We Made You … Then You Made Me #ThanksBaby

Jay on beachI have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion.

Your mom and I made you, boys. We don’t think about that much, I know, but … think about that. We made you. You grew inside your mom until you were ready for the world, and then …

Here you were, announcing your presence with a purple-faced scream, slimy arms and legs flailing, eyes squeezed tight against the sudden, awful light of this strange, loud, bright, cold place.

Baby JayWe made you.

And then …

You made me.

I’m your dad. I am who I am because you’re here.

Thank you.

Kids at Lettuce LakeI don’t know when I noticed the shift, but it was real, and it was irreversible. You move through life with a certain idea of self, the “me” of it all. I can’t tell you how that is for you, because it’s different for all of us.

I can only tell you that when I thought of “me” before you came, the perception typically was shaped by fundamental desires. Food, of course. Sex, certainly. Career, fun, financial security.

I thought of my “self” as a means to acquire those things I thought I needed to support my inalienable right to pursue happiness.

Jay on baseThen you were there, and I realized that when I got behind the wheel of my car, when I sat down to eat supper, when I went swimming, when I knocked back a few cocktails – all of these things were happening to your father. I became aware, slowly, that my needs began to intersect with those of this new dude, this new being you had created.

It was me. I was the new dude.

Kids Walk to BusAll of the fundamental desires that once had been the driving force in my life were now superseded by the visceral need to nurture you and to protect your father so that you and your mother would not ever have to go it alone.

Sounds weird, I know. Sounds a bit like split personalities – and it is. That’s what happens. I’m pretty sure parental sleep deprivation in the first year of babyhood is a contributing factor.

In fact, for all I know, I’m dreaming right now as you snooze away the early morning with your head resting on my chest, your tiny little heart beating, pounding out the new rhythm of my life.

For all I know, I will wake up and find that you need a diaper change and a bottle, and the memory of the dream of these last 10 years will begin to fade, as dreams do.

If it is a dream, then it is a good dream.

Thank you.


On Father’s Day and every day, Pampers is giving thanks to babies for making dad feel exceptionally special and empowering him to discover new roles in life through fatherhood. Pampers honors dads for just being dads and thanks them for all the amazing things, big and small, they do to help little ones have a better, loving, more fulfilling life.

Please join us this Father’s Day by tweeting why you are most thankful for baby with the hashtag #ThanksBaby. Then, enjoy this video that captures the amazing relationship that is created between a dad and his baby when a child is born and the beautiful journey of fatherhood begins.


I Found the Sun

He stirred and snorted. Awake, eyes closed.

He said:

“I found … the sun.”

He found …

What marvelous dream did I interrupt?

The sun.

I found the sun. 

Why was it lost? Where did he find it? How did he find it? Who did he tell?

I like to think that when he closed his eyes, he leaped into a journey through the night, seeking the sun’s warm glow.

He grappled with dog-headed demons and scaled mountainous wave after wave of salty, high-tide sea froth, sputtering, eyes closed tight against the stinging salt water. He dived beneath the waves and wore his fingernails to ravaged nubs digging a tunnel to the core of Venus, only to find himself riding a comet back to Earth.

His wings of wax melted away in the comet’s heat and he fell, fell …

He landed at Ikea and wandered through faux bedrooms and kitchens, deeper into the flatware and furniture labyrinth, past throw pillows and cutlery, following the aroma of Swedish meatballs to food — and safety. The meatballs were not to his taste, so he dived into a pool of dark chocolate cake batter and backstroked across the English channel to the White Cliffs of Dover, which were made of marzipan and were more beige than white.

He hopped aboard a tennis ball and served himself over the Atlantic back home to Florida, where he landed on the Monorail and waved at the Magic Kingdom train station as the track broke free from its earthly bonds and unwound before him across the swamps and cattle sloughs of the I-4 corridor, back home.

Awake, eyes closed, gazing into the abyss.

And he said:

I found the sun.

He opened his eyes and smiled at me.

The 5th Dad 2.0 Summit: Stories Everywhere You Looked

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

The White House was aglow the night before the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.

Stories simmered everywhere I looked this past weekend at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

I wish I had been there as a journalist. I wish I could have covered the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., for a major news organization.

For example: Esquire. The venerable men’s magazine — my favorite magazine since the early 1980s — was the event’s primary media partner for the second year running. For that, the magazine should be applauded.

I wish I could have been there writing about the event for Esquire.

As it is, I was there for the fourth consecutive time. I was there as a speaker, as a participant, as a member of a community that has become dear to me as a 40-something father of two elementary-age children and a writer who loves great stories.

Throughout the weekend, from the moment I landed at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday evening until the moment I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, I was awash in story ideas.

It never gets out of your blood when you’re a journalist. I did that for 24 years. I found stories. Even when I didn’t want to be there, even when there seemed to be nothing compelling, nothing worth writing — I found the story.

That was the job.

If I had been there covering for Esquire or another respected news and entertainment organization, I might have felt a bit overwhelmed by the volume of compelling material. Still, I’m confident I would have managed to write something coherent and representative.

All I had to do was look and listen and write it down. What I saw and heard was a movement that is composed of dads and moms from all over the world. Parents who share a passion for content creation, for storytelling, and for being the best dads and moms they can be.

I saw brands — Dove Men+Care, Kia, Lego, Best Buy, Lee Jeans, Rheem, and many more — that sent representatives to the Dad 2.0 Summit to connect with fathers and to join in the conversation about the evolving role of dads in the 21st century.

I saw what I always see at the Dad 2.0 Summit: waves of raw emotion shared and accepted — and embraced.

Speaking of things embraced, I saw hugs. I saw a lot of hugs. I gave and received a lot of hugs, too, from people I have come to love over the years and from people who I met for the first time. Hugging is the universal language at the Dad 2.0 Summit, and there is a lot of it, always.

Mostly, though? I saw stories. So many stories.

Here are just a few that I might have used as a hook in a post-conference roundup if I had written one for a big-time publication:

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

One of the seminal moments of the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit: Beth Blauer, left, meets author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker. Meltzer dedicated his speech to Blauer and her late husband, Oren Miller, a leader and friend who helped galvanize the dad blogging community around the world.

Author Brad Meltzer, the opening keynote speaker, dedicated his remarks to the late Oren Miller and his wife, Beth Blauer.

Oren was one of the dad blogging community’s most important leaders, the founder of a large and vibrant group of dad bloggers on Facebook. He also was an incredible writer who died too young of lung cancer, and Beth was in Washington, D.C., to tell her family’s story with the people who loved Oren so.

Disclosure: I sat on a panel with Beth, along with the head of Movember in the United States, Mark Hedstrom. Jim Higley, the marketing director of Camp Kesem and one of the most respected voices in the country for cancer care advocacy, moderated the panel, which was about the galvanizing effect of fighting cancer.

That was a story. It was a story of Beth and Oren’s final days together, of how Oren nearly lost his fight before it began because the news shattered him and sent him to a dark place that could only be lit by the presence of his small children. It was a story of fierce optimism, a story of nine difficult months that moved all who heard it to tears and left me in awe of the strength and grace of Beth Blauer.

I told my cancer story, too. We all have one.

Oh, and? Higley announced a huge fundraiser for a new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, Beth and Oren’s alma mater. Twelve dads will walk Hadrian’s Wall this summer to help raise money to fund the new camp.

That’s a story.

So were these. It would have been easy, frankly, to unearth them:

The brands have shown up in force over the years. What were they doing there? What did they expect to accomplish?

That’s a story.

Creed Anthony reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

Creed Anthony reads a tale of visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors were forced to work as slaves while author and keynote speaker Brad Meltzer looks on.

Creed Anthony, a dear friend and father of African-American descent who authors Tales from the Poop Deck, read a powerful post about visiting the land in Kentucky where his ancestors had been forced to work as slaves 140 years ago. 

That’s a story.

On Friday night, a large group of dads turned out for the first “Dad Slam,” a series of readings where men cried and laughed and shared their hearts. When time ran out on the ballroom, they moved to another room and kept right on reading and crying and laughing and sharing. 

That’s what they call “color,” in the news business. It was a chance to pull back the curtain and find out what this community is about.

That’s a story.

And then came Derreck Kayongo, the closing keynote speaker. He is the CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. He got us singing and dancing.


So many moments. So much useful information. So many hugs.

So many selfies and so much fun.

This was the fifth annual Dad 2.0 Summit as I saw it. Stories everywhere. Simply everywhere.

And there will be even more a year from now in San Diego. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

These guys and 400 others -- my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That's a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.

These guys and 400 others — my extended family. We have a lot to say and we have a lot to do. The Dad 2.0 Summit brings us together for common purpose: To change the way the world thinks about fatherhood. That’s a story. (L-R: me, Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids; Chris Read, Canadian Dad; Jay Sokol, Dude of the House.)


Kids Feel Entitled? Don’t Blame a Trophy

Is achievement in youth sports a zero-sum activity? Your answer to that question likely will determine whether you think it’s some kind of social catastrophe for kids to receive a small, cheap, but lovely little token at the end of a youth sports season.

Here’s another question: What is the purpose of youth sports?

I believe youth sports are meant to help kids learn to socialize. After-school and weekend activities like baseball, soccer, swimming and other sports introduce kids to different experiences, a vital component of growing up. Sports give kids the chance to identify their physical, mental and emotional limits and push past them as they grow.

Most of all, youth sports are supposed to be fun.

If you believe sports is only about identifying winners and losers, then frankly, you have the wrong idea about the purpose of youth sports.

This brings me to trophies. What are trophies? A lot has been made this week about Steelers player James Harrison’s public assertion that participation awards in youth sports rob his kids of the edge they need to succeed. So, he told the world on Instagram that he is returning his kids’ participation trophies.

The implication is that a trophy only has value if it is emblematic of success in children’s games.

Historically, trophies do symbolize achievement. They symbolize excellence. They are physical reminders of the hard work and dedication put in to perform well enough to defeat the competition. Well, guess what? Those days are over. The traditional purpose of trophies has changed, at least for youth sports.

Whereas they used to give out certificates for participation, they now give out trinkets. Today’s participation trophies might also be likened to the varsity letters awarded to older kids who play at the highest level of high school sports. It’s perfectly reasonable that as kids get older – say, high school age – and begin to separate out into “competitive” and “recreational” athletes, some physical award for championships is received.

In this century, though, trophies for participants in most youth sports leagues have come to represent something else – commitment to a purpose. That’s worth commemorating, worth recognizing, as kids move toward adolescence and adulthood.

Times Have Changed

That said, I personally don’t believe it matters if a kid gets a participation trophy at the end of the season. When I was a kid, we got certificates – none of which survived for long. Many youth leagues award participation trophies today instead of certificates. So what? It’s the same message, only instead of a piece of paper it’s a trophy.

Not everyone chooses to gracefully accept this change. They think trophies should still mean today what they meant 20 or 30 years ago. They refuse to recognize that times have changed in that regard. I get it. It’s difficult to let go of tradition.

The problem I have is with parents and others who think participation trophies are somehow harmful to kids. That’s simply ludicrous. Kids are smarter than that. They deserve more credit than that.

My older son has a shelf-full of participation trophies and medals from YMCA soccer and Cal Ripken baseball. He displays them because they remind him of the friends he made and the fun he had during those seasons. He worked hard and improved every season and I see no problem with him enjoying the trophies.

We didn’t make a big deal of it when he got them. There was no, “Oh, hey! Look at that! You did SO GREAT! You get a TROPHY! Hooray for you!” Trophies or medals were just part of the end-of-season ceremonies, along with ice cream and the occasional pizza party.

I’m seeing many arguments this week from parents who scoff at the notion of a participation trophy. Great. Fine. Those parents can do their thing. But if a kid gets a kick out of receiving a shiny little trinket along with his or her ice cream cone at the end of a youth sports season, why would you want to spoil that?

It has been my experience that kids who get these trophies at the end of seasons are more excited about the ice cream. I’ve seen kids cry at the end of a season not because they didn’t win, but because they were sad that they would no longer be playing a game they love with this particular group of friends.

That’s the beauty of youth sports. The games give kids something to care about.

Don’t Blame the Trophy

I get the sense that people who object to participation trophies see them as symbolic of or contributing to an “entitlement” mentality. They associate it with the dreaded concept of “political correctness,” or consider it a symbolic recognition that mediocrity is acceptable. They seem to believe that if a kid gets an “award” simply for showing up, he or she will always believe that’s how life should be.

That’s a specious conclusion, because recognition for participation in youth sports is nothing new.

It’s just that instead of a piece of paper with a hastily-scribbled or stamped signature of some unknown league official at the bottom, kids get something a lot cooler – a trophy, or occasionally a little medal on a ribbon. A trophy is nicer than a piece of paper, but these little figurines of plastic, metal and wood one day will be discarded along with all other childhood relics.

If a kid happens to look at that shiny trinket on the shelf as he or she grows up, who knows? It just might be a reminder of the fun, the camaraderie, and other lessons learned during that season. It might even make that kid smile. Nothing wrong with that.

One thing it won’t do – it won’t turn that kid into a spoiled, entitled brat who expects to get something for nothing. If that attitude exists, parents might want to look for the cause in the mirror, rather than the trophy case.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Yeah, I'm happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

Yeah, I’m happy. I admit it. The pursuit goes on.

A year ago today, I saw a rainbow in the sky on my way to work. At the office, I dropped my computer bag on my desk, walked to the corner office, and submitted my notice.

After four-and-a-half years of cubicle life, it was time to move on. Events conspired to make it possible for me to do that. I was fortunate, and I knew it.

I know it, still.

For a while, it seemed as if I had no choice. I felt trapped by circumstance. That was false. I always had a choice. I was not trapped. But I thought I was, and thinking it made it so.

For a while.

You are not trapped, either. You have a choice.

You can — you should — pursue happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is not some quaint and dusty notion from the history books. It is not merely an optional addendum intended to improve the rhythm of a catchy line, a pithy means to complete the circle of life and liberty.

It is a right. It is your right. Unalienable, even.

Happiness? It’s not a state of being. It is a fleeting thing. There’s a reason we must pursue it.

When you catch it often enough, happiness becomes familiar. String enough of those fleeting, happy moments together and yes, you can make happy your default emotion.

A year ago today, I saw that rainbow and took it as a sign. I don’t believe in signs. I do believe in contradiction, though, and in the power of conflict and decision to shape our lives.

It hasn’t been perfect. But we have been happy. We are happy. And the pursuit goes on.


The Fine Line Between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I can’t – yet’

To a second grader, grownups are magicians. We can reach stuff in the high cabinets. We can make toast. We can drive a car. We can produce endless LEGO sets out of thin air. We can do things their developing minds consider mini-miracles.

I kind of like it. Makes me feel useful and smarter than I actually am.

Our younger son got frustrated at breakfast trying to open one of those applesauce pouches. You know the kind, and come on; it’s the easiest thing on Earth to do, right? Grab the cap in one hand, hold the pouch firmly in the other hand, apply counter-clockwise pressure to the cap, and voilà! One of your oh-so-vital servings of fruit, ready to inhale at your convenience.

He could not figure it out. So, he threw it across the table and yelled, “I can’t!”

I retrieved the pouch and placed it in front of him, unopened. I bent down to his level and smiled. He crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip.

I ducked my head to look at him eye-to-eye and asked, “Can you fly a rocket ship to the moon?”

He said, “No!”

I asked, “Can you drive a car to the movies?”

He said, “No! No! No!”

I asked, “Can you ride your bike without training wheels?”

He said, “No, and I don’t want to!”

I asked, “Can you determine the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

He looked up at me and said, “What?”

Then I backed away a bit and, smiling, asked him quietly, “Can you put on a shirt by yourself?”

He uncrossed his arms and said, “Yes.”

He reached for the pouch and I gently swatted his hand away. He laughed and waited for the next question.

I asked, “Can you take a bath by yourself?”

He said, “Yes! A shower.”

I asked, “Can you go to the bathroom by yourself?”

He laughed again and said, “No!”

I looked at him sideways and he said, “OK, yes!”

Then I said, “You can’t drive a car … yet. You can’t ride a rocket to the moon … yet. You can’t ride your bike without training wheels … yet. You can’t cure cancer, or make a plan for world peace, or feed the world’s hungry, or invent a flying car. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Not yet. But that’s because you don’t have the experience you need to do those things. Your mind and body are still growing. You’re still learning. Everything is still new to you. You aren’t unable to do these things because you’re seven; your age is just a number. You are unable to do these things yet because you haven’t had the time to learn how to think, how to allow your intelligence to work on a problem until you find the solution.

“Plus,” I said, “you’re just too short to reach the cabinet.”

Then I said, “The answer you give when someone asks if you can fly to the moon is, ‘Not yet.’ ”

I asked, “Does that make sense?”

He shrugged and said, “I guess.”

“OK,” I said. “Good.”

Then I asked, “Can you open your applesauce pouch on your own?”

And he said, “No.”

Then he added, “Not yet.”

He smiled, reached for the pouch, and turned the cap with all his might.

13 Things Horrible Parents Let Their Kids Do

If there is one thing I have learned in nearly a decade of parenthood, it is that there is no way to know for sure if you are doing it right. Only time will reveal how much you have screwed up your kids, and by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

This is oddly comforting. It is liberating as a parent to let go of the illusion of control.

Yet, we remain culpable. It is our responsibility to guide our children through their formative years, to place them on a path of happiness and productivity.

Yes, this is a contradiction. Clearly, parenting is a no-win proposition.

That said, some parents are worse at juggling this great contradiction than others. And some are much, much worse. Some, apparently, just don’t give a crap.

How can we identify these incompetent moms and dads? Who, exactly, are these people responsible for the decay of society and the end of civilization as we know it?

Simple: Only terrible, horrible, no good parents allow their kids to do these 13 things:

1. Play baseball.



2. Play golf. 


Source: GIPHY

3. Gymnastics. 

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

4. Power wash the driveway.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

5. Go camping.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

6. Walk.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

7. Sit.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

8. Yard work.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

9. Fly on a magic carpet.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

10. Fly an airplane.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

11. Go to the beach.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

12. Fall in love.

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY

13. Become sentient. 

Source: GIPHY

Source: GIPHY


If you enjoyed (or hated) this horrible take on terrible parenting, please take a moment to click the social share buttons below. You might also fancy Han Solo’s parenting advice, the only other GIF list in the history of this online journal. For much more from DadScribe, give me a “like” on Facebook. Thanks!

The Doofus Dad Stereotype is Still a Thing, Unfortunately

Our older son is at a Friday night birthday party in the next neighborhood up the road. Our younger son requested a viewing of Frozen.

My wife, their mother, is – as of this writing – stuck on an airplane that is runway-bound while it waits out a nasty Central Florida thunderstorm. She is on her way to Cape Cod for a brief family visit, a weekend with her sister and mom.

That means it’s … it’s … just me and the (gasp!) boys. Oh, my God. What am I … what am I supposed to do? What’s … where’s … I …




Yeah, right.

I got this.

Just like millions of dads all over the world would have it if their parenting partner went out of town for a weekend or longer. This is part of the deal. We cover for each other – when I’m out of town, she’s fine. And vice-versa.

If this is starting to sound familiar, that means you are probably one of the very, very small handful of people who used to read this journal in its infancy.

My goodness. I just checked the date of the last time I wrote a post proclaiming that “I got this.” It was May 16, 2012 – almost three years ago to the day.

Here’s a sample from that post, When Mom Travels for Work … It’s Cool:

“When Mom leaves, the boys and I miss her. A lot. She’s absolutely the straw that stirs. Over the long term, we’d be lost without her. (Ugh. I almost deleted that sentence, because it’s too painful to even contemplate.)

But listen … we’re fine. The boys get fed. They get bathed. They receive my attention. They get hugged and rough-housed with and loved. The only real adjustment is I get up a half-hour earlier so I can take my shower and get dressed before they wake up.

I don’t need Mom to leave me a check list. I already know how to call their pediatrician, if necessary. I know how to feed them, and dress them, and bathe them, and read a bed-time story to them. I know how to take care of them. They’re my kids. Of course I know how to take care of them. I’m fortunate in that I have an incredible partner, and there’s no way I’ll ever take what she does and who she is for granted. We need her, and even though that doesn’t change when she goes on the road, we’re fine for a while.”

Was that me, trying to make myself out to be some kind of special snowflake dad who is so much better at this than the rest of you? Hell, no. It was me refuting the antiquated notion that dads are imbeciles who are helpless without someone there to hold their hands when their parenting partners are not around.

A writer for Babble, Lori Garcia, expressed that same sentiment. Not three years ago. Yesterday.

Here is Lori’s salient point:

“Dads, I love y’all, but I’m not falling all over myself because you acted like a parent. You’re capable. You’re intelligent. You’re great at it. And you do it all the damn time.”

Hell, yes! We’ve made it! No longer must engaged, loving, competent dads be considered helpless buffoons in the absence of their partners!

This is great! This is …


I spent a good portion of this evening taking the losing side of an argument that I honestly believed was settled a while ago. After all, hadn’t I written about it three years ago? Hadn’t a lot of people?

Weren’t big brands taking notice that the tired, old doofus dad trope was done and dusted? Hadn’t Dove Men+Care raised the bar for everyone? Hadn’t we decided as a society that dads can (and should) Lean In, too?

Yes! We are beyond it! Aren’t we?

Here’s what I wrote in a good conversation with a group of less-naïve dads on Facebook. I reference the Babble story mentioned and linked above:

“I guess I’m as confused as Lori about why it would be (still) the majority opinion that if one parenting partner takes off for a while, the other parenting partner would melt into a puddle of confusion and despair about bath time and bed time or whatever. Yes, there are ‘red state’ ways of thinking about the family dynamic, but I want to believe that the old, tired way of thinking about these things is being overtaken by more enlightened ideas. At least in theory, if not in actual everyday, everywhere practice. No?”


As I naively tried to argue in favor of progress, a fellow dad posted this ridiculous commercial from AT&T in the same private group: Piece of Cake. Basically, it’s a dad who is left at home alone with the kids and is so inept that only a magical AT&T app that controls everything in the house helps the husband and kids survive the mom’s absence.

It’s the first big-brand commercial I’ve seen in a while that relied on the doofus dad as the primary conceit. And listen – I am aware there are dads who are doofuses. I am aware that everyone forgets things and takes shortcuts and needs a little help every now and then with the kids and with life in general.

I also am aware that in our insular group of fathers who write and interact on social media – the Dad 2.0 Summit crew, City Dads and many others – we do not necessarily fall within the cultural perception of the usual. Maybe it just seems to me like it’s no big deal for dads to be “left alone” with the kids for a while because of the company I keep.

I’d like to think it’s beyond that, though. I’d like to think there has been progress. I’d like to think that it’s “normal” for a dad to be able to pick up his kids at the bus stop on an afternoon, drop off his older son at a birthday party, watch Frozen with his younger son, and plan a fun, productive weekend while his wife was enjoying a wonderful weekend with her mom and sister.

I’d like to think that. Until there are no more commercials like that silly AT&T nonsense above, I’m afraid my fellow fathers are right.

We still have a lot of work to do.

High Anxiety: the Price of Parental Expectations in Youth Sports?

An Ithaca College study published this month in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology confirms again that we, as parents, have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.

This is especially true, according to the study, for parents of kids aged 6-18 who participate in competitive swimming, tennis, gymnastics, bowling, wrestling, cross country and indoor track. Probably baseball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey, too, but they haven’t gotten around to observing team sports, so they don’t yet have a gauge on how stupid we are when our kids play those.

What egregious parenting gaff has been revealed now? How are we damaging our kids who play individual (and probably team) sports?

We place expectations upon our children. And that, apparently, is bad.

To be clear: I agree to an extent, but reject the notion that expectations are to be avoided in youth sports. I’ll explain why in a minute.

According to the study, parental expectations in youth sports are bad because the more ambitious the expectations, the greater the level of anxiety (pregame jitters) exhibited by the kid athletes. Similarly, the more parents wanted their kids to out-perform the other kids – in other words, the more the parents cared about who won – the less a kid was able to concentrate during the competition.

The reverse was true, too. The study found that the more ambitious the kids’ goals were, the higher the levels of anxiety experienced by the parents.

Hey, that’s fair. If we’re going to mess with our kids’ minds, they have every right to mess with ours right back.

Look, I’m all for managing expectations. I’m all for maintaining an even keel, especially when it comes to my kids and sports.

We enrolled our kids in YMCA soccer for years. Every player got a trophy. There were no standings. The score was kept informally, and no one knew (or cared) who the champion was at the end of the season.

There are parents and academics who believe that kind of athletic competition is a waste of time, that it defeats what they consider the purpose of kids participating in competitive sports. Their idea of meaningful participation in youth sports is that learning how to win a game at a young age can prepare their children to “win at life” as adults.

I wrote about my objection to that way of thinking about youth competitions in 2013 – After School Activities: Just Let Kids Be Kids. The bottom line for me was that the skills required to win a youth athletic competition only very loosely translate to the skills necessary to succeed in any profession except professional athlete and maybe coach.

Perhaps a kid can learn social skills as part of a team, but excelling on a field of play at age 8 is not a predictor of a corner office with a Fortune 500 company.

Still, now that our older son is well into his first season of competitive baseball, you’re darn right I have expectations. These expectations are fundamental. They are not negotiable.

  • I expect him to learn how to catch, throw, run, slide and swing a bat well enough that he won’t get hurt during the course of a game.
  • I expect him to pay attention to his coaches during practice, and that he’ll listen to me when we’re playing catch in the back yard.
  • I expect him to treat his teammates and his opponents with respect.
  • I expect him to learn the rules of the game, and I expect him to remember what he is supposed to be doing at all times on the baseball field – and if he doesn’t remember, I expect him to ask his coaches or more-experienced teammates.
  • I expect him to finish his homework before week-day practices and week-night games.
  • I expect him to have fun.

Now, I understand what the Ithaca report meant to condemn. There are parents who take sports too seriously, who live and die with every moment on the court, in the pool, on the mat or on the field. If pushed too far, that can be tough or even impossible for a kid to handle emotionally, and it’s not a good way to teach. It’s certainly no fun for anyone.

What I’m not wild about with this study is that it attempts to caution parents that any expectation has the potential to heighten the level of anxiety for a kid athlete. Furthermore, this is automatically assumed to be a bad thing.

I submit that parents should set reasonable expectations regarding a child’s participation in youth sports. Those expectations should be explained clearly and parents should be sure that their kid understands exactly how to live up to the expectations.

My expectations are reasonable, but I also acknowledge that trying to live up to all of those – including the part about having fun – might present a challenge for my sons. So be it. Growth happens when we confront our anxieties. We either overcome them or succumb to them. Either way, we learn.

Give a kid goals and watch him or her excel.

And that’s part of the job as parents, to present challenges for our kids to overcome. Overcoming those challenges might not put them on the path to a career as a high-powered executive, but it will help them learn how rewarding it can be to live up to – and sometimes exceed – expectations.





How to Adopt a Kitten

One sunny day in January 1996, we decided to adopt a kitten. We drove to the Humane Society of Pinellas County to pick one out.

We found a litter of six tabby kittens just out of foster care, a furry, mewling mass squirming around their recumbent mother in a covered, elevated outdoor pen. The kittens were 10 weeks old. Our eyes and hearts picked out a brown and white longhaired female with pretty yellow eyes and a calm disposition.

Before we could adopt our kitten, we needed cat supplies. So, we left the kittens and drove to the nearest pet store to buy a litter box, food, a water dish and cat toys. We were gone for 45 minutes.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Murphy the cat, circa 1997. He was a loving, devoted companion for nearly two decades. Soon, we’ll find a new kitten. But not quite yet.

When we came back, our longhaired kitten was gone – adopted out from under us. The only kitten left in the pen was a shorthaired, silver-and-black tiger-striped male with bright green eyes, a lively demeanor and white tips on his front paws. The humane society volunteer who had fostered him and his littermates said it looked as if he had dipped his paws in milk.

The attendant opened the pen. The kitten climbed my arm and perched on my shoulder, where he sat and observed while I filled out the paperwork.

We put him in the carrier. He meowed the whole way home. We named him Murphy and marveled as he grew from sprightly kitten to warm, loving, devoted friend.

Nineteen years later, on Feb. 12 of this year, I wrote this update on Facebook:

“He joined our family in 1996, a shelter kitten who climbed onto my shoulder for comfort the first time I met him. He has been my companion through 19 years of seismic life change. I named him Murphy, after my favorite baseball player. He is weak now, legs gone, head and tail limp. He made it through the night, so we’ll take him to the vet today to see if anything can be done. Beth and the boys are sad, and so am I. But what a cat – a true friend. He’s had a long, happy life. Two decades of pure love.”

By 9:10 a.m. that morning, he was gone. It was time. We cried and mourned as a family, just as we had when we lost Luna at Christmastime in 2012. The boys had only ever known a world with Murphy in it. Our older sonwants to be a veterinarian, a career goal attributable, in part, to the love he felt – still feels – for that dear cat.

Murphy’s absence is not quite real yet to me. I’m still a bit confused in the middle of the night when I shuffle into our bathroom in the dark and I don’t have to worry about stepping in the litter box. I still am careful not to roll over too abruptly in bed, because I don’t want to unsettle the devoted old cat who purred the night away in the crook of my arm.

But listen: This is not a sad post. Murphy lived a long life and was loved every second of it. He is loved still. He was sweet and dumb and devoted and oh, so lovable. We rejoice in his memory.

And soon … we’re going to adopt another kitten.

We just have to make sure we find the right one.

Our Next Kitten: Candidates

How does one go about that these days? How do you adopt a kitten?

It starts with an impulse.

Before Murphy came to the end, we already were talking about what would come next. My wife is allergic to cats, but she began to campaign for a kitten months before we became a no-pet household.

We Should Adopt a Kitten

It starts with an impulse.

Let me be clear: My wife is allergic to cats, but she wants another one.

She endured 11-plus years of cats under her roof, in her bed, under her feet. Murphy and Luna destroyed our floors with their claws and by other means. Before we replaced the carpet, we waged battle for years against the stubborn redolence of concentrated uric acid (also known as residual dried cat piss).

Her sneeze attacks are sudden and wall-shaking – the sneezes come in rapid-fire bunches and persist until Benadryl works its way into her bloodstream.

Despite this, she wants another cat, and soon. If not for the fact that I insisted we spend a respectful amount of time mourning the absence of my dear feline companion, we already would have a new cat in the family. She and the boys were that eager, but they understood I needed time.

Why does my wife want a cat?

“I like having something alive when I come into the house,” she said. “And I think it’ll bring joy, which is really the only reason that matters.”

OK, then.

We’ll adopt a kitten.

It will happen in the next few weeks, after our younger son’s cast comes off his broken left arm. We’re looking at late April.

Potential parenting fail alert: I might have promised him on the day he broke his arm that he can name our family’s new kitten. His choices so far – Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers or Murphy Junior.

Yeah … we might not be sticking to the letter of the law with that particular promise. I think it’ll be a family decision, with our younger son leading the discussion. That’s a fair interpretation.

(I am not spending the next two decades with a Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers.)

We have some ideas already about the kind of cat we want to join our family. The candidates:

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 1.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 2.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 3.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 4.

What You Need to Know About Adopting a Kitten

Upon reflection, we’ll go with none of the above.

And we won’t go into this on a whim, as I did in 1996 with Murphy. Back then, I lacked the perspective required to envision the day two decades later when I would have to say that tearful goodbye to a companion who had shared nearly half my life.

Now, armed with the knowledge that the kitten we adopt next month could very well be cuddled in his or her feline dotage by our grandchildren, we will prepare accordingly and choose carefully.

I’ve read advice from reputable sources, including the ASPCA and Purina. Before we bring home a new kitten, we will:

  • Budget for monthly expenses: food, litter, litter bags, industrial-strength cleaner
  • Budget for annual (and emergency) veterinary bills
  • Prepare the house to absorb the inevitable damage and to combat the inevitable smells and dander
  • Explain to the boys about the responsibility of pet ownership and the opportunity to save an animal’s life by adopting from a shelter
  • Determine whether we want to declaw our new kitten in order to avoid the kind of destruction wrought by our clawed kitties in the past
  • Stock up on Benadryl for the allergies
  • Research places near us that provide cat adoption services
  • Clear time on the schedule for the next few months to nurture our new kitten and help him/her become acclimated to our home

Most important, we’ll explain to the boys that our new kitten is not a replacement for Murphy and Luna. The love and appreciation we feel for our departed companions will always be with us. If anything, as we get to know our new family member, I imagine our memories of Murphy and Luna will grow vivid – the way Murphy would leap and spin with a mid-air cartwheel as he tried to apprehend a bouncing rubber ball; Luna’s propensity to sit up on her hind legs, like a meerkat, and bat relentlessly at a proffered cat treat.

We so look forward to welcoming our new feline friend. Kids and pets – what’s better?

In the coming weeks, I’ll share the story of our family’s new addition. I hope you enjoy the journey, and I welcome any kitten adoption advice you have to offer.