Tag Archives: fatherhood

Why I Never Want to be a Stay-at-Home Dad

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“If things were different and I didn’t have to work full time, I’d love to be a stay-at-home dad.”

Like many working dads I know, I’ve said that a lot over the years. After all, these two kids are my life. My heart and soul. My reason for existing and doing what I do. They are, quite literally, the best parts of me. So knowing all that, what kind of dad wouldn’t want to genuinely quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad?

This kind. Right here. Me.

I was on vacation last week, which means I spent a ton of time with my two sons. And I enjoyed that time. Most of that time. Definitely some of it, anyway.

But in between wrestling a screwdriver out of Sam’s hands with my oldest on my back, and trying to figure out how Sam managed to make Chinese the default language on my smartphone, I came to a realization. An epiphany, if you will.

I don’t want to be a stay-at-home dad. Not even a little bit. Not ever.

Now let me make something very clear. I love stay-at-home dads and I support them 100%. I know a TON of guys who made this decision, and they are badasses whom I love. I’m not denigrating them or downplaying what they do. What I’m writing is not meant as an insult to stay-at-home dads, nor will it turn into into yet another piece by a working parent blowing sunshine up the collective asses of at-home parents while spouting that “hardest job in the world” nonsense (your job is not more difficult than coal miners, those Deadliest Catch guys, military personnel, cops, firefighters, and air traffic controllers).

This is about me. It’s about finally overcoming the self-imposed shame and stigma of not wanting to care for my kids full time. Because that’s not an easy thing to admit — to you or to myself.

I feel like a hypocrite because my true feelings go against everything I’ve said since Will was born. For years I’ve been telling people I’d love to try my hand at being a full-time stay-at-home dad. I’d talk about how freeing and wonderful it would be to slip my corporate shackles and shed my primary breadwinner responsibilities in favor of play dates. As a proponent of involved fatherhood, I’ve spoken at length about how — if circumstances were different — I’d happily be home taking care of the kids and bucking societal gender norms.

But I overlooked one pretty important factor: I wouldn’t be very good at it.

Don’t confuse that with me not being able to do the job. I could keep the house reasonably clean, get my oldest to school with a packed lunch, and keep the youngest one alive. I could be a full-time, stay-at-home dad. But being able to do something and being good at something are two very different things.

And watching how phenomenal my wife is as a stay-at-home mom, I simply realized this is an area in which I wouldn’t excel.

For starters, I love to work and I need to work. Working fulfills me, and if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be very happy. Of course my kids fulfill me too (albeit in a completely different way), but for years I felt guilty about saying I liked to work. That I needed to work. It felt like ignoring my kids or prioritizing myself above them.

I also don’t have the right temperament for the job. I don’t do well with imaginative or creative play, mainly because (and this sounds even more horrible) I’m not a huge fan of babies and little kids. I’m much better starting around age 3. Add to that, even as a kid I always hated arts and crafts. And the chances of me becoming a “Pinterest Parent” are slim to none.

MJ does all those things and she does them well. I marvel at her ability to seamlessly get through the day while weathering Hurricane Sam and even managing to make things educational for him in the process. Where I break down and tear my hair out, she finds a way to redirect him and engage him in something I never would have thought of in a million years.

As Will has gotten older I’ve been able to relate to him a lot more, but when they’re little I’m just frustrated and confused. I’m still occasionally silly and I get down on the floor to play, but I know my strength will be relating to my boys as they get older — a time my wife admits she is dreading.

You stay-at-home parents do an amazing job. A tough job. And, as I’m finally ready to admit, you do a job I just don’t want to do. After nearly seven years and a hefty heaping of guilt, I’m finally OK with that. I’ve talked to a lot of at-home parents who admit they couldn’t handle going to work full time, and that’s OK too.

The trick is finding someone who complements you by being strong where you’re weak, and vice versa. MJ can’t work right now and I’d go crazy at home full time. It works for us. It works for now.

So I have this to say to working parents who love to work: stop beating yourself up for not wanting to be home full time. It’s not a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. You can be a good parent and still love to work, as long as you find the right blend of home and career. And there’s certainly something to be said for modeling hard work and professional success to your kids.

Stepping back and taking an honest look at the situation has given me clarity, relieved me of some guilt and doubt, and made me ever more appreciative of the job my wife does at home. If you’re in the same boat I was, I wish the same for you.

And for the single parents laughing to yourselves and calling me a wimp because you’re out there working and parenting full-time every day without any help, you’re right. You folks really are superheroes!

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The 11 Best Movie Dads of All Time

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Sometimes, when you have a lot of heavy crap going on and you just can’t write about it yet, you need need a distraction. And for me, that has always meant movies.

I love them. And the ones I don’t love, I love to hate. But ever since becoming a father, I’ve started paying special attention to one part of movies in particular — dads. I take a lot of inspiration from movies, and a recent discussion with my wife got us on the topic of some of the best dads in movies we could think of. Which, in turn, led to some pretty substantial disagreements in coming up with a Top 10.

She immediately jumped to classics such as Steve Martin in Father of the Bride. I’m sure she’s far from alone. But I didn’t like that movie in the early 90s when I first saw it, and I’m still not impressed with it. In making my own list, I noticed a few things that directly translate to my own role as father.

I tend to gravitate toward dads who aren’t perfect. Sure they have a lot of trouble out of the gate and beyond, but when push comes to shove they work to make sure they get their shit together. And although they might act tough, you can tell they love their kids completely and always do what’s best for them.

In making my list, the rules were simple. I need to have seen the film, and I didn’t include any animated movies (sorry Mufasa). Check it out and then we can argue about omissions and inclusions in the comments!

Continue reading The 11 Best Movie Dads of All Time

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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

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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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