explorations of mindful fatherhood


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.

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Television-Induced Narcolepsy (Fatherhood-Onset)

I did it again.

Mellow Tonin'

Mellow Tonin’

A few days back, my son’s grandmother sent him this big pre-holiday package, complete with Christmas stocking, books, and a DVD of the original Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.  The DVD sat on the coffee table for a few days, especially with the busy weekend we just had.  Sunday night rolled around, the sun was down damn early and we ate an early dinner.”Let’s have a movie night!” my wife suggested.

I lit a fire in the fireplace while my son took every ice cream flavor out of the fridge.  Soon, we were all making sundaes in the kitchen and then settling into the living room for some Charlie Brown.

I was lucid for the first 10 minutes, no problem.  Then I felt my body sinking into the cushions and my eye lids getting heavy.

“Keep it together,” I thought to myself.  I shifted in my seat, lifting my head off the cushions.  No use.  Seconds later my eyes were closing.  “I’m still here,” I thought, “I’m still watching.” My wife and son were in front of me on the floor, so maybe they wouldn’t notice if I drifted off a bit.

I opened my eyes to my wife’s disapproving glare.  She shook her head nearly imperceptibly before returning her gaze to Snoopy’s dance.

“Damn it!” I cursed in my head.  Partly at her, but mostly to myself.  How could I let this happen again?  And with a Christmas movie!  Yet in spite of the internal berating, my eyes closed several times again during the 20 minute show.

I don’t know if other fathers experience this sort of hypnotic trance with the TV, but it has only happened to me since becoming a father.  I would never fall asleep in front of the TV, with the exception of some very late night movie marathons.  I grew up with a dad who would lie on the floor to watch a movie with us kids.  He’d be in the same posture every time: legs straight out in front of him crossed at the ankles, head propped up against the foot of the couch with a pillow, and fingers interlaced over his chest.  He looked as though we’d laid him out for a wake.  The kids would be giddy with excitement to watch something.  Part of the excitement, at least for me, was sharing an experience with my dad; him getting to see the cool new show we’d found or the movie we’d been waiting to see on video.  Inevitably, my dad would be asleep a half-hour in.  I hated it.  I couldn’t understand why he’d fall asleep during something I thought was so funny or exciting.  We’d harass the hell out of him, but he’d always stay asleep.

Now I’m that guy.  That undead dad, asleep (or worse…snoring) on the couch while my son and wife are trying to share a nice, mellow night with me.  I waffle between despising this sleeping lump I’ve become and feeling entitled to a bit of slack.  That’s the terrible conflict I feel when my heavy lids lift to reveal my wife’s disapproving face.  Part of me wants to plead, “Sorry, sorry, I know, I’m a bastard!”  The other part wants to say, “Do you know the kind of day I’ve had? Cut me some slack here!”

But ultimately, it’s my fault.  I wake up early to take care of myself: I write, I work out, I meditate.  I do all these things early in the morning before I go to work. Then I have a grueling 10-hour day commuting and working, and come home completely depleted.  And here’s the rub: when my son eventually goes to sleep and my shows pop up on the DVR, I’m usually awake and spry to watch and comment.  I think there’s a part of my brain that sees a kid’s show (especially one right after dinner), and it flips some switch telling me it’s okay to lose it.  It’s okay to let down my guard because this “isn’t really for me.”

The show might be for my son, but the experience is for both of us, for all of us, as a family.  We’re sharing a moment together, and I can’t let my brain lull me into some undead state simply because it’s Charlie Brown’s face up there and not Rick Grimes’.

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Go Ninjago!


I was at a Halloween party last month sitting among vampires and ninjas, when another father and I began discussing the TV habits of our kids.

“I watch, but I don’t watch, if you know what I mean,” he explained.  “I mean it’s on, my eyes are watching it, but I’m not really watching it.  My mind is somewhere else.”

I knew what he meant.  I found my son’s first TV interests kind of unbearable.  Let me be the first to admit that I was a TV junkie growing up, so TV was and is a big part of my life, for better or worse.  With the birth of my son, however, my wife and I are (or were) very careful about the type and duration of TV our son watches.  At first, we only allowed PBS and/or videos, but not a lot of commercial TV.  Because of this, his first real media loves were Blues Clues, Curious George, and Thomas the Tank Engine.  As a person who works with kids, I can appreciate the repetitive and sing-song nature of TV shows for younger kids, but it’s a bit mind-numbing for a man in his 30s.  He and I would watch them repetitively (and read the books time and again) to the point at which I’d become completely deadened to the whole experience.  For me, these shows became a sort of narcotic.  I would pop one in for my son, we’d set up on the couch, and I’d fall asleep before the theme song was over.

In spite of this, I knew every word to every Thomas song, and could recite just about every tank engine name (even the names of those pesky diesel engines).  When we’d play, I loved the trains and the tracks, and all that went with them, but the stories and show were a tough pill to swallow.  Those were some of the times that I’ve felt the most like an undead dad around my son, and I hated it.  Although I wanted to share in his full enthusiasm about the shows, I couldn’t get there.

In some ways, his later interests really saved me from becoming a drooling mess of a TV partner.  It was probably Star Wars that first really sparked my interest.  As a dad, there’s nothing quite like seeing your son reliving the same passion you once held as a young kid, but that’s the subject of another post.

His current love is Ninjago.  On the face of it, it seems like a terrible thing to love: it’s basically a TV show developed to sell ninja Lego sets to kids.  In most ways, I thought I’d hate it.  He started talking about it because the next door neighbor loved it.  I broke down and watched an episode with him, and that was all it took.  I was instantly enamored.

The show is set in the land of Ninjago where four ninja and their master are reclaiming the four golden weapons needed to overthrown the maniacal Lord Garmadon, who threatens the land with his dark forces of skeletons (season 1) and snakes (season 2).  The bulk of the shows are about a Vader-Luke type of conflict between Lord Garmadon and his son Lloyd Garmadon, who turns out to be ***SPOILER ALERT*** the Green Ninja, prophesied to restore peace to the land.

The storylines of the shows are actually incredible, with lots of action, twists, and funny dialogue.  My son loves it, and recites lines throughout the day, and I find myself doing the same.  For the first time, we actually like the same TV show!  It’s even come to the point of us DVRing all the new episodes and counting down episodes to the “final battle”, which was hottly anticipated in my house.

That’s what I love about TV, it’s the anticipation of new episodes, storylines, and character development.  Although my TV obsession comes with its own problems, I do love TV’s ever-evolving nature, which builds up a lot of anticipation.  That’s the element missing from all the mind-numbing shows for young kids.  They’re so formulaic, you know exactly what’s going to happen each time, and then end up watching the same things over and over.  So, now that my son’s into a good show, I find that I’ve found a new experience to share: TV anticipation!  It’s really woken me up, and I can be more alive with him and actually enjoy myself.  So, for all those fathers suffering through endless Barney or Wiggles episodes, there may be hope for you yet.

Go Ninja Go!