Parenting

Become a Public Person

It's a real wrenching thing to go from being a private person to being a public person. But it's what everyone wants - to get everyone's attention, to have your music make a living for you, to be validated in that way. --James Taylor

My Dad Roderick Yoshimi Kobara lived a full and fulfilling life. He died peacefully just before his 90 birthday.  His life was a version of the American dream. He grew up in poverty outside of Salinas California. His father, my grandfather, died before he was 50 and only had one good profitable year as a farmer. I never met my grandfather, he was a hard living and hard drinking man of few words. From the little bits I have pieced together it was a brutal life. Dad decided to go to college and forge his own path. His entire family was interned in the concentration camps in Poston Arizona in WWII and lost everything. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the army to serve his country. He emerged out of the camps with a hunger to prove he was an American. He legally added Roderick to his name to become more accepted in the mainstream culture. He got admitted into the University of San Francisco and got straight As his first year. He knew he was not that smart so transferred to UC Berkeley to be challenged. He wanted to be a medical doctor, but his inferior camp education set him back and he pursued business and ultimately accounting. He faced enormous discrimination on campus and after he graduated from Berkeley to pursue a career in accounting. Finally a Jewish accountant in Stockton hired him as an apprentice. He passed his CPA exams and became one of the first Japanese-American CPAs in California. He opened his practice just outside of J-town in San Jose, where he built and operated his firm for more than 50 years. He was a self-made man who valued his heritage, education, hard work, and service to community and family

Despite his success he saw his own potential to do more.

Dad

He had high expectations of his children. He desperately wanted his kids to become successful and named them John, Mitchell, Katherine and Elizabeth. Assimilation and fitting in was an essential value. He was a man of few words, not unlike other Nisei men (second generation Japanese-Americans). Hugs and the words “I love you” came decades later when he was a grandparent. Yet he provided for his kids to have every opportunity he did not.

We all want to please our Dads. I was no different.

More than any other person my Dad is responsible for my development as an evangelist for networking and mentoring. 

In the early 60’s my parents would have friends over to play bridge or to socialize. He told us many times to come down from our rooms and to shake the hands of his friends and introduce ourselves. We rarely did. It was an exhausting loop of unmet expectations that irritated and I think embarrassed our father. One night, he called Mitch and me into the kitchen for yet another lecture on self-introductions. We were oblivious and disinterested teenagers and this pissed him off. He talked for a few minutes about what it takes to be successful in America. That meeting people, shaking hands, speaking well and becoming a “public person” were critical skills. He talked of his own struggles and wanted us to have an advantage. (I am giving him some eloquence here) A speech he never gave again. We looked lost. So he grabs me by the shirt, just to get my undivided attention while Mitch braced himself for something worse. He says, “If you do not become a public person, I am sending you to a psychiatrist!” More confusion washed over our faces. He left us exasperated and angry.

I never forgot that night and those words. I tried to give speeches in high school; I joined the band and student council. But I was so uncomfortable with myself. In college I continued to push myself to fit in and to become a better speaker and meeting others. But they remained elusive skills. I was introverted and an inauthentic speaker. I sought advice and eventually took public speaking classes. In graduate school, the idea of a public person returned to me and I continued on a winding uphill path of developing my public person skills.

After decades of trying to interpret my Dad’s goal for us, I found my own way. Years ago I invited him to hear me lead a workshop, where I told this story. I introduced him to the class and asked him if the “public person and psychiatrist” part was true—he nodded affirmatively. Then he said, “See and you turned out pretty good!” High praise from my father. But I also saw a flash of parental satisfaction as we both enjoyed a moment from the sculpted versions of our histories.

Today, my goal of being a public person has evolved. How do we reveal our true selves? How do we see as much as be seen? How do we help others without expectation? How do we engage others to pursue our common pursuit of meaning and fulfillment? How do we become part of something much larger than ourselves?

How do we become and how do we help others become a public person?

Bottomline: He mentored me and introduced me to networking. He planted a seed within me that I made my own. He inspired SWiVEL.

Although many think I need a psychiatrist, my Dad’s antidote has worked so far. :)

Thanks Dad for your sacrifices, for giving me so many opportunities, for teaching me how to play golf, for loving me in your own way and encouraging me to “smell the roses”. Thanks for giving me the challenge and satisfaction of trying to become a public person. Your life and your advice will continue to inspire me.

Roderick Y. Kobara   9.19.25 to 8.20.15

Thanks for reading.


Parallel Parenting and Our Tattoos

I would rather talk about people's politics or religion than their parenting. When I see, hear, and discuss people's theories about parenting, I have to take a large dose of chill pills. We all know that there any many roads to a destination and no one parenting method assures success. Believe me I am no expert. Parenting is the hardest job in the world. Doing it well requires all of your abilities. But the differences in theory, practice, and outcomes are enormous. What manifests is the parents upbringing and values and often less about the uniqueness of their children. Because there is this little thing that needs to be accounted for----The DNA of the child! Once you recognize and understand these differences, you become focused on them, not your expectations. Sorry to digress into a much bigger topic but what I have learned that parenting, like most of life, is about others not me. When I remind myself that I am the student not the teacher--that is when I have grown as a parent, as a mentor, and as a human being.  Philanthropy

There are thousands of examples where the children mentor the parents, if the parents are open to learning. This has been dubbed by some parallel learning--where the students start teaching each other to deepen learning. And formal and informal programs which help parents and students learn together to strengthen each other. This is very prominent in new immigrant families where the kids, often very young kids, guide their parents through the maze of American life. The kids assimilate, learn the language and then teach and mentor their parents to assimilate as well. Parallel learning is part of life, if we embrace the opportunities. If we are open to being mentored from anyone anywhere, then your kids, all kids, will teach you. If only to reacquaint ourselves with joy and wonder! So the potential for parallel learning, mentoring and parenting exists all around us. As I have discussed here mentoring always benefits the mentor more than the mentee. Once you know that, your design and goals for any mentoring opportunity gets altered.

Our parents can show us a lot of things: they can show us how we are to be and what things we ought to strive for, or they can show us how not to be and what things we ought to stray from, then you may have the kind of parents that show you all the things about you that you want to get rid of and you realize those traits aren't yours at all but are merely your parents' marks that have rubbed off onto you. C. Joybell C.

What marks have influenced you and others? How about tattoos?

For the last several years I have been observing how selected tattoo removal programs are transforming the lives of former gang members. Forty years ago, my first work was as a volunteer counselor in the California Youth Authority and I have gravitated to this work with at-risk youth over my career.  Stay with me. 

I have been pushing for an increase in the capacity of tattoo removal resources as part of the pioneering work of the Gang Reduction Youth Development work in the City of LA. What I saw and learned is that the removal of tattoos which can take between 6-10 painful sessions, is part of a spirtual and emotional healing for these former gang members. Literally a removal of layers of their past that reinforces their commitment to change. These tattoo removal sessions are an external cleansing that clarifies the identity of the person inside and propels them forward. 

Tattoo removalI recently witnessed the removal of prison tattoos on the hands of a young man. I watched with protective eye wear as the nurse bearing down on the laser gun within a half of inch of one of his hands burned off the ink. He said he did not hurt, but I watched his feet curl up after each segment was completed. The nurse said we should be done in 6 more sessions. He asked, "For each hand?!!"  Yes. she calmly said. That translates to 12 sessions because they can only work on one hand at a time. So this 20 something year old told me he has got to "straighten out" his life. "I have to get a job and no one will hire me if I have these"--showing me his hands. I asked what brought about this desire to change. He smiled and said sincerely, "I have a 2 year old daughter now. And I have to do right by her."

Despite all of the stereotypical and tragic stories, here is a father who woke up and is changing himself to be a better parent. But who changed whom? His daughter started asking questions about his hands and then he started to ask questions. And questions about who we are and what are we doing can sometimes disturb the tectonic plates and the ground opens up and a new world emerges.

Not sure how this story will end, but it has a new beginning. One where the parent is more self aware of his looks and behavior. He will be a better father. She will gain his attention and time. Will he stick with it? He has 12 sessions left. I was convinced he will. Once you hear and see and experience hope, it empowers you--especially when you can see thate future in the eyes of your  2 year old.

Talking to the case workers, they told me me that taking the kids to school, the perceptions of other parents and the friends of their kids also weighed in. 

We all want the same things. To fit in. To raise good kids. To leave a legacy.

All of us have tattoos we need to remove, that hold us back. But few of us will go through the pain and inconvenience of going under life's laser.

Are we open to learn from our kids? To engage in parallel mentoring? Who do we influence and who COULD influence us? 

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Bonsai and the Elephant

BonsaiI have always admired bonsai as a living piece of art. The idea that you could miniaturize a tree was amazing to me. I visited bonsai gardens as a child and remember seeing a forest of cypress that were under 18 inches tall.

But when I heard Professor Yunus discuss Bonsai People, I started to think about the ways we miniaturize people's potential and their dreams. How we limit our own potential and dreams. How we bonsai others and ourselves. 

As Professor Yunus says, we do build pots around many people. Pots of stereotypes.  Pots of indifference. Pots of our lowered expectations. The poor lack the base or space to grow.

Sometimes well intentioned people try to "help" others by making their goals "more realistic". The parent who tells his daughter not to become an artist because there is no money in it. The college counselor who told me I was not university material. 

These are all root trimming activities. Ways of clipping the potential of another. 

THE STORY OF THE ELEPHANT   The elephant is the strongest animal in the kingdom. But it is very strange  the way circus trainers keep the elephants tied up. Wrapped around the leg of the little baby elephant will be a great big chain; but wrapped around the leg of the huge adult elephant will be a little flimsy rope. The elephant trainer will tell you that after a few months of straining against a big chain, the baby elephant will finally give up. After that, the trainer can replace the big strong chain with a weak little rope, and the elephant never knows the difference. Even thought the adult elephant could snap the rope with one mighty tug of his foot, he never even tries. Why? Because the long months of struggling against the chain have conditioned and convinced him to believe that it's impossible!

What imaginary rope or pot limits your thinking and your pursuit of what you can be?

Some people really believe that "somebody else" will free them from their self imposed bondage. Yes, it does take mentors, colleagues, coaches, sponsors and teachers to show you options, paths and opportunities to break free from the circus trainer and bonsai gardener. You do need a network or truth tellers to give you real feedback. But you have to be open to it.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Do we maintain the pots we are planted in? Are others to blame for the pot we are in?  Yes society, your DNA and your environment contribute greatly to your pot. But what are you going to do about it? 

Love it or leave it?

Break out or break through? Elephant rope

Stop complaining about the pot or rope the supposedly holding you back. Take control of your career and your life.

Met this kid who grew up in the hood and will graduate from a prestigious private school. He convinced his parents that he needed more education. He got people to support him morally and financially. He is passionate about his future and difference he will make. Hard to count the pots he has broken and grown out of. He wanted more, pursued it, got some help and now can taste it. Nobody will ever miniaturize his dreams again.

In the same week met with a former colleague who has everything. She is well educated has money in the bank and many options. But she is stuck. Her pot has thick and high walls that she imagines. No vision for her future. No desire to improve. Just hoping to get "more". More opportunities and more responsibilities. I gave her advice but it slid off of her teflon coating. She does not want to make an effort to change. She is going to wait for the "right" time. Wow. Easy to predict that she will get root rot and her pot will continue to stunt her growth. A self made bonsai.

There will never be a better time than right now. I don't mean quit your job today, but to take serious and continuous steps to break free from the little rope that has conditioned you to stay put. Not even the proverbial golden handcuffs, but paper handcuffs that are forged from your fears. Your fear of your own potential.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

As I have said many times big difference between ambitious and ambition. Wanting "more" is way different than going after "more". 

More will not usually come looking for you. And if it does you have to be ready. 

Bonsai are the most cared for, pampered, plants in the world. They are so dependent on this care that they will not succeed without it. Maybe you really like where you are, then stop talking about a different future. Enjoy what you have.  

So either stay in your pot and become a beautiful groomed bonsai. Or get your Shawshank on!

Most people can become bonsai. Great seeds that yearn for the light but find that their pot is comfortable and ultimately restricts their mobility. 

We have an obligation to help others break free of their constraints to grow. And to not miniaturize other people's dreams.

Thanks for reading. John


Final Advice to the "Freshman"

Dropped my third child, my son,  at the dorms to start his freshman year this weekend. Three kids and three kids in college! That's what my wife and I set out to do. What we planned and hoped for. Of course, their graduation and successful employment will be the next steps. But we celebrate this milestone.

As you might imagine, my kids have received a pretty steady stream of observations, guidance, and advice from me. My wife and I have tried to give our kids an edge in preparing them for their futures. The edge of confidence to become who they are. The edge of unconditional support so they can take chances. The edge of parents who don't get in the the way of their kids' DNA and talents.

I said we tried. We had our victories and our defeats. Parenting is the hardest mentoring assignment of all! :) It is a marathon of change. You wrestle with how much you push and how much you pull. You ride the emotional roller coaster of puberty and the emerging demand for independence. Parenting is about second guessing, worrying, over compensating, and enjoying the incredible twists and turns. 

In the end, it is a small miracle that our kid's survive their parernts. After doing this a few times I am still not convinced that the nurture is any stronger than the nature. We think the wild stallions need to be tamed, but I have seen the beauty of the stallions and learned how to watch them run.  Pegasus2

In the end, you can only do the best you can. No time for regrets or shouldas. The next chapter is the best chapter and your role evolves. 

Took my son out to dinner for one last session with Dad. We had a manly meal and talked about his future. I told him how I see him and the story of of his growth and development Here  is a summary of what we discussed and my last words of advice before college:

We have tried to teach you and show you how to live your life.You know right from wrong. How to be respect others. You are now responsible for your own actions. We trust you. 

You have a slight head start in the game of life, don't waste it. Your great grand parents sacrificed to come to this country. Your grand parents were placed in internment camps on your Dad's side and escaped North Korea on your Mom's side. Your family has given you the opportunity to go to college with no financial pressure. Make something happen.

Escape certainty--Certainty will be your enemy to learn. If you think you know everything about a topic or have decided not to understand the "other side" of an issue--college is a waste. Open your mind. It is amazing to learn what you don't know. Gravitiate to opinions and perspectives different from yours. Trust yourself but question everything.

Ask for help--The most important thing you can do is to ask questions. Never pretend to know things you don't know. No stupid questions just stupid people who don't ask questions. Seek advice. Takes courage to ask for help because you can't do it by yourself.

Get involved but shop-- Pick organizations and causes that interest you, not just what everybody is doing. Augment your classroom work with experiential education. Internships, volunteering, and jobs can be powerful learning opportunities.

Beyond the minimum--If you get bored, you have not done it long enough. Let yourself get lost in topics and subjects that interest you. Dive deeply into your classes to see where your passions lie. 

It's not your major, its your mojo and your mind.  Explore yourself and everything around you. Take the classes you want. Don't take courses because you think they will help your career. You don't have a career. Your major is secondary. You are looking for purpose and passion not a job.

We had a good discussion about careers and jobs. He asked me which were my favorites jobs. I have been lucky because I have sought these jobs or they sought me. I approached all of them as college degree programs and tried to master them. We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives. So each of my careers and jobs have been my favorite for the time I did them. But my purpose has been to help people become the best in the pursuit of a cause bigger than us. 

I gave him three things that I had already given him. Three documents I wanted him to re-read anew. He looked at me with those eyes of compliance, not acceptance..... :)

Johnny Bunko, The Last Career Guide You Will Ever Need--Daniel Pink

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  attributed to Hodding Carter

We can only give our youth and anyone we care about roots and wings. The roots of heritage and humility. And the wings to fly further, faster and free-er. Time to let go now and watch my son fly!

As in all mentoring, the mentors gain the most. We hope the mentee gained something, enough to become their own mentor and the mentor of others. 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking to our Future through our Past

Re-acquainting ourselves with ourselves can be the most powerful experience. Clearly the elements of your uniqueness, your passions, and but it may be your story and your genealogy that paves the most revealing paths to expand and diversify your network. We are all multi-faceted, multi-talented multi-racial----we are all immigrants, we are all diverse---probably more than most of us understand or know. Just the discovery process of asking your parents, grand parents or any relatives will give you insights into who you are--and I promise will set you on a new networking journey.

Went to the opening of Kip Fulbeck's new exhibit called Mixed Race. Check out the book. Multi-racial Americans are the fastest growing demographic/ethnic group--that will be again confirmed by the 2010 Census.

My mother's family traced her family back 1100 years! And in Japanese families, these family trees always lead to a famous Samurai! And of course so does ours. That inspired my own roots search. I went to Japan with my best friend Willie Banks, who happens to be African American and is more Japanese than me. I wanted to find Kunta Kobara.:) Believe it or not Willie was my interpreter, like a sitcom, quite the site! Just imagine Japanese people talking to me, my mouth is not moving, and a perfectly accented response is coming from Willie's lips towering above me. We traversed my grandparents homeland and met some of of my Samurai relatives. I confronted my past and my friendship with Willie deepened. My view of myself was altered.Samurai

In Hawaii, most everyone is "hapa" meaning part Asian and other races. On the islands, there is a pride in the number of ethnicities one claims. Some used to say they are chop suey like the made up Americanized Chinese dish that combines many ingredients.

One of my parenting goals is instilling pride in our children about their heritage. My kids are hapa. Half Japanese, a quarter Korean and a quarter Irish, Welsh and German. Kind of a sukiyaki, kim chee, irish rarebit stew with a splash of sauerkraut.

We want them to appreciate their lineage, but if you have kids, their identities are their own.  They care less about race and ethnicity than us adults. They are smarter! No matter what you do, birth order matters. Our oldest daughter Jenna enjoyed a comprehensive education about her histories. And my youngest Bobby, also got a good dosage to help him form his self-concept. This story tells the tale of our middle child, Malia. For and knife

I took my three heirs to a local Mexican restaurant. We are munching away quietly and Malia, about 8 or 9 years old, says, "Dad this food is really good, what is it?" "Malia, it's Mexican food! We have it many times", I retort. ","Oh yeah," she says, "because we are Mexican." My brain freezes and instantly turns to panic. I have done such a bad job as a parent! I quickly recover and assert, "No no no, we're not Mexican. Nothing wrong being Mexican but we're not." I pull my plate to the center of the table in front of Malia and Jenna knows what I am going to do. Jenna takes over as the big sister. She takes her knife and lays it down the middle of the plate and says, "Malia this is you", pointing at the plate. Malia looks on with curiosity. Jenna points to left half of the plate, "this half is Japanese, you are half Japanese", picking up her fork. She lays the fork across the knife to form a cross on the the plate. Malia points to the other side, "What's over here?" "This is you too", pointing at the top right quadrant, "You are also a quarter Korean." Jenna's forefinger glides down to the bottom right corner and finishes, "Oh this is you too, you are also a quarter Irish, Welsh and German." Malia was carefully following Jenna's place setting lecture and a look of understanding washed over her face and she exclaimed, "So we are not Mexican!"

Parents can only do so much and frankly are only one source of information! The process of discovering who we are forces us to network beyond our parents. To network with our families. Network with people we truly care about or relatives we don't know. Those discoveries will trigger conversations, questions and inevitably interests that will expand our universe dramatically.

And those discoveries lead to new interests and other networks you previously were unaware of.

Right now your concept of yourself is limited. It always is and always will be. Because the process of understanding who we are is never ending. I meet people who settle on their identities, on their possibilities, on their destinies and it makes me crazy. They don't even see the incredible potential others do. Part of that process is the comprehension of where our chromosomes have been. Not to understand our differences but to fully appreciate our commonalities. Do you really know who you are? Make this discovery part of your life's quest to understand your history and your network will expand in ways that will open your eyes to the future.

Thanks for reading. John


Baby networking -- the science of attachment

The magic of DNA is profoundly manifested when you have kids. You and your spouse put your DNA in the martini shaker and pour out the DNA cocktail that is your child. DNAIt is one of the greatest miracles and mysteries of life! Every child has unique qualities and attributes that may not resemble the parents! The Nigerians have a beautiful word --Amachi-- roughly translated means "Only God knows what this child brings". Locked inside of this tiny person are all sorts of possibilities and talents. Parents then go through the amazing and challenging push/pull dance of nurturing the nature or vice versa. How much guidance do I provide to allow this child to become who they were meant to become? And for those of us blessed with more than one child, you learn quickly that the operator's manual is different for each and every one. No matter how much equity we want to apply as parents, we realize real fast that appreciating the differences is far more important. For if we don't recognize these unique qualities, we will miss the genius within. Like a box of crackerjacks, there is at least one prize inside each child a unique talent, skill, idea, a way of being that yearns to be discovered and appreciated.180px-Mozambique024

Do the mysteries of a baby--how to help the child realize his/her potential--tell us anything about how that baby develops relationships? Are the seeds of networking planted during those early moments of infancy where the brain is an evolving grey mass of possibilities and the manifestations of the secret blend of DNA emerges?

Recently, I was introduced to a body of research on the attachment of infants. Simply put, it is the process where the primary caregiver relationship, the attachment, to the new born forms in the first months of life.

The attachment bond is a research based theory that has shown that the seeds of relationship capabilities is planted in early childhood and is highly influenced by the bond that forms or does not form between the primary caregiver and the baby. Put another way, your perspective on networking may have been largely formed through your attachment. According to the experts at Helpguide.org, the following activities are critical in forming this attachment bond.

Nonverbal tools for communication between parent and baby include:

  • Eye contact and facial expressions. Eye-to-eye contact between parent and baby is key to feeling connected and developing a secure and loving bond. A warm smile goes a long way, too. Babies also like to imitate facial expressions, which can be a fun way to play with your baby.
  • Feeding. The act of feeding can be very soothing to a baby. Watch for cues that your baby is still hungry or if s/he needs to be burped during feeding. If you are breastfeeding, you will naturally be holding your baby close. If you are bottle feeding, make sure you are holding your baby, ideally cradling him or her while feeding- don’t “prop a bottle”.
  • Gentle handling. Avoid rough, abrupt movements in very young babies and be sure to support a newborn’s head.  Older babies might like more active, playful movements at times, but check frequently to make sure they are comfortable.
  • Rhythmic movement. Babies love rocking, swaying, swinging, and even gentle jiggling (notshaking). They may enjoy “dancing” with you.
  • A soft soothing voice. Talk or sing to your baby. Your baby can’t understand what you’re saying, but he or she can enjoy just listening to you. While you are also building language skills, the reassurance of your voice is very important in building secure attachment.
Like adults, babies want eye contact, smiles, gentleness, and of course food! Great ingredients for networking! And the attachment bond determines how adults approach relationships and ultimately become fulfilled
J0438625 Here's the shocker, at least for me, parents are not educated or even told about this attachment process. They certainly are not aware of the cues and milestones that the parents, especially the mother needs to know. Rich moms, poor moms, there is no difference. I can only imagine that clinics and hospitals that serve low income communities are not teaching it. And equally concerning are the well-to-do households where the nannies and the au pairs become the de-facto primary caregivers. Awareness and even more important, the general understanding on how to form this attachment is not part of the pre-natal and new motherhood education process. My wife and I never heard of it. Friends of mine who just had babies were never told of it. Mothers and their newborns are being discharged as quickly as possible and are lucky if they get a bag of baby discount coupons, but nothing else. No "manual" for the new born. And the pediatricians are often not a source for this information on attachment either. There is a huge emphasis on the functions of the baby, crying, sleeping, eating, elimination, burping etc. But little or none on attachment. 

I am working with some donors who are trying to fund the development of an "attachment toolkit" to be distributed to new parents/caregivers. This toolkit will concisely show parents the benefits and the methods of forming this attachment bond. More on this later. 

While the DNA dice have been rolled and many things are pre-determined, the role of the caregivers/parents in these first days and months of life are crucial. We have to tell others about this. If you know someone who is pregnant, please tell them about the importance of the attachment bond. Parents that pay close attention to this bonding process can lead to early diagnoses of mental health issues and other early childhood challenges. And our adult relationships, our self-confidence, our resillience, and our self satisfaction are ultimately linked to this attachment! In other words, there are many payoffs for the creation of the attachment bond. And as we all know, we will never get this time back. While you have been reading this blog 75 babies were born in the US!

Networking with our babies to attach by connecting and bonding, like all networking is mutually beneficial.
Thanks for reading. John