DEFINITELY NOT PERFUME!

 

The title of this blog may sound like a Chanel perfume advertisement, but it is not. I came home from work the other night to find my three year old son eating pasta at the dinner table wearing a big smile, and nothing else. I told my wife “I cannot eat under these conditions.” As she explained the situation, it had been a very warm day and they had been playing in the sprinklers. So when it came time to eat dinner, he took off his wet clothes and went to eat. Makes perfect sense, if the capital of your country is Mozambique!

 

My three-year-old has also just mastered potty training. This means once he announces to the entire room he has to go potty, his pants and underpants instantly descend to his ankles – long before he approaches the bathroom. Then he proceeds to the toilet displaying his buttocks for all to see.

 

GOODBUFF DADDY!

 

Very often my boys will come and wave goodbye to me from the living room window when I walk to the bus in the morning. At least once a week they come to the window buck naked, simply because my leaving has coincided with the midway point between pajamas and day clothes.

 

They stand at the front window, with the sun streaming into the house, waving wildly as I walk up the street. Totally uninhibited! My elderly neighbor, on the other hand, is quite hibited by this display!

 

One of my sons feels that whenever he goes #2 this is a perfect opportunity for us all to join him in a game of “Guess Which Aminal I Am?” We try to explain that we have better things to do than watch him sit on the toilet, but he can’t seem to imagine what that would be.

 

MAGIC PRESCHOOL STAGE

 

There is something truly magical about this age and the way they are so at ease with their bodies. The purpose of clothes is solely for warmth and protection, and when you think about it, they have a point. The innocence at the preschool stage is so fleeting. I will be sad when it ends.

 

In a sense I miss it already and it has not even left. Soon enough they will learn not to walk around naked, don’t share a meal in the buff (that will not be a total loss), and most importantly, wait until you close the bathroom door before you drop your drawers.

 

I guess these are all valuable lessons, but the purity of heart that comes with a naked child eating pasta, as unappetizing as it may be, is an incredible sight to behold. Excuse me one moment, “Son, close the bathroom door please. Thank you.”

 

TEEN CURE 

 

When our older sons hit teendom, my wife and I decided we had two options. We quickly ruled out secretly moving to a new location. That left us with the second alternative, getting a dog. We determined that to survive this new challenge we needed to call in the cuddle cavalry.

 

Since we could not find any direwolves at our local pet store, we went with the next best possibility, a Saint Bernard. Meet Scout, see blog photos. One hundred and fifty pounds of love, Scout was just the cure for whatever they could throw at us. He was a gentle giant with a mammoth heart and slobber to spare.

 

Awwwwww!

 

Whenever tensions mounted and anxiety hit its apex, there was solace to be found in Scout’s incredibly soft fur and calming presence. Even though they weren’t meant for us, it could have been the pheromones, but regardless, just having Scout nearby guaranteed some much-needed respite.

 

Sadly, our bond was all-to-brief, as our Scoutie succumbed to lymphoma after only 4 ½ years, but his presence in the neighborhood and beyond is the stuff of legend. It was not unusual for cars to pull over while we were walking Scout and have the driver come over just to say hello to our Saint. Whenever a young child or older person approached us during a walk, our gentle soul would get down on all fours so as not to intimidate. No one told him to, he just instinctively knew this would help alleviate their fears. (Excuse me for one minute, something is in my eye.)

 

As I write, the vivid memories come flooding back: the tattoo-laden truck driver who parked in front of our house and snapped a photo of Scout; the plastic bat Scout would grab in his mouth and swing as if he was batting cleanup (he was able to connect on a few pitches I threw); the swish of that amazing tail of his that resembled a feather duster; cleaning slobber off the walls after a particularly intense shake; the earth-rattling “harrumph” as he laid down by my bed in the middle of the night; and the way he rested his hefty paw on top of my hand.

 

IN THIS CORNER…

 

In a battle of teen versus adult, there was comfort in knowing that we always had Scout in our corner. Actually he was in his corner, but we could go over to him and get some much needed comfort and fur whenever we desired. The beauty was the teens took advantage of his warmth and solace as well, knowing he would not judge, but freely give his love to whomever was in need. He was like Mother Teresa on all fours (no disrespect intended).

 

In the end we all benefited from his presence in our lives. He brought joy (and epic amounts of fur) into our home. He became a part of our family in a more intense way than we expected. He cured one of our sons of his fear of dogs and converted us all to “big dog people” for the rest of our lives. We provided Scout with food and lodging and in return he bestowed upon us so much more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scout at 12 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DR. OF NOTHING!

 

You might ask, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, “Where do you get off writing a blog about fatherhood?”

 

It is a valid question, although your tone was a little hostile and I don’t appreciate it. In any event, I do not have a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, I am not a renowned physician, I am not even a famous comedian. I am just a Dad.

 

I am the guy in the car next to you. I am in the elevator, can you push twelve, please? I sit next to you on the bus. I am the guy in front of you in line at the delicatessen. I am your best friend, your brother, your cousin. It is easy to pick me out. I always look a little tired, tired but happy. (Probably punch-happy from the lack of sleep.) I have a bunch of photos of the boys on my phone, although they are typically six months old. (Two major developmental stages ago for a young child.) When I walk the fingers of my right-hand curl slightly upward like a small child is holding my hand. They’re not, and I know they’re not, it is just habit.

 

BATTLE SCARS

 

I have seen the inside of a diaper pail, and it is not pretty. I have given countless baths, and usually end up soaked to the bone. I have mastered the four-point fold of a baby T-shirt and a baby blanket. I have juggled a baby in one arm and dinner in another. I have cared for a sick mommy and sick child, on occasion, at the same time. I have laid down the law and witnessed lawlessness.

 

I have been drooled on, spit on, spit-up on, thrown up on, peed on (gotta change that diaper quickly with boys), laughed at, cried at, yelled at, stepped on, hugged, kissed, comforted, and tickled. Sometimes all within a ten-minute period! Still I come out smiling and, like George Foreman entering the ninth round, go back for more. They say for mothers it is the hardest job you’ll ever love. For fathers it is the same thing, except for most of us, it is the hardest and most rewarding moonlighting available.

 

When I get home from work, after a particularly tough day (aren’t they all!) and see the smiling faces of my children, I experience a love so profound and awesome it frightens me. The primal instinct of protection, luckily not foraging or combat, kick in big time. Other animal instincts also come to the forefront: comfort, shelter, love, guidance, understanding, banana puree, creamed corn.

 

MULTIPLE DADS?

 

The responsibilities that accompany Dadlands can appear overwhelming at times. It just doesn’t seem that one man alone can handle it, but the complications and legal entanglements of polygamy make it our only option.

 

So that is who I am. How I came to write this blog is a slightly different story. It was seven months before our first child was born and I found myself in a bookstore scanning the parental section (come to think of it, I haven’t been in the adult section of a bookstore since).

 

I wanted a book that would prepare me for fatherhood. Not a “how to” on changing diapers and holding a baby, my wife had purchased plenty of those books, but a shared experience type of reference. A treatise written by a father in the stenches of parenthood, describing what it was like, how you survive it and what is required. You know how many I found…none! All the books geared towards the dad were written by women describing how we can be supportive. I even saw a book describing one thousand ways to be a great dad and it was penned by a member of the opposite sex.

 

JUDGING BY ITS COVER

 

It was after my son was born that I began to start logging entries into an unofficial journal: on the bus, on the back of napkins, scraps of paper, notes in the margin of a magazine, quick thoughts and reflections on the computer. Ideas came to me at the strangest times, while changing a diaper, watching a Teletubbies video (a very strange time indeed), in meetings at work, in elevators, rocking my son at 2am…3am…4am. Eventually I started compiling all these various fragments into one cohesive unit, Dadlands.

 

I was not sure it would have any appeal beyond my computer screen. Maybe there were no other dads, or pre-dads looking for this type of primer. But, if nothing else, I knew that on the day my sons and their wives informed me they were expecting their first child, I would bestow upon them a bound version of these tales. Besides making them grateful they no longer live under my protectorate; it will offer them insight into their childhood. And, it will show them what they can look forward to.

 

So that, in a nutshell, is who I am. If the above background has not discouraged you, then read on to learn about one man’s experience in Dadlands. I consider it a privilege to call it my home.

 

EXTRA SENSORY PATERNAL (ESP)

 

I swear to you; from the minute your child is born, all of your senses become more acute. I won’t claim that I can see through walls and hear a cry for help from 100 miles away, but I am definitely more attuned to my surroundings. I now present for your reading pleasure, the 5 senses and parenting.

 

  • Smell

    I can smell a poopy diaper from fifty yards out in a crowded mall. Which, coincidentally, is primarily where the poopy diaper occurs. They never happen when you are playing at home in the middle of the day. Usually they will rear their ugly smells during a long airline flight, right after you get everyone buckled in the car and start the engine, or, my personal favorite, in the middle of a grocery trip with the cart half full (Is the cart half full or half empty?).

  • Taste

    I challenge you to try that baby food and make a pleasant face, encouraging your young child to eat the gruel you are endeavoring to feed him. They are smarter than you think. They recognize the disgust underneath that phony smile and besides, they can smell the pancakes on the griddle.

  • Hearing

     No sense becomes more acute to your child than your auditory sense. Remember when you could sleep through a thunderstorm? With children, you can hear their sheets rustling in the middle of a stormy night and have an irrepressible urge to go check and make sure they are still covered.

  • Sight

     A friend of yours is showing you some photographs at a party, you are half watching the ball game on television, your wife is trying to signal you something from across the room, and somewhere behind you, your two year old pushes a little girl. And you saw the whole thing: Your child went on a time-out; Jimmy G got the first down on third and seventeen; your friend bought a new boat; and it looks like your wife is acting out a movie title, two words, first word Dark! Don’t ask me how, but your children are never out of your sight (or at least they shouldn’t be! Where are they right now???).

  • Touch

    Forget silk, forget fresh cotton sheets, forget the cool feel of a marble statue, nothing rivals a baby’s skin. Nothing is as soft or as gentle as skin that has never had a mosquito bite, been sunburned, or scratched. And there is no comforter in the world that radiates the warmth of a child’s hug. It is totally without inhibition, a selfless act of love that is not judgmental or contingent upon receiving something in return. They love without expecting any compensation except your love. And isn’t that the purest form?

 

DAD TIME

 

In my household we knew that to adequately provide for our family we would both need to work. We also believed that having one of us home all the time was a top priority. Everyone needs to make this all-important decision for themselves, but we did not want our sons to be raised by daycare. Luckily, with a modicum of cajoling, we were able to change my wife’s schedule to part-time and enlist family and friends for aid.

 

I work a typical (whatever that is!) Monday-Friday, 40 plus hour work week. My wife’s schedule is twenty hours a week; half a day on Thursday, all day Friday and all-day Saturday. My mom is able to watch the boys on Thursday afternoon, our friend watches them on Friday and Saturday, Saturday is Guys Day!

 

Born out of necessity, nurtured with love, raised amid a smattering of successes and failures, these Saturdays have become the most rewarding and challenging days of my week. Forget sales presentations, budget sessions, reviews and client meetings. Nothing compares to the challenge of four wide-eyed youths, combined age nineteen, inquiring “What are we going to do NOW???” Not everyday goes smoothly, but every Guys Day is a roller coaster of events and emotions. We have all learned from it and although I miss having a normal weekend with my wife, I would probably continue the Guys Day tradition in some form even if my wife were to quit work.

 

THE BIRTH OF GUYS DAY

 

I remember my first Guys Day vividly. My wife resumed some semblance of a work routine and left me alone with our two-month old son. She worked fifteen minutes away, was coming home at lunch to nurse him and my son took a two-hour nap in the morning and afternoon, yet I still felt as if I was Tom Hanks in Cast Away! I would often ask Wilson for advice.

I was petrified. Guys Day did not just provide me with added appreciation for my wife, it taught me how precious, precocious, loving, laughing, considerate, conniving, incomparable and incorrigible our sons are. Without this experience of firsthand, solo parenting, I might not really know my children in the intimate sense I do.

 

LESSON LEARNED

 

I might not know one of my boys isn’t as intense as he appears, he just needs help keeping his emotions in check. He can be as playful as his brothers with a little help and direction. I would not have realized that my other son is just being obstinate for obstinance sake. He does the same thing to his mother at times, so I don’t take it personal.

 

The importance of not praising one child over the other might have alluded me. Or that incredibly sensitive point in the mall, when, for whatever reason, one child is garnering all the attention, while the resentment is building in the other ones. Without Guys Day, I might not have been able to divert a potential brawl simply by praising the other boys myself.

 

BABY STEPS

 

I see Guys Day as the first step in a lifelong, educational process. Learning their traits, characteristics, likes, dislikes, tickle spots, strengths, weaknesses and sensitive areas. This will aid me as they grow and mature, be it helping them with their homework or sports, knowing when to encourage them in their pursuits or lead them down a different path. Ultimately it is all about building our own individual bonds. (Bonus points if you can connect all the images in this post!)

 

PLAY BALL?

 

Coaching my boys Tee-Ball team is one of the best things I have done as a parent to date.  For those of you not up to speed on this sport sweeping the post-toddler set, it is baseball with the ball placed firmly on a stand at the child’s waist level.  The child takes a bat and tries to hit it as far as he can.  Sometimes the tee will make it to the pitcher’s mound!  Other times they will make contact with the ball which is even more exciting since that is the object of the game.  Hank Greenwald, one of my favorite broadcasters, used to say, “You can come out to the ballpark and see something new every day.”  Truer words were never spoken than at the tee-ball level.

 

The time I spent with eleven kids under the age of seven was very satisfying, and remarkably entertaining.  Mind you, I am to coaching what the NHL is to etiquette, but my emphasis was on fun and teamwork which appeared to satisfy all involved.  Except for some of my fellow coaches, that is.

 

IT’S A GAME

 

This is one of the kid’s first exposures to team sports, if not sports in general.  I was pleased if I could get them to find first base, throw the ball forward and put the glove on the correct hand (“Remember, not the hand you throw with”).  Yet, some of the other coaches thought they were teaching them how to focus and win games.  Win games, you don’t even keep score in tee-ball! 

We played against one team who actually had a chant every time one of my players was up to bat.  I looked at the kids on this team and they did not seem to be having much fun.  Maybe I am off base on this (pun intended), but there will be plenty of times in their life for competition and bearing down for an achievable goal, tee-ball is just not one of them.

 

ROGUE BAT!

 

I remember in the second game of the season, I was given a new player who stood just slightly higher than the tee.  He was assigned the coveted fielding position of mid-second-shortstop.  In his first at bat he dribbled the ball up the third baseline.  A little unclear on the concept, he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run.  No one on the other team interfered with his mission for fear they would get clocked by the bat. 

 

I am confident that the other coach, already holding a low opinion of me, felt I was very ineffectual as an instructor, and you know what, I could care less.  My kids were having fun, I knew that much, and the parents did not have any complaints. 

 

In practice they were learning some rudimentary baseball skills (very basic, such as, “This is the ball, you catch the ball with your glove, it goes on your hand”) and how to play as a team, and respect other players.  To me those were lofty goals for a two-and-a-half-month season.  I made sure that the parents knew where I stood right from the start in my coaching philosophy, and I was pleased to see they all appeared to feel the same way.

 

NO GROIN INJURIES

 

I am sure I encountered a myriad of situations that Bruce Bochy never has, but I also did not have to deal with high priced players and hamstring pulls.   Loose teeth, yes; donuts after the game, certainly; potty breaks, undoubtedly; but kid durham did not involve a single groin injury.

 

If you get this opportunity, I have three words for you, jump at it!  But utilize the opportunity to educate them on teamwork and the fundamentals of the game.  By fundamentals I mean, “This is a bat.  This is a mitt.  Try not to get them confused.”  Take the time to enjoy the kids, their enthusiasm and childishness.  Who better to act like a child than a five-year-old?  Don’t get into the competitive thing with kids at this age.  They will have the rest of their lives to worry about being first.

 

As time goes on, I hope my boys will excel in some sport, if that is their choice.  I feel they all have the skills and the potential to be very athletic.  I plan to encourage this, but not force it upon them, and especially not at the ripe old age of five.

 

Editors note: No groins were injured during the writing of this blog.

…he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run

 

PARENTAL BLUES

 

Sometimes I am flooded with so many ideas and beliefs about parenting I can hardly wait to put fingertips to keyboard, and other days (like today) I am at a loss for it all.  I don’t feel fit to put another word to Dadlands, and I am pretty confident that I am failing as a parent.  My four-year-old (almost five) does not seem to respect or obey me.

 

I have come to two conclusions:  1) You cannot force someone to respect you.  2)  It is impossible to be a good parent if your children do not respect you.  In short, if not number one you are screwed on number two. That’s a Dadlands Catch 22.

 

It is very frustrating when your children do not comply with your wishes and talk to you as if they were Manny Machado and you’re the umpire.  Reasoning doesn’t work.  Time outs don’t work.  Taking away toys does not work.  There are times when it is just hopeless.

 

DEFIANCE

 

As I reflect on it now that my boys are asleep, and more closely resemble the gifts from God that they are rather than the hellions they personified earlier, I know my boys respect me.  They love me, try to imitate me and vie for my attention.  But there are times the hierarchical system begins to fail, a bolt comes undone or one of the joists becomes loose, and the respect is replaced with a sinister smile and defiant tone.

 

This sends an otherwise compassionate father spiraling towards the ceiling.  Were it not for the roof on the house I would have hitched a ride on a 757 bound for Hawaii.  There are excuses I can come up with; the boys were over-tired (the most frequent of excuses), they did not get enough playtime together, too much TV, they sat in the car too long, Venus is in Jupiter’s fifth moon, SpongeBob was a two-parter, we ran out of their favorite flavor yogurt…

 

But now that they are asleep it was any one of these or perhaps all of them.  When they wake up in the morning, they will be the sweet boys from yesterday not the hobgoblins from tonight.  It was all just an aberration; it was probably the full moon.  Yeah, that’s it the full moon.  I feel better already.  On to another blog.

After you are a parent for a few years you  realize you will never be able to adequately thank your parents for the things they have done for you in your life.  But I thought I would make one feeble attempt…

THANKS MOM & DAD

Thanks mom and dad for 2,190 baths

Thanks for a youth that went by much too fast

Thanks for 62,983 hugs and still counting

Thanks for the credit card bills that were forever mounting

Thanks for cleaning up things you’d rather not remember

Thanks for those long summer days when you didn’t shout. “When the hell is September?”

 

For a misspent youth that you did not question

And all the times you brought me out of my depression

Forever the questions rang down from one little guy

And you always answered them, even “Why?”

For being strong when we were weak

And trying not to let tears leak

 

At times I’m sure your confidence would waiver

But to me, you were always the savior

At times I’d try to play you off each other

Like “Go ask your father” “Go ask you mother”

And now I realize any game or deception

Probably hurt you from the moment of inception

 

Now I have my own little brood under my care

You must be smiling as if in answer to a prayer

The love for your grandchildren must be quite strong

And by now you realize my thank you list is quite long

To describe the dichotomy between parental work and love

Can’t be explained by the simple poem dictated above

 

It will be treasured in this bond we now share

Striving as parents to always be there

You taught me the skills of the trade without my knowing

Your example was invaluable, and it is still glowing

I may never live up to the precedent you set

But your love, compassion, and warmth are what guides me yet

 

BAGGAGE

 

Well, not every “Guys Day” is one for the memory books and I thought I needed to convey that.  I’m convinced it is not always the fault of the children either.  Every Saturday I bring a lot of baggage to the table: Job-related issues from the previous week, upcoming job-related projects and, most importantly, feedback from my wife during the preceding week.

 

In some ways it is similar to being the fourth grade teacher at the start of the new year pumping the third grade teacher for the stats and box scores on each new student.  (Oh come on we all know they did it.  I’m convinced you establish your reputation in first grade and from then on you are labeled.)  I know going in what to expect from each of my boys so maybe their actions, reactions and attitudes are a self-fulfilling prophecy based on my expectations.

 

But after a day like today, I am disappointed at the way they behaved and under-whelmed at my response.  Every conversation was a confrontation and every action was an altercation.  I did not enjoy the day, I survived it, and just barely at that.  There were no medals given out today unless the purple heart was an option.  We all went from one battle to the next.

 

WHO DOESN’T LIKE THE ZOO? 

 

I had some fun things planned, too.  We headed to the zoo first thing in the morning, it opens early for “members” (Since 1995, it’s like Visa!) because I knew they had not been in a while.

 

“I don’t want to go to the zoo!” was the enthusiastic response I received.  Ahhh, the sweet sense of appreciation. 

 

We arrived, double stroller in tow, to find a beautiful November day, short sleeve weather, only in San Francisco.  The morning goes along relatively well, a cross word here, a time out there, but I promise I’ll be better.  My older son asks for lunch at 10:30am right in front of the polar bears. 

 

The polar bear that is always in a constant state of motion eyes my youngest, thinking he would make a good mid-morning snack, so we head for the more lethargic Kodiak bear.  I break out the graham crackers and water while the Kodiak lounges in his rocky tub.  In a flash my older son is off running on the wet grass heading towards a duck pond.  Five calls to return are averted, so I begin pursuit.  As we get older, one of us is really beginning to pick up speed, unfortunately it is not me.

 

I apprehend the culprit and read him his rights, all the while passersby stare with disapproval. 

 

“Just, obey,” is all I want to say, but that wasn’t good enough for my parents and it won’t do for me.  The lecture concludes with a brief overview of the Fall of Rome, Custer’s Last Stand and the reign of Louis XIV. Then we are on our way.

 

“Daddy, can we have lunch now?”

 

10:39am and all is well.  Sea otters, penguins, more monkeys and then it is off to the petting zoo.  This will be a big hit, I tell myself confidently, it never fails.

 

SHEEP FEAR

 

We arrive and the boys take off in all directions.  If sheep could register an expression of fear this would be the time.  My two-year-old chases sheep like they were going to be his next meal, laughing menacingly all the way. 

 

My four year old’s favorite spot is an old water pump that spills into a trough inside a baby bull’s enclosure.  Unfortunately, today he has pushed aside a little three-year girl, to the astonishment of her mother and some ducks.  I gently inform him that the little girl was not finished and to move away.  Again.  And again.  Finally, “Step away from the trough with your hands in the air,” I remove his hand from the pump and pull him aside.  The little girl looks pleased but then it happens…

 

“I don’t like my daddy!  I don’t like my daddy!”  This is probably the first time in recorded history that a petting zoo was quiet because it was heard by all.  Even two goats and a llama stopped what they were doing to watch.  The most painful part was my son said these hurtful words and then went back about his business splashing with the ducks and petting the mule. 

 

11:55AM AND ALL IS WELL

 

I, on the other hand, was devastated.  I tried to regain my composure and tell myself that he did not really mean it, but the wound was there just the same.  The relationship between words and the pain they can cause are not a reality at the age of four, so any coerced apology would ring hollow.  I gather up my brood and we head for the car.  I am like a beaten man and it is barely noon.

 

The afternoon consists of one confrontation after another.  They want to watch television.  They’re tired.  Their wrestling is too rough.  They take each other’s toys.  The list goes on and on.  My patience is below sea level, so it doesn’t take much to set me off.

 

Finally, my wife gets home from work and we are all relieved to see her.  I try to express to her how bad the day was, but words do not suffice.  Saturdays are my one day to connect with my boys and I have blown it.  The good thing is they will not remember this day tomorrow.  I, on the other hand, live with its memory for quite some time.