Tag Archives: dad

Buzz-buzz

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“I SAID IT’S TIME TO GO!”

This experience started out like all the rest the last few months — with the best of intentions and me trying to find my back to involved fatherhood. And then it ended like it always has for the last few months — with me getting impatient and yelling at the boys.

This time it was Sam. I took him to walk the dog down the dirt road across the street from our house. The road ends at a small pond that Sam loves, mainly because it’s now frozen over and he discovered that when you throw a rock on a frozen pond it makes a really cool noise. But when 3-year-olds find something new and fun, they want to do it again. And again. And again and again and again. Over and over until they’ve squeezed the enjoyment out of it like so much blood from the stones they seek to skip along that ice-encrusted surface.

I knew he’d want to linger and I told myself to be patient with him. After all, with the hours I work we haven’t had much time together and I know he just misses me.

So we threw rocks for five minutes and it was fun. Then I felt the familiar sensation of a buzz in my pocket. Work email. Dammit, I’ll have to respond to this. I gently say “Hey bud, it’s time to go back, OK?” He ignores me in favor of picking up another rock and tossing it down to smash against the ice.

Buzz-buzz.

I feel the discomfort growing as I try to read the email, herd Sam, all with the dog’s leash attached to my wrist, which is yanking me as I try to catch up on what I need to do when I get back to the house. I put my phone in my pocket and kneel down beside him and tell him again how we have to go home. He cries and says “NO!” and I can see him digging in his heels. I take a breath and try to reason with him and tell him “Peanut is cold, we need to walk back so he’ll be warm.”

Buzz-buzz.

I’ve now lost my patience and the thought of emails I haven’t yet responded to fills me with more dread and loathing than is healthy. But that buzzing is my job, that job is my future, my future is that house, and that house is everything I want for my family. Which means whatever that email is is the most important thing right now. The ridiculousness of that statement is not lost on me, even in the moment. Yet it has taken hold of me and I can’t fight it. Not now. Not there at the frozen pond with my phone abuzz and my son’s temper flaring and the dog pulling — pulling me in a thousand different directions so that I’m everywhere and yet nowhere all at the same time.

Buzz-buzz.

“SAM, I’VE HAD IT. LET’S GO OR YOU’RE LOSING A TOY!” I scream, too loud. Too close to him. I’ve now triggered Sam’s fight or flight response and he almost always chooses fight. He scrunches up his face, balls up his fist, and grunts like it’s Lord of the Flies. He’s savage now and I made him this way, only now I’m off the reservation too.

I snatch him up but he’s big and I have the dog, who pulls me off balance and forces me to put Sam down. He views this as a victory and runs back toward the pond as I yank the dog to give chase. He’s screaming about wanting to throw rocks. I’ve just threatened to take every toy he’s ever owned or will ever own. Our father-son walk has turned into a grudge match and neither of us is going to yield an inch.

Buzz-buzz.

This imbalance can’t be blamed on the kids or work. It’s my fault. I didn’t do it on purpose but that doesn’t matter, and it’s up to me to fix. I just don’t know how. I don’t know how to excel at my job without working the hours I work. I don’t know how to be a good parent if I routinely go 2-3 days during the week without seeing them, and then spend my weekends being annoyed by them and the work I didn’t get to during the week.

It’s easy for others to tell me I just need to spend less time at work, but my job is what’s allowing us to move into a great house. My wife would work if she could, but she can’t. It’s not good for her health and I won’t have her in that situation again. So I stumble on, hoping to find a middle ground I’m not even sure exists and wondering how much human leeway I’ll be afforded by my family until I’m nothing more than a stranger passing in the night who shows up late for events and spends time screaming at little kids for wanting to throw rocks on the icy pond.

I have no answers, just anxiety. It is the fear of worrying you’re screwing everything up and realizing you won’t really know the answer to that until it’s far too late. It’s the terrifying notion that a job you love and the people you love could very well need more time and attention than you have to give, yet something has to give. Otherwise you end up having WW III over rocks on a pond.

Buzz-buzz.

 

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Take an Interest In Your Kids No Matter What

“Dad, I don’t want to play baseball anymore.”

It didn’t exactly come as a surprise. To be honest, I don’t think he’s ever liked baseball. It’s too slow, too boring, with too much time out in the field doing nothing. Soccer? Basketball? Will loves those. But not baseball. Which is tough for me because baseball is the first thing I thought of when I found out we were having a boy. Field of Dreams, fathers and sons, and the “Dad, you wanna have a catch?” moment of pure hardball bliss for which every red-blooded American dad yearns.

I tried telling him it’s a learning process. That the games would be faster and more exciting this year because he’s older now. I showed him Red Sox games on TV and tried to explain how much baseball means to me. That last part he understood. And with a pained look of worry at the thought of disappointing his old man, he agreed to give it one more shot.

And then it was my turn to frown at the disappointment I felt in myself.

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chorus

See the little kid circled in that picture? That’s me circa 1992 or so. On a Sunday. At church. Singing in the church choir. See my face? I’m not at all happy to be there.

The reason I’m there at all is standing on the left. That’s my grandmother, whose transcendent musical talents were truly extraordinary. She was a masterful pianist who taught many a neighborhood child out of her home for many years. But her true talent? Singing. Grandma Ga-Ga (as I called her, much to her chagrin) was a classically trained soprano and member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus. And as she would have no problem telling you herself, that was kind of a big deal.

Now guess who showed early vocal prowess as a young kid.

Yours truly was taken under her wing as a toddler and immediately given voice lessons at every turn. And not to toot my own horn, but I was good. So good, in fact, my grandmother had me try out for an area chorus. Not only did I make the cut, the choir director was so impressed he invited me to join an elite boys-only choir in Providence that paid me, a 10-year-old, to sing.

This place was no joke. In the fifth-grade I was spending at least 10 hours a week rehearsing. Most of the time we weren’t even given music, because the choir director would make us learn the songs bar by bar and commit it all to memory. When he heard someone out of tune, he would make each one of us sing individually until the out of tune culprit was found and shamed.

OK, to be fair, he probably didn’t shame us. But it sure felt that way to a nervous 10-year-old trying to live up to his grandmother’s high standards.

It didn’t take long for me to start hating singing. The time commitment was absurd for my age, and the pressure was often debilitating for me. I obsessed about pitch, memorizing the songs, my diction, and I guarantee I was the only little kid petrified about diphthongs and having a “lazy mouth.” Add to that, I had really started getting into sports and I loved playing basketball, soccer, and baseball.

But whenever I mentioned quitting singing and piano, my grandmother would lay such a guilt trip on me and start talking about wasted talent. I didn’t want to let her down, so I simply piled sports on top of school and the absurd rehearsal schedule.

Then one day I came to a realization that changed my relationship with my grandmother forever.

She was very interested in the piece my choir was singing and she wanted to hear us rehearse. I told her that’s impossible because our director closed off practice to parents and outsiders, but still she insisted. It was summer and therefore the windows would be open, she said, allowing her to sit in the car with my mother and listen to our voices drift down from on high.

And suddenly I realized my grandmother had never come to any of my sporting events. Ever. Not a single game. Yet she was more than happy to sit in a hot car in a church parking lot just to hear a few notes of our rehearsal.

I loved my grandmother very much, but if you didn’t share her interests then you were of no interest to her. You served no purpose because you were of no use to her as she sought to further her love of music. Even when she met my friends, the first thing she’d do is force them to sing. If she thought they had promise, she recruited them. If not, she dismissed them on the spot and away we went.

I’ll never forget how that made me feel.

***********************

December 13, 1991.

Hardcore Boston sports fans might remember that night as noteworthy because Dennis Johnson, the Boston Celtics legend and Hall of Fame point guard, was honored at the old Boston Garden on “Dennis Johnson Night.”

And my sports-crazed dad had tickets.

But what history has forgotten about that date, is it was also the day of my 6th grade concert. Specifically, my chimes concert. Yes, that’s right. Yours truly was also an esteemed member of the Norton Middle School Hand Chimes group. Why didn’t I mention that before? Look, I don’t like to brag but let’s just say the early 90’s hand chime scene was vastly underrated.

Hand Chimes

I’m kidding of course. It was terrible. I only joined because I had a HUGE crush on one of the girls who was in the group, and that was my pathetic attempt to make in-roads. Because ladies love the chimes, right? Ugh.

Anyway, my father found out Dennis Johnson Night was the same evening as my chimes concert. I saw the look of guilt and panic on his face immediately. He started asking me if I even liked the chimes. I told him I didn’t. He asked me how upset I’d be if he missed it. Not at all. He asked me if I had another concert in the future? No.

And that was it. I fully expected him to go to the Garden and see a little piece of Boston sports history, and I didn’t blame him for it at all.

But that’s not what happened. He skipped the game and showed up at my concert instead. Sure, to this day I still hear about how he missed that game in order to attend a godforsaken chimes concert and I’m sure my mother played a part in forcing his hand, but it ended up meaning the world to me. It told me he (and my mom who was ALWAYS present) didn’t just care about me when what I was doing was interesting to him. I saw him sacrificing something meaningful to him simply because his kids — no matter what they’re participating in– are MORE meaningful.

It’s a moment I swore never to forget.

***********************

Fast forward 24 years to my teary-eyed son who hates baseball but is willing to play solely because he knows it means a lot to his dad.

Baseball was my thing and I’ll miss going to his games and watching him on the diamond. But this isn’t about me, it’s about Will. And as a father, I’ll be damned if I ever make my kid feel like I’m not interested in his interests. So we decided on karate and cooking classes in the summer.

Do I like or know anything about cooking? Hell no. To me, cooking is Kraft mac & cheese. But you know who’s going to be at every single one of Will’s cooking classes taking an interest and rooting him on? Me. Big time. 100%.

Whatever he’s doing, I’m going to be there and I’m going to be into it. I’m going to support him and let him know what he’s doing is important to me. Because he is my interest. And always will be.

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Letter to My Unborn Baby: What If You’re a Girl?

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Dear Baby,

Welcome to the halfway point of your womb incarceration. I know you’re growing just fine because your mom’s stomach suddenly decided to pop, which is nice because now people can see she’s pregnant instead of wondering if she’s had a few too many ice cream sundaes.

It’s odd to write to you and not know whether you’re a boy or a girl. As I’ve mentioned before, you have two wonderful older brothers. When I was growing up, I had a brother too. That means not only do I not know what it’s like to raise a daughter, I don’t even know what it’s like having a sister.

Which is all a long way of saying I’m a little worried about how to raise a girl.

First off, everyone is hoping you’re a girl. I think it’s mostly because we already have two boys, and people just naturally seek balance — which I think is odd. And a little annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a daughter. I think. But I also think it would be unassailably cool to have three boys as well. But in the end, as long as you’re healthy that’s all I really care about.

And yet I can’t help but let my mind wander.

If you’re a girl, will I baby you? Will you be the quintessential daddy’s little girl, compounded by the fact you’re the youngest? If I buy you pink princess things am I ruining you for life by buying into society’s harmful gender norms? If I deny you pink princess things that you ask for am I then trampling your independence and personal tastes?

Am I contractually obligated to enroll you in ballet at birth? At what point should I take out my loan at the American Girl Doll Store? If I point you in the direction of sports is that a good thing that will make you more well-rounded, or does it represent me pushing my interests on you unfairly while turning you into a tomboy?

I’m against guns, but do I need to invest in a shotgun when you start dating? Do I need to frighten your suitors with not-so-thinly-veiled threats of bodily harm, while handing them an asinine list of rules? And at what age do I even start letting you date? What if your brothers start dating at 12 but I don’t want you to date that early because I anoint myself protector of your virginity?

Will you watch The Three Stooges with me and the boys on Sunday mornings? Can I bring you to Patriots games with your grandfather? Will you enjoy trips to Fenway Park?

Yes, I’ve wondered these things. And yes, I immediately felt like an idiot afterward. Because when push comes to shove, if you’re a girl, I won’t be raising a daughter — I’ll be raising a person. A person who I need to get to know. A person who will develop tastes for many things all on her own. A person to whom I plan to teach compassion, kindness, and strength of character just as I’m doing with your brothers.

It’s the same game plan I’ll follow if you’re a boy. Hell, it’s the only game plan I know. So while I used to joke about freaking out with a daughter, I’ve come to realize it’s not the case. I just want you to be strong and smart and brave and kind — sex organs be damned.

So continue incubating, little one, and we’ll see you in another 20 weeks on or around Sept. 5. But the Patriots raise a championship banner against the Steelers on Sept. 10, so please try not to be late. That’d be just like a woman.

Yours in loving sarcasm,
Dad

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Why I Always Tell My Son He Can Do Better

pats_game Will stands at home plate, bat in hand, eyeing the pitcher. His back elbow is up, the bat is off his shoulder, and his feet are shoulder-width apart — just like we practice in the backyard. The ball comes toward him, he swings, and he misses.

And that’s when things go south. Because if Will doesn’t do things right the first time, he gets pissy. Just like his old man.

Immediately I watch his body language change to express defeat. His elbow drops, the bat languishes on his shoulder, and his feet are together. The next swing is lackadaisical and another miss. The one after that is even worse. Soon he’s just absently swatting at the ball with a frown on his face, forgetting everything we’ve worked on because he didn’t get instant gratification.

Eventually he makes contact and runs down to first base, where he stands on the bag and looks for me on the sidelines. He raises his eyebrows and tentatively gives me a “thumbs up.” He’s seeking my approval, as he does after every single play. I want to give it to him. I really do.

But I don’t this time. Because it’s not deserved, he didn’t try very hard, and I know he can do better.

Continue reading Why I Always Tell My Son He Can Do Better

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The Patriots, Red Sox, and Why We Stay Until the End

fen_boysI don’t remember much about my first trip to Fenway Park.

My first memory is the Green Monster. I had seen it on TV, but in person it loomed like the Great Wall of China to my 7-year-old mind. I remember the rickety wooden seats in the third-base grandstand being ridiculously uncomfortable (some things never change), to the point I had to sit on my red backpack. I remember Roger Clemens was pitching because I had begged my dad to pick a game when the “Rocket” was on the mound. And I remember thinking Fenway Franks taste a million times better than hotdogs at home.

I can’t tell you how many strikeouts Clemens had, what the score was, or even who won. But I’ll always remember being with my dad, because at one point during the game he grabbed my brother and I and said “I always dreamed about taking my boys to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.”

On Saturday night, it was my turn to live the dream.

Continue reading The Patriots, Red Sox, and Why We Stay Until the End

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