The Ignorance of Youth

November 17, 2017

when you start catching glimpses of your father’s face

reflected in the mucky shop windows you pass each day downtown

— and if you haven’t yet, you will —

Mortality is suddenly that annoying frat brother from college

not so long ago

getting his ever-pubescent jollies

by razzing you about the ignorance of Youth

unaware that

if nothing more

Youth was your one true friend

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Girl Power!

May 1, 2016

  
I believe one of the most important responsibilities I have as the father of a daughter is to instill a sense of confidence and belonging in her. Sadly, we live in a world where women are still often treated as second-class citizens. Even in the good ol’ USA, women make less money than men, still can’t join certain clubs and organizations, and continue to be the butt of inappropriate (yet widely accepted) jokes. I hope things change by the time my six-year-old is an adult, but I want her to be prepared to stand up for herself and expect nothing less than equal treatment in the future.

My son is twelve. He’s a great kid, but he’s also at an age where he tends to occasionally be a jerk. As a matter of fact, he’s usually a jerk and is exceptionally good at it. As older brothers (and sisters) tend to do, he picks on his much younger sister quite often. I picked on my little sister at that age (and maybe still do a little now), so sometimes I don’t do as good of job of getting on him about it as I probably should. I do, however, try to consistently remind my daughter that she should stand up for herself at all times, regardless of the circumstances. That being said, she typically gets upset and simply tells on her brother when he is mistreating her in some way.

Today was different. My youngest hadn’t even had a chance to take a bite of the banana with peanut butter (a rare healthy snack that she actually loves) that I had just made for her, when the jerk grabbed it and took a bite. My daughter stood up from the table, narrowed her eyes on her big brother, and sternly said, “Listen, if you want some of this there are bananas and peanut butter right here in the kitchen. Make yourself one, but stay away from mine!” My son and I were both totally taken off-guard. “Um, okay, I’m really sorry,” he genuinely muttered. I was just speechless. Slowly, my daughter turned her fierce gaze towards me. “This is girl power, dad. Get used to it.” Luckily I was able to keep from laughing — as it was very funny — but I couldn’t hide my pride. This kid’s gonna be just fine. 

There’s a quote By William James that I like to keep in mind when it comes to parenting:

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

I truly hope my fellow fathers of daughters are doing all they can to empower their young girls. Our generation has an opportunity to make great strides towards equality for our children. Let’s work together to make it happen.

  
It’s a very cold and rainy spring break morning in my neck of the woods. Regardless, I’m still feeling very fortunate to be able to be home with my kids (well, mostly), and the weather provides a perfect day to make some popcorn, cuddle up under blankets, and watch movies. We have cable and Netflix, and movies are just a couple clicks of the remote control away, yet I would love to be able to take my son and daughter to the local video store to pick out some old classics. Something they have never had the pleasure of doing.

While technology certainly has its upside, our kids are missing out on some things that my generation took for granted. Long gone is the excitement of perusing the new releases at the pre-Blockbuster corner video store (don’t forget to check the recently returned cart — and try to sneak a peek into the Adult section), the joy of getting dropped off by our parents at the mall (my mom can take if yours can pick up?) and slowly flipping through records at Musicland (either before or after slurping an Orange Julius), or even just playing board (bored) games like Life, Monopoly, and Clue.

Perhaps I’m suffering from a worsening case of silly nostalgia as I get older, but it seems like it was just a simpler, better time when we were kids — despite being more difficult to do some things. I’m aware of course that every older generation thinks such things about the current “troubled” youth of society, but maybe the old geezers are on to something. I mean think about it…we rode our bikes everywhere (my kids literally dislike bicycles), we played outside from sun up to sun down in the summer (my kids would rather lie in bed doing “stuff” on their electronic devices), we got severe, tissue damaging sunburns (my kids wear sunscreen if they happen to enter sunlight), we played actual sports (my kids excel at virtual bowling). This is messed up, man.

Who am I kidding, my kids would probably freak out if they had to go to an actual video store. Part of how they act is on me for not being a better parent, and I suppose part of it is just the way things are today. That being said, my children do great in school, are generally very kind to others, are not complete spoiled brats (despite how I describe them), and my wife and I love the hell out of them (and that love is definitely reciprocated). They also recycle sometimes. The world may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but things could be much worse. As the old saying goes, the kids are alright (they just aren’t as good as when we were young).

Here’s to a happy spring break for all and some true quality time with your damn children (oh, and better weather than we have). Cheers. 

 

 

 

  
Not so long ago, a little girl named Rose was growing up in an old, run-down, dirty neighborhood. It seemed like it was always cloudy. Her neighbors were grumpy and rarely came outside.

As Rose walked to and from school each day, she passed a vacant lot near her home. Her parents had told her about the lot many times. There used to be a beautiful house here, with big trees and a colorful flower garden. But now it was just a patch of hard, cracked dirt with only some weeds growing.

Walking home one day, however, Rose noticed something different in the lot. Something other than weeds was coming from the ground. As Rose got closer, she realized it was a small bush with one tiny flower. It was a rose.

“Look, a rose, just like me!” she said aloud.

The rose was wilted and in terrible need of help. Rose ran home and returned with a large cup of water, which she slowly poured around the bush. The water flowed through the cracks in the dirt.

The next morning Rose woke up early and hurried to the lot. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The little rose had grown — and there was a second flower, a daisy, growing next to the rosebush!

Every day when she got home from school, Rose filled a watering can and headed to the lot to water her flowers. Every morning there were more flowers to see. Red ones, purple ones, yellow, green, pink, orange — so many beautiful colors that were nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, tulips, and some strange types of flowers that Rose had never even seen before.

After just two weeks, there were far too many flowers for a watering can. Rose’s dad gave her a long garden hose that she would lug to the lot each day. And with more water came even more flowers!

People started to stop and stare at the new flower garden. Rose’s mom found an old bench in her basement, and painted it bright yellow. She put the bench on the sidewalk in front of the garden so people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Oddly, things began to change in the neighborhood. People started painting their houses, fixing broken windows, cleaning up trash, and planting flowers of their own. Before long the old gray neighborhood had color everywhere. People who used to keep to themselves inside were now outside working on their lawns, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, and saying “hello” to people they passed on the street. The neighbors were getting to know each other and were becoming friends. Someone — no one was exactly sure who — even put another bench, this one painted red, in front of the flower garden. So many people were coming to admire the garden, that one bench just wasn’t enough.

Rose continued her watering every day. More and more flowers grew, until you couldn’t see the ground at all, just flowers everywhere! Kids and grownups alike came from all over the town to see the garden. They also noticed how nice the rest of the neighborhood looked. Soon, other neighborhoods were doing the same thing, until the whole town become something to see. It wasn’t long before people started coming from far and wide to see the flower garden. They then went home and started their own gardens.

Folks from all over the map started adding color and beauty to their own towns. They were working very hard, yet they were happier than ever before. People had something to be proud of.

All because of one little Rose.

  
In case you haven’t been following my blog (and based on my pathetically low number of followers, you probably haven’t), I quit my job about eight months ago to become a stay-at-home dad. This was a very tough decision, but it has been one of the best choices I could have made for both me and my family. While I’ve had a ton of support and encouragement from family and friends, I frequently encounter people who — for various reasons — seem to think that I’m not living up to my responsibilities as a red-blooded American man.

This most recently occurred during a field trip I attended at the zoo with my eleven year old son. Parents were not allowed to ride on the school buses, which were characteristically running late. As a result, a large group of parents were milling around the zoo entrance impatiently waiting for their children to arrive. I passed some time making small talk with a few moms, who made up the majority of the crowd, then saw an older man walking my way. He wore an expression that clearly said he was very relieved to see another dad. 

This gentleman, let’s pretend I don’t recall his name, introduced himself with a firm handshake. He quickly informed me that he was a retired truck driver. “I could drive any kind of truck, anywhere you needed me to go,” he boasted. “I spent a lot of time away from my family, and now I get to do this type of stuff,” he continued. I couldn’t tell if he was happy or annoyed to be there — maybe he was somewhat indifferent — but he made it sound like “this type of stuff” was his sentence for all the family time he missed before retirement.

“What about you?” he inquired. “Did you have to take off work to be here?”

“No I’m a stay-at-home dad,” I said. I could tell where this was headed.

The older man let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter, “Well, hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of (as if I must obviously be very ashamed and embarrassed about my unfortunate situation). Whatcha makin’ for dinner (more laughing).”

My first impulse was to give this mother-trucker a flying roundhouse kick to the trachea. However, I quickly reminded myself that I no longer worry or care about what others think of me. I decided to take the high road.

“I know, I’m not ashamed, and am actually very proud of it,” I calmly replied. “And roasted chicken.”

I followed this with my quick spiel about how I left the construction industry after nearly twenty years so that I could spend much more time with my son and daughter. His eyes lit up. I had a glimmer of hope that I was getting through to him.

“Oh yeah? What kind of construction were you in?”

Ugh. Some people just don’t get it — and many never will. I’ve learned to accept the fact. If I was a woman, he probably would have been very happy for me. Keep in mind though that if anyone thinks a man shouldn’t be a stay-at-home parent, but a woman should, it’s not only an insult to the man, but is a bigger slap in the face to women.

There is a growing number of dads who are making the choice to stay home with their kids. I don’t understand why our society doesn’t embrace this. It means that men are putting their families first. It also means that women are perfectly capable of being the primary bread-winner. Most importantly, it means kids are spending more time with their dads.

Being a stay-at-home dad isn’t for everyone, and I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with being a working parent. I was one for years, and I know many people who do a fantastic job of it (starting with my wife). Fortunately, I had an opportunity and I jumped on it. I can rebuild my career and make more money when my kids are older, but I will never have another chance to relive this time in my kids’ lives. We make some sacrifices, but we are happier than ever.

If you are a stay-at-home dad, good for you. Be proud of yourself. Your kids probably don’t realize it today, but you are making a significant difference in their lives now, and are also affecting how they will function as adults. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel ashamed or embarrassed — or like any less of a man than they are.

On the other hand, if you think what I’m doing is crazy, that’s okay too. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are trying to make a positive impact on our families, and are not worried about impressing you. I simply ask that we are shown the same respect that you would want anyone to show you. Please remember that the world needs all kinds of people, including truck drivers and stay-at-home dads.

Oh No…Puberty! 

September 25, 2015

“Hey, Dad,” my son, Jack, hollered. He was slightly out of breath after rushing out of the house to meet me as I pulled into our driveway last night. “I’ve got some great news — I’m becoming a man…”

Jack has always been mature for his age. His first complete sentence was, “Quite frankly, this pureed chicken in a jar is barely edible.” (Or something like that.) For the most part, he’s been smarter, taller, faster, stronger, and more emotionally advanced (not necessarily in a good way) than many of his peers. He has also always been self-conscious, anxious, and worrisome.

This fall Jack started middle school. Over the summer between 5th and 6th grade, some major changes took place among the tweenage boy population. Suddenly Jack is one of the smaller kids. Some of the boys sport a thin hipster-esque mustache. A few of his friends sound like they might be Barry White’s illegitimate children. For the first time in his life, it seems my son is feeling a little inadequate. 

Man or woman, I think we can all agree that middle school was at least awkward at times, if not generally horrific. It’s a time of change and uncertainty. Besides the growth spurts, facial hair, and changing voices, there are also zits, gym locker rooms, and body odor. Not to mention a newfound attraction to the opposite sex. These are key ingredients in a recipe for crippling anxiety.

By far the biggest problem for the guys, however, are the sudden, Viagra-like erections. Ok, it’s not that “big” of a problem, but trust me when I say that panic attacks occur when you are sitting with a boner, and you realize that class is about to end. The more you worry about it, the “harder” (sorry) life becomes. As a result, every dude is forced to learn the fine art of casually walking down the hall while clutching a Trapper Keeper against his junk, should the bell ring at the wrong time. Under really bad conditions, there is the ol’ “re-tie the shoe(s) trick,” which more physically developed kids may need to opt for. The bell ringing isn’t the end of the world, though. In fact, it can be a blessing. Far worse is the fear that you will be called up to the blackboard during class for some reason — without a shield. This is the definition of pure terror.

For the most part, these things haven’t been an issue for my kid. He is very impatient to catch up to his friends, or so he thinks. He’s in for a rude awakening.

“Come on, I gotta show you this,” Jack continued last night.

Intrigued, I followed him in the front door. As soon as we entered the living room, Jack dropped trow. “Check it out!”

Confused, both about what was happening and what he could possibly be happy about, my immediate reaction was to console him. Don’t worry, buddy, it’ll eventually get bigger, I considered. I bit my tongue. “What exactly am I looking for?”

“Look, right there!” I strained my eyes. Then, I saw it, just as he declared, “It’s a pube!”

And so it begins. My baby boy will never be the same. Soon he will have a peard (pubic beard, of course) down there, and other things, which I don’t even want to think about, will start happening.

This morning I walked past the bathroom, where Jack was naked; closely examining his nether regions.

“Start shutting the door,” I pleaded. “In fact, start locking it.”

Wish me luck. Better yet, wish Jack luck.

Father’s Day is upon us. I appreciate the idea, but I honestly don’t care about a “holiday” designed for my wife and kids to make me feel special. I mean it when I say that they do it every day. My dad knows how much I love him, and I don’t think he cares much about a day of attention either. Maybe it’s just how we are wired.

This year, however, I do find myself thinking about two important fathers that I can’t offer happy wishes to. These are my grandpas — the fathers of my mom and dad. Both have been gone a number of years now. While I had very good relationships with them as a child and adolescent, I didn’t spend much time with them as an adult. I had opportunities, but I was a young (and dumb) man who thought I had better things to do than visiting with my grandparents. What an idiot I was. 

Like everyone, there are things I would do differently in hindsight. I wish I’d been more involved with my grandfathers later in their lives. I should have picked their brains — I have so many things I would ask them today. I understand now that they possessed an incredible amount of knowledge which was lost when they died. Countless memories and experiences were lodged in their heads, but were never documented. Many of these they probably would have loved to pass on, if they were simply asked about them. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and have a beer with these two men today. I think about what I would ask if I were granted just three questions.

For starters, I would want to know everything I could about my parents when they were kids. What did they love, what did they hate, how did they interact with others, what were their idiosyncrasies, were they difficult…were they happy? I would ask this not only because it would give me an idea of my parents’ childhoods and some insight into their personalities today (as well as my own), but also because it requires a long, thoughtful answer, which means I’d get a lot of bang for my buck. I would want to make this conversation last as long as possible, so difficult questions with certain to be lengthy answers would be a must.

Next, I would ask about my grandfathers’ biggest regrets. Hopefully this too would result in drawn out answers, although I suppose they could be as short as “marrying your grandmother,” or worse, “having kids.” I don’t think this would be either of their responses, however. My recollection is that both men probably had some regrets. They certainly seemed to have some demons, which may have been the result of difficult upbringings. Both grew up poor. My dad’s father had a tough early life helping run his parents’ farm. My mom’s dad had a more mysterious (and probably worse) upbringing, the facts of which no one can quite piece together. Despite their childhoods, both became good, relatively successful men. Still, what would they have done differently? This would be fascinating to know now that I am an adult.

Finally, I’d ask for any advice my grandpas could give me. What did they know, that I haven’t yet learned or wasn’t smart enough to ask about when they were alive? What can I do to help make my kids happy, responsible adults? How do I respond when they get into trouble or make major mistakes? What can I be doing now to help myself from one day looking back with regrets? My gut tells me that neither of them would have good answers to this one, but that they would instead suggest something along the lines of believing in my gut instincts. Maybe they would say this even if they had the answers. I suppose that could be an indication of trusting my judgement — and a lesson at the same time.

I would not ask what might be the obvious question to many: what, if anything, comes after death?  It’s not that I’m not curious, of course I am. I guess I just don’t think this knowledge would be fair for me to have now. I’ll find out one day.  

When my three questions were up, I would offer to buy another round, and hope like hell that they had time for one more.  Maybe they would offer additional insight, whatever that might be. Maybe they would ask questions about me or about my children that they never got a chance to meet? I know they would love them, just as they loved me so much when I was young.  Man, I wish my kids could meet them. 

If nothing else, maybe we would just sit in silence, enjoying our drinks. I would study the lines in their faces, their expressions, their mannerisms. I’d pay attention to their voices — I can still hear them in my head, but the sound is fading. I would hope that my mom’s father would tell me a dirty joke, and that my dad’s father would explain something about airplanes. Both would be equally significant to me. Finally, I would tell them both that I love them, something I don’t think I ever did while they were living.

I realize that I’ll never actually see my grandpas again in this lifetime. Perhaps we’ll meet again in some afterlife. Maybe not. As long as I’m alive, though, I will always have my memories. And they are truly great memories. Over time they may darken, but I know will never grow completely black.

I think I might care more about Father’s Day than I realized. It’s a chance to tell all of the important dads in our lives how much they mean to us — even if we are certain they already know. We should be sure to do this as often as possible now, because one day we will only wish we could.

Happy Father’s Day.