Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breath

The sun is in my eyes, glaring and sparkling off the pool. A shower of water rains on my face, created by the child drowning swimming in front of me. The tinge of chlorine tightens my squint.

I'm holding out a hand to my daughter who is trying to reach the edge of the pool











before her limited swimming skills fail to bring her mouth above the water for another hurried breath. She expends much needed energy to say, "No! <BREATH> I've got it!" Meanwhile, her feet and hands push and pull desperately against the water.

Almost. There.

I wait closely, tracking her progress. I don't want to offer help too soon (or too late) so I agonize over the slow drip of time between gasps. Goggles provide vision above and below. Underneath the water is cool, her hair dances slowly and rhythmically about her determined face. The sun is dampened and sound takes on new qualities as reality creeps to the edge of recognition. It really is another world under here. I am terrified. Looking for any sign of doubt or fear behind her own goggles and dreaming of the breath and the sweet chaos at the surface.

Is this the way I'll feel when she is learning to drive? The first time her heart is broken? Will I be there with my hand outstretched? Will anyone?

Of course she wants to be independent. She is of us, of me. Is it instinct, this characteristic of avoiding the request for help? Clearly, people everywhere need help of one kind or another yet hesitate to ask for it even when we need it most. I know I do. Did I teach her this? Is it some misguided shame in needing others causes us to act this way? Pride which misguidedly stays our hand from reaching out to others? Is it fear which causes the hesitation? Will the hand be there when I reach for it? Will it pull back too soon, leaving us no better off than when we started?

Children need to learn the value of independence, but in the end my daughter, J Bean, knows I'm there and if/when she reaches out a hand to me I'll pull her up as quickly as I can. Must be a great feeling. One we should all experience. As time passes, I hope to show her the power in the hands of the world. How her mother's and mine are not the only ones ready to lift her. Eventually she'll know ours are not infinite and she'll need that reassurance. I'll need that reassurance.

Her face breaks the surface just as her outstretched hands finally grasp the edge.

<Breath>

Relief floods my mind as oxygen fills her lungs and I pull back my hand. The edge is constant. I am here. Others nearby are ready to help.

I trust in the knowledge another intrinsically human characteristic is the desire to help others. People step up and offer help even when we won't ask for it ourselves. We like to help, we want to, I really believe that we need to. It seems we should be happy in giving and receiving. Help when we can, reach for a hand when we need it and know it will be there, because it will. 

A fellow dad blogger, Oren Miller of A Father and A Blogger, reached out a hand here. He didn't realize he had actually, because all he really did was let his community know his situation and his thoughts on it. Heartbreakingly, that situation is dire. The response to Oren's stage 4 lung cancer, much to his surprise, came in the form of hundreds of outstretched hands. One stood out to me, it was the hand of Brent Almond (Designer Daddy) who created a Give Forward page for Oren so that we might send Oren and his family on a much needed and deserved vacation. Brents' action was important as it flew in the face of the bystander effect. We all wanted to do something for Oren, but we didn't know where to start. That fund surpassed our imaginations and is now, I am proud to say, a true gift to help them through the rough road ahead. I hope you'll check out the Give Forward page and consider extending a hand of your own to help this loving family through the challenge of their life. 

Oren, we are with you. Take a hand.

<BREATH>


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Flip the Script... -sponsored-

Has anything ever gone as planned for a parent? Seriously. Is there one moment, one vacation, one picture, one single event that came out just as you had hoped? Children get sick, they pout have full-fledged foot-stomping hair-tearing tantrums, they define "uncooperative" at the most inopportune times. Still millions of people have children everyday, tell others they should have spawn of their own and we even keep the ones we have already. Why is that? Wouldn't life according to plan be so much easier, less stressful and just more manageable in general?

Probably.

Then again, it's the unexpected moments and flavor my kids add to every day that really create the life I want to live. Sure, there would be fewer messes, a whole lot less laundry and I'd have more freedom to do some of the things I enjoy without the kids. On the other hand, no one would ask me things like, "Daddy, how does a baby whale know how to swim if she's never had even one swim lesson?"

Without the kids, my wife and I would probably take some of those fantastic, artsy portraits of ourselves in a warm embrace with the sunset at the beach or some other destination I can't afford to go with the whole brood. On the other hand, we wouldn't end up with this type of photo either:
Personally, I think I'll be happy to have this as part of my photo album when I'm old and gray and reminiscing over the "good ol' days." The lighting isn't perfect, the outfits don't match, and I didn't even shave. Still, this captures more of the way our life is than any studio portrait ever could.

It's true, the unscripted nature of life with kids can cause delays and throw off our
schedule, but do I really need to be on time when I could be dancing in the street with a 2 year old as we enjoy the music of one of our favorite street performers?

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the unscripted moments of fatherhood. What else is there to do? I wouldn't have it any other way, personally. When you tell your daughter to get ready to go to an office party and she comes out looking like a bedazzled pirate from space, that's what makes it all worthwhile. Even if you plan a play date with a bouncy house and it all comes crashing down, that's OK. Life wasn't meant to be scripted. It's the suspense, the excitement and outright comedy of it all that make fatherhood so special to me.









I'm sure you've heard of the #WorldsToughestJob campaign it hit the big time around mother's day and now it has been expanded to include us dads as well. You can learn even more about getting involved with your own #WorldsToughestjob moments here. This video really encapsulates the feelings and the reality of a life as dad unscripted, they took real actors to have them audition for the role of "Dad." Check it out, it's hilarious and touching:



Now that's I'm a father of my own, I often reflect on my own unscripted childhood and how my father must have dealt with my own unforeseen shenanigans. When I went to work on his Father's Day card, that was definitely on my mind. I was excited to learn about Cardstore's service where I could create my own card for him. A card that isn't scripted and crafted by someone we never met. Something more personal and hopefully, more meaningful to him.

Click to Enlarge
Time was running short for me with father's day approaching (you know how that tends to happen when you have kids, right?) so it was great to find that Cardstore's interface was quick and easy to learn. In no time, I had a card designed and ready to send. Actually, I didn't even have to "send" it, they handled that part for me too.

For my dad, I selected an old picture as the front cover. It was one of those unscripted moments from my childhood that shows so much about the fun we had together and the feelings we had for each other. Then, I recreated the picture with my own children to remind him that he showed me how it's done. Inside, the card says:

"Look familiar? Fatherhood isn't scripted, but you always made us feel like the stars of the show! Thanks for showing me how to wing it! I may not have a director or a 'how to' book on the shelf, but looking back on my childhood, I'm able to figure it out. Well... mostly. Happy Father's Day!" 

I've included some screenshots of how I put it together and the final product. You still have time, yourself, to create a card and have it delivered on time for Father's day if you act right away! Just head over to Cardstore right now to get started! Cards made by 6/9 will arrive on time with standard shipping! Also, because, you read this far, you get a special discount code: CCG4527 is valid 6/3 – 6/9 and will get you a father's day card for $2.49 plus the stamp.


Disclosure: I partnered with Cardstore from American Greetings and Life of Dad, LLC for the #WorldsToughestJob Dad Casting Father's Day promotion and was compensated for my involvement.




Saturday, June 7, 2014

I love my job. #DestinationDad with Sears. - Sponsored -



Sometimes I just have to admit my "job" is a really good one. As an at-home dad, I deal with the kids all week for better or for worse and with one in the "terrible twos" and a 5 year old it seems like the worse part of that equation has been winning lately. However, Wednesday was one of those days that makes it all worthwhile. I was paid, that's right I was given money, to go do with my children what we might do anyway: peruse the mall, check out some gift ideas for father's day, wear fake mustaches, ride up and down escalators for no apparent reason, photobomb some complete strangers, and eat ice-cream. Ok, I'll admit, there are one or two of these we wouldn't normally do, so maybe that's the part I get paid for, I'm not sure. Honestly though, when a job is this fun, life is good!

My Destination Dad trip started when I loaded up the kids and a bag full of fuzzy mustaches to head to Sears and entered the "Snap Your 'Stache" contest. I also brought along a magic marker to draw a mustache on my son, Link, knowing he would inevitably refuse to wear his lip accessory. Little did I know, he'd also refuse to have his lip colored despite his normal propensity for body graffiti. It was a lot of fun and felt like a mini-vacation, we played with tons of gadgets, sat on a few riding lawn mowers, chilled out in some patio furniture on display and may or may not have watched an entire movie in the electronics department. It also helped that I was wearing swimming trunks, sunglasses, a summer fedora, a tropical(ish) shirt and a gray handlebar mustache. A man in a funny hat brought me a drink in a coconut shell. OK, the drink bit didn't happen but it wouldn't have surprised me. Also, do you call that brown stuff on the outside of a coconut a shell or is it a husk? 
Never mind; moving on. 






Outside the store, the kids and I bothered stopped a departing customer to see if  she would mind snapping a few shots of the brood and myself with the Sears sign in the background. Once inside the resort department store, we went on a scavenger hunt for the items that I'd most like to find under my pillow (wait, wrong occasion... to find on the kitchen counter?) on Father's Day this year. Preferably, that gift would be something that I don't wear between my feet and shoes or tie in a Windsor knot around my neck. I wasn't disappointed. 



I was happy to find several gift possibilities for my "Gimme List" and the kids approved of most of my selections. First, I was awestruck by the crisp, high definition picture on the 
Samsung 46" LED TV and we jumped on the opportunity to take a #DestinationDad photo with a realistic beach scene in the background. Maybe I should have put sunscreen on my boy! Then we scoped out the Kenmore 4 burner grill with a foldout table that would make a great addition to my new home in Tampa. Did I mention I had to leave my old grill in Chicago during my recent move because I rented a truck that was too small? Did I also mention that my wife Vv told me so? Well, don't feel bad, she covered that ground a few dozen times, but given the price on this Kenmore maybe she is ready to forgive me and get back to freshly grilled steaks for our endless summer in Florida. (Please?!)





Next, we checked out the comprehensive selection of man-tools in the Craftsman 263 piece mechanic's tool set which would look awesome in my garage. I was also able to take a gander at a really
nice Citizen's Quartz stainless steel watch that I literally almost bought on the spot (it was on sale for way less than half of retail). Ultimately, I decided to leave the feeling of satisfaction that will come with getting me just what I want for Father's Day to my wife and children to enjoy. That's because I'm a giving person.


I told the kids if they would be willing to sign a small waiver granting me access to their college funds then I would purchase a Samsung Galaxy Tab3 Lite 7" Tablet on their behalf so they might gift it to me on Father's Day. Mind you, it wasn't expensive, that just happens to be the only money in their names. J Bean, my daughter, denied the opportunity (obviously, she wants to surprise me with it later) and my son, Link, just yelled, "Dop It, Daddy! Wa Er, Wa Er, Mo Wa Er!" I have no idea what that means, but I assume it was a thank you for the wonderful vacation at Sears and that he had already selected one of my previous choices to bestow me with. Love those little, buggers!


After nabbing our pictures and bringing home a few bacon bits to add to my wife's far more substantial slab o' bacon contribution, we headed over to the mall's play area where Link threw himself off a slide a few dozen times and where J Bean climbed a fake palm tree while still wearing her mustache. It was nice... It wasn't Sears nice, but it was OK. To top the day off we grabbed some ice cream and headed home. Now I can't wait to see what I get on the big day and for my next Destination Dad trip to


the local mall!


In short, I recommend you get down to Sears to enjoy your own dad desination day and to enter the contest! Sears wants to honor dad this Father’s Day through the “Snap Your ‘Stache” contest, a nationwide search for the greatest moustache. Now through June 15 entrants can can take a photo of your mustaches and share at sears.com/DestinationDad.com for a chance to win the ultimate Father’s Day gift – a trip to the Craftsman MAKEcation where you’ll meet a celebrity and learn to make whiskey, roll cigars, grill steaks, and amass survival skills. I'll be honest, the celebrity could be an extra in a B-movie and I'd still love to win that prize! Runner up prizes include other great gifts including a Craftsman Quiet Lawnmower Craftsman portable gas grill and Craftsman MACH Series tools. As you can see from my pictures, you shouldn't let a bare lip stop you from entering the contest. In fact, in a stroke of irony, I shaved my real mustache (which didn't seem to be award winning material) so that my fake one would stick to my
face! So go ahead, get creative and draw one on, use a sticker, or even hold something to create your best ‘stache. Everyone who enters will receive $5 in Shop Your Way points to use on the perfect Father’s Day gift. Plus, Shop Your Way members can vote for their favorite moustache submission, which will enter them into a sweepstakes for 250,000 in points (a value of $250).

Disclosure: I partnered with Sears and Life of Dad, LLC for this Father's Day promotion and was compensated for my involvement.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

5 Ways Being an At-Home Dad is Supposedly Ruining My Kids





This piece was originally published at AskYourDadBlog.com and was part 2, and somewhat of a response, to his original piece you might want to read first here. The main thing to understand is that we're all doing it wrong... and that's OK. 
I “retired” from work when my daughter was born over 5 and a half years ago and now have my son (age 2) in the mix as well. Every once in a while I stumble across an article or a conversation where folks are talking about how horrible it is that some kids are stuck home with a father and what damage I must be doing to my children, my family, my marriage and my earning potential. There is a lot of guilt out there to roll around in. If Vv and I really prioritized our kids we should be able to figure something out so she can stay home and I go to work, you know, the way nature intended. It’s really the best gift we could give to our kids and if we love them we should really consider it. They are only going to be kids once, and if we didn't plan on raising our kids the traditional way, why did we have them in the first place?

Seriously, these are things I have heard… or read. The Internet is full of people who think they know things.

The irony in that last sentence aside, here’s the thing: My wife was consulting and traveling 4 days a week while I worked full-time as VP of Operations with an investigative firm before J Bean, my daughter, was born and that didn’t seem like a great way of carrying on with children. In the end, an at-home dad arrangement made the most sense for us so we could all be together the most and still maintain the best income. Despite the obvious fact that non-conforming gender roles could ruin our children, we still selfishly decided to give it a go. Sorry Internet. Sorry kids. I guess we fail.
Here are 5 ways the SAHD (stay-at home dad) arrangement is supposedly ruining our children...


1. The house is a wreck.  
Story after story indicates that fathers, even when we stay home, do less than our share of chores. To hear the media tell it, stay home fathers must let kids run around in diapers (the same one all day) or buck naked amidst the pigsty we call home. Oddly, from the inside looking out, I feel that I keep a similar home to most of the at-home mothers I know. Meaning, the house is a complete disaster until 5 minutes before announced visitors arrive and I give a final push before mom gets home when the tyrants allow for it. Both feats are only achieved when I plop the kids in front of the TV with a snack while I wipe and vacuum like the Tasmanian devil on crack. It seems I’m always cleaning up, but the work of doing so with two children is like that of a windshield wiper in a monsoon… as soon as I do it, another mess appears. Clean the kitchen, cook a meal and watch the salad shooters I call offspring spray down the breakfast nook with a fresh layer of oatmeal and strawberries. Fun fact: Oatmeal can easily double as an industrial adhesive.

I do have to admit, my wife would probably keep a cleaner house than I do were she home with the children. However, I have my doubts she would also keep up the lawn, the cat litter, the garbage, the pool and the vehicle. In the end, I like to think that a father’s house may be different, but not necessarily worse than a mother’s. After all, I’m raising children, not trying to make the cover of Southern Living. What I lack in gleaming countertops, I make up for with awesome science projects, home-made dollhouses and hand to hand combat training.
2. They are always sick (perhaps this is a function of #1?)

There is rarely a time that my kids’ noses aren't running, and at least once a year one of them will begin projectile vomiting which isn’t nearly as fun as paintball, but makes just as big of a mess. Having sick kids means that Vv and I are also often sick. I don’t get it. This is supposed to be a special torture relegated to those selfish working-parents like John and Stevie of Ask Your Dad Blog.

On one hand, maybe I should keep the kids and the house tidier; on the other hand, a quick leading-question Google search to affirm that my way of parenting is the best brought back this and this. Basically, my “research” shows that if you keep the house cluttered your kids will be more creative and if you let them play in the mud, they’ll be healthier and better able to fend off the super-human Nazi’s (aka: children of working parents) when they get to actual school.  



3. An at-home dad will foster gender confusion
Despite my best attempts at keeping the house dirty for the aforementioned benefits, I occasionally do laundry, dance with a vacuum or scrub enough dishes to unburythe Playstation. During those rare moments, my children are learning a skewed vision of gender roles, and who knows what type of damage this could be causing! My daughter may decide that she wants to be like her Mom and travel the globe as a successful business person  or perhaps she’ll choose a more domestic role, I just hope she decides based on what is best for herself and/or her family rather than what society deems appropiate. My son may become a nurse, or a politician (please, please don’t let him be a politician), or an at-home dad and that’s OK with me. He might decide that making money isn’t his primary “manly” duty! The point is that at-home dads are confusing the Hell out of matters. There are jobs for women and there are jobs for men, period. A fact I’m reminded of everyday through articles on the interwebs and the awkward facial expressions of some when they learn of my chosen occupation.

Truth is the whole situation of being an SAHD makes me hyper-aware of gender boxing and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve held up the drive-thru under the golden arches as I informed the employee through a scratchy intercom that there is no such thing as a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” Well, actually I’ve heard “boy toy” used legitimately before, but it’s not something you order off the value menu. This discussion is usually followed by me ordering a pink spider-man toy for my daughter at her request, and something with wheels for my son but that’s not the point! Or maybe it is. In theory, I’m raising androgynous children and in the process I’m ruining their lives.
4. My Our decision will bring financial ruin.
“…dads who left work for even a short period of time to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.” (Source: This ridiculous article that came up when I Googled, “What is going to piss me off today?”)

Some might think that making it to executive level in your career, taking several years off to raise your children and turning down job offers year after year is not a terrible predicament to be in professionally and that there are benefits to having a parent at home. Others would point out that is nonsensical crazy talk. I could have stayed in the workforce and challenged Warren Buffett for his spot on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in America. Instead, I’m blowing out flip-flops at the beach with my kids and making cheeseburgers in paradise like Jimmy Buffett. Meanwhile, their educational futures are at stake, not to mention a convertible at age 16! My guilt is mounting… or it would be if our arrangement had not allowed my wife to focus and excel in her own career surpassing with one job what we used to make with two. Note to my children: There still won’t be a convertible.

5. Children of an at-home dad will never make friends.

Kids who stay home with dad won’t know how to talk to, much less play with, other children without asking them creepy things about gender stereotypes or the best order to watch Star Wars. (“Episode one first? I can’t even look at you.”) At-home dads will raise socially awkward children who may very well give up on the whole “school” thing by age 6 and move to deep into the Everglades where they will survive on a diet of crawfish, hand-caught water moccasins, and Beanee Weenees. Those little hermits might go a step further and run around in loin cloths while taking aim at nearby rocket launches with slingshots while cursing the bright orb in the sky. Then again, they might grow up to be some of the most creative and interesting people we could meet. Maybe the truth is that it’s difficult predict the future of a child based on who changes their diapers and repeatedly picks up behind them and whether or not that person has an XY chromosome. With that said, If they do drop off the grid in a fit of anti-social rejection, I hope they get an airboat. I like airboats.  

So yeah, we’re HORRIBLE. I’m a dumb-witted half-man raising children who won’t have any idea how to carry themselves with other children and I spend days languishing in toddler-land when I could be making millions to put them through college. Our house would be better off with a cleaning woman (or man), a lawn service and perhaps an au pair. Luckily, we’re not raising houses so I think we’ll just continue our misguided efforts to raise kids in a way that works for our family even if it ruins them in the process. Don’t all kids deserve our very best swing at having no idea how to make them the best person they can be while not driving us crazy in the process? Perhaps Vv and I aren’t really that different from John and Stevie after all. Keep doing what you’re doing Parenting Partners!  

Note: This was not meant to disparage working parents, at-home moms, grandparents, uncles, shoe salesmen or Jimmy Buffett. I think you are all awesome. I think my wife and I are awesome too. Everyone is awesome! I am going to say awesome again. Awesome. 

And one LAST note: Follow me on Facebook. I am 50% more snarky there, and 35% less funny.