Amazon Mom and Why Words Matter

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Chris Routly of www.daddydoctrines.com

“Choose your words carefully.”

That’s what my mother told me when I was trying to squirm out of a lie as a young boy. My father gave me that advice in college when I told him I wanted to become a writer. And my wife hisses the phrase at me in the heat of arguments when I’m dangerously close to crossing a line I can’t uncross. Point being in all of these examples, the things we say and the language we use often have a long-lasting impact and substantial significance.

Or, to put it bluntly, words matter.

Two years ago, my friend and fellow dad blogger Oren Miller took issue with Amazon’s discount diaper subscription service, called “Amazon Mom.” He wasn’t flying off the handle, loony tunes mad about it, but he was annoyed. Especially because in several other countries around the world, the program had a different and more inclusive name — Amazon Family.

“It’s not about a name and it’s not about me personally being offended and it’s not about stupid emails about yoga classes. It’s about a company that looks at the US, then looks at England, and then decides that over there, parent equals mom or dad, while here, well, we’re not ready for that yet.” — Oren Miller, 2013

Well, Amazon didn’t make the change. And unfortunately, my friend Oren had to end this fight to battle a more insidious foe in the form of stage IV lung cancer. Sadly, he died last weekend. But while Oren may have lost his battle with cancer, a bunch of his friends (myself included) decided the best way to honor his legacy is to finish his fight to get Amazon to change the name of their program.

And so the #AmazonFamilyUS hashtag was born. Since beginning 48 hours ago, it now has more than 6 million impressions. More than that, it’s been picked up by TODAY, CNN, MarketWatch, Adweek, Consumerist, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and many more, all talking about the emergence and importance of involved dads, and why some companies are still dragging their feet to be inclusive.

But with the good, comes the (expected) bad. Mainly the troglodytes who still think masculinity is how many beers you can drink in one sitting and how big your paycheck is.

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This guy.

This guy is still (unfortunately) the majority in this country, and that’s why words matter. That’s why making Amazon Family the norm instead of Amazon Mom matters. It’s why we rail against bumbling father stereotypes in TV sitcoms. It’s why we complain that fathers are either left out of, or worse, made fun of as inept buffoons by marketers promoting products parents rely on.

Some people — even some dads — say “none of this matters if you’re a good dad to your kids” and “this isn’t going to change anything,” but I don’t buy that. It will change things. And I have proof.

Did you watch this year’s Super Bowl? If so, you probably noticed commercial after commercial involving dads cast in a positive light. A lot of people were surprised and wondering why and how that happened. Well, as someone in the trenches on this issue, I can tell you it was years in the making. It involved a lot of discussions with brands who initially cast fathers as dolts. It involved laborious howling on social media about the negative effects of casting dads as idiots. And it involved showing companies that marketing to dads in a positive way benefits all parents, and the bottom line.

And that’s why we do this.

Because for better or worse, culture impacts society. Even policy. So when Phil Dunphy becomes the norm over Ray Romano, people begin to have different (and higher) expectations of fathers. When dads are seen in national spots as nurturing, diaper-changing pillars of the family, guys in general will gravitate in that direction. And when a retail giant like Amazon starts being inclusive by using terms like Family instead of Mom to market to parents, it sends a message of “we’re in this thing together.”

That’s why this change is so important. It’s for Oren. It’s for dads. Hell, it’s for moms. It’s for being equal partners in parenting and doing away with harmful gender norms.

It’s because words matter.

***Please sign the Change.org petition to get Jeff Bezos of Amazon to change Amazon Mom to Amazon Family. And if you’d like to join in the call on social media, please use the hashtag #AmazonFamilyUS.

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Why All Parents Should Volunteer in Their Child’s Classroom

willsdad

It’s Friday. And I love Fridays.

For the last couple of months I’ve been volunteering on Friday mornings at my son’s school. I was nervous at first because I’m not someone who volunteers for anything. I’ll happily lend support from the sidelines where I can blog and snark from the cozy, reclusive cheap seats, but actually volunteering? It always gave me the willies.

But after getting leveled with some hurtful but totally accurate criticism from my wife about being a naysayer who never throws his hat in the ring to actually make a difference, I decided it was time to put up or shut up.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The work itself isn’t glamorous, as it mostly consists of making photocopies. And by mostly, I mean all I do is make photocopies. And after my first time, I almost never came back. Between learning the copier, correcting and preventing paper jams, figuring out the toner, getting paper cuts, and getting interrupted by teachers who need to make emergency copies on the spot, it’s a bit overwhelming at first.

I guess the rational part of my mind knew all those copies had to be made by someone, and that someone is usually the teacher. But as a parent, all the worksheets just magically appear in Will’s backpack. It’s kind of like sausage in that regard — I don’t really think about how it’s made. I’m just glad it’s there.

Well let me tell you something folks, I’ve now seen how the sausage is made and how much time it takes to produce. And frankly, I’m not sure how teachers have the time to, you know, actually TEACH with all the damn copies they have to make. Needless to say, I’m happy to take some of the copying and stapling duties off the plates of teachers if it means they can spend more time instructing students.

And speaking of the classroom, that’s by far my favorite part.

I get a sneak peek into Will’s classroom during the day. On Valentine’s Day, I even got to chaperone a little party they had. I get to put faces with all the stories Will brings home about his classmates. I get to see the classroom Will describes in vivid detail. But most importantly, I get to be his hero during this unbelievably brief time that hero status can be achieved just by showing up to school to make a few copies.

When he sees me walk in his face lights up and he’s proud that I’m there. All the other kids rush over and greet me by my new name — “Will’s Dad.” I’m not Aaron or Mr. Gouveia or even Mr. G. Just Will’s Dad, which might sound like a loss of identity, but is actually anything but.

Will leans his head against me and whispers “I’m glad you’re here.” The other kids recognize me and wave. Some of them show me their new Patriots shirts, others have bracelets they’ve made, and I’m always besieged by play date requests for them to play with Will. I know almost all of their names now, and I’m a tiny part of their routine. And it’s glorious.

When I’m done making my copies, they’re usually at gym or music so the classroom is empty. I drop the gargantuan pile of copies on the teacher’s desk and then I grab a sticky note. Every week I write a message to my son and leave it on his desk as a surprise when he gets back. I tell him I love him and I sign it the same way.

“Love,
Will’s Dad”

If you can find the time, volunteer at your child’s school. It helps the teacher, your kids will love it, and you’ll find joy in a completely unexpected place. And if you need help with the copier, just holler.

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What To Do the First Time Your Baby Gets Sick

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The first time your baby gets really sick is freaking terrifying.

I know that’s not going to win me any literary awards or cement my status as a wordsmith, but it’s the damn truth. Will was about five months old the first time he came down with a fever. Which turned into a cough. Which turned into wheezing. Which all combined to scare the absolute crap out of me and his mother, and forever redefine our concept of fear.

Every parent knows what I mean. Even first-time parents, which I was at the time, know something is wrong before any thermometer shows a reading. The baby just isn’t right, and we can see it and sense it.

Then you feel the forehead and it seems way too hot. With shaky hands, you take the thermometer and read it — 103.7 degrees.

Oh crap!

Words can’t really describe that initial fear. For me, it was just abject terror. Will was running a very high fever, coughing, and had started to wheeze. He was still so little and watching him struggle just shattered me. I knew it was my job to protect him, but I suddenly had a slight panic attack when realizing I had no idea what to do.

Honestly. No clue. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s true. I didn’t know what medicine I could give him, what I couldn’t give him, whether to call the pediatrician, do I take him to the ER? This was the person I held most precious in the entire world and it was devastating to realize I had no idea how to take care of him.

With the help of hindsight and years of experience, I now know it wasn’t the life or death debacle it felt like at the time. And while it would be easy to forget that fear and tell new parents to just relax, it’s never that easy.

I wish I had had something like the New Baby Essentials Kit from Little Remedies, which won’t be enough to treat the really serious problems that require a doctor, but at the very least give you options for a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, and fever. To have it all in one place would’ve given me some peace of mind and solved some of the early mysteries of what I could and couldn’t give to my son. Now this kit is the main component of gifts we give to new parents.

So moms and dads, it’s OK to be freaked out. It’s normal to be scared out of your mind when your tiny baby gets sick for the first time. But there’s plenty of help out there in the form of medicine, other parents, and of course, Google (use in small and smart doses). In my experience, fevers aren’t really a concern until they’re 101 degrees, Little Remedies has the most natural and effective medicine that helps my kids, and if you think it’s more serious don’t hesitate to call the pediatrician.

Hang in there and rest assured, you’re not alone.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated by Little Remedies for this post. However, I used their products way before they ever approached me and I stand by their effectiveness and endorse them 100%. Check out their website and Facebook page.

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The Fall of Life

orentreesFall in New England is beautiful decay.

Autumn’s appeal is not always readily apparent if you’re still blinded by summer’s glare. That’s understandable. Summer is exuberant and full. Summer is heat and life and everything dazzling in bloom as the sun splashes its warm rays on our cheeks. Summer is fun and vibrant with the sun coming out to play longer than at any point during the year. For these reasons, summer has better PR than the other seasons on which it throws considerable shade.

In the fall of 2014, I drove to meet my friend Oren Miller in the autumn of his life. It would be the last time I’d ever see him.

I, along with Sam, made the two-hour drive from my house to Lake Richmond in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts) with equal parts eagerness and anxiety. I was dying to see Oren, his wife Beth, and his two kids Liam and Madeline while they were on vacation. But I was anxious because I might slip and inadvertently say the word “dying” to a guy diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer just five months prior. Actually, I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. And when I don’t know what to say it seems I say EVERYTHING all at once, digging new holes to fill in the hole I just dug for myself and — see? This. I do this.

If you’re a dad blogger, Oren is a metaphorical giant. He took a bunch of disorganized lone wolves and created a Dad Bloggers Facebook pack. I know it sounds simple, but at the time it was unprecedented in our community. Armed only with his Golden Rule of “don’t be a dick,” he brought together more than 1,000 dads from all over the world and created an invaluable community of personal support and professional development. No small feat with such large personalities.

But when I pulled into the driveway of the sleepy lake house and saw him at the door, my heart sunk. He was now a giant in reputation only, the chemo clearly having taken its toll. Even as I gently hugged his shrinking frame, I saw his gaunt face wince in an attempt to mask the pain. And yet his eyes — sharp and exacting. Measuring everything. Calculating. Still Oren.

I don’t know what I was expecting upon meeting the family members of a man doctors said would be dead in a matter of months, but I was immediately struck by one jarring emotion.

Peace.

Despite all the emotional upheaval the Miller family had endured, I walked into a zen-like setting. I immediately saw why Oren fell in love with Beth, who struck me as sweet and loving, but also whip-smart and fiery when need be. As they joked with and ribbed one another, I could see exactly how her sense of humor mixes perfectly with Oren’s sarcastic wit.

And while Liam and Madeline were aware something was wrong with their dad, they showed no sign that anything was amiss. They immediately took Sam in the corner to play with toys while the adults sat down and chatted like old friends. Any worries I had about feeling anxious or ill at ease evaporated instantly, which is vintage Oren. He’s always more concerned about everyone else before himself.

Also, that feeling of peace is amplified when this is the view from your back deck.

I used this picture on the last blog post. That was the view from our deck in MA.

A photo posted by @orenmil on

Although the plan was to head to the Norman Rockwell Museum, Oren looked like he was struggling so I offered to just hang out at the house and talk. However, he was having none of that. He had promised his friends and family something, and normalcy was to be the order of the day. So off we went.

It was just a week or two past prime leaf-peeping season in New England, and many of the trees were already half-bare. The colors had shifted from blazing reds, yellows, and oranges to a darker muddled brown, but there was still plenty of eye-popping color to be witnessed if you looked around a bit.

We walked around in the crisp Stockbridge air and felt the pristine eyes of Nature upon us. The kids ran ahead up paths, summoned by the universal and inescapable pull of curiosity that drives children everywhere to be the first to see what’s over the next hill. Oren plodded along steadily. Always steady and sure, even when slow-going wasn’t a necessity due to cancer.

At the top of the next hill, we paused. His two kids playfully argued about who would be the next to push Sam’s stroller. I smiled as I looked out over the very same meadows Norman Rockwell himself used to garner inspiration for his next Saturday Evening Post cover. And then I saw Oren and Beth, lost in a moment together.

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It’s easy to admire someone’s beauty in the full bloom of life. Oren was in the late autumn of his existence, yet somehow managed to put summer to shame. The symbolic journey from the tree of life to the ground below is no doubt sad in many ways. And for some, especially those who pass before their time, it’s an endeavor fraught with denial and bitterness.

However, Oren showed it’s all in how you play your cards.

The truly blessed among us realize the last leg of the journey is still part of the adventure. And like the leaves of late autumn, there is still time to be seen. To inspire. To bravely blaze a final path so bright and beautiful it will be imprinted in our minds for time eternal, forever an inspiration to those who saw it. And those who retell it.

And retell it we will. Not just because Oren is our friend, but because it’s the story of a man that deserves widespread recognition.

A man who learned he had less than a year to live and immediately penned this gem, giving instructions to whichever man would ultimately marry his wife and help take care of his children. A man who continued contributing to and running the Facebook group he began to help dads, even while going through torturous chemo treatments. A man who is so esteemed in our community, we decided to name scholarships after him which will be used to send financially-challenged dads to the Dad 2.0 Summit aimed at promoting involved fatherhood.

But most notably, Oren is a man who stood up and bravely fought a battle he knew he couldn’t win. And I’m not sure there’s anything more courageous than that.

At this moment, the last leaves are falling for Oren. I wish him and his family peace and as little pain as possible, and I send to them all of our heartbroken gratitude and admiration. Beth, Liam, and Madeline — I’m so sad for you. But taking a page from Oren’s book, I’m also so thankful you had him as a husband and father. And thank you for sharing him with us.

Our insufficient words and stories will never do Oren justice, but we will do our utmost to honor the legacy he leaves behind. And every autumn when the trees are on fire in their incomparably beautiful march toward winter, I’ll think of you and your example.

I love you, my friend.

orenfam

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7 Things New Englanders Can Love About This Snow

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So I live in New England. Massachusetts, to be exact. And if you haven’t heard, we’ve got a little bit of snow up here.

Boston has seen 95.7 inches of snow this winter. But what’s really amazing is 90 inches has fallen in the last three weeks. I repeat, more than 7 feet of snow has pummeled us in the last 21 DAYS! Granted, we’re used to snow up here. But this? This is a lot. This is record-breaking. And understandably, this region is quickly reaching its collective breaking point.

In my town, school was canceled an unprecedented six times. It’s more in other places. Not only does that mean parents have to stay home from work to take care of their kids, it also means Massachusetts students could be watching July 4 fireworks from inside a classroom.

Also, the snow has made driving a nightmare. Lucky for the citizens of greater Boston there’s public transportation, right? Wrong. The MBTA (or the T as locals call it) is in shambles, its failing infrastructure put on display by the metric ton of snow that’s fallen. Trains are canceled on nearly every line, and the best estimate is at least 30 days to get back to normal (barring any additional snowstorms).

Lack of parking, property damage, canceled flights — you name it, we’re experiencing it. And we’re sick of it.

But instead of complaining, I’m going to put on my optimist hat and play devil’s advocate. I’m going to find the silver lining of the white blanket covering my beloved homeland. Starting with these seven things.

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7. SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
They say when you’re going through a rough time you need to fixate on something good. Something you can look forward to. I had a package delivered to my front door prior to the late January storm that dropped the first 2 feet of snow on us, but I forgot it on my front steps and now it’s buried under 7-foot snow drifts. I have no idea what it is, but when the snow melts in August I’m going to be SUPER excited to see what’s in there!

6. WAXING PHILOSOPHICAL
I took a philosophy class in college and liked it. Unfortunately I haven’t had much of an opportunity to engage in deep thinking for the sake of deep thinking, but this snowpocalypse changed all that. On my son’s sixth canceled day of school — after we had opened every puzzle, activity book, and weird Christmas gift that lives in the dark recesses of the upstairs closet — we started talking about the snow. About its sheer volume. And then my son said it’s weird to him that he hasn’t seen the ground or the grass in almost a month. And I said that made me wonder if it was even there. Then he said it must be there because the snow is sitting on top of SOMETHING that’s holding it in place. Then I said maybe it’s like Neo’s spoon from the Matrix, and there is no ground. But talk of a spoon made us both hungry, and hot soup interrupted what was sure to be crystal clear insight regarding the origins of the universe.

5. GETTING LOST IN PLAY
Speaking of my son Will, I’m worried he’s been using the iPad too much. After all, Minecraft is kiddie heroin. So I told my son to go outside and get lost in the exploration of nature in all of its snowy goodness. Unfortunately, I forgot how deep the snow drifts are and “losing yourself in play” has taken on a whole new meaning. Yes, that’s actually him. Well, it’s his head anyway.
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4. LEARNING PATIENCE
As an impatient man, I’m ever so grateful to this monumental amount of snow for teaching me patience in so many forms. For instance, spending 60-90 minutes shoveling the deck, steps, walkway, and front of the driveway was exhausting to say the least. But when I was done, I was able to soak in the glory of a job well done for all of .64 seconds before turning around and seeing 5 inches of fresh powder in the place I had just cleared. Furthermore, I’ve also learned to be patient of those of you who don’t live around here, posting your beach photos. Or worse, absently complaining about temperatures dipping into the 50s which requires you to dig out your winter sweaters. I swear, I only made this face approximately 5,000 times before I eventually reverted to hitting myself in the face with a cast iron skillet so I wouldn’t hunt all of you down and skin you alive.

3. HELPING A FRIEND WITH HIS LOVE LIFE
One of my friends from out of the area is divorced and having some trouble meeting women. However, these apocalyptic snowstorms gave me an idea and helped him out of his rut. With ice dams ravaging the roofs of thousands of area homes and causing unspeakable property damage, stores can’t keep roof rakes and roof melt in stock for more than a few minutes. So he bought a roof rake on Amazon and loaded his truck up with melt, drove to Boston, and is now eyeball deep in New England women who would gladly toss Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady out of bed for a chance to be with my friend(‘s roof rake).

2. A CHANCE FOR BOSTONIANS TO MEET THEIR NEIGHBORS
Cities can be impersonal places at times, but these The Day After Tomorrow level storms have changed all that. You see, parking spaces on the street are already hard to come by, but in snowy weather it gets even more scarce. So if you see a dug out spot but it’s got a cone or a chair in it, here’s what you do. Get out of your car, move the object holding the space, put it on the sidewalk, and park your car in the space. I guarantee in just a few short minutes, you’ll meet your neighbor. Hell, you’ll probably meet your neighbor’s whole family as they rush out to meet you and have a few words. And next time, don’t be surprised if they graduate from a chair to a couch to save that public spot to which they have absolutely no claim whatsoever. Grandpa Sully and Grandma Marge will sooner move their entire living room to the street and freeze to death before giving up “their” spot that isn’t really theirs at all.

1. A NEW FOUND APPRECIATION FOR LIFE
As the snow has piled up, so too has my respect for the fragility of human life and my appreciation to be alive. You see, nearly 8 feet of snow has fallen. That means after the plows are done, the banks are 10, 12, or even 15 feet high. Higher than street signs in many places. So it goes without saying, way higher than my car. Every single day as I pull out of my driveway, I drive in the shadow of the Reaper — for I have no idea whether or not a car is coming from either direction. Honestly. I roll the window down to listen for unseen, oncoming traffic. I make my way out, inch by inch, straining my neck the entire time to see if a tractor trailer is about to end my life. At a certain point of no return, you have to just gun it and hope for the best. It’s the traffic version of Russian Roulette and it is truly unavoidable. And terrifying. But the silver lining is I’m grateful to be alive — until I hit the next intersection and do it all over again.

Hang in there fellow New Englanders, March is almost upon us.

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