undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Shoveling My Own Goddamn Driveway, Again

snow-shovelA couple of years ago I wrote a post about 30″ of snow hitting the Northeast and the back-breaking shoveling that took place at my house. The post was about contrasts: the amount of sweat and toil I invested in my hard work versus the money my neighbors spent on plow services.

Living in a wealthy section of town when you’re not wealthy can do that to you. When I’m in the yard, I frequently feel the gaze of my neighbors  and hear their imagined voices. “Look at his ugly grass.” “Wish they’d invest more in that siding.” “When are they ever going to cut down that dying tree?” But those are my own insecurities talking. They are the voices we all get in our heads when we imagine others are staring at us, judging.

And so what do I do? I judge back. “Look at them with their fancy plows. Never do a day’s worth of hard work in their lives.” That’s what my original post was about: judging the character of others based on a common household chore.

Anyone who lives in the Northeast knows that this past week and a half has been monstrous. In our town, we got about 20″ of snow in blizzard conditions early last week, followed by an additional 8″ this week from a Nor’easter. So my wife and I found ourselves outside on at least 3 occasions, shoveling the walks and driveway.

And I listened.

I listened really hard, but I didn’t hear them. I didn’t hear the voices of disdain and condemnation from my neighbors. Instead, I heard the soft crunch of the shovel meeting the snow, the soft whistle of the wind, the creek of the swaying pines. (Punctuated by my old-man grunts as I hurled snow from the path. Yet another sign of my age.) But there was no inner voice imagining what the neighbors were saying. My eye didn’t drift down the street to see if I was the only one hard at work. I didn’t glance over at my neighbor’s already-plowed driveway with envy and frustration.

I was hard at work. My wife was hard at work. It was us, the snow, and teamwork, and I reveled in it. I could feel my body hard at work. I could feel the beads of sweat. I could feel the world around me. I felt accomplished. I looked over at my wife, and saw her toiling just as much as I was, and I knew that I had a true partner: someone ready and willing to do the hard work needed so that our family could survive another day. And I saw my son, 8 years old, picking up a tiny, forgot shovel and pitching in, moving whatever snow he could from the path. I knew we were setting a good example.

This snow storm wasn’t about contrasts. It wasn’t about what they’re doing versus what we’re doing. It was simply about what we were doing. And what we were doing was marvelous.

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Shock and Awe

blizzard_trees102606Imagine driving home from work and getting a call that there’s a huge surprise party at your house, in your honor.  You hang up the phone.  You’re wicked excited (yes, you’re from New England so you’re wicked excited).  You imagine who might be there, what people might say.  Then your car breaks down.  You pick up your phone but its dead.  You put your head in your hands and you wait.

That’s what it’s like hearing you’re going to be Freshly Pressed, and then having a blizzard knock out your power for almost two days.

I don’t know if it’s taboo to discuss one’s Freshly-Pressedness, but I need to, because my experience this weekend made such an impact.  I got an email from the Word Press editor Friday afternoon and nearly fell down, amazed that my post had been chosen.  I was honored and gushing with gratitude.  I went downstairs and told my wife, who congratulated me in the midst of all our snow prep.  That day, schools had been cancelled and we were enjoying the day.  We stocked up on groceries in the morning, took a stroll through the new-fallen (then only 2″ deep) snow, and hunkered inside to watch the downpour.  What a great day overall.  Freshly Pressed and a snow day?  What could be better.

Things got a little hairy around mid-afternoon, when the wind started whipping our trees around and near-white-out conditions obscured our view of houses across the street.  The snow began sticking to every window, as though a freshly laundered sheet had been thrown over the house.  Around 9:00 pm the lights flickered and then the power went out.

Thus began my anguish.

No power meant no internet connection, meant no checking to see if I’d gone up on Freshly Pressed.  I was dying to know if my post would get a response.  Would I get likes?  Would folks comment?  Our family’s only internet connection was through my wife’s iPhone (I’m cheap and have a dumb-phone, no internet, no texts…I’m like a grandpa).  In the midst of checking National Grid’s outage map I just happened to pop over to Word Press and saw it had gone up!  How exciting.

“Look,” I turned to my wife, “it’s there!”

“That’s great, but we should probably save our battery for emergencies.”

Damn it.  She was right.  I’d feel terrible if I used up our battery checking my blog, and we needed the phone for some emergency.  I imagined a scene in the midst of the blizzard chaos: a pack of coyotes backing my family into a corner. Me fending them off with a fireplace poker and my wife shouting, “I’d call animal control, but we’re out of f**king batteries!”

So that was it. I went most of that time not checking, and yet being obsessed with checking. Although I knew it was a unique experience; I mean, I’d be incredibly lucky if anything like this happened again.  But at the same time, I felt badly.  Here was my family, stuck in the cold and snow, and I was obsessing about a post.  I think it all showed me how much my excitement can sometimes get ahead of me.  Of course getting excited is a good thing.  Hell, my family gets excited about a fresh episode of New Girl.  But sometimes the need to feed the excitement can be overwhelming.  I tend to latch onto my excitement and then run it into the ground.  I find that’s what so tempting and addictive about the ease of technology.  I get excited about switching my cable and so I do hours of research on providers that same night.  I get into Orson Scott Card and want to look up every on-line article about the Ender’s Game series.  There’s such instant gratification for our obsessions nowadays.  Being stripped of that easy access for one day leaves me without an outlet for my excitement.  It’s draining.  It was really hard for me to say to myself, “That’s great. Now put it down for a moment and focus on what’s in front of you.”

In time, I eventually did.  I packed our defrosting food in a cooler in the snow.  I strained coffee through a paper towel.  I picked up my shovel.

In the middle of the night on Saturday the power came back up, and I immediately shot out of bed and ran to the computer.  It was an amazing feeling.  Like missing 3 Christmases and getting all your presents at once.  I saw the incredible amount of views, and the generous heaping of comments.  I cannot begin to thank folks for their kind words, shared stories, and encouraging shout-outs.  It was a wonderful thing to see.  I went into hyper-checking mode for a couple of days.  I realized I needed to slow down.  I needed to let things run their course.  I hope to post today and not be so obsessive.  Put things down and go about my day, all the while thankful for the kindness bestowed upon me.

And, yes, I did shovel my own goddamn driveway.


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Shoveling My Own Goddamn Driveway

snow-shovelingSome of you may have noticed that parts of the East Coast are getting a bit of snow today, as a blizzard is forecast to hit the Northeast.  As much as 30″ of snow is expected and, unlike my neighbors, I’ve got my shovels ready.

I’ve mentioned before that my family inhabits the smallest house on the block, a tiny cape home overshadowed by the McMansions down the street.  It seems as though each of these mini-fortresses is served by an army of service industry people: house cleaners, landscapers, contractors, handy-men. They even have their groceries and dry cleaning delivered.  I have only seen one other person in a couple block radius mowing his or her own lawn in the summer, which I’m sure will launch another post come June.

The same is true for snow removal.  I always shovel out my own driveway.  I should say WE always do it, because my wife is always there with me, each of us starting at one end and meeting in the middle like a cold, suburban version of Lady and the Tramp.  Our son gets suited up and runs around making snow angels and occasionally pelting us with snowballs.  It’s hard work.  We sweat and get nasty.  But we also have fun, and finish up with a sense of pride and a cup of hot chocolate.

As I get older, I realize that a lot of my pride is tied up in domestic labor.  Whether it’s good or bad I can’t tell, but somehow it speaks to my sense of manhood.  I like being the one outside working on the house to make life better for the family.  I like the idea that my son is watching me work hard, break a sweat, and get a job done.  I remember watching my own dad do it.  He seemed to know how to do everything.  He did all the mundane stuff like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, and landscaping, but he also built swing sets, tree houses, and even two additions to our house!  I remember watching him and being in awe.  I didn’t understand how he came to know all he did about electrical, plumbing, and carpentry, but I wanted to be that knowledgeable one day.  I wanted to be able to do what he could do.

I think that’s why I’m so fixated on doing things around the house myself.  I want my son to see me out there working.  I want him to see that he can do things for himself one day.  That he can learn to take care of himself and his family.  I make attempts at joining him in that work, like when we built a tree house together with less that optimal results (see my previous post).  But I try anyways.  It might seem prideful, but there’s a part of me that wants my son to think I can do anything.

So, when I see other houses calling in the snow plows, I experience an odd mixture of pity and resentment.  Their kids don’t get to see their parents struggling to contend with the snow.  Don’t get to join in the fun and toil.  Don’t get to share in a well-deserved cup of hot chocolate.  There’s also a self-centered part of me that resents seeing the plows because I believe everyone should think the way that I do.  That they should all want to be outside doing things for their house on their own.  I’ve read posts by dads who praise hired help because it gives them more time with the kids.  I can respect that approach.  If I had back every hour spent cutting the lawn or shoveling snow, I might have used it to have more fun with my family.  And granted, my neighbors probably have a lot more time freed up to spend with their children.  That’s probably part of the resentment I feel as the flocks of snow plows or pick-ups head down my street.

But for me, I like doing it myself.  I like the sense of accomplishment, and I like the message it sends to my son. That each of us has a responsibility and a role in keeping the family going, in fixing what is broken, and in cleaning up our own messes.