All 7 end the same way: “Talk early … talk often.”

Feedback has been excellent. The postcards are seen as eye-catching, concise and informative. One parent contacted the Coalition immediately after receiving the first card, grateful for the info and conversation starters.

Future mailings may also include residents without school-age children. After all, it takes a village — not just a parent — to raise a child.

And it’s hard.

(For more information, click here. To volunteer with the Westport Prevention Coalition, email mwatt@positivedirections.org.)