Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

Sometimes, in order to be a good parent, you have to step outside your comfort zone. What works best for you may not actually be the best solution for the little ones, and in the grand scheme of things, their needs trump yours. You have to adapt and overcome. Mealtimes in our house are a good example of this.

We decided early on that we were going to place a high value on family meals. We always try to sit around the dinner table and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a good way to make sure that we’re connected with each other for at least part of the day, and it’s also helps teach the kids good manners. Every once in a while, we will order pizza and then sit in the living room while watching a movie, but we try to reserve that for special occasions and rewards.

We also want everyone to eat their meal. In order to facilitate this, we try to limit snacks throughout the day. That way the kids are hungry when meals roll around, and they eat what we put on their plate.

This works fine with our daughter. She’s always been big for her age and a healthy eater. As long as she likes the food (and there’s very few things that she doesn’t like), she will sit down for dinner and eat like a champ. Since she is our older child, we have become very comfortable with this routine over the years, and it works great.

Our son, on the other hand, is different. In some ways, he’s the polar opposite of his sister. While she has always hovered around the 95th percentile as far as height and weight, he dropped off the bottom of the chart when he was about 9 months old and has never been able to get back on it. He’s perfectly healthy in every way, but he’s just small. He also doesn’t eat as well as his sister. He’s more of a grazer than anything else. He doesn’t like to sit down and eat a lot at one time. He would much rather just keep eating small amounts throughout the day.

Obviously, this doesn’t fit into our plan very well. We’re very reluctant to give him a snack at 4:30 when dinner is only an hour away? How is he going to eat his meal if he’s been shoving trail mix in his mouth all day. Therefore, we just maintained the norm. For him, however, hunger doesn’t have much to do with his desire to eat. He could be starving, and he still wouldn’t eat everything on his plate at dinner. Since he’s such an active child, some days became a battle to ensure that calories in were greater than calories out.

Last November, my mother moved in with us. As I knew from growing up, she’s not against snacking throughout the day, and family meals are great, but they’re not a necessity. She doesn’t mind giving Little Dude a cup of raisins 45 minutes before lunch or giving him a cheese stick whenever he asks for one. At first, this made my wife and I fairly uncomfortable. In fact, I’m still not sure that we’re completely cool with it, but it appears to be working.

November was also the last time that we measured Little Dude against the wall. In the 3 months since then, he has grown about an inch and a half. That’s a huge leap for him, and it marks the largest growth spurt since he was born.

It just shows you that your way isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone. While we enforced the family meals and limited snacks with the best intentions, it wasn’t working for Little Dude. It took Military Gramma moving in with us to break us from our comfort zone and find a better solution. Sometimes, you just have adjust your way of thinking if you’re going to be the best father that you can.

The See-Saw Effect: Balancing the Daddy and Hubby Roles

I have to be love, relationships, understanding, sacrifice, support, mutuality, trying, forgiveness, failure, and success and I have to be the example of those things as well. If I am setting the wrong example, I am probably being the wrong husband. If I am being the wrong husband, I am probably being the wrong example. So the see-saw tips back and forth, but with a little more ease. I’m never going to be the perfect of either, but I can keep the rocking to a minimum. Those relationships are too important to let slip, and too intertwined to let go.

There are many things I was never told about, when it comes to parenting, before I had to experience them for myself. Perhaps it was intended this way because, honestly, the subject I am trying to tackle today is not an easy one. It is probably one of those things I am better off experiencing before the advice rolls in because it is not really something that someone outside can help with.

There are two definitive arguments that surround the topic of balancing being a dad and balancing being a husband. There is the side that says “Children don’t change your relationships, they only make them stronger” and “Children change your entire life and nothing is ever the same again”. Me, I’m with the latter of the two arguments. When you have children, it’s like signing a new job contract. The terms, conditions, and privacy clauses all change, and life starts all over again. Children are not just little beings that grow up in our house. Taking care of them is a full time job of itself. One, that you will never get paid for.

My wife and I had been married almost a year when our first child was born. We were still kind of riding that high of the “we just got married, life has never been better, and things couldn’t be more perfect” when that little pregnancy test told us that it would all change. Of course, times were a little harder for us then, so there was just as much stress as there was joy, but no matter, we were starting to add to our family and start a new life by creating life. Two years and 6 days later, we would have our second child and life would once again start over for us. Now, we would no longer be a family of three. We would be a family of four, with new challenges, and new routines. We would have new responsibilities and new stresses.

At that point, the see-saw tipped, and the back and forth motion began to get stronger. The balance of trying to be the best dad and best husband at the same time was upset, and so was I. To a great extent, I still am, which is why I write this today. It’s a difficult question to answer, there are a strong two-sides to it, and I have even asked many dads in the past to answer it. And this is where I ponder today. Which is more important: being a husband or being a dad? Please feel free to share your thoughts and answer in the comments below.

To me, the answer becomes clearer a little bit at a time. It is of great importance that I strive, strain, and try my best to be the best damn dad I an be for my children. It doesn’t matter if I am the greatest dad in the world, just that my children think so. It is of great importance that I strive, strain, and try my best to be the best damn husband I can be for my wife. It doesn’t matter if I am the greatest husband in the world, just that my wife thinks so. But is it possible to be good at one and not at the other?

My children look to me as the male who will influence them the most on things like love, relationships, understanding, sacrifice, support, mutuality, trying, forgiveness, failure, and success. My wife will look to me to be the best of all of these for her as she will need me to be. I look to my wife for the same, as I will need her to be. Being the influence of such strong topics to such strong willed and minded children is a daunting task, and never easy. And when things get rough, they get rough for everyone. When we are hurting, my children are hurting with us.

So the answer, I have to be both. I have to be love, relationships, understanding, sacrifice, support, mutuality, trying, forgiveness, failure, and success and I have to be the example of those things as well. If I am setting the wrong example, I am probably being the wrong husband. If I am being the wrong husband, I am probably being the wrong example. So the see-saw tips back and forth, but with a little more ease. I’m never going to be the perfect of either, but I can keep the rocking to a minimum. Those relationships are too important to let slip, and too intertwined to let go.

What’s been bugging me.

I don’t want to be the absentee dad who is there only in body but not in mind. I don’t want to be part-time. I want it all. I want them to look back on their younger years and see that I was right there beside of them, brushing teeth and wiping butts and playing Barbie and building Legos and dancing along with whatever version of Just Dance they put it. I want to be there. I will be there.

I’ve been so overwhelmed lately. Work has been crazy, as we’ve seen such a huge increase in traffic over the last few weeks (ask The DaddyYo Dude, he’s there for it. I saw it on his face last weekend), Hope’s spring semester of law school has started, the kids have been battling the crud (that’s what we call getting sick), and that damn dog keeps digging holes in the back yard. Ok, that last one doesn’t really bother me, but I did stand at the kitchen window and watch her dig two holes within 5 minutes yesterday morning. She’s a quick one.

There’s just so much going on, and it’s starting to drag me down. I just feel like I’m losing control, that I just can’t tighten my grip enough to make things go the way they should. To me, control is everything. I would wear the title “control freak” proudly, if it wasn’t for that “freak” part. Control Master would be more like it, or maybe Control Ninja or Control Jedi. Either one of those is fine. Anyway, when I’m not in control, or I feel like I am losing control, my brain automatically begins to analyze of all of the areas where breakdowns may occur, the areas that are slipping past me. Then I begin to troubleshoot all of the ways that I can turn it around and fix that breakdown of control. Seriously, you should see all of the schematics, notes, and thoughtmaps laying in my office.

So, when I began feeling this way a few weeks back, I started that process. I dissected everything that I didn’t have pinned down. I saw areas where I could tighten my grip, and came up with plans to wrestle control back from whoever had it other than myself. I went through with those plans and saw that things were starting to turn in my favor. It still didn’t help my feelings of being overwhelmed.

So, I dug a little deeper. There must be something there that I can change, something that will make all of this better. There had to be something that I missed. Maybe I’m just not organized enough. That’s it, I’ll work on my organization. I’m using my dayplanner to it’s full extent, using Evernote (if you haven’t yet, check out that app. It has absolutely changed my life. I spoke with an old business partner the other day that says the same thing. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I absolutely could not live without it now). I’m scheduling my tasks days in advance, and I’m spending time with my mentor every week. Still, it’s just not helping.

I shot through so many more ideas on what could be causing me so much stress, but I just couldn’t seem to find it. Then, today, I was lying on Gavin’s bed while he and Marley played on his computer. I wasn’t even paying much attention to them, as I was caught up in a conversation with one of my mangers through text. I didn’t even realize that she was asking me a question until she was right up in my face.

“Daddy, I asked you if I should put my feet up on Bubby’s desk, or if I should hang them over the side of the chair. You need to put your phone down and answer me, cause I want to know right now.” She was only inches from my face. Bright blue eyes, opened as wide as they could possibly go, just daring me to not pay attention. I’ve never seen a human’s eye out of the socket. I hear that it is gigantic, that you can only see a small part between their eyelids. I believe that, because I have never seen that much of a human’s eyeball until that moment. Blood vessels, cornea, iris, maybe even a little optical nerve. Grossed me out a little, but her eyes are just so cute that they pulled me right back in.

Let’s just think for a minute about the question that she asked me. Really, would the place where she put her feet matter in 30 minutes? No, it wouldn’t. Years from now, when she’s lying in her bed thinking about whatever social issues that are keeping her up that night, like what color headband to wear with those shoes or what she was going to do for her science experiment, would she really ever really remember sitting at her brother’s desk, fretting over where to put her feet?

No, she wouldn’t. Years or even just months from now it won’t really matter. Honestly, she has probably forgotten about it by now. That doesn’t matter in this case. What matters right now is right now. Right now she is truly confused on where to put her feet, on what the right thing to do is. Right now she is coming to me to help her solve a problem, and I can’t pull myself away from work long enough to help her out. She won’t remember what the issue was, but she will remember that I didn’t help her solve it. There it is, that’s what has been stressing me out.

I have let my work steal me away from my family. That kills me, drive me absolutely insane. I don’t want to be “that” Daddy. I don’t want to be the absentee dad who is there only in body but not in mind. I don’t want to be part-time. I want it all. I want them to look back on their younger years and see that I was right there beside of them, brushing teeth and wiping butts and playing Barbie and building Legos and dancing along with whatever version of  Just Dance they put it. I want to be there. I will be there.

So, I have made the decision to scale it back. I want to be successful, I want to grow my business, but not at the expense of my family. So, if you are getting this message after I have left work for the day, please leave a message at the beep, and I will return your call as soon as I am done playing Jedi Training Camp.

Cutting Through the Cute

Knowing that the tears will fall and my baby girl, that precious baby girl, will cry, probably scream, maybe even flail about like a marlin that has jumped on shore, just breaks my heart. No dad wants to see his little girl crying. Yet, when the time comes, there are those times that we have to stand our ground, and like Tom Petty, we won’t back down. It’s a tough, cruel world that causes a dad to have to go through that. Or… it’s a stubborn, tough as nails, independent, sassy little diva, who just uses her powers to the fullest.

My precious daughter has me wrapped so tight around her finger that it is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, cut off the circulation, makes your fingernail turn a funky purple/blue color before just dropping off like a melting icecicle. I’ve heard it said very often that most little girls become daddy’s girls. And that dads are just powerless against the awe that comes to them when becoming the dad of a daughter. I know, it’s such a sweet sentiment to adore my daughter so much that I have gone to work with painted toenails (pink and green) because we had to paint daddy’s toes that morning.

But there is an awful paradox to being so smitten by cuteness, beauty, and love. The same, sweet little daughter of mine, is also an independent, outspoken, and sometimes self-minded little diva. By this I mean she is bossy, she is pushy, and she knows exactly where the limit is, and pushes it to the limit, but never crosses the line. When the going gets tough, she meets opposition head on, never backing off, and always knowing which weapon to use. And this, of course, involves the most powerful weapon nicknamed “The Cute”.

Now, The Cute is a weapon of secretive complexity, and the capability to be adapted for use in any situation. Whether it is too avoid due punishment, or to win over the 7th cookie that the child should not be having, The Cute is extremely effective. LG has mastered the training and proper use of this weapon to a point that all of my intense ninja/knight/samurai defensive maneuvers are useless against it. From the crouching tiger to the hidden dragon, there is no move I can pull out that will aid me in my flight. I am pretty stern and steadfast when discipline needs to be upheld, but those eyes, those pouty lips, that one salty tear that forms at the the corner of those puppy eyes… well… they make it pretty difficult to dig in and hold on.

In fact, as I am writing this, there is an intense stare down going on over the thrown sippy cup, and not sharing. I’ll keep you posted on the progress later.

Cutting through to the core of The Cute is a rather daunting, and sometimes heartbreaking task. It’s one of those “this will hurt me more than it hurts you” kind of situations. Knowing that the tears will fall and my baby girl, that precious baby girl, will cry, probably scream, maybe even flail about like a marlin that has jumped on shore, just breaks my heart. No dad wants to see his little girl crying. Yet, when the time comes, there are those times that we have to stand our ground, and like Tom Petty, we won’t back down. It’s a tough, cruel world that causes a dad to have to go through that. Or… it’s a stubborn, tough as nails, independent, sassy little diva, who just uses her powers to the fullest.

[Update: The stare down has ended. She killed me with a sly shot of kissy face and fluttering eyes. Little Girl: 1 Daddy: 0]

So yeah, as I was saying, it’s not always an easy task. And in some cases, I will completely admit my powerlessness over the situation. When it comes to sharing a Little Debbie cake, or wanting to constantly be held, or sit in my lap, I will give in. No matter how hard I try, I will give in. Then there are those times where I will do the almost impossible, and let the crying commence. The Cute is indeed a powerful weapon, and I have a strong feeling it will always be adapting as the years go by.

Why Do They Like Me?

There are times when I honestly can’t figure out why my kids like me. Sometimes, when I reflect back on the day, it seems like all I did was tell them what to do and then punish them if it wasn’t done. When I try to look at myself through their eyes, all I see is a 15 foot tall, yelling monster. When I think about that, it’s impossible to like myself, much less see how anyone else could.

I hate punishing the kids, but I don’t shy away from it. I would love to be their best friend. Since I’m in the Navy and tend to spend large chunks of time away from home, I would love to be the “fun parent.” I would love to just let things slide, so everyone would be happy all the time when I am home. The problem is that I’m not their friend. I’m their father, and I have responsibilities. If I were to ignore those responsibilities, it would be horribly unfair to my wife in the short-term and the kids in the future.

We have rules in our house, and they are in place for a reason. If you break those rules, there are consequences. In our house, rule breakers are sentenced to time-outs and loss of privileges. In some cases, I have to raise my voice. My voice was genetically engineered for ships’ engine rooms. It’s deep, it’s loud, and it carries. I will sometimes scare myself when I yell. If I were to hear my voice coming from somebody that towered over me, I would legitimately be terrified. I have to assume that the kids are, and it breaks my heart.

Sometimes, I’m probably too strict with the rules. There are instances where I could let things slide, and no harm would be done. Sometimes, I get too worked up about small infractions. This is especially true when I’m dealing with my son who knows just how to push my buttons and isn’t afraid to do it. Sometimes, I feel like a tyrant that rules through fear. How could the kids look at that and feel any sort of positive emotion.

Despite all of this, the kids don’t just like me, they love me. They don’t just love me, they absolutely adore me. I look into their eyes, and I see a form of worship that I could never deserve. When I get home from work, they are actually ecstatic to see me. I can’t leave the house in the morning without giving each of them at least 25 hugs and kisses. When they get hurt, they come to me to be comforted. It defies logic.

I’ve discussed this with my wife before. When I told her that I don’t understand why they like me, her answer was simply, “You’re their daddy,” but it has to be something more than that. That reason just isn’t enough for me. There has to be something more. I do play with them. I get on the floor and let them crawl all over me. I read them books when I have the energy and watch movies with them when I don’t. When I stack all of these things up against the sight of me raising my voice, however, it just doesn’t level out. The scales have to still be tipped towards horrifying tyrant.

I’ve thought about this conundrum from every possible angle. Surely, there has to be some clue that will unravel this entire mystery. There has to be an undiscovered fundamental law of the universe that would explain the situation. As I continue to ponder it, there’s only one possible explanation. My wife is right. They really do love me simply because I am their daddy.

That’s an incredibly humbling thought. They love me, unconditionally, for no other reason than I am their father. That is an amazing responsibility. How can anyone possibly live up to that? When I look into those eyes, and I see that love, all I can think is, “I don’t deserve it.”

It just reinforces what I already knew. Fatherhood is one of the most sacred duties on the planet. I probably don’t deserve that adoration that they give me, and maybe I never will. I’m certainly going to try though. When faced with unreal expectations, the only course of action is to try to achieve them. When you realize that your children love you without question, you have to try to be the best father you can and try to earn that love. Unfortunately, part of that is enforcing the rules. Part of that is telling them they’ve done something wrong and teaching them to not do it anymore. Part of that is raising your voice and then questioning yourself long after everyone else has gone to bed.

Living up to that level of love is impossible, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Luckiest Man Alive

With good, there is bad. With greatness, there is weakness. And where there is winning, there is failure. So where do I go from here? I head to the medicine cabinet, take some ibuprophen, take a deep breath, and I get my head out of my rear and get back in the game. This is what I signed up for. This is where I wanted to be. And now, this is where I am. I’ll learn more about taking the bad with a grain of salt and taking the good as memories to treasure. I will put my family ahead of me just as much now as I did as a full-time working parent. I will praise the blessings I am given, and learn to live as the luckiest man on Earth.

As I have said before, I am finding out quickly that being a stay at home parent is not as easy as it had seemed before I started spending more time at home. There is so much than can happen in the course of one day, and very rarely will a day go the way I hope it will. Sure, we plan out a nice evening walk before bath and bedtime. But we don’t plan the trip off of the curb, the busted knee, the sudden rain, or running from the homeless dog. We plan to have a bed jumping competition, but we don’t plan on the tantrum that ends the competition before it even begins. I plan to get certain things done throughout the day, then I plan on the plans getting ruined, and something even ruins that plan.

Recently, it seems that I have found myself growing more tired and more angry as the days we have had have not lived up to my expectations. Things are rarely getting done on schedule, rarely going anywhere close to the way we planned, and of course, there is the ever present sibling rivalry. Days that I just feel like pulling my beard out and letting out the loudest yell possible are the norm. Discipline doesn’t seem to be working, diversion doesn’t work, and some days, I just want to give up and go back to working full time again.

Then I had a kind of “life changing epiphany”. It wasn’t really an epiphany at all. More of a realization that I already knew about but was ignoring. I won’t go into detail about it here but you can read a little bit about it on my blog. I have a new goal set for myself and a new outlook on life as I move on with the new year. In all the soul searching, mind searching, and the craving for something a little better than the man I am right now, a big realization hit me. Despite the bad days, bad experiences, or what have you, I am the luckiest man alive. The fact that I have life and breath makes me lucky enough. Scratch that, I am blessed to have those things. But I have allowed the bad to blind the good to the point that I have failed to see just how lucky I really am.

I have spent 10 years in the restaurant industry, with a few breaks for working car washes and a factory that made lead/acid batteries for cars, boats, and golf carts. I have worked my ass off, my mind away, and literally gone days without seeing my kids before. Well, not awake at least. They were in bed when I left and asleep when I got home. For so long I have wanted to be the one getting puked on, pooped on, dealing with the fighting, the tantrums, and all that comes with being the at-home parent. Well, okay, that’s a lie. I wanted to be home with my children, playing games, watching TV, doing all that fun stuff you read about so much or see on the television machine. Then the reality of it all set in. I signed up for a lot more than I was really prepared for, or that I really knew about.

Here I went on a selfish binge of only thinking of myself, my stress, my tiredness, me me me me me. And I was blinded to the biggest reality of it all. I am the luckiest man alive. I got to do exactly what I wanted to do and start being home a lot more often. I see my children more, I get to work with the blog more, I get to spend 5 days a week not having to worry about what time I get a break, or who is calling in, or what manager I’m going to piss off. Bartimus Prime knows where I am coming from on that one. I got to finally take a little time out of a stressful job, and be with my family. And I was stupid to think about myself.

With good, there is bad. With greatness, there is weakness. And where there is winning, there is failure. So where do I go from here? I head to the medicine cabinet, take some ibuprophen, take a deep breath, and I get my head out of my rear and get back in the game. This is what I signed up for. This is where I wanted to be. And now, this is where I am. I’ll learn more about taking the bad with a grain of salt and taking the good as memories to treasure. I will put my family ahead of me just as much now as I did as a full-time working parent. I will praise the blessings I am given, and learn to live as the luckiest man on Earth.

Let the Kids Help

My biggest shortcoming as a Naval officer is definitely my ability (or lack thereof) to delegate. I would much rather just do the job myself and make sure it’s done correctly than take the time to train someone else and then check their work afterwards. This is something that I try to work on, but (as with anything worth doing), it’s not easy. As I gain rank and responsibility, however, it’s going to become critical for my sanity.

I sincerely wished that this fault only extended towards my career. Unfortunately, it seems to apply to the kids as well. If I can get the dishes done in 15 minutes, why should I let the kids help when I usually end up redoing their work and it takes me twice as long? If I’m cleaning up the back yard, do you realize how much time I will have to spend cleaning them afterwards? When they help vacuum, they inevitably get in the way or run over the dog. It just seems to be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Of course, it seems that way because I don’t actually realize what that worth is. There are three great reasons to let the kids help out around the house.

The first reason is that they actually want to help. How refreshing is that? They want to help you unload the washing machine and put together the new bookcase. I have to imagine that this particular attitude isn’t going to last forever. It’s probably a good idea to take advantage of it while we can.

The second reason is that it does teach them how to do things. Maybe loading the dishwasher isn’t necessarily the most crucial life skill, but it’s certainly something that will come in handy. It’s much better to teach them these things when they actually want to learn.

The third reason is that if they’re helping you, they’re not doing something that they shouldn’t. They are right there beside you the entire time. If they’re helping you get the cord out of the vacuum because they managed to run it over for the third time, they’re definitely not trying to break into your medicine chest.

I’ll use the one instance where I actually succeed with this subject as an example. The favorite meal in our house is when I make chicken fried steaks. Since we don’t eat red meat, I use pork cutlets, and everyone loves it. This is the meal that our daughter actually requests for her birthday. Making the meal has turned into a family affair where both kids get to help.

There’s three stages to the breading process. First, the cutlet is coated with flour. Then, it’s dropped in an egg wash. Finally, it is coated with a flour/corn meal/seasoning mixture. We set up a sort of assembly line process. Our son (2 y/o) will take the meat and put it in the flour, flipping it to make sure that both sides are coated. He’ll then drop it in the egg wash. From there, our daughter (5 y/o) will take the pork and coat it in the final mixture. I’ll then take it and start cooking it up.

Does this process take about twice as long as it would if I did it by myself? Absolutely. You have to be pretty watchful since there’s raw pork and eggs involved, and cleaning 18 layers of flour, corn meal, and paprika of their hands is always a challenge. It’s worth it though. The kids have a great time. They are helping out, and they’re learning a little bit about cooking. Best of all, they are exactly where I can see them, and they’re not doing something crazy like trying to complete the perfect bunk bed swan dive. It’s a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, they actually like dinner more because they helped to make it.

If only I could make myself be this patient and understanding with everything else.

One day, there will be no surprises.

It happens almost every single day. I even ask them, just to double check and possibly prevent it from happening. The kids disappear for awhile, sometimes announcing what they are doing, sometimes secretly and privately. They are only off of the grid for a minute, before Marley asks for a book and a cover, or Gavin just yells throughout the house what his status is. That’s right, it’s potty time. Not just any potty time, but good-ol, hunkered down, gonna be here a minute potty time.

That’s not what gets me. I understand the digestive system very well. I have changed hundreds of diapers, so I have experience. I’ve also had a very active digestive system for over 30 years now, so there are no surprises. I know what goes on in there, I’ve been right there during the training, and I’ve assisted in the post-duty clean-up. I’m ok with that, as I know that’s what people do. What gets me are the little surprises when I walk into the bathroom, sometimes hours after they were in there.

For whatever reason, it infuriates me. I have even gone so far as to make “If it’s brown, flush it down” our house mantra. It doesn’t seem to help. As soon as I see either kid emerge from their private time, I ask two questions: 1. Did you wash your hands? It’s just common sense, and good personal hygiene. I happen to work in an industry where I wash my hands upwards of 30 times a day, so I expect others to do the same. I’m not a germ-a-phobe by any means, but please, for the love of all things holy, wash your mitts. And 2. Did you flush? Again, it’s just common sense, but COME ON!!!! We have long since left the years of out-houses and port-a-potties. I’m not Jed Clampett, you’re not Ellie Mae, so FLUSH! We’re not working on some underpass out on I81, so FLUSH! It’s not even that hard! You can push the lever with one finger! It’s so sensitive that sometimes it flushes just by my looking at it. Maybe it’s afraid of me, that it knows what’s coming next.

I hardly ever use that bathroom, for just that reason. When I do, however, I almost always expect a surprise. I can’t count the times that I’ve lifted the lid, ever so slowly, peering underneath in the grasp of extreme fear of what I might see. Sometimes I spy a corner of paper before the lid is very high, so I can quickly drop the guillotine and flush. Sometimes I think I’m in the clear, only to be sorry for my haste. Here lately, I think they are doing it on purpose. No matter how hard I try to convey to them that what happens in there is a very personal experience and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone else, they just don’t seem to get it. Maybe they just don’t care, or maybe they take joy in it.

So after I was surprised this last time, I started thinking about it as I would in my restaurant: there is a problem that needs to be fixed. Here is where we currently are, which is an issue. Here is where we need to be, which involves crystal clear water, no floaters, and a fresh, clean scent. Here are the people involved, and the resources at my disposal. Should be an easy fix. So I start working on an action plan. I inform everyone of the issue, where we are currently, what our end result will be, and what steps we will take to achieve said result. I’m feeling pretty good about this, feeling fairly in control and like  I’m making a difference. We start working on this. I think we are making progress. I ask qualifying questions (did you wash your hands and flush). Depending on the answer and the reaction, I ask reaffirming questions (are you sure, let me smell your hands). I then rest assured that we are moving forward.

Hours later, I walk in the hall bathroom, and guess what I find? Sigh. Now it’s just my fault. I mean, when a cook tells me that we are out of olives, guess what I do? I go check. When a bartender tells me that she blew the last keg of Bud Light, what do I do? I go check. When a prep cook tells me that they can’t finish making salad mix because we are out of romaine lettuce, what do I do? That’s right, I check. I drop whatever I’m doing at that time, no matter how important, and I walk back to where said item is held, and I inspect myself. Throughout the years I have learned that people are lazy, have glaucoma, or are just plain ridiculous. Nine times out of 10 the product is there, despite what they tell me. They know that I will do this, so they always double check before they tell me.

You would think that I would apply this to my home life. I want to, I really do, but I can’t. I’m sorry, but for whatever reason, I do not feel that inspecting the toilet for loiters is what I was put on this earth to do. I will deal with the frustration, the endless questions, and the constant fear of surprise rather than march directly into the throne room and check the drop vault for remnants, for a deposit that got hung up. I refuse. Therefore, I will live this eternal “Groundhog’s Day” of sorts, and I will bitch about it daily. Gives me something to do.

One day, though, there will be no surprises.

As Real as it Gets

It is my hope that this logic becomes infectious this year. That the definition of what a real man is will change in the minds of those who are most influential, most heard, most revered by popular culture. It’s just my thought that they could just fuel the revolution in ways that we cannot. But the fight does begin with us. And it is time to do something about it.

It’s not just the sweet, the cute, and the innocent things children do that will take your breath away. It’s also the bruised noggins, the busted lips, broken bones, ear piercing tantrums, randomly thrown toys, first time outs, first punishments, late night explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. It’s getting into bed at 1am only to be up at 4am with a screaming newborn who is hungry enough to eat a horse every few hours. It’s getting your child in an alligator hold to get them to take medicine so you don’t have puke and snot everywhere on you. Sound appealing yet?

Probably not. But that’s okay. But it is important to understand one thing: Parenting is not always appealing. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, and it’s not always rewarding. It is tiring, it is stressing, it is frustrating. Being a good dad is not about being happy, being perfect, and being the best friend your child can ever have. It’s about being there. Being there through the bad as well as the good. Being there for the rough as well as the smooth sailing. No matter how it’s going, it’s all about being there.

It pains me to listen to half of the garbage that comes across the radio these days. Listening to the messed up view of what being a real man is. It almost makes me sick. Sure you can stick through the hard times, like prison, getting shot, wrecking your car, overdosing on drugs, or what the hell ever. But on the other side of it all is a woman who is suffering through a painful, 15 hour labor, giving birth to a child that you will turn your back to, will never know you, and will never have a father that they deserve. How much of a real man is that being?

I just have to wonder what we are letting the world perceive as the definition of being “real”. This is something that I ponder quite often. As we stand up and try to change the face of fatherhood, what are we doing to stand up against the things that are destroying what we strive for? Do people really just have that big of a misconception of what being a real man is?

This, the parenting, the discipline, the doctoring, the late nights, the early mornings, this is as real as it gets. This is what we live for. Day in, day out, week after year, fast year after fast year. Without second thought we go through the worst as well as the best because it is who we are. It is our calling as dads to be there, regardless of what is going on. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be perfect, and it’s not going to be what we think it will. In parenting, if everything is going the way you want it to, then something is going majorly wrong.

That’s just the way I see it. Maybe it’s because I am here, I am willing to put up with the crap, and I am blessed even when things aren’t going so swell. It is my hope that this logic becomes infectious this year. That the definition of what a real man is will change in the minds of those who are most influential, most heard, most revered by popular culture. It’s just my thought that they could just fuel the revolution in ways that we cannot. But the fight does begin with us. And it is time to do something about it.

The difference between you and I

You’re a dad. I’m a dad. We love our kids. We shower them with affection, we roll in the floor with them, and we read them bed-time stories. We wash butts, we brush teeth, and we cook macaroni and cheese. It tends to be more Spongebob macaroni than any other, but it’s still macaroni and cheese. We wash clothes, we fold clothes, and we pick out clothes for school, for play, and for bed. We are jungle gyms, swing sets, and monkey bars. We are pogo sticks, ladders, and horsies. However, we are not the same.

There is such a small difference, but it makes me feel so far removed from you. My child has never told me that he loves me. I know that he does, and I don’t need to hear it to convince me. He tells me that I’m awesome, he compares me to Chuck Norris (hey, in this house, that’s one step below bright light), and he includes me in his play. He asks me to build legos, he asks me play chase, and he asks me to play Wii. He doesn’t hug, but he “trust bumps”. He doesn’t kiss, but he high-fives. He doesn’t make eye-contact, but he doesn’t stray far from me in public. He doesn’t tell me with his words, but he tells me with his interactions.

The difference between you and I is that I’m a special needs parent. You are who you are, what you do, and who you influence. You are the job you have, the people you know, and the Klout you have. I gave that up, although not when I first received the diagnosis. I gave it up when I decided that he was more important than I. I am a special needs father, and advocate, a rock. I am a provider, a solace, someone to be angry at when things don’t go according to plan. I am the easy out, the scapegoat, and the enemy. I am his biggest fan, his supporter, and the one that will keep him focused on what he needs.

I can learn from you, and I deeply envy you. Don’t get me wrong, I would never trade one single aspect of my life for anything out there. I love the struggles, the joys, and the laughs, but I sometimes wonder what life is like across the fence. So I look to you for advice, for normality, and for measurement. I know that we are worlds apart, but we are so close. While our children’s development may be different, the roles we play in their lives aren’t. Our outlooks, purposes, and agendas may be slightly different, but we both have the same end result in mind: raising healthy, well prepared individuals with the ability to change the world. Just so happens that mine will do it with untied shoes and mismatched jammies.

Watching from a Distance: With Tearful Eyes

At a critical stage for development in them, I reach a critical stage of backing off. The new year roles around and so do many changes. I’m sure there will be many memories made, many new things learned. And plenty of opportunities to just sit back and watch.

Yes indeed, the year is about at it’s end. So much can happen in the course of 365 days. There are a lot of memories to be made, a lot of learning that can occur, and a lot of growing up to be done. During the last 12 months, we have seen a lot of change, a lot of growing, and have made a lot of memories. In looking back to the beginning of the year, and looking upon all of the events of the year, I turn my focus to the kids.

My, oh my how they have grown. Physically, and as their own little persons. I look back in amazement at how much they have learned, how much they can do, and how much of an individual both of them have become. I know at this point next year, I will be saying these same exact words. I’m pretty sure I did this time last year too. This year however, it is with somewhat tearful eyes I look on.

Looking towards the past, or off into the future, is always looking from a distance. Looking from a spot that requires a different angle, a different focus. With a somewhat tearful eye, I know that for me, the future will require watching my children from more of a distance as well. As they learn and they grow, they will continue to grow more independent of my guidance and my hand. They will be striding on down life’s road a little further ahead of me than they have in the past. For me, it’s a hard realization to come to grips with. After four years of being the working parent, and missing out on so much, I am finally home with the kids on most days. And now that I am home more, I have to disengage a little more. Just doesn’t seem right does it?

The fact is, it is exactly what is right for my children at this stage. They are more than eager to explore the world around them without as much guidance and security from myself and my wife. They are more confident, more aware of dangers, and maybe a little more cocky too. They know a greater understanding of right versus wrong, and good versus bad. They have their boundaries and are ready to push as close as they can to the edge of said boundaries. It is truly an amazing thing in itself. To think that my two little munchkins are their own people now. They have their own agendas, own plans for the day, and their own imagination of what more could be possible during the hours they are awake.

Of course, I want to be right there. Grabbing on before every may or may not be fall. I want to be constantly telling them that something is not safe, or not a good idea, or whatever. But I can’t. I shouldn’t, and I don’t know quite how to feel. I am proud of the individuals they are becoming. Don’t get me wrong about that. I want to raise strong, reliable, independent individuals in my kids. But for so long, I have been the playmate, the lunch maker, the guardian of all toys, and protector. And now? Now I’m like the spotter in a NASCAR race. I don’t watch a lot of racing anymore, but I’m pretty sure they still use spotters. They let the drivers do their thing, but they watch from a distance giving the best advice possible and hoping he driver can do the right thing with the information.

I guess I won’t be the only one learning things in this new year. As they learn their new boundaries, new abilities, and new limits, I will also be learning these things about them. And I will be learning to watch from a distance. At a critical stage for development in them, I reach a critical stage of backing off. The new year roles around and so do many changes. I’m sure there will be many memories made, many new things learned. And plenty of opportunities to just sit back and watch.

My Secret Weapon

Being a parent is exhausting whether you’re a single, stay-at-home/work-at-home, or working parent. As one of the latter, I’m usually tired before I get home. I’m normally awake around 5:15 and out the door by 6:00. I’m currently on shore duty, and while my current job isn’t necessarily difficult, it is still taxing in it’s own ways. I drive to work about half the time which involves about an hour round-trip on the San Diego freeways. The rest of the time, I ride the bus which is much more relaxing, but takes about twice as long. I’m normally fairly tired by the time I get home.

Most days, I get a second wind as I walk through the door. Whether it’s from the joy of seeing the kids, or their ridiculous amount of energy rubs off on me, I’ll usually feel pretty rejuvenated for about an hour or so. Of course, adults aren’t built to operate at the levels of a 2 year old, so I quickly wear back down. This is when I am sometimes forced to break out my secret fatherhood weapon.

Before, I go into this, I need to make sure that every reader has gone through a thorough background check. This weapon can’t be taken lightly, and it comes with great responsibility? Background checks complete? Then, let’s go.

This is a weapon that is so powerful and so brilliant in its simplicity that it should be illegal in 49 states (nothing is illegal in Nevada). It has the ability to turn a situation where the kids are going crazy and you have no control into a situation where the kids are still going crazy but you have a slight amount of control. For those of you without kids, that probably doesn’t seem like much of a change, but ask the nearest parent, and you’ll realize how valuable that can be.

My secret weapon is incredibly simple. There is no assembly required and no moving parts. It’s incredibly inexpensive. In fact, it’s absolutely free. There are only 3 pieces required. You need to have at least 1 child with energy levels that could power a small island, 1 exhausted father that can no longer keep up, and 1 relatively soft surface.

There is only 1 real instruction for how to operate the weapon. Take the 1 exhausted father and put him in a horizontal position on the relatively soft surface. The rest will take care of itself. Now, some of you are probably saying, “Hang on, I take naps all the time, and it doesn’t solve anything. It just makes my significant other upset and the kids continue on as they always were.” Well, there’s a slight twist, and it does not involve you actually taking a nap (as tempting as it may be). The kicker is that the relatively soft surface needs to be on the floor in an area where the kids like to play. I call my secret weapon the “Simplylieonthefloor-inator” (I watch way too much Phineas and Ferb), and here’s how it works.

Step 1: You lie down on the floor.

Step 2: The kid(s) notice that you are comfortably resting on the floor.

Step 3: The kid(s) decide that this will not stand.

Step 4: The kid(s) begin playing in your immediate vicinity, and in most cases, directly on top of you.

This may not seem worthy of true “-inator” status, but think about it. You are doing absolutely nothing. You can even think about it as pacing yourself or replenishing your tank. In the mean time, you know exactly where the kids are and what they are doing because it is happening directly on your spine. Trust me when I say that there is no way kids can resist a parent lying on the floor. It’s like a snot magnet. They will show up every time. You are also bonding with your kids in a wierd, twisted way. Are you actually talking to them? Not necessarily, although you’re always welcome to. You are, however, connecting with them because you’re at their level and in their vicinity. You are expending absolutely zero calories, but your kids are loving it. They are climbing all over one of their heroes. How is that not awesome?

Now, there are a few guidelines that you should follow when using this weapon. First, I cannot stress “relatively soft surface” enough. When flying toddler butt meets exhausted dad head, you don’t want your cranium supported by granite tiles. It might quickly sour you on the Simplylieonthefloor-inator.

Location is also important. When deciding on your relatively soft surface, you want to go through a mental check list. Is the surface soft (Seriously! Make sure it’s soft!)? Check! Will the kids be able to find me and safely play in the area? Check! Is it clear of any hazardous objects like dirty laundry and litter boxes? Check!

Be advised that a small pain threshold is also recommended. Knees will meet ears, elbows will meet spleens, and feet will meet…basically everything. Personally, I like to lie on my stomach because it covers most of the really vulnerable spots. If you work it out right, it can also be beneficial for your health. Do you have back problems? This can turn into a horribly uncoordinated and pretty inefficient massage. That’s better than nothing.

One of the problems with this weapon is that it is so secret even I forget to use it. I’ll come home exhausted and decide that putting a movie on is the best option. In general, I’m not against TV, and I think it provides valuable bonding experiences of its own, but for my money, the Simplylieonthefloor-inator is far superior.

In all seriousness, simply lying on the floor is one of the best things that you can do as a father. The kids absolutely love it, and you are able to bond with them. There have been times where I have gotten down there and not moved at all. There have been other times where my energy has magically returned, and I turned into a horsey. There was also one time where I chose my spot poorly and picked a location where our barely house-trained dog had an accident that we didn’t know about, but hopefully, that won’t be a problem for you.

In closing, there’s a phrase that I used to use pretty often but have forgotten about lately that pretty much sums up my parenting strategy. When all else fails, simply lie on the floor.

Where thumbs go

Some of you may have already come across this post. It’s one from the vault, but it happens to be one of my favorites. It’s actually one of Apsie’s favorites, too, as when we talk about the blog he always seems to mention the mixture of Fruity Pebbles and gin. I love the fact that he is so enthusiastic about it, and laughs hysterically when we talk about it. So, hopefully you will enjoy it as much as he does.

 

I. Love. Structure. So it’s very fitting that Gav thrives under it. Like most Aspies, he seems to have a much, much better day if we stick to a schedule. It helps even more if he knows the schedule well, or if he can see the schedule. Hope figured this out a while back, and made a white board with his day lined out for him to read about. It starts when he wakes up, has a scheduled time to get ready for school, a time for school, two blocks of free-time, a time for home-work and a shower, and bed time. I love it. I wish she would do that for me. I mean, if I knew that from 10:15-10:18 that I was going to be brushing my teeth, or that from 8:10-8:40 I would be knee-deep in free-time, I’d be a happy, happy man. Gav is a lot like me in this respect, so we try our best to stick to the schedule and make him a happy, happy mufkin.

There is a scheduled time for dinner, and it follows family time for a reason. We try to play games at family time and at dinner that encourage his interaction with others and help him learn to initiate conversation. These games are great, and I have learned so much about the people sitting around the table. They are so much fun, too, which is probably why they are so productive. They can be loud and spirited, which, in all honesty, would be how we ended up, regardless of the game. I’m pretty sure that we have the loudest Wii tournaments in the neighborhood. The kids and I played checkers outside of Cracker Barrel one day, and I soon noticed that we were being stink-eyed from every single Grandma and Grandpa that walked by, their sour faces frowning at our ever-increasing level of debauchery. Can’t help it, we’re a family of yellers. We holler when we get excited.

Last night, we are playing one of the games, and everyone is into it. Marley decides to act out her new ballet moves, but only from the waist up, and that gets Gav laughing so hard that he hasn’t said a word in minutes. If you have spent more than 5 minutes with the boy, you know that is something to talk about. Marley is really hamming it up, so we’re all laughing. I’m watching her twirl her hands over her head, fingers pointed oh-so-perfectly, while she has her eyes opened so wide that I can actually see the curvature of her eyeballs. Could be optical nerve I just saw, could be her dinner wiped on her head. All the while her hair is stuck to her forehead in a giant glob of ranch dressing, but that is nothing compared to the chunk of salmon on her cheek. It so big I can see the seasoning on it. Her mouth is puckered as if she is she is sucking on the thickest milkshake ever served, and she is making this really weird humming noise, like when you’ve vacuumed up something that was never meant to enter a vacuum.

I’m handling it well, but maybe just  because I find myself mimicking her facial expressions and watching her hands as if she’s a Hawaiian hula dancer telling the story of her ancestors’ escape from the volcano. Hope is laughing so hard that she is making a sound much like Marley’s, but only when she inhales. It’s really high-pitched and sounds like that obnoxious bike horn Mammoo just bought Marley. You know, the one where you squeeze the horn and it squeaks for about 30 mind-numbing seconds. Dogs die from those sounds, you know. I’m really worried about her, because she’s turning colors, but I decide that if she passes out, she will start to breathe normally again and all will be right.

I still haven’t heard Gav for a while, so I check him out. He’s still laughing, though not as hard as Hope, but enough to tell me that he’s enjoying the puppet show. Then I notice that his thumb is missing. I see all 9 other fingers, but no thumb. It should be there, I mean, he hasn’t been working on any running lawn mowers or using a circular saw, so where is his left thumb. Oh, there it is, up his nose.

Personally, I like to use the pinky for excavating. It’s smaller than the others, so it can maneuver in tight spaces a little better. I’ve used a forefinger, too, and have even experienced some success with a middle finger. I usually only pull that one out when I’m trying to make a statement, but it’s always there if I need it. Never, ever, have I even THOUGHT about using my thumb. It’s just so big and awkward, there’s only one joint, and then you have to worry about what to do with all the other fingers while you’re employing ol’ chubs to do some mining. Do you straighten them all out, like you’re waving, or do you ball them up into a fist? Seems menacing.

Anyway, I felt the need to address this issue. “You know, I don’t think the thumb is the best digit to use for digging out crusties, buddy.” Yes, this was actually a conversation that we had at the dinner table. I then proceeded to explain that the pinky was prime, followed closely by the first finger. I explained why I thought the thumb should be used for other jobs and not jammed up a nostril, all while Gav just stared at me blankly, thumb still one joint deep in his gold mine. I repeated my first sentence, word for word. “I don’t think the thumb is the best digit to use for digging out crusties, buddy.”

What did my Aspie reply with? “It is if you lick it first, Daddy,”

I have a strong stomach. I’ve changed some diapers that looked like someone melted a small Nicaraguan child in them. I’ve cleaned up gifts brought by the stomach bug that resembled what would happen if you fed your cat Fruity Pebbles and gin, then shook it up really, really hard. This was nothing compared to what I had just witnessed. I gagged a little, which he thought was hilarious. I tried to draw attention away from it by announcing that I didn’t think it was possible for a thumb to fit in a nostril.

“Mine does, too, Daddy.” I look across the table to see Marley with not one, but two thumbs up her nose. Sitting next to her is her mother, soon to be a lawyer, who is so conscious of how she is perceived, so that it doesn’t hurt her chances when she takes the bar exam or applies to firms. What is she doing? That’s right, testing out the fit of her thumb in her nostril.

You know I gotta try mine out, too. Guess what? It fits.

I bet you’re trying yours, right now. I bet some of you already did a few paragraphs back. Shame on you. Please wash your hands before commenting on this post.

Friend vs. Parent

I hate disciplining our kids. I absolutely despise having to yell at them, and it normally ruins my entire night. I’ll kick myself for letting the situation get that far, and I’ll lie awake at night questioning my methods. If you ever heard your parents say, “This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you,” you probably thought, “Yeah right.” It turns out that they were telling the truth the entire time.

I would much rather just let them have their way. I would rather say, “Sure, they might not be listening, but they sure are having fun climbing over the back of the sofa.” Instead of fighting them to go to bed every night, I’d like to just let them stay up until they fell asleep watching movies. When they ask me if they can watch an entire Phineas and Ferb marathon, I would love to say yes. These are all things that I want to do because it would make the kids happy, which makes them smile. Every parent just wants to see their kid smile. If I were a good friend to them, that’s what I would do.

Alas, I’m not their friend. I’m their father. While those two roles are allowed to intersect at certain points, they are not the same thing. While I love making my kids happy and granting their wishes, those are not my primary responsibilities. More than anything else, my job is to help ensure that they become good human beings and, in some extreme cases, simply survive the day.

Climbing over the back of the couch is awesome fun, and to be honest, I would love to join them. Our floors are granite, however, and in the battle of granite and skull, those tiles are going to win every time. They need to be told to stop.

I know they don’t want to go to bed. They’re young enough that everything is new and exciting, and they don’t want to miss any of it. I understand, and I’m sorry that it makes them sad (or, in my son’s case, mad). If we stayed up until midnight playing Candy Land, they would eventually fall asleep on their own anyway, so what’s the issue? They need to sleep. It helps them grow, and the body needs time to repair and recharge itself. Therefore, the nightly struggle has to take place.

I’m always fighting the war when it comes to parent vs. friend. There is a fine line that you have to walk. Your kids have to understand that you will keep them on the right track when it comes to right and wrong and add discipline as necessary. On the flipside, they need to know that they can talk to you about anything. It’s a balancing act that circus performers would be proud of.

As with most things, the easy way isn’t necessarily the best way. It’s easy to let your kids play in the trash and chase each other with forks. It’s hard to make them stop. It’s difficult to discipline, and it’s incredibly difficult to enforce the same rules consistently.

The bottom line is that being a parent is one of the most sacred duties that exists. We are shaping the futures of actual human beings and not taking that responsibility seriously can have drastic results. As much as my kids want me to be their best friend, they need me to be their father.

Keeping the Holidays Spirited

The world does not have enough compassion, enough love, enough hope. Remember the hopes and dreams you had as a kid? Somewhere, we have lost sight of the joy and the peace these hops and dreams bring. But it was never just us. This holiday season, teach your kids that it is never just us. There is a whole world of people with hopes and dreams.

The holidays are always such a magical time for children. There’s the lights, the sounds, the enthusiasm. Kids all over the world are celebrating many different holidays around this time of year. In our house, we are getting ready for Christmas this weekend. The presents are wrapped, the tree is lit up, and the kids absolutely cannot stand the fact they still have a few days left before they can open presents.

I remember when I was a kid and the excitement that the holidays brought. I would sneak out of my room early in the morning to take a peek at what Santa had left me. Then, of course, there was the night I did just that to find my parents sleeping on the living room floor, waiting for my early morning arrival. There were also Christmas parties, caroling, church activities, and riding around to see the lights all over town and at the zoo. It was true magic at the time.

Growing up, I never would have known if we were rich or poor. To this day, I really can’t answer that question. But then again, it never mattered in the first place. My parents made sure that we knew that the holidays were not about the gifts we wanted or the gifts we got. In fact, it wasn’t about the gifts at all. We were always reminded of why we had these holidays, their meanings to us, and what the true spirit was all about. Gifts are nice, anytime of year, but there is a bigger focus to be looked upon during these holidays.

In an age of instant gratification and material excess, it becomes ever more important that we teach our children about the true spirit of the holiday season. Religion doesn’t matter, tradition doesn’t matter, and the gifts don’t matter. This is a time to be reminded to think about our fellow humans. It is a time to remember that we all have wishes, we all have dreams, and we all have that hope that life still holds magic, and is still ours to grab by the horns.

This holiday season, it is my hope that we will draw just as much attention to these facts as we do making sure they get what they want. It is my hope that our children will exit this holiday season with a sense of others. The world does not have enough compassion, enough love, enough hope. Remember the hopes and dreams you had as a kid? Somewhere, we have lost sight of the joy and the peace these hops and dreams bring. But it was never just us. This holiday season, teach your kids that it is never just us. There is a whole world of people with hopes and dreams. There is a whole world that desperately needs compassion, love, and less self. Let’s fill this world with these things starting by filling ourselves with a senseless heart, and passing on the sense of others to our children.

Sweating a Sex Education Class for Fathers and Sons

I watched as fathers and their sons entered the auditorium for the evening’s edification. Each pair sat side by side, talking to one another in hushed voices, as if waiting for a funeral to commence. I quelled my tension by trying to place myself in my son’s situation. Surely he must be feeling weirder than I about being dragged to yet another event “that’s good for him.” I was careful not to squirm.

Fatherhood continues to amaze, delight and enrich me. I just went to a sex education class with my 11 year-old son, and yes, I was secretly dreading it.

My wife signed us up. She was almost giddy from the program’s great reviews she’d heard through her ever-flowing moms’ grapevine. “Everyone says it’s the best… you’ll love it,” she exclaimed.

I wasn’t so sure. The reality of a graphic immersion into the world of human sexuality with my offspring without the props of a punch line or locker room towel snap was a bit off putting.

Yet daddy duty called, and as a father who strives to be aware and there, I certainly endorsed the concept of a truthful discussion about the challenges of puberty, sexuality, reproduction and the like.

Driving… slowly… to the appointment with my son, who now rides in the front passenger seat next to me, I wondered why I felt so apprehensive. A memory of my own father’s dilemma about this subject made me smile with some understanding.

You see, my dad, while a college professor and exhaustively loquacious on most subjects, played hooky when it came to discussing sex with me.

When I was in my early teen years, long after I’d learned the playground buzz of the birds and bees and even taken some experimental sprints at some of the “bases,” my dad said he wanted to show me something. He led me upstairs into his bedroom, opened the top drawer of his dresser, and lifted up a pile of handkerchiefs to reveal a box of condoms.

I still remember the brand: Ramses. I guess the manufacturer of Ramses wanted a heroic image from antiquity to compete with Trojans. But since the Egyptian king Ramses reportedly fathered 160 children, it’s little wonder why this brand has been discontinued.

Anyway, my dad said, “Here are the safes. I’m going to tell you what Dr. Jones told his kids.” Dr. Jones (not the real name of my dad’s colleague professor) had a brood of rough and tumble boys.

“If you get a girl pregnant,” my dad continued, “don’t bother coming home.” With that, he left the room. That was it. That was his drive-by, hit-and-run, scare tactic method of sex education. And “safes,” don’t you love that term? Never heard it used before or since.

I watched as fathers and their sons entered the auditorium for the evening’s edification. Each pair sat side by side, talking to one another in hushed voices, as if waiting for a funeral to commence. I quelled my tension by trying to place myself in my son’s situation. Surely he must be feeling weirder than I about being dragged to yet another event “that’s good for him.” I was careful not to squirm.

The lesson began, and I learned the true value of a good ice breaker. Having sat through innumerable meetings in which well-intentioned facilitators asked everyone to “go around the room and say something about themselves,” I had my doubts.

But our sex education teacher asked all the men to give a different synonym, however crude, for the penis. And he went around the room, right up and into the faces of all the dads, and politely but firmly demanded that we come up with an answer… a different name each time.

It was hysterical. There were almost no repeats from about 60 dads. Cultural and geographic differences unearthed endless variety. Everyone, all the kids and dads, were laughing and loosening up, releasing fear and anxiety, and sharing in the common bodily bond of masculinity.

From there it was a breeze. On the way home, my son asked me a couple clarifying questions, and I was struck both by how basic are the knowledge needs of tweens and by how casually I was able to answer him. He was more like my buddy when I shared my information. I was not hung up by embarrassment or thoughts about what a proper dad might say. I just told him the truth in my own salty terms.

My son listened intently, then said, “I get it.”

And I got it. This sex education class transformed taboo into prosaic. It was the learning ladder that assisted our leap over a tricky hurdle. We connected more as fellow males rather than as father and son. And I’m confident this unspoken yet powerful linkage will help us confront future issues more forthrightly and solve them more readily. My fingers are crossed that this is true.

I’m glad I didn’t flunk out on my chance to go to sex ed class with my son. Oh, and to answer that question left dangling there… the synonym I offered rhymes with “wants.”

Lin Filppu (@MidLifeDad)

This column first appeared in the Huffington Post Parents section http://www.huffingtonpost.com/len-filppu/sweating-a-sex-education-_b_1129325.html

It doesn’t take sharing a roof to be a dad.

I watched a movie tonight that I have seen a few times before. The movie was “The Blind Side”. You know, the one with Sandra Bullock and that big ol’ football player that made it to the NFL. Yeah, that one, the one that makes you just want to adopt some poor kid off the street and set him up for a career with a pro sports team. It’s a great movie, with a great message, but tonight it started my gravy-train a thinkin’ ’bout something else.

Even my wife commented on it. I am a lot like Sandra Bullock’s character. I would take absolutely every kid in that ever needed me. Maybe it’s my years as a youth pastor, but I have laid in bed at night thinking about how I could remodel the downstairs of my house to allow for two more bedrooms. Then, if I swapped out the kids’ twin  beds for bunk beds, I could sleep 6 kids upstairs, 4 downstairs. That’s a whole lotta youngins. I’d do it in a heartbeat, and my wife knows it. We talk about it constantly. Someday it will happen, but not right now. Right now we have law school, Gav’s development, and the focus on my career. So we will wait to take that giant leap.

I didn’t exactly have the normal father-son relationship that most kids have. My parents were married for most of my childhood, and got divorcced when I was 15. We moved just a few miles away from my father. While we were only miles apart geographically, we were thousands of miles apart emotionally. He was a no-nonsense type of guy, and I have always been a goofball. I have always been independent, and he felt the need to control everyting around him. Needless to say, we were never close, at all. Don’t get me wrong, people say that he is a great guy and would do anything for anyone, I’m just not one of those people.

I don’t necessarily remember looking for that “fatherly” relationship, but I remember when I found it.

Growing up, my family was very involved in church, and we had gone to the same church for as long as I could remember. Like most churches, we were very close with most of the people that attended. When I was a teenager, a young preacher joined our congregation, and started teaching a class. I got to know Robb very well, and became very close to him. He was only a few years older than me, so I soon started seeing him as a big brother. He lived next door to me, as well, so we spent a lot of time together outside of church. I came to see Robb as an authority figure, as he always seemws to be able to give great advice on anything that I was facing. I trusted him, felt comfortable with him, and soon started seeking his approval on different things in my life.

I looked up to Robb like I imagine most kids do to their father. I sought his advice on so many decisions in my life, and felt that I could confide absolutely anything in the world to him. I felt safer when he was around, wanted to absorb anything that he said, and felt so very disappointed in myself when I let him down. He was always there when I needed him, no matter what time of day or night it was. I remember sitting on his front porch (which was only a few feet away from mine), watching a lightning storm, feeling like I was miles away from anything that bothered me.

Robb wasn’t my father. He wasn’t my step-father, and he didn’t adopt me. I didn’t even live in his house, although I was there nearly as much as I was in my own. We didn’t share a last name. We didn’t share anything other than a bond. Robb didn’t have kids, and I doubt that he saw me as one of his kids. I think that he just saw me as a kid who needed someone to just listen, give a litte advice, and pat me on the back every now and then. He kicked my butt when I needed it, picked m up when I fell, and made me smile when I needed to. He was a father-figure to me, without ever being a father to me.

When I watched that movie tonight, I thought about how I want to help every needy child that I come across. I thought about how full my house would quickly become, and how happy that would make me. Eventually, though, the square footage will run out. I won’t be able to fit anymore beds into my house, even after an Extreme Home Makeover. There are going to be some kids that I just can’t provide for.

Then I realized that they don’t necessarily have to live under my roof. There are so many children, just like I was, that aren’t looking for someone to move into their homes, but they are looking for someone to take an interest in what they are doing. They are looking for someone who cares about what they are going through, who will listen when they need to vent, and who will be there for them when something goes bad or good. Someone to share the joy and the frustration.

So, throughout these next few months, as we finish law school, and OT and ABA therapy and work on opening new restaurants, I know that I won’t have the option to adopt, take in foster children, or even just have some random kid in need stay in my house. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be a dad to someone who needs it. That doesn’t mean that I won’t positively impact some child’s life, just by being there, by being involved. It doesn’t take sharing a roof to be a dad.

The Revolution Grows

I’m Military Dad, and I have officially joined the Revolution. I have written guest posts here before, and I have now been asked to become a full contributor on this incredibly valuable site. It’s an amazing honor and quite humbling for a blogger as small time as myself to digitally work alongside such huge names in this field like The DaddyYo Dude, NewYorkDad, DaDa Rocks, and the rest of the distinguished cast here. It’s a special kind of awesomeness, and I am grateful.

I think it’s important to establish what Dad Revolution means to me. There are a lot of group blogs out there that deal with fatherhood, and they’re all great. They are all slightly different in what they stress, and there is an amazing group of bloggers that keep them populated. When I read the articles on Dad Revolution, there is one central concept that always stands out and speaks to me personally: do the right thing when it comes to fatherhood.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always obvious. Being a good father is as much about sacrifice, pain, and fear as it is about hugs and kisses. There is no map, and there are no road signs. You take the advice that you can get, and then you try to apply it to your special set of circumstances. If it doesn’t work, you make it up and hope it doesn’t explode in your face. This is true whether you’re a married dad, divorced dad, stay-at-home dad, work-at-home dad, gay dad, adoptive dad, or whatever your case may be. Every family is different. This is a fact that makes parenting incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding all at the same time. There are times when you will question your methods late into the night, and there are days where you will fall asleep instantly with a smile on your face. Whatever the case is, as long as you get up the next morning and try again, you are doing the right thing. You are trying to raise your children to be kind, couragous, and just all around awesome. 

Are we going to make mistakes along the way? Absolutely. When that happens, are we going to dust ourselves off and try again? You better believe it. Quitting is easy. Disappearing is easy. Letting someone else take care of it is easy. Parenting is hard. Caring for sick kids is hard. Putting aside your own desires to make things better for your children is hard. With all that in mind, why do we do it? We do it because we are dads, we love our kids more than life itself, and it’s the right thing to do.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir to a certain extent. The fact that you are reading this post means that you believe in what I just said enough to search for it, or you’ve been here before and liked the message enough to return. This brings me to the second core concept of this site that appealled to me: caring.

You’re reading this because you care. We blog because we care. Sure, maybe the message is mostly falling on the ears of believers. Does that make it any less potent? Of course not. Horrible fathers are in the news every day. They give the rest of us (the huge majority) a bad name. It’s time to spread the word about good fathers and great dads. It’s time to make our voices heard and ensure that we are counted fairly. We are doing the right thing, we care, and we should be known.

Join the Revolution. Read our posts and maybe even submit one of your own. Search through the other great daddy blogs out there and read what they have to say. Most of all, continue to do what brought you to this site in the first place. Do the right thing and care. Being a dad isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

Tobogganing For Dads: Hill Repeats

If you’ve got kinds under 5, you know that messing around with them is a great workout.

You’re running, you’re stretching, you’re lifting 40 pound squirming dumbbells. It doesn’t do much to mold and sculpt your body (Dads have beer guts. It’s from how we hold our kids, we can’t help it.) but at least it’s some physical activity that is challenging different muscle groups.

Go ahead, chase a 3 year old around a playground and try to tell me that’s not a P90X level challenge.

With the playground covered in white and the temps near freezing, your usual workout needs to be modified.

Here’s a way you can try to trim it down this winter, with another DadCAMP Workout: Hill Repeats.

It’s simple:

Find a toboggan hill. Push the kid down the hill. Listen to him scream. Beg him to climb back up the hill. Run down the hill to get your kid. Pull him in the sled back up the hill. Repeat for 45 minutes or until one of the kids has to go potty.

Posted by DadCamp

Doing The Right Thing

This family is bigger than just me, and my desires have to be prioritized against everything else. When the scales tip away from me, it’s time to make sacrifices. There will be other days to do what I want. The books aren’t going anywhere and our DVD collection will stay put. I might be able to lie on the floor with the kids tomorrow, but tonight calls for me to sit on the couch with the wife instead. To me, that’s what doing the right thing means.

One of the central concepts behind the Dad Revolution website is doing the right thing as a father. Let me tell you about a fairly common scenario that helps demonstrate what this means to me.

On my desk at work, I have an electronic picture frame that continuously cycles through family photos. Every snapshot features my wife, daughter, son, or some combination of the three. I normally eat my lunch at my desk, and I’ll spend that time watching the pictures slide by.

A lot of the pictures have specific memories attached to them. There’s a picture where I’m running through a sprinkler in our back yard with our daughter when we lived in Monterey. In the picture, it looks like we’re having a great time, but my memory says, “Wow, she really hated that.” There’s another where my son had fallen asleep in my lap while I was working on my thesis one day. The picture shows a perfect example of a father working while holding his son. In reality, I had to pee so bad that I was in physical pain.

There are even more pictures, however, where there are no memories whatsoever attached to them. These are all a few years old, involve our daughter, and took place at my wife’s parents’ house. They were taken during my third deployment. I’ve deployed twice since my daughter was born, but there weren’t many pictures from the first one. My wife stayed in Virginia, worked full time, and took care of her at night. There just wasn’t much time for photography. That was tough enough that during the next deployment (they were only separated by a couple months), she decided to quit her job and move back to Kansas City with her parents in order to have more support around her. It was a terrific decision, and it allowed her to concentrate more on one of her true loves: photography.

As a result, there are a ton of pictures from that time, and they feature pretty heavily on my electronic frame’s rotation. Every time I see one of the pictures, it’s bitter sweet. My thoughts usually go along the same lines. “My daughter is so beautiful…I wish I would have been there.” Then I immediately start looking at the clock to see how long it is until I can go home. I start imagining all the things that I’m going to do with the kids because I need to enjoy my time with them now. “I’ll walk through the door, change out of my uniform, and then read them a book. After that, I’ll just lie on the floor for awhile and let them crawl on me. Maybe after dinner, we’ll snuggle down on the couch and watch The Emperor’s New Groove. I build up the ideal evening in my head and hurry through the rest of my day. I’ll fight the famous San Diego traffic on the way home anticipating those awesome hugs when I walk through the door. I’ll pull into the driveway, unlock
the door, and…

I can hear our son crying from his bedroom, our daughter is sound asleep, and my wife is sitting on the couch with a cup of tea. As soon as I walk through the door, I get the “Your children…” look. Both kids are terrific by themselves, but they haven’t quite figured out how to play together yet. These sessions almost always end in screams and tears. When that happens, naps, timeouts, and early bedtimes are the normal prescription. I’ll get the story of events, and it will become pretty obvious that the evening I had envisioned is in definite jeopardy.

What’s the right thing to do here? I know what I want to do. I want to go to their bedrooms, pick them both up, give them both hugs, and then play the night away. Maybe I could convince my wife that the punishment is excessive, and get her to relent. I could tell her, “Come on, it’ll be ok, let’s just watch a movie with them.” There are a number of things I could do that would preserve the evening that I had been envisioning all day.

The problem is that absolutely none of those things are fair to my wife or to the kids in the long run. If I go in and start playing with the kids, I’m immediately undermining my wife. I’m teaching the kids that they can do whatever they want during the day because everything will be fine once daddy gets home. That’s immensely unfair to my wife not good for the kids’ future development.

Therefore, I do the right thing. I swallow my disappointment, help my wife enforce the punishment, and sit down beside her on the couch to let her know that I support her. It’s not the easy thing to do, and it’s not what I want to do, but the right thing rarely is. This family is bigger than just me, and my desires have to be prioritized against everything else. When the scales tip away from me, it’s time to make sacrifices. There will be other days to do what I want. The books aren’t going anywhere and our DVD collection will stay put. I might be able to lie on the floor with the kids tomorrow, but tonight calls for me to sit on the couch with the wife instead. To me, that’s what doing the right thing means.

Military Dad

Twitter: @militarydadblog
Website: http://militarydadblog.com

Bio: Military Dad is the proud parent of 2 and husband of 1. He’s spent the last 13 years in the Navy where they keep promoting him despite his best efforts. He is currently enjoying a terrific shore duty with his family. In his free time, he likes tormenting his wife and kids. He loves sharing his experiences as a father and a sailor on his blog: http://militarydadblog.com. Feel free to stop by and take a look.

 

**We are proud to welcome Military Dad as a new contributor to DadRevolution as the site seeks to grow once again. Please take a moment to welcome him to the revolution!**