explorations of mindful fatherhood


Father’s Ode to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

ryan_lewis_macklemoreBecoming a father has changed my perspective on the world, for better and for worse. Sometimes a reminder of my youth is exactly what I need.

When I was young, I was self-centered.  I cared about how things affected me right now.  Things like politics, corporations, and the environment all took center stage because they affected my situation in the here and now.  Sure, I had vague notions of my future or the future of society, but I couldn’t quite see past my little bubble. After having my son, the impact of these massive forces shifted.  Now I recognize the impact politics, corporations, and the environment will have on my son.  Not only now, but in his future.

The problem is this: in spite of an increased motivation to care about things, my energy to do so has waned to near non-existence.

In my twenties I cared deeply about things.  I’d sit at tables collecting signatures for human rights campaigns.  I’d march in rallies or gay pride parades.   I’d do things to express my beliefs.  Perhaps there was a cynical side of me that believed these actions really had no impact.  Who cared about a letter?  Who cared about a march, or a demonstration, or a parade, then the forces out there were too big to do anything about.  But I did these things anyways, because it was what I could do.

Then I started working.  My time was taken up by my job, by paying the bills, by getting through week to week.  I didn’t have time to do all the things that had previously felt so important, things that had carried so much weight at one point in my life.  Plus, other, younger people were out there doing them, and wasn’t that good enough?

Then we had our son, and I seemed to have even less time and energy to get out there, to put my voice on the line.  But also, that cynical side crept up again, thinking that it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t out there.  Nothing changes anyways.  My political activity boiled down to voting, because it was the one thing I felt I couldn’t ignore.  I became more interested in what was on TV, who was winning SYTYCD, what was inside that next basket on Chopped.  My sphere of interest shifted from NPR to the TV Guide Channel.  And with that shift came the hazy stupor of media fog.  My ideals didn’t shift, per se, but I didn’t do much about them.  My political activity boiled down to a few dollars donated here and there to various causes.  I wonder if other fathers, fresh out of the fog of their children’s early years, find themselves in the same spot.

The problem was that I didn’t find anything inspiring.  Media had effectively deadened me.  Nothing seemed to get me vocal.  I’d watch some Daily Show, but it only served to depress me.  I’d turn on NPR, but felt too insignificant to do anything.  This might seem stupid, but I found a new burst of energy and motivation in what seems like a very unlikely place: in the music videos of a white hip-hop artist from Seattle.

It started with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s track Thrift Shop, which set them on the national stage.  The track was infectious, and its anti-couture agenda really spoke to me.  I was the kid in his 20’s who only shopped at thrift shops, and thought it was so much cooler than buying off the rack.  But the song that really made me stop and think was the the duo’s Same Love video, a track dedicated to embracing homosexuality and a rally-cry for gay marriage rights.  One of my friends mentioned hearing it, well before it hit the radio, confessing that the track brought tears to his eyes.  I was incredibly touched by the story of the song and by the images of the beautifully crafted video.  As time passed and I gave more thought to the song, my admiration for these artists grew.  Here were a couple of hip hop artists supporting people who are typically vilified by their own music genre.  They were also artists who were relatively new to the national stage, and yet were investing time and talent into producing a video and gaining play-time for a politically motivated song.  In spite of the backlash it might provoke, and the topic’s impact on their budding stardom, these artists chose to promote the song.

I started searching for more tracks, and found pieces that were equally moving, such as Wings, Macklemore’s childhood memories of his desire for a pair of Air Jordans and his realization that kids he knew got murdered for theirs.  There’s also Ryan Lewis’s Fake Empire, a short film that lambastes corporate silencing of individual voices.  As I did more searching, I was increasingly impressed by the depth of these men’s voices and their strong convictions, even when these convictions ran counter to what a lot of popularized hip hop glorifies: a hyper-hetero, hyper-masculine celebration of money and brands.

But it’s really hard to swallow artists who are super self-righteous in their approach.  Artists who take themselves so seriously that they become caricatures of themselves.  That’s another reason why I love this duo.  These guys are goddamn hilarious.  If you’ve ever seen And We Dance, you know what I mean.  It’s rare to see any male artist, let alone a hip hop artist, dress in gold lame and dance around in a blonde 80s hair-band wig.  Macklemore even plays the asshole neighbor that beats on the door.  Hysterical.  Then there’s the Can’t Hold Us video, in which Macklemore plays the frenetic hairdresser in a long blonde wig (again), cutting the hair of the featured artist on the beach.  Every time I see something by this duo, I’m blown away by the message, the humor, and the artistry.

And who would have thought, a nearly-middle-aged, suburban White dad would find inspiration from a pair of hip hop artists.  But yes, it has happened.  Seeing their messages embodied in their work has caused me to reflect on my own beliefs.  It’s made me realize that I cannot sit idly by any longer.  Instead, I have to get up and make my voice heard, even if it takes time and energy.  Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

And yet why do I connect this ode to my fatherhood?  Because dads like me need wake up calls every once in a while.  I used to have the energy and the motivation to want to inspire change.  And yet at this time in my life, with a so much on the line, with a son who looks up to me and relies on me as a positive model of manhood, I have a tendency to sit on my ass.  I have a tendency to really on a younger generation of individuals to speak up and inspire change.  But I can’t do it any longer.  I have to keep up the motivation and the will to fight, because if I don’t, what type of a future will I leave for my son?  I’m thankful for the inspiration these artists have enlivened in me, and hope to keep the motivation alive and make my own voice heard.


Daddy Wants His Quiet Time with Commander Adama

desktop_adama_1152I remember when our son was in his infancy, and his routine seemed to shift from week to week.  Just when we’d get used to a new sleep/nap/eating/whatever schedule, it would get thrown off until a new schedule emerged.  As he got older, the frequency of changes lessened, and we as a family were able to settle into a very nice routine.

The routine gave me that most precious of parenting commodities: alone time.  I tend to wake up rather early, between 4:30 and 5:30 am, and typically my son and wife sleep in well past 7:30.  That routine was precious.  It gave me a great big chunk of time in the mornings to do whatever the hell I wanted.  For the longest time it was writing, writing, writing.  I’d set up shop with my laptop and coffee and blaze away.  That’s how I got though my first novel.  Eventually, I diversified my schedule to include meditation, working out, and all the things that I otherwise don’t have time for.

Lately, it’s been physical therapy.  I have a terribly screwed up back, and have never really taken very good care of it.  At that beginning of this year, after literally being picked up off the ground at work by two coworkers after my back seized up (not pretty), I committed myself to getting better.  My family went gluten free to help me resolve my gut (not easy…I miss you, pizza), and I entered treatment with a chiropractor and exercise therapist.  I was dealt the typical array of exercises (apparently my glutes and abs are woefully out of shape).  But how to do them regularly?  I found that if I carved out time at the end of the day, I was way too tired to maintain my motivation by the time the sun went down.  Plus, they were so damn boring.

My answer: Battlestar Galactica.  For most all TV shows, my wife and I have the same tastes, but I was the one who put BG on the Netflix instant queue, and it was sitting there forever.  So finally, I popped it on when doing my exercises in the morning, and it was perfect.  I love the show, and it’s become one of those very few media outlets that’s just for me.  It actually makes me want to do my exercises in the morning, and my ass and abs are getting all the stronger for it.

Problem is this: my son won’t stay asleep.  As he’s emerging into his seventh year, he isn’t sleeping as long, and has started waking up at around 6:00  some mornings.  I’ve become hyper-vigilant now in the mornings, listening for the pitter-patter of little feet on the floors above me.  I’ll be sitting down to turn on Netflix, or sometimes sitting down to write a blog post, and I’ll hear the upstairs toilet flush or the a bedroom door creak open.  Then comes the silent “f*&ck!” in my head.  I turn off the TV.  I close the laptop.  My time is gone.

Here’s the shitty thing.  As a father who’s out of the house anywhere from 9-11 hours per day for work, who the hell am I to be disappointed by my son’s wakefulness?  What kind of shit bag would prefer a sleeping son over an awake and engage son?  Right after the expletives in my head, all these questions flood me and I feel like a selfish bastard.

I think that’s the push and pull of parenthood.  As parents, one of the greatest joys in life is spending time with our kids.  That seems to be one of the primary motivations in our lives.  Getting home to have dinner together, working hard during the week to be able to spend quality time on the weekend, saving up for family vacations.  And yet, alone time is such an alluring commodity.

I guess we all need a balance.  What I don’t like about me is this set up for resenting my son’s wake up time.  When I’m 80, I’ll remember making him eggs or sitting down with him for breakfast more than I’ll remember how Lt. Starbuck captured the Arrow of Apolo from Kobol. Even though it’s easy for me to reorient myself this way, there’s still a pang in my heart when the time that I thought was “mine” is cut short.  Especially since I wake up damn early so things like my writing, work outs, or Netflix binges don’t encroach on family time.  There’s no simple answer to this.  I know that time with my son is golden, and at the same time, if I don’t take care of a few of my needs and interests I won’t be any good when I’m with him.

I think I’ll just have to roll with the punches.  Just like when he was a baby and everything shifted constantly, I have to expect that things will change as he gets older.  Somehow we made it through his infancy and toddler-hood with our (partial) sanity.  I’m going to start expecting that my son will wake up, so that when he does, I can relish my time with him.  I’ll find a new way to carve out some time for myself, and Commander Adama and I will sail once again.


You’re Being That Parent

an_angry_old_man__868197The other day, I was in a shitty mood.  One of those moods in which anything can annoy me.  There wasn’t enough half-and-half for my coffee.  My wife was using the bathroom when I needed it.  My son woke up just a little too early for me to get anything done that morning.  Wah, wah, wah.

Later that morning, we were heading out to the community pool, and my son was crazy excited. So excited that he was bouncing off the walls.  When he’s super excited, he gets wild.  Like singing at the top of his lungs, shrieking unexpectedly, and (literally) throwing himself into walls.  Some things (singing) are cute, while other things (shrieking) are not.  But no matter what he did, it all seemed to get under my skin.

We got into the car, my wife in the driver seat.  My son excitedly yelped again in the car, and I let out a dramatic sigh.

“Do you remember when you were a kid and you were just so excited about something?” My wife asked.

“Yeah,” I responded reluctantly, already knowing where she was going with this.

“Did your parents ever give you a hard time when you were just so excited?  My parents did, and it sucked.  You’re kind of being that parent right now.”

Shit.  She was right.  And yet, I was feeling stubborn and couldn’t quite accept it.  “But he’s being annoying!” I wanted to say, like I was talking about my little brother or something.

It’s just a downright bad combination if my son’s excited and I’m grumpy, because all the ways he expresses his excitement are somehow irritating to me. But what a terrible time to be irritable.  The thing is, I DO remember what it was like to be crazy excited about something, only to be yelled at by my parents for making too much noise or to be threatened with having that fun thing taken away.  Hell, I know what it’s like now as an adult to be excited about something and have someone rain on my parade.

That’s the tricky thing about being a parent. You’re not really allowed to be a crybaby or a grumpy old man.  As a kid, I felt entitled when I was in a bad mood.  “Screw everybody, I’m not feeling good so they can all go to hell.”  But as a father, my grumpy attitude has so many far reaching ramifications.  And I don’t want to be that parent.

After that much needed kick in the ass by my wife, I calmed myself down.  We got to the pool and had fun.  But, as a parent, I’m realizing that those kinds of wake-up calls are much needed doses of medicine.  When I get into a funk, I sometimes feel entitled to it. My adolescent mind thinks that others should steer clear or keep themselves in check when around me, because I’m owed that much.  But it isn’t true.  My being stuck in a bad place doesn’t mean the world should shift to meet my mood.  Once I’m able to recognize that my shitty behavior is really raining on other people’s (especially my son’s) parade, I have to force myself out of it.

Once I do force myself out of it, I sometimes realize how impermanent my moods are.  That with a slight willful shift, I can actually have a good time again.  I’m thankful for having a family.  For having a wife and son who can help me see past myself and help me recognize that it’s me who creates my own suffering from time to time.  If it weren’t for them, I’d likely turn into some rotted old man, yelling at the kids on his lawn.