Avoiding the Dad Stereotype

Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton
Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton

It’s been nearly seven years that I became a dad. Seven years and I’ve done the best I could to avoid being the bumbling dad stereotype on tv shows. You know the one. He pours orange juice in his coffee and puts sticks of butter in their lunchboxes. I’m the modern dad. I wore the baby. I carried his diapers in my back pocket and bottles in my backpack. (Blue bottle = formula. Red = White Russian.) I went to Mommy and Me. He's starting first grade and I've made it without knocking back the dad cause or erasing the gains my fellow dads have made. We changed Amazon Mom to Amazon Family! I’ve carried the flag well I hope. Except for that one time. I was tired. It was early. He was just beginning to make recognizable sounds. I was just learning to ignore him. We were rushing out the door for daycare and I was knocking things off my before takeoff checklist. Never rush a checklist. I was calling out the items from memory and he was finding his voice. It was white noise to me but still distracting. Up until recently I was able to do my checklist in silence. He used to watch and listen. “How does this man do it all!” Now he wanted to participate and he was bad at it. Out the door and in the car. Checklist complete. I thought. Off we went. He made an excited noise and gesticulated. “Yeah yeah.” I said. Surely he was pointing out something he recognized from the endless rounds of flashcards. “I know. I know. Bus. Car. Dog. Cat. Great job man!” He gesticulated more. Made more fervent noises. “I got ya buddy. Kind of in a hurry here. That diaper situation was an unexpected diversion this morning. I know. I know. Bus or monkey or cloud or rocket ship. Great job!” Again with the pointing. “Yep. So smart. That is an elephant or a tiger or a dinosaur. Nailed it!” And this was how the ride to daycare went. And then we got there and I rushed him out of the carseat and into the school. And his teacher pointed and said to him. “But where are your shoes?” And he pointed and gesticulated and spoke pretty clearly. And I said, “Oh…. shoes!” And he repeated it in a sweet and a so very nonjudgmental voice. “Shoes.” He said. And I said, “Uh, Checklist complete?”

[Shrugs to the camera. Cue the laugh track.]

National Adoption Month. Where Do Storks Come From?

stork-and-baby
stork-and-baby

“Father?” Said the almost five year old. “Listen, there is something I’ve been thinking about. You and I have been watching a lot of classic television programing lately. Shows like Tom and Jerry and Dumbo and I’ve noticed that in them, often a Stork drops off a baby to Moms and Dads.”

“Yes?” I answer while thinking, “Here we go. It’s time to talk about his adoption story. Where’s Mom? It’s something her and I have had on our to-do list but just haven’t gotten to. Damn you MarioKart.”

“So in these shows,” He continues. “The families always receive their babies from flying Storks. They are dropped from the moonlit sky and the little ones float in under a full parachute safely to land on the doorstep of their eager families. I’ve seen a Stork drop little elephants, giraffe and humans. All sorts of things. But what I’m wondering is this. Who brings the Storks?”

“Uh, I’m not sure I follow?”

“Well. A Stork flying around with a baby llama is quite a sight. Clearly that’s not the Storks child. It doesn’t look like her. It doesn’t even have wings. The same with a baby alligator. The Stork is going to drop off the alligator to an alligator family. Why would a Stork be flying around with an alligator if not to drop it off at its real family? But why would she deliver a Stork to another Stork? Wouldn’t they be able to deliver their own baby? Is this why we never see them flying around with a baby Stork in the basket?”

“There is a lot to cover here?” I said. “Maybe we should wait for your Mom to get home. I think I’m going to go play some MarioKart.”

“I guess my question is this. Where do Storks come from?”

“Just so we are clear here, Son.” I ask him. “We are talking about Storks right? The bird.”

“Of course we are Father. What else would it be? I understand that when a Stork is flying around with a potbellied pig in her basket or cloth sack no one would guess that it is hers because the pig looks so different. Same with a baby zebra. But if the reason we never see Storks flying around with their own is because Storks deliver themselves… where do Storks come from?”

“Okay. First of all. Families are made of all types of animals. Moms and Dads adopt children from other species and they make beautiful families. Even when they look different and have different features. Sometimes a bird may have a donkey for a son and that is just fine. Or a monkey. Second. Storks do fly around with other Storks. Just not in the basket. Baby birds can fly too so they just fly alongside their parents.”

“Surely they can’t fly at birth. How do they get to their parents houses?”

“Magic.” I said.

“That’s not true.”

“A Genie in a bottle.” I answer.

“Like Aladdin?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe that answer either.”

“Amazon Prime. They come in those brown boxes.”

“Oh. That makes sense. Amazon drops off all the babies that way right? Then on moonlit nights, the Storks fly them to their families?” He asks.

“Yep. You got it. Until the drones take over. They will put all the Storks out of business.”

“Oh. One more thing?” He asks. “Am I adopted?”

“Yes. And we love you very much.”

“Thanks Dad. Can we order a sister from Amazon?”

Future Daddy Blogger Support Group

Group white chairs
Group white chairs

The meetings are held in the basement of a church near an all-night donut shop. Although both are helpful, the location is more about the donuts than the man upstairs. The chairs are arranged in a circle. The donuts are placed on an end table in the middle. They are a focal point. The embers of a fire that never goes out. There are always more donuts.

“It’s time to start the group.” The host says. “Thank you all so much for coming today. I see a few new faces and many familiar ones. Who wants to begin today? Tyler? How about you start?”

Tyler was seated in the circle directly across from the host. Although he was a regular to the support group he was hard to remember. He had an unassuming disposition and talked in a hushed voice. The others leaned in when he spoke because he was barely heard over the buzz of the box fans. It’s not uncommon for the grown up kids of dad bloggers to shun the spotlight. Growing up online was enough. Tyler was the norm.

“Hi, I’m Tyler. You all may know me as “Little T” from the SometimesHePoopsInHisPants.com blog.”

“Hi Tyler.com” The group said in unison. Adding a dot com to their name was a joke that caught on. A way to mock their dads who’ve chronicled their lives online since birth.

“I’ve made some progress since last week when I told you I was ready to talk him about his blog and how it has always been the third wheel in my relationships. He acted surprised that employers ask about the site and that first dates do their research before we meet. Secretly, I think he was adding up the page views in his head. He suggested that I add his link to my resume to help with search engine optimisation. He even asked if he could make me a match.com profile and put it on his blog. But, he listened and was receptive but... I caught him recording me. I haven’t seen it pop up on any of his feeds yet. With our conversation recorded at least I know he may listen to it later. The last time I had a serious talk with him he spliced my words into a Beastie Boys song that went viral. “Whatcha Whatcha... Whatcha Want!” with me replying “No More Blog.”

“I like your optimism.” Said the host. “We’ve all learned that they will not change and unless you are ready to hack and delete their pages we’ve got to find a way to live in their world.”

“Thanks. I tried to vary my pitch and volume to give him little to work with. He’s always been pretty good at sound editing though.”

“I’d like to go next.” Said Rachel as she sat down with a fresh donut. “I’m Rachel from SheWillAlwaysBeMyLittleGirl.com”

“Hi Rachel.com.”

“My dad wrote me a letter this week responding to an email I sent him. All I told him was that I wished I didn’t have pictures of me online from every awkward age growing up. To him they may be cute and at the time maybe they were but now I can’t hide from them. I told him that when I look in the mirror all I see is every flaw from childhood. He seemed genuinely sympathetic and wrote me a poem.”

“That is really great, Rachel. Would you like to read it to us.”

What moon songs do you sing your baby?

What sunshine do you bring?

Who belongs? Who decides who's crazy?

Who rights wrongs where others cling?

I'll sing for you if you want me to

I'll give to you

And it's a chance I'll have to take.”

Tyler squirmed in his seat and spoke up. “Oh man, Rachel. Holy shit! Your dad’s passing a Smashing Pumpkins song off as his poem to you. Damn! That’s low! I’ve had damn near every 90’s alternative song used as the backdrop in my childhood home movies. I hate that shit.”

“I knew it was too good to be true. I bet he spent more time choosing the font. He’s always going on and on about fonts. I think he only speaks to me in headlines sometimes.”

“Sorry about that Rachel. That really sucks. To you all. I’m new to the group. My name is Mark from ItsGonnaLeaveAMark.com”

“Hi Mark.com.”

“I thought I was alone all these years in my feelings. I thought I was being too selfish and judgemental and then I realized that it was he who was being selfish and narcissistic. There isn’t a movie from my youth out there for me to enjoy because all I see is my face cropped into the movie posters. I think my dad must have taken every movie made during my childhood and spliced me into it somewhere. What gave him the right to take that from me?”

“Your anger is justified Mark.com and your feelings are valid.” The host said. “May I suggest you watch something that he didn’t use?”

“I have! All I can enjoy is Japanese Animation and I hate Japanese Animation! I don’t know what’s going on and I always think I’m gonna have a seizure.”

“Most of us have tuned out from the digital world.” Said Rachel. “We get together and play parcheesi. You should join us after group. We don’t take pictures and listen to vinyl so there is no digital record. God, my dad would love to stream my listening habits online."

"My dad blogger would love to write a post about that." Added Mark.com.

My Son. My Chronological Yardstick

growth.jpg

spacegrowththinEvery memorable event in my life that happened before the spring of 2010 is filed away in my brain with a five year buffer. My mental calendar from the era before I had a child is ordered in half decade increments. When did I graduate college?

“I was done wearing flannel shirts by that time... mid to late 90's?”

Since my son was born he has become a yardstick on which I measure time. Instead of just inches marked off on the door frame I see months and the corresponding historical events. I look at his growth notches on the wall like a geologist sees the colors of a canyon.

My brother was married the month our son’s adoption was official. June 2010.

February 2011 he started scooting around the coffee table on his way to becoming bipedal.

In addition to tagging my memory with his chronology, I’ve watched the evolution of mankind as he’s inched his way up my leg. His descent from the crib akin to early man deciding that a tree wasn’t such a great place to raise a family. Soon after conquering land he began grunting and sketching crude drawings on the walls. This led to the use of simple tools and more complete sentences and an attempt to overthrow the established rules of the house. He assumed he was smarter than his elders but didn’t yet realize that we control the food and the bath toys.

It’s just a matter of time before I catch him sitting around a plastic round table with his playmates playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets to be Braveheart this time.

“They will never take away our Freedom!”

I can’t wait for him to catch up with the 1960’s human and enter the space race in the backyard. Am I allowed to impart my wisdom onto him or do I have to let him fail in order to achieve global dominance? Does he need to lose a few model Estes rockets because my interference will disrupt the space time continuum? I’d hate to walk back inside after properly staging his rocket engines when he’s not looking to find my image fading in the few physical photos we have on the wall.

And when he actually becomes smarter than his elders I’ll be certain to hide the growth chart from him so he can’t rewrite history. It will be saved for posterity so I can remind him where he came from if his power becomes too great for him to handle.

“Right there. That is when you first inched up to my waistline.”

Hopefully he will still look up to me as he did then.

If not, I'll just take away his bath toys.

The Beat Poets Taught Me How to Talk to a Four Year Old

jack_kerouac___on_the_road_3_by_nicadom
jack_kerouac___on_the_road_3_by_nicadom

Many days during my college decade were spent studying the Beat Poets and experimenting with stream of consciousness prose. We turned words cut from the newspapers into dialog and had nonsense talks over wine. We verbally riffed and let our talks ebb and flow on a course of their own often ending where they began... with a twist.

Talking to a four year old takes me back to that time. Those late night jams wired my brain to help me navigate most of my dialogs now. At least the ones I have with him. The child.

With him, I know where our conversations start and how I want them to end... my job is to orchestrate the words to reach that desired crescendo. I take his words... cut them up and use them against him. All the while letting him think he has a say in things. He's just providing the tempo.

For me, it's lots of verbal bait and switch. Subtle misdirection.

Our breakfast conversation may start with him telling me how much he "Doesn't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" With my conductors baton in hand the talk will end with him devouring a bagel telling me "This is my favorite food ever!"

But between those two points... is magic.

"I don't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" He says pushing his plate away.

"I know you don't like them. The cream cheese is horrible anyways." I add.

"I don't like cream cheese!"

"Cream cheese... string fleas... pink bees... crinkly knees." I rhyme.

"Trees! Trees rhymes with bees!" He sings.

"Sneeze and breeze and flying trapeze. Let's not forget the peas." I say.

"I like peas." He says smiling.

"I like peas too. And bagels." I strike.

"You don't like bagels. I like bagels. I love bagels. This is my favorite food!" He says as he pulls his plate closer.

Magic.

On Fatherhood: Almost 40 With a 4 Year Old

headphones

How different his world is in 2014 than mine was when I was his age in 1978. This is the blessing of the late blooming father. Had I begun the child rearing phase of my life a decade or more ago things would be different. We could enjoy the Hunger Games together, we could both simultaneously suffer from Bieber Fever and I could have eaten all of his leftovers without worrying about calories. Not so when 35 years separates us.

Now I can easily justify saying, "When I was your age."

"When I was your age, we called a thirty second video clip a commercial."

Will I be able to teach him to appreciate the things that made me who I am today or is he too far removed from my generation? Will the coming of age moments for me be relevant for him? Will the movies, books, video games and music mean anything now or will they be campy and ironic to him?

I've begun compiling a list of media he will need to consume (and appreciate) as he matures in order to continue calling himself my son.

When he comes home from school with awkward adolescent struggles and feelings of not fitting in I will sit him down to watch Weird Science to understand my 80's awkward. We had to watch our back then. When we (the nerds) weren't doing so we were fantasizing about a time when we could control our destiny with computers. We were on the front lines. "Back in my day, nerds weren't cool like they are now. Who knew it would take something like Glee to allow us to come out."

HughesHit_slideshow_604x500

Who knows where he will be and what he will have seen by then but when he is in high school and surely feels trapped, he will read On The Road and dream about wandering. He will not read it digitally. He will not listen to it. I will get him the book. I will encourage him to write in the margins and dog-ear the corners. I will teach him that the scuffed up pages with take him back to the spot where he scuffed them up. He will remember the book but more importantly he will remember where he was and who he was with when he reads it again later.

When I first started playing my fathers records, naturally I was drawn to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It became mine when I heard the tracks that weren't overplayed on the radio. That album came out only 7 years before I  was born but seemed from another time. If my son does the same, maybe he will stumble upon my Nirvana "Nevermind" CD. That album came out almost twenty years before he was born! Twenty years! What a gap. If 7 years was a lifetime for me then... what will a two decade spread sound like? The Beastie Boys album "Licensed to Ill" was one of the first tapes I bought on my own. A quarter century before he was born. To him... vintage. But the lyrics are timeless right? "Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear. I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair."

As an avid collector of classic video games whether he will enjoy the games from a simpler time is a grey area for me. Will he have the imagination and patience left to be able to experience games in anything less that HD?  When we start playing together, where to begin? Do I introduce them after the fact as being retro and nostalgic or slowly trickle them out in chronological order so he can watch them develop as I did but on a much faster scale. If so, we need to start playing Pitfall on the Atari 2600 soon. He's not too spoiled yet to think those green splotches are alligators and naturally you need to jump over them.

pitfall-1

Will these things hold up? Will he tell me to turn that old stuff off? Who knows. My only hope is that he can appreciate them and although it's decades later maybe they will resonate with him at the right time and the right place as they did for me. Then again... maybe it will be his turn to teach me something.

 

 

Watching the Wheels in Motion

monkeyman.jpg

"In our personal lives, also, we journey from ignorance to knowledge. Our individual growth reflects the advancement of the species.” Carl Sagan

Watching Judah's brain develop is fascinating. All those cliches about learning something new every day and growing before your eyes are tired and true but are overused for a reason. They are correct. Carl Sagan said it in Cosmos and I've been watching the history of human development on a microcosmic scale for the last three years. We started with grunts and gestures and cave drawings and have moved into the basics of verbal communications. The other day I watched him build a little Stonehenge in the sandbox and realized it wasn't a timepiece or temple it was just a cool exercise in how many rocks can we get standing upright before they all fall down.

Some of the most fascinating parts of my day are watching him when he doesn't know I'm watching. I sneak up and watch him through the window at school or in this case hide a camera in his room when he's supposed to be napping. Yes, there will be time a time when he needs his privacy and I'll stop spying on him but as long as he needs me to wipe is behind I think I have the right to record him at play and publish it to YouTube. (At least I figured out what all the hammering was.)

Now, admittedly, this video isn't for everyone. It's an hour of naptime condensed into 3.5 minutes. As his dad though, I sat through the unedited version riveted and on the edge of my seat anxious to see what may happen next!

My Days are now in Song

TrebleClef

I've been home for too long and apparently have had too few conversations with adults.

I've been off for a few weeks and have spent a majority of that time with a child who only utters a few simple things... more like breaths with some noises attached. He's experimenting with passing air over his vocal chords.

We've had lots of one sided conversations and most of them in song.

It's like a chess game with myself... again, in song. "Oh you're gonna play the knight I see... then I guess my Rook it will have to be."

Most of these conversations end with me singing, "No more rhymes... I mean it!"

And I wait and wait and wait but he never answers. So I do and laugh, "Anybody want a peanut!"

I laugh and swear that this is the end of that game but I get slap happy and it starts all over again. I'll trip over a toy and sing about why daddy is such a klutz.

The rhymes never make any sense and often start with, "Take it from me boy..."

And they are never set to a good tune!

Try as I can to get them out to a Dead or a Phish riff or even The Beatles but my rhythmic abilities stretch only as far as tunes like "Take me out the ballgame" or "For he's a jolly good fellow". What the hell is that about? I've a got a wide range of tracks in my head don't I? I'll take a Wiggles mix or even a song about cooking up a grilled cheese with a backdrop of the "Three's Company" theme over 1940's birthday melodies.

I was able to get a simple verse from Shakedown Street the other day. "Eat, Eat, Eat... yes it's time to eat." But that is where it ends. I'm no singer/songwriter.

In the past, every time I'd attempt to toss trash into a can and miss I'd remark... "This is why I fly airplanes." The same response now applies when I find myself singing a horrid remix to the baby. "This is why I fly airplanes."

Or rather it's, "Take it from me my boy, this is why I fly planes... yes just like your toy."

$#*! my son's caterpillar doesn't say

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Several times between now and the era of the stage 2 Huggie overnight diapers I've fallen down the rabbit hole of sleep deprivation to awake in the land of disproportionate proportions with over sized talking caterpillars, four keyed colorful pianos and airplanes whose propellers spin with a psychedelic glow not too far off from the St. Elmo's fire that buzz around the blades of a turboprop before a lightening strike. It's in this land and through my weary eyes that I make awful rhythms with toddler toys and get the toys that talk to say bad words in their little sing songy voice. Since the voice sounds like all the ladies who work at "Gymboree", I like to pretend it's them swearing at the drive thru speaker because the order was read back wrong.

As I sit down with a new toy to experiment with what words the manufacturer thinks are too dirty for a baby, I start slow and pull from the standard repository of filth... I type out George Carlin's seven dirty words. Most are censored although many aren't spoken clear enough to do damage if you played them to a drunken Eagles fan after an upset. You'd be more likely to get punched in the eye because you taunted them with a green toy caterpillar. Leapfrog has an array of talking toys that are limited in their range of letter combinations. Before you can finish typing in the offending word, you are greeting with an, "oh, that tickles" which depending on the word... makes it more offending. Apparently getting a caterpillar to swear tickles them. Who knew?

Interestingly, you are unable to type in anything that rhymes with "duck" for it's the U and the C that trigger the - "Oh, that tickles." I'll have to move to some knock off brand of toy whose seller has limited ethics if I'm to teach the boy how to spell "awestruck."

Baby makes days hazy

Since Judah's been with us... we've been a little spacey. People had said this would happen... but I doubted them. I run a pretty organized ship, both inside and out of the cockpit. Few things are left to chance and procedures are followed to ensure the desired outcome.

This morning, I forgot the second to last step in making a cup of coffee - Place cup under spout. I didn't forget the last step - Press "brew".