…at another Daddy

I don’t often post about other people’s posts, especially if their post refers to another posting too. But, my mom sent this to me and I thought it was great. It’s nice to see fathers doing the good work of being fathers.

There’s nothing exceptional about this particular father, or there shouldn’t be.  It defies the stereotype of what a father is (lazy, boorish, incompetent, out-of-touch, etc), so it gets a lot of attention. It shouldn’t. It’s just a dad combing his daughter’s hair.

Anyway, you should take a minute and read it. Hopefully there will be a day soon where this is unremarkable.

http://daddydoinwork.com/dreamin/

…at Play-Doh

Louis CK talks about his daughters a lot in his stand up routines. These are always my favorite moments, usually because he’s giving voice to something I’m not sure how to articulate.

One of my current favorites is his description of playing board games with his kids. Rather than wait for one of them to count out the number of spaces she needs to move he points to where her piece needs to end up. She points out that she needs to learn how to do it herself. He replies that “I’m bored. I’m bored more than I love you.”

Sitting here with my two year old, struggling to engage with the Play-Doh, I know exactly what he means.

*sigh*

… about blogging

So I discovered something interesting: ignoring your blog will not drive more traffic to it.

Alright, that’s not remotely interesting. I was trying for a hook and it didn’t work out so well.

Here’s the real thing:

I neglected my blog for a while, long enough to not even feel guilty about not posting. I came back to it tonight to poke around. This leads to me a question: what’s the point of me having a blog dedicated to my life as a parent?

The masthead says “yelling into the internet,” which makes for a nice mental image (think Grandpa Simpson), but isn’t really what I want to do. Endless ranting is too much work—especially writing a rant while I’m actually pissed off, which comes out as a uninterrupted chain of swears—and not that fun to read. Besides, there are a lot of moments in parenting that I enjoy.

So if venting isn’t the point of this thing, what else is there? I could offer advice, but who wants that, really? I’m the guy who is a stay-at-home dad despite his total lack of interest in parenting and general dislike of children. I don’t have any time-saving tips, any geeky parenting hacks, or any inspired ideas about daddy-daughter bonding. To me this parenting thing is like riding a rampaging elephant. I try to nudge it away from the cliff, but mostly I just hang on with a white-knuckled grip. No advice here.

[Interestingly, I'm not into seeking out advice either. I leave that to the wife, who will scour forums and websites for ideas about various parenting issues that arise. I love that she does this, and mostly she brings home gems. I'm not going to share those here. (I realize that I just lied again, that wasn't very interesting...).]

The blog isn’t for ranting (exclusively) and it isn’t for advice (ever). What else?

It’s probably meant to be a public “diary” of my experiences as a SAHD.

I can get on board with that. However, I don’t want to force it into something that it isn’t. I am a guy who doesn’t really enjoy parenting, who is not interested in being a “better” parent, and who always want to list things in threes, even when he can’t. [Make no mistake, I love my daughter dearly and will do anything for her. She want's me to parent, which I don't care for, but will do anyway.] I’m not going to pretend that it’s different than that. I’m going to plant a flag for fathers (and mothers, probably) who aren’t excited about raising children, but are doing it anyway.

That seems right to me.

Okay, enough thinking into WP.

…some more about his own lazy-assed self

Last week I wrote this post, looking forward to my weekend as solo daddy.

I promised a follow-up report. Here goes:

The weekend went well enough. I was fucking tired by the end of it. Most of the tiredness came from getting up so early. Some of it came from the wall-to-wall toddler time. We survived.

This week has actually been harder. Normally I get the weekends as time to not be in charge. Not having that means this is day 12 of near constant toddler care. I’m ready for this weekend. I anticipate lots of beer and quiet weeping.

…about Mommy

The previous post was supposed to be the introduction for this little essay, but it devolved into me bitching about getting up early in the morning while pretending not to bitch about getting up early in the morning. Enough bullshit, here’s the topic sentence:

My wife spends less time with our daughter than I do, which can make her feel like she’s inadequate as a parent.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we split the routine with our daughter. During the week my wife gets the early morning and evening duties (getting her up, putting her to bed for the night, and giving baths). I take care of everything in between. On the weekends we tag-team. The net result is that I have a lot more practice parenting.

I can usually figure out what the kid wants more quickly, and, as we enter the age of self-actualization, I can get her to listen more often. I don’t think that these are indications of my natural superiority as a parent. It’s just a simple fact of more practice, more time alone with our daughter to figure things out. Let’s not discount the fact the our daughter has more practice communicating and listening to me too.

This often leaves my wife frustrated (and feeling inadequate) when she has trouble with our daughter. She’ll often say things like “I should be able to [do whatever]… I’m her mom.” I try to be supportive in those moments. I know that she knows it’s simply a matter of experience, but in moments of frustration things can seem so much more dramatic.

The best thing I can do in those moments is to let it be. If I jump in and try to help it only intensifies these feelings for her. She doesn’t want to be rescued, she wants to just do it. I admire that and I try not to get in the way. It’s tough, especially at the end of a long day when her frustration just adds to the general household weariness.

We’ve talked about this many times. As best as I can, I let her figure it out without interfering. Sometimes her approach or solution to a moment with our daughter is different than mine. I’m learning to keep my mouth shut about that too. The difference in routine is never really that big of a deal. Me making a big deal of it only serves to intensify her feelings inadequacy.

It’s a working solution, and as we all grow together I’m sure that all of this will get easier.

This leaves me wondering about two things:

1) Do other SAHDs married to working moms have similar experiences?

2) Do dads that work feel the same way about their parenting skills as compared to the SAHM in their life?

…about his own lazy-assed self

This weekend my wife will be away for a couple of days on a school trip (ogling cool old buildings in Boston.) This will be my first time completely solo with our daughter. Even as a SAHD, there are parts of her routine that I normally don’t participate in, as they are ‘reserved’ for mommy. Specifically these are putting her to bed at night and getting her up in the morning.

The reason that these are mommy tasks is simply a matter of schedule. My wife works full-time, so she only gets to see our daughter before and after work. These are the routines that fit into those parts of the day. I have, on occasion, put our daughter to bed because mommy needs to work late or go out for a drink with friends. It’s nothing I can’t handle.

I have never, not once, gotten up with her in the morning. I’m so not a morning person. Before our daughter was born my usual wake up time was 10 (that’s right.) I worked at home and set my own schedule, so that was what I did. Now I get up around 8 to go ‘on duty’ when the wife leaves for work. Again, for a couple of mornings I can make getting up at the ass-crack of dawn work.

Honestly, the getting up extra-early is not really the part of this weekend that will be hard. It’s the almost three days with no break. Even though I’m with our daughter all day, every Monday through Friday, my wife comes home to take over right when I think I can’t take another minute of the two-year-old-crazy-ass energy. She starts out the day so that I can ease into the morning. It’s a good system.

Doing the solo-daddy thing is different from the SAHD thing because of this. I don’t mind that she’s away. I know that I’m going to survive. If I don’t repress the memories of this weekend I’ll post an after action report sometime next week.

 

[truth time: This post started as an introduction to a different idea, but then it rambled and began to feel like it's own thing. So here it is, the next post will return to the original idea.]

…at the Berenstain Bears

Growing up we had a lot of Berenstain Bears books. I seem to remember enjoying them, but not really loving them. I do remember finding out that my Dad did not like them at all. He didn’t like how the father was portrayed. I had never thought about it before that. And I didn’t really think about it again until I became a father.

If you don’t remember the stories, here’s a brief recap. There’s some problem that the kids get into (say, eating too much junk food…). The parents decide that a change is needed, but somewhere along the way, Papa joins in on the fun and Mama ends up needing to discipline him too. Basically, Mama is always right, and always strong. Papa is an idiot and really just another kid (except with special nighttime privileges).

Anyway, I’ve thought about these books more than a few times since becoming a father. I’ve been more aware of how fathers are portrayed in our culture. The bumbling idiot is one common (and lazy) portrayal of fathers. Another is the emotionally unavailable father (with variations that include abusive, demanding, or overworked.)

I also am aware of how these popular portrayals affect the way people react to me as a father. There are two basic categories of reaction.

The first is the offering of unsolicited advice when I’m out alone with my daughter. Mostly this comes from older women, but regardless of age, it’s always women. When the little princess was very young and sleeping in her stroller I would be stopped and told that her head was leaning way over to one side. Never mind that she was facing me and I could totally see her. They would stop me to point this out, using a tone that said “I forgive your ignorance because you can’t know any better.” I’ve also received advice on her diet and wardrobe with the same tone.

This reaction is especially offensive. To presume automatically that I’m doing something wrong, without knowing anything about me or my daughter, is uncalled for. I doubt that these women are reacting specifically to me. It is more a reaction rooted in the general cultural biases about fathers.

The other kind of reaction I get comes mostly, but not exclusively from women. It’s various levels of astonishment of the novelty (in their experience) of seeing a man out and about alone with a baby. This reaction is usually unspoken. Those that do say something about it tend to offer praise. I appreciate their support, but it always feels a little strange to accept a compliment for just being a father alone. For all they know I could be a terrible father. But because I’m the primary caregiver, and also a man, they feel the need to comment on the amazing nobility of my life choices.

I think that this too is rooted in the same cultural stereotypes about fathers. Because people as involved, they feel the need to praise me. It makes me uncomfortable. I’m caring for my child, in public. Big deal. Millions have done it before me. Millions more will do it after me. I’m sure that these same strangers don’t offer giddy praise to the women they see out mothering in public.

Yes yes, I know. This is not a historically typical role for men and the recent changes in parenting roles is blah blah blah. So what? There are a lot of fathers who are good at what they do, whether they’re full-time SAHDs or not. We’re not creating some profound change in society. We’re just upsetting a lazy stereotype that creates the appearance of a change. Some fathers are amazing and involved. Some are assholes. Nothing new there.

So when you see me out and about with my little one, feel free to say hi. Ask me about her age. Comment on her cuteness. Be nice. If you feel the need to offer unsolicited advice, or have a burning desire to tell me how wonderful it is that I’m spending time with her, just keep walking.

…at failures

Two articles about parenting and failure have crossed my radar within the last 24 hours.

The first is a CNN story titled: Father’s screed a wake-up call for permissive parents

and the second is Amy Morrison’s piece on her blog Pregnant Chicken: Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother

Both of the articles annoy me, though I’m not completely sure why. Let’s explore.

The first is the story of an email Nick Crews sent to his children. He’s disappointed with what he sees as as their ” underachievement and domestic ineptitudes [sic],” particularly as it relates to the raising of his grandchildren. “It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven and then helplessly to see these lovely people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.”

A couple of experts are cited. We’re told of an outpouring of support for Crews, who is lauded by some for “telling it like it is.” But the basic thrust of it is that we’re living in a world with too many permissive parents, who are raising weak and morally bankrupt children. (At least that’s my take-away.)

I’m shocked by this man’s actions, especially to the extent that we know about the email. I’m also disappointed in the positive reaction this has gotten from the public. I disagree with the notion the there are too many permissive parents. Yes, there are parents who coddle. Yes, there is a very real problem with style over substance in how we as a society are raising the next generation. But most of the parents I’ve seen are working exceptionally hard to make sure that their children have opportunities for future happiness and success.

All too often this results in shortcuts and excused behaviors. I’m not so quick to want to place the blame on the parents though. We live in a country that places a lot of pressure on everyone to succeed, to live up to the American Dream, which we define by status symbols (degrees, awards, titles) and possessions (big house, nice car, stylish clothing). Because everyone is reaching for the same things there’s enormous competition at every turn, which means enormous pressure on children right from the beginning. (How many systems for stimulating the mind of an unborn child have we seen marketed?)

I don’t think the solution is to “work harder” or to piss and moan about those who don’t measure up to whatever version of this standard we’re applying. I think the solution is to change the standard, change how we define success. In my own life I’m coming to see success as being content in my work, having time for my family, and my friends and myself. I can have all of these things while living in a small apartment and driving a compact car and wearing the same shirts I’ve owned for years. I don’t see how to inspire this change in our society at large though, we’re too beholden to our things and to making political decisions that place the good of the economy (as measured by dollars spent) above other concerns.

I’m wandering away from the original article a bit. This is where my mind goes when I think about it though.

Onwards to the other article. It’s an opinion piece by Amy Morrison, encouraging mothers to not worry so much because there are some unrealistic standards about what a good parent is/does, especially in the context of how previous generations of mothers did their thing.

On the whole, I agree with the central points she’s making: “nobody’s perfect; don’t stress yourself by trying to be; do your best; parenting is hard work.” She has written a positive, encouraging article. Like the last one, I came away from this one a little annoyed too. She is addressing mothers exclusively. Recently I’ve become very sensitive to attitudes about the capabilities of full-time fathers. Don’t get me wrong, I see no disparaging of fathers here. It’s more the assumption that SaH mothers need encouraging with no mention of SaH dads. It really shouldn’t bother me so much, after all almost everything she’s written can apply to me too. But it does.

Leaving that aside, and ignoring any problems I have with her assessment of previous generations of mothers, we can see the same fundamental problem I was bitching about just above: too much pressure and emphasis on achievement. Parents are told all kinds of things that they need to make sure they take care, because the future well-being of their child is at stake.

Your kids need x amount of reading time and x amount of exercise play and balanced amount of x & y &z in their diet. If not then they won’t be as smart and as strong as all of the other kids whose parents are taking the time to do these things. Also, here are a bunch of products you can buy to make sure you reach these arbitrary goals.

And remember, if you don’t you may end up writing a disappointed email to your kids someday.

 

Okay, that’s enough rambling and complaining for now.

…at reality

My wife works full-time and is going to grad school part time. I’m proud of her for this and fully support her efforts. This weekend she has to work on a big paper, so I’m on extra duty (normally the weekends are her province). No problem.

Peanut wanted to go to the park, so she and I went. She ran around in the cold while I stood by and watched. I don’t like the park, I really don’t like doing things outdoors either. Today it’s cold, and I’m tired and cranky (from events unrelated to Peanut of the wife). The last thing I want to do is stand around in the fucking park, trying to wrangle an over-tired toddler who really really wants to taste the leaves and run headlong onto the basketball court where some older kids are playing.

In this cold, grey, experience I had a thought. I’ve probably had the same thought before, only to forget it. Parenting is not magical, it’s not full of joy and fun. It’s a grind. Every minute of every day you’re responsible for the well-being and happiness of a child who doesn’t know from one minute to the next what the hell she’ll want to do. You don’t do it because you love it. You do it because you have to, because no one else will, and because (deep down, under all of the weariness and shit filled diapers) you do love this child.

If you’re a parent who’s involved in their kid’s life at all, this is not news. I’m here to say that it’s okay to hate the experience sometimes. It’s okay to resent the obligation. Just because shit needs to get done, doesn’t mean you have to love every minute of doing it.

After spending a few days in the online world of parenting (especially fathering) I’m tired of seeing it described as magical or special or important. I’m sure that it can be those things sometimes, but most of the time it’s not. Most of the time it’s a job that you don’t really like, but can’t quit.

If you want to get fathers to be more involved, don’t encourage us to make memories, or be role models. Don’t tell us that involved daddies are like super heroes. Don’t tell us that anyone can be a father, but only a real man can be a daddy. Don’t pretend that it’s anything other than work.

We can do the work. We should do the work. If some of us don’t want to, lying about what it is won’t change that. Neither will empty platitudes or inflated praise.

And if you’re a father who should be more involved, but isn’t: man the fuck up and do your job. Sometimes you’ll like it, sometimes you won’t. Parenting is about being there for all it.

…at himself

Following up on my last post, which is really almost a year old, I’m realizing that my feelings about the sacrifices I’m making to raise my daughter are changing.

I don’t mind it so much anymore. This is partly because she’s older and is becoming more self-sufficient. She can play alone for short periods, she naps more willingly (most days), and she’s much more interactive than she used to be. I can balance my own needs for time and space with her needs for care and companionship.

If I may say so, I think I’m doing a damn good job with her. She’s a very happy and well-adjusted child (I’m basing this on what other people tell me). She’s also very smart and learning quickly, and I’m doing everything I can to help her learn. And I’m finding ways to fit my needs in and around hers.

So, would I do it again? Absolutely not. If I were to choose to have another child I would do so knowing exactly what the extent of the sacrifices are. Making that choice knowing how difficult it was the first time around would be so very stupid.