undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Midnight Elocution

juon2md4My son has this habit of sneaking into our room in the middle of the night and hovering over my side of the bed.  At times, I’ll wake up to find him standing there, just staring at me, eerily reminiscent of the ghost child from Ju-on.  I shutter just thinking about it.

His tendency is to announce what he’s going to do, as though he feels my wife or I need a narration of his nocturnal activities.  Many of my nights are pierced with conversations like this:

“Dad,” he whispers from my bedside.  I startle awake.

“Yeah bud,” I ask once I get my wits about me.

“I’ve gotta go pee.”

“Then go.”

It’s not that he needs me to help him find the bathroom.  Most of the time he doesn’t ask for my help.  He just wants me to know what he’s up to.  By far one of his funnier middle-of-the-night commentaries was this:

“First of all, I’ve got a bloody nose.  Second of all, we’re out of toilet paper.”

Even in the wee hours of the morning I found the comment funny.  He’d actually taken the time to construct a two-part argument for why he needed to wake me up.

At first when I startle awake, I’m typically annoyed.  I get very limited sleep on weekdays, so I resent any disturbances of the 6 or so hours I get each night.  Luckily, I’ve been able to temper my responses, and hear my son out most of the time.  I won’t say there isn’t an edge to my voice when I state the obvious directive, “Then go,” but at least I have the wherewithal to hear him out and see to his 2am needs.

Sometimes, I have to remember what it was like for me growing up.  A true believer in ghosts, alien abduction, and other paranormal activity, I was prone to waking up in the middle of the night as a little kid.  Even with two parents and three siblings in the house, there was this overwhelming sense of being alone.  I thought that if something were to happen in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t be able to wake anyone up.  I remember nudging my brother awake or crawling upstairs to my parents’ room, but rarely to a warm reception.  I’m guessing my son wants something similar.  When I ask him why he wakes me up, he doesn’t have an answer.  But perhaps he just needs to know that someone else is conscious while he makes his way to the bathroom.  Maybe he just needs to know that he isn’t alone in a dark house.

I hope I can continue reminding myself of my own fears growing up, so that I can be receptive to his midnight orations.  I hope I don’t get too lazy or protective of my sleep that I snap or reprimand or tell him to bother his mom.  It’s hard to be mindful about these things, especially when I find his rigid silhouette staring at me in the dark…..creeeeepy.

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NeverEnding Disappointment

neverending2I’ve become my mother.  I mean, in terms of cultural relevance.  When I was about 10-years-old, my family was in the video store (remember those?), but my sibs and I couldn’t find anything we wanted to watch.  So my mom suggested we watch this “hilarious” comedy A New Leaf, starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May.  She told us we’d love it.  We hated it.  It was really cheesy.  As 4- to 10-year-olds we couldn’t appreciate any of the 1971 film’s nuances, and we made fun of my mom for the suggestion.  She didn’t live that one down for another decade.  Every time we were indecisive about a movie, someone would suggest A New Leaf and elbow my mom.

Now in my house, my wife and I both scramble to get to the Netflix queue first and rearrange things to suit our own likes.  I’ll scramble to get Looper to the top, while she’s sneaking on-line to bump up Hope Springs.   So recently I battled to get The Neverending Story on the top of the list for our weekly family movie night with our 6-year-old.  I won, and we sat down one recent Friday to watch.

The synthesizer music, the blue screen, the dog/dragon with the animatronic face.  Awesome.  Every bit of it.  But not to my family.

My son kept jumping around the room and climbing on the couches.  For a 6-year-old, he’s got a great attention span.  The kid can really sit through a movie when he enjoys something.  So when he’s all wiggly, we can tell he’s not into the movie.  Well he was really wiggly.  Plus, my wife kept shooting me these weird looks as if to say, “Nice one dude…what the hell are we watching?”

Okay.  I’ll admit, Falkor’s jaw movements don’t sync up with his voice, the courtiers at the Empress’s temple (with their many-sided faces or massive heads) are pretty freakish, and the crossover into the real-world when Bastian flies over the city and lands the bullies in a dumpster doesn’t really make sense.  I can recognize all of these flaws and yet I love the movie.

I’m guessing that’s probably how my mom felt.  She really liked that Walter Matthau movie and, in some way, wanted her kids to share in that experience.  But it wasn’t part of our generation.  We didn’t get it, and she was left feeling disappointed.  That’s how I felt with The Never Ending Story.  I wanted everyone to love it and, in a way, get them to connect with the feelings I had when I watched the movie for the first time.

I still love The Neverending Story.  It came out in 1984 when I was just 9-years-old.  It was one of those movies that made me believe in the imagination and feel like I could do anything inside my mind.  But I can’t just inject that feeling into my 6-year-old, 21st century son.  I guess that’s something he’ll have to find on his own, from the hallmarks of his own generation.  I’ll just have to chalk it up to a generation gap, and hope that he finds his own sense of wonder in the movies of today.

But in the meantime, watching the Dark Crystal couldn’t hurt, could it?


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Confessions of a Reformed Blog Hater

blogging%20imageI have to admit that I’m a reformed blog-hater.  Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of folks blogging about their own lives, I would have told you I considered it the most narcissistic writing endeavor that our technological age had birthed.  I simply–and mistakenly–thought that bloggers were the most self-absorbed of all writers.

Many apologies to my fellow bloggers for these sentiments, and I assure you I’ve come to value blogging.  Let me explain how I turned that corner.

Admittedly, my initial motivations for starting a blog were opportunistic.  I completed the first draft of a book manuscript about two years ago, and then launched into a year of constant editing.  When I tried submitting to agents, I came up dry.  I stopped writing.  I didn’t know how I felt about it all.  I had read many things about blogging as a means for developing a platform, but was uncomfortable with the idea.  I was still holding onto my dislike for bloggers.  Even my wife asked me about possibly starting a blog, but I refused (she’s full of good ideas that are sometimes hard for me to accept).

But I kept hearing about blogging and its benefits for writers.  After one final push from a relative, I decided to bite the bullet.  I thought it would be a good way of getting back into writing.  I settled on the theme of mindful fatherhood, a topic with which I’d been struggling.

Then I started to write.  I enjoyed sitting down to put my thoughts into words and elaborate on the struggles I face each day, especially my challenges of feeling depleted or absent at home.  But here’s the thing: expressing my thoughts and feelings has never been easy for me.  When something bad happens, I usually try to make sense of the situation quickly, draw some conclusions, and then sweep it under the rug so I don’t have to deal with it any longer.  This is the case for a host of life’s struggles, but especially my losses and fears.  It’s a source of conflict for my relationships because I don’t process significant events or spark conversations about my feelings.  Instead, I’m happy to run away.  I’d rather compartmentalize my feelings, stow them away where I don’t have to look at them, and try to forget.

Yet I find that when I write, I have much more tolerance when it comes to conflicting emotions.  An issue will come to mind and I’ll start putting it down in words.  With time, my thoughts and feelings begin crystallizing and connecting in my consciousness. I’m sure this is what any devoted journal- or diary-keeper would tell you.  And yet, my previous attempts at journaling always fell flat.  Each time I’d start a journal, I felt like a fool, and put it down again.

But not with blogging.  I stuck with blogging.  But why?  After many posts about my daily struggles, I realized I wasn’t shying away.  I kept blogging and, in the process, tolerating my feelings long enough to allow them to evolve on the screen.  My thoughts felt more organized, and through that organization I was better able to sit with them.

And yet, when it came down to it, I still couldn’t voice my feelings one-to-one with others in my life.  On one occasion, my wife read a post of mine and pointed out that she’d never known how I’d felt about that post’s topic.  She hadn’t realized that I’d given the subject any thought.  It was really difficult for us both to understand at the time.  Why did I feel more comfortable posting my feelings rather than sitting down with my own wife to have a conversation about them?  Was a “like” from a fellow blogger more important to me than connecting with her?

I was racked with guilt.  I was the one who used to slam bloggers for being self-absorbed, and here I was, potentially being the biggest narcissistic idiot of them all.  Was on-line validation of my feelings more important than validation from my wife?  Was I so shallow that it took a disembodied audience to force me to look at my own feelings about things, when the support of one person wasn’t enough?

I beat myself up like that for quite a while, but it forced me to sit and look at my real motivations.  This is what I’ve come up with so far.  I am a guy who relies on deadlines and pressure to accomplish things.  I like to see a project completed and presented in a nice neat package.  There’s something about blogging that satisfies this need in me.  I set a schedule for how many posts I’ll get out per week, determine a few topics, write in my free time, tweak and revise, and send out a fully formed post in the end.  Although my readership is small, there’s something about the knowledge that I have “readers” that helps me stick to it.  I have no delusions that people are waiting on tenterhooks for my posts, but the very fact that I “manage” a blog makes me commit to a schedule in my head.  That’s what makes me actually stick to the writing routine.

When it comes to developing the thoughts themselves, it’s the writing process that helps me do that.  At times, I have set aside time just to think (without writing) about tender subjects, like the losses in my life, my relationship with my parents, or conflicts at home, but my mind inevitably wanders off.  I’ll turn off the radio in the car to think and gain some clarity, but I end up thinking about dinner or the driver in front of me, and before I know it the radio is back on and I’m pulling into the garage.  My mind won’t allow me to sustain a thought that’s too uncomfortable.

But with writing, the words on the screen tether me to the thought.  They make it hard to get distracted or leave loose ends hanging.  The words on the screen force me to complete my thoughts and link one sentence to the next.  It’s through blogging that I have been able to tolerate reflection.

So, who is it all for?  I’ve discovered it isn’t for the faceless on-line audience.  It isn’t for people in my life.  It isn’t even for my wife.  It’s for me.  I want to become better at sitting with things that are difficult.  I want to be able to make sense of my life, what I want from it, and the things I do to thwart my own development.  Only by investing in this process I can become a better person, a better father, a better husband.  Blogging has helped me open up to myself a bit more, and has given my thoughts some space to expand.

My new challenge is translating that voice.  I have been somewhat successful in putting these words on a screen, and now I have to move them into spoken word.  I have to be able to voice my thoughts and struggles with my wife and others in person, in order to grow my relationships and help others understand me.

I’m glad that blogging has helped spark this process in me, but I have to remember my priorities.  Although I love seeing a new “like” on the screen or a new person following my work, I have to remember that blogging is about giving my thoughts the chance to expand, and extending that process into my personal relationships.  That is where the heart of the growth lies.  I am forever indebted to readers with whom my words resonate, because they emphasize that this process of growth and learning is a valid one, and one that deserves further investment.

I would chance a guess that this process motivates the writing of many other bloggers.  Blogging is a chance to expand upon one’s thoughts in order to develop further as a person.  It gives the writer an opportunity to reflect on one’s self and perhaps carry those insights into other, more personal relationships.  For this reason I have a new appreciation and, dare I say, love for blogging.

I’d like to know others’ motivations for blogging.  Please post or add a comment. Why do you blog?


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Grand Pricks: Teaching a 6-Year-Old to Swear

5825299451_swear_word_xlargeI always imagined my son would know how to swear, but didn’t realize how much of it he’d actually get from his parents.

When our son was born, our family underwent a period of language transition.  My wife and I tended to swear like sailors at home.  So with the addition of an impressionable young mind in the house, we decided that we definitely needed to pull back on the language.  That is, unless we were prepared to be called into many a principal’s office in the years to come.

Thank God babies don’t understand speech in the first few months because my transition to clean language took an f-ing long time.  My wife would frequently catch me and roll her eyes and I’d apologize profusely.  I’m guessing it took about two years before I was able to prevent every four-letter word from spilling off the tip of my tongue.

But now at 6-years-old, our son is actually learning to swear.  It’s not that he necessarily hears us swear and, from what we can tell, his friends don’t seem to curse.  However, it’s still amazing how many situations a young kid can encounter that involve swear words.  And he’s an inquisitive little kid. Therefore, we’ve decided that we’re going to let him know what words mean if he asks.  There are even some words that we’ve told him we don’t mind him saying in front of us, but they aren’t for public life.

Take “ass” for example.  My son’s favorite cable stations, which he likes even more than Cartoon Network, are the Food Network and Travel Channel.  There was a time about a year ago when Andrew Zimmern said “ass” on Bizarre Foods, and our son asked us what it meant.  We explained it to him honestly and then told him that we didn’t consider “ass” to be a “really bad word”.  We said it would be okay if he used it sometimes, but only around the house and never in front of anyone else, especially at other kids’ houses or at school.  We likened it to dancing around naked: fine to do at home, but we’d have a much bigger problem if he did the same thing at school.  It was a very good conversation about what’s okay at home and what’s okay in public.

Holy cow.  I didn’t know the word ass could be incorporated into so many sentences.  Example: “My napkin fell on the floor…on its ass.”  He was extremely liberal with the a-word for about a week but, not surprisingly, it died out.  The word, as we were hoping it might, lost its power.

Recently we were driving past a go-cart place in our neighborhood called the Grand Prix, and my son asked when we could go back to “Grand Pricks”.  This certainly wasn’t the first time he referred to the place by that name, and it certainly wasn’t the first time my wife and I broke into fits of laughter at his mispronunciation of the word “prix”.  This time he asked what was so funny, and so my wife decided to tell him.

“Prick is a bad word for a penis.  If someone is being kind of mean, people might call him a prick.  But, you shouldn’t be using that word, because it’s very bad.”

“Okay,” he replied after a hearty laugh, and let it go.

We haven’t heard the word since (and haven’t been called into the principal’s office).  It’s kind of amazing that when we treated him with honesty, he understood and follow the rules when old enough to handle them.  I was also impressed by the fact that the words lost their power when he knew when and where he was allowed to use them.  I initially thought that educating him about these words would bite us in the ass, but up until now we’ve been all right.

I bet I’ll be retracting this post in the future after our first visit to the principal’s office.


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Yer Gonna Git Diabetes!

fast-food-couponsThese are the words my son utters in his best hillbilly accent whenever we pass a fast food restaurant.  I swear to God.  “Yer gonna git diabetes.”  Let me explain.

We’re a fairly health conscious family.  My wife is a personal trainer, so she’s very fit.  For this reason (and because she’s an excellent cook and I’m dismal), she’s in charge of our family’s food intake .  She frequently steers us in the right direction.  While I’m not much for fast food and big greasy meals, I’m addicted to chocolate and desserts, so she’s frequently wrestling chocolate cake from my hands.

Our son has grown up hearing about portion control, protein intake, the importance of fruits and vegetables, and care for the animals we eat.  He’s also a pretty rule-based guy, and can take some firm moral stances on things.  That’s one of the reasons he’s such a good kid; we can always trust him to make the right choices.

But the one thing he’s militant about is fast food.  We’re not much of a fast food family, so he hardly had any exposure to chain restaurants in his early years.  Aside from my wife’s Subway addiction (now in remission), we didn’t frequent any franchises.  But as he got older and went to public school, he was exposed to the names of the holy trinity: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell.

“What’s fast food?” he once asked us.

“It’s food that’s made fast. Usually stuff like burgers and fries.”

“Is it good for you?” (This has always been his litmus test question, and he expects a yes or no answer.  No gray area.)

“No. It’s got lots of fat and salt and sugar in it, so it’s not very good for you.”  In another conversation, we eventually got around to explaining what diabetes was and how people can develop a type of diabetes later in life by eating too many things that are bad for them.  Somehow he fused the two things in his brain: Fast Food = Diabetes. Hence his new favorite phrase.

My son happens to like saying things in his budding British or Southern accents (his mom is quite theatrical), and somehow his new saying came out in a Southern accent.  Now, every time someone mentions a Pizza Hut or a Wendy’s, he spouts out, “Yer gonna git diabetes!” It always gets a big laugh. And so, it’s continued for over a year now.

Part of me is proud. I mean, lots of kids are finicky and parents have to work their hardest to get their kids to eat right.  Here I have this boy who wants to eat well and who even knows that certain types of food can lead to disease if over-eaten.  How lucky am I?  Part of me is concerned.  I hope that as he grows up, he’s able to indulge.  I mean, he’s only 6, and I don’t want him to become some militant health-nut.  I want him to experience a wide array of food and do so in moderation.  Finally, part of me is a little worried that somehow he’s paired Southerners with bad health and nasty diets.  What’s up with that?  We’ll be sure to keep him away from Paula Deen so we don’t reinforce his stereotype!

There’s hope for him though.  He’s a big advocate for dessert (like his dad) and loves chips and popcorn (like his mom).  He can barely watch a movie without access to treats.  It’s good to see him indulge.  It’s also good to see he’s knowledgeable about his health and what goes into his body.

I just want him to have a balanced outlook, and sometimes that’s tough at a developmental age in which everything is so black and white.  My wife and I try to be mindful and not to go overboard when we malign food.  At his tender age he can certainly latch onto anything we say.  We have to watch ourselves at times, because we can be really critical.  He absorbs everything like a sponge, and can over-inflate ideas like he did with fast food.  It has been a good reminder for us to be more mindful about what we say, in order to temper the absolutism of our little moral policeman.


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The Reality Blog Award

reality-blog-award1-e1357511854615I was floored when one of the bloggers I thoroughly enjoy, hillbillyzen, nominated me for The Reality Blog Award.  I’m relatively new to this whole blogging thing, so I didn’t quite understand at first.  But, according to hillbillyzen, it’s an award that authors can bestow upon the blogs they follow and admire.  I’m very honored that hillbillyzen found my writing to be award-worthy, and would encourage many others to check out her thoughtful posts!

So here are the logistics of this award thing.  When you’re nominated, you:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition.  Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.  Easy peasy.

And so, here are the questions and my responses:

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

As Steve Martin says in his 5 Christmas Wishes, “First it would be the crap about the kids…”  No, seriously, I’d want folks to be able to see past themselves a bit more and realize the repercussions of the actions they take in the world. 

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

Oh Shit.  I’m pretty pleased to be done with many of the developmental milestones I’ve suffered through over the past (nearly four) decades, but if I had to pick an age, I would choose 31.  It was a year in which I could have done a whole lot better.  It was the year my son was born, and if I could experience that joy again with the knowledge I have now, I’d be a better person and a better husband. 

What one thing really scares you?

The thought of losing my wife or son.  Simply terrifies me. 

What is one dream that you have not completed, and do you think you’ll be able to complete it?

To see one of my books in print.  I think I’ll see that happen, even if by “print” I mean churning out of the printer in my basement. 

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

I would like to be my wife.  I’d like to see the world through her eyes and feel what she feels. 

And now, I get to nominate other bloggers whom I find worthy of an award.  I have agonized over this for days, as I can only pick a few.  Although the blogs I follow vary in theme, I have chosen to honor blogs about fatherhood.  My blog is about the struggles of fatherhood, and I find that I’ve gained the most personally by reading about other fathers’ experiences.  There are very few men speaking up about parenting, and so I think these blogs deserve some accolades.  These writers can be thoughtful, heart-felt, humorous, and irreverent.  They are:

dorkdaddy

The Evolving Dad

Thought Pop

FosterDad101

Ay yo, Be a Father

Adventures of a Father in Training

Daddy @ Through the Grapevine

Many thanks to all these authors for sharing their wit and wisdom.  I hope that many others will check them out.


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The Only One: Bi-Racial in the Burbs

White_picket_fenceLike many families I know, ours recently committed urban flight.  We left the big city for the wide lawns and picket fences of the suburbs.  Like many young couples, my wife and I spent most of our adult lives in cities.  East Coast, West Coast, Rocky Mountain, and Midwest, we’ve lived all over.  With the birth of our son, we initially decided to stick it out in the city where everything was close and convenient.  We could walk to the grocery store, meet up with friends, pop by the coffee shop, and stroll to the park.  We had the best of both worlds: family life and city living.

Then Kindergarten hit.

Concerned about the reputation of our urban public schools, we put our son’s name in the hat for charter school drawings.  We even looked into some private options.  But neither the celestial nor financial stars aligned for us, and his Kindergarten year was spent in public school.  We were lucky enough to live in the catchment area for one of the “best” urban schools in the district, but it turned out to be a really rough year for our little guy.  He would report lots of yelling by teachers, kids getting choked on the playground, and students peeing themselves without the teacher noticing.  We tried our best as parents to volunteer and be active, but this was a challenge as well.

After that critical K-year, we were at a crossroads and decided to sell our house in the city and move to a neighboring suburb, renown for its high-performing schools.  This community is fairly affluent, but we were lucky enough to find a tiny home right on the edge of a developement of mini-mansions.  Our house looks as though one of the garages from the big homes was violently ripped away during a coastal hurricane and blown onto our lot.  Let’s just say that the SUVs down the block have more elbow room than we do.

This was a huge decision, not only because we were giving up our urban identity, but because we are a bi-racial family.  For us, leaving the city not only meant leaving its conveniences but also its color.  Ours wasn’t the most diverse or integrated of the East Coast cities, but at least there was a language of diversity.  There were enough people of color, international college kids, and diversity of sexual orientation and SES (among other diversities) that put us a bit more at ease.

Our suburb is 96.4% White.  So much so, that at nearly every community function or family outing , my wife and I play the tragic game of “The Only One,” in which we scan the crowd to see if she’s the only person of color in the crowd.  The vast majority of the time she is.  Now in our 8th month at the new house, the realization of aloneness is really sinking in for my wife.  So is the fear of constructing a life of racial isolation for our son.  This is the struggle we’re dealing with now.

I am White.  If I had married another White person, I likely would not see the world in the same way I do now.  I probably would have taken a lot more for granted.  My wife often laments that “White people can live anywhere.”  By this she means that a White person or a White family can move to just about any city or town in the US and find an area of safe harbor; an area where the majority of people look like them.  Therefore, race is hardly ever a deciding factor when a White person wrestles with the limitations of where they can comfortably live.  This isn’t the same for people/families of color.

If I hadn’t married into the family I did, I wouldn’t realize this struggle.  I’d likely regard it from an intellectual level: I’d know that it’s probably hard for a non-White person to live in mostly-White suburbs.  But it wouldn’t necessarily affect me and where I can live.  This struggle has now become my struggle.  I’m not saying that I feel the differences as viscerally as my wife or son.  I’m not saying that I can’t hide behind my White face.  I can still sit in a coffee shop by myself, and my Whiteness dissolves into the sea of other faces.  What I’m saying is that the concern and vigilance about the type of world I’m presenting to my child becomes more prominent in my mind.  I have become more mindful about the real limitations of his community and the trade-offs that families often make to preserve their children’s educations.

It’s a constant struggle to understand our place in this community, and it’s that struggle that keeps me mindful of my family, our surroundings, and my son’s perception of himself in the world.