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There’s No Such Thing as Taking Too Many Pictures of Your Kids

cell phone

“Put the phone down.”
“You’re taking too many pictures of your kids.”
“Your eyes are the best camera.”

If you’re a parent with Internet access of any kind, you know how controversial a topic phones are in relation to your children. You can’t whip out a soon-to-be-outdated phablet without hitting some parenting “expert” or “guru” telling you what a materialistic and superficial jerk you are for posing your kids in a pumpkin patch or posting a selfie with the kids to Instagram during Touch-a-Truck.

I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but after reading so many of these articles talking about how I’m not actually enjoying life because I’m living it through my cell phone camera lens, I started to worry maybe they were right.

So one day I left the camera in the car.

I took Will and Sam on a hike through some local conservation land, and it was gorgeous. It was hot out, but felt 10 degrees cooler when we entered the forest and walked beneath the canopy of towering maple trees. The pine needles padded our steps and my boys bounded forward with youthful zeal, as slits of sunlight periodically found them and dotted their backs.

We explored the forest and inspected downed trees while wondering if a giant blew them over in a fit. We climbed rock formations and claimed them as newly discovered lands (Willtopia, SamLand, and Dada’s Village if you must know). We ran to the next trail map and studied it forcefully, as if it alone held the key to our ultimate survival.

And then we saw the butterfly.

A Monarch butterfly, you know the type. Wings a deep Halloween orange with jet black lines that made it look like an ornate stained glass window. Little white circles dot the tips of the wings and its head, as it rests on some grass seemingly weightless. It was totally still, and so were my boys. Enraptured. Until…

“Dada,” Sam whispered excitedly. “Take picture of butterfly!”

Crap.

“Sammy, I can’t. I didn’t bring my phone with me,” I said with fear rising in my throat. “But that’s OK, wanna know why? Because we have something better than a camera — our eyes. Let’s look at the butterfly and study it really hard, and we’ll take a mental snapshot so we’ll always have the butterfly in our memory.”

I even did that thing where you make a camera out of your hands, hold it up to your eye and snap a “mental picture.” And I immediately recoiled in horror and felt an unyielding desire to kick my own ass.

He knew it was bullshit. I knew it was bullshit. Sam flipped out and started crying, because — well, that’s what almost 3-year-olds do. The unphotographed butterfly must have also sensed the bullshit level rise to dangerous levels, and with his moment of zen interrupted by shrieking, flew off for parts unknown.

In a desperate attempt to stop Sam’s meltdown, Will had a phenomenal idea. He reminded Sam about our geocaching adventures, and started talking about finding hidden treasure. This idea pleased Sam greatly as his sobs subsided and excitement took over as both boys turned to me for the coordinates to our next find.

Coordinates I didn’t have, because I didn’t have my phone with me.

Taking an excessive amount of pictures of your children and adventures is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Committing things to memory and looking at the world absent a lens is overrated garbage, mainly because 1) taking pictures doesn’t always take you out of the moment, and 2) my memory sucks.

I’m a working dad. I’m up at 5:30 am, I work all day, I come home to parent, I do some more work, I go to bed. My mind is a ball of mush. It takes me at least two tries to get my kids’ names right, I poured my beer into a sippy cup last week, and the only things I truly remember are random ’90s song lyrics. So while it’s a noble thing to live in the moment and try to commit to memory the look on my sons’ faces when faced with the unparalleled wonder of a Monarch butterfly, I’d rather have my camera so I can have it forever and share it with the people I love who weren’t there.

Cell phone cameras are incredible and allow me to relive moments from years ago whenever I want. You’d be surprised how much I revisit them, especially now with Facebook’s “On This Day” feature that allows you to relive memories from years ago.

Excess can be a real problem in so many areas, but when it comes to pictures of the people and places I love most, there’s no such thing as too much. So have fun being “in the moment” and thinking you’re superior because you left your cell phone in the car. I’ll be busy happily recording memories and avoiding toddler meltdowns.

Just think, if I listened to the know-it-alls and didn’t have my phone with me, I’d miss moments like this.

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Why I’m an Unapologetic Manners Nazi

manners

“Manners are the basic building blocks of civil society.”
– Alexander McCall Smith

My kids are exceedingly polite and well-mannered. I don’t say that to boast or exaggerate, I say it as simple fact. It’s not luck of the draw or accidental, either. They got that way because my wife and I relentlessly hammer home manners and follow through on punishments should they forget their manners or act rudely in public.

Simply put, MJ and I are “Manner Nazis” when it comes to our kids. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m not sure how or why stressing good manners is controversial, but it is. Television star Mayim Bialik says she doesn’t force manners on her kids or correct them when they forget. Bloggers like this one feel forcing your kids to say “I’m sorry” is bad, because it’s not authentic. Even some of my fellow friends and dad bloggers have disagreed with me on this, saying it’s pointless to force kids to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” at a young age because they’re too immature to know the meaning of those terms.

That last part is true, they are too young to completely understand the concept. But guess what? That doesn’t matter.

Getting kids into good habits, even when they don’t fully understand them yet, is a positive thing. Both Will and Sam learned how to sign please and thank you around their first birthdays. Did they know exactly what the term meant? Of course not. But they knew they had to say it first to get what they wanted, and they learned they had to sign “thank you” afterward to show appreciation. Now, at 22 months, Sam says please routinely when he needs something, and thank you (really it’s more like “Chinch Choo”) after he receives it.

Will, who is 7, also has impeccable manners because we’ve made it a priority.

When he enters a conversation, it’s always with an “excuse me.” If he’s done something wrong, he apologizes. When he was younger, it started with a simple “I’m sorry.” But as he got older and could comprehend more, we’d always have a conversation about what went wrong and we’d explore the reason he’s sorry. Now when he’s done something to offend, he not only apologizes but he tells you why he’s sorry and what he could have done differently.

Unfortunately, parents making it a priority to raise well-mannered kids are in the minority these days.

I know I’m going to sound like the old guy complaining about the damn kids on his lawn, but take a trip out to a store or restaurant and you’ll see what I mean. Kids standing on the seats and even the tables. Older kids throwing food and not picking it up. Children shouting their orders at the waiter instead of asking nicely, with no correction from mom or dad. And then, not surprisingly, I watch mom and dad treat the waitstaff with the same dismissive contempt. Go figure.

Meanwhile, if our kids do make a mess while out to eat, we make them pick it up. If it’s Sam, who is still very young, then either MJ or I gets down on the floor and collects all the food he dropped. One time, a nearby restaurant patron said “Why are you doing that? They’re paid to do it.” I responded with a very simple “Because I’m not a jerk.”

Instilling good manners and politeness in your kids has very little to do with being seen as a good parent, or having your kids reflect well upon you. It’s about much more than that.

Unfortunately, good manners are so rare they are now the exception. That means Will is routinely praised by everyone from his bus driver to random strangers in restaurants who are impressed with how he handles himself. If he keeps this up, that ability to impress will extend to his future teachers, bosses, clients, and even his romantic partners.

It’s learning how to behave and thrive in mixed company, and how to make everyone feel welcome. It’s learning to treat people with respect. It’s knowing if you’re seen as someone who respects others, everything you say will carry that much more weight and value. If he’s up against an equally qualified candidate during a job interview or going for a promotion, perhaps it’ll be his “soft skills” and how he conducts himself that gives him the extra edge.

My main job as a parent is to love and raise quality human beings who contribute something positive to society. As far as I’m concerned, that starts with teaching them good manners.

It starts by parents modeling good manners at home and out in public, and stressing them at every turn. Are my kids perfect? No. Do they occasionally forget their manners? Absolutely. Mistakes happen, and if they’re contrite then no harm no foul. But if they keep being punks after they’ve been warned, then there are consequences.

It sucks to punish your kids, but we do it because otherwise they don’t learn anything. So an “I want ice cream!” one time earns a warning, but a second offense immediately after that means he’s going home with no dessert. Otherwise, if we give in to demands instead of making polite requests the norm, I truly believe we’re contributing to an entitlement problem that already plagues too high a percentage of this generation of kids.

Some will dismiss this entire piece as just another crotchety, holier-than-thou parent humble-bragging about how his kids are flippin’ wonderful. And others will continue to tell MJ and me we’re too strict with the boys when it comes to manners, and we need to relax. At least that’s what I think they said. Truthfully, it was hard to hear them over their kids running around being brats.

But the bottom line is manners matter. It’s not only good for society as a whole, but it’ll benefit your children as they grow up as well. Raising polite human beings is important, and the world desperately needs more of them.

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If You’re Defending Josh Duggar, You’re the Problem

Josh Duggar repeatedly molested underage girls, including his sisters, while his parents sought to cover it up and avoid talking to the proper authorities. You’ve seen the news by now and you know how utterly revolting it is from every angle. I don’t need to cover the horrifying details here.

I read the news last night as I was going to bed. I thought finally, even the most ardent supporters of TLC’s clown show won’t be able to spin this, and perhaps common sense will prevail. The blanket condemnation and the collective horror at not just Josh’s action, but the duplicitous cover-up by his parents, will be the nudge all of the extreme fundamentalists require to come to their senses.

Turns out I was giving that particular group far too much credit.

Right, Samantha. Because the first thing a rational person thinks after finding out about a serial child molester who targeted sleeping children including his own sisters aided by his parents in a massive coverup to hide the facts until the statute of limitations had run out, should be “Boy, I really hope I can still watch all these people on TV every week.”

Oh you’re sorry, Republican Girl. You are very, very sorry. Mainly because your definition of “amazing people” includes child molesters and those who enable them.

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Catherine has taken the “blame the media” approach and given it an Alex Rodriguez level steroid injection. Instead of questioning why Josh Duggar is molesting young girls and, more importantly, why his parents wouldn’t alert the proper authorities, she points the finger at the DAMN MEDIA! After all, how dare reporters look under the surface for things and file FOIA requests to obtain information from official sources and then publish that information for people to read. Wait. What? That’s PRECISELY the job of media members everywhere? Oh. Well, nevermind then…

These two esteemed Twitter users were far from alone in making this point. As instructed by the Far Right Emergency Handbook, religious conservatives everywhere immediately started shouting about Lena Dunham (and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton too, just because) and pointing out the LIBERAL HYPOCRISY of getting upset about one and not the other.

Dunham, in case you hadn’t heard, described a moment in her childhood when she — at the age of 7 — looked in her 1-year-old sister’s vagina, found some pebbles, and then alerted her mother. Clearly this single incident is exactly the same thing as being a 14-year-old, repeatedly groping and fondling young girls while they’re sleeping, having your parents cover up that abuse over the course of years, all the while telling anyone within earshot gay people are dangerous pedophiles.

That’s not just apples and oranges, it’s apples and fire hydrants.

duggar2

Got that? It’s less about the criminal molestation and more about the actions afterward. And Josh Duggar apologized, so dude — move on already! Right? Hell, this thing has been in the news cycle a whole 20 hours and we’re STILL TALKING ABOUT IT! But it’s interesting Valerie thinks failing to alert the authorities and trying to pass off a summer remodeling homes as “therapy” is “lifting up the name of Jesus.” Jesus didn’t return an email seeking comment for this piece, but I have to believe he’s not too thrilled to be involved in this one.

duggar3

This is the craziest comment I’ve personally seen on this issue. And it’s also the most frightening, because it’s 100% pure, unadulterated praise. For Josh Duggar. An admitted child molester.

Kelly is right in that Josh Duggar didn’t “justify or defend.” Mainly because there’s just no way to justify or defend being a serial child abuser. And yes, he confessed. Bravo. It only took him 13 years, a hidden letter in a book that was sent to Oprah Winfrey’s show, and multiple FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests that revealed hard evidence in the form of police reports that couldn’t be denied.

But “humility and redemption?” Is it humble to publicly call gay and transgender people dangerous pedophiles when YOU are actually the dangerous pedophile? Sorry, but I fail to see how Josh Duggar is “redeemed” by being exposed as a dangerous and utterly hypocritical fondler of young girls, and part of a family that would DARE cast stones regarding homosexuality when they were housing and covering up for a pedophile in their own four walls.

When you think about it, several members of the Duggar family seem more like sociopaths than anything else.

All I can think about are those poor girls, the victims of Josh Duggar’s abuse. Did they get the help they need? Have they suffered additional trauma having to live with their abuser and see him every single day for all these years? Or were they afterthoughts in the mad scramble to protect poor Josh’s reputation?

Either way, if you’re someone publicly defending Josh Duggar or the Duggar family after this unspeakable atrocity, you are every bit as big of a problem as the perpetrators.

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Moms Should Be the Most Upset with Piers Morgan’s Paternity Leave Comments

paternity

You know who should be the most upset regarding Piers Morgan’s bafflingly backward comments about modern fathers not wanting paternity leave? Moms.

The British television host was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, when the issue of paid paternity leave came up. It was then Morgan decided to reach back into the 1950s to pull out this gem. “Most dads don’t want to do paid paternity leave. They pretend they do, but after two weeks of a tiny little baby…all they’re doing is eating, guzzling, and depositing, it isn’t the most exciting gig in town.”

Despite that being moronic enough to cause co-host Mika Brzezinski to literally roll her chair off the set in wide-eyed horror, Morgan didn’t apologize or reconsider his stance after the show. In fact, he doubled down with these tweets.

That last one is the real problem, because it assumes moms know everything about child-rearing from the get-go while dads are “invariably utterly useless” when it comes to babies. Or, to be blunt, taking care of babies is a woman’s job.

What Morgan apparently fails to realize is most first-time parents are equally clueless. There is no child-rearing DNA that is biologically inherent in women but not men. Yet Morgan’s comments set the stage for the unfair societal expectation we place on new moms to automatically know everything. Meanwhile fathers are seen as “Super Dads” just for changing a diaper, because the bar is set so low compared to moms.

By tapping out at the starting line and playing the “well dear, you’re so much better at it” card, Morgan places the burden of child-rearing on moms and minimizes the importance of shared parenting. Perhaps he’d be interested to know women account for 40% of all breadwinners in American homes, meaning many moms are no longer content to be saddled with all the household duties while the man returns to work.

But if dads accept Morgan’s tripe about being useless then they are let off the hook. No paternity leave, no early bonding with the child, a slower learning curve for how to take care of the baby, and a decreased role as a caregiver.

And then there’s the fact that what Morgan is saying just isn’t true.

The Boston College Center for Work and Family surveyed more than 1,000 fathers, and found 89% think it is important for companies to offer paid paternity leave. Also, more than 90% of fathers reported spending time caring for their new child and changing diapers during their time off, while more than 80% went food shopping, cleaned the house, and prepared meals.

“When men fail to be active co-parents in the first few months of the child’s life it sets up a pattern that is difficult to change,” according to the findings.

Which means maybe it’s just Piers Morgan who is useless to his wife in caring for a new baby, and not “most men.”

Speaking as a father of two (soon to be three) who took time off after both kids were born, I can personally attest to the fact that it is a vital and cherished time. My paternity leave allows my wife to rest and recover while I bond with my baby (and take care of my other kids). My company gives me two paid weeks of leave which, while I wish it were longer, I’m also fortunate to have.

Morgan is right about one thing – it’s not always exciting. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. It’s messy, hectic, life-changing, monotonous, difficult, wonderful, and sometimes it downright sucks. But guess what? Welcome to parenting, Piers. We don’t do it for the excitement, we do it because it has to be done. We do it because it’s so incredibly important. And we do it to let our wives know it’s not all on them.

Here’s to more paid paternity leave for more men who would be more apt to take it if not for antiquated, less evolved attitudes like Morgan’s.

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My Son, The Boy Scouts, and Why I Won’t Support Discrimination

photo credit: Flag Retirement Ceremony - Troop 80 Boy Scouts and Pack 89 Cub Scouts - Yongsan Garrison - Korea - 090509 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Flag Retirement Ceremony – Troop 80 Boy Scouts and Pack 89 Cub Scouts – Yongsan Garrison – Korea – 090509 via photopin (license)

The boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, cautiously walked toward us as we exited the store. He tugged at his Cub Scout neckerchief and cleared his throat before speaking. He was polite but nervous, as he quietly explained how he was raising money and asked us if we’d like to donate.

Unlike many people, I don’t mind being approached by folks outside of stores asking for donations. That’s especially true when young men and women take it upon themselves to bravely approach strangers and ask for financial support, because that’s not an easy thing to do. I almost gave him a dollar based on that alone.

I thanked him for his time and congratulated him on his efforts, told him he’s doing a fine job, and wished him luck. Then I politely declined to donate and walked away.

When we were out of earshot, Will gave me a confused look and wanted to know why I wouldn’t give the boy any money. So I told him even though that boy and his friends are surely very good and devoted Scouts led by progressive parents and leaders doing positive work in the community, the people in charge of Scouting at the national level have a rule that prohibits gay people and atheists from being leaders. And, until very recently, wouldn’t let in gay or atheist members. Which means Will’s gay extended family wouldn’t be allowed to lead a troop because they’d be considered harmful to the development of kids. Hell, it means I couldn’t even lead a group because I don’t believe in God.

His reaction? “What?!? That’s not fair. Why can’t they just be nice?” Yes. Why indeed.

I posted the encounter on my Facebook page and thought nothing of it other than it was a good lesson for Will. However, others had a very different view of what happened. Here are a few comments I received:

“So lets take it out on the scouts that work very hard.”

“Maybe instead of refusing to support them and teaching your child that its ok to judge people. Maybe you should try volunteering and help to change policy.”

“Discriminating against all scouts is just as bad as discriminating against all gays or all blacks or all trekkies (had to throw that is to lighten up the subject). If you show discrimination at all to any group in front of your children, you are teaching them that discrimination is ok. It’s hypocritical. We teach are kids to show love and respect to everyone, even our enemies and those that have different opinions.”

“Im a fan of yours man, I usually like everything you post, but this. Sounds to my like a lesson in division and discrimination.”

First of all, politely declining to donate is not discrimination. Not by a long shot. And it’s certainly not in the same hemisphere as racism and homophobia.

Discrimination? Setting a bad example? Negative judgments? All things the Scouts engage in at the national level by banning gays and non-believers. But instead of focusing on the organization actually discriminating against people, they focused on me. Suddenly I was the bad guy discriminating against the Scouts. All because I refuse to financially support an organization that willfully engages in judgmental discrimination.

That is the fuzziest of fuzzy logic.

I fully realize there are local groups of Scouts who think the ban on gay and atheist leaders is ridiculous. I get it and I appreciate it. I love that they’re working to bring about change from the inside, and I applaud their efforts. With their hard work, this backward and self-defeating policy will change and the Boy Scouts of America will take a page from the more inclusive and forward-thinking Girl Scouts, who long ago began to accept every one of its members.

However, until that day comes, I will not donate. And I will not allow my son to join.

To do so, in my eyes, is to condone a bigoted, hateful, and damaging policy that goes against everything I believe in and all the moral values I’m trying to instill in my boys. It’s the main reason I quit Scouts when I was a Webelo. And while Scouting has undeniably good qualities at the local level, those packs and troops are still part of a larger body that thinks gay people and non-believers aren’t fit to be good examples to children.

That’s especially damaging when you consider gay kids can now be Scouts, but once they turn 18 and want to continue their association with the organization as leaders, they cannot. Gay Scouts? Acceptable. Gay adult Scout leader? Potentially harmful and unfit for duty. What a difference a day makes.

Imagine being a boy in Scouts who begins to realize he’s gay. I’m sure it’s hard enough to come out as it is, but now imagine you’re a dedicated Scout who wants to one day lead a troop and continue giving to the organization you love so much. Knowing you can’t be a gay Scout leader once you turn 18, maybe you continue to keep your true self hidden. Suddenly you’re living a lie and failing to be true to yourself, all because the organization to which you’ve selflessly dedicated yourself won’t accept you. Why? Because you’re attracted to people of the same sex. As if that affects your ability to tie a knot or be a good person.

Think of the terrible message that sends, and now question whether or not you want to promote an organization that sends people into a shame spiral and doesn’t value who they are. Not me. No way.

No organization is perfect. But I need to at least be able to begin with a solid foundation that includes basic equality. Absent that very simple and necessary requirement, I can’t lend my support. And I’m certainly not going to voluntarily expose the most precious people in my life to it.

I’m also not going to stand here and be accused of discrimination when I’ve done nothing of the sort. Not wanting to fund homophobia and taking a stand for equal rights is not something for which I’ll ever be ashamed. Nor will I listen to people tell me I’m setting a bad example for my son. Once informed of the policy, Will told me he would never want to be part of something so unfair and unnecessarily cruel. That kind of compassion and willingness to take a stand for what’s right at such a young age is worth more than any merit badge he could ever earn.

Here’s hoping the Boy Scouts do what’s right at the national level and change this ridiculous policy. Once that’s done, I’m more than willing to lend my support. Just ask the Girl Scouts who have gotten rich selling me cookies.

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