explorations of mindful fatherhood


From My Hidey Hole

Hide-and-Seek-GameHide-and-seek has always been my favorite game.  And this weekend, hide-and-seek took on new meaning for me, when I found a place for myself, stuffed away in my hidey hole.

I loved hide-and-seek as a child.  There’s a thrill in hiding yourself away, attempting invisibility.  I remember the giddy pleasure I’d feel tucked away under some bed, behind some curtain, in some closet, waiting and listening.  Waiting to discover who would find me and how quickly.  A rush of adrenaline would wash over me when my seeker came near.  The ultimate excitement was when the seeker came so close to me that I could sense her presence, feel her brush along the coats that hid me or knock into the bed under which I lay, and yet she’d move away, searching somewhere else instead. I’d revel in the joy that even in the closest of contact, I could go unseen.  But even the act of getting found was a thrill; shocked, exuberant, and yet slightly disappointed all at once.  And then I got to do it all over again.

I remember when my son became old enough for more purposeful games.  Games with rules and sequences.  When he was a toddler, it was all about make-believe, and I had pretended to be a cat so many times that I thought I’d grown whiskers.  So when we started playing games like hide-and-seek, I was relieved.  Our first games were the simplest, with him often hiding in the same place he’d found me or retreating to his favorite spot behind the love-seat.  But as time went by, our games continued evolving, as he got better or I presented him more challenges.  And yet, games were not all giddy glee.  There would be times when I’d secretly bring a magazine or iPad with me and read while “counting” in the bathroom, or scan my screen from some darkened spot under the bed.  It felt necessary to do “something” while waiting to seek or be sought.

This weekend, while his mom was out kicking butt at Crossfit, he and I spent the morning playing hide-and-seek. This time, however, I abandoned my Entertainment Weekly and simply hid.  I found a few awesome spots (under the dirty laundry in the bathtub, standing twisted behind the coat rack). They were so good that he couldn’t find me for the longest time.  I experienced an amazing arc of thought and emotion during it all.  Hid away, I progressively becoming more excited as he walked past me several times, and then giddy to the point of almost bursting with laughter.  Then, I settled into my hiding spot, assuming that if he hadn’t found me by then, I’d be tucked away for the long haul.

Hidden away, I amazingly settled into my body and my mind.  Without anything to “do” my mind drifted to writing, imagining clever posts or wild story lines.   This is something I imagine regularly, but always with the competing distraction of driving, or work, or pending sleep.  But I was stuck.  Stuck without being able to move, without being able to divert myself.  And then a warm calm rushed over me.  I realized that I never have a chance to just stay put and think.  Even with solitary meditation, there’s that fidgety desire to give up, to get up, to “do” something else.   But not in hide-and-seek.  I had to stay there, or I’d ruin the game.  And that was when I was able to surrender.  Surrender to myself and just sit, tucked away, with only me.

It was the best game of hide-and-seek ever. It was just further proof of why “just doing it” is so important.  Just being in the moment, and experiencing it for what it is.  In parenting, I find that I try multitasking too frequently.  This weekend hide-and-seek taught me a valuable lesson about settling into the moment, and simply being there.


Cleanly Explicit


First, I must admit that I’m obsessed with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” featuring Wanz.  When it comes to music, my wife is much cooler than I am, and she turns me onto music that I might otherwise overlook.  This was one of her work-out mix jams, and I totally stole it for my iPod.  I love every aspect of it: from the saxophone to the anti-couture lyrics.  It probably plays in my car a minimum of three times every trip.  On some of these trips, my son is my co-pilot.

My question is this: Is the “clean” version clean enough for my son’s young ears?  Thrift Shop is an explicit song, but whenever possible, we download the clean(-ish) versions of songs, and wouldn’t expose him to songs with overt swearing.  But even in our clean iPod version, the chorus is a thinly veiled: “I’m gonna pop some tags / only got $20 in  my pocket / I’m I’m a huntin’ / Lookin’ for a come up / This is ***king awesome.”

Luckly, my son’s young enough that he doesn’t yet know the f-word, so he can’t fill in the blanks. Also, all the “m-f’ers” and b-words are extracted as well, so it’s not explicitly offensive.  But some of the content is questionable, like references to R. Kelly’s sheets and lyrics like “up in her skirt”.  So, of course, I’m torn.

Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, my parents had lame musical tastes.  The only things I can remember my parents liking/listening to were Barry Manilow (my mom) and Jim Croce (my dad).  In my late 30’s, I can now admit that “Copacabanna” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” are awesome songs, but not when you’re 9-years-old.  Even in elementary school, I knew my parents’ musical tastes were stagnant, and due to the limited exposure to music at home, I knew practically nothing about music growing up.  For example, my parents had this big-ass turntable stereo and about 8 albums between the both of them.  I recall that in the 5th grade I won a contest in music class and my teacher offered to buy me any single that I could name. I couldn’t name one.  The whole thing played out in front of my class, so it was just the tiniest bit mortifying.

So, when I think about my son, I’d like him to have broad exposure to music.  At the heart of it, my wife and I want our son to have a positive relationship with music.  This means we pick songs that have upbeat choruses, goofy lyrics, or great dance beats.  But it’s mostly about the dance beat.  We started early with children’s music (Raffi, They Might Be Giants, etc.).  Slowly, my wife started introducing him to house music, hip hop, and rap.  I would come home and “Jump Around”, “Groove is in the Heart”, or “California Love” would be blasting out the stereo, and my wife and son would be bouncing off the walls.  By age 3, his favorite lyrics were “Whatcha whatcha whatcha want, whatcha want / You’re so funny with the money that you flaunt / I said where’d you get your information from huh? / You think that you can front when ‘revolution’ comes?”  Yes, he messed up the lyrics, but he was hilarious.

So, as he gets older (and we do), we continue rocking out in the car and kicking up the base.  I think the issue is this: as he gets older, in spite of the “clean” versions of the songs, he’s more likely to pick up on the suggestion or the content of the trashy lyrics.  When he was little, everything seemed fine so long as he didn’t hear a 4-letter word, because any of the innuendo was lost on him.  Now that he’s 6, he’s so damn perceptive.  I just worry sometimes.

But I think the outrageous-ness of certain lyrics are just that, outrageous lyrics.  If we use music for music’s sake, and don’t elevate it or deify the artists, it remains music.  Not a lifestyle, not an ethos.  Just songs to dance to.  If I play a song that’s a little wild, it’s just a song.  I think it takes the mystique and the glamour out of it when your parents put it on in the car.  On the flip side, I went through quite a metal phase in high school and was a huge Metallica, Megadeath, Ozzy fan for years, but it was all just rebellion against the crooners I grew up with.

I’m mindful of my song choices, just like any other media I expose my son to.  At the same time, I take an even-handed approach.  While overt swearing and sexualized themes are still things I want to protect him from, there’s sometimes a grittiness to the lyrics that I don’t mind exposing him to in small snippets.  Music, like all forms of art, is a means to exploring the profane and the fantastic, and if we can be good models of how and when that exposure is okay, we as parents can help our kids see that trashiness has its place.

Either that, or I’m training the next gangster rapper.  So long as he steers clear of those $50 Gucci t-shirts, I’ll be fine with that too.


I Am Paul Rudd from I Love You Man

iloveyoumanOkay, I realize I’m about 4 years late on this post, because the movie I Love You Man was released in 2009, but I need to explore this again: I am Paul Rudd’s character from that movie.

I saw the movie when it first came out.  It’s about a man named Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) who proposes to his fiancee and finds himself without a best man.  He realizes that his wife is one of his only real friend.  So, when Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and Peter strike up a conversation at an open house, Peter decides to pursue a friendship.  Sydney is a shoot-from-the-hip, hyper-relaxed guy who does and says what he likes, in stark contrast with Peter’s awkward, somewhat uptight exterior.  The two eventually form a friendship that threatens Peter’s wedding plans.

The most hilarious and uncomfortable scenes of this movie for me are when Peter is first trying to buddy up with Sydney.  Peter longs for a friendship, but has been so involved with his fiancee for years he doesn’t know/remember how to initiate relaxed conversations with another man.  An ongoing joke is that Sydney calls Peter “Pistol Pete” early on in their friendship, and Peter keeps trying to label his new friend with monikers such as “Jobin” or “City Slacker”, each time faltering and sounding awkward.  In this scene, Peter’s trying to be ultra-casual (or he might say “ultz-casz”) with Sidney:

My wife was roaming through channels the other day and stopped on the movie for a while to watch Peter and Sydney hanging out in Sydney’s garage, with Peter tripping over his words in a miserable attempt at appearing cool.  I thought, “Damn, they hit the nail on the head.  That is me.”

Much like Peter’s character, I have always been very invested in the women with whom I was involved.  They were the center of my world, which made break-ups a bitch.  But at least in high school, college, and even grad school, there was usually that group of friends so entwined with my everyday life that I never really lost ties with them.  School always made it easier to find and maintain friends.  But now, I’m in my late 30’s.  I’ve traveled so much for school and work with my wife, that we’ve lived in 3 states and 6 towns in the past 10 years.  With each passing year and each fleeting location, I become more and more inept at finding friends.

Sure, I have some college and grad school friends on facebook or folks who breeze through town every so often, but I don’t have any day-to-day friends.  Many dads are lucky to have lived in the place where they grew up, or at least where they’ve spent a solid chunk of time.  Or, they’re blessed with the social graces to forge new friendships.  Not me.  This may resonate with many dads, but I find that my current friends are family friends or my wife’s friend’s spouses.  This includes a cast of very good guys, but our interactions are always couched in family gatherings and not quite the same.

I don’t have a “grab a beer” sort of friend.  I don’t have a “Hey, let’s go see that shitty sci-fi/action movie that my wife won’t see with me” sort of friend.  I’ve tried.  I’ve hung out with people from work, with my wife’s friend’s husbands, but nothing works.  I inevitably feel like Paul Rudd’s character.  I’m so rusty at male-friendship banter that I think I sound stupid.  I try hard to buddy-up, to get into a rhythm of conversation, but it never flows.  I think that, like Peter in the movie, I’m so rusty that I get nervous, fumble over my words, and then retreat.  I feel stupid.

So now I feel socially-inept and lonely.  Don’t get me wrong, my wife is the most important friend I have on this Earth, and wouldn’t  trade that for anything, but I don’t have any trusted friends outside of my marriage.  And this is the thing that concerns me as I get older: how will my son perceive this?  When I was growing up, my dad had zero friends.  The closest he got was his hunting buddy, my friends’ dad from across the street.  However, their relationship waxed and waned with the hunting season.  They’d ignore each other all spring and summer, and then re-connect in late summer to organize their hunting permits.  We’d all get together a few times in the fall and winter, and then they’d go back to their summer hiatus.  It was a very functional relationship, and I think my dad’s own inabilities to form true friendships really set a poor example for me.

Now, I’m afraid of what my son might see in me.  Luckily, we have family friends who we host for dinner or go over to their houses.  Also, my son sees me out in the community when I volunteer for a local kids’ group that he’s a part of.  So, he sees me engaged and social, for now.  But as time goes by, just like I was able to assess with my own dad, he’s going to notice that dad doesn’t have real friends.  My social limitations are one of my biggest embarrassments, and I’d hate for my son to see them.  I’d hate for him to have a poor model for male friendship, and feel just as inept as I do one day.

I need to keep trying, for both me and my son.  But as a man in his 30’s, it’s hard to know how.  There are very few people I come into contact with outside of work.  Even if I were in contact with new people, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.  Perhaps one day I’ll suffer through those awkward stages of a friendship and, just like Pistol Pete, get a nickname-worthy friend.


Shock and Awe

blizzard_trees102606Imagine driving home from work and getting a call that there’s a huge surprise party at your house, in your honor.  You hang up the phone.  You’re wicked excited (yes, you’re from New England so you’re wicked excited).  You imagine who might be there, what people might say.  Then your car breaks down.  You pick up your phone but its dead.  You put your head in your hands and you wait.

That’s what it’s like hearing you’re going to be Freshly Pressed, and then having a blizzard knock out your power for almost two days.

I don’t know if it’s taboo to discuss one’s Freshly-Pressedness, but I need to, because my experience this weekend made such an impact.  I got an email from the Word Press editor Friday afternoon and nearly fell down, amazed that my post had been chosen.  I was honored and gushing with gratitude.  I went downstairs and told my wife, who congratulated me in the midst of all our snow prep.  That day, schools had been cancelled and we were enjoying the day.  We stocked up on groceries in the morning, took a stroll through the new-fallen (then only 2″ deep) snow, and hunkered inside to watch the downpour.  What a great day overall.  Freshly Pressed and a snow day?  What could be better.

Things got a little hairy around mid-afternoon, when the wind started whipping our trees around and near-white-out conditions obscured our view of houses across the street.  The snow began sticking to every window, as though a freshly laundered sheet had been thrown over the house.  Around 9:00 pm the lights flickered and then the power went out.

Thus began my anguish.

No power meant no internet connection, meant no checking to see if I’d gone up on Freshly Pressed.  I was dying to know if my post would get a response.  Would I get likes?  Would folks comment?  Our family’s only internet connection was through my wife’s iPhone (I’m cheap and have a dumb-phone, no internet, no texts…I’m like a grandpa).  In the midst of checking National Grid’s outage map I just happened to pop over to Word Press and saw it had gone up!  How exciting.

“Look,” I turned to my wife, “it’s there!”

“That’s great, but we should probably save our battery for emergencies.”

Damn it.  She was right.  I’d feel terrible if I used up our battery checking my blog, and we needed the phone for some emergency.  I imagined a scene in the midst of the blizzard chaos: a pack of coyotes backing my family into a corner. Me fending them off with a fireplace poker and my wife shouting, “I’d call animal control, but we’re out of f**king batteries!”

So that was it. I went most of that time not checking, and yet being obsessed with checking. Although I knew it was a unique experience; I mean, I’d be incredibly lucky if anything like this happened again.  But at the same time, I felt badly.  Here was my family, stuck in the cold and snow, and I was obsessing about a post.  I think it all showed me how much my excitement can sometimes get ahead of me.  Of course getting excited is a good thing.  Hell, my family gets excited about a fresh episode of New Girl.  But sometimes the need to feed the excitement can be overwhelming.  I tend to latch onto my excitement and then run it into the ground.  I find that’s what so tempting and addictive about the ease of technology.  I get excited about switching my cable and so I do hours of research on providers that same night.  I get into Orson Scott Card and want to look up every on-line article about the Ender’s Game series.  There’s such instant gratification for our obsessions nowadays.  Being stripped of that easy access for one day leaves me without an outlet for my excitement.  It’s draining.  It was really hard for me to say to myself, “That’s great. Now put it down for a moment and focus on what’s in front of you.”

In time, I eventually did.  I packed our defrosting food in a cooler in the snow.  I strained coffee through a paper towel.  I picked up my shovel.

In the middle of the night on Saturday the power came back up, and I immediately shot out of bed and ran to the computer.  It was an amazing feeling.  Like missing 3 Christmases and getting all your presents at once.  I saw the incredible amount of views, and the generous heaping of comments.  I cannot begin to thank folks for their kind words, shared stories, and encouraging shout-outs.  It was a wonderful thing to see.  I went into hyper-checking mode for a couple of days.  I realized I needed to slow down.  I needed to let things run their course.  I hope to post today and not be so obsessive.  Put things down and go about my day, all the while thankful for the kindness bestowed upon me.

And, yes, I did shovel my own goddamn driveway.


Shoveling My Own Goddamn Driveway

snow-shovelingSome of you may have noticed that parts of the East Coast are getting a bit of snow today, as a blizzard is forecast to hit the Northeast.  As much as 30″ of snow is expected and, unlike my neighbors, I’ve got my shovels ready.

I’ve mentioned before that my family inhabits the smallest house on the block, a tiny cape home overshadowed by the McMansions down the street.  It seems as though each of these mini-fortresses is served by an army of service industry people: house cleaners, landscapers, contractors, handy-men. They even have their groceries and dry cleaning delivered.  I have only seen one other person in a couple block radius mowing his or her own lawn in the summer, which I’m sure will launch another post come June.

The same is true for snow removal.  I always shovel out my own driveway.  I should say WE always do it, because my wife is always there with me, each of us starting at one end and meeting in the middle like a cold, suburban version of Lady and the Tramp.  Our son gets suited up and runs around making snow angels and occasionally pelting us with snowballs.  It’s hard work.  We sweat and get nasty.  But we also have fun, and finish up with a sense of pride and a cup of hot chocolate.

As I get older, I realize that a lot of my pride is tied up in domestic labor.  Whether it’s good or bad I can’t tell, but somehow it speaks to my sense of manhood.  I like being the one outside working on the house to make life better for the family.  I like the idea that my son is watching me work hard, break a sweat, and get a job done.  I remember watching my own dad do it.  He seemed to know how to do everything.  He did all the mundane stuff like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, and landscaping, but he also built swing sets, tree houses, and even two additions to our house!  I remember watching him and being in awe.  I didn’t understand how he came to know all he did about electrical, plumbing, and carpentry, but I wanted to be that knowledgeable one day.  I wanted to be able to do what he could do.

I think that’s why I’m so fixated on doing things around the house myself.  I want my son to see me out there working.  I want him to see that he can do things for himself one day.  That he can learn to take care of himself and his family.  I make attempts at joining him in that work, like when we built a tree house together with less that optimal results (see my previous post).  But I try anyways.  It might seem prideful, but there’s a part of me that wants my son to think I can do anything.

So, when I see other houses calling in the snow plows, I experience an odd mixture of pity and resentment.  Their kids don’t get to see their parents struggling to contend with the snow.  Don’t get to join in the fun and toil.  Don’t get to share in a well-deserved cup of hot chocolate.  There’s also a self-centered part of me that resents seeing the plows because I believe everyone should think the way that I do.  That they should all want to be outside doing things for their house on their own.  I’ve read posts by dads who praise hired help because it gives them more time with the kids.  I can respect that approach.  If I had back every hour spent cutting the lawn or shoveling snow, I might have used it to have more fun with my family.  And granted, my neighbors probably have a lot more time freed up to spend with their children.  That’s probably part of the resentment I feel as the flocks of snow plows or pick-ups head down my street.

But for me, I like doing it myself.  I like the sense of accomplishment, and I like the message it sends to my son. That each of us has a responsibility and a role in keeping the family going, in fixing what is broken, and in cleaning up our own messes.


I’m a Jie-Nee

Imagine1When our son began grasping language, my wife and I set upon the arduous journey of cleaning up our own.  We vowed to stop swearing around him.  Shortly after, we also vowed to cut down on the amount of sexual innuendo peppered throughout our conversations.  Up until my son was about a year old, we were a real “that’s what she said” sort of couple.  We could make just about any statement into a euphemism.  We figured if we didn’t nip it in the bud (see, even that sounds dirty to me), our son would one day catch onto our meaning and discover that he had two pervy parents.  Not good.  So, we stopped. For the most part.

One thing we stopped was our pronunciation of words in a way that made them sound dirty.  For example, Cape Cod always lent itself to many reinterpretations or mispronunciations of town names.  Of course Assonet, MA (pronounced a-su-net) became Ass-on-it, MA.  Falmouth became Foul-Mouth and Yarmouth became Your-Mouth.  While not too dirty, one of our favorite Cop Cod lines became “Yar Mouth is a Foul Mouth” (growled in a pirate accent).

While most of our offensive language has dwindled away, remnants of the our tendency to mispronounce remain.  The other day, we were driving past a store called “Imagine” and my wife pronounced it “I’m a jie-nee”.  I laughed, and we kept driving.

“What did you say?” my son asked.

“Oh nothing,” I replied, “mom’s just being goofy.”

“Because I thought you said vagina,” he said.

My wife and I busted up in the front seat.  I was nearly in tears.  We had been found out, and by a 6-year-old!  I was laughing so hard because we were deluded enough to think that our 6-year-old boy wouldn’t have the skills or even the curiosity to crack our code, but he did.

I realized I can’t make assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know, and that he’s like a sponge, absorbing every ounce of linguistic knowledge that swirls around him at home, in school, or in the car.  He’s a bright kid, and he’s always listening.

Like I’ve written in the past, I can’t wait to be called to the principal’s office.


Daddy’s Writing Guilt

Damn, I'd look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

Damn, I’d look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

For me, writing feels like a selfish endeavor.  Sure, sometimes the process can lead to insights that ultimately bring the writer closer to others (see my previous post), but for the most part the act of writing is a solitary–and sometimes isolating–one.

When I began getting serious about writing a few years ago, I didn’t want it to impinge upon my time with my family.  I didn’t want to be locked up in a room of the house writing while my wife and son went about their day.  I didn’t want to disrupt my wife’s and my routine of settling into the couch after a long day.  And, I didn’t want to steal time from our weekends or vacations when my family desperately needed to (re)connect. So instead, I found time in the wee hours of the morning.  As someone who needs to be at work around 7am, that meant goddamn early in the morning, settling down in my kitchen or heading out to the coffee house while it was still dark outside.  It felt like the best solution.  My family would be asleep until later anyways, so writing early technically wouldn’t rob me of a second of my time with them.  However, the toll was insidious.

For a few years, I became obsessed.  I used to work out.  I used to meditate.  Those things went out the window because I wanted to make time for writing.  No, I needed to make time for writing.  Writing became my major drive in the morning.  Only after I’d written did I feel as though I could go about my rather mundane work life.

The consequences crept up on me.  As an early riser, the early morning wake-ups were not a big deal at first, but as time went by, I found myself waking up earlier (4am?), and doing it almost every day.  Eventually, I started to dull in the afternoons, or get sleepy really early in the evening.  It got to the point where I couldn’t keep my eyes open much past 8pm.  It didn’t matter if Lost was on.  It didn’t matter if it was the Super Bowl.  I would lose it at the end of the night.

I had to re-calibrate and figure out what was most important.  I started slowing down and eventually lost the steam for writing and put it all down for about 6 months.  Then, I decided to get back in the swing of things and started this blog.  The blog has been an endeavor of self-discovery and has recharged my motivation for writing again.  But when do I find myself doing it?  Today I awoke at 5:30am (on a Sunday!), just to sit here in my kitchen and write.  Again I feel the urge to write, but can’t consider “stealing” any time away from my family.  Granted, I do this less frequently now.  I’ve regained some balance to my mornings.  I no longer consider waking up at 4am, and I actually work out once in a while.  But how do I maintain the balance?

Throughout all this, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.  How does someone write a blog about mindful parenting, when the blog itself has the potential to pull him away from his family or turn him into a drooling zombie at night?  I’m finding my way, but with much trepidation, knowing that the urge to write can be so strong as to overwhelm my sense of purpose and my center.

I’m curious about other parents. When do you find the time to write, and how do you balance it with family?