undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Finding Out Your Friend is an Absent Parent

part2-1 (2)“Where’s Ted?” my wife asked one of the moms at a soccer game this summer.

Ted is the father of my son’s best friend. The friend with whom my son shares a 3rd grade class, a soccer team, and (previously) a fencing class, and so we see this kid and his family a lot. Over time, our families began inviting each other over for get-togethers, and a family friendship started to form. However, aside from the family functions, Ted was nowhere to be found while his harried wife toted their three kids to every imaginable after-school activity. “Where’s Ted?” became a mantra of sorts when we’d see the family.

Although both parents worked, Ted didn’t appear to take any interest in his kids, whether for mundane practices or bigger school events. One weekend Ted’s wife asked if my wife and I could bring their boy home from a game because she had to buzz off to some other kids’ event. We agreed, and when we finally pulled up to the kid’s house, Ted answered the door in his slippers and thanked us for dropping off his son. Where the hell were you, Ted, when your kid had a soccer game 7 blocks away?!? My perception of Ted took a nose-dive.

Over the years I’ve found that when I became a husband and a parent, my friendship standards shifted so that I evaluate others’ viability as a friend not only on their personalities, likes, and interests, but also on their attitudes toward marriage and parenting roles.

Throughout my 20’s, I judged whether a friendship would work based on how that person treated me and our mutual friends. First of all, did we click? If so, then could you be counted on? Were you reliable? Did you care about the same people and causes I cared about?  These questions about friendship all centered around how that person treated me and our mutual friends.

When I got married, my focus began to shift. Dedicating my life to making my wife happy and building a life for us became the most important thing to me, and so I wanted to connect with others who had similar investments in their relationships. Are you dedicated to your wife or partner? Do you work hard in your relationships? Do you work to find balance in your responsibilities as a couple (i.e., do you cook, dude, or do the laundry, or clean the bathrooms)? 

As the years went by and kids enter the picture, my focus shifted again. Being a candidate for friendship didn’t only mean how well we clicked and how well you treated your wife or significant other, it became about how well you treated your kids, your family. Are you an involved dad? Do you accept parenting responsibilities? Do you dedicate time with your child(ren) and honor their pursuits?

In this way, finding friends has become a multi-layered process. In retrospect, finding friends that I clicked with in my early 20s was pretty easy. Are you a cool guy?  Great, then let’s hang out.  Now I find that there are many more factors involved in figuring out whether a guy is “like me” and someone I can trust and invest in as a friend. It becomes a bit exhausting, and I find that it’s hard to do.

Here’s an example. I had a good friend several years back who was making some tough decisions. He was married with an infant, and he had decided to make a career change based on his principals (he wanted to do more socially-conscious union work) and by changing jobs he sunk his family’s income below the poverty line. Once in his new job, the family qualified for section 8 housing, which they pursued. After the move, he started donating his time to a political campaign (though his union work) that led him to canvass for votes several states away from home for weeks on end, leaving his wife at home to care for their toddler.

If I had known this guy when he was single, I’d probably have admired him. He was dedicated to social justice and willing to make difficult, moral-based decisions even if they resulted in personal loss. But because of where we were in our lives, his actions caused me to look at him through a different lens. I could understand feeling conflicted with his job, but I couldn’t understand threatening the well-being of your family based on principals alone. I also couldn’t stomach the fact that he opted to spend weeks away from his young daughter to volunteer his time. At the time, our family was close with his wife as well, so we heard directly from her how his decisions negatively impacted the family, which put me in a further bind. Eventually, the friendship ended abruptly, in many regards because of my change of attitude toward him.

The trickiest part of all this is that I didn’t feel as though I had the right to address the things about him that impacted our friendship. His decisions about his career, his family, and his child had nothing to do with me, and I knew I’d overstep my bounds by addressing his decisions. At the same time, these decisions were diminishing my respect for him and eroding our friendship.

So this is now where things stand with Ted, and yet I don’t know the guy enough to say, “So, you don’t spend much time with your kids, huh?” To do so would sound judgmental and presumptuous. It’s not my business how he decides to spend his time, but it certainly affects how I see him and whether I’d choose to pursue a friendship with him. This relationship, the entire family relationship, is slowly eroding because of value difference. As someone who already struggles with friends, these examples underscore just how tricky these relationships can get.

And yet, as I review my history of attitudes towards friends, I realize that no matter what stage of life, my priority has always been focused on how the other person treats the people in his life. How does he treat me, our mutual friends, his wife or partner, or his kids?  Perhaps children are simply the most salient relationships in which to see whether someone cares about others. The job of a dad is so well-defined for me that it’s the easiest means to see whether someone is focused on the most important relationships in their lives.

To me, that is a true test of friendship.

 

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Taking One for the Team: Or, How I Got Talked into Being Unikitty for Halloween

My kick-ass Unikitty mask

My kick-ass Unikitty mask

Being a dad means taking on rough jobs, whether it’s unclogging toilets, cleaning vomit, or dressing like a big pink LEGO kitten for Halloween.

My son had a tricky time deciding what to be for Halloween this year, but finally landed on Emmett, the construction working main character of the LEGO Movie. In spite of the show’s popularity, we couldn’t find a single costume manufactured to look like any of the LEGO Movie characters. During our pursuit of a construction vest and Piece of Resistance, my family joked about us all dressing like characters from the movie. Immediately, my son said my wife should be Wyldstyle, the DJ-named master builder. My wife turned around and insisted that I be Unikitty.  Not Batman, not Vitruvius, not even President Business. Unikitty.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, Unikitty is a pink, block-headed kitten that lives in land of rainbows and lollipops, and meets every challenge with syrupy sweetness while tamping down her seething rage.

emmet At first I insisted there was no way in hell I was being Unikitty, but my wife and son were adamant that it would be the best possible costume. They thought it would be hilarious, and I’m a sucker for making the laugh. I also knew it would likely be one of the last years that my son would tolerate his parents dressing up for trick-or-treating, let alone dressing with a family theme. I’m sure that in the years to come, he’ll scoff at any suggestion that we dress up with him, and I’m sure as a middle schooler he’d drop dead from embarrassment if we aligned our costumes with his. So, I sucked it up and I did it: I became Unikitty.

As a dad, I think it’s my job to do whatever it takes to make my family happy. Sometimes that means accomplishing very practical tasks, like holding a job and making money so that we can have the comfort of food, home, and heating. Or, it might take the form of family activities, like apple picking, visits to the pumpkin patch, or trips to the amusement park. But other times it’s making a complete fool of myself to get a laugh.

WyldstyleI’m not a natural at putting myself in uncomfortable, semi-humiliating situations for a good laugh. My wife is naturally funny, irreverent, and goofy, and has such a knack for making herself the butt of a joke for a good laugh. She’s always ready with a crazy face, story, song, or dance. I usually have to be prodded to be the clown. Most of the time she has to spur on my goofiness, whether it’s making me do a weird dance, hiking my my pants up under my armpits, or giving me a wedgie that rips my boxers by pulling them over my head (yes, this has happened). Plus, there’s usually the double-embarrassment of photographing or videotaping the incident.  I may feel self-conscious or ridiculous, but I’m so glad she encourages it. These times of goofiness are some of the most fun we have as a family, and are the times when we fall out of our chairs laughing, nearly peeing ourselves. Isn’t that what family’s about?

UnikittyI’m actually a bit uncomfortable dressing up as a big pink box-headed kitten for Halloween. Especially since I have to see other fathers who wouldn’t be caught dead in a costume like mine. I kind of feel like a nervous kid who risks a daring costume or piece of clothing and fears that his friends are going to make fun of him. But screw that. My family wants me to be Unikitty.  They think it’ll be hillarious, and that’s all that matters. So, for this Halloween, I’m happy to take one for the team, and strut around the neighborhood in second-hand ladies pink pajamas with a box over my head. I’m Unikitty, and I’m proud.

 


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My Son’s Just Not That Into Yours

kids arguing

My question is this: When should we as parents intervene at the parent-to-parent level, and when should we simply coach our kids to navigate their own relationships?

My neighbor is such a pain that I’ve considered dedicating a separate blog to my conflicts with him. Instead, I hold back and relegate a few choice posts to our ongoing feuds. The latest conversation with him was an interesting mix of land disputes, fatherhood, and childhood friendship.

The guy next door was in a tizzy about the way I raked my leaves, and started bullying me about how I had to remove them from a certain wooded area of my lot, sending me emails citing town ordinances. After I corrected his misinterpretation of the law, he explained that his beef had more to do with “unresolved issues” than it did with the leaves, so he invited a conversation.

Turned out he was concerned about the disintegration of his son’s relationship with my son. My son hadn’t played with his son since the beginning of the summer, and my neighbor felt as though I had turned my son away from his. The back-story is that his son and mine played together for about a year. His son is a little socially awkward and a bit of a trouble-maker. He would frequently refuse to go home when his parents asked for him or would ignore my or my wife’s redirections if he was breaking our house rules. Nothing too egregious, to the point of us having a sit-down with parents, but enough to be annoying. The kid also had a butt fascination, frequently trying to hit people in their’s during light sabre battles, ramming his head into my wife’s butt, and investigating the butts of our pets. Simply put, he’s a little weird.

After a while, we made sure that the boys were always in sight so that we could monitor a bit more closely. My son is the perpetual rule-follower, so he tends to steer clear of anyone in violation of the rules. By the beginning of the summer, he was pulling away, frequently putting the kid off when he showed up at our door, suggesting they play after lunch or the next day. When the kid showed up again, my son would decline a second time.

Finally, we sat our son down and asked why he didn’t want to play anymore. “I’m burnt out,” was his reply, as though he was some mid-life professional discussing a career change. We told him that he needed to be upfront with his friend; if he wanted to take break, then he should tell him that. Afterwards, he successfully had a conversation with the boy, saying he wanted “to take a break from play-dates over the summer.”  The kid got it, and stayed away…

…until the end of the summer, when re was ringing our doorbell again.  My son turned him away a few times, and the kid finally stopped coming over.

So when my neighbor sat me down, he was in a huff that we hadn’t shown him the respect of letting him know that my son didn’t want to play with his. He felt it was unfair for him as a parent to keep sending his son over to our house, only to set him up for rejection. I could empathize with that experience, and kind of felt badly. But the question arose: How much should we as parents intervene at the parent-to-parent level, and how much should we help our kids navigate their own relationships?

In this particular situation, there wasn’t anything bad enough that prompted us to intervene directly in the boys’ relationship. There wasn’t outright bullying or even arguments, there wasn’t meanness or cruelty or even terrible violations of rules. In most of those cases, my wife or I would have likely stepped in or approached a parent. This was just the whittling away of a relationship based on a poor fit. My son didn’t want to play much anymore and couldn’t articulate a specific reason. I’m left to assume that the two just didn’t click, and perhaps even that my son thought that the other boy was a bit odd or maybe a trouble-maker.

What would I have said to the other parents in that case?  “My son just isn’t that into yours?”  “My son thinks your kid’s kind of a trouble-maker”  “Don’t send your kid over anymore because he’s a bit odd?”  I can’t fathom what I would have said. Plus, this wasn’t an abrupt thing. Just like adults can, these kids had drifted apart over time, and there wasn’t any specific marker that indicated to me that I should really go talk to the parent.

In the end, my neighbor made me feel like a bad parent. As though I hadn’t been thoughtful enough as a parent to step in and say something to my son’s friend’s dad. I felt this guilty tailspin. Had I mis-stepped? Would a “good” parent have done something different? I started resenting this other parent for his judgments, especially if he hadn’t been following his own advice, which smacked of hippocracy. If he had wanted to have a conversation about things as the relationship was having a part, then that responsibility fell upon him. Plus the added accusation of me “turning my son against his” was over the top.

In the end, it’s about deciding the line for ourselves. At times, kids need to navigate their own relationships, which can be confusing. Our job as parents in this case was to help our son be clear with his friend and draw a line for himself. I think that in the long run, this was the best decision. I will be there as a mediator when needed, but certainly a cautious, strategic one.


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I Wanna Be a Crotchety Old Man

RoosterCogburn(JeffBridges)_250912101922Sometimes I want to be Rooster Cogburn.  Who the hell is Rooster Cogburn, you ask?  Well, Rooster Cogburn’s response would be, “Who the hell are you?”

Rooster Cogburn is the character from the movie True Grit, originally played by John Wayne in 1969 and re-booted with Jeff Bridges in 2010. For me (sorry purists, and my own father), I’m focused on the Coen brother’s 2010 Rooster. Rooster is a surly old US Marshal who helps a young woman track down her father’s murder in the old West.  The thing I like about the character is that he’s old, and ballsy, and doesn’t give a damn about what other people think of him. He’s going to do what he thinks is right.  He doesn’t care about first impressions, or using the right words, or impressing the right people. He says what he means, even if he comes across as a bitter old coot.

rocky4I find that I really enjoy lots of old male characters who embody this same I-could-give-a-shit mentality in movies. Regardless of whether its Mickey Goldmill from Rocky or Carl Fredricksen from Up, I love these guys. It took some reflection for me to understand why. In my life, I feel I have to be on my best behavior at times.  At work, I have to play a role.  I have to be unflappable, and hold my cards close to my chest.  I have to bite my tongue and devise the best way of approaching a situation that takes into account all perspectives.  I have to sit on my anger when my boss is a douche.  I have to hide who I am to get through the day.

The same goes for being out in the community.  In a relatively small town, you have to hide your feelings at times. If a parent or a kid gets under my skin, I pretty much have to sit on it. The shock waves of disputes in a small town can reverberate, and I always have to think about my son. Not in a don’t-make-waves sort of way, but folks can be petty, and parents’ reputations certainly dictate how adults or other kids treat your child.  So, for all these reasons, I hold back on what I might think, or what I might like to say, in a very un-Rooster-ish fashion.

review_up_1I want to blurt out.  I want to tell people to go to hell sometimes, but I don’t.  It’s sitting on these feelings that can tear a person up.  But it’s this act of blurting out that I see every day on-line.  Virtual life brings out the Rooster in many of us. Behind the veil of technology, many of us feel like we can spurt out whatever vitriol is in our blood, and throw caution to the wind. Many people let it all out and become crotchety old men on line.  I can see the intrigue. With a life of quiet repression, I can see how folks want to let it out on line. When first starting my blog, part of me wanted to adopt a pen-name personality that was crotchety.  A nom de plune that would be brash and rude whenever he felt like it. It was such an attractive option, the thought of having this outlet for telling people off. I ultimately decided not to go in that direction, because the things I wanted to write about were rather sentimental, and didn’t lend themselves to a shit-stirring ass of a narrator.

However, I’ve certainly read a few of blogs by shit-stirring asses, and I then see that the it isn’t so attractive from the other side of the page. These folks can certainly incite furry and debate, which is sometimes productive, but many are provocative for provocativeness’ sake. They just want to rile others up. I’m sure there’s some catharsis for the writer, being able to put out whatever hell-fire is on their mind, but in the end it’s usually just biting and self-indulgent.

And that’s not the allure of these old man characters that I love so much. It’s more so that they’re true to what they think and feel, even if it’s unpopular. They don’t spew out garbage simply because it’s on their minds, but say things they feel need to be said.

Ron-SwansonPerhaps the best example is Ron Swanson, the (not-so-old) city hall worker in Parks and Recreation, who sticks to his anti-government, meat-loving, gold-burying values. Although my leanings are very different from Ron’s, I absolutely love him. Ron is the type of guy who is frequently driven to contribute his thoughts by the ridiculousness or ignorance of those around him. He comes off as crotchety and even mean at times, but behind his words is a heart of gold. He says these things because he truly believes them and, when you get right down to it, because he thinks they’re important lessons for the people he loves.  And yet, he doesn’t punish others or hold them tightly to his values, but he makes a place to say them. I guess what I’m trying to say is that he sticks to what he thinks, but not without regard to others. He wants them to know what he thinks because it’s important to him, but also because he thinks it’s important for them and their well-being.

There’s certainly a fine line between being Ron Swanson and a domineering, shit-spewing, raving maniac. I’ve known plenty of people who trounce over others because they think they know what’s best.  That isn’t what I’m supporting or the type of person I want to be. But, at those times when I’m swallowing my own thoughts and feelings just to get through a situation, I do ask myself: What would Ron Swanson say?


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Father’s Ode to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

ryan_lewis_macklemoreBecoming a father has changed my perspective on the world, for better and for worse. Sometimes a reminder of my youth is exactly what I need.

When I was young, I was self-centered.  I cared about how things affected me right now.  Things like politics, corporations, and the environment all took center stage because they affected my situation in the here and now.  Sure, I had vague notions of my future or the future of society, but I couldn’t quite see past my little bubble. After having my son, the impact of these massive forces shifted.  Now I recognize the impact politics, corporations, and the environment will have on my son.  Not only now, but in his future.

The problem is this: in spite of an increased motivation to care about things, my energy to do so has waned to near non-existence.

In my twenties I cared deeply about things.  I’d sit at tables collecting signatures for human rights campaigns.  I’d march in rallies or gay pride parades.   I’d do things to express my beliefs.  Perhaps there was a cynical side of me that believed these actions really had no impact.  Who cared about a letter?  Who cared about a march, or a demonstration, or a parade, then the forces out there were too big to do anything about.  But I did these things anyways, because it was what I could do.

Then I started working.  My time was taken up by my job, by paying the bills, by getting through week to week.  I didn’t have time to do all the things that had previously felt so important, things that had carried so much weight at one point in my life.  Plus, other, younger people were out there doing them, and wasn’t that good enough?

Then we had our son, and I seemed to have even less time and energy to get out there, to put my voice on the line.  But also, that cynical side crept up again, thinking that it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t out there.  Nothing changes anyways.  My political activity boiled down to voting, because it was the one thing I felt I couldn’t ignore.  I became more interested in what was on TV, who was winning SYTYCD, what was inside that next basket on Chopped.  My sphere of interest shifted from NPR to the TV Guide Channel.  And with that shift came the hazy stupor of media fog.  My ideals didn’t shift, per se, but I didn’t do much about them.  My political activity boiled down to a few dollars donated here and there to various causes.  I wonder if other fathers, fresh out of the fog of their children’s early years, find themselves in the same spot.

The problem was that I didn’t find anything inspiring.  Media had effectively deadened me.  Nothing seemed to get me vocal.  I’d watch some Daily Show, but it only served to depress me.  I’d turn on NPR, but felt too insignificant to do anything.  This might seem stupid, but I found a new burst of energy and motivation in what seems like a very unlikely place: in the music videos of a white hip-hop artist from Seattle.

It started with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s track Thrift Shop, which set them on the national stage.  The track was infectious, and its anti-couture agenda really spoke to me.  I was the kid in his 20’s who only shopped at thrift shops, and thought it was so much cooler than buying off the rack.  But the song that really made me stop and think was the the duo’s Same Love video, a track dedicated to embracing homosexuality and a rally-cry for gay marriage rights.  One of my friends mentioned hearing it, well before it hit the radio, confessing that the track brought tears to his eyes.  I was incredibly touched by the story of the song and by the images of the beautifully crafted video.  As time passed and I gave more thought to the song, my admiration for these artists grew.  Here were a couple of hip hop artists supporting people who are typically vilified by their own music genre.  They were also artists who were relatively new to the national stage, and yet were investing time and talent into producing a video and gaining play-time for a politically motivated song.  In spite of the backlash it might provoke, and the topic’s impact on their budding stardom, these artists chose to promote the song.

I started searching for more tracks, and found pieces that were equally moving, such as Wings, Macklemore’s childhood memories of his desire for a pair of Air Jordans and his realization that kids he knew got murdered for theirs.  There’s also Ryan Lewis’s Fake Empire, a short film that lambastes corporate silencing of individual voices.  As I did more searching, I was increasingly impressed by the depth of these men’s voices and their strong convictions, even when these convictions ran counter to what a lot of popularized hip hop glorifies: a hyper-hetero, hyper-masculine celebration of money and brands.

But it’s really hard to swallow artists who are super self-righteous in their approach.  Artists who take themselves so seriously that they become caricatures of themselves.  That’s another reason why I love this duo.  These guys are goddamn hilarious.  If you’ve ever seen And We Dance, you know what I mean.  It’s rare to see any male artist, let alone a hip hop artist, dress in gold lame and dance around in a blonde 80s hair-band wig.  Macklemore even plays the asshole neighbor that beats on the door.  Hysterical.  Then there’s the Can’t Hold Us video, in which Macklemore plays the frenetic hairdresser in a long blonde wig (again), cutting the hair of the featured artist on the beach.  Every time I see something by this duo, I’m blown away by the message, the humor, and the artistry.

And who would have thought, a nearly-middle-aged, suburban White dad would find inspiration from a pair of hip hop artists.  But yes, it has happened.  Seeing their messages embodied in their work has caused me to reflect on my own beliefs.  It’s made me realize that I cannot sit idly by any longer.  Instead, I have to get up and make my voice heard, even if it takes time and energy.  Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

And yet why do I connect this ode to my fatherhood?  Because dads like me need wake up calls every once in a while.  I used to have the energy and the motivation to want to inspire change.  And yet at this time in my life, with a so much on the line, with a son who looks up to me and relies on me as a positive model of manhood, I have a tendency to sit on my ass.  I have a tendency to really on a younger generation of individuals to speak up and inspire change.  But I can’t do it any longer.  I have to keep up the motivation and the will to fight, because if I don’t, what type of a future will I leave for my son?  I’m thankful for the inspiration these artists have enlivened in me, and hope to keep the motivation alive and make my own voice heard.


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You’re Being That Parent

an_angry_old_man__868197The other day, I was in a shitty mood.  One of those moods in which anything can annoy me.  There wasn’t enough half-and-half for my coffee.  My wife was using the bathroom when I needed it.  My son woke up just a little too early for me to get anything done that morning.  Wah, wah, wah.

Later that morning, we were heading out to the community pool, and my son was crazy excited. So excited that he was bouncing off the walls.  When he’s super excited, he gets wild.  Like singing at the top of his lungs, shrieking unexpectedly, and (literally) throwing himself into walls.  Some things (singing) are cute, while other things (shrieking) are not.  But no matter what he did, it all seemed to get under my skin.

We got into the car, my wife in the driver seat.  My son excitedly yelped again in the car, and I let out a dramatic sigh.

“Do you remember when you were a kid and you were just so excited about something?” My wife asked.

“Yeah,” I responded reluctantly, already knowing where she was going with this.

“Did your parents ever give you a hard time when you were just so excited?  My parents did, and it sucked.  You’re kind of being that parent right now.”

Shit.  She was right.  And yet, I was feeling stubborn and couldn’t quite accept it.  “But he’s being annoying!” I wanted to say, like I was talking about my little brother or something.

It’s just a downright bad combination if my son’s excited and I’m grumpy, because all the ways he expresses his excitement are somehow irritating to me. But what a terrible time to be irritable.  The thing is, I DO remember what it was like to be crazy excited about something, only to be yelled at by my parents for making too much noise or to be threatened with having that fun thing taken away.  Hell, I know what it’s like now as an adult to be excited about something and have someone rain on my parade.

That’s the tricky thing about being a parent. You’re not really allowed to be a crybaby or a grumpy old man.  As a kid, I felt entitled when I was in a bad mood.  “Screw everybody, I’m not feeling good so they can all go to hell.”  But as a father, my grumpy attitude has so many far reaching ramifications.  And I don’t want to be that parent.

After that much needed kick in the ass by my wife, I calmed myself down.  We got to the pool and had fun.  But, as a parent, I’m realizing that those kinds of wake-up calls are much needed doses of medicine.  When I get into a funk, I sometimes feel entitled to it. My adolescent mind thinks that others should steer clear or keep themselves in check when around me, because I’m owed that much.  But it isn’t true.  My being stuck in a bad place doesn’t mean the world should shift to meet my mood.  Once I’m able to recognize that my shitty behavior is really raining on other people’s (especially my son’s) parade, I have to force myself out of it.

Once I do force myself out of it, I sometimes realize how impermanent my moods are.  That with a slight willful shift, I can actually have a good time again.  I’m thankful for having a family.  For having a wife and son who can help me see past myself and help me recognize that it’s me who creates my own suffering from time to time.  If it weren’t for them, I’d likely turn into some rotted old man, yelling at the kids on his lawn.


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Who’s That Freak in the Tree?

Dad, come on down.

Dad, come on down.

As I write this, there’s a public works guy about 50 feet behind me, thinking this exact thought, “Who’s that freak in the tree?”

Last summer, when we moved to the burbs, I had the ingenious idea to build a tree house with my son. In my mind, it was meant to be a time to bond, a time to create a memory for my son that he’d pass down to his own children.  It didn’t happen that way.   My post from last year explored the whole debacle, and how my son couldn’t have cared less about the tree house in plan, construction, or product.  It turned out I was just forcing “fun” down my son’s throat.

So here we are, a year later.  In fact, this is probably very close to the time of year last summer when we bolted that first brace into the towering evergreen at the edge of our yard.  And now the house sits dormant.  Except for those rare early mornings when some creepy middle aged man can be spotted up there, doing god knows what.

That guy is me.

That’s because when you have a tree house in your backyard, which you spent a collective 100 hours building, you need to do something with it.  The thought came to me when one of my friends visited us for brunch last Fall.  He climbed up into the tree house, and exclaimed, “This is amazing. You should come up here sometime to meditate.”

I laughed.  That was hilarious.  I’m a grown-ass man.  Like I’d actually climb up there in the morning to meditate.  And yet a few weeks later I found myself grabbing my cushion and headed up into the tree.  I was completely self-conscious.  The tree house has windows on all sides, built almost like a look-out, from which you can see around on every side.  So, even sitting on the floor, I could be seen from down below.  To make matters worse, the tree’s set on the edge of our property, some 10 feet from the side of the road.  Any passersby can look straight up into the tree from the road below.

But, I bit the bullet and I sat up in the tree that breezy Fall morning, and it was great.  The calm of the outdoors, the birds singing in the trees, the sun glinting through the leaves.

Then the cops showed up.

I couldn’t help but notice that just minutes before I was set to end my sitting, there were blue and red flashing lights bouncing off the bare wooden studs surrounding me.  I froze.  I turned my head ever so slowly toward the street and spotted an officer emerging from his car, heading toward the guy he’d just pulled over.  Whew!  They weren’t here for the freak in the tree.  But at that point I knew they probably hadn’t even seen me. So, how the hell was I going to get out of there?  I silenced my timer, which was set to go off with a bell, and literally crawled out of the tree house on my belly, slunk down the steps, and ran back into the house.

My first messy visit up into the tree wasn’t my last, and I spent many more mornings up there. But up until now, I’d only used it for meditation.  This morning, I knew that to get any writing done, I’d have to sneak out of the house before anyone woke up.  But, without a dollar in my pocket, I wanted to avoid the coffee shops.  So, I got the idea to grab my laptop and head into the tree.

I’m up here now, and I’m quite enjoying it.  In spite of the public works guy leering behind me.  Plus, I’m getting used to it.  I nonchalantly sauntered up here just like I was heading to my front patio.  I’m even perched up on a chair, so that the dozen cars and handful of joggers that have passed by have definitely spotted me.  But at this point I don’t mind.  The question is, how much longer can I do this?

For me, I don’t quite mind being the weird guy down the block, up in the tree.  I think it has something to do with how stodgy this suburb is.  There’s some deranged pride I take in being the guy up the tree.  But, I have a family to think about, and a son’s reputation to uphold.  For now, I’m sure it’s fine.  My son’s only in first grade.  But as the elementary years progress and he enters middle school, the last thing the poor kid needs is to be known as the boy whose creepy dad is up in the tree house every weekend.

For now, I’ll just go with it.  I guess if I built this tree house based on my fantasy of what a kid wants, there must be some part of me that really wanted a tree house for myself.  So, now I have it, and I might as well make use of it.  At least until the cops show up again.