Shawn Askinosie knows about heartbreak. When he was 12, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. At 13, he learned to give his father the injections of Demerol required for pain management. When he was 14, his father died.
During the period of his father’s declining health, the leader of a well-meaning prayer group suggested there should be “no talk about death.” To do so, the leader said, indicated a lack of faith in their prayers for healing. After his father died, Shawn said he spent the next 25 years overcoming every obstacle in his path and accomplishing every goal presented to him as a means of dealing with his untreated adolescent grief.
The conclusion of a successful murder trial where Shawn served as the defense attorney, eventually led to a personal recognition of an “out of balance life.” The book Tuesdays with Morrie was also a big influence during this period. What occurred next is what Shawn refers to as a “time of physical and emotional reawakening.” Five years after the trial’s conclusion, he found himself choosing an entirely new life associated with chocolate. He also reports coming to see heartbreak, including his own, as a necessary ingredient to a full life.
“If you love,” he explains, “you will know the grief and sorrow of loss.”
Today Shawn is the CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, a small batch, award winning chocolate factory in Springfield, Missouri. Askinosie Chocolate has been named “One of the 25 Best Small Companies in America” by Forbes and featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, on Bloomberg, MSNBC and various other national and international media outlets. Shawn also serves on the board of Lost & Found Grief Center of Southwest Missouri, an organization he helped start to assist children in dealing with grief and loss.
Today Shawn sees heartbreak as a necessity for a full life. If this is so, then how does a thoughtful parent handle this tender topic? Shawn offers these considerations:
1. Avoid trying to inoculate or prevent all heartbreak for your child. Loss and grief are inevitable. Offer support and empathy, but try not to prevent or rescue.
2. Model healthy grieving. Allow your child to see what brings you great joy and deep sadness. A child who sees healthy grieving modeled by a loving parent learns to handle loss.
3. Help kids learn that broken hearts are meant to be tended, not fixed. Embracing a loss, versus avoiding or denying, helps children grow in compassion.
There was a time when Shawn Askinosie was a fearsome trial attorney. These days he speaks in a different voice, emphasizing and encouraging language of hope and compassion for our children and others.
by Dr. Jennifer Baker
This article was written by Dr. Jennifer Baker, Founder and Executive Director of Good Dads, following a podcast with Shawn. To hear the full interview, download part 1 and part 2 of his Good Dads podcast.
My wife Jill and I have been married for almost 22 years and have two teenage boys. Hayden is 15 and a sophomore at Kickapoo High School and his brother Caleb is a 13-year-old 8th grader at Cherokee Middle School. When we look back it has all gone by so fast. People always tell you it will but, when you are living it every day it can be just a blur. From changing diapers, learning to talk and walk, sports, homework, church and now soon to be drivers and girlfriends, WOW what just happened!
When I think of all the conversations we’ve had with our boys over the years it’s amazing. We’ve always tried to be open and honest with them, but also tried to keep it age appropriate. Sometimes you can offer up too much information when all they are really after is just a simple answer to satisfy their curiosity. But there are times they can go deep with their inquiries.
I remember when Hayden was younger and an early riser like me (but now that he’s a teenager sleeping in is a common occurrence). Most Saturday mornings while Jill and Caleb were still asleep we’d going riding around together—no real destination just coffee for me and maybe some breakfast for both of us. We’d talk about all kinds of things just as they came up while we were cruising around town for an hour or two. It was just simple basic stuff, but what great memories for me and hopefully for him. I think most of the time he taught me more than I taught him. Kids have a way of breaking it down and keeping simple; adults tend to complicate things. Remember everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and kindness matters.
This past summer I had the chance to drive to several baseball tournaments with Caleb. Just me and him while Jill was running with Hayden to his baseball games. Divide and conquer. Those of you with kids involved in various activities know what it’s like. It was a blessing to me to get to spend more time with him. Talking, (listening to music most of it his, but some of mine too), and staying in a hotel together as roommates. While I like to watch him play and compete to watch how he responds to and handles game situations, e.g., winning and losing I was most proud of him as a teammate and watching him develop and gain confidence in himself. Now when I hear some of the songs it brings back memories of the summer road trips together.
Lots of our conversations with the boys now have to do with sex, drugs, alcohol, death, friends and even politics. It’s grown up stuff that sometimes I don’t always understand or have all the answers. But together Jill and I do our best to have a discussion to help them think through it and hopefully make good decisions. They must understand the consequence and the impact it will have on their future and career opportunities. We sometimes hear the locker room language during the sex talks. All the things they hear on the bus at school on social media and even on TV or YouTube. It’s sure not Leave it to Beaver anymore with Ward and June explaining things the Wally and Theodore.
I think it is extremely important to include Jill in the conversations as they happen, although she would sometimes like to bow out. When the topic of sex comes up she’ll roll her eyes or give a heavy sigh and ask, “Do I really need to be part of this?” I feel they need a woman’s perspective. It’s important to hear from their mom what girls think and feel about boys and men.
Death is another topic we’ve always been very open about with our boys. We’ve lost close family members and friends over the years. When my brother battled leukemia several years ago and finally died in 2010 we included the boys in our regular visits with him and openly discussed his disease with them. They really seemed to understand it more at times than we gave them credit.
Communication is key. It is so important in any family or organization to have open, honest and respectful conversations. Not that we are experts. It can get heated in our household at times. Tempers flare at times with teenagers. My wife is good about making sure we eat together regularly as a family. And when we go out to dinner NO cell phones are allowed. It works most of the time.
Having frequent conversations is so important. You don’t always have to have an agenda. Just make sure you take the opportunities to talk when they arise, and they will. I know they often do around our house and especially when driving in our vehicles. And remember to listen to our kids. They will tell us what they want to know and they can teach us lessons. I know my boys do all the time.
Dennis and his wife, Jill, are the parents of two sons. When not staying engaged with his sons and their schedules, Dennis volunteers time as a Good Dads Board member. He can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.