Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Beatles were right

We’ve had a crazy week with dusty, costly, last second renovations. Our builder has gone over time and over budget and could seem to care less. Yesterday, the workers left the deck door off our bedroom open, and the room was coated with sawdust. Today, the junior man on the job miscalculated a few cuts, so I had to spend $50 to rent a truck big enough to carry three lonely 16 foot baseboards. Then, when the other carpenter drove a nail into a new piece of door casing, all the power in the kitchen instantly went out. We thought he had driven a nail through the electrical wire.

In the few hours before the electrician arrived, I was feeling overwhelmed. We were broke, in the dark and covered in sawdust. At any moment, my wife was surely going to go into intense labour and have our baby on the spot. I would have to deliver my second son into a world of toxic made-in-China-melamine-laden sawdust. He was going to look like a shake-and-bake pork chop seconds after coming into the world. If that wouldn’t give him cancer, surely the lethal fumes from the paint and the calking would give him brain damage.

Then I had to endure the recent pattern of struggles with my son over dinner (which began, not coincidentally, the day after Halloween), followed by the tooth brushing wrestling match.

Finally, I got him into bed and read him a story. As I was kissing him goodnight, he caressed my face, fixed his eyes on mine, and said, “I’ll never stop loving you, Daddy.”

My heart burst. “I’ll never stop loving you either, my son.”

“I can’t turn it off,” he said.

“That’s a good thing,” I said.

After thinking for a second, he added. “Love is important.”

“Yes, love is very important,” I answered.

“Glasses are important, too,” he said, fixing mine snuggly to my face.

As well as slaying me on multiple levels, this was an almost cliché reminder of what is truly important in life. Time with your children can put your true priorities in order often as you let it.

Tonight also reminded me of how easy it is for children to love. They come into this world wanting to love, and little else. Let your child remind you of a time in your life when loving came so easily.

It seems fitting that one of my son’s favourite songs at the moment is “All you need is love.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

You were right.

Think back to your childhood. When you were a boy, what did you think it meant to be a dad?

First of all, you probably thought dads were supposed to go to work; dads were providers. Dad set the rules and meted out the punishment if you broke them. It was dad’s job to make things and fix things. Dads were tough and strong and never cried. As you hit your late teens you probably became convinced it was also your dad’s job to be a clueless asshole who made your life miserable (that’s a knock on you, not your dad, by the way…hard to be facetious when you’re blogging sometimes.)

Now think back to your boyhood and ask yourself what you wanted from your dad. You wanted him to play catch, go fishing, build soap box derby cars and come to your little league games. You wanted him to hug you, tell you how special you were and maybe if you weren’t already made to feel embarrassed by such things, you wanted him to tell you he loved you.

The point here isn’t to knock your father at all. Dads who worked, fixed things, maintained discipline, provided for their families and tormented teen agers were doing essential and laudable duties. This is what society expected of a dad forty, thirty, even twenty years ago. By society’s definition, men who did the aforementioned were candidates for "Dad of the Year."

However, you probably noticed something. There is huge discrepancy between what you saw as your father’s duties, and what you wanted from your father. All you wanted from your father was time. Society expected something else. It only goes to show that society isn’t always right—sometimes, six year old boys are.

Being a great dad is about balance. Try to keep this in mind the next time you feel like you have to put your “dad” hat on. All you child really ever wants from you is time and unconditional love. Make sure, no matter how much or how little that time is--that it is undivided and open hearted.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I’ve been doing still more hammering and sawing preparing for baby number two’s imminent arrival (which makes me sound far more adept at using tools than I really am.)

This morning I was putting up some more shelves in the guest room closet when my son came into the room wanting to play.

My first instinct was to do the, “Just a minute, I’ve got to finish something first” routine. I realized that I was going to be saying, “Hold on a minute” about fifty times before I could stop and play, so I just told him to go and get his tools.

Within minutes, we were both hammering and drilling away, fixing up the closet. I would ask him to measure something for me (he loves tape measures) or to mark some lines where I would need to cut the wood. He would shout out things like, “It's forty seven, dad” and I would thank him for his help.

As I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t take many instances of a father saying, “Not right now, I have to get this done” before a child feels like they are second fiddle. Now this is not saying that you should drop everything every time your child wants you—learning patience is a valuable lesson—but if you can engage them while you are doing your important work, isn’t that so much the better?

Next time they want your attention and you are in the middle of important work you can’t put down, try to find a way to include your child. Drawing plans? Get them to draw some, too. Writing a report? Get them to sit with you and write a story—or just squiggle some lines depending on the age.

It won’t work every time, but when it does it will make your child feel valued and wanted. It will also strengthen your sense of togetherness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Memories vs Milestones

While transforming the guest room in to the new baby room, (my wife and I are expecting at the end of the month) I came across something.

For a radio skills workshop I took a few years ago, we were asked to write about something—anything—in 250 words. What follows came from an experience I had when my son was around 14 months old.

“Who knew a little pat on the back could mean so much?

I never saw it coming as I scrambled after my one year old son through the posh restaurant.

Babies of that age gravitate to all that is verboten: light sockets, steak knives, the side of tartar sauce on the table of a complete stranger.

Following him is exhausting.

I look at my wife. She’s swirling a ruby glass of pinot noir. I envy her. She laughs with friends and savours ahi tuna. I lunge to keep my child from jabbing a fork in the waiter’s foot.

Finally, he is spent.

I plop him into his wooden highchair and settle next to him. My cold steak mocks me.

Inside, I wallow in self pity. Why am I missing out? Why does my wife get to indulge in all the fun?

Then it comes.

It feels like the brush of angel wings. I sense a tiny hand gently pat me on the shoulder blade. I turn to my son. He beams. He makes an ‘L’ with his thumb and forefinger and raises it to his temple.

To the uninitiated, it looks like my son is calling me a looser. I know he’s doing sign language. The sign for ‘daddy.’ The sign for me.

He grins a toothy smile.

‘Da da.’

My son nuzzles his head into my side.

'Da da,’ he sighs.

Who knew a little pat could mean so much?

Who knew such a little hand could cradle a grown man’s heart?”

You know, I’ve already forgotton my son’s first word, and I vaguely remember his first step.
The day he nuzzled his head into my side and sighed, “Da da” however, I’ll remember forever.

We anticipate that the big milestones in our children’s lives are the moments we’ll never forget. They are the memories we will cherish.

I disagree.

Life with a child is filled with so many glorious, unscripted, unforeseen moments. These are the ones that endlessly fill your cup. And these are the ones you can share with your child, simply by being with them and being fully present to them.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What's my size?

I've gotten into a fun little morning routine with my son. As we are getting ready to head out the door, I pretend to be a shoe salesman. I don't know where it came from, but it has stuck. I welcome him to my little store, offer him a wide selection of first rate socks from which to choose, and then suggest just the right shoe (usually the ones with Iron Man and Spider Man.) This morning, in my haste I suppose, I forgot to slip into "shoe salesman" persona.

"Daddy," he asked, "can you be the shoe guy?"

My son, like most 3 year olds, has a vivid imagination, and likes to play various games of make believe.

I do too.

It's cheap, its fun, and it brings my attention fully and solely into the present moment.

If you want to be closer to your kids, go into their world, no matter what their age. Look for the invitations and the signs. Hell, don't even wait, just throw yourself right in.

This doesn't mean you have to spend 24/7 in the land of Thomas the train or Henrietta pussycat, but its a great way to connect with your child. This is especially true if your work schedule demands that you pull long hours at the office or have to be on the road a great deal.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Point of View

One of my favourite bastardized sayings is, "If you don't like someone, try walking a mile in his shoes. After, if you still don't like him, at least you'll be a mile away, and you'll have his shoes."

Have you ever tried to walk a mile (or at least a few blocks) in your child's shoes?

We were out trick or treating last night, and found ourselves in a scary alley. A group of neighbours had put together this wonderful display that ran the length of the alley. It started off as mildly spooky, and concluded with the Grim Reaper swiping at you with his scythe if you tried to pinch any of his chocolate.

At any rate, we had just entered the alley, and it was packed. I saw a few parents leaving with children who were less than amused by some of the scary stuff. At that moment, I squatted down to help my son put on one of those glow in the dark bracelets that one of the alley hosts had just handed to him. While I was down there, I just happened to look up.

It was overwhelming! There were all these large bodies in dark costumes and strange masks swirling and racing overhead. They had little regard to what was going on down at their feet. At that moment I was swept with a sudden realization of the perspective of a three and a half year old. It was quite remarkable, frankly, that his little head didn't explode (though that would have been a cool Halloween effect ;-)

As an aside, he made it to the very end of the alley, standing face-to-waist with the Grim Reaper. With all the courage he could summon, and with a scythe swooshing down, he managed to grab an Oh Henry from the bowl. I was so proud of him. Not for cheating death, but for soldiering his way down that alley when he really must have felt like he was being swallowed up by a swarm of strangers.

Don't forget to get down to your child's level from time to time. It will give you a sense, or at the least, remind you, of the challenging perspective they face every day.