Category Archives: fatherhood

Dad Will Fix It

When I’d have a problem that I couldn’t fix, just before giving up entirely, I’d ask my dad for guidance. When I expected that he’d encourage me to surrender (and call in a professional), he would instead listen to the entire problem and even suppose the various outcomes. And finally, when I expected that he’d offer advice, he would offer to come over and show me precisely how to tackle the problem.

Now it must be said that my dad was no superhero. He wasn’t smarter than everyone else either. In fact, he wasn’t even that dedicated to a solution. Anyone who knew him would tell you that his loyalty wavered (usually in the direction of a green-bottled brew). But what made my dad unique (to me) was his desire to serve.

He knew his own limitations, but didn’t let them prevent him from trying. The mark he left on a problem would always be evidence that an interruption certainly took place. The unresolved problem was a problem that would have been much worse had it gone unaddressed.

My dad enjoyed stillness. But he could never sit idly watching anyone struggle. He was so eager to be helpful that he would help out as a simple courtesy.

In his final months, he spent his remaining fortune at yard sales and flea markets. He would often offer more than the asking price for any trinket that caught his eyes. He defended, “that there is worth twice as much…I’d be taking advantage if I haggled the price.” He was helping without being asked for help. I suppose it was a low-cost way to claim a victory.

It’s been 21 years since my dad died. Even his last day was poetic and not without purpose. He believed that he was resolving a problem that wouldn’t fix itself. For those he left behind, we’ve varied in the ways we processed our grief. Having answers to one question rarely resolved the grief. It merely provided permission to ask other questions. And the unanswered questions become the most important.

I stopped asking questions like “How did he die?” “Why did he leave us?” and “What were the circumstances that led up to his death?” I’ve grown past these questions, mostly because the answers were too uncomfortable. And the only time I could get a little comfort is to write something in his honor on the anniversary of his death.

Over the past 21 years, I’ve encountered a number of problems and wondered how my dad would have approached each one. I’d like to think that his energy in the moments might have impacted the outcome. No doubt, his input would have changed the trajectory. But for 21 years I’d led myself to believe that the outcome would have been better with his hands-on approaches.

Perhaps I should rely on the notion that the lessons that he’d taught me would provide the wisdom needed to approach any situation. After 21 years of wishing he’d been there to consult, to intervene, or to force a solution that may not have been the best outcome, I pause. It is now that I realize that no one, including my dad, has the perfect solution to every problem. It is now that I realize the fact that we often decide for ourselves how committed we are to any given problem. Finally, I must concede that how we’ve approached our problems in the past plays a large role in determining how we will handle current and future problems.

Although I miss my dad a great deal, 21 years is more than enough time to stop asking “what would he have done in this situation?”

Twenty one years is enough time to have bore another human being, watch them grow into an adult, and model for them the tools to manage a world of problems on their own. It’s enough time to ascend and descend a dozen times. Its enough time to be loved and hated. It’s enough time to be at the top and the bottom simultaneously. What would he have done in these situations? What could he have done to assist? Would he have listened, advised, or assisted, or intervened, or ignored situations entirely? It doesn’t even matter because 21 years have passed any way. It’s ALL in the past now.

I can’t be certain of anything. I know I miss him. But I also know that he’s left enough behind for me to contend with. I know that if I handled situations the same way he did, my outcomes may have mimicked his, and that’s not ok either.

Missing someone doesn’t mean that having them beside you still would be better. It just means that you wouldn’t be alone. And I never felt alone. I just felt overwhelmed.

Oil and Water (TikTok Challenge)

In light of the recent bomb threats in one of the biggest small towns in New Jersey, the new superintendent left messages for the parents of each student enrolled in the district. Every building in the school district will reopen after an emergency closure resulted from a threat that went viral on social media. This was not the first threat the district has endured. But this time, the adversity has directed the energy where it may be best felt—a conversation between parents and students.

As I listened to the plea for help, I prepared my mind as both an educator of ten year olds and a parent of a seventeen year old. I considered my students who confide in me how messy the bathroom has become (as a result of TikTok inspired vandalism). Their little hearts conflicted as they exchange their thrill of the chaos for their need to be exonerated. They don’t want to get in trouble for something that another student did.

I considered my son who is on the cusp of getting his driver’s license and applying for jobs and preparing for graduation. I also think about how smart he is, his potential, and his likeliness to stay out of trouble. It’s his affiliations that bring me pause.

The superintendent’s message was a call to action for parents to have a meaningful conversation with their children. There’s a need not only to prevent future occurrences, but to discuss the implications of this kind of behavior.

We must be cautious to label these acts frivolous or thoughtless! There could be nothing more contrary. A LOT of effort went into concocting these challenges. The social media mileage that it’s been getting is not accidental. Somewhere there is a proud troll. The impact ripples throughout communities across the nation. How long have we been telling our youngsters to think globally? We had no idea how that might manifest.

When I picked my son up today, I greeted him with the love that comes from missing him for a few days. I asked him his thoughts of the “day off from school” as a result of the recent threat. He was appreciative that it wasn’t a “remote instruction” day. Beyond that, it all seemed to be outside of his purview.

I replayed the superintendent’s message for my son. I cautiously approached the need to have this conversation in a way that he could “buy” into the the resolve. I watched my son’s expression fade from disinterest into something that resembled “are we done here?”

I began by reminding him of the various occasions that he thought he had things under control only to realize that situations can be cumbersome or overwhelming. I then affirmed how smart he was and how much trust I have in his decisions.

THEN…

I reminded him of my role to guide him rather than restrict him or hover over him. What happened next surprised even me. My son picked up a fruit and began to toss it into the air rhythmically. Up and down, over and over. Seemingly not paying attention, it wasn’t until I hit upon a nerve that he missed his mark and dropped the fruit.

He couldn’t focus on his toss and grasp the points at the same time. He offered little as a rebuttal as the conversation morphed more so into a lecture. Sure enough, each time I hit upon a valid point, he dropped the fruit.

Despite the easy analogy that could be made between regretful decisions and this pummeled fruit, I narrowed the talk to three points.

1) Students have some knowledge of what is happening here and may not have fully considered the consequences. Nonetheless, it does not require hard evidence to charge another student with vandalism. It merely requires a witness or mitigating circumstances to transform an investigation into formal charges.

2) Someone will speak up to either put an end to the destructive behavior or they will direct that negative energy from themselves (to ensure that they are not blamed).

3) If even half the parents had this “meaningful” talk with their child, the kids would likely steer clear of the kids that they KNOW are engaging in this activity.

I call this “oil and water.” Both are powerful, but neither wants anything to do with the other. Students who desire to be on the path to success want nothing to do with behavior that will create obstacles. For other students, misdirection will continue until they experience a consequence for themselves or until they witness someone else get caught.

I’ve asked my son to consider “oil and water” as he witnesses these TikTok challenges unfurl. From this point on, he can no longer claim that he doesn’t know any better. And as his parent, I can no longer say that I didn’t at least start the conversation.

Never Blame the Victim

We build our philosophies on absolutes, but life is not absolute. Entire systems are built upon rules—some of which have exceptions and exclusions. Ask any legal expert. Let’s not overlook implied meanings and common practice. Each is a component for understandings and agreements that must be adhered to. If not, there’s a result that may require all parties to revisit the original agreement.

Here’s one: never blame the victim. It begs for an addendum. “Never blame the victim…unless…” But nope! Can’t do it. Never! But then again, we never say never.

There’s varying degrees of victimhood, and each one requires a clandestine protection against retribution. We speak of justice beyond the crime. But we rarely speak of the restoration of the victim. Neither punishment nor restitution can undo the damage. Understanding and forgiveness might do the trick, but that’s not justice. That’s empathy. And empathy is too often overlooked because the victims and the witnesses and the enforcers of the rules need to feel something greater than what empathy affords them.

Depending on the severity of the crime, mitigating circumstance seem useless. Sometimes knowing “why” doesn’t ease the pain.

It hurts to be a victim. Victims need care and compassion. Victims need healing. But do you know what victims don’t need? They don’t need others pretending to be victims. Perpetrators pretend to be harmed, offended victims of injustice so that they can glean sympathy. They know that no one will blame them for being a victim. All that they need to do is claim to be hurt, shed a little tear, or share a sad story to awaken the emotions of their caregivers.

No one likes a liar. Cons are despised. There’s no dignity in betraying the confidence of others. And the true victims of this crime are the not the ones who employ this technique, but instead are the ones who fall for the fakery. It’s like dialing 911 when there is no emergency. It distracts the responders from the real emergencies.

Eggs on First

I’m talking to myself, but my son is listening. I’m conflicted, but I can find no resolve. My son is shaking his head, but offering minimal input. The issue? Food!

Me: When I was a kid, there were 4 good groups.

Dylan: there are 5

Me: right! There are 5 food groups! I knew that…. Ok, like I was saying… meat, dairy, veggies, fruit, and grains. Five!

Dylan: Fish

Me: Fish is meat. Seafood is meat.

Dylan: sushi is seaweed. Seafood or vegetable?

Me: seafood is seafood; meat!

Dylan: corn?

Me: Vegetable. It grows from the ground. Wait! Grain, right? But vegetables grow from the ground like beans, peas, and other legumes.

Pumpkins are legumes. Wait. Pumpkins are fruit! Like watermelon and cantaloupe. They grow above ground. Like tomatoes! Tomatoes are a fruit. Wait. No. Tomatoes are a vegetable! They go in salads like lettuce (which also grows above ground). Salad? There’s nuts in a salad. Legumes! Grapes can be in a salad. Fruit! Wait…lots of things can be in a salad. Like croutons (grain) and chicken (chefs salad). Salad should not be the qualifier. Chicken is meat! It’s white meat like fish…

Dylan: seafood!

Me: As I was saying…white meat…

Dylan: Racist…

Me: huh? What? Stop it! Pork…

Dylan: Pig! 😳

Me: Is rabbit meat, white meat?

Dylan: Why? Because a rabbit has white fur 🐇? Ummm. No.

Me: I think it’s the texture. Chicken, duck, turkey, etc.

Dylan: Turkeys have dark meat.

Me: yeah, but it’s not red meat.

Dylan: isn’t all meat red meat because of the blood?

Me: 🧐

Also me: Fish bleed.

Dylan: vegetarian? Vegan?

Me: Pescatarian!

Dylan: Isn’t that a religion?

Me: Only if you worship fish. But if you did, you probably wouldn’t eat them. Alright. Enough! Let’s sum this up:

Five food groups! Some foods are questionable. Vegetables and fruits are interchangeable. Potatoes grow UNDER the ground. Vegetable…

Dylan: Starch

Me: huh, wait! No! Vegetable. Eggs are dairy.

Dylan: Protein. Shouldn’t eggs be meat? They come from chickens.

Me: Eggs are not to be eaten with chicken, but fine with pork.

Dylan: White meat!

Me: Grrr. Bacon is in the dairy isle with the milk and eggs and cheese and…

Dylan: …and orange juice! But oranges are fruit. Grapefruits are fruit. Apples are fruit. But Apple Jacks do NOT taste like apples and are not in the fruit aisle.

Me: well that’s because that’s a cereal to which we add milk.

Both of us: DAIRY!

Me: But milk comes from a cow, and a cow is meat. It’s in a different isle, is a different texture, and is MEAT!!

Dylan: Protein! Red meat! Not worshiped (by all), but tastes great with A1 steak sauce.

Worst Father’s Day Ever

It’s been twenty years since the first Father’s Day without my dad. These years have been bitter-sweet. I have children of my own. I haven’t been able to celebrate him the way my kids celebrated me. But this year is different.

Riddled with confusion from being the best dad I can be, I struggle with the memories of my own dad. I can’t even speak with the last person who saw him alive. “Thanks, mom! You’ve done to me what you did to him! You’ve pushed me away the same way you pushed him…AWAY! I blame YOU. Are you happy now, mom?” Not with bullets or daggers; but with coldness and distance. Silence is as painful as any weapon. But it works both ways (mom)! “Mom, answer your PhOnE!”

She blamed HIM for my brother’s death. He got to hear it every day. My brother didn’t get to say good bye to his dad either. He never got to BE a dad. He didn’t even get to meet my daughter (who was only a few months old when he expired). But my dad did. Holding my daughter was one of the last things he did the day he died. But he never got to meet my son.

My son hears the stories that I tell about my own dad. He gets to hear the tales of the lessons my dad taught me. But there are some things my son can not be told. Not for fear of my own embarrassment, but for concern that he might behave in a similar way. But as I watch closer, I observe my son emulating traits that I was sure my dad had taken to his grave. If not for genetics, then what? How?

TWENTY YEARS AGO, I celebrated my first Father’s Day. I held my baby girl in my arms. I thought she’d always be Daddy’s Girl. Now the only thing that calls me “Daddy” is my Hulu account. The children have all grown up.

I refuse to accept the facts. I refuse to apologize for the things that have passed. I will not make amends. This isn’t a twelve step program!

Sure I have grief! But for sixteen of those twenty years, my mom insisted that her grief was more important. It wasn’t enough for her to attend the support groups, she had to facilitate them; she had to manage the pain for others; as if her service would alleviate the guilt. As if the guilt would exonerate the responsibility.

I’m still here! And I miss my dad.

I don’t know what the plan was. I don’t know if there WAS a plan. I don’t know if it worked. All I know is the wisdom of realizing that there’s plenty that I DON’T KNOW and plenty that I don’t understand. Is this what fatherhood is supposed to be? I’m pretty sure this is not what TWENTY YEARS of manhood is supposed to feel like.

I miss my dad. I miss my kids more. I was an even better dad than my own (I think). But how is that measured anyway? I mean, I am here for my kids. I serve kids who are not my own. I mentor and volunteer. I support and counsel my kids. I celebrate them and redirect them when needed.

I am most recently remembered for the way I wield a punishment. I call it motivation. My kids don’t cry from a spanking. My kids anger because I’ve taken away something that is important to them. Their mother never had to warn, “wait until your father gets home…” because I’ve always been close by.

Father’s Day offers more than just a recognition of dear old Dad. It’s a recognition of what it means to be a dad. For me, it’s the opportunity to reflect on the job I’ve done. It’s the self-analysis of how I’m doing. It’s the preparation of what’s to come.

I’ve had more years withOUT my dad than WITH my dad. That’s still more years than some have had with their dad at all. That’s still more than my siblings have had with our dad. That’s still more than my other brothers have had with their own dad. My dad RAISED my brothers whose own dad was busy saving the world. MY dad loved all of his kids, even when they stopped loving him (or at least that’s what my mom used to say before she stopped talking to me).

MY dad wasn’t just mine. He was a father, a step father, and a son. His dad also died too soon. I never met his dad. As a matter of fact, I never met my mom’s dad either. So I suppose I won’t be celebrating Grand Parent’s Day either.

This year Father’s Day will be different. My kids have lives of their own. And although they aren’t parents yet, I’m assured that when their day comes they may understand better. They may experience what it feels to give so much and receive so little. Appreciation hits differently after TWENTY YEARS.

Kids, this year my door will be open. So there will be no need to knock or ring the bell. The bell has tolled for many fathers. But not for me. There will be no visitors (and no invitations). I’ll be sitting on the couch watching Hulu. I’ll be selecting the account that is set up just for me. I’ll be there, but Daddy won’t be hugged up with his kids. I’ll watch other Dad’s with similar tales—because Hollywood portrays dads differently than moms.

Moms receive their flowers when they are living. Dad’s buy the flowers but rarely receive them. I’d prefer a bouquet of tools anyway. But Sears shut their doors years ago. “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” This year, I’m dodging Father’s Day. That is all…

1994 Wishlist

the things most important to me at the age of adulthood; those moments that i would fantasize or dream of things just barely within my grasp are not even things anymore. i could not know then what i would not need (or even want) in my “mature” years. the photos should speak for themselves, but i’ll defend as we peruse…the coveted swatch watch. my peers had several. i was able to save up enough money for ONE. that’s all i needed. Now i don’t even wear a watch.

my high school counselor warned me that our regional state college would more appropriately be my dream school. i applied, and gained admission.

and then a million dollar endowment and national recognition transformed it into a university that might have made my counselors prediction accurate…

go figure!

the sports car that i dreamed of was one that i thought was practical. whereas a Porsche 928 was what i really wanted, it was its cinematic association that made it an unlikely reality

this Shelby Charger would fit the bill instead. i was fortunate enough to own one for a few months. i sold it out of anger.

Too soon…

jessica…boyish fantasies remind us of how ridiculous we can be! Bugs never had it so good. Maybe it was the red hair…

Or not…i had so many cassettes, it only seemed fitting to have a way to play them consecutively. i hadn’t imagined that i’d be financially reckless enough to own countless compact discs and that the future-me would hoard all kinds of music media.

we simply didn’t know that mp3s would be a thingi figured that typing my thoughts would be more efficient than keeping a diary. I knew that i could type almost as fast as I could think the words…

i practiced my typing. i used my sears credit card to buy one of these (an open-box special). one day i’ll be a blogger. it’s 1994. What’s a blog?

by the way, i really liked the movie The Mask. i don’t know why. i didn’t care much for Jim Carey.

Red

i had TWO high school rings. i lost the first one that my parents bought me. i bought another identical ruby ring with my grocery clerk earnings before they could find out how irresponsible i’d been. then they found the one i’d lost.

for her 13th birthday, my daughter inherited the recovered ring along with the lesson of unnecessary discretions.

when i graduated university, i bought myself an imitation emerald ring. Authenticity wouldn’t matter when it was time for my grad school ring. That one will be pure onyx for sure (even though i have no dream of achieving another degree).

Hard Knox from here on…

and those things i thought i wanted aren’t important any more. they probably weren’t important then. i just didn’t know it.

Raising Queens and Kings

As a father of a nineteen year old daughter and a fourteen year old son, I often reflect on the direction on which I’ve sent each of them. The standards differ based on their ability and their expectations. Because I do not expect my son to behave like a woman, nor do expect my daughter to behave like a man, I must model for them what I’ve determined to be appropriate gender roles.

When my son is left to his own devices he exhibits childlike mannerisms: wanting without working, playing until exhaustion, but feigning any responsibility to his home or for his actions…

And so I address it. We discuss it. I model an alternative to what he does and emphasize positive outcomes. It’s not easy. But it’s not supposed to be.

My daughter has always been more mature, but not without childish mannerisms. The women in her life, of course, take every opportunity to bestow upon her how to be a successful woman.

As I watch, I cannot help but observe some of the practices they’ve taught her. I wish we could simply raise our children up to be ADULTS; model citizens, hard workers, self-sufficient. But it is not enough. My daughter must also be a strong woman (especially when her counterparts are weak). She must be caring even when no one else cares. She will undoubtedly become as much of her mother as she becomes a fruit of me.

I worry that I’ve not given her enough. I see around me women who struggle with the world around them. It is men who’ve stopped caring that force the women to compensate. But more often I notice the women in our lives, the matrons of our family, and our lady leaders who must compromise–women who are forced to make tough decisions because their men were unable or impotent.

I wish this world were kinder to our women. I wish my daughter were not being taught how to “handle” men to get what she wants. Although her “compromise game” is weak, her “compensate game” is strong. She needs no one. But she’s offered the support from women who had to resort to manipulation and trickery for their own survival.

She’s accompanied by a grandmother who chased her husbands away and a mother who couldn’t trick her husband into giving her what she wanted. They now press their prodigy to take their advice. She’s told to give to the young man who hasn’t found his way yet, but to spend no time with someone who challenges her ability. They’ve denied their own role in driving their lovers away. But they offer encouragement on how to find happiness without a “good man.”

The narrative changes depending on who tells the story. As a father who hoped he’s modeled what a strong man looks like, what a dedicated man does, and how a passionate man loves, no man can truly deserve my princess (in my opinion). I encourage her to hold on to what I’ve modeled.

But there’s another perspective–the female perspective. The mother perspective counters most of what this father models. This mother says, “forget him!” She says,”you don’t need him…”. She pronounces that, ” he’s nothing because he refused to GIVE me what I want…”

A mother’s distaste of the father equals poison in the development of a child. As a father I see it. And although I have no antidote, I can offer a vaccine.

“Daughters, we love you! Listen to what your mothers tell you, but recognize that there’s another side to that advice,” urges this father.

Don’t take the advice from a bitter person. Know that your father’s revenge is a successful life. We seek Queens to build our kingdom. This is why we’ve raised you to be princesses.