Thursday, January 28, 2010

Take a time out!

I was reading a great post from Jeremy Adam Smith over at his blog, Daddy Dialectic. It had to do with dads, their sons and the sometimes painful dance that they do around playing sports---in this case, hockey.

It got me to thinking about my own relationship between sports, my father and me. I played just about every game under the sun (ironically for a Canadian kid) other than hockey. I excelled at some, floundered at others, and mainly just tried to have fun playing the rest. My father rarely got to see me play anything. I lived primarily with my mother, and dad lived too far away to come to games. Like many fathers and sons, sports became a talking point, and it was my dad who took me to my first professional baseball, football and basketball games.

When I was ten, our little league team went undefeated. I had been a steady-if-not-flashy important part of the team, and had at least one hit in every game we played. My dad drove the seven hours to see our semi-final, and hopefully, final game. This was the first time he’d ever seen me play.

Well, we won both the semi-final and the championship, but I didn’t get one hit. I think I had more strike outs in those two games than I had all season. After each one I looked to my dad. To this day, I am still grateful to my coach who recognized how desperately I was trying to please my father, and who, in front of me, told my dad how I was a real leader and contributor on the team.

My dad was never a boisterous or pushy sports parent. He never drove me to succeed nor did he ever seem disappointed by any failures on the field. Yet I was still so desperate to impress him—to make him proud. 

I once asked retired Major Leaguer, JT Snow, if he pushed his son harder because he himself had played professional baseball. “No,” he said immediately. He said if anything, he pushed his son less because he knows how much pressure a kid can be under if he shows major league potential. “After the game, give him a hug, tell him you love him and take him for ice cream.”

Keep that in mind if your children play sports. They care more about impressing you than anyone else: team mates, coaches, even scouts. Conversely, they will agonize if they feel they have let you down (which, statistically, will happen more times than not.) If they are going to defy the odds and make it to the pros, it isn’t going to be because you barked at them all game long. By having no vested interest in the outcome of the game, and by loving them just for being them, you will be helping to create an environment where your child can thrive—whether they ever win a game or not.

Monday, January 25, 2010

No boys allowed

I was at a conference on Friday put on by the Father Involvement Network of British Columbia. It was called “Focus on Fathering” and it brought together all sorts of professionals who work with Dads at many different levels. We had some terrific speakers and took part in some great discussions.

It was both inspiring and saddening.

I was inspired by the men and women who are dedicated to making families stronger, and doing everything in their power to help men be better, more involved fathers.

I was saddened that we even need such a conference. As one presenter put it, “can you imagine anyone holding a ‘Mother Involvement Conference?”

At first, it’s easy to default to the idea that uninvolved dads are alcoholic welfare bums, but that is wrong on two fundamental levels. Firstly, that assumption carries the subtext that we should just write off that portion of society that is mired in poverty and many of the complex problems that go with it. Secondly, it overlooks the fact that under the tragic umbrella of uninvolved dads, you will find doctors, lawyers, politicians, and businessmen earning 8 figure salaries.

At any rate, that night my wife told me a dear friend who is expecting was having a baby shower.

“When is it?” I asked.

"Next weekend, but you’re not invited.”

I’m not invited. The grandfather-to-be is not invited (though he’s expected to help make sandwiches) and the father is not invited.

Now, for all I know, maybe the dad doesn’t want to be there. I can imagine the conversation that happened might have involved the wife telling her husband her girlfriends wanted to throw a shower. Maybe he rolls his eyes and mumbles something about wanting to watch hockey, and she tells him he’s off the hook because it’s for the ladies only.

There is so much wrong with my little imagined scenario. Husband should have said, “Great, when is it so I can clear my calendar? Wife should have said to her girlfriends, “My husband is coming or we’re not having it.”

I seem to recall with our baby shower, me rolling my eyes and my wife flipping out on me for not wanting to go. Frankly, she was right to do so, and I am ashamed that I didn’t dive in willingly.

Perhaps I’m being over sensitive, but if we want men to be involved with their children, we can’t default to the old stereotypes. If we want men to be involved fathers, we need to invite them to be a part of every aspect of their child’s life. Not only do we need to invite them, we need to expect them.

As our keynote at the conference pointed out, we condition little boys to grow up to be good men and little girls to be good women. Why aren’t we teaching our children to be good people?

I will always say that men have to be responsible for their own actions when it comes to being a good father. But women and society as a whole can do their part to smash some damaging stereotypes which can automatically push the men to the outside.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tough Love?

This photo is from a day trip we took over Christmas up a local ski hill (which is currently alarmingly devoid of snow with the Olympics less than a month away.) At one point, while my son was feeding “Dancer” and “Vixen,” I noticed a dad and another small boy. I’m guessing the boy was around 2. His dad kept telling him not to go to this little precipice where the big kids were sliding, warning him that he could slip down the hill and hurt himself.

Sure enough, the self fulfilling prophecy came to be, and the little guy took a ten foot slide. He lay, not hurt physically, at the bottom of the hill, wailing his head off. His dad stomped down the hill, and yanked him up. As he stomped back up the hill, the little boy was seeking comfort from his dad. Dad, however, was holding his son at arms length and sternly barking, “Don’t hug me…do not hug me!”

Now, I don’t want to judge. Who knows what was going on in this guy’s day or life. However, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to prove by not comforting his small son. Was he trying to teach him to be a “man” and not cry? Was trying to impart the idea, “If you defy me, I’ll deny you love”?

I still think to some degree men are expected to teach life’s tough lessons. I think society still generally expects us to mete out the punishment and deliver discipline.

I would have liked to see this dad scoop up and comfort his little boy, wait until he calmed down, and then say, “Do you see why daddy was telling you not to do that?” On some levels, no words were even needed—by tumbling down, this child learned his lesson.

Don’t fall into the tough-guy trap when it comes to giving your child the love and comfort they need. You aren’t going to turn them soft, and there is plenty of time to discuss life’s lessons afterward.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Time? What time?

My 3 year old has been taking skating lessons for the past few weeks. Each Thursday, before he sets off to preschool, I dress him in his “cozy pants.” They are just fleece lined jeans but they are ideal for keeping him warm and dry during the inevitable countless slips to the ice.

When I picked him up at pre-school today, he was wearing his “back up” pair of pants, as the “cozy pants” were mud-soaked from the outside playtime earlier in the day. We now had to frantically race home and change into an older pair of cozy pants and still hope to make it to the rink on time.

In the car home, I already started prepping my son. “Alright, we’re going to have to cooperate and change quickly if we are going to make it on time. Can we do that?”

“Yes, daddy.”

What it turned out he really meant was, “Ha ha ha…are you kidding me?”

The dallying began the second we got in the door. First we struggled over getting the old pants off. Then I realized the underpants and socks were drenched, too, so they’d have to come off. Then we had to get dressed again and out the door. He was dawdling at his own pace as he is wont to do, so I would try and help. Every step of the way, my attempts to “cooperate” in getting his pants or socks on were met with independence and struggle.

“We are going to be late,” I kept repeating with a rising intensity in my voice.

I found myself loosing my cool. As my frustration mounted so did his. By the end I was huffing and stomping around like a three year-old myself. Finally as we were about to head out the door, I was trying to wrestle his shoes on and he was resisting. Then, under his breath, he muttered in a frustrated voice, “I’m tired of this crap up!”

It took every ounce of me not to fall apart laughing.

On the drive to the rink, I realized that time is an artificial concept. Kids don’t care about time. Sure, they have to learn it like the rest of us, but it is hardly in their nature to worry about being on time. My son wasn’t trying to be difficult, he was being three.

If you are a dad who has limited time with your child, try to avoid falling into the same trap I did. To some degree, men are still required to play the role of disciplinarian and “bad cop.” Don’t add “Mr. Grumpy” to the list. If your limited time with your child is spent barking and chiding, he’ll eventually tune you out.

When time is going to be an issue, try to budget a little more room so you don’t wind up getting bent out of shape when your kid is just being a kid.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beer and Braids Redux

My CBC Radio documentary, "Beer and Braids" is being given an "encore presentation" on a program called, "In the Field."

If you missed it, my documentary took a look at the 14th Annual Stay At Home Dads Convention in Omaha back in October. All the dads that were there are the primary care givers for their children, while mom brings home the bacon. These men are doing what they are doing by choice--and I didn't meet one who would do it any other way.

In my opinion, these men are broadening the definition of what it means to be a man. These men are loving, caring nurturers, capable of tending to scraped knees and hurt feelings. They also like beer and football.

To the best of my knowledge, none of them has lost their penis as a result of being a stay at home dad.

In short, it is a documetary about men and balance.

If you want to have a listen, click here. You'll want to listen to 'part 2.'

I dedicate this to all the amazing men I met in Omaha.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We all love the lists.

If you are looking for a good book to open up some constructive dialogue between you and your spouse, I suggest The Modern Mom's Guide to Dads: Ten Secrets Your Husbands Won't Tell You.  It is co-written by my friend, Hogan Hilling.  Hogan has just been commissioned to write a new book, 35 Things Future Dads Should Know About Pregnancy.

Hogan asked a few people to submit a few suggestions, so I came up with the 10 below.  Feel free to add your own!

10 Things Future Dads Should Know About Pregnancy

1) Pregnancy is a HUGE deal for your wife.

While you may from time to time forget your wife is pregnant, your wife does not. She is changing physically, mentally and hormonally. Dads need to be as involved as possible—go to medical appointments, rub cream on her belly, talk to the baby, ask her questions regularly about how she’s feeling. When you are exhausted, try to remember that she is probably even more so. And if your enthusiasm is waning, fake it.

2) She will still (most likely) want to have sex.

While the thought of getting it on won’t likely cross her mind while her head is in the toilet, hopefully her nausea will be short-lived. Many women actually report an increased libido at various times during pregnancy. Some guys feel weird about having sex  “when my kid is in there.” Sex with your partner when she’s pregnant is completely safe and normal. You aren’t going to poke your kid in they eye and you aren’t going to hurt him. Talk to your midwife or obstetrician about it if you are worried. Sex is an important part of any relationship—it can still be during pregnancy. It can also be reassuring to your wife when she is as big as a house that you still think she’s beautiful.

3) Find someone else to whom you can complain.

If your wife has been barfing all day, peeing all night or watching her body transform into a dirigible, she doesn’t want to see you feeling hard done by about taking out the trash. You surely have some legitimate gripes that we all have from day-to-day; you just aren’t likely to get much sympathy from your wife when her feet look like float plane pontoons. Find a buddy or even a counselor on whom you can unload if you can’t keep it to yourself.

4) Sympathy pounds do happen.

God knows why, but as women put on the pounds during pregnancy, men often do, too. Don’t let this happen to you. Try to keep (or get) fit when she is pregnant. You are going to need a lot of energy when your little one comes—especially in those first few crazy, early sleep deprived days.

5) Trust her intuition.

No, I’m not talking about who is going to win game four of the NBA Finals—I’m talking about her body. Your wife is experiencing things that she has never gone through before. If she is concerned about how she or the baby is doing, suggest going to the doctor or calling the clinic. You can’t lose here. You are being caring and supportive and putting your family first---even if everything is “perfectly normal.” Trying to reassure her that everything is fine or telling her that she is just imagining things won’t get you any brownie points.

6) Be the protector.

Embrace the cave man within. Tell strangers who try to rub her belly to back off. Ask sick would-be visitors to stay at home until they are healthy. Halt women who are about to tell their “labor horror story” (every woman loves to tell one) and ask them not to continue if it entails accounts of 36 hours of pushing, forceps and a caesarian. Your partner will find this endearing (as long as you don’t punch someone’s lights out) and you get to swell your chest a little, too.

7) Ask questions.

Ask your wife how she’s doing. Ask other dads about their experience. Ask other moms, too. Read books. Ask questions at medical appointments. Ask. Ask Ask.

8) Don’t let the hormones get to you.

It’s a pretty safe bet that at some point, that wonderful cocktail of hormones which are concocting the perfect home for your growing baby will also have some pretty trippy affects on your wife. This isn’t to diminish her feelings, nor is it an excuse to get you off the hook if you are being a dud of a husband. This is simply to warn you not to take things too personally if the hormones do turn your wife into some B horror film character.

9) Make a big deal of pregnancy number two.

Chances are if you are reading this, you are expecting your first baby. Tuck this away for any and all subsequent pregnancies. People make a huge fuss over you when you are expecting the first time. They say “congratulations” the second time and then get back to whatever they were doing. This pregnancy is no less magical for your wife, however. Try not to slip into “been there, done that” mode. Even if others fail to recognize the significance you must give it the attention it deserves.

10) Share your concerns about her pregnancy/child birth/becoming a dad.

As men, we like to have all the answers and we like to be in control. Just as your wife will experience things you can’t possibly imagine, you will have feelings and concerns that aren’t on her radar. While point #3 suggests you can’t have concerns, you can. Just be diplomatic. “Honey, I know that you are doing the bulk of the work here, and you are doing it beautifully, but when you are up to it, I have some concerns I’d like to talk about, too.”