Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just Bragging!

I remember after becoming a new dad, how every little phase seemed to be the greatest.

First, just holding my newborn and feeling his little body rise up and down as he slept on my chest was miraculous (well, I guess it still is.)

Various stages in his development—smiling, walking, learning to fetch me a beer—all elicited this same, “This stage is just the best” response from me.

So you think I would have learned by now.

Last night my son read his first book all by himself (never mind that he is now 37.)

Tired of reading him more Pokemon books (cartoon cock fighting if you aren’t familiar with it), I grabbed something a little more "calming."  

When we turned to the title page, he read it aloud. I wondered if that was from memory or from actually reading, but either way, it sparked an idea.

“Why don’t you read it to me?” I asked.  He’s been playing and sounding with words for some time with varying degrees of success.

He grabbed the book, took a deep breath and sounded “To-day…”

And just like that, he was off.

I will shamelessly admit that I am proud of my son often for the most trivial of thing—like taking his plate in to the kitchen after a meal, or wiping up the blood without being told after he’s flattened his little brother again—but I have never, ever seen him more proud of himself.

With each turning page, his grin got bigger and bigger.  By the end of the book, he was beaming so that I thought he would burst.

My inner response: “This stage is just the best!”

His outer response: “I’m really proud of myself, daddy!”

Oh, and what was the book that he read? 

You certainly will, my love. You certainly will.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Sacred Moment

It is as sacred a moment as any father and son can share.   It rivals the first game of catch, the first tree house, or even the first beer ….and it was with giddy anticipation that I shared this moment with my 6 year old son.

“Connor,” I said, barely able to hold it in, “pull my finger.”

The ensuing flatulence which shook the foundation of my home brought an equally loud clap of laughter from my son.  Behind the laugher I could see him trying to figure out if he was somehow responsible for what had just happened.   But mainly he was giggling so uncontrollably because, well, let’s face it, farts are funny.

These are the sorts of “dad activities” which have elicited groans and looks (or sniffs?) of derision since human kind has had fingers.   This sort of activity is often frowned upon as being both base and crass—which it probably is.  But it is also warm, funny, endearing, silly and in a very obtuse sort of way, loving.  It is time spent with my child where he comes away feeling like he is the centre of my attention. 

Unless you are robbing banks or beating up old people, don’t let anyone’s pre conceived ideas of what “quality time” is for you and your child.  Want to wrestle with your four year old daughter?   Want to teach your son how to dial a stranger and ask them if their refrigerator is running?  Knock yourself out.  Your child will love it, and you, forever. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Letting Go

When I was a kid, every year on my birthday my mom would make me promise that I wouldn't have another birthday for an entire year.  First I thought she was trying to be funny. Later, I thought she was nuts.  Now I get it.

I was growing up way too fast.

Those very thoughts were going through my mind as my just-yesterday-he-was-a-baby son and I walked up to his new school for the first day of kindergarten.  It seems like only moments since this little newborn was nestled into his sleep-deprived father's arms.  Today, we were starting school.

As we marched toward the covered play area to scan the class lists, I felt a little hand slip inside mine and give me a squeeze. As the cacophany of pre-pubescent voices grew louder, the little hand squeezed tighter. Eventually, we found his name on the list, stood in the appropriate line, and awaited his teacher to usher us into the class room.

Despite the cliche moment which was charged with such emotion, calmness prevailed.

Until it was time to let go.

As Connor's new teacher guided us to the classroom, the tears began to well my eyes. As we reached the doorway to his latest life's adventure, that same little hand slipped out of mine, reached around my neck for a big hug, and then was gone.

As much as anything, parenthood is successive stages of letting go:  the independence that comes with first steps, the day you discover you are no longer needed to give pushes on the swings, the first day of school.

I'm convinced the best parents are the ones who can let go--who celebrate the moments of growth and independence as their child comes of age.

I'm just not so sure I fit into that category yet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Congratulations! It's a Kidney Stone!

“You know,” said the paramedic as I was writhing on the floor of the ambulance, “they say that kidney stones are the closest pain to childbirth."

“Yeah,” I gasped, “but at least my wife got five minutes between one minute contractions…plus we got a baby in the end.”

Frankly, I think it is largely men who give the “kidney stones are like childbirth” line (I’d love to hear from any stone-passing moms out there) but without starting a gender war, if childbirth is only a fraction of the pain of passing a stone, my already heroic wife deserves another medal.  I can honestly say that having kidney stones was the only time in my life I begged a paramedic to bash me upside the head with an oxygen tank and then run me over with an ambulance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I was in complete awe of my wife when she gave birth: no pain medication and no epidurals. But now I have even more respect and admiration for her, if that is possible.

And for the record, I am totally revoking any utterance I ever made like, “Oh honey, if I could go through this childbirth for you, I would. I really would.”

I'm not one for traditional gender roles, but I'm happy to leave childbirth to women.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Other "L" Word

Remember dating? Remember the early courtships—the excitement, the titillation and eventually the feeling that you were really falling for someone? I can recall a lot of those relationships. And I can recollect the anxiety around whether to use the “L” word or not.

I am the first to admit I grew up in a house where we threw the term, “I love you” around like cheap confetti. I’ve never really had a hard time saying those words. In fact, I was actually accused once for saying it too often. Now I realize that perhaps I’m outside of the norm when it comes to men and expressing feelings, but I think most of us can relate to the trepidation around leaving yourself vulnerable by proclaiming, “I love you” for the first time.

So what often came out instead?

“I love spending time with you” or “I love being your boyfriend.”

What potentially sounded like a fear of commitment to a girlfriend is music to the ears of your child.

I get that there are men out there who still aren’t comfortable with, “I love you.” They often tell stories about their own father like, “He never really told me, but I knew he loved me.” Frankly, I think that is code for, “Damn it, why couldn’t he have told me he loved me?” That is totally natural. We all want to be loved, whether we are good with our feelings or not.

Of course, I encourage all fathers to say “I love you” as often as they can to their children. More importantly, I urge them to back up those words with actions.

But I think there is immense value in saying, “I love being your daddy.”

The other day, my wife and sons came home from a friend’s house and my oldest was pretending to be asleep. “Oh, you’ll have to carry him in daddy,” my wife co-conspired.

With his eyes closed and the hint of a smirk on his face, I lifted him out of his car seat. His arms lay limply around my neck as I carried him in to the house.

“It’s too bad he’s asleep, I was going to see if he wanted to play some Wii.” I said, trying to call his bluff. He didn’t budge.

“I guess I’ll have to eat his dessert” I teased.


I turned to carry him up the stairs, and whispered in his ear, “I love being your daddy.”

Involuntarily, his body began to squeeze mine. I was getting a giant bear hug and my son couldn’t help himself.

“Oh, momma, I think he might be waking up,” I said. At which point he went limp again.

“I love you” is a beautiful thing. But on some level, it’s what’s expected of parents. “Of course you love me, I’m your kid.” On a most basic level, child-parent love is as much a product of biology as anything else.

But “I love being your daddy” in many ways can be even more powerful. It almost implies there is a choice in the matter. It’s a value statement. And just like we all want to be loved, we all want to be valued, too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

To Love Your Spouse Is To Love Your Kids

One of the complaints I’ve heard from some men when it comes to marriage is that their wives always put the children first. Sometimes, those comments have come from men who don’t have the maturity to recognize that priorities change once you have a family and who can’t seem to cope with not being the centre of the universe anymore. Sometimes, however, these comments can come from a thoughtful, fully engaged father and husband who is frustrated at his wife’s inability to leave the kids for longer than an hour or two. “I’d love to take her away for a romantic getaway, but in the four years we’ve been parents, she hasn’t let us leave the kids overnight with the grandparents even once!”

I am a full believer that the best thing that couples can do for their kids is to keep their own relationship healthy and strong. Not only does it help maintain a loving and secure environment in which the kids can thrive, it sets the example for what they should expect from a healthy relationship when they reach adulthood.

In no means, however, is this lament of “always putting the kids first” uniquely uttered by fathers.

I should know. I'm guilty of doing it with my own kids.

I do it for two main reasons. First, I adore being a father more than just about anything in the world. Loving them is as easy as falling off a truck. Second, it’s much simpler when there is spousal stress to spend time with two little boys who can find no fault with you than with a partner who has grounds to find many.

I'm guilty not so much in terms of being unable to let the kids out of my sight, or dropping everything on the spot to attend to every whim: I do it more on an emotional level. My kids often get the lion’s share of my love, patience and attention in the day and frankly, my wife deserves better.

Now, I am not going to fall into that destructive, tired old stereotype of long-suffering-yet-patient-wife-tolerates-inept-yet-well-meaning husband. That crap still gets played time and time again as a bad punch line and does nothing but widen some of the “traditional” gender role divides which can cause a relationship and a family a great deal of strain.

I will say, however, that my wife is remarkably patient. She has seemingly limitless patience with our children and she has demonstrated the patience of Job with me. She has shown unwavering faith in me and my business, not only when others must have questioned my sanity, but even when my pursuit of it threatened the financial well being of our family.

She has loved me unconditionally through two major bouts of depression and was somehow capable of finding something loveable in me when I was near-useless as a husband. She loved me when I was at my most vulnerable and naked, and for that, I will never have the words to express my gratitude.

She loves me even when I succumb to my own personal albatross -- verbally lashing out at those I love when I perceive their comments reflect a disappointment in me. It is an ugly side of me which has long outstripped its use, but can still return in the form of a sharp tongue and a dismissive tone. It strikes with lightening speed and then disappears, leaving me with a giant mess and an enormous sense of remorse for having hurt my best friend.

But my wife also brings out the best in me. She never fails to encourage me to be my best, simply by tell me what an amazing father I am. She inspires my sense of integrity by applauding rather than cringing when I stand up in very public ways to rail against injustice. And her laughter, and even her groans (here I will admit to her putting up with me with gentle, good humour) at my sense of humour and out-and-out silliness remind me that life should be filled with joy and gratitude.

On this Valentine’s Day, I want the world to know what an amazing woman I’ve married. She has her faults as I have mine, and at times our first wedding dance to “Lost Together” by Blue Rodeo has seemed more like prophecy than love song. But marrying her was still the best thing I’ve ever done.

I know my sons think so, too.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Me vs. Wii

Sorry for my lack of regular posts of late. I am now balancing solo at home parenting (as my wife has gone back to work) with a working dad project for my company “Bettermen Solutions.” At any rate, I know holidays can be very trying, but I hope everyone had a happy one. As some wise person once said, “If you think you are enlightened, try visiting your family.”

The challenges for me this Christmas stemmed from the same source of many of my joys: mainly, my four-year old, Connor.

Christmas doesn’t get much more magical than when you are four—old enough to “get it” and young enough to believe whole heartedly. Not surprisingly, the verbal lists of “I want, I want, I want” began sometime after Hallowe’en and seemed to grow longer by the day.

I didn’t want to quash his pure joy, but I also didn’t want the season to be about greed and “give-me.” One potential solution came to me during one of our bedtime routines.

Some nights, instead of a book, we have “Once Upon a Time”. This is when I make up some story where Connor is the protagonist. It usually involves adventures, dinosaurs and/or Batman and Robin. On this night, it involved Santa and some sorry and destitute children.

It is worth mentioning that Connor’s greatest wish this season was for a Wii. The immensity of his desire had little to do with the monetary value and everything to do with fun. In his mind a Wii cost the same as a chocolate bar, so holding this Wii so dear was solely based on Connor’s love of playing it this past summer with his older cousins. My wife and I have both wanted to put off video games for as long as possible, but saw some merit in having an indoor sweat inducing activity on a nasty winter’s day. We finally agreed and the grandparents generously offered to chip in for one from Santa.

So as we were getting into bed for once upon a time, I started to make up a story. It involved one excited little boy writing a long list of things he wanted from Santa for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, a sound asleep Connor was awakened by a tap on the window. It was St. Nick, and he wanted to take Connor on a little adventure.

“Will you come with me?” Santa asked.

"I have to ask my mom and dad first,” my son replied (no fears that he’ll ever be abducted by a man in a Santa Claus outfit!)

So off they went. Santa whisked Connor up into the sky, drawn by his familiar reindeer with snow whistling all around. At one point, Santa pulled up to a broken down little home and asked Connor to peek inside. Connor saw a little boy, asleep, with no presents, or even a Christmas tree. At that moment, Santa pulled a Darth Vader light saber out of his bag.

“Connor,” I began to ask in Santa’s voice, “What should I do with this light saber?”

“Give it to me,” my son whispered under his breath.

“I can understand why you would want it, Connor. But you are blessed with so many toys and this little boy will wake up tomorrow with nothing. Now, what do you think I should do?”

“Oh, alright,” he relented. “Give it to him.”

Over and over, the same scenario played out: Santa stops at the home of an impoverished child, pulls out a gift, and asks what he should do with it. Now the really cruel part was that each present Santa pulled out of his bag was one that Connor had asked for. It was bordering on torturous for him as he gave away toy after toy that he so coveted. It was becoming unbearable for Connor, but Santa still had one house left.

At the home of the last penniless child, Santa pulled a brand new Wii out of his bag. Before I could even ask the question, Connor’s face twisted up like some captured and tormented spy at his breaking point, “Not the Wii!” he groaned in a sort of anguished guttural whisper.

To his credit, he still managed to give it up.

The story ended with Connor waking up on Christmas morning with a whole pile of presents, and a note:

“Dear Connor,

Always remember that Christmas is about the giving.