explorations of mindful fatherhood


Chucking the iPad for 2014

noipadforyouI’m not big on resolutions, but find that the new year is always a time of reflection and hope.  As I look back on 2013, I feel like it’s a personal anomaly. Prior to this year, I hadn’t owned a smart device. I was limited to the non-texting dumb-phone that the salesperson made fun of me for buying back in 2011. But for all of 2013, I had access to an iPad, which changed my life, for the worse.

Here are the two things that are great/terrible about technology. One, it keeps me connected. Two, it allows me instant access to any information I need. On the first account, I became hyper-fascinated over the course of this year with my social media and communication possibilities, like facebook, twitter, email, and my blog. I would incessantly check for returned emails, blog responses, and new facebook posts. Aside from some very positive connections with bloggers over the past year, most of the time was wasted seeking fleeting personal validation. I think there’s a hunger in each of us for connection, recognition, and validation, which is why technology and social media are so addicting. They feed us what we need most as social beings. However, it’s a virtual or disconnected form of contact that isn’t quite as gratifying as coffee with a friend, a hug from a relative, or a kiss from my wife. So, it leaves me feeling manic and spent.

On the second account, devices give us instant access to any information we want. I think people are naturally curious, and we’re prone to asking questions. For instance, re-watching Silver Linings Playbook yesterday, I wanted to know whether Bradley Cooper’s nose scar was real, how far Baltimore is from Philly, what crabby snacks and homemades are, and what other movies the slimeball bookie friend had been in. Those questions all coursed through my mind in the span of one scene. I wanted to grab my iPad and check the answers to all of them. But if I had, I’d no longer be watching a movie with my wife, but instead trailing off into my own world of curiosity. Day to day I constantly want to know answers to my questions, and have lost the ability to ponder things on my own and to tolerate not knowing something.

I frequently think back to a picture my son had drawn of me about half a year ago, with me staring at my iPad. In some ways, this had been the picture that occupied his mind when thinking of me, and I hated it. Will my son remember me as the dad with his nose pressed up against a screen?

For 2014, I’m putting the iPad away. I don’t need to be militant. I don’t need to be extremist. But when I’m home and my family’s awake, that thing goes in a drawer or in a bag, and is out of reach. It’s too tempting to have it close, to have it accessible. Because in the end, what will be more important? How many likes my post receives? Jennifer Lawrence’s birthplace? Or that picture of me that resides in my son’s brain when he thinks about his dad?



raked_leaves_pile_212753Standing on my lawn in a sea of red, yellow, and brown leaves last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the alien green glow of my neighbors’ grass.  Their carpets of rolling green stretched on forever, unblemished by a single speck on non-green.

Sometime it seems as though the neighbors are deathly afraid of leaves.  Looking at their lawns, you’d be amazed we live in a community of trees, because come Fall, the leaves seem to magically disappear as soon as they hit the ground.  I’m gone when they disappear.  I believe that trucks of workers drive in during the weekdays and do their noisy covert work, cleaning away any vestiges of tree remains.  I’m trying to figure out if it’s intentional.  Do my neighbors really dislike the leaves and want to see them cleared regularly?  Or, is it simply a byproduct of their scheduled home maintenance?  In other words, do their regularly scheduled lawn-care plans mean that the leaves just disappear with everything else on a weekly basis, in a matter-of-face, un-examined way.

Regardless, there are no leaves.

Standing ankle deep in my own leaves this past weekend, I noticed the chill in the air, the empty trees, the barren flower beds.  I noticed the death all around. The death that comes every year.  The dryness and decay made me think of my own losses.  Hopes that have faded, or opportunities that have been lost.  But all this thought about death and loss didn’t necessary depress me.  I didn’t feel alone in the loss.  I didn’t feel as though the loses where solely attached to my fate. The world goes through a period of loss, death, and decay.  Because I was surrounded by the brown dryness of dead leaves, I felt like a part of something; part of a cycle.

I went about collecting leaves in order to cut my still-growing October grass, and had created a pile under my son’s tree-trapeze.  Given how many trees we have on our property, even the mid-October pile was a sight to behold, and my son’s eyes lit up with excitement.  He spent the next few hours swinging and jumping into the leaves, calling me over each time he invented a new trick.  He had me swing him, or remove his step-ladder, or video him taking his leaps.

The green grass under the leaves and my son’s gleeful play led me to think about the exuberant life that’s only capable of flourishing because of the cycle of death in the world.  Without the leaves losing their foliage, by son wouldn’t have his crunchy mattress to leap into.  Without the nutrients from the death and decay, the rest of the world couldn’t grow and find its vibrancy.

Perhaps I was waxing too poetic.  They’re just leaves.  But I couldn’t help but notice all these feelings that welled up, simply standing outside, doing a bit of yard work.  It made me think about the contrast between my yard and some others.  It made me think about the ways in which we organize our lives to keep the death out; to keep things pretty until the first flakes of snow white-out the landscape.  I think it’s hard tolerating death, disorder, chaos.  That’s what leaves represent.  They are the loss of all that was beautiful and vibrant over the summer.  Sure they’re pretty in all their colorful splendor when they’re still on the trees, or novel when they’re underfoot in a park or a nature preserve, but once they fall on our lawns, they sit there like dead bodies in our front yards.  And the process of collecting them is like cleaning up the mess and disorder of death, carting them off in bags or trucks, or burning them on great pyres.

But if we can’t sit with them, if we can’t tolerate them for this season, then we rob ourselves of those reminders.  We rob ourselves of the full cycle of life, and miss the opportunity to feel that we are not alone in our losses.  We rob ourselves of the opportunities to see the joy and life that comes from death.

We need to pile up those leaves while we can, and jump in with abandon.


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.


Requiem for Food Network & Travel Channel

PrintIn order to cut costs, my family recently decided to save $60 a month by cancelling cable.  It’s supposed to be shut off in a few days, and I keep turning on the TV just to see if we still get reception.  It’s like trying to spend every waking minute with your high school girlfriend before she flies off to college.  I’ll miss you (*whimper*), cable.

In this age of technology, though, we won’t be missing much.  Between hulu, Netflix, and amazon streamed through the blu-ray, we should be able to watch all of our shows, with a few notable exceptions: AMC, Food Network, and Travel Channel.  Don’t get me started on AMC.  Only three more episodes of The Walking Dead this season, and I’m about to lose my feed?!?!  Rick vs. the Governor?  Woodbury vs. the prison?  I can’t miss that!  Thank god for $2.99 episodes on amazon.

But the real topic of this post is the Food Network and Travel Channel.  Of all the cable networks, these get the most air time on our tube.  Sometimes selected by my wife and me, but mostly requested by our son.  He LOVES the Food Network.  Some of his favorite shows are Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (is that show always on?), Chopped, and Iron Chef America.  Then there’s the Travel Channel, with shows like Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and Man v. Food with Adam Richman.  These food-related shows are some of my son’s favorites.  At the beginning of the first grade, the kids filled out a survey (without their names) and hung it up in the halls for open house night.  It was a test to see if parents could identify their children.  We found our son’s right away because under “Favorite TV Show” he put “Food Network”.  Not a show, but the entire cable station.

He loves seeing foods made and eaten.  He loves the creepy stuff on Bizarre Foods, and arguing about what each of us in the family would and wouldn’t eat.  He loves what they can make on Chopped, and making guesses about how he would combine the foods.  He loves rooting for Adam Richman, and seeing what that man can stuff into his mouth, even if we are concerned about his blood pressure and risk for diabetes.

I didn’t have a love or an awe for food growing up.  My parents weren’t the best cooks (if they read this blog, believe me, they’d agree), so dinner was always a mystery.  It was some sort of food with some sort of meat.  Usually something that wasn’t that good, but we had to eat it.  We weren’t very well-off growing up, so we almost never went out to restaurants.  Therefore, I had a very limited palate and a very limited understanding of food.  At one point, when I was in my teens, my mom designated a day of the week to each of the four kids, and we were in charge of making dinner for the family.  It was an utter disaster.  I’ve never seen a family eat so much frozen pizza and mac ‘n cheese.  It was sad because we were put in charge of meal planning, but never taught how to cook.  We weren’t taught the wonders of food and the skills of preparation.

travel-channelSo, I offer up this post in honor of the Food Network and Travel Channel, as they have helped round out my son’s love of food.  Of course, most of the credit for his love of food goes to my wife, the expert chef of the house.  But these channels and their shows have opened up the world of food culture to him.  Through them, he can see the various ways that food is prepared, enjoyed, and revered in other parts of the county or other parts of the world.  He sees that food can be fun.  It can be an experiment.  And that the art of cooking is full of successes and failures.  That chefs constantly try to make something better.

I’m glad that his experiences with food have expanded with the help of these networks, and we’ll certainly miss them when the cable goes out.  Until then, Guy Fieri will grace our screen.


Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Picky Eaters

macaroni-and-cheeseMy son had a play-date last week, and just before the kid got to our house, my wife said to me, “Oh my god, I need you to go out and get Mac and Cheese!”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s the only thing his friend will eat.”

“Really, it’s the only thing he’ll eat?”

“He’s very picky,” she explained.  I picked up my keys.  Just before leaving she called out, “And not the good organic stuff.  Get the Kraft stuff.  That’s the only kind he’ll eat.”

My wife and I are blessed with a son who’s a good eater.  He’s adventurous and will try almost any food.  I’m sure part of it’s his temperament, but it’s also his upbringing.  He never had foods that were any different from what my wife and I ate.  Even when venturing into solid foods as a baby, he’d eat peas, or steamed zucchini, or cucumbers, or cut-up grapes.  All foods that he saw us eating too.  So, when he started eating full meals, there was never anything special offered to him.  He needed to eat what we were all eating.  No special kid foods, no alternatives, no choices.  Here is your food, now eat it.

He’s so amicable that we haven’t had many problems.  He very rarely puts up a fight.  I’d even say that he holds a sense of pride in the fact that he eats just like the grown ups.  His recent challenge is spicy foods, and so he’s been adding Sriracha or Frank’s Red Hot Sauce to his meals. There are a few times when he’ll pick around his mushrooms or onions, but he sits and eats regardless.  The only other kids we know who eat well are his cousins, and I’d guess that he has the most fun eating with them.

But unlike family, all his friends are picky eaters.  Nearly every time we go out to eat with families, they order buttered pasta for their kids, while the adults eat more exciting foods.  Or, if kids come over, we always have to consider whether they’ll eat what we’re eating.  Typically, we won’t hold our son’s friends to our expectations.  Instead, we usually circumvent the problem by making something “kid-friendly” if a friend is coming over.

I’m going to sound like a crotchety old man for writing this, but I think that (in most instances) the problem is with choice.  Each time I see a parent of a picky eater feed his or her child, the kid is presented with options.  The kids can choose to opt out of eating what everyone else is eating. He’s given the option of mac ‘n cheese, or pb&j, or some other carby, cheesy,  sugary option.   The kid goes for that option every time.  When the meal consists of something healthy or somewhat unappealing to the child, there’s rarely an expectation to eat it or, at the very least, try it before rejecting it. So, when we go out to eat with these families, and the only things the kids consume are buttered pasta or bread, I’m not surprised.  When they reject things like vegetables and their parents laments that they won’t eat anything but pizza, burgers, or grilled cheese, I’m not surprised.

One particular exception I’d note is kids with sensory issues.  I work with many students with sensory issues, and smells, textures, and tastes are very triggering for them.  It makes sense that these kids (and their parents) are faced with significant hurdles when it comes to diversifying their pallets.  However, sensory issues are very rare, and I would guess don’t affect many of the kids in my son’s social circle.

I think our relationship with food starts from day one.  There is a culture around eating that gets ingrained at a very early age.  For instance, growing up, my family was  very territorial about food.  We each had our own plate and no one touched your food and you didn’t touch anyone else’s.  My wife grew up in a family where everyone shared food from+9*the middle of the table.  To this day, she and I are very much influenced by our own food cultures.  I think the message we send to kids when they’re given choices around food is that they get to eat what they want, and that food is theirs.  Food is not a family decision, but an individual one.  The option to choose offers the child a lot of autonomy around what they’ll elect to eat.  Probably too much autonomy.

The problem is that kids can’t recognize what’s healthy.  They go for taste.  So, in many ways, just like discipline or boundaries or rules, parents need to set parameters around food just like anything else.  As parents, we need to be the models for how and what to eat, and not abdicate responsibility just to make our children happy (in the moment).

Rereading this, I sound like some goddamn saint.  There are certainly times when my son has said he “isn’t hungry” and pushes the food around his plate, and he has to get multiple reminders of his expectation to eat.  There have also been times when we’ve left him at the dinner table to finish food that he was ignoring.  I realize it’s a struggle at times, but parents wield a lot of power, and they need to exert it early to set a good example for future habits.  Plus, it’ll save me runs to Stop ‘n Shop for Kraft products.


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.


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.


Yer Gonna Git Diabetes!

fast-food-couponsThese are the words my son utters in his best hillbilly accent whenever we pass a fast food restaurant.  I swear to God.  “Yer gonna git diabetes.”  Let me explain.

We’re a fairly health conscious family.  My wife is a personal trainer, so she’s very fit.  For this reason (and because she’s an excellent cook and I’m dismal), she’s in charge of our family’s food intake .  She frequently steers us in the right direction.  While I’m not much for fast food and big greasy meals, I’m addicted to chocolate and desserts, so she’s frequently wrestling chocolate cake from my hands.

Our son has grown up hearing about portion control, protein intake, the importance of fruits and vegetables, and care for the animals we eat.  He’s also a pretty rule-based guy, and can take some firm moral stances on things.  That’s one of the reasons he’s such a good kid; we can always trust him to make the right choices.

But the one thing he’s militant about is fast food.  We’re not much of a fast food family, so he hardly had any exposure to chain restaurants in his early years.  Aside from my wife’s Subway addiction (now in remission), we didn’t frequent any franchises.  But as he got older and went to public school, he was exposed to the names of the holy trinity: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell.

“What’s fast food?” he once asked us.

“It’s food that’s made fast. Usually stuff like burgers and fries.”

“Is it good for you?” (This has always been his litmus test question, and he expects a yes or no answer.  No gray area.)

“No. It’s got lots of fat and salt and sugar in it, so it’s not very good for you.”  In another conversation, we eventually got around to explaining what diabetes was and how people can develop a type of diabetes later in life by eating too many things that are bad for them.  Somehow he fused the two things in his brain: Fast Food = Diabetes. Hence his new favorite phrase.

My son happens to like saying things in his budding British or Southern accents (his mom is quite theatrical), and somehow his new saying came out in a Southern accent.  Now, every time someone mentions a Pizza Hut or a Wendy’s, he spouts out, “Yer gonna git diabetes!” It always gets a big laugh. And so, it’s continued for over a year now.

Part of me is proud. I mean, lots of kids are finicky and parents have to work their hardest to get their kids to eat right.  Here I have this boy who wants to eat well and who even knows that certain types of food can lead to disease if over-eaten.  How lucky am I?  Part of me is concerned.  I hope that as he grows up, he’s able to indulge.  I mean, he’s only 6, and I don’t want him to become some militant health-nut.  I want him to experience a wide array of food and do so in moderation.  Finally, part of me is a little worried that somehow he’s paired Southerners with bad health and nasty diets.  What’s up with that?  We’ll be sure to keep him away from Paula Deen so we don’t reinforce his stereotype!

There’s hope for him though.  He’s a big advocate for dessert (like his dad) and loves chips and popcorn (like his mom).  He can barely watch a movie without access to treats.  It’s good to see him indulge.  It’s also good to see he’s knowledgeable about his health and what goes into his body.

I just want him to have a balanced outlook, and sometimes that’s tough at a developmental age in which everything is so black and white.  My wife and I try to be mindful and not to go overboard when we malign food.  At his tender age he can certainly latch onto anything we say.  We have to watch ourselves at times, because we can be really critical.  He absorbs everything like a sponge, and can over-inflate ideas like he did with fast food.  It has been a good reminder for us to be more mindful about what we say, in order to temper the absolutism of our little moral policeman.

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Easy Bake Ovens for All!

Easy-Bake-oven2With Santa prepping to deliver millions of toys to good boys and girls tonight, I thought I’d take a moment to consider McKenna Pope and her quest for a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven.  McKenna Pope is an eighth grade student who composed and advertised a petition to Hasbro that garnered more than 44,000 signatures on Change.org’s website.  According to McKenna, her 4-year-old brother loves to bake, but Hasbro’s Easy Bake Ovens are pink and purple, which leads him to believe that they are only for girls.  She feels this is unfair to boys with an interest in the culinary arts. Many male celebrity chefs rallied around her cause. Hasbro eventually invited McKenna to their headquarters in Pawtucket, RI, and unveiled a new gender-neutral version of the oven in black and silver.

McKenna’s youtube post received comments ranging from whole-hearted support to enraged anti-gay sentiments. One point of contention between McKenna’s respondents was whether Hasbro and other companies should shift their marketing approach toward more gender-neutral marketing or if parents should look past the gendered colors of pink and purple and, by doing so, embrace pink products for boys.  I’d like to think that both approaches are valid and both should have some momentum thrown behind them by this Easy Bake Oven movement.

Looking back on my previous posts, I’ve obviously a proponent of interests that could be considered hyper-male: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Legos, Ninjago, and zombies to name a few.  Of course all of these things can (and are) loved by girls (awesome girls), but if we’re speaking in generalities, I’d have to say they’re pretty boy-biased.  Yet in many ways, my family tries to practice flexibility with gender roles.  While I hold those interests, I’m not much of a sports fan, and I cut my son’s hair because I used to be a cosmetologist.  My wife is very athletic and could probably kick my ass.  My son, for all his love of Star Wars and Ninjago, has also taken ballet and is a My Little Pony fan (more on that later).

I believe one of the easiest ways of practicing mindless parenting, or being an undead dad, is going with the flow of conventionality and refusing to question and evaluate one’s own stereotypes.  I know many people, some of whom are in my family, who do things because “that’s just the way things are,” or “boys like X and girls like Y”.  I’ve had nephews who have been clad in Chicago Bears paraphernalia before they could hold their heads up straight, and the same for nieces with princess gear.  I think it’s fine for boys to like football and girls to play princess, but it’s the automaticity that I have a hard time with.  These kids haven’t had a chance to express their own interests before their children were molded in a certain direction.

To be mindful as a parent means understanding your own biases and intents and making conscious decisions about them.

MyLittlePony_splash_2048x1536_ENThis point being established, I too have found myself uneasy with certain of my son’s interests, based completely on my own biases. About a month and a half ago, we were at the house of family  friends. Our son has grown up with their little girl.  The two were playing with her My Little Ponies (MLPs), and my son fell in love.  He was fascinated with brushing the ponies’ manes and tails. I thought this was just a fleeting interest, but in the days that followed, he kept asking for one.  Eventually, we visited Target, and we looked for the MLP aisle.  I knew the MLPs would be in the pink-clad aisles, along with the Barbies and other “girly” things; the aisles that my son never gravitated toward in the store.  Part of me thought (hoped?) that when he saw the aisle he’d probably abandon the interest, but that wasn’t the case.  My son wasn’t deterred and searched diligently for an Apple Jack pony.

What was my deal?  I always supported his interests regardless of how gendered they were, but couldn’t get behind this one.  I think there’s a part of me that remembers my sisters playing with My Little Ponies, and back then I was a hardcore GI Joe kid with strong anti-MLP sentiments.  Perhaps I was just riding that wave of childhood rejection.  Also, my son’s gender-flexible or gender-neutral interests up until that point had not been ultra-commerical.  This was the first commercial, super-pink interest he’d had.  I’ve always had a problem with uber-gendered marketing, and maybe that was the reason for my discomfort.  Regardless, by showing any sort of rejection of his gender-unconvenional interest, I could have sent the wrong message: for him to like things that girls like, or things that are pink and purple, was wrong.

This is why I like McKenna Pope’s plea.  Boys and girls can like the same things, whether they’re toy ovens, plastic ponies, or metal cars.  I do think that companies aggressively market to one gender and therefore squeeze out the opposite sex to the point of it appearing problematic for boys to show any interest in these hyper-feminine products and vice versa.  Moving toward marketing that is more gender-neurtral might prompt more boys to consider Easy Bake Ovens or more girls to pick up lightsabers.  But on the family front, we as parents have to look at our own biases so that we’re mindful of why and how we push our own interests on our children.

I’ll conclude by writing this: I don’t think that mindful parenting equals gender-neutral parenting.  I can respect parents with strong conviction about maintaining conventional stereotypes so long as they have explored why they find these gender roles helpful and think about how they want to encourage them in their children.  Mindful parenting means exploring one’s beliefs and consciously enacting them.