explorations of mindful fatherhood


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.


Deep Breaths

I'm gonna freak out on you like Roger Clarvin at the Welshly Arms.

I’m gonna freak out on you like Roger Clarvin at the Welshly Arms.

….pursed-lipped, red-faced deep breaths is more like it.

It seems my son is in some sort of weird testing phase at the moment, and I find myself taking lots of deep breaths to re-organize.  These breaths help me take a second to respond rather than react, but he makes it incredibly difficult at times.

The two things that really get under my skin are when he takes one more shot at whatever he’s been told to stop and when he talks back.  For example, he has a habit of pulling on my arm when walking next to me. Not the cute tug of days of yore, but a “let’s hang my 50 lb frame from dad’s arm and see if it doesn’t come out of its socket” sort of way.  I have back issues, so lots of off-balance, twisting force will screw it up.  So we’re walking through the grocery store and he starts swinging like a monkey.

“My back, buddy. Please don’t do that or you’ll hurt me.”

One final tug…

….deep breath.

I feel like Will Ferrell’s SNL character, the lecherous professor in the hot tub who’s loquacious and gushy until his wife climbs onto him and his back seizes.  I want to snap in that moment and yell at my son in my best Roger Clarvin voice, “Ah, my back!  Get the hell off me!” That’s what that breath’s for. So I don’t snap and yell at my son in the middle to the produce aisle like some maniac.

The second thing that really gets under my skin is when he talks back. I’ll ask him to put away his shoes.  I’ll ask once.  Then again, and again, and again, without any semblance of a response.

“Man, did you hear me?  I asked you like a million times.”

“No you didn’t.  You asked me like five times.”

….even deeper breath.  The shoes might have gone whipping across the room if it weren’t for that breath.

He’s a good kid overall, and I think he’s just at that age when he’s testing the waters.  Just double-checking to see where the lines are drawn.  That doesn’t mean I just let him do it.  It doesn’t mean there are no consequences.  But what I don’t want to do is just react and yell.  My parents both had short fuses in their own ways.  If we went too far as kids, we’d get this Bruce-Banner-turned-Hulk reaction from our mom and suffer a long tirade.  Dad would just blow up and blow out, hauling off to his room or out to the backyard, all the while mutter or yelling.  I don’t want to do either of these things.

The breaths give me pause to regroup.  In the vegetable aisle I can go down on one knee, grab both my son’s shoulders and explain to him in a forceful voice that he’s going to hurt me if he keeps hanging. I let him know that I won’t hold his hand if he’s going to keep swinging from mine. Addressing the issue instead of freaking out.  The breath helps me explain that reminding him five times to put away his shoes is too many, and then order him to put them away immediately.  Addressing the issue instead of humming a shoe (for the record: I’ve never hummed a shoe, no matter how badly I’ve wanted to).

Thank god for these breaths.  If it weren’t for them, I’d be growing out my beard and getting my hot-tub speedo ready.


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.