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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

The Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest

By Allan Shedlin

PHOTO: Adobestock

During hours and hours of interviews with children over the past three decades, one of the questions I ask is “If you could create the most excellent dad you could imagine, what qualities would he have?”

One of the top-five responses is a variation of “provide us with security and protection.” And when I ask fathers what qualities they want to develop, this is also one of the top five. So, I can’t imagine the agony of the dads during these times of brutality when they are unable to provide that security and protection.

As I write this post, I’m hyper-aware that I’ve felt compelled to write about the impact of war on children and families far too often. Sadly, Hemingway's words above came easily to mind and serve as an appropriate title for this latest commentary on the state of our world.

There are no words, however, to soften the horrors or provide comfort to those afflicted. And I often wonder why I and others, nevertheless, keep trying to find them. For many, writing may be one of the few things we have in our coping arsenal.

But we all have something even more important in our individual toolboxes for coping with the horrors we bring upon our fellow human beings. I almost chose the word “inhumane” as a modifier before “horrors,” but I suddenly had the sinking feeling that this may actually be an intrinsic part of our humanity: collective human history would, alas, support the idea that “inhumanity” has become a deceptive oxymoron. But I digress, as words habitually prompt me to do.

I can’t imagine the agony of the dads during these times of brutality when they are unable to provide that security and protection.

The tool each of us has in our coping toolbox jumped out at me during a phone call I recently had with Jesse, one of my granddaughters – when I tried to help her relieve some of the latest war-related stress she called to discuss. Jesse, like so many of us, has a difficult time pulling herself away from the ubiquitous, 24/7 media coverage. It’s much like the rubbernecking we submit to when we pass an accident on a highway.

My first suggestion to Jesse was to stop watching the coverage. But my second suggestion is that “tool” I refer to above: while there may be very little concrete action we can individually take to directly relieve the suffering of specific individuals who anguish on our various screens, there is an infinite amount we can do in our daily lives right here at home.

PHOTO: Adobestock

Jesse is a teacher of “special needs” children. A rededication to this work and allowing herself to reflect upon the positive and concrete differences she makes in the individual lives of the children she serves can mitigate the sense of hopelessness and sadness she feels as a fellow traveler on our teetering planet.

Yes, we all have such a tool in our individual toolbox and now, more than ever, is the time to employ it in our struggle towards peace. We can all be kinder every single day.

Additional Resources:

ZERO TO THREE offers free resources for parents, caregivers, and professionals who support them that offer guidance on helping young children grieve and process traumatic experiences, enabling them to provide the best care for babies and themselves in times of war and turmoil, including:

Relief Efforts:

Additional Relief Organizations to Consider:


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.


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