Tag Archives: fatherhood

Giving Time

My Wife had grown accustomed to the phone calls.  Those calls I would make between 4:30pm and 4:45pm more and more often.  The ones that started with, “I’m sorry,” followed by my sigh and, “I’m going to have to stay late again.”  Five o’clock was approaching too quickly.  There was too much that needed to be done by the end of the day, which meant that the end of the day was going to stretch on past five until who-knows-when.  Such, I thought, is the life of a salaried employee in corporate America in the 21st century.

As I reached for the phone, it rang.  I glanced at the caller ID.  It was my Wife, hopefully not calling to make sure that I was leaving on time.  With luck, she was calling to tell me about something entertaining or wonderful that one of our three-year-old boy/girl twins had just done.  As a stay-at-home mom, she was always good about letting me know when something exciting had happened at home, like a new word spoken or new feat achieved.  Those were the calls that recharged my batteries on these too-long days.

“Hi Sweetie!” I said as I brought the phone to my ear, mechanically inserting some cheer into my voice to start the call on an up note before delivering the bad news.

She said just four words, but they would soon change my life forever.  “I got the job!”

“Congratulations!” I heard myself cheer, my mind zooming off in a million different directions at once and then rushing back to the here and now.

She paused.  “There’s just one catch.  They want me to start next week.”

My heart sank.  I stammered.  I wasn’t sure what to say.  My Wife had been waiting all summer for this call and it was beginning to seem unlikely that it was ever going to come.  We had planned for her to stay home with the twins until they started elementary school, but then her dream job working for her alma mater had opened up and she felt compelled to try for it.  This was not the kind of position that came along every year.  The last person that held it stayed for a decade.  Knowing this could be her only shot at the job for a very long time she had gone for it, not even sure if she would be seriously considered.  Now it was hers!  But what about the kids?  It wasn’t like her parents or mine lived close enough that they could just pop over and watch them for a couple of weeks until we figured out childcare.

Filling the silence on my end of the line she stated, “This could be my career job.  This could be where I stay for 25 or 30 years.”

“I know, but…” I trailed off.  “Can we talk about this when I get home, tonight?  It’s getting late and I still have a lot to do before I can leave.”

“Of course, Sweetie.”  She said understandingly.

Before hanging up I added, “Hey, I love you… and I’m proud of you.  Well done!

That night, after putting the twins to bed, we sat down to try to figure out how we were going to make this work.  We had kicked around some childcare options during the summer, but landing the job had seemed like such a hypothetical that we wanted to be careful not to get overly excited.

My wife got straight to the point.  “I checked on the childcare offered at the university.  It’s an option, but it’s presently full and there’s a waiting list.  That’s okay though, because I think I’ve figured out the solution.”  Then, she said the words that I will never forget, “We could trade places.  You could stay home with the kids.”

Suddenly, I am 12-years-old again sitting on the back porch with my Dad in rural Ohio.  The sun has just set peacefully across the corn fields that stretch on for miles.  The crickets are chirping.  My Dad is explaining to me, my older brother and younger sister that in the months since his father’s death he has come to realize how much he regrets having worked two jobs during our early childhoods.  He says that his Dad – who had died of a massive heart attack on the assembly room floor of the automotive plant he worked at for 40 years, just one week before retirement – had spent his life talking about the things he was going to do after he retired; the things the two of them would do together.  My Dad announces that he feels like he owes it to himself and to us not to repeat what he has come to see as his father’s mistake.  He is done with telling us about the things that we will all do someday when he doesn’t work so much.  “I’d always felt like I needed to get ahead,” he says.  Then, in a voice heavy with remorse he adds, “No amount of money was worth the time that I won’t get back with you guys.”  He concludes definitively, “I’m quitting my evening and weekend job to spend more time at home.  We can get by.  It’s the time with you guys that matters.”

I snapped back to the moment.  Without another thought or second’s hesitation I stated with determination, “Let’s do it.”

 

It has been a year-and-a-half since that night and I’ve never looked back.  We were able to convince my Wife’s alma mater that she was worth waiting a few weeks for, so I could give proper notice to my company – a company that I cared about or would not have struggled through all those long days and sometimes nights and weekends to give it my best work.

My kids are four now and started preschool last fall.  We made the decision to put them into a cooperative preschool so that I would get to participate in this milestone with them.  Even better, I had them at home with me for a whole year, last year.  I will forever cherish that time – and this time – with my children.  I never thought that I would get to have such a close relationship with them as I have grown to, that I could share so much of myself with them as I get to, or that my heart could be filled with such joy by an opportunity that I didn’t even know I wanted until it presented itself to me.

I am grateful to my Wife for the gift she has given me.  Like I was, she is a salaried employee.  She still has some late evenings, but fortunately for our family she took a lesson from all late nights she saw me put in during our children’s first three years and has drawn very clear boundaries for her job.  She is using some of her vacation days to work at the co-op.  She’s making time for the important things.

My Dad and I have spoken many times about my decision to stay home with the kids.  He is wildly happy for me.  He’s pleased that I value the time I gained with him when he started spending more time at home to the extent that it made me make a big change in my own life.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from this whole experience, it is this:  We only get one shot at being parents and our children only get one childhood.  There are no do-overs, but it’s never too late shift our priorities, change our course and become more like the parent we dream of being.

Parenting: Answering the Tough Questions

My twins just turned four and they are starting to ask tougher questions.  For example, a couple of days ago my daughter inquired about the little boy pictured on the weekly store circular (next to the words, “Have you seen me?”).  A few weeks ago my son asked why there was a man standing on the freeway off ramp (holding a sign that read, “Homeless, please help”).

When my kids first started asking questions about the world I made up my mind that I would always answer honestly.  It is, I thought, better to help your children learn to navigate the realities of the world head on, rather than to lie or over-simplify.  My wife is on the same page.  However, this new line of questioning has me wondering to what extent I should open my children’s minds to the harsher realities of the world.  Do four-year-olds really need to grapple with the concepts of missing children and homelessness?

So far, I have chosen to stick with the plan and answer their questions plainly.  My answers have been succinct, but to the point.  I explained to my daughter that the boy was missing, his parents are looking for him, and they put his picture on the circular in case we might have seen him.  She was concerned and expressed that we should look for him.  I said, “That’s exactly right, they want us to watch for him when we go places, with the hopes that we might see him and let them know.”  I told my son that some people don’t have a home like we do, that some folk aren’t as fortunate as we are, and that we should be grateful for what we have.  My wife and I have taught the kids about gratitude, so circling back to that seemed to help him understand it.

I know that these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.  The questions about death and where babies come from are inevitable.  I am interested in hearing from you.  How do/did you address the tough questions with your children?  Have you tried to protect your children from the harsher realities of the word?  If so, how have you gone about responding to their tougher questions?  If you answer head on, have you had success in framing answers in a certain way that help them comprehend matters?

I’m certainly willing to admit that I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to having all the answers.

You Won’t Believe How Cheerios Dares to Portray Dads!

Yesterday, my wife came running over to me with her YouTube app open on her phone and said, “You’ve got to see this!  It’s a Cheerios commercial and it’s… well, here, just watch.”

Having no idea what to expect, I watched – and was stunned.  My mind reeled.  I gasped.

Cheerios Box
©BAKER

Cheerios has made a commercial (this one, in fact) about a dad that is not an incompetent goofball; a dad that doesn’t say and/or do things so wildly idiotic that no thinking human being could possibly relate to him; a dad that isn’t a lazy, spineless, helpless, hopeless waste of space on the couch.

He is… wait for it… a dad with his crap together.

Not only that, but he is fully invested in being a dad and – get this – is completely capable of caring for his kids.  The Mom doesn’t need to bail him out once.  None of the kids pull one over on him.  Not once does he fall down and get his head stuck in something.

Is he superhuman?  Is he a demigod?

NO!  He is just a normal Dad.

He is a Dad like billions of Dads the world over.  He cares about his kids, is skilled at seeing to their needs, is 100% invested in his family, and he loves it.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this commercial is that someone at an ad agency is apparently as fed up with the way that dads are portrayed in commercials as I am.  Is this commercial a sign that we are heading into a new age of pop culture enlightenment?  Is this the dawn of an era in which a commercial dad can be more than the butt of the joke?

Probably not.

But hey – at least somebody got it right once.

(Now, if that person could just talk to the people that make sitcoms.)

My First Father’s Day

Looking back, I wish that I would have kept a journal (or written a blog!) beginning when my kids were born.  They’re nearly four now and believe me they are still cranking out new material every day.  Many of those early thoughts on fatherhood are lost to the ether, but I did have the opportunity to speak at my church about fatherhood, on my first Father’s Day.  Here’s the text from that speech, given June 19, 2011.  Re-reading it, I was surprised how much emotion it brought back about our journey to parenthood and those first months of daddydom.  Without further adieu…

It’s my first Father’s Day!  Would it be wrong of me to stand up here and do a happy dance?  My wife, D [she has a full name, but I’ll just refer to her as D], gave birth to two beautiful babies, Nate and Emily [those aren’t my kids’ real names, but they’re nice aliases aren’t they?], in August of 2010.  I say that I want to do a happy dance, because the birth of our twins meant both a beginning and an ending for D and me.

Logically, it meant the beginning of a grand new adventure with these two incredible beings who – as one friend so magically put it – chose us to be their parents.  But for us, it also meant the end of a nearly decade-long journey toward parenthood:  A journey that meant three surgeries for D, countless rounds of fertility drugs and IUIs, and a failed IVF attempt; all of which resulted in the sum total of two miscarriages.  Finally, in late 2009 we had a successful IVF cycle.  Two embryos were implanted in D’s uterus, both decided to stick around, and 38 weeks and three days later TA-DA!  Perfection!

A quick shout out to any of you out there who might be going through something similar to what we went through – I empathize with the fact that at some point all of the encouraging well-meaning words from the people who love you start to sound trite, hollow, and sometimes bizarrely callous.  But know this – it’s worth it.  Because it makes you appreciate your babies that much more.  It taps you on the shoulder on those too exhausted nights once the babies come when you can’t remember the last time you slept for more than one hour at a time and more than three hours in any 24-hour period and says, “Isn’t this awesome!”

…And your children – like mine – will NEVER be able to say that you didn’t want really them.

So, one might imagine that my path to becoming a father (I still love saying that, “father”) has probably affected my feelings about fatherhood greatly.  And one would be right.  I LOOOOOOOVE it.  I honestly, without a doubt, cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing with my life.

And I think it has had a profound impact on the kind of father that I am, because I am a radically different person than I was when we started trying to have kids eight years ago.  When I look back, I see a kid who was still trying to figure out who he was and where he was going in life.  I probably worked too much and cared too little.  With each passing year I felt a need to pull myself more closely in line with the kind of parent that I wanted to be.  I slowed down, got a respectable job with reasonable hours and good benefits, opened myself to living with mindful compassion, and reflected a lot on the kinds of parenting choices I’d like to make, rather than just going from the gut.

Oh yeah, and I joined a church.  This church; full of amazing people who have all been so supportive both in word and deed to D and me while we have muscled through the first year of twindom.  The meals, visits, coupons and words of encouragement have been invaluable.

I sometimes receive nice compliments from people who think that I’m a more hands on father than dads in general.  I appreciate that, because I do try to be “all-in” as a dad for a couple of reasons:

The first is by choice.  In the years that we were working to become parents I got to see a lot of my friends become dads, and as soon as some of their babies began to cry they’d pull the, “Oh, time to go back to Mom!” maneuver.  It seemed clever enough at the time, but cut to two years later and I would see the pained look on their faces when that child would tear herself from his arms and run to Mommy when she got a boo-boo or got upset.  Now, when one of my babies cries and my wife asks if I need her to take him or her I say, “No, I want them to know that Daddy can make it better too.”

The second reason I’m probably more hands on is by necessity.  Because, well, TWINS!  For example, D and I roomed in with our kids in the hospital – and the day they were born the nurse helped us into our room, called me over to the bassinet that our daughter was in and asked me if I’d ever changed a newborn’s diaper.  I said, “no.”  She changed Emily’s diaper and explained what she was doing as she went.  Then she turned to me, handed me a diaper for Nate, said “good luck!” and left.  While D was recovering from her C-section I proceeded to change 10 to 12 diapers per child, per day for the next 5 days – that’s between 100 and 120 diapers – and that was before we even took them home from the hospital.  Since that time I’m sure it easily totals into the thousands.

Ultimately, every guy has to be his own kind of father.  For me, this is what feels right.  In all honesty, it’s not completely for my kids that I do it.  It’s also for me – it was a long journey here and I don’t want to miss a thing.