undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Back from the Dead

hand-zombie-grave-e1325617835981It has been 47 days since my last post, and I have to ask myself, what the hell happened? In the year and a half since starting this blog, this is my longest hiatus to date. What happened? Life. Shitty life.

The past couple of months have been filled with obligation. Just lots of work. I had to chair a math night at my son’s elementary school, write an article for work, and take care of innumerable work projects. When all this hits the fan, I find myself exhausted on a regular basis, and any alone-time I carve out is either consumed by work projects or by worry about these projects.

During these dark days, some of the important things in my life begin slipping off the radar. I abandon my mediation practice. I stop doing my back exercises (and my inner Will-Farrell-hot-tub-lounging-professor emerges). And most of all, I stop writing. I easily resort to the mantra, “I don’t have time.” And when I do have the time, I’m either too consumed by thoughts/worries/frustrations about everything else going on in my life, or I think to myself, “I deserve some downtime.”

To me, downtime usually means vegging out: watching TV, movies, sleeping, or reading crap. It’s basically mindless garbage. I start feeling as though my mind is so consumed by things I kind of resent (i.e., work), that it deserves just to shut down. In the moment, any of those things that are meaningful or helpful fly out the window. But why? I think it’s likely that those things feel like they require energy and thought, and I’m typically left with none.

That’s why writing is a good barometer for me, as I’m sure it is for others.  When I haven’t written in a long time, I realize that I’ve been simply too exhausted to pour my thoughts into words. I’ve been consumed by work, obligations, and other demands that overwhelm. It’s a sign that I haven’t had time to strike a balance. A neglected blog (like a neglected journal or diary) is a sign that I haven’t saved some of my energy for the things that are important, like reflecting on my experiences, focusing on my family, and learning from my own mistakes. That’s what my blog is supposed to be about. So if I haven’t attended it for a while, it’s a sign that I haven’t reserved any of my time or energy for things that are important for me and my own growth.

In short, I’m happy to be back writing. I hope to keep in mind that me-time does not have to equal mindless-time, because it leaves me feeling sapped and empty.

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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.


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Big Thanks #1: Liebster Award

Liebster-award-ribbonI have been incredibly delinquent to my blogging community over the past few weeks, as I’ve neglected offering thanks where thanks is due. Therefore, I’ve composed this “Big Thanks” series of posts to express my gratitude for the awards bestowed upon me by my fellow bloggers (and to share the love).  I find it important to honor the spirit of these award with a post, and by sharing the good fortune with other bloggers whose words deserve to be discovered.

The first of these awards is the Liebster Award, presented to me by Life By Kimmy, Musings For The Ether and Shadow Girl of Becki’s Book Blog.  All are great blogs, and I urge you to check them out.  To borrow Shadow Girl’s words: “What is the Liebster Award you ask? Well from my understanding Leibster is a German term for sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. Its awarded to bloggers with less than 200 followers as a form of recognition and support to keep on blogging.” And here are the rules:

  • You must thank the person who nominated you
  • Answer the 11 questions posed by your nominator
  • Pass the award on to 11 new recipients
  • Pose 11 new questions to your bloggers

Because my fortune is tripled, so is my responsibility.  So, here are my answers to the 33 (!) questions posed to me:

1. What made you decide to start Blogging?

I was in a writing rut and hadn’t picked up any of my manuscripts in a while.  I needed to get my words out there again (and cave to the Writer’s Digest articles chewing me out for not having a platform).

2. What is the most important lesson you have learned about Blogging so far?

Ease up. I’m still learning this.  Constantly checking my blog, the comments, my readership, can become a bit overwhelming.  The second lesson is that there are many insights to be discovered about oneself through a blog, especially about ego, reflection, and humility.

3. How many other Blogs do you actively follow?

56 and counting…

4. If money was no object, what would you do tomorrow?

Take my family on a much needed vacation.

5. Do you think you will still be Blogging in 5 years time?

No, the zombies will have taken over by then.  I’ll be focused on scavenging for food.  Perhaps a line of ham-radio broadcasts?

6. Name one weird fact about yourself.

They’re all weird.

7. Have you traveled, or do you have aspirations to travel?

Have traveled, but not as much as I’d like.

8. Cats or Dogs?

Oddly a dog person who’s morphing into a cat person, attributable to all the dog crap I’ve cleaned off of my floors this winter.

9. What do you hope people think when they read your Blog?

Even if I come off as brash sometimes, my readers will stick with me, because there’s other good stuff here (and I’m not a complete a-hole).

10. What inspires your Blog post ideas?

Random events with my family or reflections on blogging.

11. Coffee or Tea?

Coffee all the way.

12. If you were one of the seven deadly sins, which one would you be?

Envy.

13. Why did you start your blog?

(See 1 above)

14. Anita or Buffy?

Oh gosh, I’m not the biggest fan. Can I say Sookie?

15. Which of your blog posts is your personal favorite?

I’d have to say my “About” post, the one that started it all.

16. Can you choose one favorite book for me? Or top 3-5? No pressure.

Now that is some pressures.  I’d say Middlesex by Eugenides, Cloud Atlas by Mitchell, and Ender’s Game by Card.

17. What is your ultimate blogging goal? No askies backsies – that’s a hard question!

Cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and have a movie made about it. Dammit, someone stole that one.

18. Biggest pet peeve?

Inconsiderate people.

19. Are you married/single/divorced/it’s complicated/all of the above?

Married.

20. When is your favorite time of day to blog?

5:30 am

21. You’re on death row, about to be executed. What is your last meal going to be?

My wife’s jajamyun.

22. Tell me your favorite TV. Is it Sunday Walking Dead, Adult Swim on Cartoon Network? American Horror Story Wednesdays? Something else, from a decade ago perhaps?

Nothing has beaten my Lost obsession, but now it’s Walking Dead.

23) What time do you wake up on a weekday morning?

Between 4:30 and 5:30?

24) What is your biggest fear?

Loss of loved ones.

25) What was your first car?

’77 Chevy Chevelle

26) Did you go to college?

Yes.

27) If you had to live in a state other than the one in which you currently reside, which would it be?

CA knows how to party.

28) How many people other than you live in your house/apartment?

3 (not counting the ghosts)

29) Do you have any siblings?

Yes.

30) Do you speak another language, if so, which? If you don’t, which would you like to speak if you could?

Little bits of lots of languages, nothing fluently.

31) What is the most remote/exotic place in the world you have ever visited?

Tibet

32) Do you believe in ghosts?

Hells yes.

33) Are we alone?

Always and never.

My 11 nominees include:

writingwaves

bussokuseki

serenebabe

Unfiltered Fatherhood

Dadicus Grinch

Dadgitated

Peculiarities and Reticences

The Secret Father

Crispy Indeed

Slouching Toward Thatcham

Making the Days Count

My 11 questions for nominees (some stolen from my nominators) are:

1. Which of your blog posts is your personal favorite?

2. Name one other blog post from another writer that really inspired you.

3. Unicorns or zombies?

4. Favorite children’s/YA book?

5. Why did you start blogging?

6. On average, how many times a day do you check your blog and/or its notifications?

7. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from blogging so far?

8. Do you have kids and, if so, do you hope that they’ll read your blog one day, or stay the hell away?

9. You’re on death row: last meal?’

10. When does the writing bug tend to strike?

11. Real name or pen name?

Thanks again for all the recognition.  I really appreciate it. More thank-you posts are on their way!


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Daddy’s Writing Guilt

Damn, I'd look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

Damn, I’d look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

For me, writing feels like a selfish endeavor.  Sure, sometimes the process can lead to insights that ultimately bring the writer closer to others (see my previous post), but for the most part the act of writing is a solitary–and sometimes isolating–one.

When I began getting serious about writing a few years ago, I didn’t want it to impinge upon my time with my family.  I didn’t want to be locked up in a room of the house writing while my wife and son went about their day.  I didn’t want to disrupt my wife’s and my routine of settling into the couch after a long day.  And, I didn’t want to steal time from our weekends or vacations when my family desperately needed to (re)connect. So instead, I found time in the wee hours of the morning.  As someone who needs to be at work around 7am, that meant goddamn early in the morning, settling down in my kitchen or heading out to the coffee house while it was still dark outside.  It felt like the best solution.  My family would be asleep until later anyways, so writing early technically wouldn’t rob me of a second of my time with them.  However, the toll was insidious.

For a few years, I became obsessed.  I used to work out.  I used to meditate.  Those things went out the window because I wanted to make time for writing.  No, I needed to make time for writing.  Writing became my major drive in the morning.  Only after I’d written did I feel as though I could go about my rather mundane work life.

The consequences crept up on me.  As an early riser, the early morning wake-ups were not a big deal at first, but as time went by, I found myself waking up earlier (4am?), and doing it almost every day.  Eventually, I started to dull in the afternoons, or get sleepy really early in the evening.  It got to the point where I couldn’t keep my eyes open much past 8pm.  It didn’t matter if Lost was on.  It didn’t matter if it was the Super Bowl.  I would lose it at the end of the night.

I had to re-calibrate and figure out what was most important.  I started slowing down and eventually lost the steam for writing and put it all down for about 6 months.  Then, I decided to get back in the swing of things and started this blog.  The blog has been an endeavor of self-discovery and has recharged my motivation for writing again.  But when do I find myself doing it?  Today I awoke at 5:30am (on a Sunday!), just to sit here in my kitchen and write.  Again I feel the urge to write, but can’t consider “stealing” any time away from my family.  Granted, I do this less frequently now.  I’ve regained some balance to my mornings.  I no longer consider waking up at 4am, and I actually work out once in a while.  But how do I maintain the balance?

Throughout all this, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.  How does someone write a blog about mindful parenting, when the blog itself has the potential to pull him away from his family or turn him into a drooling zombie at night?  I’m finding my way, but with much trepidation, knowing that the urge to write can be so strong as to overwhelm my sense of purpose and my center.

I’m curious about other parents. When do you find the time to write, and how do you balance it with family?


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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?