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 fianceĆ©. “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.