undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Get Out of My Way, I’m Trying to Get to Diagon Alley!

20141229_073410After months of saving and anticipation, our family was lucky enough to visit Orlando this holiday for a trip to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade! This was a trip that dad was looking forward to perhaps more than anyone.

Last winter, I had been searching for new jobs options and had some interviews. I told myself and my wife prior to one very pivotal second interview that if I didn’t get this (dream) job and found myself in the same crap job in the summer, then we were all taking a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios as my consolation prize. As the title of this post suggests, I did not get the job and, unfortunately, my current job ramped up to a flurry over this past summer, so much so that I couldn’t even take a vacation as planned in June. So we postponed everything until December.

Needless to say, I had a lot invested emotionally in this trip. First, it felt like something I was owed. If I had to languish in my demanding and thankless job, then I was damn well going to get a fun vacation out of it. And “fun” was the key word. Although we could have saved up for the Caribbean or an overseas locale, I needed somewhere that would serve up simple, unadulterated fun, and only Harry Potter would do the trick. Secondly, if I was driving my family out (yes, driving, 20+ long hours from New England), then it had better be good. I felt like it wasn’t only me who was “owed” a good vacation, it was my entire family, and I had been the guiding force for devising this trip: scheduling the vacation package, booking the hotels, even coming up with an itinerary. And so felt that the responsibility of providing a fun time rested upon my shoulders.

I was smart enough to get a package that included early admission to the park, which felt a little crazy at first, arriving at the park in the pitch-black of 6:30am, but was well worth it. Early admissions folks got herded forward to the Wizarding World locations before the gates opened, giving us full access to the best parts of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade before the throngs. It was upon our very first entry through that brick wall that I realized we had done it, and damn was it worth it. As completed Potter nerds, my wife, son, and I reveled in every nook and cranny of Potterdom. Seeing it for the first time, and getting into the attraction without hassle caused me to drop my shoulders and relax into the experience.

20141229_153751And then the craziness happened. Surprisingly the Sunday after Christmas, the crowds were not that bad. We were reasonably well prepared for the amount of people we’d be seeing, but the next two days were shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. I particularly remember our second day of early admission (heading to Hogsmeade this time), and feeling the stress as folks rushed past one another, causing me to instinctively move faster and usher my family along. It was almost as though my body reacted uncontrollably to the pace of others. On one of our return visits to Diagon Alley, the crowd was so bustling, it was difficult to move anywhere without knocking into others. I recall how someone would cut me off or bump into me (“Asshole”), but the next minute I’d be cutting someone off or accidentally bumping into them (“Who’s the asshole now?”). I wasn’t intending on being opportunistic, is was just that the shear number of people made it difficult to navigate the crowd and time my movements.

What helped were these little “a-ha” moments when I could see my body and mind responding to the throng of people, whether speeding up to match the pace of the crowd or nearly crashing into some unsuspecting park attendee because I was simply trying to move forward. I wanted a good experience for my family. I wanted to make the trip worth all the trouble and “get mine.” When, in fact, everyone there held the same desire for their families. Folks had come from all over the world, investing hundreds if not thousands of dollars to give their children and families this experience, and we were all working off that same adrenaline and need to take care of our own.

20141229_154936 (2)When I realized this, I was able to take things in stride. This realization made it much more tolerable when someone bumped into me or seemingly cut me off. In the chaos of excitement, anticipation, and humanity, everyone wanted a good experience. They wanted to show their families a good time. This was the motivation that bonded me with them in some way, and I realized (in that very Buddhist-y way) that working solely for the betterment of our own rather than for the good of everyone truly is the root of much of the strife in the world. Sure, I still wanted a good experience for my family, but getting caught up in the competitive spirit would have only caused my trip to suffer. When I was able to see that we all wanted the same thing and reminded myself that we’d get our turn, everything fell into place, and we had a great time. Or, perhaps it wasn’t some great realization. Perhaps Harry Potter simply cast his spell on me.

I wholeheartedly recommend the experience to all my fellow Harry Potter fans. Universal has done an amazing job. And I fully recommend visiting Orlando Informer, which is an invaluable on-line resource of planning your trip to the Wizarding World!

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Fifty Shades of Mortification

Screenshot_2014-10-19-08-29-48 (2)So my wife asked me to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I hesitated, but finally agreed to listen to the audiobook, because (like many) couldn’t bring myself to tote around the tell-tale grey-tied book cover. Went to audible and downloaded it to my cell phone so I could discretely listen to the story.

I was at the YMCA early one morning when it’s typically filled with senior citizens and middle aged folk, and I started some stretches. I popped in my earbuds and opened my audible app. Pressing play, nothing happened.

Figuring the volume was turned down, I jacked it up. Even though the volume was turned to the max, I could only faintly register the voice of the reader.

I spent about a minute investigating my audible app and searching my phone’s settings page, all the while hearing a faint voice recounting the story of a red room of pain equipped with whips, riding crops, and nipple clamps.

I attempted adjusting the cord, and that’s when my heart shot to my throat, as if I were suspended upside down by Mr. Grey himself. My earbuds weren’t plugged in, and my phone was broadcasting its dirty tome to the Y’s grey-haired visitors. I plugged in my earbuds and ran, red-faced, to a treadmill.

I don’t think the seniors at the Y will look at me the same way again. Damn you, Mr. Grey.

 

Post-script: While writing this post and attempting to pull this image from my phone, the story popped back on, reading aloud to everyone in the coffee shop. Oh my.

Post-post-script: What’s up with Anastasia Steele’s inner George Takei?


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Quarter Naked

broncos-cheerleaders(2)My son was forced to suffer through several hours of football this past Sunday, as we watched the conference championships. He’s a reluctant football fan, and gets quite squirrelly as the game persists. His mind wanders and he begins asking random questions. Midway through the second quarter he asked,

“Why are the cheerleaders a quarter naked?”

Good question, I thought, but chickened out and punted it to my wife. She responded with something to the effect of, “People think it’s sexy.”

This is the tricky thing with 2nd graders: they’re inquisitive about all sorts of stuff, and the older they get, the more they begin noticing adult things in the world around them. In the case of my 2nd grader’s questions, the answers are sometimes so complex that I’m flooded with a multitude of ways to answer. To respond to his question about “quarter naked” cheerleaders, do I talk about the ways in which women were historically disallowed from playing sports and relegated to cheering on the sidelines? Do I talk about the long history of high school culture in the US, in which the most popular and therefore most attractive girls are chosen as cheerleaders? Do I tell him about how grown men are so similar to high school boys that we continue the tradition of cheerleading in our major sports institutions? Do I mention that one of the few sports his dad enjoys watching is famous for its misogyny?

Thank god for my wife.  “People think it’s sexy” was probably the most pithy answer.

The whole “sexy” thing has been an interesting term to navigate while parenting. It’s a word he knows because it’s bandied about in every day life so readily. One of the ways he’s exposed to “sexy” things is when people kiss in movies or books. It’s been interesting reading the Harry Potter series to him, because as the characters get older, they appropriately deal with more adolescent topics, like flirtation, jealousy, and kissing. It’s been interesting noticing how my son’s reactions (and mine) have evolved over time. At first, reading about or seeing kisses in the movies was simply met with silent confusion and a comical look. At some point, the awkward silence was broken with his exclamation of “Awkward!”  We’re a family of comics, so the break in tension with this comic zinger was often hilarious and welcomed.

And then, something switched to make him say, “Inappropriate!”  My wife and I discerned that it must have had to do with the fact that Harry and Cho Chang get all kissy-faced in school. As a 2nd grader, my son was aware that there’s appropriate and inappropriate school behavior, and kissing obviously wasn’t something (2nd grade) students were supposed to do in school! We weren’t keen on that one, since we didn’t want him thinking it was necessarily “inappropriate” for teenagers to kiss. Thankfully, the reaction evolved to the less rule-based response: “Ooh la la!” I believe that one came from my wife, during Harry Potter’s run-in with the lovely French witches of Beauxbatons Academy. So, that’s now the comic relief when something “sexy” is going on. If someone kisses in a book or movie, if someone’s wearing a slinky dress, if teenagers go out on a date, one of us proclaims “ooh la la” and move along.

I’m good with “ooh la la’s” for now. It’s baby steps for me, until we reach middle school. Then, quarter naked cheerleaders will be the least of my worries, I’m sure.


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Chucking the iPad for 2014

noipadforyouI’m not big on resolutions, but find that the new year is always a time of reflection and hope.  As I look back on 2013, I feel like it’s a personal anomaly. Prior to this year, I hadn’t owned a smart device. I was limited to the non-texting dumb-phone that the salesperson made fun of me for buying back in 2011. But for all of 2013, I had access to an iPad, which changed my life, for the worse.

Here are the two things that are great/terrible about technology. One, it keeps me connected. Two, it allows me instant access to any information I need. On the first account, I became hyper-fascinated over the course of this year with my social media and communication possibilities, like facebook, twitter, email, and my blog. I would incessantly check for returned emails, blog responses, and new facebook posts. Aside from some very positive connections with bloggers over the past year, most of the time was wasted seeking fleeting personal validation. I think there’s a hunger in each of us for connection, recognition, and validation, which is why technology and social media are so addicting. They feed us what we need most as social beings. However, it’s a virtual or disconnected form of contact that isn’t quite as gratifying as coffee with a friend, a hug from a relative, or a kiss from my wife. So, it leaves me feeling manic and spent.

On the second account, devices give us instant access to any information we want. I think people are naturally curious, and we’re prone to asking questions. For instance, re-watching Silver Linings Playbook yesterday, I wanted to know whether Bradley Cooper’s nose scar was real, how far Baltimore is from Philly, what crabby snacks and homemades are, and what other movies the slimeball bookie friend had been in. Those questions all coursed through my mind in the span of one scene. I wanted to grab my iPad and check the answers to all of them. But if I had, I’d no longer be watching a movie with my wife, but instead trailing off into my own world of curiosity. Day to day I constantly want to know answers to my questions, and have lost the ability to ponder things on my own and to tolerate not knowing something.

I frequently think back to a picture my son had drawn of me about half a year ago, with me staring at my iPad. In some ways, this had been the picture that occupied his mind when thinking of me, and I hated it. Will my son remember me as the dad with his nose pressed up against a screen?

For 2014, I’m putting the iPad away. I don’t need to be militant. I don’t need to be extremist. But when I’m home and my family’s awake, that thing goes in a drawer or in a bag, and is out of reach. It’s too tempting to have it close, to have it accessible. Because in the end, what will be more important? How many likes my post receives? Jennifer Lawrence’s birthplace? Or that picture of me that resides in my son’s brain when he thinks about his dad?


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The NFL, Bullying, and our Sons

incognito-martin-cleelandAs a kid who was bullied, there’s something very powerful about the notion of bearing witness.

In elementary school, I was the kid who was forced to stand against the wall in a severe version of parochial school dodge ball, while balls hummed toward my face and groin. I was also the kid who got excluded or called names or even threatened at times. Throughout all of it, I held a wish for someone to bear witness to what was happening. I wanted someone to see it, acknowledge it was wrong, and then hold the bullies accountable for their actions.  There is great power in public shame, and I thought that if my pursuers could be called out and held accountable, then all would be okay. Even if this didn’t happen, the fantasy was enough to sustain me through my difficult grade school years.

Although that was my wish, I never helped make it happen. I never sought out anyone to see what was going on. I don’t know what my thought process was as a 9-year-old, but I’m sure the stigma against snitching had something to do with it. Even at that young age, I’m sure I was fed the notion that boys who seek out help can’t fight their own battles. So, I kept quiet, and had balls hurled at me or got my head slammed into a locker.

This is what’s so infuriating for me as a father about the NFL conduct case between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Incognito and Martin were teammates on the Miami Dolphins until Martin left the team, citing that Incognito harassed him with racial slurs and threats of violence.

The Dolphins eventually suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team, but only after a media backlash against Martin for voicing his concern in the first place. Some NFL players have belittled Martin, saying that hazing is common in the NFL and that Martin just couldn’t handle himself. Former NFL members and sports commentators have made similar statements, citing an NFL “culture” that inducts rookies with hazing, intent on toughening up the weaker players and building bonds between teammates.

I think the backlash really hit me during the “Barbershop” segment on Michel Martin’s NPR show “Tell Me More”. This segment features a group of predominantly African-American men who comment on social and political news. One commentator, Jimi Izrael, stated that Martins should have “manned up” and beaten up Incognito instead of “running to the principal’s office”.  He insisted you “cannot bully a grown man”, suggesting the term was misapplied to this case. Dissenting voices were featured in the segment regarding NFL management’s role, wondering whether they prompted the hazing. However, at no point during the rest of the Barbershop segment, was the statement that Martin should have manned-up addressed head on.

I should note that I heard most of this news coverage on the radio, and did not know Richie Incognito’s race. Throughout most of the coverage, I had assumed that Incognito was African American. In spite of Incognito’s racial slurs against Martin, I had not heard any outrage about the racism inherent in his harassment. Therefore, I assumed it was the case of one Black player harassing another, and so when I learned that not only was Incognito being excused for his bullying, but also for his racist slurs, I was dumbfounded.

I see this as a failure of witness. Those who have been treated terribly by others understand the need for someone to recognize what’s going on and to help us speak up against it. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a victim is for others to see what’s happening and blame the victim and/or support the behaviors of the aggressor. It took guts for Martin to give voice to what was happening with his teammate, but he was met with ridicule. Although the NFL suspended Incognito, the social backlash against Martin did far more damage to his career than to Incognito’s. Not only did he leave the dolphins, but was cursed with the stigma of being a snitch and cry-baby, alienating him among both teammates and fans.

There are many who say that the NFL honors toughness in its players, and therefore anyone earning himself a 6- to 7-figure salary for playing should shut up and take it. But football is a sport that’s viewed by kids who look up to its players. Behaviors of NFL players trickle down to American kids who glorify and adopt the mannerisms of their idols. This conduct in the NFL teaches kids that if they want to play like the big kids, they have to shut up and take it. They have to put their faith in other boys who might terrorize and bully them, because it’s all a part of playing the game. If the NFL is to continue being a hallmark of American culture, then it needs to reflect on the social modeling it provides to kids.

Some commentators have stated that this case is simply a product of NFL “culture”, stating that hazing of rookie players is a means to toughening up players and acculturating them to life in the NFL. The sentiment suggests that players’ behaviors are therefore beyond reproach because they’re couched within a specific (sub)culture. This rationale is weak. Would we apply this argument to other institutions or groups within the United States? Would we say that American business prides men’s work over and above women’s and, therefore, women should make less money than men because of the “culture” of corporate America?  Would we say that it’s part of urban life for Latino men to kill other Latino men in gang warfare and, therefore, it should be dismissed as “cultural”? When injustice is done to others, we as a society need to bear witness and insist upon equity and safety.

As my son goes off into the world, I cannot be at his side 24/7. If I could, I would be able to help safeguard him and lead him toward sticking up for himself and seeking help when needed. Because I can’t be with him, it’s up to me as a parent to teach him to identify when injustice is happening and what he can do about it, whether sticking up for himself or seeking out help. I entrust other adults to do the same, and to protect the rights of those who seek them out for help. But in spite of what his dad says, if my son sees that others, even adults, get punished for seeking out help in situations that seem insurmountable, what’s the likelihood of him getting the help he needs?

Daily Show “The Wrongest Yard”