Monday, February 24, 2014

Don't Like Kids? How Very Childish.

An open letter to the miserable person who slipped this message under my sister's door in a hotel in Colorado this morning.

Dear Parent of Infinite Wisdom,

First of all, I only write this in order to reassure my sister and brother-in-law that they are not doing anything wrong. You are undoubtedly a nasty person regardless of the situation you find yourself in and how others are treating you, so on the off-chance you even see this I hold little hope it will effect your outlook on life. Is it fair for me to judge you by one nastygram? At least as fair as your judgement of someone based on what you can hear through a wall, I suppose.

In your haste to pass judgement on others and whitewash your own memory of what parenting is like, you have forgot to check yourself for the very inconsideration and selfishness you abhor. You decided to lash out at others who were unaware of your plight or discomfort, at least until you left a cowardly letter after the fact at which point any opportunity they might have to try to alleviate your unfortunate situation had passed. Perhaps, if you had yelled back or pounded on the headboard then the thinness of the walls would have been more evident to the struggling parents. Then again, such an act of directness would have identified yourself as the petty selfish person you are. Personally, I think you knew that, which is why instead, you decided to lay your opinion out anonymously and with no consideration of what was happening within the room or who the people are you were addressing. You knew all you needed to know; "Someone is doing something I don't like! I should cry about it." Sound familiar? The baby was cutting teeth, what is your excuse?

Here are a few of the things you didn't know.

My brother-in-law helps more people before you get out of bed and have your morning coffee than you have likely helped in your entire life. He operates on brains and misses out on an awful lot of time with his wife and child so that he can use his knowledge and skill to help adults and children alike (even the selfish ones) with a second chance. He saves lives. This week he is in Colorado for a conference where he can learn to better treat you if you happen to fall from a snow-lift, get thrown from your high horse, faceplant into a tree while skiing down the black diamond trail or have the misfortune to trip over your own self-righteousness and fall down the stairs head first. Personally, I don't blame him for wanting to take his family with him to a convention rather than missing out on another week full of memories so that he can be the best surgeon. It's a great job, a rewarding job, but not one without sacrifices.

My niece usually sleeps pretty well, and is not known for screaming in the middle of the night. If she were constantly having this issue both parents would be in a mental institution and you wouldn't have been disturbed. Newsflash: a night in the room with a screaming toddler is even harder than being next door and not something parents willingly plan for on holiday. From the far side of the wall, one cannot see the parents scrambling, attempting to feed the baby, rock the baby, shush the baby, walk around, rack their brains for a way to make the crying stop for the their sake, for their neighbor's sake and not least of all for the helpless child's sake.

As for my sister, she is a kind and considerate parent, a dependable friend and an amazing wife. She is a first-time mother with a law degree who decided that spending time with and raising her daughter are the top priorities in her life. As a stay-home mother, I'm sure she jumped at the chance to get out of the house. What stay-home parent wouldn't? Sure, it is true, she's still learning the ropes. Can you remember what that was like? Do you remember thinking you knew your child's routines only to learn at an inopportune time that you don't really know much of anything? This usually occurs on the rare evening out with the whole family, or on a crowded airplane or when rooming next to the Prince or Princess of Passive Aggressiveness on the side of a mountain in Colorado. On those occasions, when your child transformed into a yelling, crying, sobbing ball of heartache you might recall your ears burning and your face flushing red with embarrassment. You may remember the hopeful feeling that there will not be a person like you around. Someone willing to belittle you rather than offer support, someone willing to call you a bad parent and a selfish person because you have somehow conspired to ruin their day, their meal or their trip.

Well, guess what, perfect parent?! Your kids ruined things for other people too. As a matter of fact, you ruined more than one evening for others when you were a little tyrant yourself. The same is true for every adult walking the planet, unless their parents kept them tranquilized or frozen in carbonite until graduation. Maybe you didnt' know, but it happened. That is the way of the world, this is not a hermetically sealed, adults only dystopia where nothing unexpected occurs to anyone. If you want to guarantee a trip with those parameters (and since you obviously planned for this years in advance) then plan a little better and rent a freaking cabin or bring a set of ear plugs.

If it's not a child, it will be a dog, if it's not a dog, it will be a group of drunken fraternity members, or a construction crew, or a leaky faucet. Maybe loud lovers, the TV in the next room, or a neighbor who leaves their radio clock on all night that will disturb your slumber. It's always something isn't it? I know the feeling. It sucks, but these things happen. Sometimes they are due to inconsideration and more often due to accident or happenstance. The question is not if, but when, something will taint our dreams of the perfect vacation, dinner or plane ride. I teach my children we can't control the actions of others, but we can control our own reactions. We can choose every day whether to let life's little inconveniences make us miserable, or we can choose to smile and carry on. Better still, we can decide to try to make the world a better place; to lend a hand instead of pointing a finger.

You, on the other hand, choose to spew hatred and judgement on others even when it will bring no change to your own situation. You didn't say anything when the young parents could have done something. Choosing instead to leave a parting note to let them know what terrible people they are. Be honest, the note was not for the good of the world, it was for retribution. It was your way of doling out karma. I hope you are proud of yourself.

I am sorry for you. I'm sorry for your children. Pat yourself on the back for never having your child wake another human (yeah, right) all you want, but when it comes to measuring the value of another person or the extremes of their selflessness (or selfishness) most of us would prefer to take a larger view and maybe learn something about the situation and it's participants before we cast our stones.

I know little about you, maybe you were just cranky and writing without thinking. Maybe you are too stupid to relieve yourself with some Tylenol PM or earplugs or by calling the front desk to ask about options before spending a second night in wretched misery within the 7th circle of Hell. Maybe you are a really great person who helps others with every spare minute not spent on holiday at a ski resort or judging other people's parenting based on cries in the night. Then again, maybe you are just an asshole.

Good day,
Dad On The Run

P.S. Lil' sis. Keep doing what you are doing. Your child is a part of this world and just as much entitled to it as the next person. Those who wish to have a child-free experience have plenty of adults only options for vacation accommodations. Love you.

Hey new readers! I'm not all controversy all the time. I also talk about the funnier and less angry parts of being a dad! Check out the Dad on the Run Facebook page and join the conversation!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Letter to My Heartbroken Children.

I plan on being around as long as the Earth will have me and I hold out no small amount of hope that current medical technology and all those good health behaviors (that I'll start tomorrow) will help me stick around to provide sage advice to my children well into their own golden years. However, on the off-chance I don't make it quite as long as I had hoped, I like to throw in a few of life's important messages and responses to some of life's most challenging milestones for my children within these pages. This one is for my child in the event someone has broken your heart.

My dear,

I'm sorry to hear of your heartbreak. There are few things in the world that hurt as much as a rejection and a lack of an opportunity to try to "make things right." I've been there, it was hard. That is an understatement, of course, the truth is it was soul-crushing... for a time. Then it wasn't. Then it was a memory. Then it was just one more detour in my life that led me to your mother's doorstep and ultimately to you. It is often the hardest things to swallow that just turn out to be a bitter pill that helped to make us whole. It is these challenges which make us who we are and that make love, true love, all the sweeter when we find it.

If you need to go footloose for awhile, or mope a bit, go for it, but stop worrying about it being the end of life as you know it because it's not. I guarantee you that one day you will look back at yourself and scoff at how you wept over someone who didn't appreciate you. Hopefully, you'll also look back and realize there were some issues with the way you were as well (I did every time it happened) and you can work to make yourself a better person. Either way, get right with you. Enjoy being single, call up your friends and get your groove back. Don't get sucked into worrying about a new relationship to take the place of the broken one, that's the last thing you should be thinking about. Have fun, enjoy life, devote yourself to a hobby or a cause that is dear to you (don't have one? Find one.) You'll be surprised at the fulfilling relationships that develop organically when you hang out with people with similar interests and passions.

Life has a way of putting the people you need right in front of you. You took some things you needed from the relationship, and I'm sure you gave some that were needed too. I know... it didn't work out. That doesn't mean it was time wasted, and it doesn't make it hurt any less either. Now it's time for the next chapter, just remember that you can't read that passage until you turn the page. There is no going back and who would want to with someone who doesn't feel the same?

Remember when I told you I had been through this and I know the feeling? I've had times when I thought my life was over after one breakup or another, but when I look back now I realize my life hadn't even begun yet. I'm married to a beautiful person, she loves me in ways I was not loved before, she loves me deeper than I knew possible back then, we have two beautiful children together (maybe you've heard of them) and their love eclipses all of the feelings of love lost and abandonment from days gone by. I remember my previous loves fondly, but not in some romantic memory where we didn't have issues, because we did. I learned from my mistakes, I learned the shades of love, I learned how to better myself how to help others do the same and what traits to avoid in others. I wish you the same type of recovery and the sooner you realize it is possible, the sooner it will begin to happen.

Lastly, if it all just becomes too much for you, please see someone. Talk with someone, you are not alone. If I'm around I will hold you as long as I need to and if I'm not then there are others who love you and care for you. There is life after love and, trust me, it is tasty. Don't let a temporary feeling of hopelessness cause you to do something that causes permanent damage. People love you, people need you. Not the one that hurt you, that person is moving on and that is their loss, but you know what? Screw them, you're better than that. Anyone who can't see what an amazingly awesome person you are just didn't look hard enough. I love you.

With Love,

Friday, February 14, 2014

How I Met Your Mother.

I stumbled into your mother’s life and nearly fell into her campfire sometime after midnight that April night.

It was an unseasonably cool Florida evening; friends surrounded me and small blazes dotted the woods around us as live music meandered through the smoky pines. Among the various gatherings of happy faces: colorful hammocks, tents of every size, pickup trucks and the occasional stray peacock provided margins.

It was the first night of the music festival when I walked into a neighboring campsite and introduced myself only to her, despite a dozen of her fellow revelers looking on with mild amusement. Her smile transcended the central blaze of the circle and I was compelled to tell her who I was and inquire where she was from. I learned she was from Tampa and I proclaimed far too loudly, "I'm from St. Pete!" as if this fact would create an irresistible bond between us. She informed me with a playful smirk I had introduced myself no less than half a dozen times prior. Giggles intruded from the onlookers. Perhaps, I was trapped against this event horizon, destined to relive the last 5 minutes for eternity.

Looking back, I can imagine much worse moments to experience in endless loop.

That weekend, we strolled about the grounds with unshakable grins, holding hands and laughing freely. Our first kiss stunned me within sight of a small pond. In the center, a simple aerator we referred to generously as a fountain. On the shore a tiny chapel, hardly more than a shed in size, yet complete with gilded doors, a cathedral ceiling, and stained glass windows. Together, we made light of the festival romance; expecting it would fizzle with the last embers of a thousand bonfires as these flings often do when souls meet outside their reality. “We’ll always have the fountain,” I joked irreverently on more than one occasion and we cackled at the ridiculousness of it all.

A few years later, I proposed in that place and the following spring we were married in a chapel hardly large enough to hold a lawn tractor, much less a ceremony. Behind the grandiose hut, a little pond surrounded by Cypress trees, framed with Spanish moss and in the middle, an unassuming fountain. 

The Fountain
Our little chapel.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Minimize Me

Trying out a new format. I'll still be doing other things, but hoping this frees up some time. These type of posts will also go up on my new Tumblr

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fatherhood, Friendships and Self-Reflection. A Reboot in The Big Easy.

Having just returned home from a three-day weekend in New Orleans and my first experience at Dad 2.0 I’ve been reflecting on the trip, my friends, and myself.

Have I ever felt less proficient as a father? Probably not. In New Orleans, there were so many great fathers doing so much more than me and doing it better.

Despite this personal crisis of inadequacy I also realized while I may not have the connections, the waistline, the readership, the world-shaking ideas of some of my fatherhood mentors, I usually manage pretty well on the parenting front and I think most of these dads would agree this is where the rubber meets the asphalt, so I do take some pride in that and thank the community for putting such an emphasis on those types of successes and pushing me to grow in this, the most important aspect of my life.

I've really been struggling with how to balance this experience, to accept myself, to be proud of myself while also using it as an accelerant for bettering myself. How do I parlay the information shared, the experience and these new relationships into a force to help me grow as a parent, as a person and as a writer? How do I write this post? How do I manage my time in a way that honors and respects my children, my wife, and my responsibilities while making room for myself creatively? Can it be done without sacrificing in some other area? The time to invest is now. I can no longer wait to make myself healthier (physically and mentally), to stop pushing my children and my wife away when I'm “busy.” It is time to get my priorities straight and manage my time better so I can make room for more.

On top of my concerns of not meeting my potential as a father and a husband, I often worry that I’m a great “acquaintance” and, too often, a poor “friend.” I talk (or write) a big game when it comes to fatherhood, morality, understanding and acceptance, but on the inside I struggle constantly with realizing within myself the thoughts and ideals that float around my head. I find it difficult to reciprocate interest others show in me, why is that? Am I malfunctioning; Am I broken? How often I walk away from conversation thinking, “what a genuine person, they were actually interested in me and what I've been doing,” only to realize, too late, I didn't ask the same type of questions. I didn't make an effort to show them that I care about their lives. I don't know why this is, but I vow to do better. It is time to stop being the one man wolf-pack and allow myself the acceptance into something greater than myself and to recognize that these types of relationships are two-way streets.

Only 5 years ago, I was new to Chicago and fatherhood. Fortunately, my own father’s voice and experience provided some guidance in the absence of many fatherhood peers. How often I wish I the Wayback Machine could provide me a cached version of his thoughts along the way. Dad, what was your URL?  In the absence of a blog or an undiscovered journal, I suppose the conversations and the hands on experience of having been fathered by him are a good start in the journey to know him and coming to a better understanding of the gig as “Dad.” As a stay at-home father I long for the Facebook history or memoir of my mother (an at-home mom) as well, but it not to be found.

Alone (on the fatherhood front) in a new city I looked up to the fathers I found online: Whit Honea of Honea Express, James Austin of Luke I Am YourFather, and Doug French of Laid Off Dad were among the first I read. By the time I learned my way around the Second City and a changing station, I had discovered other voices of fatherhood in Zach RosenbergJim Higley, Shannon Hossman and others. Around the time my daughter started potty training, we moved out of downtown, into a neighborhood and I began to write on my own. 

I floundered around with my writing for a year or so before I started gaining any kind of traction and then with the discovery of the Dad Blogger Facebook group and later the National At-Home Network, I found camaraderie, both local and digital. A vast support group for me existed and I had been unaware all this time. I now run a Stay At-Home Dad Facebook group (listed on the NAHDN as a virtual dad’s group) in addition to my blog and hope to contribute in a small way to accessibility of the same type of support for other new and isolated fathers.

Carter Gaddis (whom I met at the convention) of  DadScribe, once wrote about “finding his tribe.” Having integrated with local fathers, other stay home dads (at the NAHDN convention) and now with other Dad Bloggers at Dad 2.0 Summit I feel like I have finally found my tribe as well. I was near a starstruck feeling when I joined the Dad Blogger group and conversed casually with some of the very same writers I read as a new father. The feeling was then magnified as I met many of them in person, I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Charlie Capen and Andy Herald, Chris Read, John Kinnear, Brent Almond, Mike Adamick (who I really wanted to meet, and apparently did, but didn’t recognize with my astute powers of observation, or maybe bourbon was involved?), Frederick Goodall, Chris Bernholdt, Aaron Gouveia, Chris Routly, Jeff Bogle, and Adrian Kulp. From reading Whit Honea’s poetic stories 5 years ago, to reading Kulp's book “Dad or Alive” on the flight to New Orleans to walking Bourbon street with both authors and so many other influencers of my life. The experience was surreal. There were so many others as well, I am hesitant to even include those few names here for fear of leaving out someone who has had impact on my life, but I do have to mention Oren Miller (founder of the Dad Blogger group), the entire Life of Dad crew (responsible for my attendance), and Don Jackson (my personal sparring partner, lady’s man and all around good guy). In the end, I don't know if I deserved to be there. I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to return next year, but I do know that I realized there are an awful lot of great fathers forging the new meaning of “Dad” for those doing it today and for dads to come. I thank you all for myself and on behalf of my son.

I wrote, after my first fatherhood convention (the NAHDN convention in Denver), of a changing definition of masculinity and of a brotherhood of common experience. Many of those feelings were echoed in the Big Easy. Watching clips of ads, headlines, interviews and sitcoms with active, involved and loving fathers on the big screens with a few hundred other great parents had the tears welling up on more than one occasion and other men… “Men!” commented on and admitted the same. We were comfortable with our emotions, we were supportive of each other’s stories, we were in awe of a newcomer to the Dad Blogger community, Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna, when he battled his own emotions and fought through a fog of doubt and anxiety to discuss his battle with questions we all feel at some level, “Who am I? Do I deserve to be here? Am I one of the “good ones?” Well, Lorne, you are indeed deserving and one of the best ones. The intestinal fortitude of reading your own work, a work that bared your soul, in front of a crowd is outstanding and what you do every day and the love you shower on your family inspires us all. I’m happy to be your acquaintance and hope that one day I'll be more of a friend to you and so many others I mentioned.

I'm all over the map here and I realize that, but in my tribe, I've found that we can talk with each other about our feelings and go where our hearts lead us. I can't imagine my life without these acquaintances friends of mine. Please help me realize my potential, please continue to be friends to me and let me know when you need a friend or when I'm failing at being one. Thank you, Dad 2.0 for helping to inspire me to be a better man.

Monday, February 3, 2014

At-Home Dads Featured in Chicago Tribune

While I was in New Orleans, the Chicago Tribune put up a great story on SAHD's which featured some friends of mine here in the Windy City. David Wallach of D.A.D- Dad All Day, Pat Jacobs of Just a Dad 247 and Al Watts of The National At-Home Dad Network.

Also keep your eyes peeled for more on this story. In the aftermath of this simple look at the lives of SAHD a local blogger attacked David who was front and center in the piece and tried to make the whole issue a battle of the sexes. I just don't get it. Why does the elevation of one good parent have to be seen as an attack on others? Let's respect all involved parents; this of course includes working parents doing everything they can to raise their children the best way they can and certainly includes mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers and anyone contributing the care and upbringing of well-rounded kids. Let's put value on those who stay home and raise children and be happy for them. I honestly wish the world were in a state where every child could be cared for, taught by and encouraged by a loving parent all day everyday. Whether that person is a man or woman is irrelevant; if there is a way to make it happen, who wouldn't?

Ultimately, after David wrote a piece defending his family and their choices, and more than anything, honoring his wife for what she does to contribute to their family he lost his job at Chicago Now. I'll keep you posted on developments in that story and on David's next moves which I'm sure will involve a successful relaunch of his blog elsewhere, but for now, just enjoy the candid look into the life of an every day dad (Or "Dad All Day" as he prefers) in the first link above or here.