The Obvious Question When Your Kids are 35 Years Apart

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have kids whose ages are 35 years apart.

“I hate you!” our six-year-old Richard yelled because I wouldn’t let him throw a toy across the room.

“I love you, son,” I replied.

It’s not the dialog we had in mind when we decided to have a child later in life. I’m certain we each pictured some variation of our family walking down the street laughing and holding hands, not being shouted at by an angry child, disciplining him, or arguing with each other about should he or shouldn’t he bring a toy to the dinner table.

I’m a Baby Boomer, retired and collecting Social Security. I have two adult children from my first marriage and I write, work in my woodshop, enjoy our home, raise bees, and help raise our son, Richard. I don’t miss leaving for the office in the morning and I celebrate that by drinking three cups of coffee before breakfast and one cup after just to relax. What possessed me to want another child?

Simple. I love my wife and I want to make her happy, and I love kids and always wanted a big family. My wife, Mindy, was never married and never had children. We’re happy, we could afford it, and I knew she wanted to be a mom and I always enjoyed being a dad. I view our decision to have a child as a selfless act, although not everyone shares that point of view. I avoid those people because I want to stay positive. Our son has fulfilled both of us and made us happier, notwithstanding his childish bouts of “I hate you.”

I’ve heard from friends, “Shouldn’t you be able to relax and not argue with or about children?”

Other friends tell me, “You’re nuts and you always have been.”

I tell them all, “I am relaxed, and I have to argue about something, so why not kids?”

They are all satisfied with their first set of kids. I’m satisfied with all my kids. One of my best childhood friends was a guy named Lew who had four brothers in a huge house. There was a second house on their property and his grandparents lived there. It was an early example of a multi-generational living situation and I was secretly envious.

I also sought divorce from my ex-wife when our daughter was fifteen and our son thirteen. I missed some of their growth because of divorce dynamics.

I do have to admit that late parenthood also has issues.

When my older son, Greg, now 39, was up for a weekend, I took my two sons out for ice cream. As we approached the counter, the guy waiting to serve us looked at me, pointed at Richard and asked with feigned warmth, “Is that your grandson?”

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have children whose ages are 35 years apart.

There are also potential health issues. Time published an article by Jeffrey Kluger in the April 11, 2013 edition, entitled, “Too Old to be a Dad.” He cites data that concludes kids of older dads have higher incidences of psychological and physical problems, specifically memory function. Then he goes on to name well-known older fathers from the entertainment world. That seems to contradict his point or else those older entertainers were his database and they had memory loss. He didn’t say.

So, I have to admit, there is risk in fathering a child in my sixties, but the biggest risk is that I’ll leave Mindy a widowed single parent. Am I playing family roulette, betting that I’ll live to a ripe old age? What happens if my roulette number doesn’t pay off? Perhaps my age won’t ripen after all.

To what age will I live if my number pays off?

My paternal great-grandfather lived to 100, and that was all before the invention of antibiotics, suggesting he had a very strong constitution. My maternal great-grandfather lived to 98. Did I inherit those genes? Doubtful. My Dad and his father both lived to 88. Sadly, Dad lost his mind a few years before he died. My wife tells me, “I think you’re losing yours.” I don’t answer because wives can also drive men out of their minds with needless worry, in addition to losing memory to the aging process. Maybe I have a little of both working. Uh-oh.

So, family longevity is in my favor and I guess secretly I’m betting that I’ll be around for a while. Maybe not a hundred years like my great-grandfather, but I certainly look forward to watching our son graduate college. I’ll be in my eighties, that is, as they say down south, “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise!”

What’s changed from raising my first two in my 30s? First of all, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison because I’m not only married to a different woman, I also have the benefit of more than 30 years’ experience. Back then I worked 50 or 60 hours a week building a career and now I am home all day except for excursions to doctors, the gym, and a weekly writing workshop.

I took my older two to school in their early grades and now, our son takes the bus. My older two spent their childhoods in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and two houses in New Jersey. My younger son has lived in New York since he was born, although we moved from a smaller home in the boonies to a larger more suburban home. There’s some stability there. My older kids went to public schools, and we started Richard in private school and he’s now in third grade, still in private school.

There are similarities too. They’re all my children and, while that’s obvious, it’s also rhetorical. I’m proud of them, I love them and I see myself in their faces. They are part of my desire to leave a legacy. There are other similarities too. For example, kids are not naturally neat and I’m not sure that neatness can be taught. It’s inherent and none of my kids had it in their youth. Similarly, kid’s toys tend to be specific to the era. Our younger son loves Legos and his creations cover every horizontal surface. That toy didn’t click together into shapes when my older kids were his age. They had Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, and watched Sesame Street. Richard watches Netflix and plays Minecraft on his iPad.

They all seem to depend on me to one extent or another. Richard completely because of his age, but older son Greg too because he’s had trouble launching a career. I hired my executive trainer for him and paid for it. My oldest child is a physician who considers herself entirely independent right down to her BMW, but even she used to invite me to her home and add, “Please bring lunch and your tools.” Something always needed repair.

What do I conclude? Kids are great if you can afford them, play with them, be there for them, and instill good values. If one or more of those is impossible, then enjoy your grandchildren if you have any. There’s an advantage to them once you reach a certain age. That advantage is grandchildren go home eventually and their parents are responsible for them. Richard is home all the time, although fortunately we can still manage well.

The other night he hurt himself in the bathtub. He was crying and I was out for the evening at my writing workshop. My wife said it wasn’t a fun evening. She missed that TV show she likes and I missed the whole thing.

Tragedy and Joy: Life as a Small Child

The pain she felt over the loss of her balloon was real, as much as I may joke about it.

There was a great tragedy in my family the other day. It came suddenly, while I was sitting at the kitchen table and my kids were playing outside. The idyllic quiet of early evening in the country was jarringly broken by my daughter’s hysterical scream.

I jumped up and, heroically abandoning the Facebook post I was working on, ran outside to save the day. But I was too late.

As I followed my son’s finger pointing up high into the darkening azure sky, I saw a faint speck growing smaller and smaller, and I understood my daughter’s pain.

Her balloon, Balloony as she so creatively named it, was making a frenetic escape to the stratosphere. As my daughter fell apart in my arms, I knew life would never be the same, unless I was able to find the other identical balloon that was somewhere in our house.

I had a faint idea of the existence of the renegade balloon’s twin, but the half-hearted attempt to find it was woefully insufficient and, due to the sedative effectiveness of the animated baby animals dancing on the TV, I soon traded that chore for more the more pressing and productive task of preparing the bedtime accoutrements.

As I lay in bed soothing my emotionally wounded little girl, she opened her floodgates of loss, expanding beyond the scope of the escaped balloon. “When is our dog going to die?” she pensively asked.

Fortunately I am an experienced and prepared parent, so I was able to give her the answer she needed to rebuild her fragile psyche. “I don’t know,” I replied, and with that cleared up she soon fell into her slumber.

The pain she felt over the loss of her balloon was real, as much as I may joke about it. I felt the depth of her pain through the anguished cries and emotionally charged declarations of never ever owning another balloon as long as life itself existed. I too have known loss, and it sucks.

Ah, but redemption came early this morning in the form of a photo my loving and far more capable wife sent me. My darling little girl, who had so steadfastly declared her recently imposed lifelong abstinence of balloon ownership, was proudly and ecstatically showing off the fugitive balloon’s estranged twin. All was right with the world.

Kids are so simple when they’re this young, and I love that about them. The grief, the joy, the frustration, the glee, the emotions they feel are all-encompassing and felt without analysis. Her world was rocked by the loss of that balloon, and there was no coming back from such a profoundly tragic incident. Until her world was righted again, and there was no longer any evidence of tragedy.

This ability to change with circumstances, to adapt oneself so completely and readily without thinking about it at all, is an incredible display of resilience. This is part of the miracle of childhood. Once we’ve grown and become set in our ways and our modes of thought, this resilience becomes far less pliable, disintegrating our ability to adapt and overcome.

Kids live in the present. Whatever is happening right now is what is important, and anything on either side of now is irrelevant. While this may not be absolutely true, it is a fantastic lesson for us stodgy adults who shift between reminiscing over the past and perseverating over the future.

Live in the now. Sure, you lost your balloon and it hurts. Feel that pain, live in that pain, express with great and boisterous emotion the hurt you feel. When the new balloon comes into your life, feel the joy, express the glee, scream out the ecstasy that overwhelms you. People might think you’re weird. When’s the last time you saw a three-year-old worry that people would think she’s weird?

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

When School Is No Longer a Reliable Babysitter

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
After a fraught winter of flirting with freelance writing (chagrin implied), I’d made some gains. They were almost negligible, and some of the platforms dubious, yet I got published elsewhere. Still mostly for free (more chagrin) but on bigger platforms for a few more likes, shares, and an occasional pocket change paycheck. (No large advance is forthcoming.)
Then school was out, summer happened, and I reacquainted myself with TV, some video games, full-time parenting, and the clouds.
Well, I’m a parent all the time but her first year of school was an amazing freedom for me.
It’s not that summer strips parents of all their free time. The hours between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. were usually open. If I were a real go-getter, I’d have gotten up at the butt crack to “scribble” on the keys then burn the midnight oil after a few beers, but I didn’t.
Not all was procrastination, though. A lot went on this summer, and it started out fantastically with a two-week break from parenting. The g-rents whisked the kid away, leaving my wife and I childless. It was glorious. We were a couple of young adults without a child again. Other parents were jealous.
After that two-week stint without the kid, things changed. We traveled a lot, there was a death in the family, and we went from practically having a live-in babysitter (a niece) to being full-time parents again.
The adult time was over and my hobby sort of dropped off.
It dropped off because writing isn’t a sprint but a distance game, and it requires more than 20 to 30 minutes of attention at a time. I tried to write with her around but that required a lot of TV (something us modern parents aren’t supposed to let our kids overindulge in), and she had questions and concerns every two minutes.
Can’t get mad, though. When your preschooler asks you to come into the bathroom to smell her fart, your heart just swells. These are the precious moments parents carry with them to their graves.
I’ve also found that picking up where you left off only works with pieces that are nearly done. That being said, it’s easier to pick up a book and easier still to watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – whatever.
The easiest thing to do, however, is watch clouds.
Being committed to a word file takes focus, time, and, I guess, some will power.
Not making excuses helps, too, but no one else is going to get that paladin to level 99 other than you, bro.
That’s game talk and while procrastination and gaming go hand in hand, they should never be used in the same sentence around a gamer. They’re liable to set you on fire with a level four flame spell.
Instead, I set the writing aside and checked out critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, making sure I brought them with me so people would notice. I didn’t read them, just skimmed reviews in hifalutin magazines in case someone asked me about them. It’s what we procrastinators call “doing adequate homework”.
I also watched a lot of YouTube videos on lions, landslides, volcanoes (just one Saturday night), even Saturday Night Live, tsunamis again (never gets old), and an inordinate amount of Star Wars fan theory videos.
Did you know that not all Jedi are prudes? I didn’t think so.
The kid and I also did our fair share of floating around the pool. Well, I floated and she attempted the world record at most consecutive drowning attempts.
However, before I lay too much blame on parenting and chronic procrastination, let me reiterate the real culprit: summer break. I absolve myself of all responsibility and lay most of the blame, if not all, on the summer holiday. It’s just too long. Really, kids should be in school more. Perhaps all day so that the only time you see them is when they wake up and after dinner.
A parent’s daily peace of mind is worth a little state indoctrination, am I right?
To be blunt, summer break ruins a this peace-o-mind, pure and simple. Yes, it was great having almost three months off from school as kid, but I’m not a kid anymore and their time off offends me.
Of course, we could’ve mitigated all this with summer camps (I will become a convert next year) and a regular schedule. But to have regularity in you and your child’s schedule, you must plan for it. Since I’m neither a planner nor someone who remotely understand plans, this was not the case for me.
That’s why we’re here now, commiserating summer break together and relieved it’s over.
You hear that kiddo? Sounds like first bell. Time for dad to level up.

Putting the Train Together Again

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments you feel real, powerful grief when your child is with you and you can’t show it.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
For months after I sold the house, it remained inside a large plastic bag in the loft. One of my daughter’s toys. The pieces were disorganized, and I was not certain that we had them all.
One day I began to organize the loft. Christmas was on the horizon, and our artificial tree was in the corner behind too many items for it to be accessible for the holidays. I got to work. My five-year-old daughter was with me.
“Daddy!”
“Yes, sweety?”
“Is that the pirate train?”
“I think so. Let me check.”
It was.
“Can we build it again?”
“I don’t know, honey. But we can try.”
“Oh Daddy, please let’s do that right now!”
“Maybe once we get the loft better organized. Okay?”
“Okay.”
The toy was a plastic pirate ship. A train track circled around it. As the train made its way up towards the mast, it reached a smooth part of the track where it would invert on its rapid descent down. Katie loved it. We had kept it outside on the covered portion of our pool deck, since it took up so much space in our small home.
Now that home was gone, one of many casualties of the divorce I had filed for nearly two years before.
Losing your first and only home feels like parting with one of your internal organs. A part of your life is over, and it isn’t coming back. And just like the body that must live and go on post-operation, you have to thrive once more though it may not immediately apparent how to do so.
I pondered the pirate train and its current state of affairs. I knew we had to be missing a few pieces. I didn’t see the train itself anywhere, just the caboose that attached to it, and while I may possess certain talents building things without a clear plan isn’t one of them. I saw all these obstacles before we started, but I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. We spread the pieces out on the living room floor.
“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s see. I think this is the mast.”
“What does that mean?”
“The part that goes on top. Here.”
I fixed the mast to the topmost portion of the pirate ship.
“Daddy, look. The track goes together here.”
My champion puzzle-maker was right.
“Katie, that’s really smart. Good job. Let’s see how to do the rest of it.”
We set up the rest of the track. There were a few long plastic arms that didn’t seem to fit anywhere.
“What about these, Katie?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
“Me either. Let’s think about it.”
We both looked at the half-completed structure in silence. Then I had an idea.
“Look, Katie. This one goes here.”
“You’re right, Daddy.”
Then one of the arms connected and made a support for the other.
“That’s it, Daddy!”
As I enjoyed our success building together, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew we couldn’t completely rebuild her toy. It wasn’t that it was broken, precisely. It was incomplete and destined to remain so. That’s why the pirate train could never be put together again.
Realizing that the same thing had happened to our family, a shudder went through me. I couldn’t put our home or my marriage back together, either. It didn’t matter what I did. I didn’t have all the pieces. Our old life was gone and more for my daughter than myself, I grieved. I was the one who filed for divorce and I still believe that I had to do it, that there was no other choice. But that didn’t make it easier.
Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments that you feel real, powerful grief when your child is present with you and you cannot show it. It takes every ounce of restraint you possess.
Sometimes, if we can learn from their unique form of wisdom our children lead the way. This was my daughter Katie. Her attitude was constructive. Absolutely, she wanted to build the entire train. She regretted that we couldn’t do so. But she has enjoyed playing with the mostly-finished structure for weeks. She didn’t regret, she just moved forward. She epitomized determination.
I may be a dummy, but watching her I knew she was showing me exactly how to move on and that I had the internal resources to do it.
“Besides, Daddy, maybe Santa will bring me something better for Christmas.”
“He just might, Katie. Christmas is only a couple of months away.”
Hope for the future that has every reason to be better than the past, no matter what is behind you. That’s what my daughter taught me. I hope I can teach her half as much.

How Parenthood Changed My View of Scary Movies

When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

When my two best friends wanted to put together a movie date to see IT, I jumped at the chance to have a girl’s day without my eight-month-old son in tow. Brunch and besties? Yes, please! Plus, it’s almost Halloween, so I figured a scary movie – albeit one based on a book I’ve never read, but by an author I enjoy – was seasonally appropriate.

I wasn’t expecting to walk out of the theater unable to stop crying, but that’s what happened.

I’ve been sensitive to creepy movies and books since I was a kid, but over the past decade or so, I’ve grown to enjoy certain “scary” movies. The Cabin in the Woods pleasantly surprised me in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore in that genre. El Orfanato is deliciously creepy from start to finish. And as far as Stephen King goes, Carrie nails it.

But it’s been a while since things that go bump in the night had the capacity to reduce me into a whimpering mess. What’s different?

I have my own kid now, that’s what’s different. When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

Obviously I’m not afraid of a homicidal clown like the one in the movie, but the biological instinct to protect my kid at all costs flooded my body in a way I’ve never experienced before. When I made it home after IT, I put the question to Facebook. Who else felt like this switch had flipped once they became a parent?

I was floored to discover how many parents, mostly women, have experienced this same shift. It’s as though we’re completely incapable of separating ourselves from the fictional narratives. I was flooded with responses like these from other parents:

  • “For several years after my child was born, any movie/show where the kid was the target of violence or terror just made me ill.”
  • “I can’t deal with anything involving children being harmed in any fashion.”
  • “I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my kid after [seeing IT].”
  • “When Georgie goes out to play in the rain alone, it gave me so much anxiety.”

And so on.

Even my aunt, a nurse of many years, admitted that she had to leave bedside nursing in the oncology ward after she had her three sons. She explained that “the death and difficult disease process were too much to bear after having my own children.”

If somone who faces death and decay on a daily basis felt the same trauma I felt when caught unaware, I knew this guttural reaction went deeper. Dr. Keith Humphreys, psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care, confirmed my suspicions.

“We’re pretty deeply programmed as humans to love and protect our children,” says Dr. Humphreys. “If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have survived as a species for so long.”

He goes on to explain that fathers, as well as mothers, are susceptible to this same reaction after becoming parents. Part of this is due to basic biological survival mechanisms, but he suspects it’s also due in part to our overexposure to violence in the media.

“It’s still tough for people because the media knows that stories about children being harmed are eye-catching,” confirms Dr. Humphreys. “It’s common to open a newspaper and see that every day they have another ‘horrible thing that happened to a kid’ story. It’s a way to manipulate you. That’s very upsetting, but it’s hard not to click on it. And that’s what causes anxiety. A lot of parents find it really challenging because you can’t avoid that. You can avoid horror movies – just don’t go to see them.”

This protective reaction isn’t universal. Dr. Humphreys says that even non-parents can be affected in the same way when faced with children in vulnerable situations, and some parents are better equipped to separate themselves from the fantasy.

I don’t think it’s masochistic [to still enjoy scary movies as a parent],” says Dr. Humphreys. “Some people are able to.”

After IT, I decided to test this theory by watching movies I’d seen before that I knew included violence (or implied/attempted violence) towards children in various situations. The Shining. Room. The VVITCH.

What I found was that I was better able to stomach violent images that I’d seen before. My mind had already witnessed these atrocities; I was prepared, albeit still disgusted. I didn’t “enjoy” them, but I avoided the involuntary reflex to protect.

That’s why I think IT affected me so badly. Watching a child succumb to Pennywise’s manipulations made me nauseous. It’s a worst nightmare come to life, it’s reality cloaked in fantasy. It’s masterful. It’s merciless.

This instinct isn’t rooted in weakness, it’s a testament to the power of parental love. If the price I have to pay for being a parent is an inability to digest horrifying imagery like this, I’ll happily skip seeing mother! and keep Hocus Pocus on repeat for every Halloween season to come.

(P.S. My friends, who are non-parents, felt really bad. I still love you guys!)

7 CrAzy Things That Might Happen If You Leave Dad Alone With the Kids

When Mom’s away, the kids will play, and Dad – well, he’ll be in for a wild day! When he’s in charge anything goes!

When Mom’s away, the kids will play, and Dad – well, he’ll be in for a wild day! Mom’s usually the one who has it all figured out: she grocery shops, she cooks, she works, and she plays. She knows all the kids’ schedules, when they got their last round of vaccines, and their favorite fruit. She has the numbers to the pediatrician, the teacher, and the babysitter on speed dial and she always knows when to call the nurse line and when to rush into urgent care.
Dad, well, he’s another story. And when he’s in charge anything goes! Check out the CrAzY things that might happen when you leave dad alone with the kids:

1 | Dad might make the kids a WiLd breakfast …

That’s well balanced and nutrient rich because he’s a grown up whose been feeding himself since he went off to college and feeding the kids since they began eating solids. No cold cereals here – this guy prefers to make his kids a hot breakfast that will give them the fuel they need to learn, grow and play!

2 | Dad might dress the kids in WaCkY outfits …

Because they’re going to be playing hard all day and he doesn’t want to get any of their smocked overalls or dresses to dirty. After all, next week is picture day at school and he wants to make sure all their good clothes are ready!

3 | Dad might be ShOcKeD by a dirty diaper …

Because babies make amazingly huge dirty diapers that would shock the pants off of any caretaker. He’ll change it without complaint though – dirty to clean in less than 45 seconds, because that what parents do.

4 | Dad might take the kids on a CrAzY adventure …

Like to the park, the playground, or the museum because he knows their interests and is committed to spending quality time with them. He also wants to be the one to help them develop a lifelong love of being active, introduce them to new games, and open their eyes to new ideas.

5 | Dad might let the house turn into a HuGe mess …

Because he understands that kids are only little once and that the laundry can wait. Sometimes, it takes making messes to make memories. Don’t worry though – he’ll pick everything up after the kids are in bed.

6 | Dad might not know how to respond when the kids ask him some BiG questions …

So he’ll let them know that he’s got to think about his answer. He’ll do a little research, consult his buddy who happens to be a family therapist, and circle back with his kids when he feels confident about what he wants to say.

7 | Dad might struggle his way though bedtime …

Because that shit’s just hard. But, once the kids are finally still and quiet, he’ll probably stand in their doorway wondering how they got so big so quickly. Then he’ll get to cleaning up that mess from earlier.

No Son of Mine…

Before I broadly bash modern-day childrearing, allow me to point a finger squarely at the mirror. I do not want my son to follow in my flawed footsteps.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

My wife and I, both 36, are expecting our first child, a boy, this coming April. Our emotions are a mix of joy and fear, enthusiasm and pause, hope and anxiety. We are simultaneously awaiting the greatest gift of our lives and bracing for a sleep-depriving time bomb to explode. We’ve been told, repeatedly and at length, that this is perfectly normal.

The logistical preparation is worry-free: The baby’s room has been determined, most of the furniture selected, and our soon-to-be son’s three living grandparents reside within babysitting distance. Check, check, and check.

That leaves the longer-term question of how to go about actually raising this kid. And with less than four months to go, I – uber-opinionated me, who often writes op-eds that read more like papal encyclicals – am completely void of any ideas toward a comprehensive parenting strategy.

I don’t even know where to start. Besides seeming overwhelming in general, the process of combining broad, proven parenting practices with subjective, far more personalized principles has no defined, logical point of commencement.

Rather, I find myself in a pre-planning phase – certainly remedial, hopefully helpful – with which, I hope, other formerly expecting parents can sympathize. Specifically, I have strong feelings about what type of parent I don’t want to be.

Before I broadly bash the hellscape of shoddy modern-day childrearing, allow me to point a finger squarely at the mirror. I do not want my son to follow in my flawed footsteps. Motherless since age three, I was raised by a father from a broken, alcoholic home, one who struggled mightily at parenting for lack of example. I grew up angry, afraid, and alone. The result was a 20-something man-child with untreated depression, anxiety disorder, and, eventually, alcoholism.

As it stands, my four years of sobriety does not a role model make. In terms of sound parenting practices, the only valuable takeaway is a solemn determination that no son of mine will replay the mistreated, misguided, and altogether miserable childhoods of his father and grandfather before him.

That leaves me looking out into the world around me for input, and I can’t say I’m in love with what I’m seeing.

Me Me Me first

The most obvious and immediate subject matter is Generation Y. Though it seems like tiresome target practice to pile on the already much-maligned Millennials, the set of young adults a decade or so my junior is, quite simply, the latest and therefore freshest crop of humanoids available to fully showcase parental handiwork. I can’t judge the parents of a ten-year-old because… well… the kid’s 10 for God’s sake.

To retread all traits good and bad associated with Gen Y is unfair in its generalization, and unhelpful in its inconclusive verdict. I’ve alternately liked and disliked Millennials displaying a range of opposing tendencies: some lazy, others diligent; some cookie-cutter, others creative; some wise beyond their years, others 25-year-old children with checkbooks.

But far above all others, one trait is shared by the vast majority of Millennials I’ve known: self-absorption. And though self-absorption is certainly nothing new to our American way of life – Baby Boomers, after all, were given the moniker “The Me Generation” in the 1960s – there’s a reason that, two years ago, Time magazine titled its Gen Y cover story “The Me Me Me Generation.”

When such a trait is so overwhelmingly found among young adults, it is almost certainly the result of broad, sign-of-the-times parenting. This is nurture, not nature.

Millennials are the result of an extreme, low-altitude form of helicopter parenting buttressed with perpetual, dubiously warranted praise. They are the participation trophy generation – an undeservedly confident set that, far too often, never learned what their special talents were because, they were told, they were so damn good at everything.

Self-esteem – liking oneself, flaws and all – is healthy; self-assuredness – pompous confidence in one’s own supremacy despite clear signs to the contrary – is not, because that mindset doesn’t foster a hunger for knowledge and personal growth that, for example, any 22-year-old recent college graduate should exude. No son of mine is going to enter the real world thinking he knows everything, or that he’s special to anyone except his family, because making him think otherwise would set him up for a series of avoidable rude awakenings.

All-consumering

Especially in their adolescent years, Millennials also were shaped by the Internet, social media, and on-demand entertainment, each perpetually available through requisite gadgetry like smartphones and iPads. As technology gets increasingly and exponentially sophisticated, those growing up behind Gen Y – my son’s generation – will experience ubiquitous, potentially inescapable connectivity in ways we’re only beginning to see take shape. It already seems too inundating – too noisy, too disruptive, too constant – and it’s only going to get more saturating.

Some of the parental pitfalls associated with this cyber-omnipotence are already common knowledge. Bullying is no longer limited to playgrounds, while violent and pornographic content is far too accessible to impressionable youths.

What worries me just as much is the expansion of consumerism – or, rather, its expanded meaning. Today’s consumerism isn’t just a frenzied collection of extraneous, superfluous items, but also a frenzied collection of extraneous, superfluous experiences. Smartphones, iPads, social media, and 500 channels of mostly mindless television combine to form a fool’s paradise where no one ever has to be bored for a single second.

We’ve all seen stories about the best ideas coming in the shower. Undoubtedly, an important factor is that the shower is one of the few remaining times we’re actually disconnected for 10 consecutive minutes… at least until someone, inevitably, invents an iShower.

This isn’t only eating away at attention spans, but fueling the unattractive notion that we somehow deserve to be entertained 24/7 – that the world should cater to us, at our beck and call. No son of mine is going to feel so entitled that he can’t stomach sitting silent for five minutes. Patience is a virtue I wish I possessed in far more plentiful reserve.

True or false?

Adding to my concern about the ever-present media is its ever-declining content.

Any reasonably-responsible parent can warn their kids that, for example, what they read on the Internet isn’t necessarily true. It’s easy to communicate that the World Wide Web has opened the door for anyone to become a blogger, and that some people online, just like some people in real life, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Today’s media landscape requires far more than such a standard disclaimer. We live in a bitterly partisan society divided not only by differing opinions but, to an extent unprecedented in modern times, by facts and morality. Settled science like climate change and evolution is somehow disputed. Bigotry and racism are not only tolerated but encouraged.

The media is fully complicit. Under the guise of telling “both sides” of any given story, news outlets give weight – sometimes inadvertently, but often purposefully – to things that simply aren’t true. The result is a free-for-all where even reasonably intelligent adults are either hoodwinked or, equally dangerous, disgusted to the point where they completely disengage, abandoning responsibilities of informed citizenry such as voting, protesting, and supporting worthy causes.

This essay has no clean conclusion; that was never the point. Hopefully, it at least provides a few counterpoints – some bad examples and unhealthy trends for me to be mindful of as my baby becomes a boy, my boy a young man. For now, “I’ll do my best” is the best I can offer.

No son of mine will have a father who doesn’t, at least, try.

This was originally published January 2016 in The Good Men Project.

Top 10 'Must Haves' for First Time Dads

This list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life.

There was shit all over the walls of our one-bedroom New York City apartment. My two-week-old son managed to simultaneously pee all over me and poop on our crisp, white, living room walls.
Aside from being somewhat impressed, I immediately realized that I was an unprepared and overwhelmed first-time parent. If you’ve ever seen the State Farm commercial where the main character keeps repeating “I’m never… (insert random life event here)” – that is basically me.
Marriage and parenthood have been the best experiences of my life. Our son was born a year ago and, after countless of sleepless nights, ‘learning experiences,’ and unnecessary doctor visits, my wife and I have at last become familiar with the territory.
Admittedly, I assumed but did not know what to expect. Today’s your lucky day, though, because this list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life:

1 | Birthing classes

My wife was a marketing director prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her ability to plan for the future keeps our little family in check and prepared. One of the most important things she did before our son’s arrival was to sign us up for a birthing class.
We were lucky enough to have an energetic instructor whose ability to combine Enrique Iglesias’s “Greatest Hits” with Lamaze breathing techniques kept us constantly entertained. You can only imagine the look on our faces as the yoga-pant wearing, granola eating, tenured nurse of 30 years straddled her living room coffee table illustrating how to squat and deliver a baby.
Not only did the classes bring us together in a comical and very informative way, but we were prepared for every step of the birth process.

2 | Photos

Leading up to the birth of our son, we basically relived our childhoods through pictures. Our families did not hesitate to share every photo of our youth that had ever been taken. Looking at our priceless memories made me realize how important it would be to create our own to share with our son someday.
Whether it’s a camera phone or a DSLR, just make sure that you capture all the moments you can. I captured my wife’s pregnancy and made a great photo book memento. I’m also compiling an album to share my son’s embarrassing photos when he brings his first significant other home to meet us.
Disclaimer: If your wife screams at you to get the camera out of her face while she is in labor, don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to take pictures instead. Your spouse may want to kill you then, but reliving the moment that your child came into the world is unreal.

3 | Prepared hospital bags

‘Essential’ doesn’t even begin to describe this one. Below is my recommended checklist when planning for a stay in a maternity ward. Of course, you’ll probably think of other things I may have missed.
Changes of clothes
Cell phones and chargers
Snacks
Pillow
Candy for the nurses
Medication (if applicable)
Anything you need to make the delivery room special for your wife (candles, pillows, pictures, etc.)
Toiletries
Safe car seat if you’re driving your baby home
Camera
For those driving to the hospital, I would also recommend looking into the parking situation and pricing.

4 | Scheduled date nights

It’s important to make time for your relationship. It’s hard not to feel bad leaving your little one behind, but it’s worse to forget about each other. A strong bond with your spouse will help during the stressful times. The first few weeks after childbirth can feel like your freedom is gone. It’s not gone, it’s just a change – a “new-normal.”
My mother-in-law actually kicked my wife and I out of our apartment to go on one date a week after our son arrived. Except for the tears during the appetizers, it was great.

5 | Dad-ready apparel

My son loves to be walked in his stroller, so a good pair of sneakers was key. Don’t forget you’re going to be carrying your child everywhere.
You’ll also spend a lot of time celebrating moments in your child’s life. Spruce up your wardrobe while you don’t feel bad about spending on yourself. Whether for a religious event or work, a well-tailored suit is always a must-have.

6 | Sense of humor

There will be a lot of serious moments to come. Stay light-hearted and enjoy this special time in your child’s life.
One of my favorite memories came after our son turned a week old. He was having trouble sleeping and woke us up almost every hour for a 48-hour period. We were mentally drained and feeling the physical effects of sleep deprivation. My buddy had given my son a large stuffed bear, so we decided it was time they were introduced. James’s expression was priceless, and the laughter gave us the ability to power through the pain.

7 | Baby gear

After gallivanting around the city at our own leisure for five years, we immediately started to feel caged in our small apartment. Within the first few weeks, my wife and I knew we had to get outside. Our son was born in July, so we were able to take advantage of the summer weather.
I highly suggest a convertible stroller with a snap-in car seat. It’s important to check the weight of the stroller and safety rating. At the end of the day, the stroller should be as comfortable for you as it is for your baby because it will be a constant staple in your life for awhile. Take the time to test-drive a few around the store to determine what works best for you.

8 | Defined responsibilities

My wife and I quickly assumed different roles taking care of our little guy. For us, this was a natural process because we both realized our specialties rather quickly and how they fit in with my work schedule. It’s absolutely crucial that you are there for each other.
If you haven’t done so already, learn to recognize your partner’s ‘breaking-points’ and be prepared to step in to allow for some much needed sleep or a chance to just step away for a minute to take a breath. The first month is a test of true endurance.

9 | A good doctor

This is a big one. During pregnancy, it’s paramount that you and your significant other find a pediatrician for your baby. Lots of pediatricians have scheduled meeting times or take appointments for interviews. I’d suggest meeting with a few different practices before selecting the best fit for your family.
Remember, you will spend quite a bit of time with your doctor in the first year of your baby’s life, so you need to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to take care of your child. Below are several items to think about when selecting a doctor:
What are the hours of the practice?
Does the practice have scheduled times for newborn visits?
Does the practice isolate the newborn and family from other patients when waiting for appointments? (This is important since your child’s immune system will be weak early on.)
Does the practice take your health insurance?
How long has the doctor been practicing?
What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Will the doctor be visiting your child after birth in the hospital?
Are there other doctors in the practice, and are you comfortable/confident with them?
What are the doctor’s philosophical beliefs about child-raising (e.g. thoughts on breastfeeding or vaccinations), and do they align with yours?
Is the doctor specialized in any particular area, and does this align with any known needs for your child?
What is the on-call procedure at the practice?
Make sure to examine the cleanliness, wait time, and upkeep of the office to ensure they align with your standards.
How far is the office from where you live? Is the location of the office convenient/accessible in the event of an emergency?

10 | Patience

Let’s get real. While it’s a wonderful experience, having a child can be very stressful. When things get tough, take a breath and remember that these moments are fleeting. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help when you’ve reached your physical or mental limit.
I’m a strong believer that your child feeds off of and reacts to your energy, so you need to be confident and relaxed. If you have the support of family, don’t hesitate to ask for their assistance when you feel your patience running thin.
I hope this list helps as you begin your journey into fatherhood. When you think things are stressful, just remember, in 17 years your son or daughter will be asking for the keys to your car.
Please share your must-haves in the comment section below!

How My Relationship With My Father Influenced My Tenacity

Maybe he was never home because his work was the main thing putting a roof over our heads. He didn’t speak English, nor did he have a college degree.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It’s almost eight months since the day my father passed away. By that point, we weren’t really speaking to one another. We were more like neighbors under the same roof. Two weeks before he died, my growing tumor turned out to be curable. It was also his birthday.
Who knew two Tuesday’s later he wouldn’t come home?
That’s the thing. No one knows why people die. Death just happens. What you take from it is what matters, because the grief will always be there.
The day he passed, I struggled to eat. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t cry. I was just numb. I still feel numb.
How do you differentiate between the determination to do nothing but prove someone wrong and the determination to carry out someone’s legacy after he passes away? I didn’t have anyone to speak to about this. I found myself in a unique situation. I was angry at my father but wanted no one to forget his name.
He had a machista type of attitude. He was a guy’s guy who, while not the best husband, was a good father. Watching the dynamic between him and my mother throughout my childhood and after moving back home affected my view of him. He never showed emotion other than pure joy, so I sympathized more with my mom. Also, as a workaholic, he often wasn’t home.
I never cared to consider that maybe he was never home because his work was the main thing putting a roof over our heads. He didn’t speak English, nor did he have a college degree. He had diabetes and his leg had been amputated. But he was a man’s man, and he took on everyone’s burdens anyway, including my mother’s fifth and most recent battle with cancer and my two-year journey to find a cure for my health troubles.
I saw how hard he worked. I saw how much pride he took in every little thing my siblings and I achieved in our academic and professional careers. Even though I have a completely different personality than his, it is all based on things I learned from him.
I always called my father out on everything. I never took no for an answer. I always spoke my truth, which was different from his. That, in itself, is where my tenacity comes from.
Left with so many unanswered questions after his death, I sometimes get angry for not being angry with him anymore. There are so many things he could’ve done better. As much as I prayed for our relationship to get better, I think there was always some ray of sunlight that shined through its cracks.
I am not a parent yet, but I know the invisible shield of confidence that comes from a parent reminding you of your worth. There is no such thing as saying “You can do it” or “I love you” too many times. As tough as things may get, your kids remember everything.
Because of my father, I work hard. He not only shaped my career ambitions, but my personal ambitions as well. I’ve made myself a promise to not get married or bring a child into this world  until I can do everything my father did for me as a child.
My goals are big. I can thank my father for that.