Friday, November 5, 2010

Bulletproofing our Kids

Recently, I blogged about my 4 year-old’s first case of heart break. It had to do with the departure of his best friend, Louis, as he left daycare to start kindergarten. I was amazed by my son’s level of both understanding and acceptance, fully imbued with genuine sadness.

Connor and Louis had their first post-break-up play date a while back. As we waived goodbye to Louis while pulling out of his driveway, Connor began to weep and wail like a Southern Baptist at a revival …so much for acceptance.

What I loved about the day, however, was how the two boys reunited like long lost soul mates. Connor hopped up and down with excitement as Louis bounced up the sidewalk to our house. The two hugged with such vigor and genuine delight. Then, like all best buddies, they played and talked like they’d never been apart.

This time, however, there was something new to their play routine.

In the middle of playing wolf-hikers or any one of their other made up games, Connor would suddenly proclaim, “I love you, Louis.” Louis would reply, “I love you too, Connor.” Over the course of the day, this exchange took place numerous times, sometimes initiated by Connor, sometimes by Louis. Each time it was said very matter-of-factly.

Needless to say, both my wife and I were on the verge of tears each time we heard this. It was another beautiful example of how our children are still so unspoiled at that age.

I pray he never loses that ease with which he told his dearest friend, “I love you.” My heart already breaks for the first time someone makes fun of him or teases him for expressing himself so purely. But just maybe, as I try to build his self esteem by reinforcing that he is most loved and valued just for being him, those future barbs will bounce of him like bullets off of Superman.

I can always hope.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fathers and Sons…and Fathers Again.

I’ve never met a man who hasn’t been profoundly affected by his own father (though I’ve met many who’ve never recognized it). I am no different.

As I write this entry, I am sailing across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver to Vancouver Island; my father is having anything from a triple to a quintuple bypass tomorrow morning in Victoria.

I’m long past the age where my parents are starting to appear mortal. Between my parents (and their various spouses) there have been hip transplants, cancers, surgeries and several strokes. It isn’t like I’ve never pondered the prospect of losing one or both of my parents.

I don’t anticipate anything going wrong with my dads operation tomorrow, but still, I can’t help but be reflective. My father is a good man, who like the rest of us, has had his fair share of struggles. He was on the wrong end of two divorces, seemed to have more career setbacks than successes, and saw way less of his four children than he would have liked. He has his passions, too: for Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and New Physics. For several years he has been working on a book which he feels can change the world. I admire his ambition.

I have regrets in my relationship with my father as I know he has with me. Most revolve around the time (or lack thereof) we spent together. And when we were with each other my father often seemed lost in thought. My dad would always find time to throw a ball or play a game of chess if I asked him, but he was never one to seek that engagement with me.

It’s no surprise then that as a father I seek out unsolicited activity time with my boys and am committed to being fully present to them when we are together. Even when I’m working, I find ways to have them work along with me. It’s no coincidence that my business revolves around helping absent, workaholic dads better connect with their kids.

In many ways, the mistakes our fathers made can be the greatest gifts they ever gave us. This isn’t to beat up on fathers by any means. This is borne from a sense of optimism that fathers and men are slowly evolving, and that awareness is the next step in that process. I certainly hope my sons will one day be able to learn from my countless parenting gaffes and become better fathers as a result. I want to know that my scaring errors won’t be in vain. Don’t we all?

I know my father feels very deeply that there are no accidents—that everything happens for a reason. As he goes over the tally sheet I hope he takes great comfort in knowing that I am a better father for having him as a father.

This past June, he sent me a Father’s Day card. In it he wrote, “You are the best dad I’ve ever known.”

It would appear he recognizes that his mistakes were not in vain.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Best Way to Improve a Working Mom’s Work Life Balance? Advocate for Men’s Work Life Balance.

I posted this on my Bettemen Solutions blog (my business where I help companies improve employee retention and productivity by addressing the unique work life balance changes faced by men.)  However, I think it is applicable for this forum, too. 

I came across what I see as destructive press regarding work life balance. Ironically, it was advocating for work life balance, but by its content, unwittingly reinforcing the standard paradigm.

It came from a UK Magazine called “Netmums” which advocates for working mothers. It is entitled “Employers ‘should give flexible benefits to mums.’” It goes on to say that “Flexible benefits are an especially good fit for busy working moms.” The inference in that last statement is that with all the extra responsibilities mom has as child raiser, home maker and career woman, she needs more flexibility than dad.

Now I’ve never argued that men and women share the domestic workload 50/50. I have argued, however, that if we want to move closer to an equal workload, we must deviate from the ridiculous idea that certain genders are better suited for specific roles.

The best thing a working mom can do for her own work life balance is to advocate for men’s work life balance. I know that sounds like a sexist comment so hear me out. We have women to thank for the strides that have been made in the last 40 years when it comes to workplace flexibility and leave policy. They have fought and lobbied to be recognized as moms and career women. Men, in spite of suffering from work life imbalance more than women (according to several bodies of research) aren’t likely to rally and advocate the way women did (and do). Likewise, men won’t start taking advantage of those hard fought policy victories by women in until they stop perceiving that doing so will be detrimental to their careers, and by extension, jeopardizing the well being of the families they work so hard to support. As long as the term “work life balance” is synonymous with “mommy overload”, we can continue to expect her to look after the house and kids. And the less we do to change attitudes in the workplace that the best thing a man can do for his family is get ahead in his career, men will continue, not only to burn out at a higher rate than women, but make more and more work for mom at home.

In short, work life balance is unlikely to improve for working moms until it improves for working dads. (We still live in a patriarchal society. Once a problem becomes a white male problem, we start to do something about it.) As long as we stay rooted in the old paradigm, men, women their families and their employers will all continue to pay the price.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Renewal of a Father (and the Death of Customer Service)

I’m sitting in the Calgary Airport as I write this. I have a four hour stop-over on my way home from the at home dads convention and despite having room on earlier flights, Air Canada wanted to charge me $75 when I requested they put me on an earlier plane--seventy-five dollars for an act which costs them nothing. Glad to see customer service is alive and well.

Anyway, I’m not going to allow abysmal airline policy ruin my terrific mood. I had such a fantastic weekend with the at home dads. We had two fabulous keynote speakers: psychologist, Dr. Bowers from the famous Boys Town facility and the incomparable trailblazer and author of, Brian Reid. Dr. Bowers shared some valuable insights into the way our children think and offered some great parenting strategies; Brian got us up to speed on the various ways census and others try and refine the definition of an at home dad. This is why you can find verifying reports on the number of American AHDs, ranging from 158,000 to four million.

The weekend was great for so many reasons: hearing the way other men parent their kids, shooting the manure about everything and anything, and simply being with a group of like minded men who truly “get it” when it comes to being a parent.

I thought often about the life of an at home dad vs. the life of a loving, caring father who is working 60 hours a week. In my workshops with working dads, they so often feel torn between wanting to spend way more time with their kids and providing for them by working such long hours. I realized that these men get out of the rat race cold turkey. Once they are at home full time, their roles are much more clearly defined. These men, unlike the working dads I meet, aren’t torn at all. When they transition back into the workforce (as most usually do) I trust these men will carry the torch of fatherhood to their respective workplaces, and help raise the profile the woefully neglected needs of the working father.

The other thing I loved about this weekend is that it solidified my own philosophy in raising my sons—namely that they grow up knowing that they are loved unconditionally. That doesn’t mean they get hugs and kisses for setting the sofa on fire, it just means that they know they are loved just for being themselves-- just for being born. That way, they don’t spend a lifetime looking backwards wondering, “What do I need to do to get the love and approval of my dad?” They already have it---in spades.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Volcanoes, Self-Esteem and Travel tips for Dads

You are looking at a photo of Mt. Rainer from my flight from Vancouver to Omaha for the 15th Annual At Home Dads convention. I’ve seen Mt. Rainer a million times, so why take a photo today? Read on.

I think almost universally among fathers, what we’d like to give our children is more time. I can say almost unequivocally, that is what our children want from us more than anything else. I’ve yet to meet anyone who said, “You know, the problem with my dad was that he spent too much time with me.”

In my corporate workshops for dads, I spend a great deal of time helping dads overcome the challenges of being busy to ensure that their child still gets the message that they are important. Some of the tips I give to traveling dads include skyping from the road, recording a bedtime story before you go away, putting pins in a map to mark where you are going (a good way to teach geography, too) or even setting up a little treasure hunt where dad can give the first clue from the road. Yesterday, my son inadvertently helped me come up with another.

When I told my four year-old son the other day that I was going away on a plane trip today, he asked if he could come with me.

“I’m sorry love, it’s just a trip for daddies. We are going to all get together and tell each other about how much we love being dads.”

“Please?” he begged. “I want to see all the things you are going to see.”

“Right” it hit me, “I’m going to take pictures of what I’m doing and email them to you every night.”

I know I’m shaped by my own experiences of having a father who lived 500 miles away, but I think it’s safe to say that children, especially younger ones, don’t understand it when dad says he has to get to some work first before he can play, or that he’s leaving town for another business trip. The danger in this scenario is that if it repeats, children can wind up feeling like a second priority.

It doesn’t take much effort to let them know they are always first and foremost in your mind. “I know you love volcanoes so here is a picture of one from the airplane. I saw it and it made me think of you,” might not seem like much, but it will mean the world to my little boy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Power of Traditional Gender Roles

I had an essay air on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's radio program, "The Sunday Edition."  It was originally scheduled to air on Father's Day, but wound up getting bumped.   If you want to listen to it, it's in the last five minutes of hour two.

If you wish to avoid the effort, I'm posting the essay below.  It deals with my own struggles in battling what can be the powerful forces of traditional gender roles.  I'm not saying this is true of everyone, but I think it is true of a very significant number of us--men and women--mothers and fathers.

This essay alarmed my family a great deal.  Please know that I don't need to talked off a ledge or anything. The depression has long since lifted and has turned to inspiration. It is this experience which was the motivation behind creating my company, Bettermen Solutions where I show businesses how they can thrive by learning to champion fatherhood.

Everything happens for a reason.


I’ve never been one to care about money. I’ve toiled as a freelancer in one form or another since my early twenties and I’ve always preferred the question, “What sorts of experiences are you having?” over “What sort of experience do you have?” Earning more than I needed to survive was simply an indulgence.

Until I became a father.

It was shortly before getting married that I first began to feel the responsibility. “You have to start earning more money,” said a friend of my fianceé. “That’s what husbands are supposed to do.” I was taken aback by her antiquated comment. Nonetheless, I recognized that raising a family meant a new financial reality.

I began to focus more on building a “career” and not just having a series of jobs. I was still determined to do what I loved to do; I just had to find a way to earn a decent living doing it.

"Honey, I’m pregnant!”

“Congratulations, you got the job!”

I found out I was going to be a father and that I had landed a dream job in the same week. Everything was falling into place. We could now start planning renovations on the little tear down we’d bought, and my ascendancy to adulthood would be complete.

When my son was born, my heart opened in ways I never knew possible. I worked hard at being a good father. I resented any comments that smacked of gender superiority when it came to parenting. I was just as at home knee-deep in dirty diapers as any mother has ever been.

I loved my new job, but I also envied my wife for getting to spend all day with our son. It was always assumed she would take the parental leave. Not only because I was much newer in my career but because like the many women who earn 70 cents for every man dollar, my wife earned less than I did. With the added cost of a new baby and renovations going well over budget, I was grateful that the work I loved could provide security for my family.

And, then, it was a year later.

“You’re fired!”
The news devastated me. I felt like a complete failure.

I hid my pain like a good alcoholic can hide his drinking.

“What a great experience it was,” I grinned when people sympathized. “Totally worth it.”

I tried to find the bright side and convey it to others. “I get to spend more time with my son,” I’d boast. “And I’m looking forward to supporting my wife now that she’s back at work.”

Little did they know that, on most days, my wife came home to a messy house, an empty fridge and a shell of a man.

She valiantly tried to hide her mounting frustration with my ineptitude, but that only made me feel smaller. I knew I was disappointing her. I was depressed and withdrawn. The incredible shrinking husband. I was lost.

Time spent with my son was my only sanctuary. But even that would come crashing down. “Sure, he loves me now,” I’d say to myself, “but what would he think of me if he really knew I was a failure?” I felt like a fraud… like some glad-handing shuckster trying to pedal snake oil to my own son.

I used to feel so virtuous. I’d walk through the door after work and offer to start cooking dinner. On weekend mornings, I’d strap my son in the Snuggli while my wife was snug in bed, getting some well-deserved sleep.

But it’s easy to be virtuous when you are making eighty five thousand a year.

Was that it? Was this all about money?

I was taken aback by my own reaction. Me? Involved father and husband reduced to catatonic bystander when it came to work around the house. Me? The man who was not ashamed to leap about in a giant flour sack for $8 an hour only a few years earlier was feeling totally powerless for not making any money.

In my mind, I wasn’t a failure for losing a job. I was a failure because I was no longer able to fulfill the primary function that people still expect from fathers. Without that role, I felt useless to my family. I was left to flounder in the dark…emasculated…impotent. Maybe my wife’s old-school friend’s way of thinking was more pervasive than I thought. Men really are first and foremost regarded as financial providers.

Now you can disagree with me…and I can tell you to piss off. Lord knows that’s what I wanted to say to a few women to whom I made the grievous error of opening up.

When I talked about how my depression stemmed from failing to live up to society’s expectations of the male breadwinner, I don’t know what I was expecting. But I sure as hell wasn’t looking for abuse.

“Put your club down and act like a man”

“Cry me a river. Try being a woman – you have to earn the money AND do everything else!”

The feminists who told me to quit my whining failed to see the irony: we are fighting the same battle. Remember that 70 cents per dollar? It tells me my place is at the office, bringing home the bacon, just as much as it tells a woman her place is at home. The cultural forces that still want to define women by their mothering skills are symbiotic with those which make a man judge himself by his salary. It’s all part of the same equation, isn’t it? Or I am I just delusional?

Prior to losing my job, I had known there were still forces at work promoting adherence to outmoded gender roles. I just thought I was above that.

I was wrong.

Even now… . Even now, after identifying the power of traditional expectations. Even now, when I am hell bent on showing my two boys a different idea of being a man. Even now, when I work with men grappling with their own money-driven demons …I struggle.

You could say I’m struggling with money.

I like to say, I’m struggling for change.

Monday, September 20, 2010

This photo has nothing to do with my blog post...

...I posted it because I love it. That's my now 9 month old son, Nathan.

I've did a guest blog today over at  Among other things, daddy's home is the organization behind the At Home Dad's Convention coming up in Omaha in just a few weeks (to which I'm going!!!Woot!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Heartbroken at Four and a Half

I didn’t ever think that my son would first experience true heartbreak at the age of four. And I certainly didn’t think he would have had his heart broken by another little boy.

My son has been going to pre-school for three, four and five year olds since September. He has many great friends there, but he has had a magical relationship with one little boy in particular. His name is Louis.

While Connor will play trucks or lego or paint happily with any of his boy or girl friends, when it comes to play with Louis, it is all imagination. They play one game they made up called “Wolfhikers.” I don’t know much about Wolfhikers other than they are animals that like to eat owls  and
pointed sticks.  Another favourite from the recesses of their collective imagination is to play “Scary Cat of the Deejen” (your guess is as good as mine on this one). When I come to pick up Connor at the end of the day, if he’s with Louis, he always runs over and asks, “Can I just have five more minutes?” before scurrying off under a tree to some other magical world they’ve created together.

In short, Louis and Connor are soul mates who need nothing other than each other to have a great time: which was why Connor was crestfallen when Louis left school yesterday to start kindergarten.

According to one of my son’s teachers, she’s never seen a child cry like mine did as they were giving each departing five year old his or her special photo album. Despite our weeks of gently mentioning that Louis was off to kindergarten soon, it had suddenly hit Connor like a freight train. His best friend was leaving.

That night at the dinner table, my son just sat there, shoulders slumped, staring blankly at his plate.

“Are you OK, my love?” I asked.

“I’m just sad that Louis left,” he sighed.

“I know. I’m sad too,” I genuinely empathized. “I bet you that Louis really misses you, too,” I added.

He nodded vacantly as his face got redder and his breathing got shorter.

“We’ll make sure to see him soon,” I said reassuringly.

“It’s just..." he began to sputter. "It's just that I love him so much!” he proclaimed, as tears welled up in his beautiful blue eyes and started dripping down his cheeks.

I scooped him up, loving him even more in that moment for being so unabashedly genuine.

“You know how Granny cries when we leave her house sometimes?” I asked.

“Yes,” he whimpered.

“That’s because she loves us so much that it makes her sad when we leave. Aren’t we lucky to have friends like Louis who we love so much and who love us back?”


“Would you like us to call him?”

We gave Louis a call to set up a play date but mostly so my son could hear his voice and know that he hadn’t gone to the international space station, or worse, been eaten by a Wolfhiker.

“Hi Louis...I’m really sad that you’re gone but I’m happy that we are going to see each other soon,” my son gushed the instant he heard Louis’ voice.

I wish I could describe how I felt in those moments. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as simultaneously heartbroken and proud. My son was so vulnerable and child-like in his loss, but somehow seemed so grown up and mature in his acceptance. No tantrums, no wailing. Just being. It was all strangely beautiful to behold.

I hope the next time I face adversity, I can handle it with such honesty and grace.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The CBC Must Be Broke...

...because they are replaying my radio documentary on at home dads, "Beer and Braids" for what must be the 17th time since it first aired last Christmas Eve.

Oh well, I will use it as an excuse to promote this year's At Home Dads Convention coming up this October 2nd in Omaha.

I can't stress enough what a great group of guys go to this event.  It's unlikely that I'll be able to make it this year, but if you can attend, I highly recommend it.

Oh, and if you can't and want to listen to my story about last year's event, you can tune in your local CBC Radio One station at 9:30am local time on Tuesday, August 24th.  If you don't live in Canada, you can go here, then click on a province.  My story will air at 9:30 local time in that time zone.  In other words, if you are in the Eastern Time Zone and it's 12:30pm, you can click on British Columbia (Pacific Time Zone) where it is 9:30am local time.

Get it?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ah, Ain't Summer Grand?

I’ve been a lousy blogger this summer, but I’ve been a terrific dad!

This has been one of the nicest summers I can remember. I’ve reveled in watching Connor go from timorous land lubber to prune fingered Aquaman wanna-be in a matter of days. We’ve had barbecues with dear friends, reunions with distant family and I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to the MLB All Star game where I have the joy/privilege/dumb luck to interview some of my childhood idols from the world of baseball.

Since becoming a dad, this has been a bitter-sweet event as it means I am away from my family for eight days. This year, however, my wife and two boys came along. It gave me untold pleasure to watch Connor sprint so determinedly around the bases at the All Star Fan Fest—even though he failed to touch any of them. I saw little of my family as I was pulling 12 hour days, but it meant the world to me to come back to the hotel, take a dip with my 4 year old, and then tuck him into bed. I’ve come to the conclusion that even though I like the concept of “time away”, I miss my family dearly when we’re apart. This isn’t to say I need them 24/7—it just means that my day seems a little less fulfilling without good night kisses, the sound of my 4 year old making my 8 month old laugh hysterically, and sliding into the same bed as my wife. A king size bed can be a lonely place when you are on the road.

That said I had a great time with three of my buddies on our 21st annual golf trip. Every summer, we take off for some region of the Northwest for four days of golf, beer drinking and general sophomoric behavior. I wouldn’t miss this trip for the world.

The morning I left, my family was still asleep in bed.

“Bye bye my precious boy,” I said to Connor as I kissed him goodbye.

“Bye bye my breakfast dad,” he groggily replied before crashing back to sleep.

Before I left, I hid three little “treasures” for Connor. Each night I was away, I would call him in the evening and give him a clue as to where I had left it. He went on a little hunt and turned up a sugary treat from his dad. On the third night, my cell phone rang just after dinner.

“Hello?” I said.

“Dad, where is the treat?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have resorted to high fructose corn syrup to win his love, but I liked the idea of him knowing that I took the time to do that for him. As he gets older, I can make more complex clues that will take him all over the house before he finds, oh, I don’t know, a box of shredded wheat (unfrosted).

When I think back to my childhood, or even my present, I feel most loved and secure when I know that someone is thinking about me and letting me know I am important to them. That’s what I wanted to do with my son.

Then I just had to be sure to come home with a nice present for my wife, who had to tend to a sugar fueled four year-old all by herself.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hurrah! Lesbian Moms For Everyone!

As I writer who has been misunderstood and assaulted by readers blinded by their own pre-rehearsed rants, I will try to season my rage with Pamela Paul’s article, Are Father’s Necessary?  with a sprinkling of reason.

If you haven’t read the article, Paul’s general thesis is that fathers have nothing of distinction to offer their kids, and might therefore be unnecessary. Paul claims that all the studies which show the positive benefits of father involvement are bunk as they are only compared to studies about kids raised just by single moms. She does make an astute observation when she writes “Most of the data fail to distinguish between a father and the income a father provides, or between the presence of a father and the presence of a second parent, regardless of gender.”

To illustrate her point, Paul then touts the results of a study of families headed by lesbian moms. She quotes two academics who conclude, “…based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”

She then wraps the whole thing up saying heterosexual parents secretly embrace the traditional gender parenting roles and that “there is nothing objectively essential about (a father’s) contribution.” She then puts down her pen, goes into the den, and throws butcher knives at an effigy of her dad (ok, so maybe I added that last part.)

The biggest flaw made here, from a simply “scientific” viewpoint (keeping in mind I was an arts major) is that we don’t have any data in her article around kids raised by gay fathers. Perhaps those results are implied: the more men we add to the equation, the worse things get. Kids from lesbian parents do better than kids from straight couples; children raised by single moms have healthier relationships than kids from single dad families. I guess the logical conclusion to that pattern is that kids raised by two men devolve into depraved, crime ridden and flesh easting terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill you and everyone you love.

Paul is missing two profoundly importing things (and perhaps a few marbles). The first: children need to know they are loved and valued by the two people who are supposed to love them most—their parents. I don’t care if those are gay parents, straight parents, divorced parents or rhesus monkey parents. When a child grows up with, say, an alcoholic mother, who is incapable due to her own illness to give her child the unconditional love and support a child needs, that child will suffer. Period.

The second gross oversight is that it is because of traditional gender roles that we are taking dads away from their children. Workplace culture, societal forces and yes, even the gate keeping mothers to whom Paul alludes are all guilty of reinforcing the idea that a man is best serving his family at the office. And how has that worked to date? I know a heap of adults who are haunted by unresolved issues with their dad because he was rarely around. I’ve never met anyone who has ever lamented, “You know, the problem with my dad is that he wanted to spend too much time with me.” As long as we adhere to traditional gender roles, and deny fathers the same cultural and workplace leeway that is given to working moms, kids will continue to ask themselves, “Why is my dad never at my piano recitals?” with the eventual inferred answer being, “…because his work is more important.” It is not until you are an adult that you realize why dad was making such a huge sacrifice but by that time the damage has already been done.

Perhaps Paul is one of those gate keeping mothers. A recent University of Texas study showed that the more competent a man is as a father, the lower his wife’s self esteem is around mothering. (Here is another fine example of how reinforcing traditional gender roles can mess us all up—look at the pressure we still put on women to tie their self worth to their apron strings). Perhaps Paul thinks the solution here is for men to imitate Hollywood and Madison Avenue and put the diaper on the baby’s head from time to time in an effort to make her feel better.

What is ultimately insulting to me in this piece is Paul’s implication that men (and women) are happy secretly clinging to traditional gender roles. She suggests I am really content to just teach my son to throw a spiral, give his hair a tussle, and then leave everything else to mom. While I agree traditional gender lines are more rigid than people think, I would vehemently argue that people are unaware slaves rather than clandestine subscribers to them. Those who feel they are personally above such antiquated notions are largely still bound by them. Even the most progressive couple who wants dad to be the at-home parent is still restricted by the fact that we still pay women less than men. Even here in progressive Canada, moms will often get parental leave top ups from employers where dads do not.

Anyway, Pamela, enough of this silly girl talk. Now go get me my pipe and slippers, honey. And before you get to scrubbing the toilet and wiping the kid’s butts, be a good girl and pour me a scotch, will you?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Aren’t Dads Lobbying for Better Work Life Balance?

Over on my men’s work life balance blog, I’ve been writing about several recent studies, all which point to the fact that men, more than ever before, are struggling with work life balance. Today’s father is waking up facing a whole slew of issues that his father never really had to consider, yet we are still burdened by the expectation that our fathers did face—namely, to be the primary breadwinner.

There are countless examples, of course, of families where mom out earns dad, or dad is the stay at home parent. This is great. We need to hail families like these as trailblazers for turning traditional gender roles on their ear. However, men have a larger battle on their hands, and for the sake of our children we need to arise to the challenge.

It is safe to generalize that men today want (or perhaps, expect) to be more involved with their kids than previous generations of dads. This, I believe is the source of our increasing dissatisfaction with work life balance—we want to be more involved with kids, are rightly expected to do more domestically, but are conditioned to believe we are of most use to our families at the office rather than the dinner table. It is an ugly game of tug of war where, ironically, both families and employers get less than they had bargained for.

Although work life balance is a societal issue—one that affects moms, dads, single people and same sex couples, it is still largely framed as a “mom’s issue”. And why not? Moms brought work life balance to the forefront as they blazed the trail for all aspiring career women who still embraced motherhood. But today, according to the Families and Work Institute more men (59%) than women (45%) are saying that work life and family life are interfering with each other.

I came across an article by Courtney E. Martin who co-authored a report for the Centre for American Progress. In it, she fully acknowledges that men are facing the work life balance crunch and largely get ignored in WLB discussions. But she asks a great question: “…what will motivate men to embrace work/life policy issues as their own?”

She goes on to say that as a woman, she shouldn’t have to answer that question, and that women are tired of asking men to “meet them half way.” Though I understand where the fatigue is coming from, I think her comment is short sighted.

However, her question (and the implied answer) is spot on. Men aren’t organizing and rallying against one-sided work policies (not to mention, work culture) that act as inhibitors to us being more involved fathers. We need to stand up as men, in the workplace and elsewhere, and demand that we no longer should be seen as second class citizens when it comes to parenting and  that we deserve the same flexibility policies that are granted to mothers. And we need to feel proud, not emascuated, if we choose to put time with family ahead of time at the office.  It’s sadly ironic that the whole world seems to know that involved fathers are the best way to keep our kids in school and out of gangs, jail, and the delivery room. Yet we do little in terms of workplace and social policy to support and foster that involvement.

Like women have done, we need to take responsibility for our actions and our future. We are the only solution to the problems that plague our work and family balance. As we approach Father’s Day, think about how proud you are to be a dad and how much you love being with your kids. And the next time you have the chance to stand up and speak out in support of fatherhood, be it at the work place or the bar, do it with your head held high. One day, your sons and daughters may thank you for it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Calling all At Home Dads

If you are an at home dad (or know one) you owe it to yourself to check out the At Home Dad Convention  in Omaha, NB.

The event is scheduled officially for October 2nd, but for those who can come for longer, events usually get underway earlier.   Last year we watched college football on Thursday night, and spent Friday at the Strategic Air and Space Museum before a welcome reception at the hotel that night.  Saturday we had a great line up of speakers including "Daddy Shift" author, Jeremy Adam Smith as well as a full slate of great break out sessions.

This convention is men at their best--drinking beer, watching football and embracing our "guy" side one minute, and actively participating in forums of styling your daughters hair the next.

If you can get to Omaha for this event, I highly recommend it.  If money is an issue, I know there is a scholarship available and the local hotel gives participants a great deal.

I hope to make it there again myself this year and I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Home, Away" is a Home Run!

When I was offered a free copy of Jeff Gillenkirk’s first novel, "Home, Away" (Chin Music Press  ) I jumped at the opportunity. As this book is about my two favourite passions, fatherhood and baseball, I couldn’t say no. Had the author somehow managed to incorporate Belgian beer into the plot line, I would have written a glowing review without even cracking the spine.

Before I give a little review, I want to make it clear that I don’t see my blog as a review site. My goal is to help portray fathers as the capable and loving care givers we know we are, to expose some of the unique challenges men can face when it comes to parenting and to challenge men to be the best fathers we can be. Having said that, I reviewed the documentary “The Evolution of Dad ” because it adds to the important discussion of who dads really are. Likewise, I am writing about "Home, Away" because it is a refreshingly positive, albeit starkly honest, portrayal of fatherhood.

The story revolves around an emerging young baseball star named Jason Thibodeaux. Less than a year after pitching in the World Series, Jason turns his back on a $45 million dollar contract to care for his estranged and troubled son, Rafe. This isn’t the first time Jason does such a selfless act. The book opens with Jason redshirting his senior season at Stanford to care for his toddler son while his wife finishes Stanford Law. We learn that Rafe was the product of a one night stand. But rather than running away from his responsibilities, Jason is committed to be the father his absentee-oil-rig-working-father never was.

Over the 23 year course of the story, we go from Jason’s acrimonious divorce, to custody fights, to life as a single dad, to the pain of being unfairly vilified by his ex wife, and eventually, completely alienated from his son. Through it all, Jason struggles with his own demons from his relationship with his father. And although Jason makes mistakes as a dad, wrestles with guilt and at times appears to be taking the easy way out, his love for his son and desire to be an active co-parent is evident throughout.

As both a father who would kill for his sons and a boy who grew up with divorced parents, I found myself living the lives of both characters. Early on, I identified with Jason, sharing his pain and anger as his wife and the courts unjustly took his son away. As Rafe grew into an innocent 8 year old boy I was suddenly in his shoes--feeling his anguish of separation and wincing with his desperate attempts to not disappoint either of his parents.

I love the fact that this story of busting stereotypes is set in the ultra-macho context of professional sports, where all too often the true headlines are about fatherhood indiscretions and actions which hurt, not help, the family. And while at times the baseball side of the story bordered on the fantastical, it was not enough to distract me from this wonderful book.

"Home, Away" is inspiring and heartfelt and would make a great Father’s Day gift for the baseball fan and caring dad in your life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Good-bye, Junior!

This blog for the most part, is about dads and kids, and childhood joys and fatherly revelries.

Today, it is about baseball.

I have had an obsession with baseball since I was a boy. We are all aware of the clichés surrounding fathers and sons and the greatest game of all time, but they are clichés for a reason: baseball has been connecting fathers and sons for generations. My own father was never a huge baseball fan but he took a greater interest in the game because of my passion for it. In retrospect, that was one of the greatest gestures my father has ever made.

I have been a fan of the Seattle Mariners since they first took to the field in 1977. I was eight, and in the 33 ensuing years since, I have endured much more hardship than celebration. In other words, the Mariners have largely stunk.

In Little League, I was teased mercilessly by my Blue Jay loving friends for rooting for such perennial losers. I didn’t care. I had gone to my first major league baseball game with my dad at the Seattle Kingdome. In spite of the concrete and the artificial turf, the expanse of green was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was hooked. Baseball was magic. The fact that I could share that moment with my dad, whom I saw all too infrequently, meant even more to me.

Baseball elation came to me in earnest in 1989 in the form of Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners drafted him out of high school and he was considered far and away the best prospect in the game. He did not disappoint. In his first major league at bat, he hit a double. The first pitch he ever saw in his home stadium, he belted a home run. Griffey was the real deal.

Griffey was electric. Every at bat was filled with tension, and the possibility of greatness. Even in blowout games, fans stayed until the end to watch him play.

Early in his career, Junior and his own father became a part of baseball lore, when one night, playing as team mates, the two hit home runs, one after the other. It has never been done before, and it’s unlikely to be done again.

The day he was traded to Cincinnati, I was a grown man, and I cried. Griffey was baseball to me. It was like my first love had spurned me for another.

When Griffey returned to Seattle a season ago, a shadow of his former self, I cried again. Griffey was home, even if he was past his brilliant prime where he could change the course of a game with one swing of the bat—one flash of the leather.

Tonight, I wept a little once again. The greatest Mariner ever to play—the man who saved baseball in Seattle and who was one of the greatest in the history of the game— announced his retirement.

It sounds silly coming from a grown man, but watching Ken Griffey Jr. play gave me joy. Watching him play as I sat alongside my father made it even more meaningful. And holding my first born son at Safeco Field as we watched “Cran” Griffey Jr's (as he now calls him) triumphant return to Seattle, was one of the most inexplicably moving moments in my short tenure as a father.

Thank-you, Junior. You’ll never know how much your playing of a beautiful game with such grace meant to so many.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Adventures of Iron Man (shoes)

My four year old son got his first pair of shoes with laces the other day. It had less to do with wanting laces and more to do with wanting Iron Man shoes that light up when you run. I was somewhat hesitant, fearing countless painful scenarios of trying to rush out the door while facing the inevitable, “No! Let me do it!” I also thought his preschool would be a little less than thrilled, seeing as the kids are going in and out of the building about 400 times a day.

Sure enough, each time we headed out the door he would want to try and tie his shoes. I usually gave him three tries and then did it myself. I hated to curb his independence and desire to learn a new skill, but as usual, we didn’t have the time to practice for a half an hour when we were already five minutes late for swimming lessons. I would kick myself because I kept intending to find a non-rushed time to encourage him to practice, but it always slipped my mind.

The other day my son and I were at the YMCA. I had been having “one of those days”—which for me usually devolves into a pathetic self pity. I was having a bad work day, my bad back was causing me grief and my wife and I had engaged in one of those stupid fights that only married couples can have. I had just finished a workout and had fished Connor out of the swimming pool. I got him showered and dressed and was about to begin putting my clothes on, when I actually remembered.

“Hey, Connor. Why don’t you practice tying your shoes while I get dressed?”

“Ok, Daddy.”

I finished toweling off and put my clothes on. As I was pulling my sweater over my head, Connor said, “Daddy, Look!”

I looked down to see my beautiful boy beaming and a perfect little bow on his shoes.

“Connor, you did it!” I gave him a huge hug. “Great work!”

“Let’s go home and tell mommy.” He said.

He raced out of the change room and down the hall. He was telling every stranger he passed the huge news.

“I just tied my shoes!” he boasted. Some people got it an offered an enthusiastic, "Way to Go!" Others just shrugged and grunted something inaudible. The front desk staff all gave him high fives.

Talk about living vicariously through your children! I was filled with such joy watching him. Not so much at the impressive feat of learning to tie his shoes, but because he was brimming with pride in himself and was giving in to unabashed elation.

Needless to say, my wallowing dissolved. Once again, my son had given me a gift without even knowing it.

How can you feel sorry for yourself when your little boy is over the moon?

Friday, May 21, 2010

"The Evolution of Dad" -- A Review

If I were reviewing “The Evolution of Dad” as a fictitious film rather than a documentary, I’d say this film has all the makings of a great movie. There is drama and conflict, triumph and tragic storylines, poignancy and laugh-out-loud humour. And there are enough love stories in the first five minutes of this film alone to make Casablanca look like a war flick.

Like any great film, there are great players. We meet heroes like Kevin Knussman, a Maryland State Trooper who is forced to take on his employer when they refuse to grant him a leave to tend to his ailing pregnant wife. “Do I abandon my family?” asks Knussman, “or do I abandon the job that feeds my family?”

We have our corporate villain who, when told that America keeps company with four third world countries as the only ones on the planet without paid parental leave, responds cold heartedly with, “Well, I guess someone who really wants it should consider moving.”

We have the unconventional and unwitting champion, Ralph Benitez (seen above), whose bravery and self-sacrifice would shame any glossy father of the year candidate. Not only do we discover his once downward-spiraling life is saved by the birth of his own child, but we witness his selfless devotion to his fatherless granddaughter.

Having said all of that, The Evolution of Dad isn’t fiction—it’s fact. And that makes this movie all the more compelling.

Some of you know I run a business which attempts to help companies realize the work life balance challenges faced by dads. Frankly, I should show this movie to all my potential clients, because this movie does a brilliant job of portraying the numerous and unique challenges faced by men who want to be nothing less than a full and positive presence in the life of their children. From working dads who are confined by archaic workplace culture to at home dads who have to fight antiquated attitudes, the men in this movie are trailblazers and heroes.

This film is also a celebration which goes far beyond heroic dads and heart rending stories. And while this documentary tells us the facts about involved fathers and what benefits they bring to their children, more importantly, it demonstrates a greater truth: involved fathers are good for fathers themselves. They are good for all of us.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Evolution of Dad- Men's Work Life Balance

I'll be giving you my review of the new film "The Evolution of Dad" in the next day or so.  In the meantime, I have a clip from the movie about something that is near and dear to my heart: men's work life balance.

I don't know how many of you know, but my burgeoning business, Bettermen Solutions, is dedicated to help businesses thrive by helping their male employees with better work life balance skills.  I am also the Work Life Balance editor over at The Father Life. You can google "work life balance" and you'll find a billion posts on "moms and work life balance"--these are important and it's essential that they be written.  However, statistically speaking, it is men who represent the fastest growing group of people complaining about a lack of work life balance.  You just never hear us complain about it--men aren't allowed to whine, remember? (unless we have a tiny cold, then we have free licence!)

At any rate, I hope you'll watch the short three minute video below. You have to enter the password, "workingdad."

Dads & Work/Life Balance from Evolution of Dad on Vimeo.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Happy Mother's day?" redux --or "Why I am boycotting Pampers"

There is an interesting little “dad-centric” event happening going on over at Brian Reid’s Rebel Dad web site.

For those of you who don’t know Brian, he is a pioneer in the dad-blogosphere and a staunch advocate for dads to be recognized as equal parents. To boot, he is a very funny guy.

At any rate, Brian has started an impromptu boycott campaign of Pampers. The reason? Four consecutive years of  letters like this:

Hello BRIAN,
Happy Mothers Day!
Thanks, Mom for all that you do.
On this special day, check out the tribute that Pampers has for you! Come join us and other moms on Facebook and YouTube, and take a moment to share what you love best about being a mother.

Pampers had got Brian’s email address in the first place from their points collecting program. As Brian is an at home dad, he was the one buying the diapers, changing the diapers and subsequently entering the ‘code’ into the on-line points collector.

At any rate, four years of stupidity was enough for Brian so he decided to write Pampers and let them know he’s boycotting until they wake up to the fact that there are involved dads out there, too. Before you know it, people were tweeting things like this:

I'm joining @rebeldad and boycotting Pampers until they recognize that dads do diapers, too. #pampersboycott

Now, nearly 10,000 people on twitter have been made aware of the boycott.

A few days later, Brian thought he was getting a peace offering when he saw something from Proctor & Gamble (the makers of Pampers) in the mailbox. However, what he got was this:

I don’t know if you picked it out at first glance, but while mom is playing happily with her two kids, dad is SLEEPING ON THE COUCH!

In my business, I do a lot of talking about the forces at play which make it hard for men to break away from the restraints of the old paradigm when it comes to their relationship with their kids. I argue that society still keeps men at an arms length by reinforcing that mom is the superior, go-to parent, and dad is better serving his family by being at the office. A lot of people scoff at me when I say that. Intellectually the overwhelming majority of us have moved beyond those antiquated stereotypes. However, these sorts of images, subtle though this one may be, serve to do nothing but help keep dad on the couch.

If you are a proud, involved father, speak out. Let people know that you aren’t a lie-on-the-couch dad. And let Pampers know that sort of advertising does nothing but reinforce old gender lines that hurt everybody.

Brian’s boycott on twitter is #pampersboycott and Brian’s twitter address is @rebeldad

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Mother's Day?

To all my mom readers out there, I wish you a belated, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

And I hope I’m not the first man to wish that to you.

I was alarmed to discover from my wife yesterday that five of her friends/acquaintances got nothing—I repeat—nothing from their husbands (or their kids via their husbands) on Mother’s day. I know of one dad who didn’t even let his wife sleep in; he snoozed while his wife got up with the kids! And lest these dads want to use the lame excuse, “Well, you’re not my mother” their kids are either in pre-school or diapers and not likely to come up with a mother’s day present without a little help.

I’ve met all of the dads in question, and think they are all good guys and great dads. I am beyond wordless that these men would be so utterly unconscious as to do nothing for the mother of their children on her special day.

I am far from the perfect husband. I forget things, I’m easily preoccupied, I can be selfish and I’m not as good at acknowledging everything my wife does to keep our family together as I should be. My wife is patient with my shortcomings as I try to be with hers. That said, if I didn’t do anything for her on mother’s day, I might as well walk into the nearest open sewer and die.

The point, as much as I want to, is not to berate these fathers for their utter cluelessness. The point is to express what has to be fathering (if not parenting) tip number one: be good to your spouse and put your marriage first.

A healthy marriage will benefit your kids in countless ways. You are modeling a strong adult relationship; you are demonstrating to your son how he should behave to his future wife; you are setting a positive example for your daughter of what she should seek in a husband. A healthy marriage will result in a happier home where your children will have an opportunity to thrive. Take your spouse for granted too many times, however, and it is a recipe for disaster.

I sure hope these guys aren’t expecting anything for Father’s Day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Evolution of Dad

I just wanted to give a heads up. The groundbreaking documentary “The Evolution of Dad” is now available for order.  I’m not just saying this because the above photo of my oldest son and me appears in the first five minutes, I’m saying this because it is a very important film and one which I can’t wait to see.

It has also been a labour of love for the film maker, Dana Glazer, and I hope it will be as monetarily fruitful for him as I’m sure it was emotionally.

You can check out the first five minutes of the film here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nobody's Perfect

The Human-Blur that is my son at the moment.

Lest I’ve portrayed myself as an infallible father in some of my blog posts, I need to open up a bit.

Parenting my four year old right now is a pain.

My son is in a near perpetual hyper-annoying state right now, where he is commanding and defiant—bellicose and belligerent. His favourite pastime at the moment is trying to get his way all the time.

I know this is a natural stage for kids. They explore their limits and test your boundaries. Sometimes it’s even funny when he’s looking incredibly stern and proclaiming things like, “No daddy, it’s not your choice!” and “I’m going to count to nineteen!” As I listen to him, I wonder, “Is that really how I sound?”

There are other times, however, when the constant conflict is plain exasperating. Everything—from getting dressed to going to bed—is a battle. Sometimes, I can’t win for losing. The other day he was barking at me to help him put on his socks. After calmly getting him to change his tone and say “please” I sat him on my lap and started putting on his socks.

“No, let me do it!” he snarled.

“Connor, you just asked me to…”

“WAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!” he shouted while throwing his head back.

My inner monologue at moments like these  (at least the part I can write without being investigated by social services) go something like this: “What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried everything. I’ve had the patience of Job, and I’ve been short and firm. I’ve given him a long leash, and I’ve shortened it. I’ve been polite, and I’ve laid down the law. I’ve given him choices, and I’ve taken them away. Maybe I’ve just totally screwed him up with a total lack of consistency.”

In short, I beat myself up. I’ve been blessed with a happy, healthy son who has largely been a dream to parent and now he’s the Tasmanian devil on steroids. Surely, it has to be my fault.

Then the other morning, after stand-offs over teeth brushing, face wiping and turning off the TV (all punctuated with great “harrumphs”) I thought we were headed for another conflict over putting on his shoes. Instead, as I was bent over about to tie up his laces, he put his hand on my back and said, “You know daddy, even when I’m grumpy with you, I still love you.”

“Me too,” I said choking back the instant tears. “Always.”

Now maybe my son has just learned that the word “love” will make his dad melt on the spot, but I like to think at moments like that, maybe I’m not doing such a bad job after all.

Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack as a parent from time to time. While it is essential to want to take responsibility and raise a healthy child, sometimes your kids can just be little shits—just like we can. And that’s OK.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dads, Sharpen Your Pencils!

When I worked at CBC radio, I had the chance to meet a lot of creative people. One such person was Cori Howard, who among many talents, is a terrific writer and writing teacher.

By complete fluke, my wife ended up taking one of Cori’s workshops—“The Momoir Project”.  In this class, women were given the chance to write about children, childbirth, husbands, partners, fear, pain, misery, joy and the myriad of other emotions that come with being a mother. Many women who have taken Cori’s class have wound up getting published themselves.

I’m really excited to announce that Cori is having her first ever “Dadoir” workshop. (I told her she should do a Harlequin Romance class and call it the “Boudoir Project.”)

As Cori writes, “Yes, it’s true. For the first time ever, and much to my surprise, we are hosting the first-ever Dadoir workshop. I’ve been asked many times over the years if I would do something for dads, but I never thought it would work to have a woman, like me, teaching men how to write. To have a woman, like me, asking men to divulge all the personal and juicy details of their marital, sexual and emotional lives. So when Dan McKinney, a professor at the UBC Journalism School and internationally-acclaimed documentary filmmaker, offered to lead it, how could I resist?”

Evidently, she couldn’t. It's on Sunday, May 23, from7 to 10 pm at the Simply French Cafe, at 10th and Alma.
On a personal note, I’ve found that blogging about being a dad has brought me even closer to my wife and kids. Writing about fatherhood has really made me think about fatherhood. It has been a great way to deepen, and become more aware of my feelings (sorry men, I used the “f” word”).

If you live in the Vancouver area and you want to sign up, click here.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Super Birthday!

I had my 41st birthday over the weekend. It beat the hell out of my 40th, if only for the simple fact that I wasn’t in the hospital getting shot up with meds due to severe back spasms.

After having a great sleep in and a yummy breakfast, we spent a sunny Vancouver spring afternoon at one of my favourite childhood (and adult) places, Stanley Park. We had a great picnic and I opened my gifts. My 4 year old gave me a pillow case with hearts that he had sewn (you can imagine my response) while my wife gave me a DVD of the Superfriends (from season 1—1973—without those lame wonder twins.) This has to be my all-time favourite Saturday morning cartoon and my 4 year old was as eager as I to watch it.

We then went to “How to Train Your Dragon.” I don’t know which was more fun—watching the movie, or watching my suddenly Elton-John look alike son in his 3-D glasses, mouth agape, taking in the movie.

After we got home, we had a yummy dinner, some cake, and then…the Superfriends! I was totally taken back to my childhood. I could remember things just before they happened, and was floored that my aging memory was suddenly so vibrant.

The next day, I was doing a little yard work, including over-seeding some bare patches on the lawn. As usual, Connor was there, rake and gardening tools in hand. It was a beautiful spring day—not hot—but one where you felt like summer isn’t that far off. I got the sprinkler out to water the new seed. Before I could even turn it on, my son was jumping up and down shouting, “Let’s run through the sprinkler, Daddy!” I was about to say, ‘It’s a bit too cold, Connor” when I looked at his giddy, beaming face. How could I deflate that?

“Alright,” I said. “You turn on the hose.”

“Woo-hoo!” he shouted.

We spent the next ten minutes running and laughing until we were both looking like a couple of drowned rats.

This was truly a weekend of letting my son do what kids do best—giving us an excuse to act like kids and to embrace play. I used to joke with people before I became a dad that I needed to have kids so I could have a legitimate excuse to watch Sesame Street again.

Our kids give us permission—actually, they entice us—to experience the light heartedness and pure joy of play.

Jump at it, any chance you can.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What's up, Chuck?

Warning! This post contains graphic descriptions of the stomach flu!

A few days ago, my 4 year old walked through the front door complaining of a tummy ache. His words belied his actions as he had pranced up the stairs, and according to my wife, had just had a fabulous swimming lesson. He got two words out of his mouth before he let the barf fly. I scooped him up by the underarms and got him to the toilet just in time for round two.

While my wife bravely cleaned up the pool of vomit by the front door (just one of the many benefits of being married to a woman with no sense of smell) I rubbed my son’s back as he heaved away over the toilet. When the retching subsided, I stripped off his soiled clothes and got him into the tub.

As we all do, my son rebounded somewhat after the barfing episode, and I was crossing my fingers that this was a one-time puke. We got out of the tub, put on some jammies and crawled into the guest room bed. In no time, he was asleep, even though it was only late afternoon. A few minutes later he surprised both of us by throwing up in his sleep. Between the heaves, he was wailing from both the horrid sensation of vomiting and the fear and surprise of being awakened so violently. This pattern of barf-sleep-barf played itself out every 45 minutes or so until about two in the morning. After each round of barfing, he would snuggle up to me and seek comfort in my hair strokes and back rubs. I was all too glad to do it, and like all parents in this situation, felt awful that I couldn’t do more.

At around 3:30 after an hour and a half of barfless sleep, he woke up. “Daddy,” he croaked, “I’m so thirsty.”

I gave him an ounce of diluted apple juice to see if it would stay down. It did. Twenty minutes later I gave him another ounce. Success! After another 20 minutes, I let him finish off the glass.

As he settled back down into bed and snuggled up to me again, he looked like a broken prize fighter, splayed face down on the canvas. As if reaching for the ropes, his little hand moved upward and found my face.

“I love you so much, Daddy,” he mumbled, before his hand fell to the pillow and he was down for the count.

There was a time and a place when being where I was and doing what I was doing would have been “woman’s work”. Some families might still adhere to that old model, but I think it is a safe bet to say that they are in the minority.

The point I want to make here is, had this been a time when tending to a sick child was mom’s job, I would have missed out on that heartwarming exchange with my beloved son. A lot of families still have arrangements where, for example, bath time is dad time and story time is mom time. I would urge you not to fall into those routines. Firstly, you are potentially creating a troubling situation with your child if mom always does a certain task and then, for some reason, can’t make it. Secondly, there are magical moments to be had with your children, even amidst the seemingly most menial or even unpleasant moments.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The gifts your newborn brings

For those of you who saw the previous picture to this post, you saw my oldest son dressing up as Robin for his 4th birthday. We also put a mask on our 3 month old, who, in this picture anyway, resembles Dame Edna.

I think all those clichés about being more relaxed as a parent the second time around are true. I was at the stove flipping bacon with one hand and my 3 day old in the other just after he was born. Had that been my first son, I’m sure we would have had him in a hazmat suit at least 30 yards from the stove.

The other miracle that comes with being a parent for the second (or third, or seventeenth) time—you can’t believe you have enough love in you to love the new one as much as you did the first one.

I often just stare at my infant son and marvel at him—“baby TV” as my sisters call it. I can just stare at him and become quite emotionally overcome.  I’ve met some men, however, who have been brave enough to admit that when their child was born, they didn’t “get it.” They loved their child, of course, but they weren’t overcome with emotion as they were made to expect. They then often say that after a few months, when the baby becomes more interactive, that bonding begins to take off.

If you are a new dad, or expecting, don’t beat yourself up if you are one of those aforementioned men. You aren’t alone and you aren’t a bad father. Trust that those feelings will come in time.

I’ve written before that I am most overwhelmed with feelings of love for my children when I am totally present to them. I think Eckhardt Tolle would say that in those moments, I am fully in the “now” which, he preaches is the only place in which we can really live.

If you are struggling a bit with those nascent feelings, take a page from Eckardt’s book (unless it’s a library copy ;-) and try and be in the present with your newborn. Try little things. Watch their little chest rise and fall with each breath. Marvel at the teeny little dimples between their knuckles. Caress their impossibly smooth skin. Hold them gently to your body and take in that wonderful baby smell. Let them fall asleep on your chest and just feel them there.

With each of these suggestions, don’t have any expectations. Don’t try for any results. Just let your baby take you into the present and let things be.

Bringing you into the present moment is one of the greatest gifts your child will ever give you.  And when it comes to that gift, no one is better at it than a newborn.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy 4th, Connor!

Happy Birthday my beloved Robin.  You possess the superhuman strength of lifting up a grown man every day!

How do I best serve my family?

I recently wrote a very short, very cursory article for website dedicated to working moms. I was trying to offer a 101 of why some men might not be as involved with their kids and domestic duties as some moms would like. In brief, I made three points—1) We are at the office all the time because it is in our genes to provide for our families 2) We can compare the housework we do, not with the work of our spouse, but with the work of our fathers 3) Maternal gate keeping chases some men away. (To read the short article, click here.)  This wasn't a "one size fits all" article.  This was intended to be a "if your husband is doing this..." article.

The responses have been fascinating—I’ve been called everything from “bang on” to a chauvinist pig. What has surprised me, however, is how many people have disagreed with my first point—men are hardwired to provide. Now, when I say “provide”, I mean in the traditional financial sense. I am a firm believer (and have based my business on the point) that men need to broaden their definition of “provide” to go beyond a strictly financial one (this is in no way to bash hard working, responsible, breadwinning dads, but rather to better understand them.)

I know we have a lot of at home dad readers on this blog, who have done just that—they realize that they have so much to offer their children and their families beyond just a paycheck. They are leading the evolutionary process.

Having said that, I’m guessing if you asked the average working father what are his two greatest fears concerning his family he would say, in order:

1) That someone gets sick, hurt or dies.

2) That I will no longer be able to “provide” for them.

There is a reason that more men than ever are saying that their work lives interfere with their family lives. Men are becoming more involved dads, and more is expected of them on the home front than was of the previous generation. They want to spend more time with their kids. However, there is still a pull (push?) from society and our genetic make up that says we are best serving those we love by earning money.  We feel guilty being away from our kids like never before, but still feel we are doing the right thing.

Do you feel genetics and society still puts pressure on you to earn?  If society still portrays women as sex objects, do they portray men as "money objects?"

 I’d love to hear some of your thoughts..

Monday, March 15, 2010

...of GI Joe and Barbie

Already programmed to save damsels in distress!

When it comes to gender issues and kids, as individuals we can all celebrate differences and we can criticize practices and beliefs which seem outdated. I still feel that society as a whole, however,  reinforces some  gender stereotypes. At a very early age, little girls are pressured to become women and little boys are channeled to grow up to be men. You don’t have to look far to find examples.  When have you ever seen a TV ad with a little boy playing Barbies? Or a little girl pretending her GI Joe truck is under attack?

Though I celebrate the differences inherent in gender, I have never pushed that “boys do this, girls do that” crap on my son. I have never admonished him for showing his emotions. I have never told him to stop crying, be tough or “suck it up.” And I think I’ve set a fairly good example for my son by not hiding my tears in front of him on numerous occasions (usually when the Mariners lose.)

This is why I was so disturbed by something that happened to my son the other day. I was dropping him off at daycare, and had to talk to his teacher for a moment. When I was ready to go, I asked my son if he wanted a hug good-bye. He went to leap over some toy to get to me, had his feet taken out from under him, and came crashing down hard on his tailbone.

Both my wife and I have never been a “sprint-to-your-child-the-moment-he-tips-over,” parent. Our philosophy is to wait a second or two to see how he will react on his own and then provide him with what he needs. Sometimes, however, you can tell right away that a fall is a big one, and this was a big one.

I scooped him up and asked him if he was ok. He was choking back the tears as he said he was fine. I kept rubbing his bruised little bottom and was using empathetic language, “That must have really hurt. That was a big fall!”

“I’ll be ok, daddy” he winced, and limped off to play with his friends.

I was shocked. Neither my wife nor I have ever told him to be tough…to be strong. So why was he compelled to choke back the tears?

Could it be that at the age of 3, my son had already been flooded with enough examples of boys being tough that it conditioned his response?

I don’t have any answers, but I do have a reflection. If society puts that much pressure on our sons and daughters to act like “men” and “women” respectively, we owe it to our children not to reinforce the negative stereotypes. Afraid too much roughhousing with your little girl will make her “less feminine”?  I wouldn’t worry about it. Think that being to affectionate with your son will make him into a “sissy”? Not likely.

Hell, I’m the “sissy” in our family and look what sort of a “tough” son I have!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I am the Gatekeeper...

I’ve written a lot about what you can do to deepen the bond and make the most of your time with your child. Despite your best intentions, however, there can still be barriers—sometimes within your own family.

No matter how “enlightened” we might be when it comes to our attitudes about traditional gender roles many men still define their primary role as that of breadwinner. For many men, losing a job isn’t just a financial hardship; it is failure to carry out the one function that society expects from us as fathers.

I think a similar situation arises for many women when it comes to parenting. No matter how successful a woman might be in the professional world, many women feel like society still judges her by how good a mother she is. “Abandoning” the family in pursuit of a career can cause feelings of guilt. When that feeling becomes too prevalent, the end result can be something called “gatekeeping.”

A maternal gatekeeper is someone who, at the same time, wants a greater sharing of child raising and domestic responsibilities, but who can’t give up control at home. It can be subtle, like always taking the crying baby out of dad’s arms. Or it can be overt, like demeaning dad for the way he dresses his child. The end result is often that the father becomes disengaged and the mother further resents her uninvolved husband.

By no means is every mother a gatekeeper. Likewise, gatekeeping is not uniquely the domain of women (just ask my wife, who has given up on loading the dishwasher since I just reload it anyway.) 

If this is an issue within your family, it needs to be talked about. Before you approach the subject, however, realize that your partner is not gatekeeping to be mean. She may be feeling threatened or dealing with her own self-worth issues.  Or maybe you really are just crappy at vaccuuming.  Either way, it needs to be discussed in a sane and rational manner.

Begin any conversation about gatekeeping by expressing your gratitude for all that she does for your family. Then you have to let her know that her behavior is having a negative effect on the family. You can remind her that we all respond much better to praise than criticism, and that by overseeing your parenting, she is making you feel more like a helper than a partner. You can also offer to make an effort to do things in her particular way in one or two areas that are of vital importance to her, but remind her that she has to give you some latitude to do things your way. As my friend and author Hogan Hilling says, “Focus on what your husband is doing, not how he’s doing it.” Lastly, if she can’t see the effect her behaviour is having on the family, consider marital counseling.

As for "giving up" on your fatherly duties because she’s just going to criticize you? It’s a cop-out. If the boss came into your office and told you he didn’t like a few aspects of your report, you wouldn’t throw your arms up in the air and storm out of the room shouting, “Fine, you do it!”

Anything that is getting in the way of you being the best, most involved father you can be needs to be addressed, not only for your kids sake, but for your own.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Evolution of Dad

I'm normally a "live in the moment" kind of guy, but having just seen the trailer for the upcoming movie, The Evolution of Dad, I'm looking forward to Father's Day, 2010.

I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Sorry" is the hardest word.

The other night I was struggling to get my son into bed. He was wired. He’d been to a birthday party and crammed his little cake-hole with plenty of junk. It was well past his bedtime to boot. I was aware of the combination of circumstances, which was the only thing that was preventing me from an outburst. I was tired. I knew that this wasn’t usually how my child behaved at bedtime, and was able to cut him a bit of slack. But it was still trying.

I managed to wrestle him into his pajamas and got him to snuggle down for a short story. Finally, I kissed him goodnight, and was heading out the door. I hadn’t really seen my wife all day and was looking forward to some child-free time to catch up. Just then, my son spoke up.

“Dad,” he said, “you forgot my glass of water.”

Part of the nightly routine is to get him a glass of cold water. He likes it cold so I let the tap run for a second or two to get it beyond luke-warm. That is, I do that every time except on this night. Feeling tired and a little grumpy myself, I let out a sigh, ran to the bathroom, got him some water, set it by his bed and wished him goodnight.

I got half way down the stairs when I heard him again.

“Dad,” he called, “the water isn’t cold.”

“It’s cold enough, sweetheart. Go to bed”

“But dad, I want cold water”

“Good night”

“No, but dad….”

“Good night, Connor”

Then came the wailing.

I grumped my way down the stairs, and could still hear him howling for cold water.

“What’s going on?” my wife asked.

“Ah, he’s all upset that I didn’t get him cold water” I said half annoyed and half chuckling.

“But we always get him cold water at bedtime. What do you expect?”

I stopped in my tracks. My wife was right.

Feel free to question my parenting skills for establishing a nightly routine of cold water in the glass. I have no problem if you think that is spoiling my child. I think you would be hard pressed, however, to say that my son’s reaction was out of order. From months of routine, he had come to expect something from me. To change it arbitrarily must have made no sense to him at all. His response was totally understandable.

I went upstairs, and sat on the foot of his bed. “You know what, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Let me get you a glass of cold water.”

Letting him cry himself to sleep wouldn’t have killed him, but what would that have served? I suppose there could have been a “life isn’t always what you expect” lesson but he, like the rest of us, gets enough of those on a day to day basis. I thought it was more valuable to show him that it’s ok to admit when you’ve made a mistake: that there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry.”

As dads, we’ve all gotten into a battle of wills with our kids, and quietly asked ourselves, “Now why did I pick this fight?” There are, unquestionably, moments where to not hold your ground is a mistake, but it isn’t always that way. In those moments, I challenge you to look beyond “winning” for winning’s sake and see if an admission of error and an apology can set things right. It might feel odd, but I think you are actually teaching your child a valuable lesson.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I have something to say.

Not long ago, I was at the local community centre when I spotted a poster. A university professor was doing research on fathers and their attitudes towards their children’s safety. Long story short—I called and volunteered to be a part of the study.

A few days later we met, and I was asked a series of questions. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t shut up. At the end, I apologized for going on so long and asked how the study was going so far. Dr. Brussoni told me she had been overwhelmed by the number of enthusiastic men who wanted to participate and offer volumes of information. She was surprised that she had to turn some of them away.

“That’s because no one ever asks us our opinion when it comes to parenting,” I said. “They are probably just as thrilled as I am that someone actually wants to listen to what they have to say about being a dad.”

On an individual basis, I’m sure there are many people who care what men think about parenting. But on a societal level, it’s all about the moms: from magazines to media to marketing.

The purpose of telling this story, believe it or not, is not to rant about how society still largely sees dads as “the person who helps out” with the parenting (which, sadly, is the case in many instances.) This story is about the power of listening.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to have someone really interested in my parenting philosophies as a father. Instead of being pegged into a hole, I was being valued for my opinions.

We need to do the same for our kids.

If you are the father of a teen, you know how hormones and coming into adulthood can be turbulent. I can certainly remember as a teen resenting that no one outside of my peer group seemed to care what I had to say. I felt like society didn’t give a damn about my opinion; society just expected me to be a trouble maker.

If my three year old asks me a string of questions, at some point, I usually ask him what he thinks. I do this partly for the comedic responses. Mostly, I do it to strengthen our bond.

Asking your children what they think will help them develop critical thinking and deductive reasoning. In short, you are encouraging them to think for themselves. But more importantly, when you ask your child his or her view, you are showing them that you care. Our kids see us as knowledge keepers and benevolent dictators. By seeking their outlook, you are now teaching them that what they have to say is of value. You are empowering them. You are helping foster their self esteem.