Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Stay-At-Home-Dads: You’re a hero for sure, but don’t be like Christopher Columbus...

Comedian Brian Regan has a hilarious bit about U.S. Airlines Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and how a true hero is unable to call oneself a hero because that is simply not what heroes do.  

As you recall - just in case you lived amongst the Amish back in January 2009 - Capt. Sully was the nerves-of-steel airline pilot who ‘landed’ his disabled aircraft and its 155 passengers and crew safely in the Hudson River with no one getting seriously hurt.  With such a feat and by anyone’s book, including Regan’s (to listen to his comedic bit, click here and cue to 2:29), Capt. Sully is a textbook hero.  He landed a broken plane... barely flinching... in a river... with no one dying.  That’s hero status!  Period.

Somehow true heroes already know to avoid calling themselves as such.  They inexplicably know that it is just not what heroes do.  They avoid bringing attention to themselves and just do the job at hand.  They rise to the occasion because the occasion needs them to.  How this is the known ’to-do’ behavior still remains uncertain to me, but I really do think some rare ‘Hero Code of Conduct Manual’ exists out there and only the true heroes have a personal copy.

From my vantage point, I think it is high time for more full-time stay-at-home dads to dust off their own hero manuals and refresh their own Capt. Sully training.

Being the SAHD for our five children for more than a dozen years, I'll admit that it used to be easy to toot my own horn about having to survive the trials and tribulations of being the primary care caregiver for a basketball team-sized family.  I could wax poetic on being a “Mr. Mom” for long enough to remember and before it was even ‘cool' to be one.  

I could share how I remember leisurely looking at my own grocery list in hand while being asked mid-aisle by a mom and her magnanimous offer to help me find an item that I didn’t even know I needed help finding.  I can also remember my snarky reply back at her too, “Nope I’m good, why do YOU need help finding something?”

I can recall a time when male restrooms didn’t have changing tables in them and working dads were envious that they too didn’t get to watch ESPN all day.  Yeah, right!  I could reminisce of when moms acted shocked (and oddly envious) when they learned that I cooked... as in all the meals... and did the laundry AND even cleaned the dishes!  Shocking.  Yep, I too have had my fair share of ignorant elderly ladies call me out publicly when I was out with my kids sans wifey only to say, “Oh is daddy babysitting today?”  I also remember how I would throat-kick each one of them too... in my mind.

I remember being viewed as some sort of ‘pioneer parent’ that, unbeknownst to me, sought to break the gender mold... as if somehow my role as being a stay-at-home-father lumped me into some social agenda.  I recall the looks and comments at the playground where the veteran female stay-at-homies would gather together, Starbucks coffee in hand, for their latest neighborhood gossip... all the while being sure to be all fleek with their latest chic baby gear.  Oh please!

I can still remember summoning the strength to approach the all-knowing-and-all-powerful female PTA board for a simple question, only then to be “recommended" to 'pass along’ their all-important school information to my wife... as if doing so greatly improved the ‘vital' bake sale info to be properly received.  (Thankfully this occurs far less now!)

Yes, I could go on to explain how even pastors of my past have said that I was not properly providing for my family (ouch!) and that I have been publicly called such terms as “lazy”, “unemployed”, and presumably “uneducated.”  More so, I could say that I have been ‘victimized’ by doctors and their staff who implied that a dad couldn’t be as nurturing as a mom.  And, don’t forget to add how I have been ‘shamed' by friends and family who wondered when I was ‘gonna get a real job.’  Yes, the list can go on and on as could my reasons to stir the social whiney pot.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t worth it then and it still isn’t now.  Why?  Because public affirmation was never the goal of why we wanted one parent to stay at home.

Just like most stay-at-home parents, I have never regretted OUR family’s decision for me to be the parent at home... or as I like to call it... the head ref, the life goalie, and the literal glue that holds our crazy schedules together.  I truly have loved every minute of it and it’s very difficult to imagine ever hanging up the proverbial diaper bag.  The relationship I have with each of my kiddos is beyond priceless to me AND them... as I am sure most SAHPs would agree.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a growing trend for stay-at-home fathers to promote themselves as heroes.... a vocal trend to be seen for what we do versus why we do it.  These Captain Keyboarders seem to be charging some castle of social expectation with videos and blogs that shout, “Hey, look what I am doing everybody!  Pay attention to me!”  They demand credit as they create a voice.  They wear their emotions on their sleeves and they aren't afraid to admit it.  They see a show or an advertisement, get offended, and then get all keyboard courageous to tell the world... and for sure the product’s company homepage... that their feelings are hurt.  And when the real world won’t affirm their needs, they and their teammates seek the cyber world to stake some flag of some already discovered country.

Have I done this?  Sadly yes... so I speak from experience.  But it was weak then and it is still weak now.  Wisdom comes from experience and as such I have learned that those misguided actions are simply a battle not worth fighting.  

Relax stay-at-home-dads.  Heroes don’t draw attention to what they do, they just do it.  Proper parenting doesn’t allow Facebook touchdown dances or some quasi-Vine press conferences, so step away from the mic and just do the job.  There really is no need to write the company whose ad just depicted you as ‘less-than-a-real-dad.’  Doing so (as Regan adeptly explains) only gives them ammo against your own argument.  So put down the pitch fork and put out the torch and instead let your actions (and your wallet) speak louder than your words ever could.

Heroes are unique, but being a full-time stay at home dad isn’t.  Yeah, I have been doing it for a while, but I am hardly the first.  If you really want to be unique, why not instead be the best dad you can be to your kid(s) and as a result, you’ll end up being the hero that your family truly needs.

So step away from the keyboards guys, nobody likes a self-promoting hero... it is just not what good dads do.


p.s.  And, as a reminder to those vocal SAHD newbies, women are and have been doing this gig in far greater numbers than us and for eons longer than we have... and you don’t see them bragging about it now do you?

When we self-promote ourselves, we look like a Christopher Columbus shouting that we have just discovered some new world of parenting.  We haven’t.  The ’natives’ have already been here long before us.  They too have a crying baby in tow, a way-too-long ’to-do list,’ and a lack of a good night’s sleep to get it all done.  They are not impressed... we shouldn’t be either.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Because growing up means letting go....

“Yes, I am happy about it.”

Really I am.  

It’s my best answer for when people ask me my feelings about our first born’s engagement to be married.  Yep... I am happy about it.  It’s true.

Am I ecstatic?  No.  Is she?  Yes.  Am I worried?  No.  Am I nervous?  Nope.  Will I cry at the wedding? Yes.  Will it likely be a big ugly cry?  Yes, again.  Do I like my future son-in-law?  Yes (but I doubt I’ll call him that as our family doesn’t do the ‘in-law’ tag thing).  But, yes, I do like him, a lot actually.

Still, when I get the question about my girl getting married - now even a month later - I have found that my answer remains the same, “Yes, I am happy about it.”  I am.  It is a true and honest answer, but it is also one that comes with a void.  That void is the unsatisfied wonder if that person across from me that is asking the question ‘get’s it.’  In other words, do they really understand what they are asking of me?  Do they understand that their question, that while genuine and not inaccurate, is incomplete? 

With my reply, I am always left walking away unfulfilled as their well-meaning question simply lacks a depth beyond their possible knowledge of a precious area in my life of which they are inquiring about.  I always walk away believing that the 'ask-er' just really doesn’t know the ‘ask-ee’ what they are asking.  Kind of like their context in framing their question cannot fit the context of me answering it.  Or, like a movie reporter interviewing a film’s actor before even seeing the film.  Or, similar to asking someone to draw a round square.  The terms just don’t compute.

I don’t mean the above to be haughty or negative in the way it sounds.  I really don’t, but still my unrequited hopes remain unrequited.  Yes, I fully know that I am not alone in this parent department too.  As such, after the first question, it is common for some to say (or “remind me” - yes, quotations intentional) something like, “You know you aren't the first dad to ever have to go through this,” or “Well, you know they do actually grow up eventually Papa.”  Or, let’s not forget my favorite of “You do want grandkids someday don’t you??”  (Of which my first thought is always, “Not today!!!”)  Alas, with each passing comment, my head will nod with a yes, I will smirk or do a chuckle, and I will often give a stunted smile.  This is when my hopes will begin to rise with anticipation thinking that “maybe he will get it?” or “maybe she’ll understand?”  But, nonetheless, they keep talking and then those hopes quickly get dashed time and time again.

No one seems to get how I really feel about it and I have learned that no one will.  Nor should they.  It isn’t their fault.  It’s mine.  I get that.

Like the countless fathers before me seeing the absolute joy on their daughter’s face when she's showing off her engagement ring to everyone, I have come to learn that the world just won’t get the father’s take on the whole thing.  And vice versa, it would be wrong for me to begin to think that I could fully understand what other dads are going through during a similar thing for them as well.  In the end, I have found that it is our differences that make us the same.

The thing is though... and I can’t simplify this any easier... is that I was the first guy she ever fell in love with... and I will always cherish this!  But now... she is growing up.  And growing up for her means letting go for me... even if that is into the arms of another man.

Like each of her siblings, I have loved my daughter before I had even held my daughter.  She made me a father and provided me the depth of a love ocean that only a child can give.  I can still remember holding her in my arms when she was an infant and feeling a complete peace.  I absolutely adored having her fall asleep on my chest.  I can still remember her soft baby skin, those arm folds, the sweet smell of her freshly bathed hair, and those irreplaceable deep sleeping breaths, which could only mean that she felt safe and comfortable in her father’s arms.  Those moments were simply heavenly and I hope to always remember them.

But still, they grow up... and I have to let go.

I know, I know.  I can hear you.  “You don’t hold the monopoly on all dad’s loving their kids!”  Yes, you are right, but in turn you likely don’t hold an accurate perspective of how this dad loves his kids.  So don’t be surprised if my answer to your question is as incomplete to you as your question is to me.

Nonetheless, time always wins and my Babydoll is growing up.  And yes, I am happy about it.  I find comfort knowing this step, much like her literal first steps...or like when she learned to ride a bike, or stepped on a school bus, went to prom, or drove off to college... means my role as her dad will need to change again too.  

So ask away.  Am I ready for this?  No, I am not.  But, yes, I am happy about it.


And in case you are wondering, I think William Parrish from "Meet Joe Black” ‘got it’.  
That guy knew what it was like to be a dad.

"I loved [my daughter] from the moment she was born, and I love her now and every minute in between. And what I dream of is a man who will discover her, and that she will discover a man who will love her, who is worthy of her, who is of this world, this time and has the grace, compassion, and fortitude to walk beside her as she makes her way through this beautiful thing called life.

"Love is passion. Obsession. Someone you can’t live without. Someone you fall head over heels for. Find someone you can love like crazy, and will love you the same way back. Listen to your heart. No sense in life without this. To make the journey without falling deeply in love, you haven’t lived a life at all. You have to try, because if you haven’t tried, then you haven’t lived.

“I want you to get swept away out there. I want you to levitate. I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish. Be deliriously happy, 
or at least leave yourself open to be.”

"Now multiply that by infinity, take that to the depth of forever, and you still will barely have a glimpse of what I’m talking about.

William Parrish: "It’s hard to let go isn’t it?"
Joe Black: "Yes it is, Bill."
William Parrish: "Well, that’s life.