The Field Trip

He came around the corner, distraught, and found me in the family room.

His face broke.

Tears gathered and fell.

“Mommy just told me you can’t come on the field trip.”

Small sob.

“I want you there,” he said. “I want you to go. I want to be with my daddy.”

He wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his face into my shirt.

I put my hand on his head and told him I was sorry.

“I have to work,” I said. “I want to go, too. I wish I could. But I have to work.”

I told him we could make our own family field trip. I told him to think of adventures we could have on the weekend.

The tears stopped. He stepped back. Our own field trip? That sounded promising. He seemed to feel better.

I did not.

_______________

The next morning I got into my car and began my commute as usual. I fought the traffic along the expressway and watched the sun come up.

When I reached the exit for my office, I kept going. My son wanted me there. I was going to go on that field trip. It wasn’t far, just up the interstate at the state fairground. A place where old Florida has been reconstructed out of antique buildings that were moved there from their original homestead sites. It’s a pretty, shaded village, a living set torn from the pages of a Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel.

I maneuvered through the downtown morning rush hour traffic and made it to the fairground ahead of the kids. I parked my car. I talked my way through the gate. The guard said he had a son, too. He understood.

When the bus arrived, I stood there smiling. Excited kids filed off and I looked for my son. He bounced off the bus chattering to friends, excited to be there. Then he spotted me.

“Daddy!”

He ran to me and grabbed me in a hug.

“You’re here! I can’t believe it! This is awesome!”

“I know, bud,” I said. “It is awesome. It really is. Hey, let’s go look at that old train station. It looks pretty cool.”

We explored the village, ate some kettle corn, pet some farm animals and had a great time making a memory.

_______________

No. That did not happen.

I battled the traffic, took my exit, and showed up to work. He went on the field trip with other chaperones, other kids’ parents.

We will have our own, personal field trip. But it’s not the same. I know it, and he knows it. That’s why he cried.

I wanted to be there. I should have been there. I could not be there.

It didn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right.

We can’t have it all. I know that. We understand reality. There is school, there is work, there are hours apart. Our family handles it as well as we can, just like every family.

But sometimes, if only for a day, it might be nice to have a little more. Sometimes, it would be nice to be there.

Tampa Sunrise

Tampa sunrise from the office. Beautiful view. Somewhere out there, there’s a field trip happening.

I Asked, He Answered: What My Son Really Thinks of Me

At 6:17 a.m., I walked into my older son’s bedroom and flipped on the light. His face was turned toward the lamp, so he squeezed his eyes shut tighter and twisted his head into his pillow. I sat down on his bed and said good morning.

“What time is it?” he mumbled into his pillow. I glanced at his alarm clock.

“It’s 18 minutes after six,” I said. “Time to get ready for the bus.”

“Six-eighteen,” he said. He’s learning time and money in school, and he’s getting pretty good at both.

And then, because I read a story about the impressions our kids have of us, and because I saw a commercial the night before that showed kids mimicking the behavior of their parents, I had this question buzzing around in my mind as we began our morning wake-up ritual.

“Hey, let me ask you something,” I said. “How would you describe your dad?”

Now, this wasn’t fair of me and I knew it. He was still basically asleep. His mind was primed for another day of second-grade exuberance and angst, possibly still full of Frozen songs from our little movie watch party of the night before.

I asked anyway, even though I wasn’t sure I would like his answer.

As drowsy as he was, he did not hesitate.

“Sweet, kind, funny, courageous,” he said. After a pause, he added, “Likes to play soccer.”

It was as if he had tapped into my mind and pulled out the exact words I would have used to describe him. Except I would have added a few.

Smart.

Empathetic.

Sensitive.

Energetic.

Loving.

Feisty.

Independent.

Loves to read.

Good at math.

Loves animals.

Loves to ride his bike.

Loves vacations.

Loves his family.

On and on I could go. His answer was not what I expected, but it instantly lifted me emotionally and mentally. I could not stop smiling when I told my wife what he said, and even the morning commute to work couldn’t get me down.

When I think of some of the words he might justifiably have added to his description of me − strict, grumpy, always tired, yells too much, hard to please, sometimes makes kids eat healthy food − I feel exhilarated, but a little guilty, too. Even though I would describe myself differently, he chose to accentuate the characteristics that place me in the most favorable light as a parent. The guilt sneaks in because his act of lifting me up with unvarnished praise also served to remind me that I have a long, long way to go to be the parent − the person − I need to be for him, his brother and their mother.

I won’t let it go to my head. I know that if I ask the same question at a different time (say, when he’s being forced against his will to spend 10 more minutes on homework instead of watching Clone Wars on Netflix), his answer might be vastly different. But it did feel good to hear it. It does feel good.

Nothing wrong with a little parenting validation from the most relevant source there is, as long as I keep it in perspective.

 

5 Things About Frozen Our Kids Just Didn’t Understand

Frozen

Can I say something crazy? Frozen has become our family’s favorite Disney movie, even though the boys don’t understand half of it. (Image: Disney Studios, via Click Communications.)

Can I say something crazy? We’ve seen Frozen three times. Three.

Can I say something even crazier? The last movie I saw three times in a theater was Star Wars: a New Hope, in 1977. I was 8.

Naturally, we own the complete Frozen soundtrack. Our boys know the words to all of the songs. And they sing them. Constantly. So do we.

The songs alternate as my daily ear worm. More often than not, I wake up with “Let it Go” in my head. And there it stays. All. Day. Long.

(It’s in there right now.)

Sometimes, though, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” or “For the First Time in Forever” manage to break the “Let it Go” stranglehold. Lately, “Love is an Open Door” and “Frozen Heart” and “In Summer” have made their presence known. Today at my desk, I noticed myself humming the chorus of “Fixer Upper.”

They’re all good. So good that I was tempted to download the digital HD version when it became available Tuesday on iTunes. We’re waiting, though. The Blu-Ray Combo pack comes out March 18. Maybe we’ll wait. Probably.

Meanwhile, we talk about it. I know the boys love the songs and the story and the characters, but I wasn’t sure they actually understood everything they heard or saw. A non-scientific investigation revealed what I suspected: Some of the lyrics and plot points were a bit beyond our boys. Not that it matters, mind you. They love it, all the same.

I’m just glad I took a moment to set the record straight for them on these five things:

1. Why would Anna think she was either elated or gassy, and where, exactly, is “that zone?”

This one required definitions for elated (delighted, overjoyed, very happy) and gassy (um … about to burp or, I guess, fart). It also required an explanation for the physiological effects that often accompany the anticipation of a life-altering event. Which … butterflies? That was a can of worms best left for another time, because our younger son still takes things a bit too literally. “No,” I said. “There aren’t actual butterflies in your stomach. It just feels like it.”

2. Why does Anna feel the need to stuff chocolate in her face at the prospect of meeting a tall, fair stranger at the ball? 

This one made absolutely no sense to them. Our older son doesn’t even like chocolate. If she was about to meet someone “special,” why would she want to risk having brown teeth? I explained to them that some people crave sugar and caffeine when they’re nervous, and as chocolate has both, it’s a natural stimulant. Or sedative. Actually, I’m not really 100 percent sure why she’d want to stuff chocolate in her face. Maybe they just needed something to rhyme with “sophisticated grace.”

3. Why is it crazy for Hans to ask Anna to marry him?

They got that it’s a bit weird for two people to become engaged to be married the same night they meet, but I don’t think they quite understood why. I tried to explain that first you need to meet someone. Then, after a protracted getting-to-know-you period of friendship, you have to become aware of a mutual attraction. Then, if that mutual attraction is more than physical zeal, there has to be some kind of … spiritual … connection? OK look, I don’t really know how love happens so if those two crazy kids want to get crazy with each other, who are we (or Elsa? Or Kristoff?) to say otherwise? I mean, sure, Hans turned out to be evil, but his horse seemed nice. It just goes to show you.

4. Why did Elsa change dresses (and hair) (and makeup) (and … bra size?) when she magically built her castle?

No, our boys didn’t ask anything about Elsa’s bra size. But they were a bit confused by her physical transformation. They understood that she left Arendelle because she was afraid she was going to hurt Anna or someone else with her uncontrollable power. And they got that she was now able to be who she really was and live how she wanted to live, with no rules. She was free. They got that. The purpose for the clothes eluded them, until I explained that it was the screenwriter’s way to make absolutely sure that we all understood that Elsa’s transformation was complete and absolute. That the only thing from Arendelle that she still carried with her was massive guilt for nearly killing her sister and for surviving when their parents drowned at sea.

Wait. What?

5. Why couldn’t Elsa just immediately freeze those handcuff things off her when she woke up in the cell?

You know … I have no idea. I’m just glad she remembered to put a little flurry over Olaf before he went the way of Frosty in the greenhouse.

A Look Back at Dad 2.0 Summit in NOLA

CoverSaturday night on Bourbon Street – neon green and red and blue and colors of indeterminate hue, a gathering Louisiana mist, free (FREE!) entrance into the Lipstick Club. Old Absinthe House for a round, then off again down a tunnel of light and music and grime and the smell of cigarette smoke.

So good. Regretfully, I could not hang.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

Bloggers on Bourbon Street.

This band of Dad 2.0 Summit attendees, these brothers and sisters of the digital world, wandered inexorably through one more night together, inevitably toward the Cat’s Meow karaoke bar.

When that realization dawned, when I knew that the clouded group-think had coalesced around the Cat’s Meow as its destination, I knew I didn’t have the energy. As much as I wanted one more chance to build memories with these beautiful friends, my hotel bed beckoned. I began to fall back. One friend after another drifted by, new faces and familiar, buddies and confidants, fellow writers and parents – I slowed my pace and let them slip past me through the Bourbon Street crowd.

Until at last I was at the end of our line, swallowed on all sides by unfamiliar faces and revelers whose nights were just getting started. Then I stopped, watched the heads of friends old and new bob through the gathering French Quarter fog until the last of them was out of sight. I walked back to the hotel along quiet, glistening Royal Street. A lone street performer sang an unfamiliar blues piece in a darkened doorway.

Another Dad 2.0 Summit was done. All that remained was to write the epitaph.

So … what now?

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

That was the question we were asked on Friday morning as the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit got underway at the J.W. Marriott New Orleans. The question, significantly, was asked of us by a brand representative. Actually, by THE brand representative as far as the dad blogger community ought to be concerned – Rob Candelino of Dove Men+Care.

The two-time title sponsor of Dad 2.0 Summit champions the concept of accurate depictions of fathers and fatherhood in TV ads. It’s a start, and Dove is a welcome and influential ally, but as Dad 2.0 co-founder Doug French says often about the larger picture: “We still have a lot of work to do.”

But … what now?

An informal study of 2013 commercials depicting fathers conducted by dad blogger Zach Rosenberg of 8BitDad revealed that, for the most part, things are moving in the right direction. Derogatory depictions of bumbling dads are not nearly as prevalent as they were. That’s progress.

Still … what now?

Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, touched hearts and likely moved product with the latest incarnation of Thank You, Mom ads associated with the upcoming winter Olympics. It seemed … odd … that they ignored the roles of the respective fathers of the athletes depicted, but an argument can be made that emphasizing the contributions of mothers does not necessarily de-emphasize those of the fathers. Of course, an argument also can be made that omitting dads from that advertising conversation was short-sighted on the part of P&G, but listen – at least they tried with the Dad’s Way and Modern Dad campaigns this past summer (disclosure: I was a blogger ambassador for both of those campaigns, which included a Father’s Day excursion at Brooker Creek Preserve).

Pirate's Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Pirate’s Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Perhaps what’s next, then, is for giant brands like P&G to follow the example of consistency demonstrated by Dove Men+Care and truly embrace what’s happening with this community of fathers who also happen to be talented, innovative content creators – and with engaged, enlightened fathers throughout the country. XY Media Group, parent company of Dad 2.0 Summit, is leading the way in that conversation and in the search for the answer to Candelino’s question. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. What’s most exciting to me about it is that I have the opportunity to help shape that answer, as do all of the bloggers and brand representatives who made New Orleans home for the past four days.

Speaking of which, listed below are a few personal highlights of the third annual Dad 2.0 Summit. I can’t possibly list them all here, because the weekend gave forth far too many memorable experiences and insights. The highlights:

  • I was honored to be asked to conduct a round table workshop on journalism and storytelling. The participants lifted me mentally and – in one notable case – emotionally throughout the hour-plus session. Jim Higley made me mist up when he reminded me about an image I used in a post about our family’s trip to Tropicana Field to see the Rays and Red Sox in October. So, yes … during a weekend of emotional gut-punches, I even cried during my own workshop!  If you were there – or if you were not – and would like to chat about the topic and techniques of purposeful observation as a means to breathe life into your writing, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you to all of those who attended, and a huge thank you to those of you who have since given me a kind word about the workshop itself and about how it already has affected your approach to storytelling.
  • Blogger Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna and the New York City Dads Group earned a standing ovation for the greatest show of courage I’ve witnessed in two years of attending Dad 2.0. His willingness to confront his own depression-anxiety disorder in that very, very public setting – and his brilliant turns of phrase and use of imagery in the post he read “Do I Really Like What I Like?” – gave me strength. It was likely the moment most people who were there will remember years from now when we talk about Dad 2.014.
  • Hanging with my fellow DadCentric bloggers, Kevin McKeever, Michael Moebes and Whit Honea, as well as fellow 2013 Spotlight Bloggers McKeever, Honea and Chris Read was another highlight. As I say, I could not hang Saturday night, but part of the reason for that was I made the rookie (or sophomore) mistake of hitting the Quarter a bit too hard on the first night and never quite regained full equilibrium. I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, though, as well as all of the friends I met in Houston in 2013 – Jim Higley, Mike Adamick, Jay Sokol, Jeff Bogle, Creed Anthony, Charlie Capen, Andy Herald, Jim Lin, Amy Windsor, Sam Black, John Pacini, Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider, Chris Lewis, Oren Miller, Adrian Kulp, Jason Greene, Kenny Bodanis, the guys from the National at Home Dads Network, the guys from Life of Dad, the guys from the National Fatherhood Initiative, and on and on. Then there were the first-timers, people I had met online only, who now I can include in my personal, ever-growing web of true, “in-real-life” friends who share an interest in parenthood and the creative impulse – Jess Sanfilippo, Lizz Porter, John Kinnear, John Willey, Brent Almond, Eric of Dad on the Run, Justin Aclin, Buzz Bishop, Vincent Daly, Scott Flax and so many, many more.
  • Listening to Jim Higley and Parenthood creator and show runner Jason Katims talk about parenting, the creative process and other important topics on Friday was a privilege. I was fortunate enough to run into Jason during that night’s cocktail party and he was kind enough to answer two questions: Is the message about authentic portrayals of fathers in media resonating in his industry (short answer: slowly, but surely) and what were his favorite TV shows as a kid (he mentioned All in the Family and Taxi as influencers, along with several other half-hour sitcoms that I didn’t quite catch).
  • I also appreciated hearing Josh Levs share his parenting journey and announce the publication of his new book in front of the Dad 2.0 audience. And it was interesting to see closing keynoter Peter Shankman displaying his pair of Google Glass (Google glasses?) all day Saturday at the J.W. Marriott. The future is here.
  • The folks from Dove Men+Care were amazing, as usual, and I would be remiss if I failed to thank them for the Movie Night on the Couch prize pack that I won and the framed photos from the Real Dad Moments campaign. We appreciate all the other brand representatives who did so much to make the experience great: Cottonelle (for whom I blogged — thanks to XY Media — during the Let’s Talk Bums campaign in the fall); National Geographic Animal Jam (hence, the skunk in the photo above); Jamba Juice; Kraft Cheese; Lee Jeans; LEGO Friends; Microsoft Surface; the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Little Remedies; and the savior, Starbucks Via.
  • I’ll never forget Whit Honea’s remarkable reading of Two Busy’s Spotlight post, By Such Swift Currents. It was a fitting swan song for DadCentric, as well as a wonderful way to honor the work of one of the finest writers in our community.
Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

Fog shrouds Royal Street on Sunday morning.

I’ll wrap it up with a special thank you to two of my all-time favorites in this community, my New Orleans roommates David Vienna of The Daddy Complex and Aaron Gouveia of the Daddy Files. The weekend flew by far too quickly, my friends. I appreciate everything you did to make it memorable for me.

So, what now? For the community, for society, it seems clear XY Media Group and other prominent dad groups will continue to consolidate and build on the efforts that seem to have made headway over the past three or four years.

But what about for me, personally? What now for this journal? That’s simple – I’ll just keep telling stories as well as I can, and try to make this online journal/whatever it has become something worth the time of its readers. I will also answer the call, when it comes, to help tell stories that depict fathers and fatherhood in an authentic light. It’s the least I can do for a community that has given so much to me in such a short amount of time.

One of the Best Commercials About Parenting You’ll Ever See (not sponsored)

This Coca-Cola commercial from Argentina is one of the best portrayals of early parenthood I’ve seen. This is not a sponsored post, but I felt compelled to share this because it spoke to me as a father of two young sons and it made me smile.

I hope it makes you smile, too.

How Will Our Sons Remember Me?

Boys, I don’t know if you’ll ever have kids of your own. I imagine you will. I don’t know whether I’ll ever meet these theoretical grandchildren of mine. I hope I do.

If you do have kids, and if I’m gone by then, they’ll probably ask about me.

“Tell me about your dad,” they might say.

What will you tell them?

What am I doing now to create a legacy worth remembering, memories worth sharing with your own children?

I know what I hope you’ll say:

“Your grandfather was smart, kind, patient and funny.

“He loved to read, and he loved to write. He read to us and made up stories with us as the heroes and helped us with our homework. He played video games, too. He was just a big kid at heart.

“He taught us how to throw, catch and hit a baseball, and how to kick a soccer ball. He taught us to care for animals. He took us to nature parks and movies and arcades.

“He loved to visit Disney World every bit as much as we did when we were little. As I said, he was a big kid his whole life.

“He could really sing, and he taught us to appreciate music. He couldn’t dance even a little, but he was funny when he tried.

“He always told us to ‘be good, be nice, be you and have fun’ every morning before school.

“He loved Mom more than anything in the world, except maybe for us.

“He showed me how to live with grace and dignity, and every day I try to be the kind of man he was.”

That’s what I hope you’ll say.

Here’s what I fear you’ll say:

“Your grandfather loved us, but he had no idea how to relate to us – or to anyone – in a mature, meaningful way. He really was just a big, immature kid his whole life.

“He liked to call himself a writer, but he never published a book and he would put us to sleep with boring stories about covering baseball for a newspaper.

“He played video games, for God’s sake. And he dragged us to Disney World so many times I get hives just thinking about Mickey Mouse.

“Oh, and don’t get me started about all the times he tried to live vicariously through us with Little League baseball and youth soccer. He just didn’t understand why we didn’t care about playing or watching sports. If he had the sense God gave a ferret, he’d know we hated sports because he constantly shoved them down our throats.

“Sure, he could sing a little, but not as well as he thought he could – and he made an absolute idiot of himself whenever he tried to dance.

“He was like a parrot with that ‘be good, be nice …’ blah, blah, blah every day before school. What did that even mean, anyway? As if platitudes could replace genuine communication and empathy.

“As I say, your grandfather loved us – probably – and I think he meant well. But every day I live my life trying not to be like him.”

____________________________

Here’s the thing about legacies: They are impossible to forecast. Memories are fickle. Even if I do everything right in your eyes from now until the day I’m gone, I have no way to know how I’ll be remembered by you.

Chances are, boys, if you do have kids one day and they ask about me, the things you tell them and the tone of voice you use will be determined by things that have not yet happened, by moments that have not yet been lived. You are just now beginning to form long-term memories. This is Chapter One in your story of me.

All I can do is to attempt to live up to the ideal, while remaining mindful of the possibility of disappointment. If I’m fortunate, my true legacy to you will not be the memories and stories you share about me, but how your children remember you. Because if you grow up to be worthy of emulation in the eyes of my grandchildren, then I’ll consider this a job well done.

Let’s Talk About God

“Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.” – Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth

God

Detail of Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

Our first summer in Florida, I was 13 years old and wheelchair-bound after corrective surgery on both feet. My parents sent my brother and me to vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church up the road from our Palm Beach Gardens apartment complex. There, in the Sunday school classroom, as I sat in my wheelchair with my feet in their twin casts sticking straight out in front of me, a young man with shaggy brown hair, bad acne and huge glasses asked me if I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.

If so, he added, my soul would be saved and I would be guaranteed a place for all eternity in the Kingdom of the Lord.

That sounded OK to me. So I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

And he said, “Praise Jesus. You are saved today.”

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

__________________________

Sundays at our house have always been reserved for rest. If not rest, Disney World. If not Disney, Busch Gardens. Or laundry. Or yard work. Or the community pool. Or grocery shopping. Or anything except church.

Put simply, we don’t go. We are among the 20 percent of Americans who a Pew Research Center poll identified as having no religious affiliation. That’s not to say we are not religious. Beth certainly is. She prays regularly, and she believes in the traditional, organized-religion definition of the Christian God.

I don’t share her beliefs. I suppose I would have to be lumped in with the 33 million Americans who identify themselves as atheistic or agnostic. I don’t know what that means, though. What I do know is that I don’t know what happens when we die.

I also know this: Neither does anyone else know. But you know what else? That doesn’t matter.

Religion isn’t about that. Or it shouldn’t be.

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative mythology whose work influenced George Lucas as he created the Star Wars universe, makes as much sense to me as anyone I’ve read or listened to when it comes to the purpose of religion. He said it exists not to reveal the meaning of life, but to help us find a way to live life with grace, to discover within ourselves an accord between what we experience and the questions and concepts that transcend our experience.

Campbell said God was, in fact, a metaphor for the things that transcend thought. I think what he meant was that because we exist in the field of time — we’re born, we live, we die — it is incredibly difficult, maybe even impossible, to grasp the concept of eternity.

And that’s about as deep as I want to go with that. As I say, I don’t know. I want to know, but I also am not arrogant enough to believe that I have the answers. That said, nor will I at this point in my life acknowledge that anyone else truly knows, either. That’s what I believe.

Which brings us to our sons.

__________________________

Beth wants them to go to church. We have found one that might serve, at least for now.

I have qualms.

On one hand, I want our sons to learn about organized religion, about spirituality, about humanity’s attempts to make sense of it all.

On the other hand, I believe that much of humanity’s strife — today and throughout history — has been caused by organized religion. As Campbell said, practitioners of the individual religions get stuck in their own interpretations of their chosen metaphors. That is, they fail to read the sacred texts or hear the sacred stories as poetry. Instead, they read it and hear it as prose. It is, Campbell said, a purely literary problem.

I see people in the public eye espouse views in the name of their religion about topics such as homosexuality, and it is clearly a bigoted way of thinking. Here’s the problem, though: They don’t think of themselves as bigoted, because they simply are adhering to the things they learned from their religious leaders. They are wrong to think that. Hiding behind specious lessons does not excuse the ignorant. While I might not know the answers, I do know this: Any religious teaching that is used to objectify and dehumanize other people is deplorable. I hope our sons never think that way.

Some of my favorite people in the world are deeply religious, and so sure in their convictions that it sometimes makes me wish that I could give myself over to the rapture and let the joy wash over me like a baptismal font.

It’s tough, but our sons need a frame of reference. They need to be exposed to these ideas — and at 7, our older son is probably as impressionable as he’ll ever be when it comes to ideas about spirituality.

It’s tricky. I bought our older son a book the other day called The Kids Book of World Religions, and he sort of freaked out about the drawing of Jesus on the cross. He needs to know what that means, that the resurrection is emblematic of the “death” and “rebirth” we all must experience as we transition from one stage of life to another (I am aware there are those whose interpretation of the crucifixion differs from this one). I Googled [talking to children about religion] and found an entire blog dedicated to the subject, along with this Washington Post story about the author of that blog. This is not a problem unique to us.

It’s necessary. We want our sons to make informed decisions about how they choose to think about spirituality in the future. We’re going to expose them to different ways of thinking, to different paths. We’re going to let them make their own decisions when they’re ready. You’ve got to start somewhere. So … we’ll start by giving up our Sunday rest or recreation to explore the spiritual.

And we’re going to hope that when (if) they choose their paths, they find grace and peace and love. Above all else, we hope that.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s Pieta, Vatican City. Source: Photo illustration by DadScribe.

I’m a Dad, a Husband, a Writer … and I Want It All

I want it all.

I want to be there – actually, physically, there – for my sons. I want to be a life partner and best friend for my wife, and I want her to be those things for me, too. I want a career that pays me what my work is worth and provides the kind of personal and professional gratification that comes from making a meaningful contribution, whether from a business perspective or culturally.

I want all of that.

And I want this, too: I want to write fiction that resonates with someone. I want to write short stories like O’Connor or Fitzgerald and novels like Irving, Chabon or Russo. I want readers. I want readers that want to buy my work in order to read it.

I want that, and I want to play FIFA soccer on my PS3 while I drink cheap red wine or expensive English beer. I want to watch Mad Men and enjoy a nice glass of bourbon every now and then.

I want to play softball again, and I want to go on dates with my wife. I want to go to Walt Disney World every other weekend, and I want to fly to Cape Cod every August.

I really, really want to go back to London. Paris, too. And I’d like to see Rome and Florence one day.

I want it all.

I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a writer.

I want all of the things behind those three curtains.

What? I have to choose?

Says who?

Here’s the problem. I do have to choose, just as men and women have had to choose since the rise of the original American middle class. That began about a century or so ago, when technology and progressive ideas about how the working class should be treated combined to thrust this country into an unprecedented era of relative ease and prosperity. It wasn’t always easy. Not everyone prospered. But on the whole, the world has never seen a society like ours, wherein individual aspirations are – in theory – paramount, and we are free to shape our government in order to create an atmosphere conducive to the pursuit of those aspirations.

A fiercely independent spirit – that’s the American ethos. That’s why we want it all. But who am I kidding? The past three generations – the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y – have collectively believed they are owed it all. We aren’t.

We are, however, owed the freedom to pursue happiness. The freedom to conduct that pursuit is an inalienable right, I believe.

So, what would make me – a dad, a husband, a writer – happy?

I want … it all.

Is that too much to ask?

_________________________

There’s been a lot of public discussion lately about this topic, along with another subject that is directly related to our family, women as primary breadwinners. I think those two topics are connected.

Here is an interesting piece that ran Thursday in Bloomberg Businessweek. Alpha Dads: Men Get Serious About Work-Life Balance.

Here is a piece on the Pew research study that concluded that in 40 percent of American households, a woman is the primary breadwinner. That’s how it is now in our house, and I could not be more proud of my wife. Breadwinner Moms.

And here is a link to the blog of an online friend of mine, Scott Behson, an academic from Cornell who researches and writes extensively about family work-life balance issues. There is a lot of good stuff there on this topic, including a guest post by yours truly about why I asked off the baseball beat in 2005. Fathers, Work and Family.

I hardly ever ask for comments, but I would love to know how you do it. How do you make life’s pursuit of happiness work for you? How do you decide what to sacrifice and what will absolutely never fall by the wayside? Our family doesn’t have any big secret. We just do it day by day and work hard to stay on top of all of our responsibilities at home and at work.

Sometimes it’s great. Other times, it feels like our heads are going to explode.

There’s been some backlash lately about the term “work-life balance,” but for us, it really is a balancing act sometimes. For instance, we both took today off in order to attend Jay’s first-grade class play and Chris’ preschool graduation ceremony, which began a half-hour apart and took place a mile apart this morning. There was no way either of us would miss those events, but we had to sacrifice a precious vacation day to do it.

What sort of decisions have you had to make in order to strike that balance? What have you missed? Is it even realistic to think about “having it all,” whether you’re a man or woman? I’d like to think so.

 

 

 

Are Angels Real?

“Dad, are angels real?”

Not what I expected to hear tonight as I tossed supper onto the stove. I waited a beat, turned toward the kitchen table.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t know.”

Fair enough. But I wasn’t quite ready to give him my answer. So …

“Well, what do you think?”

He pointed toward the ceiling.

“Are they up there?”

“On the ceiling?”

“No,” he said. “The place on the clouds. What’s on the clouds?”

“Rain?”

“NO,” he said. “Heaven.”

“How do you know that’s heaven?”

He has read it somewhere, or seen it on a TV show or a movie. Or perhaps he heard it at school or at his after-school center. We’ve not had many conversations of a religious nature yet with the boys. We don’t go to church, but the idea is to give our sons a grounding in spirituality and right and wrong, as well as we can. Then we’ll let the boys make their own decisions about religious beliefs when they’re old enough. Not saying that’s the way it ought to be done, necessarily, but it’s right for us, and that’s how we’re going to do it.

Meanwhile, back in the clouds …

He told me he read about heaven in a book on the Civil War. Someone was hungry and scared, and they prayed to the angels for food and protection. I can imagine why a kid — anyone, really — would want to know if that works.

Hence, the question.

“So, what do you think, buddy? Are angels real?”

“Well, I don’t actually know,” he said. “But do you think they’re real?”

“I don’t actually know, either,” I said.

“No one knows,” he said.

“No one knows?”

“No one.”

No one.

Seconds to Check, a Lifetime of Moments to Savor

I’m trying to remember how I thought about things when I was seven. I carry a few foggy memories from that age of an awakening awareness of gonads, girls and God. I was on the verge of knowing a few things, but I was still working out the details.

For instance: I knew older boys were terrified of being hit in the ‘nads. That’s what we called them: ‘nads. Or, I suppose I should say that’s what the older boys called them, and we first graders followed suit.

Because that’s what first graders do. They emulate. They’re mostly undifferentiated human templates, absorbing and assimilating the qualities of those around them. What they hear, see, smell, touch, do and dream at that age combines with nature to give them form and substance for life.

At seven, I don’t recall if I had the slightest idea that ‘nads were properly called testicles (and even more properly called testes, but we’re not really sticklers for propriety). I do remember that I didn’t know what purpose testicles served. I only knew they were my constant companions, and that it hurt like the dickens when I they got hit or kicked or smashed by the pointy tip of my bicycle seat, and older boys wore a cup during baseball practice and games, and I wanted to get a cup, too, because it would mean I was a big boy.

So, now, I’m the father of a seven-year-old first grader. In preparation for this piece about testicular cancer awareness, I thought it would be good to start with a lesson for my older son. I thought I’d begin with the generalities then move on to the specifics.

During the drive from Tampa to Walt Disney World Saturday, I asked the back seat the general question, “Hey. You guys know what testicles are?”

Silence. Then …

“They’re, like, well … um, no, not really.”

Turns out my older son knows approximately what I knew almost 40 years ago at that age. Only, instead of ‘nads, he and his buddies call them balls.

(A quick aside here. I envy the years of rich discovery ahead for my sons. The lessons they’ll learn. The colorful vocabulary they’ll acquire. Oh, to relive each and every moment when life served up a new testicular euphemism. It’s all ahead for them: nuts, eggs, huevos, danglers, scrotes, cojones, rocks, stones, the family jewels. And oh, so many more. Use them well, boys. Use them well.)

After our brief chat Saturday, my older son knows now that the proper name is testicles, but I’m still not sure he’s ready to process the concept of testicular cancer. I’ll save the specifics for later.

Not much later, though. One day soon, I’ll explain to my sons that testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among boys and young men aged 15-35. I’ll explain that catching it early is vital, because 99 percent of those diagnosed with testicular cancer respond well to treatment and can lead normal, active lives. My wife and I will talk to their pediatrician about teaching self-examination, and then we’ll reinforce the importance of vigilance. We won’t be shy, because it’s too important for awkwardness.

All of those details are a bit much for a seven-year-old, I think. But what we can do now is instill the zest for life that will convince him that it’s well worth the few seconds it takes to check for signs of testicular cancer.

So we savor the moments. Saturday, with my wife laid out by a nasty head cold, I piled the boys into the car for the hour-long drive over to Epcot. The annual Flower and Garden Festival has begun, and that means topiary! You might be surprised at how fascinated young boys can be with wired shrubbery shaped like Mater and Lightning McQueen, or like a family of pandas.

We spent a couple of hours Saturday wandering the pavilions, chasing the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, enjoying the mild weather, relishing each other’s company. It’s the Year of Disney for our family, and this was the first time it was just me and the boys. They’ll remember these days of Disney, I’m sure. I know I will. Perhaps one day they’ll look forward to days like these with their own kids.

With that hopeful thought in mind, we’ll remind them occasionally when they’re older to self-check for signs of testicular cancer. And then, if necessary, we’ll remind them of why. Hopefully, they’ll already know. Hopefully, they won’t need to be reminded that we check because those few seconds could buy them and everyone who loves them years, decades, a lifetime of moments to savor.

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 SingleJingles-Logo-spot

It’s Man UP Monday!

I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM!

Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable if detected early?

Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?

What can you do?

Stop by the Single Jingles website for more information on Testicular Cancer.

Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions — it just might save a young man in your life!

And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!

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Thank you to Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad for inviting me to participate in this great series. Here is the first installment, written by Whit Honea and published last Monday at his personal blog, Honea Express. Here’s another entry by Paul Easter, and another by Andy Hinds (aka Beta Dad).

Epcot

Topiary panda family at the China pavilion, Epcot.