undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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The Birds

hitchcock-birdsThere’s this image that plagues me most nights as I’m trying to drift off to sleep. I see birds swarming my body, concentrating around my head. It’s like a personal Hitchcokian-horror show. The perimeters of my being start to blur, as the birds begin swarming in and out of my cranium, like parakeets fighting for a roost.

At that point, some semi-conscious part of myself imagines putting a shotgun to my head and blasting the little demons right out of there. This imagined action is paired with a pining for release, freedom, and quiet.

I have this semi-dream most often when I’m overwhelmed, and have given it lots of thought.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the birds are my thoughts, my worries, constantly circling around my brain. None of them find a roost or discover a quiet place to land. Instead, they’re all fluttering around, restless. These embodied thoughts torture my mind and prevent me from sleep, and my fantasy about blasting them to smithereens is my desire to be rid of them; to have an empty, restful head that can pass into the oblivion of sleep. The longing to pull of that trigger is the longing for quiet, delivered in one glorious shotgun blast.

Ugh, that sounded morbid, but it’s not meant to. I think my life is too easily consumed by thoughts, worries, and preoccupations. These things flutter in and out of my cranium, preventing me from focusing on what’s right in front of me. These birds get in the way when I’m trying to unwind, when I’m trying to have fun, when I’m trying to listen.

It’s insights like this that spur on my need for three things: meditation, therapy, and writing. The Zen teacher inside of me wants to rely solely upon meditation and mindfulness practice, recognizing that the way to “put things down” is by cultivating a mind that can be present in the here-and-now, and allow thoughts to pass. That voice tells me to get back to my mediation, to get back to my chanting, to get back to my practice.

But then there’s the therapist voice in my head, which tells me that’s not the full story. Theses swarming thoughts are also signs that there are many things in my life I need to work through: issues with my parents, my desire to be a good husband and father, my conflicts about my relationships and my place in the world. There is a time to put these things down, but there’s also a time to pick them up and look them over. A time to make sense of them and to make peace with them. It’s in my therapy, my conversations with my wife, and my writing that I’m able to hold these issues in my hands, turn them over, and really examine them.

I have to listen to these birds. There’s a time to shoo them away (perhaps less violently), allowing them to fly away, leaving my cranium empty. But there are also times when I need to pick them up gently and to show them understanding and care, so that they can eventually learn to roost.

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Back from the Dead

hand-zombie-grave-e1325617835981It has been 47 days since my last post, and I have to ask myself, what the hell happened? In the year and a half since starting this blog, this is my longest hiatus to date. What happened? Life. Shitty life.

The past couple of months have been filled with obligation. Just lots of work. I had to chair a math night at my son’s elementary school, write an article for work, and take care of innumerable work projects. When all this hits the fan, I find myself exhausted on a regular basis, and any alone-time I carve out is either consumed by work projects or by worry about these projects.

During these dark days, some of the important things in my life begin slipping off the radar. I abandon my mediation practice. I stop doing my back exercises (and my inner Will-Farrell-hot-tub-lounging-professor emerges). And most of all, I stop writing. I easily resort to the mantra, “I don’t have time.” And when I do have the time, I’m either too consumed by thoughts/worries/frustrations about everything else going on in my life, or I think to myself, “I deserve some downtime.”

To me, downtime usually means vegging out: watching TV, movies, sleeping, or reading crap. It’s basically mindless garbage. I start feeling as though my mind is so consumed by things I kind of resent (i.e., work), that it deserves just to shut down. In the moment, any of those things that are meaningful or helpful fly out the window. But why? I think it’s likely that those things feel like they require energy and thought, and I’m typically left with none.

That’s why writing is a good barometer for me, as I’m sure it is for others.  When I haven’t written in a long time, I realize that I’ve been simply too exhausted to pour my thoughts into words. I’ve been consumed by work, obligations, and other demands that overwhelm. It’s a sign that I haven’t had time to strike a balance. A neglected blog (like a neglected journal or diary) is a sign that I haven’t saved some of my energy for the things that are important, like reflecting on my experiences, focusing on my family, and learning from my own mistakes. That’s what my blog is supposed to be about. So if I haven’t attended it for a while, it’s a sign that I haven’t reserved any of my time or energy for things that are important for me and my own growth.

In short, I’m happy to be back writing. I hope to keep in mind that me-time does not have to equal mindless-time, because it leaves me feeling sapped and empty.


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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.


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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?


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Confessions of a Reformed Blog Hater

blogging%20imageI have to admit that I’m a reformed blog-hater.  Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of folks blogging about their own lives, I would have told you I considered it the most narcissistic writing endeavor that our technological age had birthed.  I simply–and mistakenly–thought that bloggers were the most self-absorbed of all writers.

Many apologies to my fellow bloggers for these sentiments, and I assure you I’ve come to value blogging.  Let me explain how I turned that corner.

Admittedly, my initial motivations for starting a blog were opportunistic.  I completed the first draft of a book manuscript about two years ago, and then launched into a year of constant editing.  When I tried submitting to agents, I came up dry.  I stopped writing.  I didn’t know how I felt about it all.  I had read many things about blogging as a means for developing a platform, but was uncomfortable with the idea.  I was still holding onto my dislike for bloggers.  Even my wife asked me about possibly starting a blog, but I refused (she’s full of good ideas that are sometimes hard for me to accept).

But I kept hearing about blogging and its benefits for writers.  After one final push from a relative, I decided to bite the bullet.  I thought it would be a good way of getting back into writing.  I settled on the theme of mindful fatherhood, a topic with which I’d been struggling.

Then I started to write.  I enjoyed sitting down to put my thoughts into words and elaborate on the struggles I face each day, especially my challenges of feeling depleted or absent at home.  But here’s the thing: expressing my thoughts and feelings has never been easy for me.  When something bad happens, I usually try to make sense of the situation quickly, draw some conclusions, and then sweep it under the rug so I don’t have to deal with it any longer.  This is the case for a host of life’s struggles, but especially my losses and fears.  It’s a source of conflict for my relationships because I don’t process significant events or spark conversations about my feelings.  Instead, I’m happy to run away.  I’d rather compartmentalize my feelings, stow them away where I don’t have to look at them, and try to forget.

Yet I find that when I write, I have much more tolerance when it comes to conflicting emotions.  An issue will come to mind and I’ll start putting it down in words.  With time, my thoughts and feelings begin crystallizing and connecting in my consciousness. I’m sure this is what any devoted journal- or diary-keeper would tell you.  And yet, my previous attempts at journaling always fell flat.  Each time I’d start a journal, I felt like a fool, and put it down again.

But not with blogging.  I stuck with blogging.  But why?  After many posts about my daily struggles, I realized I wasn’t shying away.  I kept blogging and, in the process, tolerating my feelings long enough to allow them to evolve on the screen.  My thoughts felt more organized, and through that organization I was better able to sit with them.

And yet, when it came down to it, I still couldn’t voice my feelings one-to-one with others in my life.  On one occasion, my wife read a post of mine and pointed out that she’d never known how I’d felt about that post’s topic.  She hadn’t realized that I’d given the subject any thought.  It was really difficult for us both to understand at the time.  Why did I feel more comfortable posting my feelings rather than sitting down with my own wife to have a conversation about them?  Was a “like” from a fellow blogger more important to me than connecting with her?

I was racked with guilt.  I was the one who used to slam bloggers for being self-absorbed, and here I was, potentially being the biggest narcissistic idiot of them all.  Was on-line validation of my feelings more important than validation from my wife?  Was I so shallow that it took a disembodied audience to force me to look at my own feelings about things, when the support of one person wasn’t enough?

I beat myself up like that for quite a while, but it forced me to sit and look at my real motivations.  This is what I’ve come up with so far.  I am a guy who relies on deadlines and pressure to accomplish things.  I like to see a project completed and presented in a nice neat package.  There’s something about blogging that satisfies this need in me.  I set a schedule for how many posts I’ll get out per week, determine a few topics, write in my free time, tweak and revise, and send out a fully formed post in the end.  Although my readership is small, there’s something about the knowledge that I have “readers” that helps me stick to it.  I have no delusions that people are waiting on tenterhooks for my posts, but the very fact that I “manage” a blog makes me commit to a schedule in my head.  That’s what makes me actually stick to the writing routine.

When it comes to developing the thoughts themselves, it’s the writing process that helps me do that.  At times, I have set aside time just to think (without writing) about tender subjects, like the losses in my life, my relationship with my parents, or conflicts at home, but my mind inevitably wanders off.  I’ll turn off the radio in the car to think and gain some clarity, but I end up thinking about dinner or the driver in front of me, and before I know it the radio is back on and I’m pulling into the garage.  My mind won’t allow me to sustain a thought that’s too uncomfortable.

But with writing, the words on the screen tether me to the thought.  They make it hard to get distracted or leave loose ends hanging.  The words on the screen force me to complete my thoughts and link one sentence to the next.  It’s through blogging that I have been able to tolerate reflection.

So, who is it all for?  I’ve discovered it isn’t for the faceless on-line audience.  It isn’t for people in my life.  It isn’t even for my wife.  It’s for me.  I want to become better at sitting with things that are difficult.  I want to be able to make sense of my life, what I want from it, and the things I do to thwart my own development.  Only by investing in this process I can become a better person, a better father, a better husband.  Blogging has helped me open up to myself a bit more, and has given my thoughts some space to expand.

My new challenge is translating that voice.  I have been somewhat successful in putting these words on a screen, and now I have to move them into spoken word.  I have to be able to voice my thoughts and struggles with my wife and others in person, in order to grow my relationships and help others understand me.

I’m glad that blogging has helped spark this process in me, but I have to remember my priorities.  Although I love seeing a new “like” on the screen or a new person following my work, I have to remember that blogging is about giving my thoughts the chance to expand, and extending that process into my personal relationships.  That is where the heart of the growth lies.  I am forever indebted to readers with whom my words resonate, because they emphasize that this process of growth and learning is a valid one, and one that deserves further investment.

I would chance a guess that this process motivates the writing of many other bloggers.  Blogging is a chance to expand upon one’s thoughts in order to develop further as a person.  It gives the writer an opportunity to reflect on one’s self and perhaps carry those insights into other, more personal relationships.  For this reason I have a new appreciation and, dare I say, love for blogging.

I’d like to know others’ motivations for blogging.  Please post or add a comment. Why do you blog?


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The Reality Blog Award

reality-blog-award1-e1357511854615I was floored when one of the bloggers I thoroughly enjoy, hillbillyzen, nominated me for The Reality Blog Award.  I’m relatively new to this whole blogging thing, so I didn’t quite understand at first.  But, according to hillbillyzen, it’s an award that authors can bestow upon the blogs they follow and admire.  I’m very honored that hillbillyzen found my writing to be award-worthy, and would encourage many others to check out her thoughtful posts!

So here are the logistics of this award thing.  When you’re nominated, you:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition.  Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.  Easy peasy.

And so, here are the questions and my responses:

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

As Steve Martin says in his 5 Christmas Wishes, “First it would be the crap about the kids…”  No, seriously, I’d want folks to be able to see past themselves a bit more and realize the repercussions of the actions they take in the world. 

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

Oh Shit.  I’m pretty pleased to be done with many of the developmental milestones I’ve suffered through over the past (nearly four) decades, but if I had to pick an age, I would choose 31.  It was a year in which I could have done a whole lot better.  It was the year my son was born, and if I could experience that joy again with the knowledge I have now, I’d be a better person and a better husband. 

What one thing really scares you?

The thought of losing my wife or son.  Simply terrifies me. 

What is one dream that you have not completed, and do you think you’ll be able to complete it?

To see one of my books in print.  I think I’ll see that happen, even if by “print” I mean churning out of the printer in my basement. 

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

I would like to be my wife.  I’d like to see the world through her eyes and feel what she feels. 

And now, I get to nominate other bloggers whom I find worthy of an award.  I have agonized over this for days, as I can only pick a few.  Although the blogs I follow vary in theme, I have chosen to honor blogs about fatherhood.  My blog is about the struggles of fatherhood, and I find that I’ve gained the most personally by reading about other fathers’ experiences.  There are very few men speaking up about parenting, and so I think these blogs deserve some accolades.  These writers can be thoughtful, heart-felt, humorous, and irreverent.  They are:

dorkdaddy

The Evolving Dad

Thought Pop

FosterDad101

Ay yo, Be a Father

Adventures of a Father in Training

Daddy @ Through the Grapevine

Many thanks to all these authors for sharing their wit and wisdom.  I hope that many others will check them out.