An Open Letter to My Son About Closed Minds

prejudiceDear Will,

Today you came home near tears because someone told you two gay people can’t get married because it’s wrong and gross. Your aunts are gay and your cousins — who you love with a wonderful ferocity — are a product of their very much legal marriage (Massachusetts has had gay marriage since 2004). When someone insults your family, it hurts. You hurt right now, and I’m sorry for that.

I’m also sorry that it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.

I absolutely despise having to tell you about this ugliness at such a young age. Last year, when we stopped going to a certain area business because they were casually tossing around racial epithets, you had questions. And rightly so. That’s how I ended up describing the evils of racism to a 5-year-old. And now you’re faced with more ignorance and ugliness. And this time it’s that much harder because it’s from a friend.

I want you to know right up front, I’m proud of how you reacted. You told them (I’m using the incorrect pronoun to avoid repeatedly saying he/she and to avoid singling anyone out) gay people can get married in Massachusetts. You used your aunts as a valid example. And you told them the most important thing is that two people love each other when they get married.

Will, your friend is only 6. They might think marrying ANYONE is gross, or they might not have had anyone explain gay marriage, or — and this is the scary part — they might have parents who truly do believe it’s gross when two people of the same sex pledge their lives to one another.

Unfortunately, you said this person didn’t want to be friends anymore after your argument. It’s my hope that, because you’re 6, something shiny will distract you both and you can go back to being friends with this incident a mere afterthought and anomaly. But I’d be lying if I said these kinds of differences don’t leave a trail of broken friendships in their wake.

I know you tried to explain the truth to this kid. I also know you were extra frustrated because you knew you were right. And you are right. Gay people can be legally married, your aunts are legally married, and as long as two consenting adults love each other there is no reason they should be denied the right to marriage.

But at some point, the sad fact of the matter is you’re going to have a friendship strained — and ultimately broken — by intolerance.

Will, sometimes I forget you’re only six years old. I say that because your wisdom, empathy, and compassion for others far exceeds the limited number of years you’ve graced us with your presence. You are kind to every living thing — even apologizing to the worms we fish with when you put them on the hook. That’s why I hope you continue to do what you’re doing when  the road gets rocky.

Remember, some kids are brought up in an environment of hate and intolerance. That doesn’t make it right or excusable, but if that’s all they know then you need to keep that in mind. Salvage the friendships you can and never burn a bridge unnecessarily. But if a friendship becomes truly toxic, it’s OK to extricate yourself from the situation. Never be afraid to surround yourself with love and positivity, because you are a bright light my friend.

And the world needs you to shine.

I watch you, you know? Even when you think I’m not looking, I am. I’ve seen you on the playgrounds and at birthday parties, and I love what I see. You have a refined and razor sharp sense of right and wrong, and you don’t just stand up for yourself — you stand up for whoever needs it. If someone is being isolated, you play with them. If someone is being made fun of, they’re met with a “HEY! THAT’S NOT NICE!” It is one of your finest qualities, and to possess it at such a young age is astounding.

Please never stop standing up for what’s right.

As you get older, the easiest thing to do in those situations is nothing. No one likes to be made fun of and the quickest way to become a target for bullies is to come between them and their prey. But guess what pal? Ironically, the quickest way to bring down bullies is to stand up to them. It’s not easy, especially when the bully turns out to be someone you thought was a friend. Remember, as Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Continue being a good kid who stands for something and resides firmly on the side of what is right and just. You’re amazing and I’m the proudest father in the world.

Love,
Dad

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Why I’m Fine With My Kids Growing Up So Fast

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Sometimes I look around at all the other people on this parent blogger landscape and wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

As the month of June stretches its legs and summer takes off into a full gallop, school is coming to an end for our kids. That means lots of photo montages of the first day of school in September compared with the last day this month. Which is great — I did the same thing. But what I didn’t do — what I can’t seem to understand — is the average parent constantly lamenting the supersonic speed at which time passes and their inability to stop it in its tracks.

So many parents seem eager to keep kids young forever. As for me, a guy who has already gone on the record as loathing the newborn phase, I don’t understand it. All I wanted to do since Sam was born is hit the fast-forward button so I could skip ahead to better times. Instead of crying, eating, and shitting all the time he’s talking a bit, walking even more, and has even started signing things like “milk” and “more.” And, last but not least, he’s sleeping (thank f*cking God).

And Will? The best thing about my awesome 6-year-old is he’s gotten more and more terrific with each new day. He reads, he writes, he carries on meaningful conversations, he plays sports, he reasons things out, and he’s meeting life’s challenges with an open heart and mind.

Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t come absent complications.

He’s dealing with peer pressure at school and we had to punish him pretty severely after he got in trouble for drawing on a school bus seat. He doesn’t know what to make of girls yet, and can’t understand why they won’t stop trying to kiss him, which led to a pretty serious conversation about boundaries and respect for others. And recently he came home in tears because his classmates laughed and wouldn’t believe him when he told them it’s perfectly OK for two women or two men to get married to each other. These are all tough issues and bring about a lot of angst and worry as a parent.

But I prefer this stuff over Will’s time as a baby and toddler every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And Sam? Well, I don’t feel guilty in the least for saying I would’ve paid good money to skip through the sleep-deprived and terrible months following his birth. There was very little positive about that time and I’m forever glad it’s in the rear view mirror.

I didn’t cry when I dropped Will off at daycare for the first time. I didn’t lose it when he graduated preschool (aside from wondering why the hell a preschool graduation ceremony even exists). I didn’t openly weep and follow his bus to school in my car on his first day of kindergarten.

It’s not because I’m a cold-hearted jerk either, it’s because I was too busy celebrating those moments.

The more time passes, the more spectacular my kids get. Every day brings something new and incredible, and as they get older I personally relate to them more. It’s more fun, more interesting, and more challenging. I welcome those challenges, and greatly prefer this time to the newborn phase.

Parents of older kids will tell me I’ll change my tune when they’re teenagers and then adults. Maybe that’s true. I haven’t been through it so I can’t judge.

But even when Will is an obnoxious teenager who thinks he knows everything and I’m just some dumb, out of touch jackass who is too hard on him, I still don’t think I’ll be longing for the days of pacifiers, diapers, and potty-training. And I certainly don’t want to freeze time, because each day reveals another nugget of awesomeness and shows how truly lucky I am to be on this journey.

And after all, parenting is a trip that never really ends. It just evolves.

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Of Time, Cancer, and Snapping Turtles

Will was getting sick and I was just starting to feel the beginning stages of what would turn out to be a raging case of poison ivy. We had just spent two hours outside in the hot sun. I was sweaty, tired, and I just wanted to get back home and mentally check out for a while.

As I was driving home I noticed what looked like an odd rock on the side of the road — but then the rock started moving. As we passed it I realized it was a fairly immense snapping turtle. I instinctively let out a “Whoa! Huge snapping turtle!!” and then immediately kicked myself.

Although Will’s head whipped around, it was too late — we had driven past it and he missed it. I knew what was coming next. Tears and whining. Lots and lots of tears from a sick, tired kid who can’t stand to miss out on any kind of cool animals. Especially snapping turtles, which are among his favorites.

“Daaaaaaad, I didn’t see it. Please can we go back?? Dad I want to see the snapping turtle.”

“Sorry bud, but it’s time to go home,” I said. “It’s been a long day and we’re late for dinner. We’ll see other snapping turtles.”

“Noooooo! Dad please can we go back? What if it was a gator snapping turtle?” he said, breaking out into a full blown crying fit. “Dad please, I reallllllly want to see the turtle. Dad? DAD?? Please!”

“WILL, ENOUGH!” I snapped out of frustration. “We don’t have time!”

I knew, as I said it, it was bullshit. Before the lie of convenience even escaped my lips I wanted to take it back. And suddenly my mind was flooded with just one thought, a singular name that sent tidal waves of shame careening toward me.

Oren.

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My friend Oren Miller, who runs the site A Blogger and a Father, recently received some terrible news. The husband and father of two (ages 4 and 6) went into the hospital on May 30 with some abdominal pain, and came out with a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. It has spread to his kidney, liver, lymphnodes, and brain.

The early estimate regarding the time he has left is a year. One year to live. And suddenly I felt very, very stupid and small.

Just days removed from having his world rocked, Oren posted this incredible piece of writing. Seriously, read that. It’s phenomenal. And sad. And heartbreaking. But also ridiculously inspiring.

So acceptance, and sadness–well, I believe they can coexist. Sadness is inevitable–I’m only human, and trying too hard to rise above it only hurts more. But I do accept. I accept that life is finite, and I accept that my time will come soon. I accept that my life had been and still is a gift, and I accept the likely possibility that I won’t see my kids grow older.

Should I complain, though? Should I cry out to the empty sky and say, “Why me?” Or should I feel that now, even now, especially now, a little confused, a little tired, and a little sad, I’m having the time of my life?

Whatever happens to my body in the next few months is still relatively unknown. Here’s what we do know, though:

We know I’m the luckiest sonofabitch who’s ever walked this earth, and we know I will be loved until my last moment by people it has been my utmost privilege to know: by a wife I adore and two kids I’m in awe of every single moment.
– Oren Miller

Every. Single. Moment.

I read this piece 10 days ago. I was moved to tears by it. And yet, somehow, I had already forgotten the most important message. Time is a gift, and an overlooked one at that. My lack of perspective means all I could focus on was my being tired, hot, and cranky — my pedestrian need to eat dinner on time won out.

Oren, on the other hand, is all too aware that every moment counts. What he wouldn’t do for more time with his kids. Soon he’ll be wishing for a few more minutes — a few more precious seconds — to spend with them. To look at the sunset. To admire the ocean. And yes, to marvel in the wonder of a snapping turtle.

I pictured what my friend Oren would do if his son made this simple request. Then I did what I should’ve done in the first place — turn the damn car around and go look at the snapping turtle. And apologize to my son.

I’m not saying give in to every outrageous demand your kid makes until he’s spoiled rotten. But if you have the time and it’ll lead to a fun memory, I’m going to follow Oren’s lead and make good use of it. I just wish I could’ve learned this lesson without my friend having to suffer.

Speaking of that, a bunch of dad bloggers have set up a fund to help Oren and his family. In less than a week we’ve raised more than $22,000 (and counting) to either help with expenses or — knock on wood — send Oren and fam on one last completely kick ass vacation to make some lasting memories. If you’re able, I hope you can contribute. Because even though you might not know Oren personally, it’s time to stop being a bystander and take direct action to help someone out. You might need that from someone else someday.

Because it’s all about time.

courtesy of Oren Miller
courtesy of Oren Miller
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The #PowerofDad is a Lasting Legacy

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Even though I’ve been a dad for six years, I’m not sure Father’s Day will ever truly feel like it’s for me. Because it’s for my dad.

When I talk about the #PowerofDad, I’m talking about the impact dads truly have on kids. Despite grounding me and harping on me at every turn for my entire life, my dad is and will continue to be one of my best friends. My mentor. My guide through uncertainty. He’s the first one I want to call with good news and he’s the one whose advice I seek when things go awry.

In short, the #PowerofDad is the ability to raise a strong, confident, compassionate kid who, in turn, passes his power down to the next generation like I’m doing with my kids. As a tribute this Father’s Day, here are some things my dad taught me that had a powerful impact on my life.

LOYALTY AT ALL COSTS
Sports is VERY important in our house. Boston sports. Namely the Red Sox and Patriots. My dad is a lifelong Sox fan and has had Patriots season tickets for more than 40 years. I grew up with tortured stories about failed Red Sox teams and Game 6 of the ’86 World Series was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. But whether the ball rolls through Buckner’s legs or you freeze your ass off on aluminum benches in a freezing blizzard, my dad taught me the importance of showing up. Rooting on your team. And NEVER leaving before the final whistle.

MAKE IT ABOUT MORE THAN JUST YOU
My dad helps run a local business, but his contributions don’t stop there. He has twice served as a selectman in our small New England town, which means he’s part of a board that sets policy and makes important decisions that impact the town. He has also served on the Finance Committee (appointed at 18 while still in high school), is the current Town Moderator, writes a local politics column in the daily newspaper, and even had a cable access TV show. It meant spending less time at home, but it also meant taking an active role in making sure my hometown remained a nice place to live. Too few people give of themselves, and my dad taught me to think about others in addition to my own.

SPEAK UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT
I think this one might be genetic, as most of you know I don’t have a problem speaking up when I feel passionately about something. The right thing is seldom easy, and my dad never lets the wind of popular opinion blow him off course. When the local police department wanted to limit its search for a new chief only to candidates in town, he told them it makes more sense to search everywhere instead of just in your backyard. Pissing off the police is never fun. And let’s just say standing up for things like gay marriage wasn’t always chic, but my dad did. And each time he publicly expressed an unpopular opinion, we’d have a busted mailbox and sometimes even death threats to show for it. But right is right, and I carry that with me.

ALWAYS BE PASSIONATE
Come over to our house to watch a sporting event. I dare you. My dad is a nervous wreck. He paces, he yells, he runs around the house, and he has an array of lucky objects that he swears bring our teams luck. But whether it’s an epic meltdown or a wild celebration, people come over just to see what will happen next when we watch a game. And when we attend in person, we leave our hearts in the stands. My dad takes that approach to sports and applies it to writing, family, and everything else he does. So while I might get a little heated sometimes, I’d rather be filled with passion than a bump on a log.

NEVER STOP COMMUNICATING
Family dinners are debates. Picnics turn into philosophical discussions. And the wit is as acerbic as it is quick. But we talk — we always talk. MJ and I never go to bed angry because we resolve our issues. Will is excelling at writing because we stress the importance of communication at every turn. And my father has been chosen to deliver more than two dozen eulogies, which seems macabre at first until you realize what a huge honor it is to deliver someone’s final public sendoff. It’s difficult and unpleasant, but hugely important and a great privilege.

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Sam at the grave of my father-in-law George — whose eulogy I delivered last year.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lessons my dad has taught me, but I’m incredibly appreciative to have had such a great example of how to raise my boys. And if you’re looking for another great example of fatherhood done right, check this out:

Yup, that’s right. Oral-B just nailed fatherhood. I know you wouldn’t think a company best known for toothbrushes would be on the leading edge of involved fatherhood, yet here we are. And to top it off, they don’t stop with that kick-ass video.

Although it goes against my aforementioned sports loyalty, I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Oral-B for enlisting the help of — oh man, this is harder than I thought — New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning. Ugh…I feel dirty just writing that name. But he and Oral-B are teaming up with the March of Dimes at an event devoted to supporting the small yet important photographic moments between fathers and their kids.

And speaking of support, I was lucky enough to receive an Oral-B Black 7000 Electric Toothbrush. It’s actually half robot half toothbrush. Seriously, this thing is the Rolls Royce of toothbrushes. It’s got multiple brushes and six different modes — including tongue cleaning. There is also pressure sensor technology that lets you know if you’re applying too much pressure. I’m not making this up.

And when you turn it on, it syncs up to a digital timer that lets you know the optimal time to brush, and even gives you a smiley face afterward. It sounds excessive, but my 6-year-old is freaking pumped on a daily basis to visit with his sentient robot toothbrush pal for brushing, a game of chess, and planning world domination. Or at least brushing.

If you want in on this ridiculously advanced technological toothbrushing movement, you’re in luck. Here’s an exclusive $7 off coupon.

So keep your robot toothbrush close and your dads even closer this Father’s Day, as we look past the Hallmark cheesiness and remember to celebrate the #PowerofDad

***I partnered with Oral-B and Life of Dad, LLC for the #PowerofDad Father’s Day promotion and was compensated for my involvement.

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8 Stupid Things You Should Stop Saying to Dads

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As Father’s Day approaches, dads all over the country are being asked what we want as a gift. Most of us say something along the lines of “I don’t need anything because I’ve got you and the kids and that’s all I need.”

Screw that.

I’m asking for something this year. Something specific. And I’m not just requesting this gift for myself, but on behalf of involved dads everywhere. Basically, I want you to stop making us insane by saying (mostly unintentionally) stupid, thoughtless, and insulting crap that makes us crazy.

Please read this list and take it to heart, because sometimes it’s the people we’re closest to who are the biggest offenders. The best part is this gift is free, it’ll lower our blood pressure, and it’ll stop us from secretly hating you every time you open your mouth.

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8. “You’re SUCH a good dad.”
Wait…what? Is he really complaining about people COMPLIMENTING dads? Yes, he is. And I’ll tell you why. When I’ve received this compliment, I’ve never been doing anything extraordinary. I didn’t just save my boys from oncoming traffic or rescue them by fending off a rampaging grizzly. I was just out and about with them being a dad. Sometimes I wasn’t even alone, my wife was right with me. And therein lies the rub — no one would ever give that compliment to a mom. As a dad seeking to be an equal partner in parenting, that means no special treatment. If you wouldn’t compliment a mom just for doing her job as a parent, don’t do it for dads either. We shouldn’t get praise simply for doing what we’re supposed to do.

7. “Looks like dad dressed the baby.”
I’ll admit, I don’t have what most people would call “fashion sense.” I think purple and orange are complimentary colors, stripes and plaids go together just fine, and “dressing up” means the jeans with no holes. So when it’s my turn to get the baby dressed, I’m much more concerned about simply dressing for the weather than the runway in Milan. It doesn’t freaking matter that the kid’s pants don’t go with the onesie, and matching socks on a baby are a moot point since they take them off anyway. Is the baby warm enough if it’s cold? Cool enough if it’s hot? Are all the parts that are supposed to be covered, covered? Then mission accomplished. Besides, what kind of weirdo is judging a little kid on his/her fashion sense?

6. “What do you do all day?”
I’m not a stay-at-home dad, but this one is for all the guys who have made the fundamentally awesome decision to raise their kids full time. The people who ask this question offer it up not out of an insatiable curiosity to gain insight, but rather to passive-aggressively render judgment. And the answer, according to most of the SAHDs I know, is “more than you think and more than you do” most of the time. Full-time dads are every bit the parents full-time moms are. That means they’re cooking meals, changing diapers, doing the laundry, and running around with the kids all day. Modern masculinity is changing, so I suggest you start adapting too.

5. “Don’t worry sweetie, mommy will be back soon.”
When I’m out with the kids alone and Will starts whining while Sam throws a fit, it can get ugly. But what makes it even uglier are the people (yes, this has happened multiple times) who come up with a condescending smile and say to my kids “Ohhhhh, don’t worry. Mommy will be back soon.” Huh? Are you kidding me?? First of all, kids have tantrums no matter which parent is there. Second, don’t tell my kids mommy will be back when she’s not there. Hell, mommy might not even be in the picture. Maybe I’m a single parent. Maybe I’m gay. The point is, you have no idea what my situation is and when you put your foot in your mouth like that you’re more apt to choke on it.

4. “You’re doing it wrong. Here’s how I did it…”
This one stings because a lot of the times we hear it from our spouses. And sure, sometimes we do the wrong thing. Who hasn’t put a diaper or onesie on backward? But other times — like with how we’re holding the baby or how we choose to discipline — it seems like the “wrong way” really means not doing it “your way.” And that’s not cool. Parenting is trial by fire and eventually we’ll figure out what works — just like you did. But we need that opportunity and we don’t need to be told we’re doing it wrong just because we’re not doing it like you do. Let go of the reins a little and you might find dads come up with an even better method or idea.

3. “Oh my. You’re brave.”
Again, this is said to me simply because I’m a dad out with my two kids. And to be fair, it’s usually uttered by someone older who is part of a different generation. But still, it’s not like I’m not fighting in a battle or traversing a field of landmines with my kids. I’m just out at Target. Are moms “brave” for taking their kids on errands? Of course not. You expect that from moms. So if you’re not willing to pin a medal of honor on her simply for being a parent and going grocery shopping, don’t bother with one for dads either.

2. “Oh look at you playing Mr. Mom today.”
Calling dads “Mr. Mom” is a cardinal sin in the dad world, and when you say it to an involved father you’re taking a metaphorical dump all over them. Fatherhood isn’t a version of motherhood, and dads aren’t playing the part of a mom. That implies parenting is some sort of womens’ work and we’re not having that. In fact, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 25 years and even working dads are focusing more on work/life balance because there’s a renewed focus on shared parenting and being present. That’s why, as articles like this one point out, it’s time to retire an antiquated term that is harmful to both dads and moms.

1. “Dad must be babysitting today, huh?”
If you follow even one of these pieces of advice, make it this one. Please, for the love of all things holy, stop referring to fathers as babysitters. YOU CAN’T BABYSIT YOUR OWN KIDS!!! We’re fathers, not paid caretakers. People would never look at a mom with her kids and ask if she was babysitting. Yet when a dad is out with his kids, so many people automatically and without thinking about it call it babysitting. Hell, even some dads refer to it that way because it’s so accepted. So just remember — dads don’t babysit. Ever.

Did I miss any?

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