PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca. And today I’m here with Bob Mahan. Hi, Bob.
BOB: Hi, Pam.
PAM: I recently came across Bob’s online musings about unschooling and life and have really enjoyed reading about his thoughts and perspectives. So, I really appreciate him choosing to come on the podcast and chat about his experiences so far. So, to get us started:
Bob, can you share with us a little bit about you and your family and what everybody’s into right now?
BOB: Yeah. We have three sons who are 14. One just turned 13. We have two teenagers now and then our third son is 11. My wife and I’ve been married for 20 years. We celebrate our 20th anniversary last May with a family trip to Hawaii. We live in an RV and have for seven years. So, we’ve travelled the country for seven years, living wherever we wanted.
What is everybody into right now? It’s so eclectic. I guess it’d be kind of like my page. It’s whatever catches our fancy right now. My one son, well really all of us, like amusement parks and roller coasters but my one son would be considered a roller coaster enthusiast. So, we go where we can ride them. One of the reasons we live in Orlando is because this is where there are more amusement parks than anywhere else in the world. They all enjoy Minecraft a lot. My oldest son loves animals, so any way that we can see them in a zoo or aquarium or in nature. He studies them online. He is on the autistic spectrum, so he will give you a lecture on any animal that you see, sometimes more than you’ll ever want to know. But when we’re someplace he will, people all around will look because they’re astounded about how much he knows and he’s actually right about it. He’ll give you the genus and the family of each animal. So, that’s always interesting and sometimes more than you want to know. (laughing)
My youngest son, he really enjoys being online. He’s got a lot of online friends from all over the world that he connects with and plays games, interacts. He just turned 11 and is probably the most, not risky, but less fear of anyone. If there’s a new big ride, he’s often been the first one to go on it. And so, it’s always fun to try to keep up with him.
And then my wife is a nurse, and that is how we got started travelling. She is what’s called a travel nurse, she can take three-month assignments anywhere. So, we just picked places we wanted to live and moved there.
PAM: Wow. That sounds amazing. So, how long have you guys been where you are now, in Florida by Orlando?
BOB: We’ve been here for two and a half years and mostly because we’ve travelled around and this is where we like the best. At this point, we intend on probably staying here. There’s no place else we want to live and we haven’t been, I’ve been to every state in the United States, my kids have been to about half of them. So, we’ve got a pretty good sample to choose from. And we’d like to be where it’s warm. And so that kind of limits a lot of it. And we’d like to be where there is a lot going on.
So, we lived in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tampa and Orlando. There are some places that might get the other things, but they’re like, we were in Phoenix, Arizona. There’s one tiny amusement parks and my boys said, “Nah, don’t see it.”.
PAM: I love that. I love that you take that into consideration, everybody’s wishes are part of the choice of where you are. Versus just the parents having more power in that decision.
BOB: Yeah. There was a helicopter going over because I’m sitting outside right now. We live in a tourist place. There are tour helicopters going around constantly. So, if we get distracted. Yeah.
We do include everyone. And that can create some challenges because sometimes it’s hard to get five people to agree. So, we’ve learned a lot of negotiation techniques in that regard.
If somebody is not into it, it’s a give and take. My one son did not want to move to California. And because we lived in Florida, which is where we started seven years ago. So, they were seven, six and four. And when he was seven, he said he would do it as long as we came back by the time he was 10. And so that was the negotiation. So, we were gone and we got back when he was nine and a half.
When we are in California, we wanted to take a cross-country trip to visit the grandparents in Florida. And my one son was scared to fly. So, we did a small trip, just a small flight on a jet that was just an hour, to kind of work him in. And then we actually had to instead of getting a direct flight from San Francisco to Tampa, we had to book a three legged flight so that none of the flights were more than two hours. So, we went to Minneapolis and Salt Lake City which was really tiring. But we don’t force anybody to do anything. And so that was the way he would agree. We got to go on the trip we wanted to go on, but did it in a way that he was comfortable with. So, that means, stopping a lot. One of my friends says redirecting, making adjustments, going for longer or shorter than you want. Delaying. Give and take. We’ll do this today and then we’ll do that tomorrow.
The boys do that, too, as far as if one of them is not into something. I’ll basically say, “OK, how you guys going to fix this? So everybody gets what you want?” So, you’ll be in there, it’s like they’re on the stock exchange or something, negotiating with a buy and sell. You know, I’ll give you this today, if we can go later or if we can eat what I want to eat, we’ll go where you want to go. Or we’ll go tomorrow. They have a whole barter system going. But I try to stay out of it as much as possible. And then. When they get it worked out, then I’m the money and the transportation. We don’t direct. We participate and guide. So, that we haven’t always lived where we wanted to live.
And like I said, we had to come back because we made an agreement with him that we would. We almost didn’t get to take our vacation because my son didn’t want to fly.
It would be very easy to just lay down the law and say, “I’m the dad do what I say.” But I’m not going to do that. And so, I really have to practice my negotiation skills and my flexibility to make that happen.
PAM: I love the way you describe it and I find in the end and I’m sure this is why you’re choosing it, in the end, the places that you get and the relationships that you develop and the skills, that bigger picture win, really overrides or is more important than, ‘Gee, I want to go on this vacation and I want to fly directly there.’ You know what I mean? It’s not like you’re giving up. You’re making bigger choice. Does that make sense?
BOB : Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I was in some kind of a training program a few years ago and was asked one of these questions. You know, big picture questions like, where would you want to go if you could go anywhere you wanted? And I couldn’t come up with anything because I’ve been everywhere. I enjoyed them. But. Nothing, there’s no great desire. I’ve done it and same thing with doing things or having things, I enjoy lots of things and I do lots of things, but I don’t need any of those.
Ultimately, it comes down to who you do it with. And so, I would rather that we all do it together in a way that we enjoy than to check something off a bucket list. And like you said, the process of higher skills of getting other people to participate with you in a way they enjoy. That’s going to last them for a lifetime. If they can learn it.
I mean, that’s one of the big questions I get. How do you get somebody to do it, “Well, I don’t know. You can either force them or you can negotiate with them.” I don’t know another way. And the only way I know to negotiate is to offer somebody some incentive that I mean, you can either threaten them with a negative or offer an incentive that they consider positive enough to say yes. And so, I am trying to model that so that my boys know how to do it. I don’t have much of an agenda for my own life. Now, it’s kind of like when you ask me if there’s any question, there aren’t things I want to talk about.
I don’t really have an agenda here. Other than helping them figure out how to do life, hopefully better and earlier than I did.
PAM: Earlier, yeah, definitely.
BOB: Yeah, that might have been why some people started reading what I wrote, I think. I’m not unique, but I didn’t get married until I was 34 and I didn’t yet have my first son till I was almost forty one and my last was born right after 44. So, I’m 55, but I have an 11 year old. So, I don’t know that I’m wiser, but I had a lot more experience than if my boys were born when I was 20. So, I think maybe I looked at things differently when I had a two year old than I would have 20 years earlier. My parents were 20 and 21 when I was born. I’d already lived, I had already been like an adult at that point. So, I guess I’ve just been through life enough and saw how I didn’t like living it and didn’t want to live it, that it made me rethink a lot of stuff when it was time to go through it with them.
PAM: Yes, because I read on your page that you planned to homeschool your kids before you even had children. So that really ties into how you have taken a lot of your journey and your experiences before having kids.
I would love to know how that choice came about and how you knew you wanted to homeschool before you had kids. And how did that evolve into unschooling for you?
BOB: I was born into a very religious family, and so I went to a private Christian school. From the time I was in kindergarten, all the way up to high school. And then at that time I also chose to go to a Christian college and I went for five years. So, for 18 years of my life, I was in a restrictive, very strict, very conservative, lots of rules environment.
I didn’t want to do that as a parent. My wife went to public schools and public college, so we had a very different perspective. But I had never wanted to use the public school system. So, the next alternative was homeschooling. But when I thought of homeschooling, I thought of school at home. And my idea was because I didn’t like some of the things that I had to do. And I didn’t like the way schools were operating. I thought I was going to build a better beast. I thought I was going to do it better than everyone. So, I was going to have a better curriculum, better training. My kids we’re going to be superstars. So that was my objective.
And then when my oldest son became five, I checked into doing the online, like K12, where you do online public school, but you do it at home. We actually got to the point where we’re trying to register him for that because I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s high quality. That’s really going to pass. He’s getting ready for Harvard when he’s 6.’ And I found out you couldn’t enroll them unless they had gone to a local public school for a year. We had to put him in a public school in kindergarten for a year before we could take him out and bring him home. And I remember sitting up my dining room table when I found that out crying because I’m like, I’m not going to send him there, but I don’t know what to do.
Well, we were in Orlando and I don’t know if it’s national or a very huge homeschooling conference that happens here every year where vendors come in with curriculums and it was just down the street, close by, five thousand people are there. And so, we signed up and went. It happened to be just two weeks later, so we go over there and walk it through. I mean curriculums here and there are hundreds of thousands of dollars and everybody’s got the right plan. And we just lost it. I had no idea what to do. So, my son is supposed to be starting school in August and that’s where I’m at.
And then I don’t know where I ran in to unschooling. It was I would have been on Facebook because that’s kind of the only place I’ve ever been. But somebody said something about, you just don’t have to do that.
And of course, I’d never heard of it. I had no frame of reference and but was willing to listen. I’d been going through a lot of other changes in my life simultaneously where I was not religious anymore, though I had been actually an officer in some religious institution, so I went from full in to not. That was a massive change from my entire life.
In fact, my wife and I met at church. And then schooling and then my political viewpoints had been going through a transformation. So, I was going through personally just a massive amount of questioning everything.
I ran into situations where what I thought was true, I couldn’t justify any more, so I was willing to ask questions I’d never been willing to ask and find answers I didn’t even know existed. That’s where unschooling showed up.
And so, I found some Facebook groups, made friends, followed people, watched videos and did a big sigh relief. Suddenly I went, “We can chill out about all of this. We don’t have to be stressed. We don’t have to be forced. My son does not have to qualify for Harvard next year.”
And we just relaxed and it’s kind of gone from there, but I mean, I was trying to register him and I went from that to… That’s how close we were. But he never did. And then the other two. None of them have ever attended a school of any kind. Closest thing we’ve done is, well we were just talking about this other day because I told my boys I was going to do this. I was just asking some questions. Remember the past? The older two, we enrolled them in swimming lessons because we had owned a home where the pool is right there. You don’t want them to drown. This was so horrible. I look back at it, it was the first year. I mean, they did learn to swim. But the instructors take them, blow in their face, hold them underwater so they learn how to, but they were startled and they come up and are screaming and crying and we do it again.
They did learn but the third one, he saw his two brothers swimming and jumped into the pool and swam across. That’s unschooling right there. He wanted to learn, he learned it.
We used to be members of the YMCA and they had different levels for you to go off the diving board in the deep end. The two oldest ones got the green, which meant they could go anywhere in the pool in the deep and they could jump off the diving boards. Youngest when he’s 2 and he said, “I want a green.” Well, you had to swim the length of the pool and tread water for 60 seconds.
And he jumped in there and did it at 2. I mean, they actually changed the rule. He earned it and then they wouldn’t give it to him even though he qualified because they said he was too young. Even though there was no requirement about young.
We went to a water park where they had this thing where you can jump off a 10 foot cliff. And the only rule was, there was no height requirement, the only rule was about the jump off. Then it’s like a 20 foot wide pool. You’ve got to swim to the side. He did it. He jumped off, swam. I mean, the whole place is just watching it. And they’re like, how are they doing this? I don’t know, this is what he wanted to do. Then we went back a month later. They changed it and put in a 42 inch high requirement, which he didn’t qualify. And we know it was because of him, because he was so tiny.
But the point is that’s the only time we ever enrolled them in any class. And we found out that even that wasn’t necessary when they wanted to do something, they just did it. They figured out how and the motivation was there. And I mean, I’m a good swimmer. My wife swam on swim team in high school so we can teach them. I actually was a lifeguard so we could teach them. And, you know, we can give some pointers, but the point is, his motivation to do what he wanted to do led him to do it at a crazy young age. So, I didn’t have to shove him underwater and have him get scared. And that’s the only time we’ve ever done that. It’s never happened since. Because we realized that they will learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, in the way they want to learn it. And if they don’t want to, it’s kind of pointless for me to try to force it. It’s not meaningful to them at that point.
Well, what we did do formalized like A, B, C and one, two, three. Here’s your colors with my oldest. And you know, we were laughing the other day about it. He and I. Because I’m like, “OK, we taught you all that, but you’re 13 or 14. How quick could you learn your colors right now if you want to do that?” “Ten minutes, I could just learn them all.” What was all that effort and what did you do with that information other than show off to the grandparents? You can take your kid and you can, one of the questions you sent me, I’m sorry for taking over this and pre-empting a question.
One of the questions you asked me was about the standard way of evaluation and how you know things are going well.
And that was a chance for me to reflect. When they were younger, my friends would get, they’d be at school and they’d get “My child was Student of the Month”. Or they’d get the citizenship award. They got the bumper sticker, “My kid’s an honour student.”
My kids have never been on the dean’s list. They’ve never gotten Student of the Month. We have nothing to brag about. There’s nothing to hang on the wall. They’re not going to get a high school diploma. They’ll get a GED whenever they want to. But it won’t be anything. There’s not going to be a ceremony either. So, all the things that their cousins get to show we can’t. And that was hard to accept.
I’ve come to terms with that, we don’t have the societal badges of accomplishments.
If we’re at a party and it’s a parent thing where everybody is upping each other on how their kid is better, faster, smarter or whatever. I’m over here going, “I don’t know, we reached another level on the video game.” For us, an accomplishment is when they’re tall enough to hit the 42 inch high roller coaster. And then the 48 that 54 now when all five of us were 54 inches tall. We could ride everything together, but that’s how we evaluate it.
They’ve done the tallest four roller coasters in the world. They’ve done the fastest one. They’ve been to more places. But the measuring that people seem to do for when we’re bragging about our kids. I’ve got nothing, because our evaluation standard is so different. If you throw it in there, it’s total silence. So I’ve been at this long enough that I don’t. I listen. I’m happy for my nieces and nephews and their accomplishments and my friends. I’m not trying to throw our method on them, and that’s the way they live their lives and the way they feel. So, I’m happy for him. You know, my niece just got a division one college sports scholarship. We go to all her games. We’re excited for her, but we’re never going get that. So, it’s like we’re on a totally different perspective of how we evaluate ourselves and ultimately, we’ve got to come to terms with that we are ok with that.
PAM: Yeah. That’s so familiar. I love that story. I would mostly reply, yeah, you know, “That’s cool.” It is exciting for them. And you know that it’s meaningful for them. So, it truly is cool for them. And because I know we’d get asked questions, before we went to family gathering, I would just put a few thoughts together in my head. And it was always around what they were interested at the time. So, yeah, those roller coaster stories that would be what I would pull out in that kind of situation when they asked. But as you said, I wouldn’t be trying to jump into the conversation because it’s a different kind of answer. Like you said, and sometimes if they were all busy chatting that way, I’d just go play with the kids because that was fun too right?!
BOB: Yeah. I feel like we’ve lived this way so long. It’s not only the unschooling, but then the living in the RV. You know where that’s very different. We get a fifteen hundred square foot house with a pool and then we’re down to 300 square feet and five people and the boys are almost my size now. So, we’re almost have five adults.
So, they don’t have stuff. They have experiences. They’ve been to many countries. They’ve been to half the states. I was driving last night, we’re talking about what have we done? Last night we drove an hour and a half to go to what was called dark night, which was way out in a garden to look at the stars under the telescopes.
We’ve whitewater rafted in Yosemite National Park, we’ve been to the Grand Canyon. We’ve been to Yellowstone, we’ve played in a geyser are in Idaho. We’ve been on a zip line in Mexico. Their items are so tiny they have almost no material possessions because there’s no place to put it. There’s no space. They have a computer, a phone and a tiny little. But they have memories and experiences from everywhere and some of them are more high profile and some aren’t.
In May, we took a cruise to Hawaii. Like I said, that was our 20th anniversary. We took our kids with us. People thought that was crazy,” “It’s your anniversary.” But we don’t want to be away from them. We like being with them. It was two weeks long and I wouldn’t want to be away from them for two weeks. What a great time.
One of the other questions you asked me was how do we do things? How have we made it so we can do things that other people might not do?
I think what it is, is we have a great desire to be open to opportunities.
My wife found this app called Roadside Attractions. It’s an app which will just tell you the sketchy ass little things that are on your way. And so, when we’re driving, it will just be the world’s tallest ball of yarn. So, we have found the weirdest things. We found a place in Los Angeles where you could bottle your own soda. They had the water and the boys made bizarre flavours. You make it, then you bottle it, you put the cap on it. You make the label. I mean, not a big thing, but I don’t know anyone else who’s done it. When we were in Los Angeles, it seems like every alien movie that goes to Los Angeles has a scent with this doughnut place. It’s called Randy Doughnuts. It’s this massive doughnut, it’s in movies all the time. And we went to Randy’s Doughnuts to get a doughnut. So what, it’s a doughnut, but the point is, we will go out of the way and inconvenience ourselves to do something that we’ll remember.
PAM: Yeah, I think that’s so different from so many people who kind of wait for things to happen to them. They wait for these things to appear. Or like you said, they focus on just organizing the big things. That might be part of why vacations are such a big thing, because they’re less about bringing fun little things to their ordinary days. So, then they’re just waiting for those big moments. Yet you guys are more proactively finding little things. They seem like little things, but they’re fun things. Their experiences. You were talking about how many of your days are filled with experiences versus the things. And we really have time. And when you make the time to do it all, you’re, rich is the word that comes to mind for me. Just a rich, rich life experiences, does that make sense?
BOB: Oh, yeah, absolutely. One of the main reasons we can do that. It’s an attitude and it’s a decision, but part of that decision is to unschool. I live so close to Disney World that I can hear the fireworks at night from home. I’m that close. People come here to go to Universal Studios, Disney World from all over the world. One of the things that they ask me is when is it not busy? Because I Uber around here, so I pick people up from the airport, take them to Disney World, and then I take them from their hotels to the parks, I pick them up. I do this every day. So, I talk to people from everywhere. When is it not busy? The honest answer is it’s not busy when kids are in school because everybody runs on the school calendar. It controls your life.
If school is in, they’re at school. If school is out, they can take vacation. So, the entire country takes a vacation simultaneously. They take a vacation at Thanksgiving, they take a vacation at Christmas. They take a vacation in spring break and they’re here in the summer.
We can do what we call arbitrage. We can do time arbitrage, where we can go when they don’t. We don’t go when they do. We can also location arbitrage because we have the RV. We lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the craziest, expensive places in the world to live. We got to do everything that there is there. But we spend the money, a million dollars for a two bedroom apartment. We didn’t spend that. What it would cost to live where we live, would be crazy, but we don’t spend it. Again, we call arbitrage. We flip flop. We don’t do it when they do it and we do it when they don’t do it. We’re like perennial off-seasoners. Plane tickets are the most expensive Friday night and Sunday night because people look on weekends. You can go Tuesday morning, better price. But with school you can’t.
And so by making that decision to not run on the school calendar and then my wife, because she’s switched to being a travel nurse, she makes her own schedule. So, she makes the schedule she wants to work. We adjust that based on what we want to do. I haven’t had a regular job in nine years since 2011. So, we’ve organized our entire life around being able to do things that allows us to do it much more economically efficient. We never pay prime pricing. We pay off season pricing, off time pricing.
By reducing our material possessions to very little—I mean, our housing expense as a percentage of income is ridiculously low—we have that money to make other choices. If you tie up all of your time in pre obligated things, 9 to 5 job or school, then you have a tiny number of hours that you can allocate to whatever. Same thing with money. If you pre tie it all up, you only got that much to allocate.
Well, what we’re trying to do is have the amount that’s tied up of time, money and energy be as low as possible. So, the variable part is as big as possible. That allows you, like I said back in the beginning, to negotiate.
I have the bandwidth to go an hour later or tomorrow or next week. I see these people when they come here for vacation. I mean they’re only here for a week and they spent thousands of dollars and they’re going to get it done and they’re up before the sun comes up and they’re going till everyone drops and the kids are crying and the parents are crying. And I’m like, this was supposed to be fun, right? This was supposed to be a good time.
I understand it. Some people have dreamed their entire life of coming here. Disney World is often picked the number one place to go in the world. They dreamed about it, they spent all this money. You have a limited amount of time, so you’re just going to get it done. Well, that’s a whole lot of pressure, I want to have the flexibility to just relax and take it slow.
But you’ve got to get rid of all of those time locks and budget locks. If you’ve only have 5% of your budget or your time available, I don’t know what you are going to do. But when you have closer to 80% available, then you can adjust, it happens over time, but you’ve got to work that way. If you want the freedom.
PAM: Yeah. That is such a great way to explain it. I really like that image. That’s how we ended up doing it too. Especially travelling on the off times. Not only are you saving money, but that was the way that we could do it on our terms as well. Because the crowds were crazy. None of us, in my family, enjoy the crowds. That just makes us cranky. We did all sorts of things. Now that you’ve phrased it that way, you put it in that framework, now I can see how much of our effort was to free ourselves up that way. I love that.
The time freedom that unschooling gives you to be able to make those kind of time, commitment choices that work for your family rather than having all this outside framework. I mean, we just did the reverse. So, summertime, while kids were out of school, we basically hung out at home for the most part. Maybe went to local parks. We didn’t go to the science centre in the summer. I think the first summer after the kids are home from school. We did that. It’s like, “No.”
BOB: Yeah, we got where we’d know when to go because we had a pass to science centres and all of that. We’d show up and there’d be like five bus school buses for field trips. And the boys are like, “Oh man!” We started learning the field trips always end at two o’clock. They always go because they have to get back to school. So, we would go at 2:00. It’s not like we’re anti-social, but the crowds are just, you know.
Some people say unschooling is living like a school doesn’t exist. We do that except that we’re very aware that school exists because we do the opposite. We know it’s on our calendar school holidays because we know the kids were out. So, we’re not going. It was a holiday in United States on Monday. So, we didn’t go anywhere. We are very aware of how the rest of the world lives and how not that we are.. And it’s getting more and more so as we go along. We feel like we’re so off the beaten path. We don’t have regular jobs. We don’t have school. We don’t have a house. Some people consider people who live in RVs homeless. The typical plan for what you’re supposed to do when you grow up, we’ve failed on all of this. And probably the thing that like I said, because I was older, I did follow the plan. I got my college degree. I had a career as an accountant. And just so you have a quick background on how I got where I got.
I was an accountant for 24 years. And the last few years, I absolutely hated it. I was in a corporate environment, I had recently got a promotion and gotten bonus package, and they were offering me the future. And I walked in one day and they offered me a promotion and I said, “I’m going to quit.” My wife encouraged me to do that. And the reason why, because it was killing me inside. I was just, my father died at 58 and I’m now 55. So, you can see, I’m in that category. That was nine years ago.
I couldn’t figure out how I could tell my boys to follow their dreams and to not stay in a job they hated, living a life they didn’t want, when that’s what I was doing. For money, for security. I’m going to encourage them to live free and follow your dreams and then they’d be like “Well, you didn’t.” And what am I going to say?
And so scariest thing I ever did that day, I just walked out and I haven’t had a regular job since then. And I mean, it’s been tough. It hasn’t been easy. And I’m still figuring it out. But I’m unschooling myself along with the boys and figuring out what I want to do. I’m learning what I need to learn. I’ve started a few businesses. I learn what I need to learn when I need to learn it. I take the challenge and I take the risks and ultimately.
My answer to it, if unschooling works is unschooling doesn’t work because you got the result you wanted or they made the choice I wanted them to make, unschooling works because they got to make the choice. They may make a choice different than I would. And the result might not be what any of us wanted, but we got to make the choice and we trust that we’ll figure it out. And that’s pretty much how we live.
I’d never towed an RV before we bought one and I drove it from Florida to Idaho. I didn’t know how to back them up, but I learned because I had to put my home somewhere.
We learn what we need to learn when we need to learn it. We call it just in time learning and I’m not evaluating how successful it’s been by the results. We’re not rich in a material sense. There are no trophies on the wall. But we’re happy. We are contented with our lives. And so that’s how we’ve ultimately had to define success for ourselves, not using external medium. And that’s how we live.
PAM: I think that’s such a great way to put it. I think that’s a big thing to let go. It’s part of that whole process of coming to unschooling. I think after you come to unschooling, for me too, your question of, if I’m going to offer my kids this lifestyle and to make these choices, I can live that, too. Or what kind of example would I be if I say this is your life, but this is my life? I’m not free to make the same kinds of choices that you are, etc.
That was something that really opened my eyes when I was starting to unschool with them. Because your mind just starts asking the next question. The next questions like, “If this is a lifestyle, I want so much for my kids, why can’t I have it too?” It’s the deeper questions. It’s not that we’re just doing, quote, “Whatever whenever we want.” But it’s that deeper satisfaction, that deeper happiness that you are talking about. That becomes more of a guiding light than your more conventional definition of success.
BOB: I would say you’re never you’re never too old to have a happy childhood. And I’m in the process of reconnecting. I love my parents and my family. Nothing against them. But I’m starting over.
And like you said, the deeper questions, I’m asking questions I never even knew to ask. And I’m willing to get answers that I didn’t know existed and then follow them where they go. So, I’m learning what it means to be a father, what it means to be a husband, what it means to be a business owner, what it means to take risks.
Under the traditional definition of husband and father, I’m a total failure. I don’t provide, I haven’t provided a home for my family. I’m not a vice president. In others, there’s all this stuff that. But I’m learning how to be more peaceful and learning how to be more happy, how to negotiate, to give and take and be flexible.
I was an upper level manager where I gave orders. I don’t give orders. I don’t give orders now. I ask and it’s OK for somebody to say no. If they can’t say no, it wasn’t a question.
My kids say no. One of the ways I know that it is working. If you want to use that word is that my kids think very differently about many, many fundamentally important things than I do. Which means I have not indoctrinated them. I have not told them this is the right way. This is the way we think. And they don’t. And we disagree on things and I’m good with that. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’ll learn from them. Or maybe they’ll figure it out. But I trust that they will. It may not be for me. It may be, however and whenever they need to, but they think differently than I do. And that’s good. I’m happy about that because like I said, I’m not trying to build a better beach. I’m not trying to build a better version of me.
They’re people, they’re not mini me. They are living their own lives and it’s going to be however they decide it’s going to be and I’m just going to do my best to help them do it and be there with them. I don’t know when this is going to end. I think I’m going to unschool myself for the rest of my life. And they will, too. And at some point, they’ll decide to do that, not living in my home, whenever that is.
And maybe they’ll decide to go to college. Maybe, though, won’t. Maybe they’ll start careers. I don’t know. And I don’t have any agenda on it. I truly have no agenda on how they do things. I just like them to be able to make the choices they want to make. And we’ll see how it works out.
PAM: Yeah, for me, in the end, as you release that agenda, I just became so curious to see how things unfold. And like you said that’s forever. It’s not like while their school age or whatever.
BOB: That term, “school age” is such a crazy term. Why would I go there? What grade are they? I don’t know. It’s all so segmented. They were born here. They live with us. And then at some point they leave, maybe they will. I don’t know. But there’s no age limit on it. It’s not like 18, your gone. I don’t even understand all of that. All the stuff that I thought and the way everyone else thinks. I don’t get any of that anymore. It’s been this way so long ago.
I don’t write about it particularly anymore because I don’t even consciously think of it. When I first got involved, I read a lot. I interacted a lot with people because it was on the front of my mind and I was working it out. I don’t even think about it anymore. I’m not consciously aware that it’s different. It just is. And until I run into something like doing this or somebody asked me a question, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of strange.” We don’t even tell our story much. And then, my wife, she’ll have a patient and she tells them she lives in an RV and they’re like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” And then it occurs to her. ‘Yeah, I guess that is different.’ It doesn’t even occur to us that our life is unusual, but I guess it is.
And that’s why I think about unschooling. To me, it’s the most natural normal thing so I don’t think about it being any other way until somebody brings it up. My son’s 14 and a half. And here in Florida, they can get a learner’s permit for driving when at 15 ½, license when they’re 16 and get a GED when you’re 16 or something. And so, I asked him, “When do you want to learn to drive?” We have no driver’s test class, whenever you want to. And then I said, “Well, you might want to start thinking about when you want to get your GED. You can get it whenever you want.”
I don’t know, he might want to get it, the first day it’s legal. We don’t have any schedule on that. And so, it’s so strange to run into when there’s supposed to be one. I don’t know when they’re going to graduate from high school, when they decide they’re ready. Or maybe they’ll wont’ even get a GED, they won’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. But if they do, whenever they do, if they want to drive or they don’t want to drive. I don’t know. But everything in the rest of the world is all about “this age”. So, you’re this grade and you start this and you end this. We don’t do any of that. And so, we don’t even think that way. And so, like I said, it just occurred to me the other day. I guess we should start thinking about when you want to get this thing? If you do. At some point, he will. But I’m not going to dictate it. He’ll decide that’s what he wants. And I’m not going to research it.
I guess that’s thing, too. If he wants it, he’s going to do the research to figure out how to get it. I’ll get him there. I’ll pay for it, if that’s needed. But I’m not the research assistant for the world. They have computers. They know how to search better than I do. You can find out what you need to do. Ask me questions, other people questions. But I’m not laying this all out here for you. Sign here type thing. I’m not doing that because that’s not going to be a good way to live later. You’re going to have to figure out what you need to know about how to find it. Figure out the resources, maybe the resource is me and my money. That’s fine. But in order to accomplish what you want to accomplish, you’ve got to accumulate the resources you need. And I know that’s probably up there near the top of the skills you need in life. How do you get the resources you need to do what you want to do? If they can do that. And like I said, I’m at this point, I’m a very big part of it. When they were babies, I was almost 100 percent of it. My wife and I, it’s gradually reducing.
You mentioned curiosity. I think that’s such a wonderful personality trait, attitude, whatever you call it. Just go, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen.’ Something cool is probably going to happen. Let’s see. So, you try stuff. So many people think that every decision is life and death. And you’ve got to make the right one and ‘Oh my God, what happens if it goes wrong?’ Try stuff. There are very few things you can’t come back from.
You know anybody who’s ever remarried to somebody they divorced. I do. Divorce seems final and they get remarried. You can come back from that. How many people move away from the city they were born in? And then they move back. You could sell your house. You can quit the job. How many people quit a job and never find another one? Almost no one. I mean, if you are reasonably employable. But what we always act like, if I quit, I’ll be homeless. You’ll find a job. You know, you sell the house. You’ll find another one. You break up with the person. You’ll probably find a better person to be with. Like I said, there’s almost nothing you can’t come back from. It may be a little bit painful, may cost you some money. But there are very few things that you try that’s your one and only shot. You know, explore.
We moved to Idaho. It was kind of cold. We didn’t like Idaho. Enough is enough of that. So, we left. We lived in an RV. We could go. And people do. They try an RV and decide they want a house. You sell the RV and you get a house, you got an apartment there. You go live in the north. You live in the south. It’s on our agenda to go live in other countries. We want to be where we want to explore. We might move to our country and stay there forever. Or you might not.
PAM: It’s amazing how life and death people make almost every choice. They’re just so scared of what they judge as failing because they think changing their mind is failure rather than you’ve learned something more.
BOB: At the minimum, I kind of look at it, my page is basically is whatever I think about, whatever I’m doing at the time. The way I figure it is, I do something cool. It’ll be awesome if it flops. It’ll make a great story for my page, to write about. And I can tell everybody, “Guess, what I did? It’s just a disaster.”
Nobody gets out of this life alive. We’re here. We live, we love. I want to at least have experienced as much as I can. And like I said, my dad died when he was 58. I’m now 55. Hope I got another 40 years left in me. But, no guarantees on that. So, if I died today, I would have I would have been happy with what I’ve done for the last year. I don’t have any regrets. I’ve lived doing what I want to do with the people I want to do it with. What more I could ask for.
And I hope I’m trying to do that for myself. But also, as an example, so my kids do it, too.
What piece of advice might you share with dads who are just starting out or even just considering unschooling?
PAM: They’re there at the beginning of this journey. So, what piece of advice do you think might be helpful to share just from your perspective? There is no wrong answer.
BOB: I don’t usually give advice.
But trust yourself. Trust your kids. I guess that’s the biggest thing. They make choices different than I would make or maybe wish they would. But hey, I made a ton of bad choices and I’m still here. I came back. Some of them were pretty painful and took a long time to come back from and some I’m still coming back from, but trust the process.
[And you’ve got to redefine the process. You know, like I said, if you’re if you’re looking for accolades, if you’re looking for awards, you’re not going to get them. So, you might as well just set that aside. But one of my favourite quotes was they asked John Lennon when he was five. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And he said, “I want to be happy.” And they said, “You didn’t understand the question.” He said, “You don’t understand life.”
If you’re kids are happy, if they feel like they have the freedom to disagree with you, to challenge you, to think differently from you, to explore their own interests, then I think it’s a success.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably not hear that from anyone else and you’re not going to get a pat on the back for doing it. I don’t think there’s an Unschooler of the Year award being given out, just doesn’t happened.
And so, you’ve ultimately got to believe so strongly that it’s the right way to live, that you can withstand the doubt. I went this way because I couldn’t go any other way. It was the only way that felt intellectually and emotionally honest to me, I couldn’t not do it.
And I make a ton of mistakes all the time, but the overall direction is to trusting them, trusting myself and that our lives are going to end up being meaningful to us in the way we evaluate them, and that we won’t live with regrets because we’ve given ourselves the freedom to embrace opportunities when they occurred.
I don’t know if that’s advice or not but it’s going to be scary. You’re going to have a million doubters. You ultimately have to decide who you’re going to listen to. Whose criticism is going to get through. Doesn’t mean all criticism is invalid. Some of it’s very valid.
But the big chorus out there is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. You’re not doing enough. You’re doing too much. You’re not controlling. You’re not demanding. And we talk about it all the time, there’s is a book called “Know, You’re Why” we’ve always known why. We know why we’re doing it. We’re figuring out how to do it. But we never, ever vary on why.
And once you can get that deep down in your soul where it’s never, you never doubt it. You just believe that. Then you stick with it. You make a mistake. You try again.
You don’t do it the way you want it to. You try it again. You learn. Like I said, we transitioned from I was going to homeschool the perfect child to online public school to total unschooling. And not that we never really had it figured out and still don’t have it figured out, but we do know why we’re doing it this way and those reasons are more important than criticism.
I guess what finally hit a tip for me in changing the way I lived as compared to the way I thought you were supposed to live is all the people who are purporting how you were supposed to live. They really just didn’t seem that happy. It seems they seemed unhappy with their own lives. Maybe you’re right. But you’re a lousy advertising for it.
I don’t want to be like you. I actually never wanted to have any kids because I didn’t know anybody who liked their kids. Then I met some people who truly like the kids, and that really changed it for me. Well, same kind of thing. Maybe the way they all live is the way you’re supposed to live. But they sure don’t seem to be enjoying it. They seem really unhappy all the time. They don’t like their kids. The kids don’t like the parents. I see all these complaints about schools. I’m like, “Don’t go in. And you don’t have to worry about whatever the school does or doesn’t do.” Complain about your job all time, you can make a different choice. I didn’t see that any of them were really happy with their life, but they kept telling me to do it more, better, faster.
PAM: Their way.
BOB: I was just like, “No.” I’m just not going to do any of that. You might be right, but it sure didn’t make sense to me. And once we stop now when we get to make some different choices.
I would encourage anybody to be willing to ask the questions that they tell you you’re not supposed that ask. You probably won’t come out the same answers I come up with, and that’s fine, I don’t care.
But if somebody tells you you’re not supposed to ask a question, you really have to ask yourself, why are they doing that? What don’t they want you to know or they’re scared that you do know? And I don’t know what that answer is, but I always doubt any kind of any person or any situation that tries to stop me from knowing something or asking something, that just makes me ask more.
And that’s what I’ve done for the past 15 years, I guess. It’s taken me to a place I never thought I’d be where I am, even close. I could not possibly visualize this. I thought I’d have the career and the house and the cars. And at my age I’d be a grandparent. I am nowhere near any regard. I wore a suit and tie and had a short haircut and clean facial hair my entire career. Now look at me. I am nothing at all like how I thought it would be. And I couldn’t be happier.
So, if you don’t ask those questions and then follow where it leads, you’ll never, never get there.
PAM: That is so amazing. I love the way you pulled that altogether. It really is, asking the questions. Be willing to just ask a question of yourself, right? Like you said, it’s not that anybody else is going to have the same answers, but being willing to ask the questions will help you get a step closer to whatever it is for you.
BOB: Like you said, curiosity. I wonder what happens if I ask this. I wonder what happens if I do this and then find out. You might be astounded. And it might be more amazing than anything you ever could have imagined. And that’s the way I think about my life now. Like I said, I don’t have a bucket list because I’m happy, I’m satisfied. I’m very contented with where we are. And so, I feel like I’m at peace and I couldn’t ask for anyone to that.
PAM: That’s lovely. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It was so much fun.
BOB: You’re welcome. This is my first interview, so hopefully I did good.
PAM: It was a wonderful. But before we go, let people know where they can connect with you online.
BOB: I don’t sell anything, but I do write on Facebook on a page called The Bob Mahan Experience. My last name. And it’s just about whatever. Right now, the current thing I’m involved in is I’m losing weight. I’m on my first diet ever. Today was my first 30 days and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds in my first month. That’s first time ever for that. So, I’m exploring what that is. I’d never paid much attention nutrition until the past few years and so. You’ll see pictures of me in that.
It’s really just a random thought of whatever I think about it that time, often just a reaction to what I see. People ask me questions or I’m sure I’ll probably get some feedback from this. So that should lead to some interesting musings.
PAM: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. Thanks again and have a great day, Bob. Bye.