Tag Archives: fatherhood

The 5 Stages of Spending Time Without Kids

nokids“Holy $*&%, I just need some time for myself and away from these kids!!”

How many parents have uttered some variation of that phrase at some point in time? I know I have. Hell, I just went through life with an infant again this past year. Between Sam’s multiple nightly awakenings, screaming fits, and teething, combined with Will’s adjustments to big brotherhood and the first year of school, I used to fantasize about a life of solitude in a quiet mountain cabin where no one could find me and I could pee alone.

But on the rare occasions we’re granted a parental sabbatical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend — we miss our damn kids too much!

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s not too long after I’m sprung from the asylum that I start to — gulp — miss it a little. And then a lot. It’s like some sort of parental Stockholm Syndrome. I just spent 55 hours on my own, and here are the stages of kidlessness I experienced.

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Stage 1: FREEDOM!!!!!!!!
The first stage is characterized by an initial and intense feeling of release. Like I’m Andy Dufresne finally escaping Shawshank Prison through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness. Or like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, only if I skipped the torture and got to sleep with Sophie Marceau again instead. Whether your childfree time is going to last for a night or a week, it seems the possibilities are endless and you can do anything. Road trip, baseball game, bar, expensive dinner, or even a movie at the theater that doesn’t have cartoons — the world is your oyster.

Stage 2: Whatever I Want!
Sure, you’re going to put your Vegas trip into action soon. But that can wait for a minute, while you enjoy the little things you can’t do when the family is around. You know, the simple things you used to do when you were single. As for me, I immediately strip down to my boxers, stretch out on the couch, and watch SportsCenter while scratching myself at will. Either that or all the movies no one else likes. Then I have a dinner that consists of Kraft mac & cheese, beer, and Doritos. Normally I’d be chastised for my post meal bodily functions, but only the dog was affected this time (and she was guilty of a few nasty ones too). And then — as the grand finale — I take up the entire king size bed by sleeping diagonally, as opposed to sleeping on the sliver of bed I have after the wife and dog are accounted for. Sure it might SEEM slightly pathetic that a grown man can enjoy farting in peace, leaving the toilet seat up without reproach, and using a plethora of bed space so much, but best not to dwell on such matters for long. There’s work to do.

Stage 3: Reality Sets In
After you’ve eaten like a pig and reveled in smelling like one as well, it’s time to get serious about this temporary kid hiatus. That’s when you start thinking of all your friends and get ready to call them up to have a good old fashioned rager of a party. You call Jim but his oldest has summer baseball and his youngest has a ballet recital. No worries. Skip right to Brian, only to find out he’s going to a concert. Awesome, right? Because you haven’t been to a live show in years. The only problem? It’s a “Wiggles” concert. Andy and Jake moved away, Ted doesn’t want to stay out past 10 pm because he’s coaching T-ball in the morning, and Bill already went out for a night this month so he’s used up his privileges. Suddenly you realize two things: 1) You’re old, and 2) Spontaneity is officially dead. Which makes you sad. Which leads to additional mac & cheese, Netflix, and gas.

Stage 4: This Kind of Sucks
This stage sees panic setting in. You’ve gorged yourself, farted at will, lounged around in your boxers, and realized all of your friends are now lame. You start calling your wife and kids more often just to hear what they’re doing. While you’re watching TV, you see “Jake and the NeverLand Pirates” and consider watching it because you know how much your oldest likes it. But you’re barely even watching TV now because you’re mostly looking at family pictures hanging in the hall, as you make one more call to the family to see what they’re doing now.

Stage 5: COME HOME!!!
This is when things get really desperate. Suddenly your faltering plans don’t even matter, because you’re too busy playing with Transformers and sitting in the kids’ empty rooms getting emotional. You’re not even watching TV because you’re combing through six years of YouTube home videos. You know they’re due home today so you up your calls to every hour on the hour just in case they get home early. In a fit of total desperation and longing, you flip on Frozen and sing “Let It Go” with tears streaming down your face as you promise never to take your family for granted ever again.

When they finally pull into the driveway you sprint out barefoot because you’re so damn happy to see them. You rip open the door of the minivan to see your precious little angels, only to have the youngest sneeze in your eye and simultaneously take a dump the likes of which makes landfills blush, while the oldest bitterly complains you woke him up from his nap.

I need a break…

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When In Doubt, Change Your Perspective

will_sunset“Dad, you’ve gotta come up here.”

My 6-year-old beckons from atop a lifeguard stand on a Harwichport beach. It’s after sunset and we have the expanse of sand entirely to ourselves, save the cormorants dawdling by the ocean’s edge. My initial reaction is to refuse, since climbing the lifeguard stand smacks of effort and I’m totally exhausted from the frenzy of a day with kids on Cape Cod. Plus, I loathe the beach, and my first thought is not to extend my time there. But 6-year-olds are nothing if not persistent, so up I went.

Then he asked me questions. Why is the sky black on one side, but orange on the other? Why is the water salty? Where does all the sand come from? How come the ocean meets the sky way far out, and does that mean we can touch the sky if we sail far enough? Some I answered, some I didn’t know, and others I simply left up to childhood imagination.

“You know what I like best, Dad?” he asked me, head cocked to one side.
“No pal, what do you like best?”
“I like that it’s all the same stuff we’ve been looking at, but different. Because we’re high up.”

I always thought I hated the beach (and the subsequent beach experience that goes along with it) for simple reasons. I hate the heat, I burn easily, I don’t like swimming, I loathe taking my shirt off in public, sand is annoying, and beaches are usually crowded. Fairly straightforward, summertime, fat guy laments. But after my most recent beach trip with my son, I’m thinking I had it all wrong.

Will made me stand with him in the surf to let the waves tickle our toes. I hate that feeling. It’s not the fact that I’m wet that bothers me, it’s the feeling of being off balance. As the waves break on shore and the water sweeps past, I feel like the Earth is giving out beneath me, taking away my solid ground. Or at least the illusion that I was on solid ground to begin with.

And looking out at the horizon has always made me uncomfortable, because nothing is scarier to me than uncertainty. I’m someone who has never had a passport because I’ve never left the United States (except for Canada). I prefer familiarity to the great unknown, which is probably why I’m partial to the mountains over the ocean. I can almost always see the top of the mountain, and with a lot of effort I know I could eventually get to the top. But even though I’m aware a long ocean journey would eventually find land, the never-ending nature of the sea overwhelms me. As does losing sight of the shore.

The strains of U2’s “Beautiful Day” drift toward us from a wedding reception farther up the beach. Will walks ahead of me now, holding his shoes in one hand and scanning the sea-swept ground for shells (and Great White Sharks, naturally). From my angle, it looks like if he kept walking along the shore he’d eventually curve off into the horizon where the sea touches the sky.

Part of me wants him to charge into the unknown with reckless abandon and total confidence, going places I would never dare. But another part of me wants to carry him out of the surf and away from the tides completely, to be safely on the shore. As if the shore — with its shifting sands and seismic inconsistencies– is really any safer.

The beach during a crowded, 90-degree day is still my version of hell. But for me to continue saying “I hate the beach” just isn’t accurate. The beach at night is nice. After sunset, walking on cool sand, and sitting atop a lifeguard chair with my son — this version of the beach was nice and it was all ours for a little while.

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Working Parents Squeeze In Their Moments

will_canoe

The canoe glides along silently, save the “plunk/whoosh” sound of the paddle slicing through the water’s surface. The gargantuan clouds are puffy and impossibly white, but not foreboding — no rain checks needed today. A summer zephyr gently prods us along toward a cove spotted with lily pads, as the oldest and I look to add to our summer bass total.

“Dad, this is very calm. And peaceful,” he says from the front of the canoe.

But all I can do is look down into the clear water to see the milfoil just below the surface. Thick, green submerged weeds like fuzzy fingers reaching up from the depths. I can’t help but feel this invasive species is reaching for me, trying to rob me of time like it’s suffocating the water quality in the pond.

I’m only on Day #3 of my vacation, but already my window is closing and one thought is flashing in my mind like a neon sign — DO MORE!

This is the curse of working parents.

I work two jobs (three if you count the blog) and I struggle to provide as a breadwinner and a father. Rent, bills, and canoes aren’t cheap, which makes the hours at work numerous and quality time scarce. I get three weeks of vacation every year, but I use one for conferences and the other around Christmas when things are crazy. That leaves one week. One week solely for my kids. One week to do everything.

Lately I’ve been envying my wife for being a stay-at-home mom, which is ironic since I’m not even sure I could do her job. Or that I’d want to do it, if we’re being honest. I know her role is filled with damn hard work and days she questions her sanity when our youngest won’t nap because his 1-year molars are coming in and he’s drooling blood in a fit of rage. I know sometimes she feels like she wishes she could trade places with me.

But stay-at-home parents have the thing I’m most envious of — the knowledge that they’re doing the most important thing in raising quality human beings.

They are in the trenches and doing the grunt work. Sure they’re unappreciated now when the kids are young, but in 25 years they’re going to realize my wife was always there. The reliable one. The go-to parent. And they’ll have a bond with her that will be deeper and stronger than one can imagine.

Me? I’m the guy working on the computer. Answering one last email and sending one final freelance pitch. So on vacation, I really pour it on.

“Let’s go the museum!”
“Hey, how bout a baseball game?”
“Want some ice cream?”
“Time for fishing!”

Where MJ is a fire that burns slowly and steadily, I flash hot and bright and then fade back into the office. She’s steady as the tides, I’m a tsunami. I’m an annual meteor shower and she’s the moon.

Working parents don’t witness milestones, they’re told they occurred. The phone call at the office that he got his first tooth. The video she sends you of his first steps, and hey — at least we saw it before all of Facebook. So there’s that. It’s enough to make us feel like spectators, or subscribers to the newsletter of our own lives.

Which is why when vacation hits, I get a little desperate.

We tried to get Will to ride his bike without training wheels last year. It went horribly. He wasn’t ready or physically able, and it ended with lots of crying, pouting, and frustration. Will was also pretty upset.

But this year, I vowed to make sure Will could ride his bike by the end of the summer. And I was going to see it, dammit.

When we went at the beginning of vacation a week ago, it was…rough. I was too hard on him and placed way too much pressure on the poor kid, and his performance reflected that. I was trying to force it so I didn’t miss it, and in the process I damn near ruined everything.

Yesterday was my last day of vacation. After we went fishing, I nonchalantly asked if he’d like to try bike riding one more time. This time, I took an entirely different tack. I told him it didn’t matter if he did it, only that he improve from last time. I had him sit down first and envision a successful ride, and then try to emulate in real life what he mentally pictured. I smiled and told him stories of my learning-to-ride failures as a precocious kid.

He fell. A lot. But then, well…he didn’t.

Once my attitude was positive, so was his. He refused to accept my help because he wanted to do it on his own, and he constantly repeated affirming messages to himself throughout the whole thing. “Just keep trying, Will” and “Will, remember to pedal, steer, and not panic.” 

And then off he went, pedaling furiously away from me as I jogged to catch up. As apt a metaphor for parenting as there ever will be. But this one — learning how to ride a bike — this one is ours. Will’s and mine. I needed a win, badly, and my wife saw that and graciously let me have it. Because she’s awesome and far too good for me.

Back on the pond, the interesting thing about milfoil weeds is there are no known biological controls to fight them off or slow them down. In time, and like time, they come whether we like it or not and eventually they change the existing habitat. Armed with that knowledge, my vacations in coming years have taken on a whole new meaning and level of importance.

If you only have a week, you’d better make it count.

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Please Look Back Every Once in a While

will_forest

I worry sometimes about losing sight of you.

Today it’s scenic Borderland State Park, a wooded expanse of trails, trees, ponds, and greenery so lush it should be it’s own Crayola color. The seat belt can barely contain you as we look for a parking space, as your energy has you bouncing in your seat, waiting for the millisecond I put the car in park so you can tear open the door and breathe in the scent of the outdoors. I used to demand you carry your own fishing rod, which you did without complaint. But your running combined with the sheer jubilation of being 6 in a state park is too much to prevent the tip of your rod from hitting the ground. And trees. And other people.

So I am relegated to a status familiar to dads — pack mule. And that’s OK because your smile alleviates every burden.

You’re at the trail map now, sounding out the words and tracing a path to the pond. You don’t enter the woods so much as you explode into them like you are being shot out of a cannon. The cement walkway of the visitor center gives way to a dirt and rock path as the trees and forest envelop us. Soon the crunch of our footsteps on rocks and hard dirt turns to soft thuds, as fallen pine needles pad our steps. You know the rule is stay with dad, so you reluctantly obey. But I see your eyes silently pleading for the sweet release of running on up ahead.

“Go ahead,” I blurt out, smiling and feigning an inconvenience both of us know to be false.

I’m not worried about you getting lost, because you have a good sense of direction and your heart and head will guide you. I’m not worried about you falling down, because you’re resilient and you’ll always pick yourself up no problem. I’m not worried about the ancient tree roots crisscrossing the path, because (even though you don’t yet realize it) there are no obstacles you can’t overcome. I’m not worried about the mud puddles because I can’t stop you from stepping in it from time to time — nor would I want to — and sometimes our missteps turn into our greatest blessings. I don’t want to stop you from going down your chosen path, and I have no ambition to clear it for you or walk in front of you to make it easier.

Before I had kids, my dad thanked me once for making it a point to include him in things and for inviting him to hang out occasionally. I didn’t really give it much thought at the time, but now I see exactly what he meant.

I just hope you’ll actually look back and slow down every once in a while, to let me watch you on your journey. Because as your dad, I genuinely believe it’s going to be a sight to behold. And even though it’s inevitable you’ll disappear around bends and be out of sight for a while, I hope with all my heart you’ll let me catch up and keep you company from time to time.

I worry sometimes about losing sight of you. Because I love being around you so much and (minus your teenage years) I never want that to change. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path, pal. But please don’t forget to look back every now and then.

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If you liked this feel free to check me out on Twitter and Facebook. If you didn’t like this, that’s OK too. You can still follow me on those accounts and then hate-share everything I post. As long as my incessant need for your attention is satisfied.

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The #PowerofDad is a Lasting Legacy

pats_game

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.

powerofdad_grave
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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