undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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My Little Trickster

DDDI love it when I my son’s talents are uncovered, especially when he masters a skill that’s far beyond me.  For example, he’s an excellent light saber fighter, a great dancer, and now he’s a skillful trickster.  And I’m so proud.

Here’s the story.  We were out of coffee the other morning.  For some godawful reason, my son was awake at 5:45 am, and when he came downstairs, I asked if he wanted to go to Dunkin’ Donuts with me.  He jumped at the chance and we hopped in the car.  I picked up a bag of coffee beans and asked if he’d like a hot chocolate.  We made our purchases, got home, and popped in Chamber of Secrets for the umpteenth time.  He was in seventh heaven.  I got dressed for work, and just before I was about to leave, I saw him sitting on the sofa sipping from his white DD cup as though it were a piping hot coffee.

“Oh my god,” I said.  “You’ve got to tell mom that I bought you a coffee this morning.  She’ll totally flip out.  It’ll be perfect.”  He got this huge grin on his face and nodded profusely.  I hugged and kissed him goodbye, and crossed my fingers.

On the way to work I was thinking about our joke, knowing that if it were me trying to pull it off, I’d fail miserably.  I simply can’t sustain a lie for the purposes of tricking someone.  I’m not talking about willful deceit or manipulating someone with stories.  That would be terrible.  No, I’m simply talking about one’s ability to pull off a joke successfully.  I can’t do it.  Even if it’s a “there’s something on your shirt” or “your shoes are untied” gag.  I’m just horrid at it.  I strain under the untruth of it all, until my lips crack into a smile or I physically have to turn away from the person.

On the car ride to work, I was thinking about all this, and hoping that my son is as good as my wife at being tricky.  There’s a famous story that my wife fully convinced one of my friends that she and I met at the Mitchell Brothers strip club in San Francisco while she was “working”.  She’d actually convinced the guy of her story to the point that he admitted frequenting the place, and wondered what room she worked in!  She was able to sustain the ruse for a good 15 minutes.  I was around the corner, listening to it all play out, just dying.  But I couldn’t even be in the same room because I would have ruined the joke.  She eventually disabused him of the story (we met in a computer lab), and my intense anxiety fell away.

Anyways, later that morning with the coffee, my wife called me and recounted the whole story about how she’d come down from the bedroom, and my son announced that I’d bought him a coffee.  My wife gasped, and pushed him for the truth.  “Are you serious, because if he did, your dad’s in a lot of trouble.”  And yet, he stuck to the story!  Yes, he replied, it was a coffee.  According to her, she had to press him several times, threatening to call me right then and there, because I’d be in trouble.  (For my Breaking Bad fans, she said she’d actually thought for a second that I was pulling a Walt and this was my version of Walt Jr.’s Mustang.)  He finally broke into a smile and confessed it was hot chocolate.

When she recounted this story I was so proud, actually jumping up and down in my office.  I was beaming.  I couldn’t believe that he kept his composure even under the pressure.

And yet, I was somewhat caught off guard by how elated I felt.  It took a bit of reflection, but here’s what I figured out.  I am a very anxious person, and as I explore my own anxieties, I realize that deep down there’s a fear of “getting in trouble”.  Even though I’m nearing 40, there’s a young child in me afraid of being reprimanded for the littlest things.  This somewhat ridiculous fear makes life hard for me at times.  For instance, it prevents me from confronting authority figures such as my boss.  It also stops me from speaking up against a group of people at times.  It all stems back to this fear: that I’ll say or do something that I’ll be in trouble for.  I’m really struggling with this part of myself, and would like to overcome it.  I believe this is the same fear that prevents me from pulling off the most harmless of pranks.  There’s a piece of me that’s scared of being in trouble.

This is why I’m proud of my son.  There’s nothing wrong with joking around with your mom.  Especially if she’s a prankster herself.  I think it takes a certain confidence, a certain centering in one’s own knowledge of the truth that allows a person to pull off a joke with grace.  This might sound crazy to some people, but I think my son’s ability to pull off a joke like the one about the DD coffee shows me that he’s grounded enough in himself to be able to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. I’m not condoning lying for lying’s sake.  I don’t want my son to become some manipulative, pathological miscreant.  I just want him to know where the truth lies and be rooted in himself, and free of the fear that I sometimes hold.  By virtue of him being able to pull off our gag with a straight face, I know that he doesn’t have this overwhelming anxiety inside.  He can put any nervous feeling away and play a trick, and see it as harmless.  In some odd way, that was what was consoling for me about the whole thing.  My son possesses a confidence in himself and in his own knowledge of the truth, to the point that he can suspend the truth temporarily in order to play a simple joke.  I just love that kid.

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99%

As effective in an argument as Ron Wesley with a broken wand.

As effective in an argument as Ron Wesley with a broken wand.

It all boils down to this: Ron Weasley did NOT enter the Forbidden Forest in the first Harry Potter book when Harry and Hermione served detention with Hagrid.

Let me explain.

My wife and I have an ongoing joke that when there’s a factual dispute in the house, and our recollections on a topic differ, she’s correct 99% of the time.  Whether it has to do with directions, someone’s name, or a piece of movie trivia, she tends to be correct…always.  At least that’s what she says.  If I had to admit it, I’d say she’s right.  In my family, if there’s a factual dispute and it turns out one person is correct, the winner points at him or herself with their thumbs and intones, “ding!” as though we’re on some perpetual game show.  Let’s just say that I get to “ding” very infrequently.

I bring this up because my son has jumped on this train wholeheartedly. With most things, he tends to side with his mother.  Usually it’s around things such as tastes or preferences.  Dad likes goat cheese, mom hates it. Ergo, my son hates it.  Mom loves vanilla ice cream, dad thinks it’s boring. What’s our son’s favorite ice cream?  Vanilla.  It’s gone so far that when a new type of food is introduced, I’ll ask my wife to withhold her assessment, and get my son to weigh in.  He might say that yes, he likes Twizzlers.  Then I’ll agree that Twizzlers are great, but my wife will say she hates them.  My son will pause and then say, “On second thought…”

Now that he’s watching more movies and TVshows with us, my son’s begun chiming in more on media-related disputes.  It’s not surprising that he jumps into my wife’s camp at nearly every turn.  It makes sense. He likes liking what my wife does, so why not agree with her on other things too.  I think he’s also playing the odds.  How could you blame him?  I mean, he’s been around enough to see who gets the most “dings”, so why not play for that team?

So we’ve been plowing through the Harry Potter books.  We tried when my son was about 4, but at the time, his limited attention span for reading long books got in the way.  We held off on any of the movies, wanting him to be able to read/listen to the books first.  About 4 months ago we started reading the books, and following up with a movie any time we complete a book.

At one point we were reading the Chamber of Secrets and got to the part in which Ron mentions that he’s never been in the Forbidden Forest.  My son sits up and asserts that Ron had been in the forest in the first book.  My wife agreed.  They insisted that Ron went in with Hagrid and Fang for detention.  I said that was just the movie, and that Ron was injured with something in the infirmary.  I was hazy on the details, so couldn’t assert a good story.  They balked.  There goes dad again, all turned around.  The synergy of their mutual agreement magnified their assertion.  “No, he TOTALLY went into the forest.  JK messed up on this one.”

I kept reading aloud and ignored them.  Even when I think I’m right about things, there’s always this voice inside that says, “…but probably not.  You know your record.”  I forgot about it.  A few days later my son was watching the Sorcerer’s Stone again, and there’s Ron in the forest.  “See Dad, see!” my son called. “Yep,” my wife agreed.  I fetched the book and found it.  Ron had been bitten by Norbert and was in the infirmary when Hermione, Harry, Malfoy, and Neville were caught and sent to detention.  The movie changed the scene. Ha ha! “Ding!”

Here’s the funny thing about this little family narrative about dad being wrong 99% of the time: I don’t mind it.  I grew up as the oldest child of four, and with that came the bravado and smugness of being the eldest.  I was always older, taller, smarter…and always right.  It’s not a good situation for practicing humility.  So, for much of my life, I think I’ve walked around thinking that I’m right about most things.  (Having two narcissistic parents only inflated those feelings.)

But I’ve found that one of marriage’s major lessons is humility.  That you’re not always right, and better yet, you shouldn’t always be right.  It’s taught me to slow my roll when I think I’m beyond reproach.  Even though I like to ham it up and give my wife a hard time when I think I’m right, I know that I’m just playing a game.  I know that I’m not always right, and it helps me to hear the other person’s argument a bit clearer.  Now my son gets to see me being wrong, and that’s okay.  I want him to see that I can be wrong and bow out gracefully.  I think it’s an important practice in humility and admitting that we can’t always be right.

And yet, in those 1% of times when when I am right, I can bask in the glory of it and “ding” with flourish.


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One of My Biggest Fears

20130531-070751.jpgMy dad has issues. For a three year stint, he didn’t talk to me, for unknown reasons. I tried reaching out the olive branch on several occasions, through letters and email, but these attempts were met with absolute silence. It wasn’t until a pending trip to Chicago, that he responded to an email of mine. His response was pretty much, “What’s the problem. You know I’m not a good conversationalist.”

This is what scares me….neither am I.

When it comes down to it, my fear is that this legacy of emotional and communicative disconnect is going to bleed into my relationship with my own son.

My dad has his own set of problems. Born in the 1940’s and shipped to Viet Nam in his 20’s, I always knew my dad as the guy who “doesn’t like to talk about things.” This was the family narrative. You didn’t ask my dad about his life. The war was off limits. Discussions about his parents, especially his father, were out of bounds because his dad was institutionalized after a bout of incapacitating meningitis. Talk about his extended family was out of the question because he just hated the bastards. Aside from that, his only real interests seemed to be hunting and electronics, leaving few common interests between him and me (or most people).

“Alexithymic” is probably also a good way of describing my dad. It’s a word I picked up in grad school, which characterizes a person who is neither able to name his/her emotions or describe them in words. My dad and I have never had a single conversation about his feelings, nor has he ever offered up a description of them. In spite of his divorce, the death of his mother, his own cancer, none of these things enlivened a single visible emotion or mention of his feelings.

These two issues make it nearly impossible for me to talk with my dad, outside of topics such as the weather, traffic, or consumer electronics. We’ve never had the ability to talk. There were times in my life when my father and I just did more things together, and therefore spent more with one another. And yet, we weren’t necessarily close. So, as an adult man, separated from my father by half the country, there’s no way of connecting. We don’t live close enough to do things together, and conversations fall short, so our relationship languishes.

And so, each time I sit across from my son at the breakfast table in silence, or drive home with him in a quiet car, I project 20 years into a future in which we have nothing to say to one another. No bond.

There are times when conversations with my son really fall flat. My son is a relatively quiet kid. I’ve spent time with kids who provide a running narration or their thoughts or actions. Kids that are always talking. Or for some kids, once their interest is peaked, they can talk a mile a minute. This isn’t my son. He’s shy most of the time, and even when someone inquires about something he knows well, he gets self-conscious, or hesitant, preventing him from share what he knows. This is true whether it’s a stranger at a cash register, or even his parents at home.

Somehow, my wife has a magic with him, and they can have the longest conversations. I find that when I try, I’m pulling teeth. I get feedback that it’s my style. Sometimes I come across like an interviewer when having a discussion. I can pelt a person with endless questions. For my son, that doesn’t work, and he turns into a deer in headlights. I’ve tried easing up, and inquiring or opening up conversations in an inquisitive, non-threatening way. And yet I find these conversations still falter.

These scenarios bring up two things for me: anger and fear. The anger is directed at my own father. When I find myself stuck in conversation, I can’t help but think part of the reason is that I never got good modeling as a kid. If my dad was a bit more skilled, or for that matter, simply tried just a little bit harder, I might have some vocabulary for father-son dialogue. I feel robbed of some kind of formative experience that would have taught me the skills for connecting with my own son.

The second feeling is the fear I mentioned: that fear that in a few years or decades, my son and I won’t know what to say to one another. He’ll live far away and I won’t have any way of building in-roads with him, his family, or his life. Perhaps it’s a bit catastrophic, but nonetheless, it’s where my mind goes. I so desperately want a better relationship with my son, but when face-to-face, I sometimes feel incapacitated.

I substitute with time, activity, interest. When he’s around, I try to do things with him, or take an interest in the things he likes. For now, I think this works. But as he emerges into his teenage years and doesn’t want to spend time with me, or when he goes off to college, what am I to do? It’s something that I constantly grapple with, and need to keep facing head-on, before the years slip away.

 


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Fatherhood: A Surgeon General’s Warning

Twisted spine, X-raySurgeon’s General Warning:  Fatherhood may cause backaches, weight gain, spinal disfigurement, and contribute to general feelings of shittyness.

I’ve never been the most limber person.  During the presidential fitness challenge in middle school, I wasn’t bad with pull-ups or running the mile, but it was the sit-and-reach that kicked my ass.  I could never really touch my toes, even as a kid.  I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a dancer, martial artist, acrobat, or yogi.  Someone who can twist and contort his body with the greatest of ease.  Someone who can embody fluidity and grace in his movements.  But that’s never been me.  I’m like a wound-up ball of rubber bands, tightening with each passing year.

In the past dozen years, since entering the workforce and having a child, the dilemma of how to maintain my physical health has been a tough one.  Early on, I tried to do the same things I always did to keep myself healthy.  I worked out at the gym a few times a week, mostly with weight training, along with some light (reluctant) cardio.  Work got harder, and it became more of a challenge to keep in shape, especially living in a city with bad parking and convoluted public transportation.  Getting to the YMCA felt like an insurmountable ordeal.  My light, infrequent workouts maintained the facade of fitness.  Sure, I still couldn’t touch my toes, but I could still grunt and sweat, and lift some weights, so I felt okay.

Then we had our child, and general health went out the window.  Having a baby is about survival.  Making it through the night alive and not collapsing at work the next day is a triumph in itself, so there’s little time for anything as frivolous as working out.  Over that time period, I–like any new parent–was on automatic pilot, with very little sleep.  I could feel my entire body tightening up.  When getting out of bed, I grunted and wheezed like an old man.  I sat like a miser at work, hunched over my computer.  I went to a doctor to complain about the way I felt and he showed me a BMI chart, pointing out that I was now in the overweight category and should shed a few pounds.

This realization, and time, helped me get back to the gym.  As my son got older, I was able to make some time for working out, typically very early before work.  This meant getting up and out of the house super early, to the point that I felt completely drained by the end of the work day. Plus, I don’t think it really ever got me in shape.  I just added a bit of activity to my day.

Then about three years ago, writing happened.  I got serious about my writing.  If I was going to see my writing though, it meant taking every second of free time and pouring it into my writing (see my previous tortured post).   I dropped my gym membership and traded the treadmill for the coffee house chair.  I might go on a walk or even a run every now and then, but I totally neglected my body.

That’s when the back pain hit hard.  I’ve always had back problems, but they crept up on me a lot more frequently as my lethargy tightened the knot of rubber bands in my back.  It came to the point where I actually seized up at work….twice.  At one in-service training, someone made me laugh and I collapsed on the ground, unable to get up without the help of two bulky guys who carried me into an office.  The second time was less dramatic, with my back slowly seizing up over the course of the day, trapping me in my office chair, until the school secretary had to pull my car up to the side door so that I could exit without falling down.  I finally went to see a chiropractor who ordered x-rays of my spine.  The frontal shots looked as though I was standing sideways, with my hips shifted and my back curved.  Somehow, my complete disregard for my own health had contorted my spine so that it doesn’t straighten naturally.

Here I am, in my late 30’s trying to rescue my health. It’s unfair of me to pin this all on fatherhood.  It’s not fatherhood, but the general pains of life: work, time, responsibility, etc.  Fatherhood may not be the definitive cause, but it’s definitely the casualty.  When your son wants to engage you in lightsabre battle and you’d rather watch his moves from the front porch, your fatherhood suffers.  When your wife and son have a race outside and you opt to film it instead of competing, your fatherhood suffers.  When your weekend is shot because you’re slumped over a therapy ball moaning in pain, your fatherhood suffers.

I’m still trying to strike that balance.  I’d like to be able to feel fulfilled in my work, take pride in my health and body, engage in my spiritual practice, improve upon my writing.  But ultimately, I want to be around for a long time to see my son grow up, and engage in the moment.  It’s up to me to take the time to get healthy.


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Triumphs and Traumas of a Buddhist Egg Hunt

BuddhasEasterEggI did a terrible thing: In my quest for fairness, I overlooked my own son.  And I feel just terrible about it.

Here’s the scenario: My son belongs to a Buddhist children’s group, for which I volunteer from time to time.  Just recently, the entire sangha (or community) celebrated Buddha’s Birthday. The ceremony occurs in the Spring, so it incorporates themes similar to Easter, such as new life, hope, and joy.  The kids take part in the first part of ceremony before heading outside for some fun activities.

This year, running with the theme of Spring, we held an egg hunt on the grounds of the Zen center.  However, we try avoiding the competitive aspects of tradition egg hunts.  I bet many of us (with Christian backgrounds) have been there before as kids: our bodies quaking with anticipation at the start line, baskets in hand, waiting for the signal to rush forth and scavenge as many eggs as we can (or at least more eggs than that damn kid next to you).  And in some cases, there’s a coveted “golden egg” that’s used to declare the “winner” of the egg hunt.  The entire scenario elicits a competitive, cut-throat spirit, leading to elbows in the gut, head-on collisions, and tears.  All in the name of (re)birth and celebration.

The way we’ve done these hunts for the past two years is to hide eggs and then put a group basket in the middle of the field.  When the parents call “Go,” the kids rush for the eggs, but are only allowed to pick up one at a time.  They then rush back to the group basket where they deposit their egg before heading out for another one.  In the end, we divvy up all the eggs, so that everyone gets an equal share.  We’ve found that this has helped emphasize cooperation and has tempered kids’ competitive streaks.

Our egg hunt was going splendidly.  The only controversy stemmed from those damned golden eggs. The packages I’d bought contained golden eggs, which I should have tossed aside, but added to the mix nonetheless.  Hunting for the golden eggs brought out the competitive spirit, regardless of their eventual destination in the group basket.  When the oldest girls saw them, they barreled past one another, leaving some very disappointed.

After the flurry of excitement, we went back inside to divvy up the eggs.  But what to do with those damned golden eggs?  There were only 4 and we had about 12 kids.  My wife had an epiphany: we’d allow kids to offer them to the Buddha.  It was a great lesson on giving away something precious.  I asked volunteers to come up to make offerings.  Unavoidably, more than 4 kids presented themselves.  Luckily, I had set aside a few bigger eggs, so we had about 7 eggs to offer.  And yet, there were 9 kids opting to make offerings.  In the midst of my handing out the offering eggs, many eager hands delved into the basket without permission.  Kids had eggs in hand, waiting for me to send them up to the altar.  I looked around and two kids were without eggs, one of them being my own son.  In that moment, I didn’t think I could ripped an egg from another child’s hands to give it to my own son.  In the rush of confusion, I allowed the kids to keep the eggs they’d nabbed from my basket and started looking for two extra eggs to give to the egg-less kids.  Just then another very kind girl holding a golden egg asked my son if he’d like to offer it with her.  He agreed, and I found another empty egg for the last child.  We seemed fine. Whew!  I’d avoided a mess.  Not so.

After the class, when the kids went downstairs with the adults, my son was nearly in tears.  I held him close, because I thought I knew what it was about.  He felt badly that he didn’t get a golden egg for the offering.  I told him it was okay, because we were secretly going to bring the golden eggs home to use for next year, and he could keep some of them in his room.  I thought it was about the eggs.  I thought I’d solved the problem.  It wasn’t and I hadn’t.

My wife pulled me aside later and told me my son was a sobbing mess because dad had overlooked him.  It wasn’t about the eggs.  It wasn’t about the competition.  It was about dad not keeping him in mind when orchestrating the class.  And it was true, I hadn’t, and I felt deeply saddened.

When I help run this group, I’m acutely aware that my son is in the mix.  In running the class (just like the egg hunt), I try to be fair to all.  I never want my son to feel as though I’m singling him out because I have higher expectations for him than the others, and on the flip side, I never want him to feel as though he gets special privileges just because he’s the teacher’s son.  And yet, in my quest for equanimity, I actually treat him differently from the rest.  In that moment when I was presented with the conundrum of 9 kids holding 7 offering eggs, the first thought that came to mind was that I couldn’t just take away other kids’ eggs to appease my son.  When in fact, I should have taken his feelings into account.  I should have seen that my son’s potential disappointment was valid and needed to be addressed by me, not only as his father, but as the teacher.  If it hadn’t been my son who was egg-less, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as clouded by the potential of perceived favoritism.  I might have asked all the kids to put down their eggs, so that we could find enough eggs to go around, and then divvy up the offerings.  But no, I didn’t.  I prioritized the other kids first, and then figured I’d patch things up with my son and the other egg-less kid.

In my attempt at treating everyone the same, I was actually treating my son differently.  It really took me aback, and I had to reflect long and hard on the subject to avoid becoming defensive or self-righteous.  When I came home, I offered a big apology.  I said I was sorry that I overlooked him and his feelings, and that I would do my best to keep him in mind, just like I keep all the other kids in mind.

Sometimes in our quest for fairness, we can overlook those right under our noses, even our own kids.


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Weeding Out

2011-08-21-13.38.03I love weeding.  And yet I’ve met many people who despise it.  In fact, I meet very few people who weed their lawns or gardens by hand, presumably because they have gardeners or a fondness for Round-Up.  I found myself doing a lot of weeding and other yard work this past weekend.

But I discovered I was weeding a lot more than just the flowerbeds.

Personally, I’ve had a terrible couple of weeks.  There has been an ever-widening gap between me and my own parents, and a recent communication from my father drove one more nail into that coffin. It’s one of those things that I’m either not ready or not willing to blog about at this point.  Maybe because I don’t have the strength, or maybe because it feels too vulnerable.  Suffice it say that these events left me feeling completely untethered.  I wasn’t sure what grounded me anymore, and felt as though I was wasting my time in a multitude of endeavors.

One such endeavor was blogging.  This is the first post I’ve written in over a week, which is unlike me, as I’ve typically posted twice a week for the past half a year.  But this past week, I couldn’t find it in me to do it.  Blogging had become one of those things that I did for me; one of those things that I felt could be an expression of my struggles.  However, feeling as though I’d been kicked down by your own flesh-and-blood, I questioned whether I was worth anything; whether my blogging even mattered.  There was a lot of thinking and self-doubt and questioning.  Lots going on in my head: thinking, thinking, thinking.

I had to clear things out.  I had to get out and weed the garden.

I’ve been dying to get outside for quite a while, but these damn snow/sleet/rain storms in the Northeast have become increasingly maddening. Finally some halfway decent weather this past weekend gave me that rare opportunity to get outside.   At first it wasn’t weeding.  It was just yard work, hauling big-ass rocks from a pit in my backyard to the front of the house to line my driveway.  It became a sequence of throwing 20 pound rocks out of hole, running them up a steep incline in a backpack, and then putting them on a sled (I’m currently wheelbarrow-less) and sliding them over the lawn to their final destination.  Just throwing, hauling and dumping.  Throwing, hauling and dumping.  I did that for hours and hours.  I attempted reigning my son into it too, saying that I needed his “artistic eye” to line up the rocks just right.  He got very distracted and disappeared in spite of my flattery.  Even at 6-years-old, I got the “nice try old man” look as he walked to the backyard to play with sticks.

So I continued, as content as could be with my rocks.  Then Sunday came and I woke up much earlier than anyone else in the family. That’s the time of day when I’d usually write.  But I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to look at the computer.  I suited up and went out to the front yard for about two and a half hours.  I wanted to be outside in the bitter 30-something degree March cold, digging in the dirt.

Weeding is just about the most meditative action I can think of.  I get down on my knees, look for weeds, then twist, pull, toss.  Over and over again.  Twist, pull, toss.  Engaged in that action, I find that I don’t or can’t think of anything else.  I’ve even TRIED thinking about things as I weed, but I just can’t do it.  My mind always goes back to the weeding.  After all, that’s the heart of meditation, noticing a thought, releasing it, and returning to what’s right in front of you.  I weed time and again, and always feel calm and complete during my weeding practice.

I’m sure that I’m also attracted to the metaphor of weeding.  Post winter my lawn looks like a wreck.  Decorative grasses have shed their husks, which drift across the semi-green grass.  Weeds and grass intrude on the mulch.  Fallen sticks from hurricane winds and blizzard snow are cast like war zone obstacles on my grass.  Entangled masses of dead perennials choke the flowerbeds.  Spring weeding is a chance to get rid of it all.  It’s a chance to slog through all the death and decay and make room for new life awaiting in the fertile soil. There’s nothing quite like clearing dead leaves with your hands to uncover a crocus popping through the soil.  Or standing up from hours of crawling around on your hands and knees to admire order emerging from the chaos (or at least the illusion of order).

I finished this weekend with a little more clarity.  Of course, there is a time for thinking.  There are many issues that I need to make sense of, feelings that I need to work out.  But in the flurry of thoughts and feelings around issues with my own parents, I lost sight of some of the important things in my life, and lost hope that these things were worth anything at all.  This past weekend was one of those times when thinking wasn’t going to do me any good.  I just had to weed, weed, weed, uncovering some of the new growth under the decay.


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The Curse of Date Night

My mother once said that in order for the family to be happy, parents have to make time for themselves as a couple.  She was divorced a year later.  Regardless, her statement still rings true.

There aren’t a lot of things my mom and I agree on, but I guess this is one of them.  And yet this has been one of the most difficult things for my wife and I to do: make time for dates.

As first time parents, my wife and I refused to leave our infant son with a babysitter.  We were both working, my wife Tuesday-Friday and me Monday-Thursday, each cramming 40 hours of work into 4 days. That meant our son was in daycare 3 days a week from a very early age.  It was perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve had to do as parents.  So, with him being ripped away from us 3 days a week, it was unthinkable that we’d go on a date.  We did what we could, taking him to restaurants or the park, taking advantage of the down time together while he slept, but that was the extent of it.

As a toddler, the pattern simply continued.  There were no good candidates for babysitters.  Our closest relatives are 3 hours away, and all of our friends worked or had children of their own.  We just couldn’t bite the bullet and use a website or a neighborhood teenager.  For many years, dates consisted of putting our son to bed and watching TV.  If that qualifies as dating, we have a hell of a dating record.

It really wasn’t until he was 3 years old that we started dating again.  But even now, our dates are very infrequent.  We have a lovely high-school aged babysitter from a good family whom our son loves (and likely has a crush on), but we almost never text her to set up a time.  Some of it’s the cost, some of it’s laziness, but there’s also (dun dun dun!) the Curse of Date Night.

The Curse of Date Night is what I call the fear that surrounds infrequent dates.  I was recently having coffee with a friend, and was  relieved when he shared a similar taboo/anxiety about dating.  I described to him that when my wife and I do set aside time for a date, two fears are prevalent: that we’ll get into some argument and/or we won’t have anything to say to one another.

The first fear has been realized a few times.  Driving to the new restaurant we get lost, and there’s a spat about how to get to the place.  Or, we can’t find a parking spot and get flustered with one another.  The arguments aren’t about the directions or the parking space, but about the fact that we can’t “just have a nice time together”.  There are so many anxieties around leaving our son for a date, that we as a couple put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to “have a good time”.  At the first sign of any conflict or difficult, we slam ourselves for not being able to have fun.  Inevitably, we’re able to come back to our senses and recognize the incredible strain we put on ourselves.  Only then can we brush off the difficulty and have fun.

The second fear is something that arose more recently: the fear of not having anything to talk about.  My wife was afraid that we’d make time for a date, sit down at a restaurant, and stare at each other blankly.  I was surprised to hear her describe things this way, but it made sense.  Sometimes when we sit down for dinner as a family, we’re lively and joking, but other times the energy is low, because we’re (I’m) worn out. My wife was concerned that on a date, I’d let my guard down and practically fall asleep at the table.

In spite of these fears, we set out on a date a few weeks back. We used a gift certificate from Christmas and headed to a fancy restaurant.  And….it was a success.  Not a single argument, and great conversation for two straight hours.  We did it.

I believe that with these infrequent date nights, my wife and I put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to make them a perfect success. Dates are so few and far in between that we wonder if we can even do it at all.  But, we’re making some strides and getting out there, in spite of the curse.