Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dads love the C word.

Community. 

A couple months ago I participated in my first At-Home Dad Convention.   For those of you shaking your head, yes, we have a national convention.  It reminded me of the very thing I had been lacking since I moved to Denver from New York City almost a year ago:  community.

A little history:  a few months after my son was born I took over as the at-home parent.  It was a remarkably easy job, mostly consisting of diaper changes, feedings, old movies on Netflix, and naps.  (The old movies were for me and were “research” for a script I was…  not… writing…)  It was also extremely isolating.  My wife stumbled upon a group of at-home fathers at the NYC Baby Expo and came home with the contact info for NYC Dads Group and their facilitators, Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider.  I attended my first event, a CPR training, and then began hitting meet-ups all over the city. 

Turtle was less than a year old so he wasn’t exactly “playing” with other kids.   We, as fathers, weren’t having hour-long conversations about the hazards of fatherhood.  Often we were silent.   We’d sit back and have coffee and enjoy the sense of community.   Soon, though, we began sharing and suddenly I’m the expert in the room on cloth diapering and another guy has been through potty training with three kids and another has a bead on free events and another has remarkably insightful advice on lactation and breast-feeding.   We were experts in several fields dealing with children and we were all sharing with each other, not as “dads” but as fully involved parents.

I did not experience the feeling of being “the other” in the parks in NYC.  There is a constantly shifting power struggle on a NYC playground; alliances shift on a dime. 

But in the exurbs of the Midwest, the dynamic of mothers and fathers on the playground is very different.  Perhaps it’s the difference between driving to a park a couple miles away and walking to the park a mere block from your home; seeing the same people everyday versus an ever evolving circle of acquaintances. 

I missed my community.

I have been trying to create a new one, and Turtle has wonderful new friends with the most amazing, generous parents (including some NYC expats), but there was still a void.  I missed hanging out with at-home dads.  I’d seem them in the grocery store, but most were reticent to admit they were full time at home parents.  There was a shame and embarrassment associated with it.  While I fully embrace the role, most of these men saw it as a temporary situation they were forced into by unfortunate circumstances. 

And then a wonderful blogger in Portland put me in touch with the Denver Dads.  The local group is spread far and wide over an area that encompasses Ft. Collins, Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs.  But the Denver Dads were hosting the 18th Annual At-Home Dad’s Convention.  And I plugged in.

Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to find the fathers who attended had created an incubator for ideas on parenting, an advocacy group for fathers. 

And not just fathers who are primary care givers – all fathers. 

The overall theme of the convention was “being present” as parents.  Others did a better job of breaking down the convention and our wonderful presenters, Jarrod Hindeman from www.mantherapy.org, Stephanie Jelley and Lisa Duggan from www.UmoJawa.com, and Dr. Harley Rotbart, professor and vice chair of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center/Children’s Hospital of Colorado. 

All of the speakers at the convention gave us practical, useful tips on how to be the kind of parents we aspire to be. 

But we gave them something in return:  we brought them into our community.

None of them had heard of dad’s groups, or really knew much about groups like the NAHDN, the NYC Dads Group and their new offshoot, City Dads, or even the dad blogging event, Dad2.0 Summit.  They didn’t know that there are advocacy and education groups dedicated to fatherhood.

But they do now, and they are part of our ever-growing community. 

In the weeks following the convention, I found myself wearing my National At-Home Dad Network shirt in the grocery store, at the gym (any other CrossFitters with Huggies and Time To Play Magazine logos on their gear?   It think not!), and I carried a handful of NAHDN business cards with me.  I began approaching dads shopping with their kids in the morning and handing them cards, striking up conversations, asking about their kids and play-dates in the exurbs of Denver.

Building community.





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Friday, November 22, 2013

Hitting the wall (or what to do when you're in a funk...)

A concerned mom contacted the National At Home Dad Network with a question:
"I need some advice from stay at home dads such as my husband. He had been at home with our daughter for 2 years now and he seems to have fallen into a rut. He sleeps probably 18 hours per day and has let the house fall to shambles. He says he likes being at home with her but at the same time all I see is a severe depression which he doesn't want to talk about. Any suggestions on what he may be feeling or what I can do to be a supportive wife while at the same time letting him know I need his help around the house without sounding like I'm just nagging??"

HERE'S MY ANSWER:

I fell into the same kind of rut at around the same time. A couple things happen around age two, It's not as easy to just cart the kid along with you and have them sleep most of the time. My son and I went to a Greek diner in Astoria and watched every World Cup match... He was about four months old. It was awesome.

Around age two, he began to need more. More attention, more stimulation, more activities. This is exhausting. There were days I was so tired, I plopped him in front of Sesame Street and then found myself standing in the kitchen, overwhelmed by all of the things I wanted/needed to do and fell into a bit of a funk. When there are so many things that need to get done, often we end up doing none of them.

I realized I  needed more, too.

It was around this time I forced myself to meet up with the dads of the NYC dads group more often, I began approaching moms on the playground about play dates, I started going out after my wife got off work to take an hour for myself to work out, grab a coffee with a friend. I found routines for us: the neighborhood coffee shop for a croissant (for him) and coffee, then the library every Wednesday, the park and then the frozen yogurt place every tuesday and thursday, museum Mondays... These things helped.

After moving to Denver last year, we set up new routines. (Monday is grocery, which means hitting Starbucks together for a doughnut and coffee/chocolate milk. Tuesday is lunch at the library. Wednesday is coffee at our favorite place downtown and the used bookstore/thrift stores. Thursday is the museum.) I look forward to these things as much as my child does.

Then the fog clears and you can see clearly what needs to get done at home. This funk probably isn't about housework. It's about him. He needs stimulus, just like your child.

Find him a dad's group. (click through our links at the NAHDN.) My wife found mine for me and it's changed my life.

If he's still in a funk, have him check out www.mantherapy.org. His funk may be deeper.

Hope that's helpful.


QUESTION:  WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET OUT OF THE FUNK AND STOP HITTING THE WALL?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Most Important Lesson We Can Pass On

Last weekend the “dad” community was overwhelmed by the news of the death of a child.  The two-year-old son of Adrian Peterson, winner of the NFL’s Most Valuable Player last season and someone familiar to and feared by those of us who play fantasy football, was killed, beaten by a boyfriend of the mother, someone who had a history of domestic violence. 

In case you missed the lead, this is it:  a two-year-old child was beaten to death.

When I first heard the news I looked at my three year old son and tried to figure out how one does that, not in a, “how do you do that to a child?” way, but as a serious logistical question.  

How do you go about beating a two-year-old child? 

It’s a disturbing question, I know.

We can’t separate the physics of the act from the heartbreaking brutality of it being a two-year-old.  A child.  An innocent smiling face whose only desire is to be loved.

It struck me that my three-year-olds primary goal is to please us.  Everything he does, every discovery, even every failure, is in pursuit of our approval. 

And that can lead to an insidious kind of abuse whose wounds are not visible, but last a lifetime.

Shame.

A photo went viral recently, the latest in a frightening trend of parenting via public humiliation and shame. 

A father, upset that his toddler had defecated in the shower, posted a photo of her with a sign, with her face in full view.  The sign read:
I pooped in the shower and daddy had to clean it up.  I hereby sign this as permission to use in my yearbook senior year. 
Mia
 (It is signed with a scribble.) 
The segment from the Today Show asked, “Is this cruel or cute?” 

I think the answer is obvious.

This is an act of child abuse.  Shaming and humiliation are never an answer and fail, utterly, to teach anything other than shame and humiliation. 
Children are constantly learning – they learn from the behavior of those around them.  What lessons did this child learn?  Not only did this father undercut the learning process of potty training by reinforcing that poop is gross and he, as dad, is above cleaning after his toddler, he undermines the entire learning process of his child by instilling a belief that any mistake will be met with shame and public humiliation – especially in the most fragile and vulnerable time in a child’s life.

We are currently going through the hell that is potty training.  It’s a mess.  We expect a two or three year old child to know how to recognize their body’s internal signals, race to the bathroom, turn on lights, get undressed, get situated, all the while holding what’s trying to come out, clean themselves up afterward…

A toddler. 

I know adults who, after a couple drinks, can’t do this.

Initially this caused a great deal of concern and frustration, but we had an epiphany:  this is about him learning a skill.  It’s not about us.   Oue job is to guide and encourage him.  We empowered him and within weeks he was disappearing into the bathroom and announcing to the world his successes.   (We still have to help clean up…  I doubt the cleaning of poop, literal or figurative, will ever end.)

And you have to do it with a smile, a hug, and a great deal of positive energy and encouragement.

Simple?  Yes.  Easy?  No.

This is the template for how you handle every learning experience your child will encounter. 

You can face it with shame, humiliation, anger, and judgment, or you can face it with love, compassion, understanding, and encouragement.  The choice is yours. 

And that is the most important lesson you can pass on to your child.


For more information on shame and humiliation and the power of vulnerability, check out the work of BrenĂ© Brown, Ph.D., LMSW.  http://brenebrown.com/






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Thursday, June 20, 2013

9 Lessons for New Dads



Want more?  Hit us up on facebook, google+ or follow us in the twitterverse.This previously posted on The Huffington Post

Three of the men dearest to me, lets call them Adam, Rishi and Chad, are all having (or have had) their first child this year. One is my actual brother and the other two might as well be. Last year, I shared what I'd learned as a stay-at- home dad. This year, I get to share a little of what I know with these men, men I know will make excellent fathers.
1. Babies don't come out asking for the car keys and looking at colleges. You have time to learn and time to make mistakes. The first three months are mostly about poop, food and sleep... because that's all you can handle. It will get more complicated, but it all seems to come one complication at a time.
2. Know what goes into your child. There's a lot you'll be hearing about what comes out -- it seems poop is the Rosetta Stone for every ailment -- but know what goes in. Go organic, read every label. If you can't pronounce it, why would you put it into your infant? Food isn't food like when we were kids. A tomato isn't a tomato anymore; it's spliced with the DNA of rats and fruit flies to make them more resistant to a weed-killing chemical that causes cancer. Yeah, it's absurd. Just know what goes in.
3. Things happen when they happen. Relax. Your child will walk when he walks, talk when he talks, and... well, use the potty when he uses the potty. That last one has been a bugaboo, but it's happening. And it's happening despite mom and dad's best attempts to screw it up and complicate things. Things happen when they happen. Relax. If they don't, call your doc, they'll help you. (Adam, you can just call yourself...)
4. It's not a contest. Trust me. Our pediatrician informed us that Turtle is of average size for a 4-year-old and he has the ability of a first-grader to make complex connections and verbally express them. He's 3. However, put a soccer ball in front of him and he's utterly confused. When all the other kids are kicking the ball, he just wants to hug his coach. And he's still iffy on the whole potty thing. So... that's where we are. Comparing kids is like comparing a horse to an orange (or a genetically spliced tomato with a tomato); they're not the same.
5. While you can, baby-wear. Seriously. Imagine holding your child all the time, carrying this infant everywhere, feeling them snuggle up and fall asleep in your arms. Now imagine that you can let go and use your arms to write, work, read, make dinner... and the baby still stays right there. That's baby-wearing. Do it for as long as your body will allow. I stopped just as Turtle got big enough to kick me in the kidneys on a consistent basis. That was a good sign that we were done. It doesn't have to be complicated.
6. Speak softly. This one is hard for me. I'm a big guy with a big voice and my wife gets a fair amount of glee from telling me I can be rather scary. I find that hilarious, but apparently I make a face honed over years of taking the 1 Train home to Harlem that can be menacing. I always thought a small amount of fear was a good thing, to know there were consequences for actions. Now, I think that's hogwash. I don't want my child to be afraid of me. I want him to know I will love him and respect him always, even when he screws up. So, we have a no-yelling rule. The punishment: burpees. This does not apply to any kind of warnings or life-threatening moments. It's about having a house that is respectful and teaching him that soft voices can be more effective than loud ones. Speak softly. Better yet, whisper when you need to discipline. If you treat your child with respect, you'll have a respectful child who grows up to be a respectful (and respected) adult.
7. Remember, you're a team. There's lots of numbers and statistics being bandied about in this never-ending merry go round of who works harder, moms or dads. The truth is you are a team. Have a united front, share responsibilities and, if need be, pick up the slack. There will be times when your spouse will do the same for you. Because you're a team.
8. Respect. There are a lot of books out there about brain games and essential skills kids should know and how to get your kid into a pre-school that will get him into Harvard. Some are excellent; some are no better than kindling for a barbecue. But one that I'd never heard of and found unloved on a library shelf is Parking Lot Rules by Tom Sturges. It's my new favorite. Yes, there are some fun tips for not smashing fingers in car doors and staying safe in, you guessed it, parking lots. Practical things. But mostly, it's full of short reminders that raising a child is about respecting them, their growth, their pace and their opinions. In the blink of an eye, your child will be demanding a space at the kitchen counter to do dishes, choosing the stations on the radio, picking books to read, disappearing to the comic book section of the library, refusing to take a bath and then (minutes later) demanding a second bath and having an absolute meltdown about both. It helps to be reminded to treat all of these moments with respect.
9. Take care of yourselves. You don't have to do anything exotic or turn in workouts with names like Randy or Fran, but move. You want to be there when your child graduates high school, gets married, has their first child. Then you can pass on all your fatherly advice.
Happy Father's Day!



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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rights. For everybody.


This was in response to a letter to the editor in the Denver Post.  I wanted to submit it, but it was impossible to write a well reasoned and articulate response in 150 words...  

Therefore I'm posting it here.

I know this is typically my daddy blog, but this is an issue that many parents face, as Republican Senator Robb Portman recently did.  I hope my son can look at this one day and understand this as a civil rights issue, an issue of treating every human with respect and granting all men and women the exact same rights - simply because they are human beings.

Re: “Should Gay Marriage be legal in Colorado,” March 16, 2013 letters to the editor.

To state that declaring unconstitutional the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman is “an insult to Catholics, evangelical Christians and others whose religious beliefs are consistently being ignored” shows a willful lack of knowledge of The Constitution, the history of this country, and the nature of individual rights.   Our founders did not construct The Constitution to suit Catholics, evangelical Christians or, for that matter, any religion.  Perhaps it’s helpful to remember their rebellion was against a nation with a state religion, something every founder had spoken and written against.  Secondly, the history of our nation has shown an overwhelming deference to American Christians.  It would be good to remember that the First Amendment guarantees the government will not infringe upon your right to practice your religion.  If two men are allowed to marry, in no way should it affect your ability to pray, congregate, worship, and pass along your  belief in discriminating against others.  (I don’t recall the nuns in my elementary school or the Jesuits in high school teaching me anything about Jesus’ hatred for gays, or anyone for that matter.)  The First Amendment also protects the government from religion… all religion, not only the ones you agree with, but the ones you disagree with.  The hundreds of millions of dollars that churches pumped into Prop 8 in California (in particular, one single church based a state away) blurs the line that separates religion and government and directly violates the tax exempt status of churches who are forbidden by law to fund legislation like Prop 8.  Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion.  No gay rights group could possibly compete financially with organized religious institutions.  Finally, the assertion that giving gay and lesbian Americans the same rights as every other American is giving them special rights shows a blatant bigotry and lack of empathy and perspective.  Legislating who can have what rights and under what conditions is hateful and bigoted.  It undermines the very  idea of  America.  Insert the word “black” or “negro” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” in place of “gay” and you will see just how wrong it is to use religious freedom to deny equal rights to all citizens.  These are not “extra” rights.  To give someone the rights you enjoy is not giving them “extra” rights, nor does it negate or lessen those rights you have long taken for granted.  It makes them stronger.


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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thirty years, sixty one mass shootings... Can we talk about it now?


Friday morning, I spoke to my writing partner, Ambarish Manepalli, and we sent off two scenes for a network diversity showcase in Los Angeles.  The scenes, from a screenplay we’d written a few years ago, is one of our favorites and the script is one of our next projects. 

The script is about two office drones from accounts payable who are bumbling their way through their first job as hit men.  (It is registered with the WGA, so, no, you can’t steal the idea…)

The end of one of the scenes is as follows.

_________

INT.  WALMART SPORTING GOODS SECTION — DAY

Walt and Mikey flanked by fishing gear, camping equipment and badminton sets.  In front of them is an arsenal.  A wall of guns and ammunition.  A pimply high school kid stands in front of them.  A SIGN sits on the counter.

Walt reads it.

WALT
No background checks, no waiting period, no permits required.

MIKEY
Wow.

WALT
Welcome to WalMart.

_________

A little jab at the ridiculousness of our gun culture?  Yes.  

A funny bit?  Yes.

Deadly serious?  Absolutely. 

We hit "send" and off went our bit of tongue in cheek comic brilliance.  Only the two of us knew the truth of our script:  That Mikey and Walt never end up using the guns.  This was not a political decision, just worked in the scheme of the film. 

I went to the park with my toddler, passing the school where we go once a week for a pre-pre-K class, and we ran and played.  Then I checked my phone for email and dipped into Facebook. 

I wish I hadn’t. 

Twenty children and six adults, dead. 

One gunman.

This is becoming all too common in this country and it is unbearable. 

There was a flurry on Facebook and Twitter.  Expressions of grief, outrage and the typical gnashing of teeth associated with a mass shooting.  (There were three this week, in case you’re keeping score.)

And there was also the immediate call from gun advocates that, “This is not the time to discuss gun policy.” 


I grew up with a healthy respect for guns, taught to my by an uncle who made sure my cousins and I were educated in gun safety.   I’m not a hunter, fishing is more my speed, but I have no problem with people having guns.  None at all.   I will say that if you need an assault rifle to hunt, you're doing it wrong.  If you need one to protect your home, you might want to rethink what you're doing what would cause an army to invade your house.

But, I truly don’t want your guns.  I'm not asking for a ban on guns.  Seriously.  

I do want us to have a conversation about them.  I do want us to discuss the gun lobby and their power in the halls of our government.  (I lump the NRA in with the manufacturers, not gun owners.  It’s been a long time since they actually represented the desires of gun owners…)

For the last thirty years the gun lobby has dominated the debate.  When there’s a tragedy, they tell us it’s not the time to discuss gun policy.  When there’s not a tragedy, they sit on the shoulder of our elected representatives and remind them of campaign cash given and the promise of more. 

It doesn’t matter what party.  Republicans suck at the teat of the gun lobby with glee and Democrats are too feckless to do otherwise.

This time the victims aren’t adults strolling through a mall or grocery shopping at their local Albertsons or watching a movie.   The perpetrator is not a high school kid who has been bullied and taking revenge on his peers.  This time it’s an adult with a history of mental illness who took his mother’s legally purchased weapons, killed her, and then went into a classroom of six and seven year olds and killed them. 

There’s a rule in movies:  “You can’t kill the child.  The audience will disengage and hate your movie.”    Why?  Because it hits too close to home.   Parents project their own children onto that child on screen.

Just like every parent projected his or her children onto every victim in Newtown. 

I did it.  I knelt down in a sporting goods store, my child asleep in his stroller, surrounded by toddler sized soccer balls, and cried.  And I spent the rest of the day holding him any time I could.   My wife came home after work and sat on the floor, Turtle in her lap, and immediately engulfed him in hugs and kisses.

The people who make and sell guns have, for thirty years, had advocates and lobbyists to pursue their best interests in Washington.  It’s not about the Second Amendment, which is often mis-stated as “the right to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  (The actual text says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  People forget the pre-amble.)   This fight has been about profit.  Gun manufacturers have a product to sell.   Relax gun laws and you can sell more powerful guns.  Keep gun owners scared that some unseen boogey man will take away their arsenal, and they’ll buy more and more.

It’s time those of us who don’t own a gun have the same kind of voice. 

It’s time that those too young to own a gun have advocates. 

It’s time we reclaim the discussion; pry it from the cold, dead hearts of the gun lobby, and talk about sensible measures that will ensure gun owners their right to have their guns but that protect the vast majority of us who don’t have them. 

According to Think Progress:

“a poll conducted in May (2012) by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the group Mayors against Illegal Guns, gun-owning Americans, including National Rifle Association (NRA) members, overwhelmingly support a raft of common-sense measures typically described as “gun control:”
 1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.
 2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.
 3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.
 4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.
 5. Concealed carry permits shouldn’t be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.
 The poll, which sampled 945 gun owners around the country and had a margin of error of +/- 3, also found broad support gun-owners for the principle that “support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.” In fact, more NRA members (87 percent) supported the statement than non-NRA members (83 percent).”

Maybe it’s time for we non-gun owners to unite with reasonable gun owners and force the NRA to represent it's member's best interests, the best interests of all Americans, not the industry.

Maybe I'll start with the guy who showed up at my son's school Christmas party brashly wearing his NRA hat in the middle of an auditorium full of elementary school kids - the same night as the Newtown shooting.  It displayed the kind of insensitivity that has marked our national discourse on gun control and gun safety for the last thirty years, but maybe, just maybe, if we have this conversation, we'll find common ground and can effect change.

Today, I’m adding this to the list of things for which I advocate for my son. 

The true tragedy is that I even have to.




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