Less is more and not following one’s own advice.

This is certainly not news for parents who have older kids, but with kids less is more. I say this premising that I do not follow my own advice. Add that to the long list of parenthood’s hypocrisies.

If I see a cool toy car or stickers at the checkout register I just cannot help myself and will get it for my son (and, no doubt, for my inner child). Sure, he loves getting an unexpected present, but most of the time he becomes most fascinated by the wrapper or the box or the piece of cardboard or the twisty tie. He loves playing with boxes whenever we get a delivery at home. He loves playing with coins. He loves playing with scotch tape (lots and lots of it). He will chase a fly around the house for hours. So why even bother buying “stuff’?

Part of it, as I said before, is my own inner child who is just looking for an excuse to regress. The other is just simply to see the smile on his face. That is certainly a selfish act since all I am doing is spoiling him, but it’s priceless. At the same time we follow a simple piece of advice that is not new, but is worth repeating. We cycle his toys in and out of site (using high shelf in a closet) so that he rediscovers them from time to time and learns to enjoy them. As soon as we notice a toy languishing in a corner or untouched for a week or so we just scoop it up and put it out of site. He usually does not seem to miss it or look for it, but when we put it out again for him to find 9 out of 10 times you see the same smile he flashed you when he saw it the first time. This way you can buy less stuff and once he is done playing with the box the stuff came in you will see that the stuff will be just as exciting and brand new each time it makes an appearance now and again.

I’m not your friend!

My son has recently started alternating calling me “Daddy” and using my first name. Uh, excuse me?! I’m not your friend. I’m your father! Maybe when you are in your thirties we can share a beer while grilling and laugh about some of the crazy stunts you pulled on me and your mother, but I still expect you to call me “Dad” or “Pops” or something along the lines of “Father”. I love you, but like a son and not my best friend.

So. So. So. I make rules. You break them. You want what you can’t have. I make sure it stays that way. Do as I say and not as I do – the sweet hypocrisy of parenthood. You are too young now to understand this, but there is no explanation beyond “because I say so!”

It’s hard when you are running around the playground laughing or snuggled watching a cartoon or dancing goofily to a song on the radio. To be a dad, that is, because it is only half of the equation. The other half is scolding, teaching, cajoling, wiping, comforting, cleaning, chasing, yelling and most of the things that you don’t need to deal with day in and day out with your friends (at least not with the more normal ones). You don’t confess yourself to your kids do you? Parents are supposed to be superheroes and superheroes can do it all without complaining. In exchange for these superpowers we are required to toe the line of parenthood which means watching our kids throw tantrums, roll their eyes at us, call us uncool, hate us and a plethora of other spur of the moment interjections aimed at letting us know that we are the meanest of meanies because we do not let them run amok.

I’m not complaining, but I don’t see how some parents can claim that their kids are their best friend and frankly why would you want that kind of relationship? The tough part of the job is perfectly balanced with all the satisfactions of watching them grow and learn and love you despite it all. Friends come and go with rare exceptions. My son is my body and soul – a rogue chip off the old block that tests my patience and simultaneously tugs at my heart strings each and everyday. I’ll take being his dad over being his BFF any day.

That’s a pretty big boo-boo…

The concept of pain is never easy to explain to a kid. My son understands the basic concept of the so-called “boo-boo”. We also try to teach him that by hitting or kicking or biting or throwing things he can cause others and most often his parents a great deal of boo-boo. He has also, unfortunately, made the connection between certain boo-boos and mommy and daddy pulling out some ice from the freezer so now he finds it quite amusing to cause a boo-boo so that he can run to the get ice the instant he has delivered the blow. It is also a great procrastination tool and smokescreen for him to use when delaying his bath time or covering up some form of mischief or other. He even has a very convincing fake cry and whimper down that he betrays by sneaking peaks through the cupped hands he puts in front of his face.

The other day, though, as we walked near home, we came upon a woman wreathing in pain on the sidewalk. We stopped and asked the two gentlemen who were attending to her if they needed help or if an ambulance had been called. The ambulance was on its way, but one of the two men turned out to be the elderly lady’s son and he seemed understandably distraught. We decided to wait with him until the ambulance arrived which thankfully we saw turn the corner a few minutes later. My son had been chatting away with everyone and asking the logical questions that a curious almost three year old would ask in such a situation. Because of the commotion, though, he was largely ignored. Once the paramedics had arrived, though, it was time for us to move on. My son, though, would not budge and was adamant about wanting to say goodbye to the woman and upset that she was not returning his waves and goodbyes. He started screaming that he wanted to say goodbye. I was at a loss. I try to explain things to my son even though some things are certainly still over his head. He had seen a relative carted off on a gurney already once and it had left him perplexed. Luckily in that instance he had seen that same relative again after a few days so he did not seem so worried that the ambulance had swallowed him. He must have felt the same seeing an ambulance “swallow” someone again and maybe he felt that this time he was going to make sure he said goodbye like he would to a stranger getting off the elevator. This time the explanation that the lady felt “boo-boo” and the ambulance was going to try to make her feel better since it was full of ice did not seem to convince him. I felt bad that I could not reassure him beyond those words. Of course, after a few minutes his tantrum subsided and he was busy with his next focal point. His reaction, though, caught me off guard since he had been innocently and naively talking to the woman (no matter that it was a one way conversation) moments earlier and he must have been jarred by the sudden appearance of the ambulance that took her away from him. Certainly a learning experience for him and one that he will witness all too often in an metropolis such as New York, but I wish I had been able to explain the situation better and reassure him that ambulances do not exist to take people away from him, but to try and help sick people get better. I am probably dwelling on this more than he did certainly, but even when you want your kids to toughen up and learn what life is really like you can never avoid the knee jerk reaction of trying to soften the blows each step of the way. It is just my wishful thinking that things such as ambulances remain, for my kid, just empty boxes with wheels that they can play with in the tub while making siren noises.

New Year. Same Old Parents.

The New Year has started much like the old. My son still wakes up early – way too early. He still wants – nay, needs – his milk. It must be the perfect temperature in that green sippy cup or he sends it back. I am the lucky one who prepares this gourmet morning aperitif. It must be Daddy and no one else. My wife, of course, doesn’t argue this point.

The cars must be lined up with Lightning McQueen first and then the police car that is missing its lights and both doors. The fire engine with no ladder and with the tire that keeps coming off because it was broken off several months ago must be at the end of the line.

It still takes 30 minutes to get him into the tub and another 30 to get him out. Imploring and groveling only makes his eyes twinkle more and using force only amplifies the

His favorite teddy bear blanky is still his favorite as the missing eye and multiple gaps in the fabric can attest.

He will not approach an apple or strawberry unless milk and a blender are involved.

He still finds a quiet corner that is out of sight to poop in peace.

Thursday is still his favorite day to go to day care because there is music and dance.

He still calls red meat and tuna fish: “chicken”.

Peek-a-boo still gets him into fits of uncontrollable laughter that lead to the hiccups and even more laughter.

He still furrows his eyebrows and worries when they take Curious George away from the man with the yellow hat.

He still gets angry at the remote control car because he wants to push it himself.

He still insists that Alicia Keys sings “Julia, Julia” instead of “New York, New York”.

Getting him dressed and out of the door in the morning still requires a well thought out strategy that involves deception, make believe, candy trails and many more things that you read about in the original Brothers Grimm stories.

The word “Gelato” still implies ice cream, most liquid dairy, cupcake icing and smoothies.

The arrival of relatives during the holiday still means tossing an entire year of painstaking discipline and schedule building out the window.

“I want it!” still implies urgency.

“I need it!” still implies immediacy.

“No!” still means no. And it is still his favorite phrase.

The only thing different from last year is that my wife and I fell asleep before midnight on December 31st. I am not complaining. I like that there have not been any dramatic “changes”. They are inevitable, but for now I like where we are and hope to enjoy it while it lasts. We’ll see what the New Year brings.

I wish all of you and yours a wonderful 2011.

Hello?! Is anybody there?!

I watched my 2-year-old son the other day as he managed to activate Skype on my laptop and call the first contact available which was luckily my wife who was in the other room. One the one hand I was pleasantly impressed at his budding hacker skills on the other I wondered if he was already overexposed to the computer and (whispering) “technology.”

The debate seems never ending these days as more and more gadgets “flood the market” and create great new ways to “entertain” our kids. I like to think, though, that there is a middle ground between pushing a tire down the street with a stick and watching Thomas the Tank Engine in the latest 3-D goggles while drooling like a zombie. One such example of the middle ground for me is the aforementioned Skype.

With all of our relatives overseas Skype is a lifesaver and wallet saver all rolled into one. We can call the grandparents and aunts and uncles without worrying how long we will be on “the phone” since we already have an Internet connection and, as you all probably know, using Skype from computer to computer is free. I realize, though, that we take it for granted that this is the way it should be today and it certain lends itself to the ongoing technology-yes and technology-no arguments. Skype is without a doubt a great thing for my family. We can see and hear our relatives and family members on a daily basis almost as if they were here. I know it is not the same thing, but growing up we spoke with my grandmother in Italy once a week on Sunday and it was a brief hello to hear her voice and quickly give a recap of the week. You could almost hear the nickels and dimes falling as the minutes went by. It was a family ritual and one that we all looked forward to each week, but it was certainly limiting with its “sit-by-the-phone” setup.

A negative, albeit entertaining, aspect of Skype is that my son often runs to the computer and talks to it as though he believes that his grandparents live inside (when they are not physically in New York visiting) and are just waiting for him to start talking to them. He tends to get upset when the computer (and therefore Nonna or Nonno) does not answer.

I am not worried that Skype will turn my son’s brain to mush or that he will grow up with an unhealthy social interaction mechanism because he talks to his relatives via video chat, but that is exactly the dilemma that Skype represents in the larger scheme of things. It symbolizes all of the pros and cons of what we, as parents, tend to define as “technology”. I cannot bring myself to condemn or worship it either way. I do feel, though, that as clichés go, moderation is the key, as many of us already know and by striking a balance you can really make the experience gratifying, practical and fun for the kids. Once they have finished talking with your folks on the computer they still have plenty of time to go out and break the neighbor’s windows playing stick ball in the street or backyard.

My boring life as a dad

Dear Diary,

Today was more of the same old things. I fear that boredom has started to spread its tentacles across my subconscious making it difficult to focus on anything worthy of causing synapses to fire. The mornings are the worst. Dull to the point of seeking ways to physically stimulate my brain using blunt force trauma. I remember the days when each morning brought new challenges and invigorating scenarios. My body, in tune with my mind, used to work out by running and lifting backbreaking weights repeatedly. I would run cross-country and leap fallen logs without breaking my stride or losing my balance. Then I would go to work and multi-task all day. I could carry on multiple conversations at once even while I walked down bustling streets with sirens wailing and buses screeching to a halt. And most of all I could pull all nighters no problem. A pot of coffee and I was good to go. I could even take a power nap and then get right back up and keep working. The only time I would really let my guard down and relax was the weekend. Sleep in late. Watch some TV. Read the paper while having brunch at a corner café. Meet friends and talk about politics and global social issues. Now I really just lie around and stare at the wall. I miss how much I could accomplish in just one day. To prove my point here is a typical lazy Saturday at home these days for us old folks:

Weblog for Saturday September 25, 2010

5:00 – Baby monitor crackles. It’s my son. He’s whining. “Daddy?! Daddy?!… Milk… Pleeeeasssse!”. Roll over and look at my wife. I can tell she is looking at me through her closed eyes. I’m the milkman so she’s not moving. “Daaaaaaaddy!!!!”

5:15 – Burn my hand. Need to make coffee before I bare hand the pot that’s heating the milk.

5:16 – Burn my hand. Again.

5:17 – My son has inhaled his milk. Looks at me like Oliver Twist… “More?!”

5:19 – Burn my hand. Again.

5:30 – Bump into my wife who has silently entered the kitchen and spill boiling coffee on my bare feet. Step on random toy.

5:45 – “What’s that smell?”

5:50 – “Hey buddy let’s change your diaper…” “Nooooooooooooo! I don’t want it!” “You may not, but daddy and mommy are about to pass out so…” “Noooooooo!”

5:55 – Using Navy SEAL hand signals and fiber optic cameras my wife and I corner our son in a remote hard to reach location. Rocks, scissors, paper for who goes in.

6:00 – Ice pack for daddy who threw paper to mommy’s scissor and made the mistake of entering remote location headfirst. Rookie mistake.

6:15 – I remember when Jimmy “Jumbo” Taylor pinned me in 5 seconds during 8th grade PE with a move called “The Cowboy”. Daddy tries to pull it off on the 2 year old to get him onto the changing pad and throws his back.

6:16 – Mommy shakes her head in disgust. Rolls daddy to the side and wrangles son, losing a clump of hair in the struggle.

6:30 – Daddy recovers as diaper is finally secured and high-pitched screaming has subsided to a whimper. Daddy and mommy hear a distinct ringing sound coming from inside their heads.

6:40 – While mommy showers, I am attempting to dress my son. I manage to get his right sock on.

6:45 – Mommy checks in on daddy who has managed to get the left sock on with one hand (I use the other to shield my body from my son’s wind milling arms). I’m fine.

7:15 – My son is fully clothed. I grab a water bottle and head for the shower. I hear my son tearing by the bathroom with my wife in hot pursuit.

7:20 – My son bursts into the bathroom. He is naked and laughing (cackling?).

7:21 – He pees on the floor and laughs (cackles?).

7:40 – We get his clothes back on.

8:00 – Temporarily distracted by an episode of Curious George (and taking copious notes with Crayons) my wife and I are able to get dressed. Very, very quietly.

8:15 – A first attempt is made to coax our son out of the door.

8:16 – “Nooooooooooooo! I don’t want it!”

8:20 – A trail of cars is placed outside my son’s room and ends with his favorite strategically placed on the stroller that is in the hallway.

8:30 – Sensing a trap my son has used his Thomas The Tank Train umbrella to hook the stroller from inside the door and pull it to him. He snags his favorite car and is gone. I step on a car barefoot.

8:50 – Mommy and daddy break open the emergency kit. A trail of muffin crumbs is put in place of the cars. Daddy makes himself really small and crouches behind the stroller. Mommy slides behind the front door.

9:05 – My son is dazed by the sugar rush and makes the fatal greedy mistake of going for the wrapper. Daddy pounces and quickly ties him down. Mommy flings him the diaper bag and shuts the door behind her. Daddy sprints to the elevator. Mom is close behind.

9:20 – I send my wife ahead to peer around the corner and make sure that there are no ice cream trucks ready to ambush us as we head towards the neutral zone (aka Central Park). She signals the all clear.

9:35 – Just as we enter the last crosswalk before the park the familiar Mister Softee jingle invades the relative silence as an ice cream truck emerges from the side street to our left. I see the driver’s beady eyes looking straight at us as his mouth breaks into an evil grin. I pick up the pace as my wife starts standard evasive maneuvers such as “Look an airplane!” or “Look a dinosaur!”.

9:36 – My son smells the ice cream truck. Daddy forgot to move upwind. Another rookie mistake.

9:50 – The sobbing has subsided and a giant pout camps dead center on my son’s face. It says: “You are the meanest people in the universe!”

9:51 – A dog prances by and sniffs my son. “Ooooooh doggie! I want it!” The pout is gone. “I waaaaant it!”

9:52 – The dog leaves. The pout returns.

10:00 – We reach the swings. “Ooooooh swings!” The pout is gone.

10:45 – As my arms start to go numb there is a first attempt at removing my son from the swings which catches the attention of the mounted policemen in the vicinity. They are about to call in a 211. I assure them that we are in fact the little rabble rouser’s parents as my son screams “Noooooo! No! Noooooo!” at the top of his lungs while kicking me repeatedly in my (rather soft) belly and my groin. The cops look doubtful and remain in the area until we finally get our son away from the swings.

11:15 – My son plays and laughs with his cars on the grass. And old lady walks by and comments on how cute and well behaved my son is.

11:16 – I offer my son to the old lady much to my wife’s dismay. She points out that offering some money would probably help convince the lady. The lady surprisingly turns down the offer.

11:20 – The mounted police officers pass within a few feet and smile and wave to our son. They then glare at us and carry on.

12:00 – Our son falls asleep exhausted.

12:01 – My wife and I weep. These are tears of joy. We have gotten through half the day without major incidents and with most of our sanity intact.

As you can see a parent’s life is rather boring. Life is so much easier now that I have a kid and I worry that if we have a second kid it might become unbearably slow. I worry that my wife and I will find ourselves sitting around with little else to do but watch the younger generation getting so much accomplished in their daily lives full of ideas on how to conquer the world and get things done. I wonder what tomorrow will bring? Probably more of the same old things. Ho hum.

Sharing and Denial: A True Story.

EXT. – NEW YORK PLAYGROUND – DAY

A sunny and clear day.

The playground is still fairly empty as the City is still waiting to embrace the Labor Day throngs that are still abroad.

DAD#1 leans on fence and looks on smiling as SON#1 plays with cars in a sandbox bathed by the sunlight. A slight breeze carries a scent of autumn.

SON#1

Vroom Vroom! Beep Beep! Bulldozer! Bus! Police Car!

 

DAD#1

Hey Buddy, you almost ready to go home?

 

SON#1

No! Don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

OK. 5 more minutes and then we have to go. Mommy is waiting.

 

SON#1

No! Don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

Right. Of course not.

 

DAD#2 and SON#2 arrive at the sandbox and DAD#2 plops SON#2 in the sandbox empty handed. SON#2 looks around and sees SON#1 has cars. He waddles over and helps himself.


SON#1

Nooooo! Daddy?!

 

DAD#1

That’s OK little man, you can share your cars. You have a couple and he can play with some too.

 

SON#1

Noooooo! I don’t wanna!

 

DAD#1

C’mon little man. You have cars in both your hands. You don’t need the others right now.

 

SON#1 looks distraught, but grudgingly turns back to the cars he has in his hands and continues to play. SON#2 waddles back and grabs the remaining cars from SON#1. DAD#2 looks on smiling.


SON#1

Daaaaaaaaaaady?! Noooooooo!!!!

 

SON#1 proceeds to throw a tantrum.

 

SON#1

Caaaaaaarrrrrs!!! I want!!! Noooooooooo!!!!

 

DAD#1

OK. Relax we’ll ask him to give you the cars back.

 

DAD#2 (while just standing there)

Hey, Johnny give one of the cars back, the boy seems upset. (sideways to DAD#1) It’s always hard for them to learn to share. It took me a while to get him to do it.

 

DAD#1

That’s OK. I’m sure he’ll give them back.

 

DAD#2 (puzzled)

No, I meant your son.

 

DAD#1 (mouth agape)

Huh?

 

THE END

 

NB: DAD#1 is still trying to decide if DAD#2 was actually being serious.

I’m leaving on a jet plane…

I will be back in NYC by the time this is read. We are preparing our bags on a breezy and sunny morning about a hundred kilometers south of Rome. My inspiration this morning is the slightly choppy sea right in front of my in-laws’ house. They have already kidnapped my son to spend every minute of the last day we are here in Italy with him. It is always a melancholy dawn – the day before our departure. It seems that just as they get used to enjoying all his quirks and pouts and giggles we whisk him away again until the next vacation. Yesterday, we were just a few miles away at my parent’s house where my sister and her family are staying. We were celebrating my niece’s birthday and my son running around the garden like crazy, chasing and being chased by the other kids and his cousins. There the mood was festive, but in an end of the summer kind of way. The time we spend here always feels like the time I spent cramming for tests and exams at school – desperately trying to get through everything you did not get to do during the rest of the year.

We always wish we had more time or that we could find a way to make more time. The reality of parenthood is that you hardly have time for your wife and kids let alone for your siblings and parents and relatives especially when they live so far away. Even in the moments we are together you try as much as possible to make it just lie any other day for the kids, but inevitably you end up having to explain to them what it means to get on an airplane or train or take a long car ride leaving behind grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (this must be done each time the child repeats the question: “Why?”).

Today you can “see” each other more often thanks to technology, but watching my son interact with his cousins in person is priceless. Of course, we will come home and boot up the computer and call everyone on Skype and exchange all the pictures we took and the fun moments we had and then we will have to dive back into the daily grind until the next holiday or vacation.

Despite the stress that it can certainly cause, I always envy those who live fairly close together. The visits are never “use it or lose it” time where you feel guilty if you miss even an hour together knowing that it will be another year probably before you see each other again. Then again I live in New York and have not been to the Empire State Building since I was a little boy just because I think, “It’s right there so I can go whenever I want.” So I might end up doing the same if I lived in the same city as my sister or my parents or in-laws.

These are some of my random thoughts as I start to gather our things for tomorrow’s trip back to New York. In the good and the bad of having to “schedule” time with the relatives I have had a great few weeks of fun and relaxation with my wife and son and “the folks”. I can’t complain. And now back to my regular programming.

A big city kid in the middle of nowhere…

I grew up a big city kid. I loved it because you had access to everyone and everything. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural. There was always something different to try and to choose from each and everyday. Even Rome where I spent most of my time away from New York is a big city and although not as cosmopolitan it retains a great deal of the big city vibe. I am happy my son is growing up in a big city despite the sacrifices one must make to bring a kid up in a city like New York. I do, though, wonder what it would be like to live in a small town?

I am writing these words from exactly that kind of a small town. This is not a sleepy American burg on the outskirts of a larger urban center. This town is down in the heart of Italy’s deep South. At night I can see the giant lighthouses that guard the Straight of Messina which separate Sicily from the mainland and one of it’s southern most cities – Reggio Calabria. Directly in front of us are the beautiful Eolie islands and a twenty minute car ride away is the ancient sea cliff town of Tropea. This is as far away from it all as you can get in the so-called civilized world. The sun is fierce and the sea is crystal clear. Figs and prickly pears abound and weigh down the trees and cacti that host them along the winding country roads. Stores still close here for two hours at lunch. Sunday everything is closed. There is no rush here. A tough thing to get used to coming from the big city. And yet they live longer and healthier in these parts.
This is where my wife’s grandparents grew up before they moved to Rome. She still has tons of relatives and the older generations all seem to be in their late 90’s and have no intention of going anywhere any time soon. The old ladies still chat to each other from one balcony to the next. It sounds like a movie, but I assure you this is a first hand account.
The parents around here are worried because the kids do not want to stick around. There are certainly many problems around not least of which is the tight control that certain families have over business dealings and life in general. To the outsider it is always hard to understand why anyone would allow themselves to be bullied this way, but all too often the lack of attention from the bureaucrats leads to people organizing themselves in other ways just so that things can get done. But I digress.
The big city allows you to choose from so much for your kid each and every day and yet the frenetic lifestyle you lead also forces many genuine and authentic things to drop by the wayside to make way for convenience. Food is the best example, at least from where I sit now writing these paragraphs.
Food here is not something you have to think about. No one around here says,”What can I make for dinner that doesn’t take too long? What can I just pop in the microwave?” Certainly, they do not lead the chaotic lifestyle that is typical in the big cities, but this part of the day comes naturally to them. It is an important part that must be done and yet it is not viewed as a burden as most of us do in the urban setting. Everything is grown locally, seasonally and consumed fresh. No CSAs needed because to them it is normal that you eat this way. Needless to say, my son who has become a picky eater as of late has been eating pretty much everything they have around here. He is also enjoying the fact that his parents have been infected by the laid back attitude of the locals and are no longer tapping their foot impatiently at the local store while the person in front chats with the store owner about their kids for a half hour or search for a better wireless connection by holding the cell phone over their heads while leaning way out over the balcony like lunatics. Maybe all we really need is a few weeks of this (i.e. real food, sea breeze, sun etc.) to recharge ourselves?
I am pretty sure I would go crazy if I lived here full time and it is always difficult to judge a place when you are vacationing there for a short period of time, but there must be a reason folks around here live well (and well) into their 90s.

Yoda and Heartburn

I cannot for the life of me remember the last time I felt in complete control of my life. Actually, it has been a little over two years that I fall asleep with the uneasy sensation that I have forgotten to do something very important each and every night. Given that parenting years feel much longer than dog years that’s quite a bit of worrying. Maybe after years of practice I will have perfected some sort of breathing technique that allows me to enter a Zen-like state that even Yoda would envy. I hope I get there sooner rather than later.

The anxiety does not consume my thoughts round-the-clock, but it is annoying. It lingers like a sour stomach after a night of spicy food and beer. You can do things to quell the burning sensation, but it comes back hovering just below your tolerance threshold. The thoughts that bring on this state of apprehension, I have found talking to other dads, are fairly universal: Am I providing for my family? Am I pulling my weight as a parent? Am I teaching my son right from wrong? Am I too strict? Am I too soft? And so on and so forth. None of the questions, you will notice, have to do with other aspects of my life in which I feel very much in control (i.e. work, marriage, what am I going to eat for breakfast etc.) albeit, to a certain extent, overly confident.

The thoughts themselves seem more in control than I am. When I was still childless the thoughts were organized as I wished them to be and my life had priorities that I had set even with regards to a family (then again what does anyone really know about having kids until you actually have them). Now, of course, I have only one priority – my son. This should make things much easier since other decisions ultimately are means to that end and yet it wreaks havoc on my psyche. I am always second-guessing those decisions because I feel that unlike with my own life, I cannot afford to make mistakes in my son’s.

The veteran’s say it is normal and that you adjust and adapt, but I always felt that I could control my life since I was the only one living it. Now, though, I find I am responsible for someone else’s life, a life that I value more than my own, and so I toss and I turn a few times right before exhaustion takes over and the snoring begins.

“What the… Get your… I’ll put a… Get out of my face!”

When you’re a father you censor yourself. You get just as angry with a child but you don’t want to say, “What the filth and foul and I’ll filth and foul, filth and foul and, yeah, ya filth and foul face, and I’ll filth and foul, foul, filth!” You don’t want to say that to a child so you censor yourself and you sound like an idiot: “What the… Get your… I’ll put a… Get out of my face!”

– Bill Cosby (Bill Cosby Himself)

I used to laugh until I cried when I listened to Bill Cosby’s routine when I was growing up. I was not a parent, yet, but as a child his portrayal of parent’s was dead on. Now that I have a kid I still laugh until I cry because everything he describes about parenthood matches my experience thus far. All the contradictions and all the moments in which you have to remind yourself that you are dealing with a child and not with another adult are described down to the detail the same way I have gone through the initial stages of daddyhood.

The way a child can infuriate you and melt your heart into putty all in the span of a split second is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed and experienced in my life. Whether it is a genetic coping mechanism that children have hard wired into them or a gift they pick up in a very short time period right after they are born is not something I am privy to knowing. I find myself often exasperated with my son’s stubbornness in any given situation and close to tearing my hair out and screaming bloody murder (see above quote) when he’ll throw his arms around my leg or give me one of his gleeful giggles – and I’m toast. So what if the couch was turned into a Jackson Pollock, I never liked that mug anyway, we really needed a new clock radio and so on and so forth.

For now the excuse is always, “he’s still too young to know any better…”, but that will not fly for much longer. Already my wife and I have adopted the accusatory adjective “your” as in: “Do you know what your son just did?” So before we go down that slippery slope we should probably starting making sure he learns who’s boss (yeah right!). It is really hard to discipline a toddler, though, when he is making funny faces and hugging you or worse laughing (at you?). The “innocence” of the young is so disarming that for a novice like myself it really rattles your game. Even when two parents are actually coordinated and are working in tandem on teaching a child “wrong from right” breakdowns are common and as one parent falls the other is often close behind.

The restraint and infinite patience that is necessary makes “cracking” even more unnerving to me because there are moments in which the tantrum or the “no, no, no” is so grating that I just want to roar at him like in the cartoons with all the air coming out of my mouth making my son whimper into submission. Instead, much like in the cartoons that I remember, it’s as if by batting his eyes or smiling lovingly at me he takes out a huge pacifier and sticks it in my mouth.

I figure I better start practicing for the inevitably harder challenges that lie ahead that will need discipline for things that go beyond spilt milk. In the meantime, my wife and I should think of using a coin toss to determine if he is my son or hers on a case-to-case basis or we could to alternate.

Sunday In The Park

Sunday in the park is the only place one can really survive in Manhattan when the sun starts to literally melt the asphalt. We pack the stroller with plenty of water and toys and head out to the Great Lawn in the heart of Central Park. I am very grateful that plans to turn this vital patch of green into more city blocks was scuttled in the mid-1800s. As a parent, I realize how important this resource is for surviving with kids in the city.
I also would like to take a smidgen of credit for Central Park as you see it today. When I was just a wee lad growing up in a New York City that had barely survived the 70s and was trying to hang on in the 80s, a few volunteers decided that it was time to reclaim Central Park from its sad state of degradation. Although it was used much the same way it is used today, as a way to escape the din and chaos of the city streets, it was more dustbowl than oasis. I was recruited to volunteer with a new city parks initiative called “You’ve Gotta Have Park!” (a nod to the song “You’ve Gotta Have Heart!”). We were stationed next to the now beautifully restored promenade that leads to the Bethesda Fountain and we asked, using the cutest kid faces we could muster, each passerby to contribute a dollar to help rebuild the park which was not receiving much, if any, city funding. To make a long story short, over the next few years, slowly but surely, and thanks to so many great volunteers and patrons, Central Park got a sorely needed makeover and now is a case study in grassroots local community efforts to pick up the slack from underfunded and disorganized municipalities.
Now my wife and I can setup shop in the shade and play until my son conks out for a couple of hours lulled and cooled by a fairly constant breeze even on the most humid days. Lying on my back I see blue skies through the trees (OK so I also see the occasional jet or helicopter, but you know what I mean) and listen to the sounds of the nearby softball games or children chasing each other on the lawn, no cars honking or buses kneeling, just New Yorkers enjoying the park. Not bad for a tiny island crammed with concrete, steel, glass and one and a half million people!
My son will grow up assuming that this incredible park that allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle has always been this inviting and stocked with swings and jungle gyms and lush green mantles to run on and kick, throw and catch balls on. I dealt with dirt fields with broken glass and early curfews (thanks also to the occasional Houdini act pulled by one of the big cats in the then decrepit zoo) so I am more than happy that he can just enjoy the transformation. I, on the other hand, cannot begin to tell you how much easier my life is by having such an incredible getaway within walking distance of our apartment. Sometimes, when I’m there, I can can even hear myself think.

Sons Of Our Fathers

My father has always been larger than life for me. He is a WWII veteran. He speaks five languages fluently. He was the editor of Hollywood’s leading industry rag. He won a ping pong tournament on the Andrea Doria while crossing the Atlantic. He taught me to throw a spiral and to use both hands to scoop up a ground ball. I will never be able to thank him enough for giving me the carefree childhood that not everyone is afforded, second only to my mother who gave me everything.

I have his eyes and hair. I furrow my brow like he does, as does my son when he pouts. There are a couple of pictures of him as a teenager that many friends mistake for me. He infected me with a love of all things stationery, especially fountain pens. And a love of writing, although, unfortunately, not his mastery. I envy his luck at having worked his whole life in what he was passionate about since a child.

As Father’s Day approaches I want to thank him for so many things he taught me and for laying a foundation for me. I’ll take the good and build on it with my way of confronting daddyhood with my son. I want to give him that carefree childhood and yet I want to make sure that my work, which I am passionate about, does not consume all my time. It is every modern dad’s dilemma and one I know is shared by many I have talked to, but there must be an equilibrium that allows me to be a more present father? I cannot stand around and wait for someone to enlighten me (although, I doubt there is an easy answer out there) so I will just have to keep at it and as long as I know in my heart of hearts that I am giving it my best, I think I’ll be alright. I’ll win some and lose some and take those lessons and keep moving forward. That, at least, I am sure is part of being a good father.

The Dad Revolution Begins…

When I volunteered to go first here at Dad Revolution, I was really just making up for all those times I slouched deeper into my chair to avoid being called on at school. I figured now that I am an adult – a father and husband to boot – it’s time for me to start taking on more responsibility. I never imagined a few months ago that I would be swept up by this revolution, but just a short time later I am the first of this motley crew of dads to step onto the virtual soapbox.

Writing about anything and everything encountered by an urban dad on my blog New York Dad’s Blog has been an unexpectedly pleasant way to connect with other dads who are stepping into their parenting roles with a very different perspective on life than our dads and grandfathers. This is not to say that only those of us who write about our experiences are “good fathers” – we are certainly not saints; nor is there a set of rules or level of engagement needed to qualify as such. It does not matter if you are a SAHD, WAHD, 9-to-5 Dad or any other “type” of dad, the importance of the Dad Revolution is a break from the past and a decidedly new way of being a parent. Many of us are newbies, others are veterans, some feel more clueless than others (I know I often do), but we all do our best as do countless other dads that you and I will never hear or read about.

Everyday as a father and parent is a challenge and a joy, none of which you can correctly predict or fully comprehend until you live it yourself, despite what others may tell you even before your first child is born. We do, though, understand each other – on a parenting level at least. This is the driving force behind the Dad Revolution, in my opinion. The dads involved understand that despite all the differences and distractions that might separate us in any other context, when it comes to “Daddyhood” we speak the same basic language.

My son is the best thing that ever happened to me and to be perfectly honest it is only thanks to having found my soul mate who had no small role in bringing us this gift. We do everything for him and wish to give him still more. No matter what I am doing during the day at work, commuting or at home I think of him – even when he is driving us crazy. I am thankful that I get to be with him at night when I get home before he goes to sleep. I am glad that he says “Daddy” just as often as he says “Mommy”. No it’s not a competition, but a desire to be there in a way that past generations of fathers were not, could not or did not want to be there for their kids. No judgement, either, just a different way of looking at and living life. I like to think of it as progress – the true catalyst of all revolutions.

My idea of a Dad Revolution is not about replacing or overthrowing anyone, but rather changing a mindset that has placed fathers on the fringes of parenthood, much through our own fault and neglect, for too long. We are here to stake a claim on our long lost half of the parenting equation and make sure that our stories are told.