So This is Fatherhood


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The Age of Innocence

There are times during this entire fatherhood journey where I can simply take a breath, reflect and experience the world through the lens of my three year old’s eyes.

The moments are sometimes few as we all inevitably fall into the regular rat race of life – trying to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves to try and ensure the livelihood of our families, our homes and, especially the futures of our children. I am as guilty of this as anyone, if not more so.

And even though I spent the majority of my Sunday working around the house – general homeowner things that tend to need attention – it’s small moments that my daughter experienced this week when I just want to hug her, kiss the top of her head and be still in the world during with her and let everything else pass by.

236c3e9e97890d266b108013f108be27Every morning that I drive her to daycare, we usually cover three topics. It’s easy since the drive is no more than five minutes.

1) What are you going to do at school today?

I’m going to listen to my teachers.

Note: listening is not one of my daughter’s best attributes.

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There’s a big difference between sleepovers in tents at the library and sleeping in tents that you call “home” in urban areas.

2) How are you going to play with your friends?

Nice and gentle, she says as she softly rubs her own face.

Note: sometimes my child channels her inner Ronda Rousey.

3) How are you going to act?

Like a leader.

3a) And what does that mean?

To do the right thing.

Note: This one is still a work in progress. We’re trying to get her to think this way although the overall concept probably escapes her grasp. She’s getting there, but it’s something I want to institute now.

It was during our morning drive routine when she didn’t immediately answer one of these typical queries. She saw a man walking on the sidewalk.

He was homeless. A stereotypical vagrant of a homeless person you may expect to be cast in a movie if they needed what we all think a homeless person should look like. Terribly unkempt hair, ratty beard, holes in his filthy clothes. Someone who had taken several wrong turns in life, but in one way or another was still gutting it out.

My daughter saw him, and his yellow backpack with a foam roller on it and her focus on our questions went askew.

Daddy, that man is going to the library for a sleepover.

I did a double take and then lobbed back a simple Oh, yeah? at her, struck by the fact that my three-year-old has yet to tell the difference of a homeless person and a person going to a sleepover. She saw the backpack, had just finished watching her morning PBS shows and somehow concluded that this person was sleeping over at the library.

How we view the world is obviously jaded and probably more negative than it should be based on our own experiences and the influences we have: stories, news reports, experiences of others and so on.

Yet, my daughter just saw a human being. A man walking with a backpack and assumed the best. He was simply going to the library, to learn and read, and meet his friends, and then sleep there.

For a moment I wished she was right. And in that moment I wanted to crawl into that space with her and believe it too.

 


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Life With a Threenager

Until I saw some pictures tonight, there’s certainly a few things about the first year of my child’s life that I had forgotten.

Like the fact that she had no hair until well after her first birthday. Or the types of pacifiers she had. Or a set of clothes. Or how small she was.

And that was less than three years ago.

Screen-Shot-2015-09-15-at-20.41.24So it only stands to reason that when she hits her high school years I am going to forget how she is already hormonal at three years old.

Yes. It’s true. I am dealing with a threenager.

It’s not so much the attitude. I can mostly handle that. Mainly because I know I could totally take her in a feat of strength, or throw down in an arm wrestling competition and take her out. So, if she wants attitude, I’ll defeat her with strength. Or some of my own attitude. I can out-attitude with the best of them. Problem solved.

And it’s not so much the lying. Kids are going to lie to their parents. It’s just how it goes. Quick confession: Mom, I forged your signature once to get out of detention. Pretty sure the teacher knew, but it worked.

It’s the wild mood swings and the selective listening.

That’s some ish I cannot handle.

The mood swings kill me. How can someone be so excited and pleased to feed ducks old, stale bread and then cry 30 seconds later because they want to go home? In what world is that normal?

How can we be riding bikes and cracking jokes about what’s for dinner (Daddy, do you want to eat rice and cars for dinner? How about rice and grass?) and then turn on the water works because the idea of trees and beans is not as appealing?

I was building up my preparation for uncontrollable mood swings … but 12 years from now! Why do you think I’ve been watching so many John Hughes films?!

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Daily occurrence. 

But, Lord. The listening. Or lack thereof. Egads. It kills me.

Half the time I wonder if my child’s ears are painted on.

I remember selectively listening my mom, or my teachers. I distinctly remember this. But I was 16 and it was a phase of “Leave me alone” which I presume all teenagers go through – or else pop culture and my own experiences just lied to me.

To have it happen at three years old is mind bending.

The worst part of it is actively looking your child in the eye, telling her something, and then having her completely ignore you.

And so many people say this is “the fun age.” It gets worse?

Imagine, in your adult life, your boss asks you to do something. You nod, agree and go your separate ways to handle business. When your boss returns you have one shoe off, there are crayons all over the floor and part of your shirt is above your head.

Sounds like Friday night to me.

But this is how it is … in a blink of an eye you go from Please put your shoes away to complete anarchy.

Holy moly.

I keep thinking that this blog space is going to be a nice reminder and some sort of gift to my daughter one day. See all the funny things you did to make daddy prematurely gray?

But I think that this one is more for me. A time capsule, so I can remember when we actually hit the teenage years that I already dealt with this once.

 


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Sticks and Stones and Bro’s

There was an evening recently where, for a moment, my daughter was upset.

She has bypassed the Terrible Two’s and is smack dab in the middle of the Terrible Three’s, crying when she doesn’t get her way, talking back, ignoring some of our words – in general acting like a miniature teenager. Therefore her being upset didn’t really cause a ruffle in either of her parents’ lives.

Plus, she’s stopped taking naps at daycare, so she has been overly cranky and tired in the afternoon and evenings. Which fits perfectly in our family dynamic because now all three of us have the same general feeling.

This minor meltdown and teary-eyed response, though, was different.

She was telling my wife that some girls at her school were calling her names. She’s three years old. This shouldn’t happen.

My heart immediately went into my stomach. How could toddlers insult each other? This sort of crap wasn’t supposed to be something that we dealt with as parents until she was seven or eight – at the earliest. I thought we were still in the coloring, playground, puzzle stages.

What in the world could kids be calling each other these days?

They called me “a bro” she spit out.

As ridiculous as name-calling can be, especially something as innocuous as that, I wanted to cry.

No parent wants their kid to be upset. And you feel helpless on something like this, even though it doesn’t even compare to the names she will probably be called by other girls as she gets older. In the grand scheme of things “a bro” is eons better than B or C or W or whatever other insults girls hurl at each other.

My wife handled this first foray into insults very adeptly, telling our daughter to just ask these girls very nicely not to call her that anymore. For now, that approach will work. We’ll definitely have to call an audible on that in about 10 years.

51Y-Q1Gg4BL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I checked in with the kiddo a few days later, apparently these girls have moved on from “a bro” to calling my kid “too serious.”

How can a three-year-old be serious? I wondered, thinking of this child who begs for me to “act silly” with her.

This episode came as I was finishing my good friend Josh Suchon’s book, “Murder in Pleasanton,” which details a 14-year-old girl’s murder in 1984. On the day she died, Tina Faelz was harassed and called names. One of the girls who harassed her was quoted in the book, 30 years after the death feeling tremendous amounts of guilt every day and making this girl’s final day of her life miserable. It was something that haunted her.

We never think of these things in the moment. I was no saint as a child and upon reflection, probably owe some kids an apology. Not to the extend Adam Sandler does with Steve Buschemi in Billy Madison, but I definitely ruffled some feathers. (Note: except you, Ashley Levine. You deserved everything that came your way. I maintain that forever.)

As I’ve gotten older and smarter and more accepting, I hope to instill this ideal in my kid – that it’s actually not that hard to be nice to people.

The way we pay our rent for taking up space on this earth is by serving others.

So whether my kid ends up being a too serious bro or develops into a goofy girly I hope that the lessons I’ve learned will find their way into her ethos and she’ll incorporate them in her life’s path.

I tell my daughter every day to be a leader. It’s a hard thing to do, to put your arm around a kid who’s being made fun of and show solidarity with the outcast, but that’s what leaders do. And I hope that if someone in my daughter’s life is being teased she will throw an arm around that child and protect them the same way I do to her.


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Actually, Some Actuality’s

I always imagined I’d be the worst type of parent. The jury is still out if that is true or not.

As my friends began having children I just didn’t really know what to say or how to act around them. My stomach got squeamish at the thought of holding an infant. What if I drop the thing?

My mind was wired to “adult” when having conversations with kids. I use the term conversations loosely, by the way.

lying-1An example:

Kid – Yesterday I flew in a spaceship to the moon.

Me – There is absolutely zero chance that is true. Stop being a liar.

Proof that I simply did not know how to act around toddlers or elementary-aged kids.

Problem is, I still don’t.

My kid will say outlandish things – I guess that’s just something kids do. It’s not intentional. She isn’t an actual liar and is trying to cover up her tracks so she doesn’t get punished for breaking something. It’s just that her mind drifts between truth and non-truth.

This is a real-life example. Unfortunately, things like this come out of her mouth semi-frequently:

Daddy, you are a pretty girl.

You have got to be the dumbest person I’ve ever met.

Of course, I would never say that out loud. I only think it. And then I catch myself thinking it and get mad for thinking my child is a crazy person whose mental hamster fell off the wheel.

Daddy, you are a pretty girl.

Actually, daddy is a man.

Daddy, you are a pretty man.

Some would find that as a compliment.

Actually, you want to say “handsome man.”

It’s this overall lesson of patience and letting kids figure things out as they go that I continue to have the mental battle with. It’s almost like self-advertising to your children. The theory goes you have to hear or see something seven times before it sinks in. So, I’ll keep correcting my child as politely as I can.

(Although, as she gets older and doesn’t catch on – let’s say when she’s a teenager – then I’ll say things like Listen, imbecile, daddy is not a girl. Unless, of course, I decide to go down the Caitlyn Jenner path. Then I would probably give her a hug. And I digress …)

Point is, I have over-corrected my daughter enough that she now answers in actuality’s. Not truths. Actuality’s.

Honey, do you want to put your shoes on?

Actually, yes.

It’s not like the sentence needed the first-word modifier. And if she said no, I would just have done it anyways – putting shoes on is not an option. I’ve just started so many sentences with Actually because she needs correcting that she uses it a lot. And hardly ever correctly.

I guess it’s just baby steps for both of us. I am not tactlessly verbalizing the fact that she is constantly wrong. And she is starting to learn that not everything she thinks, says or hears is a fact.

So, actually, we’re both making progress.


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Trusting That I’m Doing It Right

What builds trust?

Trust fall!

Trust fall!

As an adult, trust is harder to build because you have lived and experienced heartache and deceit. The past is what is preventing you from taking a step into your future.

And, yet, there is trust around us every day. We just fail to notice it.

Every time I get into my car, I trust the person driving alongside me is: licensed; insured; capable; sober; not texting; following the law; and so on.

When I go to a restaurant, I trust that: the chefs don’t give me chicken tar tare; they wash their hands; the bartender mixes the correct drink; I don’t get overcharged.

There are tons of examples of trust surrounding us everyday in this world and yet, we are skeptical.

You know who is not skeptical? Your child.

That kid trusts you more than you can imagine. What you feed her. When you bathe her. Change her. Clothe her. Walk with her. Hold her. Give her a toy. Tell her no.

Everything your child responds to – especially so young, like mine – is based on the trust she has in her parents.

That light bulb flickered on for me a few weeks ago.

All she knows is what we’ve provided for her. Whether it’s the right daycare, or the right temperature of a bottle, there is an amount of faith in a 30-pound human being that is unrealized by me.

Slowly, as she ages, that trust will erode. I’ll break it somehow and I’ll lose a piece of the trust monument I spent years building. Plus, she’ll become a teenager and not trust anyone except for some friends who will end up backstabbing her and a romantic interest who won’t have her best interests at heart. It’s sad, but true.

So in the meantime, all I can do is continue to build that trust with her.

Because when that eventual letdown happens, I want her coming to me with the problems. Trusting I can help her solve them.


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As I Sail Into the Mystic

Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

My wife and I have started this little tradition since moving into our house. We call it “Sunday Supper.” We will work on making a big dinner as a coup de grace to the weekend – we light candles, play some music, open a nicer bottle of wine, use cloth napkins and just sit and enjoy a good meal. The cloth napkins are the key here.

It’s a tradition we started now so that when our daughter is older she will look forward to the Sunday Suppers as much as we do. Sunday is the day we will be sure to all come together and not be distracted by homework, or soccer practice or television. It will be like the dinner table in American Beauty, just without the angst.

And magnificently we will flow into the mystic

As Van Morrison played in the background and we were enjoying a great dish, our conversation turned – as it usually does – to Ella. She had been sick during the week, as kids are wont to do, and she had been leaking a lot from both ends.

Somehow, between the beautiful “Into the Mystic,” the bottle of cab and the delicious Italian dish, we got on the subject of our daughter’s diarrhea.

When that fog horn blows …

In that moment, the song turned into my life.

Here I was, without a compass, sailing into the mystic. I have no idea what the future has in store for me as a father. I don’t know if I am going to continue to be reluctant in attending to crying or nightmares. When I turn my cell phone to “Do Not Disturb” during the night, my body goes into the same mode. If I get up to console a four-year old over a monster in the closet, will I lay on her bed and fall back asleep, leaving my kid to shudder through the night?

As I sat at our dinner table, wondering when my daughter is going to feel better, the words made more and more sense to my situation. The fog horn was the diarrhea reference, obviously.

… you know I will be coming home

Rather than wondering “When will I get some more me time?” I need to just let go – let my soul and spirit fly into the mystic. There is no more me. There is only us.

Along with my wife, we will magnificently flow into the mystic. We have each other. We are blessed. There aren’t words to describe the amount of support we have for the other. The future will be magnificent.

As someone who lived in three cities during his childhood and spent much of his twenties traveling and job-jumping to bigger and better opportunities, the idea of home means so much to me. Perhaps that’s why I look forward to our Sunday Suppers all week. It just feels like … home. It feels secure.

And, yet, there we were, enjoying our wonderful meal, listening to The Man, faces illuminated by 40 watt bulbs and candlelight … talking about our daughter’s poop.

I stopped, sipped my wine, and laughed.

Those are the moments when the name of this blog really makes sense to me. It’s more of a rhetorical question than a statement, really. So, this is fatherhood? 

As Van closes the song, my question and his ellipses fill in whatever blanks are left.

Too late to stop now …


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God Made Dirt and God Made Babies. Sooner or Later, They’re Going to Mix

I cannot tell you exactly when the shift happened. There wasn’t a watershed moment or anything. At least not one that I remember.

The procedure for entering our house has gotten a little easier lately.

The procedure for entering our house has gotten a little easier lately.

During the first few months of my daughter’s life, it was almost like we were walking around in Hazmat suits. People had to pour Purell on their hands whenever they touched her. Our dogs were like a badgering ex-boyfriend given a restraining order – allowed close enough to see what’s going on, but still not given permission to go anywhere near her. We swathed her hands with wipes before and after meals. Cleaned off the high chair tray, too. And God forbid she drop a pacifier on the ground. It was like a Code Red alert and we could only pick it up with a pair of tongs before dropping it into a pot of boiling water.

Lately, though, my kid might as well eat a pile of dirt. It would probably be met with a shrug.

Old ladies walking around the grocery store reach out to touch my daughter and we no longer recoil in germ horror. Our dogs lick her when she walks around. On the mouth sometimes. She’s constantly putting her hands wherever she can as she explores the house as a bi-pedaled human. And then she taste-tests whatever she has in her hands.

Our response? Eh.

Last week at breakfast she dropped her pacifier on the ground. We just dipped it into a now-ordered third water glass and plopped it back into her mouth. It’s like we are already prepping her for beer pong once she heads off to college.

Soon enough she’s going to be walking around our backyard and playing in the mud, playing ball with the dogs and surviving a day without any wardrobe changes, but with plenty of stains.

From this ...

From this …

I just don’t get when our mindset – as parents – changed from Mr. Clean to Pigpen. Was it when she went to daycare? Was it because Purell is expensive? Was it because our dogs tore up the restraining order?

Obviously this happens at some point with every parent, or else we’d all be living in bubbles like giant hamsters. But I’m a moment guy. I remember the moment I met my wife, and the moment I asked her to marry me. I remember the moment that baseball became my favorite sport. I remember the moment I stormed a basketball court as a fan. I remember several heartbreak moments and several victorious moments.

... to this

… to this

Yet, I cannot remember the moment I finally let my kid get just a little outside of the previously created bubble.

But isn’t that what being a parent is about? You try and create a safety net and then little by little, you pull it back and let the child grow on their own?

So maybe there doesn’t need to be an exact moment. Maybe it’s a series of moments that just leads to your kid growing up. And one day, that bubble is gone and then it becomes a moment.


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It’s My Dad-iversary!

Our first family photo. Feb. 20, 2013.

Our first family photo. Feb. 20, 2013.

Today, my daughter turned one.

I made it.

I didn’t kill her.

Not in the Jeffrey Dahmer or the Dexter matter of murder. In the sense that she relies on me – at least partly – to keep her alive.

And I did.

This is a big deal.

It’s not so much about us celebrating that she’s a year old. We lit a candle on a cupcake. She didn’t know how to blow it out. She didn’t care much for the cupcake either. I attribute that to it being her first time tasting sugar. It would be like putting Paul Revere in a Ferrari. Eventually he’d think it was awesome, but he’d be so confused at first.

We’re having a small family gathering on Saturday to celebrate her first birthday. I really think we should be celebrating my wife and myself.

We made it. We have made it a full year as parents. And we didn’t kill her. We also didn’t kill each other. That’s got to count for something too, right?

On Saturday I plan on having some champagne with my wife. The focus, as it should be, will be on our daughter. But we deserve a small, quiet moment of celebration as well. Just the two of us. Just to be able to exhale, roll our shoulders in a sign of relaxation and look back and think that we haven’t totally screwed up. Yet.

It’s interesting to me, as I continue to go through RCIA classes in my Catholic confirmation, since we’re focusing on the Ten Commandments right now. One of the Commandments is to honor your mother and father. I want to think I did a decent job of that. On a scale of 1-10, I would be around a seven or eight.

However, parents don’t get as much credit as they should. My parents kept me alive. (Wouldn’t you know it, though, four days into my life out of the house I almost killed myself. Another story for another time with a stiffer drink.) I’ve never thanked them for that. I also have never thanked my mom for not allowing me to grow a mullet (not that I knew what it was in the 1980s, but I’m pretty sure I wanted to party in the back).

The thing is, my kid turned one and I feel like it’s a bigger accomplishment for my wife and myself. Not because we’re selfish people, but because how do you know how you’re going to react as parents? You’ve never done it before and then all of a sudden you’re doing it all the time? You’re learning how to do things without any education, no courses, no practice. All with a human life relying on you.

Sure, we read books, but reading a book about how to drive a car is nothing like sitting in the driver’s seat.

Obviously we’re not the only ones who have been in this situation. There’s six billion other people on Earth whose parents made it past the first year, too.

So, in honor of my child turning a year old, be sure to thank your parents, or whoever raised you. Just call them and say “Thank you for not killing me.”


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A Brand New Ballgame

coffee table

See ya later, coffee table.

It’s been nice looking at you, beautiful tile around the fireplace.

Kitchen cabinets, about knee high, get ready to be locked up.

Cornered baseboards, I don’t know what we’re going to do with you.

My house is about to be reformed. The above are just the things I can think about immediately changing right now.

Our daughter has started walking.

Our coffee table and our fireplace tile present imminent danger to a wobbly baby.

Our coffee table and our fireplace tile present imminent danger to a wobbly baby.

We might as well move into a giant bounce house.

She’s very wobbly right now and, with years of experience thanks to long nights out with my buddies, feel like I need to steady her as she moves along. I don’t want her to crack her skull on any of these sharp corners. I also don’t want her opening our kitchen cabinets and eating Palmolive.

This revelation of my kid becoming a bi-pedaled human was met with supreme pride – from both her parents and the huge smile on her face when she took those first few steps – but it was also met with a bit of Ohmygawd, she’s going to fall at any moment and end up with a piece of house stuck in her temple.

So the coffee table will live in the garage for the time being and the kitchen cabinets will have some hideous looking locks 0n them (quick aside: why do baby companies insist on making the protective things so damned ugly. It’s bad enough these items have to mess with the aesthetics of your house, couldn’t they be a little more subtle?). The fireplace will get a protective shell and our living room rocking chair will need to be moved elsewhere.

When our daughter took her first few steps around the house, one of our dogs was really interested and was intrigued by this new development.

I looked at our dog and said “It’s a brand new ballgame, Roxy.”

I didn’t realize it also meant we had to change the landscape of the field, too.


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So This is Fatherhood Gets Featured!

It’s pretty incredible, when you break it down, to think of the immediate acceptance one receives just for having a kid. Other dads who I meet, or who I look at from afar (not like from a windowless van or something, but like at the store) we all have something in common: we are all involved and invested fathers. 

So I think it’s pretty neat to have met some folks who also write their own Dad Blogs and share similar experiences. It’s kind of like being in a club and we all have the same password. 

Chris Lewis, who runs dadofdivas.com, reached out to me and asked to feature me in his latest “Dads in the Limelight” series. I happily accepted. Please follow the link below since it was pretty cool to interact with Chris and be featured on his site. The Q&A actually reveals more about me and fatherhood than a few of these blogs I write about myself do. 

http://dadofdivas.com/dads-in-the-limelight/dads-limelight-limelightdads-matt-hurst-matthurst16-dadchat