Heather Shumaker: Kids Need to Take Risks

We talked to author Heather Shumaker (“It’s OK Not to Share” and “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide) about the difference between danger and risk for teens online.

Heather Shumaker is the author of “It’s OK Not to Share,” and “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide,” which was published last month. She has added her voice to a chorus of mental health professionals and free-range parenting advocates who all assert that children benefit from being allowed the room to fall, fail, and otherwise experience pain. We spoke with Heather about the difference between danger and risk, and how this idea applies to tweens venturing into the online realm.


PARENT CO: I was intrigued by your post on the Daily Beast (Yes, Let Your Kids Talk to Strangers), and it got me thinking all sorts of things about what you call “healthy risks.” It almost sounds like an oxymoron.

HEATHER SHUMAKER: I think that parents are mixing up danger and risk. We think risk is something that’s going to hurt our kids, but risk is completely different than danger, or getting hurt. Risk is taking a chance, and trying something, and extending yourself. Sometimes in order to grow and change, and get that healthy life that we want for our kids, it doesn’t mean playing it 100% safe; it means taking some things that are reasonable risks, healthy risks.

In order to be a living, mortal person that’s going to be who they can be, we have to take some risks and sometimes get skinned knees. We protect kids a lot from the social and emotional risks, and some of that is just from the fear that they’ll get their feelings hurt, or that they will feel sorrow, or that they might be temporarily scared.

I agree that we overprotect our kids from the emotional injuries that are just going to happen to any human. Do you see that inclination coming from our own unresolved traumas or wounds, from our own childhood?

When I speak around the country I ask a room full of people, how many of you had all of your feelings accepted as a child? In a room of about 200, maybe two people or one person will raise their hand. For most of us, it doesn’t have to do with the traumas in our life, it has to do with the fact that we were not taught how to cope emotionally with all the feelings that come: What to do with our anger, how to resolve conflicts, what to do when we’re feeling sad. We need our parents or older people to guide us when we have these big huge feelings. Happiness can be a big huge feeling, but usually the ones parents have trouble accepting are the negative ones.

Anger, sorrow, frustration, jealousy; all those difficult feelings are ones that we don’t tend to have accepted, so then we don’t have emotional coping skills. All we know is that it hurts. We’re trying to protect our kids from that kind of hurt. When you have the coping skills to deal with these big emotions, sure being sad or being angry is not pleasant, but you know you can get through it, you know what you can do to get yourself out of it.

The really key thing that we, as adults, need to recognize is that all the feelings are okay, but all the behavior isn’t. You can be mad, but you can’t hit your brother. Accept the feeling, but limit the behavior. We often don’t separate them, we just go, “Why did you hit your brother?”

I think that’s such an important distinction to make. I’m constantly reminding myself of that. I’m hyper-aware of allowing my kids to feel all the things, but I still have to remind myself to differentiate for my children between the behavior and the action.

Right. Then to find the appropriate outlets for them. Actually my first book “It’s Okay Not To Share,” has a huge section on emotions, and emotional expression, and separating the behavior from the feelings. I think that once that foundation is in a family then you can more comfortably move on to this concept of healthy risk. Otherwise it’s too scary.

I’m curious what you think it is – either in your background or research you’ve done – that’s enabled you to trust in the relative safety of what you’re calling healthy risks?

UpTheSlideIt’s the way I was brought up. For me it’s second nature. I don’t have to get over the fear as much as other people do. I can see the fear around me and I understand that living with fear is a very difficult thing. It stresses us as adults, it stresses the kids, too. For example, my father when we were outside taking a walk in the woods, he was constantly encouraging us to balance on logs, or jump over streams, and try to jump over streams at the widest part we could. Sometimes we’d slip and get wet.

He taught us how to run down hills, and to fall. He’d say, “You’re going to fall so here’s how you fall safely so you don’t get hurt. You tuck yourself in and roll with it.” Just that attitude of assuming there will be knocks and bumps in life, you can make that a metaphor for all sorts of things.

You also talk about this notion of teaching kids to listen to their instincts more; to trust their gut feeling about people and situations.

We do, as humans, have this survival instinct, and some of these ideas are coming from Gavin de Becker, who wrote “The Gift of Fear.” I cite his work in “It’s Okay to Go to Up the Slide.” One of the things he talks about is developing those street smarts, and relying on that instinct of,“Uh-oh, something’s not right.”

(In cases of) sexual abuse, people talk about that “uh-oh” feeling. It doesn’t feel right, even though (the abuser) is telling you, “It’s our private game and it’s okay.” Your stomach is telling you it’s not right.

Listening to that (feeling) is much better safety training – for us to help our kids tune into that voice – then it is to just lock them inside and not let them play in the front yard by themselves.

Even just having your child interact, having him or her ask the librarian the question instead of you asking the question. Having them interact at the grocery store with the check-out clerk. Maybe the check out clerk who has down syndrome, and is bagging the groceries. Lots of interactions, that’s how kids pick things up.

They’ll notice what’s different, and they might ask you questions about it. Having exposure and experience is the only way that anybody can gain and hone this kind of skill. We all have it, but it gets sharper if we practice.

What if my son is saying, “I’m too shy to ask if I can pet that stranger’s dog.” How do you know when to actually push a kid to do something he doesn’t want to do?

You don’t know, but let’s take the dog example. A lot of kids are fascinated by dogs, and they really do want to pet the dog. If they want you to do it for them, you can make a judgement call on that particular day. Maybe it’s a day that they’re feeling a little bit off, and you want to say the sentence for them, “Can we pet your dog?” If everything is going well, and the child is well-fed, and well-rested, and they really want to do this, you can say, “I will stand right next to you. I will be there with you when you ask.” That moral support is enormous, because what the child is doing is taking a social risk. Taking social risks can be huge for some kids.

Speaking of risks, we’re preparing a series of posts about tweens, sex, and social media. Can you talk about the risks versus the real dangers posed by social media, specifically.

Pornography and taking advantage of kids sexually, that is a danger. The risk is if the child’s on the computer and social media, they would be exposed to that danger.

Do you have any thoughts on applying your methods, if you will, to the tween generation and specifically the online world?

It’s complicated. You’ve got to be talking about these things – big topic, important topics – continually. Not every single moment, but also not one big talk when your child is 12. It’s a gradual process. If that’s something that you’ve been doing, or able to start doing, the child has a lot more knowledge and awareness of what dangers might be.

Also as far as social and emotional coping skills, I think that when a child ventures into the online world, I’m a big believer in you’ve got to have a foundation of real life skills first. If your child is having trouble resolving conflicts with her friends in real life when she’s 11, or whatever age, then they’re not ready for social media, because it makes it all harder when you can’t read the body language. You’ve got to have a strong foundation in what’s okay and how to treat people well in real life.

As you’re talking I’m reminded of something you said about exposing kids to sadness and grief, and not necessarily shielding them completely from the news of the world. It seems to me this falls in that category. Americans tend to approach sex ed from a very glossed over, rather timid perspective. I think that contributes to the risks we’re talking about. Like you said, if you don’t have the basic knowledge then you can’t make informed choices.

Kids need to know the basic knowledge of how a baby is made, and they can start learning that when they’re two and three, because that’s usually when a second sibling is coming along, and there’s pregnancy in the house. It’s a perfectly natural time to talk about it, but then continue the conversation over time. Then lead on to the next thing.

Yes. We miss those opportunities sometimes out of our own fear. How would you advise someone who feels they’ve missed a bunch of opportunities, and now they have a 12-year-old who’s facing this new territory?

Assume that your child has accumulated quite a bit of misinformation. And it’s okay to acknowledge, “I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about this when your were little.” Then ask what he knows, because then you have a base of knowledge of what he knows, or what she knows. Then probably something will pop out that’s a little ridiculous; start by straightening those things out.

Just dive in, because kids are safer when they have information. My basic guideline with difficult topics, whether it’s a terrorist bombing in the news, or how babies are made, whatever the difficult topic is, if a child is old enough to ask, he’s old enough to get an honest answer.

It gets back to the idea of healthy risks. In general, kids take on as much risk as they can handle.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Conversation with Creators Susan and Refe Tuma

Parent Co. caught up with the creative parents behind the popular Dinovember books to hear what they had to say about living the Dinovember life.

Susan and Refe Tuma are the authors of the Dinovember books, including What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night and What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure.

Parent Co. caught up with the creative couple, parents to four children under the age of eight. Here’s what they had to say about living the Dinovember life.

PARENT CO: The photographs in the Dinovember books are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Your dinos blow the Elf on the Shelf and the Mensch on a Bench away by miles, in my opinion, and also provide a secular option that allows any family to get in on the fun previously reserved for specific religious holidays (albeit tangentially, as much as such a product can be considered for “religious” purposes). Can you describe the genesis of Dinovember?

via Dinovember.tumblr.com

REFE TUMA: When our son was an infant, he had some minor health problems that kept him up at night for hours. Two years into this, Susan and I were exhausted. We’d get up in the morning and have nothing left for our older kids, and they were starting to notice. We needed some way to reconnect with them.

One night, after putting the kids to bed, we came across a box of dinosaur toys. On a whim, Susan decided to set them up on the bathroom sink and give them the kids’ toothbrushes. We figured it might give the kids a laugh in the morning. We went to bed without thinking much more about it.

The next morning, our daughter burst into our room and pulled us out of bed. The dinosaurs had come to life and she had caught them brushing their teeth! Her reaction was so unexpected and priceless. That’s when we knew the dinosaurs would have to come to life again. And they did, for the entire month of November.


via Dinovember.tumblr.com

PC: A Pinterest search for “Dinovember” ideas yields seemingly endless results. How did the month-long family activity become an Internet sensation and two-book deal with Little, Brown?

RT: In 2012, the very first year the dinosaurs came to life, we started taking pictures of the messes they were making. We put a few on Facebook for friends and family, and jokingly called it Dinovember. Everyone enjoyed it, and they were a bit of an inside joke.

In 2013, the dinosaurs returned—and we found out that our kids weren’t the only ones interested in what they were doing. Friends and family started sharing the photos, and on top of that our kids were telling anyone who would listen all about their crazy dinosaurs. We wanted an easy way to explain what on earth our kids were so excited about, so I wrote a quick essay describing what Dinovember was and what it was about and posted it on a new site, medium.com. I figured, whenever someone asked us what our kids were talking about we could point them to that essay and the photos, and it would make a little more sense.

Instead, Welcome to Dinovember was read [on Medium] more than 2 million times in 24 hours. It was syndicated by the Huffington Post and the story was picked up by the Washington Post, Metro UK, and others. I started getting emails from literary agents and editors who wanted to talk about expanding the essay into a full-length photo book. We were in complete shock (and excited out of our minds!).

We wanted to make two books, one for the adults who had started following along with Dinovember, and one just for kids. John Parsley at Little Brown shared our vision and, along with our wonderful agents Liz Farrell and Kristyn Keene, helped orchestrate a deal with Little Brown and Co. and children’s imprint Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

PC: From what I understand, your family’s home is truly the scene of the crime in these photos. What’s the worst mess the dinosaurs ever made?

SUSAN TUMA: That really is our house! As for the worst mess—the dinosaurs once created an avalanche from our refrigerator’s ice-maker. It stood 4’ tall and 3’ wide and took over 750 lbs. of ice. It’s in one of the final photos of What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, but we also have a photo of two of our kids sledding down it. It was that big.

PC: Setting up the dinosaur scenes and seeing your kids’ reactions must be so fun. Who does the clean up?

ST: Not the dinosaurs, unfortunately—if only we’d gone with robots!

The kids will often play with whatever the dinosaurs got into the night before, so a lot of the clean-up during Dinovember isn’t all that different from any other month; if the dinosaurs do crafts, the kids do them too. It’s a mess either way. (Of course, if spray paint or broken eggs are involved, it’s going to be mom and dad doing the cleaning.)

PC: The Dinovember books are very art-forward, but they also tell a story. Can you describe the story writing process? Who does the writing? What’s the most important message the books send?

via Dinovember.tumblr.com
via Dinovember.tumblr.com

ST: We truly work together on every step of the process. That’s one of the benefits of doing projects like these with your spouse—we live this stuff together. Refe started out doing most of the writing since that’s a big part of his background, and I (Susan) took the lead early on in the photography department. Now there isn’t quite as much distinction—it’s almost entirely collaborative. It’s just more fun that way. We have different approaches, and so often one person’s idea is refined or informed by the other’s. It actually brings out the better work from both of us.

Our books are definitely about the importance of childhood imagination; the spark and the wonder of it.  We hope they’re also an invitation to parents to engage in that wonder as well, with their children.


PC: Do the kids still think the dinosaurs come alive at night, or do they know it’s you? How did you explain this to them and what was their reaction?

RT: It depends on which ones you ask! Our youngest two are aged 2 and 4, and they absolutely believe. Our oldest (8) is in on it now. She likes to help the dinosaurs out from time to time, and has come up with some great ideas. So far, our 7-year-old has chosen to keep playing along ;).

PC: What’s interesting to me is how you created a family tradition that was all your own—I think that’s what many of us parents want for our own families. It’s more meaningful than a commercialized product bought at a store ever could be. What did Dinovember teach you as parents and as a family?

RT: I think we’ve learned that all good things in life are messy, especially when kids are involved. And that inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest places—even in a box of old toys.

Interview With Entrepreneur and Water Rights Advocate Jenneth Fleckenstein

An interview with Jenneth Fleckenstein of Clear Water Filtration about healthy home water and her advocacy work for clean water in Honduras and Haiti.

I recently traveled to an airplane hanger perched on the side of a mountain in Warren, Vermont.

I was there to chat with Jenneth Fleckenstein about her water treatment company, Clear Water Filtration. It’s housed in the hanger along with two of her family’s other businesses, Jim Parker Airshows, and Vacutherm.  The whole place felt like well-organized inventors lab.

I was there to learn more about common issues with home water treatment, Clear Water Filtration, and Jen’s ongoing advocacy work for clean water access in Honduras and Haiti.

jenneth fleckenstein

Edward Shepard for Parent Co 

Tell me where we are right now.

Jen: We’re Warren, Vermont, in an airplane hanger. I grew up about two miles north of here. My dad bought this hanger in the ’70s. He turned it into a variety of businesses, starting with a business around wood drying.

When he created that business, he found that the water supplying his machines was terrible. He found a water filter that worked. But when it broke, he figured out how to fix it. Word got out that he knew how to install and fix water filters, and that is how Clear Water started.

When you say the water was bad, what does that mean?

There was a lot of mineral content in the water. There was hardness, which is calcium carbonate. There was iron in the water. All of those minerals were clogging up all the mechanicals of the machine. He needed to make the water better for the process he was inventing for drying lumber.

When somebody has hard water, where does that come from. The earth or the pipes?

From the ground water. With the hydrologic cycle, as the rain precipitates down, it percolates down through the layers of soil and rock, and as it does that, it picks up minerals from the different layers.

Then, when it collects in aquifers, which is what we drill into when we drill a well, all of that dissolved mineral content comes with the water that we pump into our house.

Jen and Mark Fleckenstein
Jen and her twin brother Jim Parker in Warren, Vermont.


Tell me more about Clear Water Filtration.

At Clear Water Filtration, we install and service water treatment equipment throughout Vermont, for residential and commercial applications. We improve residential, commercial water quality.

ClearWaterFLogo4C_ClearWe do that by testing the water, going into people’s homes or places of business, testing the water, free of charge, for a basic mineral content, or taking it a step further and analyzing it through a lab, to understand contaminants in the water.

Then we focus on finding the best solution to meet the needs of the customer.


What does somebody install in their home to improve their water?

Depending on what you’re removing, let’s say it’s hardness and iron, you can install what’s called a water softener, which is basically a big fiberglass tank, and it is filled with a resin media, and it goes through a process called ion exchange where it takes the calcium and the iron out of the water and exchanges it for a sodium ion or a potassium ion.

Otherwise, your boiler or water heater will become inefficient from calcium scaling. It even reduces it at your faucet head.

Meanwhile, people who are on city water – who don’t usually have to worry about high mineral content –  instead have to deal with drinking chlorinated water or chloraminated water.

What’s the difference between those?

Chlorine versus chloramine, Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia bonded together. They use chloramine as a disinfectant because it’s more stable in distribution. It doesn’t produce what are called disinfection byproducts.

Chloramine and chlorine are perfectly acceptable ways of disinfecting water to protect against bacterial contamination.

However, once it reaches your home, you don’t need it anymore. It can be removed so that you’re not drinking it or showering in it.

Chlorine smells terrible. To me, it seems like you don’t want to drink too much chlorine.

Yeah, you don’t. Chlorine, frankly, has been linked as a carcinogen. It’s not that stable in terms of being a disinfectant with big municipal supply so that it can break down, and it can produce what are called haloacetic acids or trihalomethanes, which are carcinogens.

They are known carcinogens, and those are tested for, typically, in the distribution so you would know if they’re there.

Chlorine, as a disinfecting agent, has been used forever. It is monitored, heavily. They know how much is in the water, but it is not something you want to be drinking.

It’s not good for us, so you can remove it once it reaches the home. It’s easy to do.

When you go to somebody’s home, and you test, let’s say, what are the things you typically find? Water in the country must be quite different than water in the city. 

Well, we find a wide variety of things. Calcium is very prevalent. Iron is very prevalent. We’ve found that people are experiencing high levels of sulfur, which is that rotten egg smell that you can detect.

We constantly get calls from people who have that odor in their water. We see that a lot.

Can you remove that?

Yes. Then we also see high levels of arsenic and radionuclides, and occasionally people have total coliform hits, which is pretty simple to take care of and remediate.

What is that?

Total coliform is a form of bacteria. Most municipalities inject chlorine to combat it, but some people who are selling a home, for example, have to take a total coliform sample, to prove that the water is safe for consumption. Occasionally, they get a hit, and they say “Oh, my gosh, I have bacteria in my water. Now, what do I do?” There are a number of ways we can solve that.

Child drinking glass of fresh water

What are some things that you want people to know about water in their home?

I think that the most important thing that people can do with regards to their water is to test it, regularly. [su_pullquote align=”right”]I think that the most important thing that people can do with regards to their water is to test it, regularly. [/su_pullquote]

People are starting to swing towards wanting to have a better understanding of their water supply and what they are feeding their families and pets and domestic animals. Testing is number one. This schedule gives you a base line of what is coming into your home:

  • Let us come in and take a basic mineral test. You then know what your water is made up of.
  • We also recommend an additional test for bacteria annually, especially if you are on a well.
  • Test for arsenic every three years.
  • Test for radionuclides every three years.

Also, go into your basement and look at what you have going on down there. Where is your water coming from? How is it supplied? Knowing this is really important.

One thing that surprised me is what you said about how the water cycle changes. Your water supply will change, year to year.

Yeah, water is always changing. That is one thing that is tricky in our industry. We will go into a home, we will test the water, and get a full snapshot of what’s going on, and we will make a recommendation.

Then, let’s say in five years, they’ll call back. The taste, smell or even hardness has changed, and they don’t know where it’s coming from.

That’s because water is a natural element. It’s part of the earth. It’s always changing. There are environmental factors that play into that as well.

Not to be too fear-based, but I imagine water impurities or problems with the water are more serious in a smaller child, and a pet, even.

I was talking to a customer the other day who has horses. She was feeding the horses with water that had a lot of iron in it. So the horses refused to drink the water.

She didn’t know why. She kept bringing them water, piping it right to the barn, and the horses would totally reject it.

Then we came out, tested the water, and she had abnormally high levels of iron. She ended up having to develop another source, a surface water source that didn’t have as much mineral content. Immediately, they started to drink the water.

What about nitrates?

Yeah, definitely. That’s one thing we test for regularly. It’s a contaminate that can get into your drinking water supply, especially if you’re surrounded by farm land.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Nitrates in water can lead to something called blue baby syndrome.[/su_pullquote]

Nitrates in water can lead to something called blue baby syndrome, which is basically that the child’s skin will have a bluish tint. It’s a result of a lack of oxygen traveling through the blood.

Nitrates are something to definitely be aware if you are mixing formula and using a water supply that might have high levels of nitrate in it.

Let’s talk a little bit about that because a lot of people do rely on bottled water. Not just when they’re traveling, but at home. Costco sells it by the pallet. Or people buy the big five-gallon jug of water for their home or office.

There are so many elements of bottled water that concern me. One is that bottled water is municipal water. Bottled water is municipal water that goes through a variety of treatment processes and then is put into a plastic bottle.

The other thing that people don’t consider is the real consumption of water that goes into manufacturing and shipping the bottle. Gasoline requires two gallons of water to every one gallon of gas, so if you’re trucking water from one part of the country to another part of the country, you are using a massive amount of water. And making the plastic bottle itself requires a lot of water.

Read more about reducing water consumption in your home. 

My number one argument against bottled water is simply the hydrologic cycle. We all know what the hydrologic cycle is. It’s the water cycle. It’s how water continues to regenerate itself both on the ground and on the surface.

The hydrologic cycle exists on a massive scale, but then there is also these little localized hydrologic cycles.

For example, if we were pumping the water out of Lake Champlain and bottling it, then trucking it to California, we’re interrupting the hydrologic cycle that exists for that body of water. We are effectively removing the water that could be recaptured by the environment and used for the people that live here.

Plastic pollution sea

It’s gone. It’s totally off the grid.

That is my biggest pet peeve of bottled water. We have very, very precious ground water sources, and they have to be replenished by the hydrologic cycle.

If we remove and pump out the ground water and move it to a different place, we’ve lost the ability to recapture that water and keep it where it needs to be.

Tell me more about some of the water work you have done around the world.

In 2012, I traveled to Honduras with Pure Water for the World, which is a non-profit based in Vermont. Their focus is purely on safe drinking water, proper sanitation and hygiene education for very rural communities in both Honduras and Haiti.

We describe this program as WASH. It is an acronym for WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene.

We installed about 25 to 30 filters in homes. We got to observe how the staff, which is a local staff of Hondurans, interact with the beneficiaries and teach them about hand-washing practices and how to protect your water source so that you are not putting your goat next to your source, and you are not going to the bathroom next to your source. They simply don’t have the means to proper infrastructure for both drinking and cooking water and water for sanitation.

Since then, I have gone to Haiti a number of times. I became a board member, and now the Vice President of the board. It’s a huge passion.

Essentially, what Pure Water does is exactly what Clear Water does, except they’re doing it for people who have a critical need. It is a life or death matter for them.

What do you think people need to know about water in the world today? 

Water in the world today is scarce, and what we have, we are contaminating, really rapidly.

Read more about reducing water consumption in your home. 

My perspective is really about conservation and source protection. We need to be mindful about what we are putting on the ground because anything that we put in the ground is going to get into our water source, and we are going to have to treat it. We see it. Clear Water sees it every day.

We are not so much on the source development side regarding drilling wells or anything like that, but we see the aftermath of what’s coming into the home, both from a municipal supply or from a well. It starts with protecting the source and conserving what you have because we have a very, very limited supply.

What we have now is all we will ever get, and if we don’t protect it, we are done. We are done.

Earlier, we talked a lot about how your water may not be toxic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

What I pride our company on is that we don’t sell, we educate.

We go into a person’s home, and we explain, “There is your well. This is what your well pump does. This is your pressure tank. By the way, your pressure tank isn’t working. That needs to be replaced,” and then we focus on the testing.

Then we recommend what’s the best solution for that particular person’s goals. It’s often a global solutiuon. How can they improve the quality of the water in their home so that other processes of their home is also more efficient and improved? How can they keep their family as healthy as possible by drinking the water that they have available to them?

There is a bunch of filtering stuff around. What are the components of the home water filter by the way? For drinking water.

Typically, where the water comes into the home, it goes through a pressure tank. If you are on city water, you don’t have a pressure tank, but if you are addressing the working water of the home, it will usually go through a pre-filter which is like a canister filter, and that can have a variety of different types of filters in it.

Usually, it is for sediment, and then it will go through a valve, which is what is responsible for regulating what the filter, what the softener does.

Then, specifically for a drinking water system, you have a dedicated tap that is just for your drinking water, so at your sink, in your kitchen, you have your regular faucet that you are using for washing your hands or washing your dishes, but then you would have another faucet that is dedicated to your drinking water or even your cooking water, or making ice cubes, if that is how you’re doing it.

That system is much smaller, and it can go under your sink, or we can plumb it in your basement if you don’t want to take up space in your sink, and it’s portable, so if you move or if it’s a rental, you can take the drinking water system with you.

Tell me about “What’s Your Watermark.”

Yeah, What is Your Watermark? It is an effort that Clear Water started after we returned from Honduras, and basically, it is a sort of philanthropic program that we have created that hopefully inspires people to think more about water, so a lot of what we are talking about today is how are you conserving water, how are you treating your water, how can you get off … how can all of us get off our dependence on bottled water.

It is an effort to try to unite and network people who are using those efforts. Several businesses are part of the Watermark program.

Wow, great. Where should people go to learn more about that?

You can go to our website, Clearwaterfiltration.com, or you can go Whatsyourwatermark.com. The two are intermixed. They are two separate sites, but you can go to either one. They are linked. I want to make it clear.

Written in partnership with Clear Water Filtration, who also sponsored a giveaway for a free home water mineral test and chance to win a $250 credit toward a home filtration system! 

Business, Motherhood, and the Tyranny of Chicken Tenders

Award-winning Chef Liza Hinman is a mom who’s kicking ass in a tough industry. We chat about how she does it – and her surprising thoughts on kid food.

Liza Hinman is the chef and co-owner of The Spinster Sisters, a restaurant in Santa Rosa, CA. The award-winning eatery opened in 2012 when Liza’s first child, Oscar, was just one year old. When Liza and her husband Joe added twin daughters to their family last December, Joe (also a chef), scaled back his time at work to become the primary parent.

We were excited to speak with Chef Hinman about her experience as a working mom who’s kicking ass in a male-dominated, notoriously tough industry. We were also curious to hear her thoughts on the “kid food” phenomenon, and maybe how to avoid the tyranny of the chicken tender

Parents: Liza Hinman and Joe Stewart

Kids: Oscar, 4 1/2; Miranda and Bridget, ten months 

Parent Co: I recently heard author Anne-Marie Slaughter on NPR raising the question, “Why do we assume the mother will leave the workforce to care for her child? Why can’t the father be the primary caregiver?” It’s cool to hear that you’re a living, breathing example of that happening.

What was the conversation like between you and your husband when you decided on these roles?

Liza-HinmanLIZA HINMAN: It was a little bit of a surprise for me, I think. I was in denial of how I was going to juggle a job and three kids and still have kind of the same experience. I was really lucky with Oscar in that I was able to be the primary caregiver. I was doing private consulting and catering, but I was basically out of “having a job” for over a year after he was born.

This time around I was under very different circumstances. I now have a restaurant and a lot more complicated work life. Beyond those first couple of months, it was obvious that I was going to be needed at the restaurant a lot more than was possible if I was going to be home with the kids a lot.

My husband came home from work one day and was like, “I had a talk.” He works with his family – they own a bakery – so we’re in a lucky circumstance that way. He basically said, “I’ve talked to my mom and my sister and told them this is what I really want to do, so hopefully they can work it out. I can work part time and then be home with the kids so that you can do what you need to do at work. We don’t have to farm the kids out.”

I was nervous about it at first, both financially and just letting go of all of those details. But it’s been a real blessing, I’d say.

Were you putting pressure on yourself to do it all? Were you having that feeling like, “I should be able to do this?”

Yeah, a little bit. I should be able to do this, and I want to do this. I wanted to. But once I got back to work I spinster-sistersrealized how much I needed that side of my life to be still in existence. If I had just totally let it go, I would really have felt unbalanced in a way. And it’s hard – every single day I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough as a mother or accomplished enough as a business owner, but I just have to tell myself that tomorrow can be a different story.

You’ve experienced success in a traditionally male-dominated field. What are the attitudes towards your situation – that of a working mother – in your workplace and in the restaurant industry as a whole?

It’s been interesting returning to work. In our workplace, we have a tiny little office that I share with two other people. It’s the only private space other than the bathroom, so that’s where I have to pump. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve been walked in on by a male cook or someone who’s just beyond horrified that they knocked and just threw the door open and didn’t even think about what was going on on the other side.

At the same time, I’m just totally casual about it; I don’t hide. I put my breast milk in the walk-in refrigerator on the cheese shelf, and that’s where it sits until I go home. They’ve all, I think, accepted my casual attitude towards that kind of stuff.

And I bring the babies to work a lot, if I just have to go in for a couple of hours and do some office work. I bring them with me and park them in the stroller, and the servers flirt with them while I’m doing stuff. So my coworkers are very aware of my situation and accepting of it, which has been good. I’ve just forced that to be part of the atmosphere, I guess.

As the chef and partner in the restaurant, I would hope you would be in a position to set that tone. People, just get on board!

10679532_730013140397494_586341210344779898_oYeah, exactly. This is just the way it is. I actually work with a lot of people who have kids, too, in my kitchen. Although they’re mostly men, they mostly have kids, so they’re sympathetic or can identify somewhat with the situation.

I think, as far as the broader industry sense, I more and more sympathize with why women don’t last very long in this field because if you aren’t in a position like I’m in, where I can dictate (the culture), it’s really not a friendly atmosphere for a mother. The hours are crazy, and the jobs are physical. There’s not a lot of flexibility; I work weekends. And we struggle with that at home, too. My husband gets frustrated because I can’t go to yet another birthday party or family event because I have to do this or that. Those frustrations definitely exist, but so far we’ve managed to make it work.

Have you worked out any kind of regular schedule for yourself?

Yes. I have, and then it will evaporate on a moment’s notice. I came out of maternity leave because my sous chef forwarded me an email on a Sunday night from the next person down saying, “I’ve tendered my resignation as of today. I won’t be returning, blah, blah, blah.” I, of course, read the email before I’d even gotten up in the morning and rolled over and looked at my husband and said, “I guess I’m going back to work tomorrow.”

Then we’ve worked out a schedule where, when my husband’s working I’m at home, and when I’m working he’s at home, more or less, with some help from his family, which is huge.

Have you done anything to set aside time for you and your husband to spend together?

Yeah. We get it less often right now, but we try to arrange for Oscar to go to his grandmother’s for an evening or spend the night. The girls, we can get someone to … We actually live on the same property as Joe’s dad, so he’ll come over after they’ve gone to bed. We can just run out and get a drink or have a quick dinner. It’s a lot further between than we’d like right now.

It’s wonderful that one of you is almost always with your kids, but, of course, it means that you two become the whole ‘ships passing in the night’ thing.

Yeah, definitely. I try to make Sundays the sacred day where it’s family day. We’re both at home. We’re with our kids, and we do something either at the house or do some sort of adventure. It doesn’t happen every single week, but most weeks it does. At least we have that.

In thinking about what you’re doing for work, I realized that you’re in a position where when you’re at work, you’re creating and providing nourishment and comfort for other people, and you have to be away from your family to do that. Do you ever think about that?

It’s one of those things you can’t think about too much, or it’d make you really depressed.

I definitely recognize the irony of it. I more feel the pressure of my family or my husband or whomever looking at me thinking, “You’re choosing to nourish other people over your family at times, but you’re choosing that role. This week you’re more focused on them than you are on us.” It definitely is there in the back of my head, certainly. I try to just not let it get to me as much as I can.

But then I come home, and I’ve missed, like, “Bridget sat up today!” or those sorts of moments. Then I think to myself about all these other, maybe more traditional parents, all these husbands who might travel all the time. I have female friends, certainly, too, who are moms who are on the road for work or do all these other things and miss their kids for stretches of time. For me, I just remind myself that I do get to spend a fair amount of time with them for a working parent.

I’m curious about how your relationship to food effects your kids’ relationship to food. Obviously the girls probably aren’t eating much of anything just yet, but what about Oscar?

He’s a challenging eater. We’ve bemoaned the fact that we find ourselves making “kid food,” which we thought we never would. At the same time, you get to that point in your internal debate of, “This kid just needs calories,” versus, “He should be eating interesting, organic, perfect, home cooked meals all the time.” Sometimes it’s just not going to be that way.

Right now I’m enjoying being able to determine the baby food that I’m making for my girls, whereas Oscar, it’s like, his school lunch is either PB&J or salami and cheese and pickles.

Do you offer a kids’ menu at The Spinster Sisters?

We don’t, but we have a lot of food that kids will eat. I feel like kids don’t have to eat breaded chicken fingers and mac and cheese only. We serve breakfast and lunch so a lot of the breakfast stuff – there’s a waffle and scrambled eggs and things that – kids will eat. In the evenings, we do get a fair amount of families. They’ll order the veggies but without the spice. They’ll order the pasta with something on the side and just adapt what we do to kids’ taste. It seems to work. We’ve had a few people over the years ask for it, but it’s not that often.

What do you think about the kids’ menu phenomenon?

I feel like it’s a product of the generation that I grew up in where that’s what we ate all the time. There are these basic, dumbed-down staples. Yes, somewhere along the way it became an expectation – that’s just what you do. But I think more and more there are restaurants that are happy to create dishes for kids based on a parent saying, “Can we get pasta with just butter and cheese with some steamed peas on the side?” If we have it on the menu, sure, no problem. We’re not going to buy pre-made, breaded, in-the-freezer chicken fingers and throw them in the fryer for kids.

And you have the sense among your peers that chefs don’t mind being asked to modify things for kids’ tastes?

I don’t think so. For me, I don’t mind because the adults are just as picky as the kids. There are so many specific demands of adult diets these days that kids are simple in comparison.

What has been your one or two biggest challenges in trying to strike a balance between work and family?

I think the challenge is just the time, just the limitations of the day. The day flies by so fast. I get to work, and I have a list of 20 things and I get four of them done. Then I have to leave because I have to be home to pick up my kids from preschool. Then when I’m at home, it’s the schedule of dinner and bath and bed and all those things and, boom, the day is gone. Either I pass out or do I sit on my couch with my laptop and try and get a few more things done before I go to bed, and never feeling totally satisfied with everything. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges.

Then also, in my food world, almost as much as I love to cook, I love to be able to do research and read cookbooks and newspaper articles and really explore, to just enrich my depth of knowledge. Those sorts of things, unfortunately, fall to the bottom of the plate when you’re just trying to run a business, to make sure everyone shows up on time, and the food’s produced and the day gets done at work. Similarly at home, I don’t get to curl up with a good novel and have that life enrichment time that used to be part of my life that I took for granted.

At the risk of sounding trite, do you think it’s worth it? Is the struggle to balance a demanding job and the needs of your family worthwhile?

Yeah. There are definitely days when I just … I think it’s a real challenge and a real strain to be a business owner. A lot of days I think, “God, I just want to work for someone else. Just walk into a job, do my 8 hours, take a paycheck home and be done with it and not carry it with me everywhere I go.” But that’s not who I am. The reason I got into this is because I work like it’s my own business even when it isn’t, so it may as well be mine. It’s a tough position to be in and there are definitely days that I question it all, like when I have to hand off my kids and leave, and I really don’t want to.

Then there are days when I come home, and I had a great day at work, or I got to spend the whole morning with the girls, and we just hung out and rolled around on the carpet and I’m like, “Okay. That’s pretty good.”

Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex & Parenthood

A conversation about sex and parenthood with Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time.” Learn about “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It – Live!” in NYC

Hillary Frank hosts The Longest Shortest Time, a popular podcast about parenthood and childhood described as “a bedside companion for parents who want to hear that they are not alone.”  

Back in January, the show aired their most controversial episode to date, “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It.” It was first in a series called “Sex and Parenthood,” which takes an honest – and very open – approach to topics ranging from blow jobs to birth injuries.

On October 6th, Frank will host a live version of the show in New York City with sex educator Twanna Hines and OB-GYN Dr. Hilda Hutcherson. (You can submit your questions here.) The event will run as a future episode of the podcast, so if you’re nowhere near New York, fear not.

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Parent Co spoke with Frank to find out why it’s important for parents to talk about sex, and what exactly is a birth injury, anyway? 

Parent Co: I’m curious to hear what compelled you to produce the Sex and Parenthood series to begin with? Particularly the episode with Dan Savage and Jane Marie wherein you discuss sex very openly, even explicitly at times.

Hillary Frank

Hillary: For this podcast, we take listener submissions, and we also have a very active Facebook group, which is now over 15,000 strong. I noticed in a lot of the submissions, as well as in the mama’s group; people would bring up the topic in a… you know, they felt safe bringing it up in these kinds of private-ish forums.

What they would say is either, “My libido is down. I don’t know if it will ever come back.” Or, “I’ve had a birth injury, and it hurts and I can’t find a doctor who will take me seriously or I’m embarrassed to even bring it up.” Or “We are trying to have a baby and it’s not happening and it’s really putting a damper on the sex because we have to plan it and then even when we do, it feels like a chore.” It seemed like people were bringing this stuff up with me or with the group because they didn’t have anyone in their real life to talk about it with or they didn’t feel like they could.

We were talking about doing a series on some topic, and we batted around a bunch of ideas and I was like, “Hey! What if we do a sex series on just sex and parenthood because I think it’s very clear that a lot of people are hungry for this topic.” Sex is so sensationalized in our society, but it’s very rare that we have a real, honest conversation about it.

Do you have any theories as to why we’re not talking about sex more openly?

Oh, I don’t know, I think I’m going to leave that to the psychologists, but I can talk about why I think it’s hard to talk about it as a parent. I think there’s this idea that as soon as you become a parent then your sexiness disappears. Like, your breasts become tools for breastfeeding, if that’s what you’re doing. Your body changes, usually.

So, I think it’s sort of taboo to talk about wanting to have an active sex life after you become, especially, a mom. For guys, they don’t have those changes, as drastically.

Also, I think it’s even hard to find a doctor who will take you seriously. A lot of times the answer I hear that people get when they go to a doctor to say, “It hurts now when I have sex. It didn’t used to hurt.” The answer will be, “Well you had a baby. Things are different now. You should expect it to hurt for a while.”

In the episode with Dan and Jane, you seemed pretty comfortable with the wide range of topics that were being raised. Are you generally pretty comfortable talking about sex?

No. No!

How have you overcome that, to facilitate the conversation?

The Parent's Guide to Doing It
October 6 2105: The Parents’ Guide to Doing It – Live!

That’s a good question. I would say I’m not comfortable talking about sex in public or with people that I don’t know very well. I am comfortable talking about it with my very close friends. It’s a topic that comes up a lot among my very close friends, who are now new or new-ish moms.

I actually had a friend just point blank say to me one day, “You’re in a position where I feel like you have to talk about this.” I said, “I can’t. I don’t feel comfortable talking publicly about my situation.” She was like, “You don’t have to, but who’s going to do this? You have to at least give people the opportunity to talk about it and to hear experts talking about it and to just facilitate this conversation. Your project won’t be complete unless you can address this topic because it’s so important.” I was like, “She’s right.”

I do openly talk about, I had a childbirth injury, and I didn’t find the right help for it for three years.


It was a combination of pelvic floor physical therapy and a very specialized doctor who helped me with it. The problem itself wasn’t very uncommon. The doctor, in fact, said to me, “I’m so glad that you came to me and found me because most women just give up because they just decide, ‘Well I’m never going to have sex again,’ or ‘I’m never going to have a healthy satisfying sex life again because it’s just too hard to find a solution.’”

Right, which is terrible. There’s a lot of life after childbirth.

That’s right. The other thing is that these things impact your relationship with your partner, and if you don’t have a healthy relationship with your partner, it makes it really hard to be an effective parent. It is very relevant, and I hear people talking about this as if it’s extracurricular. Sex is an extracurricular thing. It’s a shame if it goes down the tubes after you become a parent, but it should be expected. I think it’s vital. I think it’s vital to people being effective parents.

Yeah. It’s true. It’s the punch line. And it’s usually blamed on the woman in heterosexual relationships.

I’m interested in the topic of birth injuries. I think that that’s, like you said and like your doctor was saying, it’s not something people are super aware of. Can you talk a little bit more about what types of birth injuries you’re referring to?

Sure. Even in the smoothest pregnancy, bodies shift and don’t necessarily go back because your weight is shifting forward in some spots and shifting back in other spots. You’re bearing a lot of weight. The bones in your pelvis can get misaligned, and that can make sex uncomfortable after having a child.

Then during childbirth you can tear. Some people get an episiotomy. I had both – tears and episiotomy. In a c-section, because so much of your abdomen is cut, and there are so many different layers of the abdomen, it effects the muscles in your pelvis as well. There are people who think that you would avoid having vaginal pain if you have a c-section, but that’s not necessarily true.

What I’ve found, in my life and through talking to other people, is that pelvic floor physical therapy is a great first place to go. There are also chiropractors who will work on you and on realigning your pelvic bones. These things can originate in the pelvis and then can effect the rest of your body. I had pelvic floor issues, but because I was compensating in order to breast feed – I had to sit in a really uncomfortable, strange position so that I wouldn’t agitate my pelvic floor issues – I was constantly in this side bent position and it wound up effecting my leg. It was even hard to sit cross-legged.

What I would say to do is go to your OBGYN. See if there’s a pelvic floor physical therapist that they work with because usually those therapists will have suggestions of specialists to work with if they think you need extra care.

Listening to you, I’m thinking of the number of friends I’ve had who’ve off-handedly said, “I just have this pain when I have sex.” It’s amazing that we don’t pay more attention to those things.

So many people that I’ve talked to are like, “It hurts, but it’s tolerable.” I’m like, “Well, what if you didn’t have to tolerate it?”

This all makes so much sense when you think about the process of childbirth and pregnancy and the changes that your body will go through. It shouldn’t be the assumption that we all come out unscathed.

Oh my God, no! It’s life altering and body altering. The crazy thing to me is, I had to see six doctors before I saw someone who was like, “Oh, I know what you need to do.”

I was clearly chasing this down, and I don’t think that’s how everyone operates. I think it’s really easy to be like, “Oh, my doctor, who delivered my baby, who I’ve trusted, doesn’t have an answer for this so there must not be an answer.”

And that gets into a larger issue, which is the challenge of advocating for yourself within the medical system. You went to six doctors. Clearly you had to really believe, first, that there was an issue and that it was fixable. I’d argue that most women aren’t there naturally. We have to arrive at that point through encouragement or learning about the problem through something like your podcast, by someone putting the information out there. So, yay for you!

I’m curious to know if there have been any questions or maybe a line of questioning that really surprised you?

Not really. I know last time (Dan and Jane) were both anti co-sleeping. That proved to be controversial, which I guess would be expected. And all three of us only had one child each. I think there were people, in the end, who felt that their situation wasn’t addressed, and we’re hoping to address those this time.

…Everyone’s got their own lives and experience, and they’re going to answer questions based on those experiences. That’s why we plan on doing this as a recurring segment with different guests because then you can get a wide range.

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I did appreciate Dan Savage’s point of view and his insistence that we’d be better served, especially heterosexual couples, if we could broaden our definition of sex to include more than just vaginal intercourse.

I think that’s why … I was surprised. I don’t know if you were aware how controversial this episode was in our mama’s group. We’ve never gotten so much anger about an episode before. People were angry about a lot of things. I think some people walked away feeling like the guests were telling them that they had to shape up and start having sex within a year of having a baby. Before the episode came out, I felt like I was giving moms a gift with a bow around it.

What I walked away from the conversation feeling like was, we got a different side of Dan Savage. We introduced him to the concept of the six-week check up when you’re supposed to get the thumbs up or thumbs down to go ahead to have sex, and he was like, “Oh no. That’s too soon. Everyone gets a year if they need it. No questions asked.” I felt like it was a very feminist episode and point of view. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to this one.

Laura Veirs Talks Motherhood, Music, And What’s Next

“The most important thing to is to carve out some time for yourself,” says singer-songwriter Laura Veirs as we chat about making music while raising kids.

Laura Veirs has been making good music for a long time. Over a span of 14 years, she’s released nine albums. She is also a mom of two boys, Tennessee (five years old) and Oz (two and a half).

I was lucky enough to see her open for the Decemberists in 2009, before either of us were mothers. I’ve followed her career ever since. To this day, she gives me hope that creativity and the creation of art can expand and grow along with, well, the birth and creation of small humans (I have two young daughters).

For Laura Veirs, that evolution is clear through her music and the projects she continues to pursue.

You can literally “hear” her perspective change as her path through motherhood unfolds. After releasing TumbleBee, a children’s album of folk songs in 2012, she said “I had just had a kid, and I was trying to find a way to be creative but also to not put too much pressure on myself to write because I was so tired. It was a fun way to collaborate with Tucker Martine (husband and producer) and also to do something at the house.”

Laura’s album, Warp and Weft, was released in August of 2013 while she had a toddler and a newborn in tow.

Around that time, she said “I think my scope has gotten wider now, and I can look at things with more compassion, and more empathy…I guess you come to realize the enormity of having these two people that you’re basically responsible for, for the rest of your life. I’m looking at the world now as if the camera’s panning wide, and I think you can hear that in the lyrics.”

Later that same year: “Art is such a solace. Without it, life would be pretty bleak, don’t you think? I think good art comes from other good art. I love reading great fiction writers; they inspire my songwriting deeply. I couldn’t do it myself. It seems like such a lonely job. But they provide such a light for humanity.”

I couldn’t agree more. Particularly when the initial isolation of having little ones sets in, art and music is a great comfort.

Artists generally do interviews when there is an album to promote, but I wanted to speak with Laura about what she is up to now – in the time when the magic is actually happening or, more accurately, when the work is getting done – about how she is able to keep up with her creative life while being a mother. I also just wanted to say thanks, all the while hoping I’d sound somewhat coherent after a night of little sleep with my five-month old daughter the night before.

Maybe she heard my exhaustion or maybe not, but she had “been there” and she made it to the next phase. It was reassuring to hear the passion in her voice when talking about the children’s book she is finishing and the enthusiasm about her latest collaborative project with other female musicians, but perhaps more importantly, I was grateful for her sincere compassion when sharing some advice with another mom and artist:

“The most important thing to do is to carve out some time for yourself,” she said. “To remember that ‘this too shall pass,’ and in the meantime, ‘to try to stay awake.’”

Shannon Hawley for Parent.co: How are you, Laura? So good to speak with you.

Laura Veirs: I’m good. It’s beautiful in Portland right now, very sunny. It’s great. I love living here.

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old and a five-month-old. I’m also a singer-songwriter, so I’m interested in talking with artists like you who can balance their creative lives with their lives as parents.

Yeah, well you’re thick in it! Have you done any touring with your kids?

No, I haven’t. I’m kind of at the beginning of my singing and songwriting career and that seems overwhelming. But you did do some touring with your boys, didn’t you?

laura_veirs6-1I did both times – yes. I toured more with the first one. I toured, I think, like maybe three or four weeks in the States and three weeks in Europe with the little one. Tennessee was our first, and I didn’t really know what to expect because I’d toured for many years, DIY – like just get in the van and go.

I would train the tour manager to be the nanny or I would manage the tour and we would just work it out. Although, in Europe on that first one, I remember we had a real tour manager and sound man, and that was great because my parents came along, and they were the nannies. They called themselves the “granny nannies.”

Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. How did it work out?

We were in two separate cars, which we didn’t need to be. The baby was four months old, and I thought, “oh the baby’s going to be crying the whole time,” because I had never had a baby before. I didn’t know anything about parenting. I had been a nanny once but only like for four months when I was like 25. I really didn’t even know what babies were like. They usually don’t cry that much, especially if you’re staying on top of basically feeding them.

That’s the whole thing about being a working mom on tour. When you’re on the road like that, you can breastfeed whenever you want. You’re with them all day and then you have chunks of the night where you’re away from them, and I would just pump once at the club or I’d pump in the van. Then the babysitter or the grandparents would take them back home. Or sometimes we’d just keep him at the venue the whole time.

Had you talked to other musicians who were moms before you went out and did that?

Yeah, I talked to Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who I met on the Decemberists tour. Also, I’m friends with the Decemberists – none of those band players are breastfeeding moms but some of their wives are. They would come on tour, so they knew a little bit about how to describe what was going on. Shara was good to talk to, because she’s at my level as far as budgets go. You end up spending eight or nine hours driving, then eight or nine hours at the gig playing your show and then going to bed as soon as possible to get up and start over again. It’s pretty brutal. It’s really hard.

Sounds hard, but you did it!

My point is that I learned so much just being out there doing it! And realizing … well, my main advice for people who do want to tour with their children is to do it! But maybe do it before they are two.

Luckily my sister-in-law had told me that because she’s a mom and she’s got two kids. She said that, at 18 months they get their own agency. They get their own ideas. They get their own words. They get their own bodies and they want to run around and they do not want to sit and be stuck in the van next to mom for eight hours a day. That was really great advice, so I did tour with both of them when they were infants. Now I don’t know what to do, because one of them is in kindergarten and the other one is two and a half. I don’t know. I guess I’ll just wait and see.

Any plans for what’s next in terms of musical projects and touring?

I’m going to record a record in November. We’re going to do it at my husband’s place [Tucker Martine]. He’s the producer and he’s made all my other records. The machine will get going again. I know a lot of women have had school-aged children and gone out on the road. Do they bring those school-aged children or not? That’s the question I need to start asking. I always just try to find someone older and more experienced and ask them what to do.

I think it’s really brave to do that, and also so smart to think to ask other people that have done what you’re trying to do. What else have you been working on?

I actually wrote a book for kids. It’s called “Libba, Elizabeth Cotten.” It’s about her life. It will be coming out on Chronicle Books in two years, which seems like a really long time away, but I’m just finishing that, which is really fun.

Then this other project is just working with these other two musicians, and we’ve been co-writing which has been fun because I’ve been working on music for so many years as a solo writer. It’s really neat to share that experience of sitting down and writing with other people.

You’re busy – how do you stay inspired or get inspired to work on something new?

I think it’s kind of neat after so many years to switch it up and do different things. It was really fun to write a book for kids because that’s just totally a different muscle [than songwriting]. I’ve never exercised that muscle before, and now co-writing. I’ve been doing that more with people.

It is interesting as you live a long life as an artist to find ways…I think for me it’s a combination of sometimesveirs-ddaa176490c02e42da91d56f0f0499c83bf83cdb-s3
just not doing art, like taking a few months off. Sometimes that means changing the format like I’m going to write a book for kids. What’s that like? Sometimes it means – okay, I’m going to collaborate with a new band. I’m going to make a new band or I’m going to totally play a different style of music …

It takes a lot of discipline, I think, in my case. There is this African guitarist I recently heard – I was like, “I should learn that.” I haven’t done it yet, but for me, it’s a matter of a balance between taking it seriously and really pushing and then also sometimes, it’s about backing off. We are so busy as moms and parents and there are two million things pulling at us. Sometimes the artistic person just needs to chill.

For an outsider reading interviews and listening to your music, it all seems pretty seamless – how you have found your own voice and unique style and you seem follow your own curiosity about things and ideas that inspire you, which I think makes your art feel really authentic.

Thank you for being brave and steadfast in making music that way. Do you remember what inspired you to write Libba?

Thanks, that’s really sweet. I made the record for kids, TumbleBee, and from that research we discovered that Elizabeth Cotten, who I had been a fan of for years, was the maid of the Seeger family. I had no idea that she worked in their house.

Then I discovered the story of how she was found by them. She was working as a doll clerk in this department store in the 50’s in DC. Peggy Seeger, who’s Pete Seeger’s half sister and a renowned songwriter in her own right, she got lost in the store. She was a little girl, and Elizabeth Cotten found her and returned her to her mother who happened to be this total bad ass, avant garde composer lady and also classical piano teacher, archivist and folklorist – this amazing musician, named Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Ruth Crawford Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten struck up a conversation and they became … I don’t know what exactly went down, but Elizabeth Cotten ended up being their cake baker and she did ironing and all kinds of cooking, basically their domestic helper. I think she was in her 60’s when she started working for them.
Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie would come through the house and have these crazy house shows.

She had been playing when she was 13, she taught herself how to play upside down and backward. I had always known about her and I’d always studied her music and I’m left handed and I had watched her play and it’s like what the fuck, she’s playing upside down and backwards it makes no sense to my brain.

All the dots had never connected for me. I didn’t realize she also was connected to the Seegers that they were the ones who gave her the springboard, the platform to launch her career pretty late in life. She toured into her 90’s.

Anyway, I was like that’s a story worth telling. I think kids would like that. Then I got the idea, the seed sort of simmered around for several years until I actually just buckled down and wrote it. It only took a few months of research and writing to get that down but I think half of a thing is a good idea and people should know about her. She’s a folk treasure of our country.

Yeah, as an artist it’s like you get to be a curator too in some ways to share what you’re inspired by and what you believe is an important story.

Yes, exactly.

You also said you were going into the studio with collaborators in November to work on a new record?

It’s this project that I was invited to be a part of with two high-profile women singers/musicians. We’ve been writing for a while, more intensively in the last six months. It’s very three-part harmony centric, which you would imagine because we’re all singers. Then it’ll have a band … it’ll be a band record. It won’t be totally stripped down. It’s neat. It’s very unclear to me what it will actually sound like, but I’m really grateful that they’re inviting my husband to be the producer, because I just trust him and I relax with him. It feels very homegrown.

How do you get through the early phase of writing songs, where you want them to be great? What advice do you have about “putting in your time?”

Writing an abundance of songs is not really that difficult, but getting good songs is difficult. In some ways, I was a little bit naive but also over confident at the same time. My first record was super bad but I thought it was cool. Then I learned through that.

I thought, “this is worth sharing.” I think a lot of it is about curiosity and hard work, but a lot of it’s just about confidence, just having the confidence that your ideas are worth talking about. Otherwise, why would you get up and subject yourself to the pain of whatever it is – the torture of performance, or touring, or bad reviews, or whatever?

You’ve got to be confident that what you’re doing is worth sharing. Anyway, I had that confidence [with the first record], but the next record I did was better.

Where do you think you got that confidence? Now that I’m a parent, I’m really interested in how the way we were parented affects our creative life, and also how we can affect our children’s creative lives.

I think every parent wants their child to feel that they can do whatever they want to do. That’s certainly what I want to instill in my boys – that kind of confidence like “you can do it. Take the world by the horns, you can do whatever you want to do.” I really feel like my parents did that with me. I don’t know how they did it.

I think it’s because they are very positive and they go through their days knowing what they’re doing and enjoying being really present in the world and engaged and active in doing things. My brother and I just must have seen that and been like “if they can do it, we can do it.” You know?

Are there any mantras that help you in this specific phase of parenthood and staying creative?

My goal is just to stay awake. That can be hard, because I’m tired but awake on multiple levels. Awake to the pain of the world. Awake to the joy of the world. The children bring both.

I just try to stay awake, and some days it’s easier than others. I also try to realize, even when things are really hard – and this really pertains to parenting – that it’s going to pass. Your toddler’s screaming in the airplane, and you’re just like “oh my God, okay this is going to pass,” and then the airplane ride ends.

In your position, with such young kids, find time to carve out for yourself because that’s the most important thing for your art. Make time for yourself.

How do you find time for your art?

Childcare! My Mom and Dad swoop in for tours. My husband and neighbors and sitters and friends are all wonderful.

All of this is really making me feel hopeful and relieved as a mom (in a very exhausting phase) and an artist. You go be with your boys and I’ll go be with my girls. Thanks again for all of the work you are doing and for taking the time to speak with me.

My pleasure. Yes, carve out time for yourself. Good luck to you.

Kurt Vile on Fatherhood & The Creative Life

“You can’t really set up any rules… It’s all pretty maddening but really fun.” Jeff Gangemi interviews Kurt Vile about his new album, fatherhood and the creative life.

When I went to see Kurt Vile & the Violators in June of 2014, it was on the recommendation of a friend – a fellow new dad who was treating himself to a rare escape from the immersive world of pureed pears and kids music.

All I knew about Kurt was what my friend had told me – he was a Philadelphia native and had been writing and recording songs since he was in in his early teens. Kurt was young, and he was prolific and had left “The War on Drugs,” a band he cofounded, to follow his own creative muse.

Walking into the show, I’d listened to “Wakin on a Pretty Daze,” the album he was touring behind, probably three or four times, but he was delivering the songs at ten times the volume I’d expected. Admittedly, I was put off at first. But once my sensitive ears adjusted, the experience settled into the best live show I’d seen in years (intensely loud at times, interspersed with a few emotional solo pieces), and over the months that followed, a slight Kurt Vile obsession ensued.

When I found out he was my contemporary (only six months apart in age), with two little girls nearly exactly the same ages as my own, Kurt’s music began to mean even more. I heard the nuance in his lyrics and melodies as reflections of my experience (I’d also grown up in southern Pennsylvania in the 90’s).

Kurt’s latest album, “b’lieve i’m goin down,” (out September 25) provided the perfect excuse to have a chat with this indie rock dad and guitar hero. Like his music, Kurt is driven yet humble, rambling but eloquent, with an occasional dash of levity and self-deprecating humor. His new album reflects all of those elements, with a refreshing realness that defies concise description.

You need to take a listen to Pitchfork’s “best new music” to understand.

When I reached him in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Kurt was with his family, practicing with his band, while awaiting the release of the new album and getting his head right for his upcoming North American and European tour.

Congrats on the new album, Kurt. The reason I wanted to interview you is because I saw you in Burlington, Vermont last year. I said, “who is this young kid on the stage – this total rocker?” I loved your music and the show so much that I looked you up and found out that you’re a dad.

I’m not as young as you thought, huh? You have kids?

I do. Almost three, and just about five months. How about you? How old are yours these days?

Five and almost three.

So you’ve been exactly where I am, and you made it through. That’s good! I wanted to ask – do
they like the movie “Frozen?” Or have you somehow avoided its addictive clutches.

Of course! We were just watching it the other day. You know there are those certain movies, especially the new ones that kids go crazy for, and they’ll make it so you can’t stream it, and you have to buy it? You ever notice this? You can’t stream it on Amazon, or it doesn’t exist on Netflix?

They’ve seen “Frozen” just enough times, but not like over and over again. But I feel like we never let them watch a certain movie over and over again. After a while, it gets annoying. In general, the music in the new movies and the way they talk like in some of the “tween” stuff, has definitely gotten way more annoying. But having said that, that movie “Brave” is actually really good. Have you seen that one? That slays.

I have. It’s good. As a songwriter, how do you feel about Disney or Pixar’s ability to make a song so catchy that it can stay in your head for months?

I appreciate that. It’s funny too, because I like Randy Newman, who is underappreciated in certain circles. But if I mention his name among a certain demographic, they’re like “Oh, you mean the guy who does all the Pixar soundtracks?” I guess he does all the Toy Story soundtracks. That’s not what I’m talking about at all, but even so, I’m glad he does that.

By the way, did you see the newest Pixar movie, “Inside Out?” I’m always pretty low serotonin after any trip, and I did a European press tour that was just a little over two weeks, and the number of interviews I did was nuts. But anyway, somebody recommended that I see that movie to see if my kids would like it or whatever, and I was flying home and watched it on the plane. And yeah, I was tearing up for like no reason basically (laughs).

That’s awesome. Yeah, those movies’ll get you. I wanted to also ask you about your songwriting process, which sounds a little different from the cartoons. The recent Grantland piece painted you as this stay-up-all-night, tequila-swilling guy. That’s how you created a lot of the songs on your upcoming album, at least. What would you say are the keys to your creative process?

Yeah, it’s funny about that feature and the whole alcohol thing, cause there’s numerous concoctions or zero concoctions at any time. It’s not just alcohol or about abusing yourself or not abusing yourself or staying up. But it reached a peak for whatever reason [with this record] where I was staying up really late.

There’s something you can capture when you keep staying up and make your band stay up, you know? There’s a certain type of music that comes out after a while.

I feel like I’m sort of getting out of it now. I like the idea of doing stuff during the day, or maybe not taking a drop of anything. It just depends. A lot of it has to do with, by the time we get together [in the studio], they’re all waiting on me, and by the time I actually getting around to delivering anything, time goes by really fast, so before you know it, it’s really late. But we gotta get something, so we’re like “let’s keep going!”

How do you balance those late nights with being a dad?

I think it’s just because of my unique, I guess you’d call it my job, which is pretty much to be creative and write music and get it down. It would be different if I was always in the studio that late for the better part of a year, but I had a new record in the pipeline, so I was going for it. And then all of a sudden you go on tour. Yeah, I think that, ultimately, the nightlife, with all of its fuels and tools, that all helps you out for a while. You get a lot of stuff done, but then you have to clean up and get straight.

I’ve been waking up really early lately, actually. It’s really convenient, cause I came from Europe, so I am waking up at 7 a.m., but it’s really like 1 o’clock in Europe, so I just decided to stay on a more normal thing and get up with my family and stuff. I brought them up to New York, and now I’m practicing with the band, and in the morning, we’ll get up and do stuff together, and then I’ll go and jam with the band again in the early evening.

So you wrote most of the new songs in the studio, as opposed to at home on the couch alone? Is that normal for you?

If I have deadlines pending or sessions coming, I will stay up. I’ll definitely stay up at home writing, or preparing, at certain times. Once I’m out of the studio, my family’s not around anyway, cause I’m usually elsewhere. But even if I’m in Philly, they understand. Once I’m working, I get really into it. I feel like I’m always going to stay up relatively late if I’m creating or recording, but I like the idea of entertaining the more morning creativity. Either way, I think I just reached an extreme with it on this record.

You can’t really set up any rules, cause you’ll figure out the methods – what works and what’s working. It’s all a pretty maddening but really fun art form and career that way, I guess.

You let the creativity flow and let it do what it wants to do. How does that manifest when you’re with your family?

I’ll just zone out. I mean, I’ll write stuff throughout the day all the time. I’ll go to the piano or the guitar or the banjo – I’ve been doing it a lot lately, that’s why I’m thinking of it. I’ll just be messing around with a few bars and just zone out. I feel like I bounce around a lot more than I used to, at least during the day. I’ll just be writing a few different things throughout the day most days if I’m in a good headspace.

With my family, it’s almost like all of a sudden I’m just playing music. There’s lots of music in the house. They don’t object or anything. I think we’re all kind of space cadets in our own way, so it’s like, if I space out in my own world for a second, I think that people understand that or whatever.

In what ways is your wife involved with managing your tour and career?

She doesn’t really manage me. She sort of helps – I mean she helps with a million things. After a certain point, I just said she needs to sorta watch – I mean, if she’s interested in what sort of money I’m making, then she needs to look, cause I’m really bad at that. I can’t do what I’m doing and also count the money and understand where it’s coming from and how much there is. It’s like the opposite of my brain. To try to tally everything up on top of writing music and performing and recording is crazy. I like the idea of it, but when it gets really specific, someone else has to figure it out.

You’ve been successful for a while now, but you’ve clearly put in your time. How does it feel to know you’re able to make enough money from music and enjoy some degree of security?

It does feel good. I guess at the same time, we’re by no means rich. I make a funny joke about that. Like, if all of a sudden, you have a song in a commercial or a big movie, or out of nowhere your record sold like crazy and you got like a freak situation where you got a lot of money and basically became rich overnight, right?

I like the idea – it’s sort of a joke – say you have a ranch or something like Neil Young. Like I don’t know anything about cars, but I buy a car and ask my friends like, “Hey, you like my new car?” and they say, “Yeah, what kind is it?” and I say “Um, it’s a sports car.” (laughs) “Yeah, but what brand is that?” “Uh, it’s a sports car.” With my style of music, it’s a little bit different, but I’m still having a good time.


How is touring for you? Is it hard being away from your family?

I mean, I’m working nights. It’s not like anything ever gets so out of hand, you know? I mean, we’re all adults here. I work a different schedule. When the family’s away, I’m away. I guess if it was a Guns ‘N Roses scenario, that would be different, but it’s all pretty civilized. It’s pretty normal.

When I go away, I always miss my family, but it goes by faster for me now. And I am grateful that I have both really, because I love to play music. It’s not like I’m waiting for the tour to be over, per se, when I’m in the thick of it. I worked up to this situation, and it’s my chance to try to own it with every record. You can’t take that stuff for granted really. Sometimes you get used to it, and you could for a second. But how many times really are you gonna have yourself poised to, like, make a statement or something?

I feel like I’ll be able to put out a lot of records, but still, the process seems to be a little bit more exhausting all the time. I’m going to still do it, and I assume they’re always going to be a little better, but at the same time, how do I know that for sure? This is the time where I’m supposed to really go for it. My record’s about to come out, so I really gotta go out and make a splash, you know?

Okay. Last question. Parent.co recently had a popular story about alternative ways to ask your kid how their day was other than, “How was your day?” So you can ask your kid, “Who picked their nose today? Who would you most want to blow up with a laser? Who would you like to see teach the class instead of the teacher?” just random stuff to get kids talking. When you’re on tour, what question would get you talking, rather than “How was your day?”

Who didn’t vomit this morning? Hopefully everyone will raise their hand, including me. (laughs)

What about for your kids? What’s a creative way you get them to talk if they aren’t in the mood?

Just honestly incorporate anything about Greek mythology for my oldest. She’s obsessed. Then, I don’t know. The other one you could just … If you think of anything goofy, she’ll break out.

Awesome. Thanks, Kurt. Huge congratulations on your new record. Enjoy the tour and good luck.

Thanks a lot.

Why “Work Life Balance” Is Too Simplistic for Modern Dads

There’s been a lot of change for dads in a short period of time. Today they work as many hours as previous generations, but do three times the childcare and twice the housework as dads a generation ago. In this interview, Scott Behson, PhD, author of “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide” talks about how working dads can create a more balanced life of family, work, and self, and how employers can help make it happen.

Scott Behson, PhD, is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide.” Behson also founded and runs the blog Fathers, Work, and Family. Parent Co. spoke to Professor Behson about how working dads can establish a more balanced life, and how employers can help make it happen.

Parent Co: As an expert on the topic, can you give me a sense of the currently held general expectation for working dads in our country?

Scott Behson: There has been a lot of change for dads in a relatively short period of time. Dads today work as many hours as previous generations, but do three times the childcare and twice the housework as dads a generation ago.

Dads are still expected to be primary providers in most families, but have really expanded what they do in terms of everything else that’s needed to be done to run a household. This is largely due to the fact that so many families are now dual-earner couples, which means both the mom and dad work outside the home, and spend more evenly than ever before sharing the rest of the work that goes into running a household.

Things aren’t exactly even yet, but things are getting closer and closer. It’s a challenging time for dads because if you think about it, most of our role models did it differently and faced different expectations. To a large degree, this is why I wrote “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide” in order to help dads face these changing circumstances, and provide advice and encouragement, so they can do a good job in both of their incredibly important roles.

When you say that the amount of household work done by dads has increased dramatically over the generation before, would you say that it’s increased from nearly zero to what it is now, or is that not a fair statement?

I don’t think that’s exactly a fair statement. I think dads, for most of history, have cared about providing for their families and being there for their families. I would say it’s true that dads today are changing more diapers and doing more grocery shopping, but I wouldn’t say dads of previous generations didn’t do very, very important things and play important roles in the family besides earn money for them.

I don’t want to slag on my dad’s generation of dads. To use my dad as an example, my father, wonderful father, I hope I’m half the dad he is, but there are a lot of things I do in my daily life that were never expected of him.

I did half the bottles and half the diapers, and I go grocery shopping, and I cook, and I clean the house, and I do half the pick-ups. That’s just normal, and in fact, virtually every dad I know, my peer group, is in the same situation. It’s interesting that society doesn’t seem to acknowledge this very much. Society talks about deadbeat dads, or bumbling dad humor, or they over correct and are calling people “super dads” or we focus on stay-at-home dads. The fact is, there are millions of dads out there, and virtually every dad I know cares a lot about his career, and earning for the family, and being a really good hands-on, involved father.

What do you think it is that caused this relatively large change in such a short time?

It’s a bit of an echo of what working women faced in the past generation or so. If you think about what working moms have faced, they greatly expanded themselves into the workspace, but in many cases, were still very much expected to uphold what they were doing at home. That led to the second shifts and all these really difficult stressors on working women.

I think this is now men facing the fun house mirror version of what working women have faced, where men are greatly expanding what they do in the home and for their families, but in many cases are still expected by employers and by society to maintain everything they’re doing at work as well.

Of course, yeah.

Workplaces are not forgiving for any employee who puts family above working more than full-time hours, but there’s a lot of research that shows that it’s even more of a challenge for men to visibly be seen as accommodating their work lives for their family responsibilities.

As someone who teaches in the school of management, having your head in that world as well as a mind and eye towards a work-life balance, what do you see as the main sources of resistance to supporting this change in the workplace?

To some degree, I’m seeing things from both sides. I’m a business school professor, I work with companies, I work with dads on this specific issue, but I’m also a busy working dad myself trying to juggle it all, and I interviewed dozens of dads for the book. What I’m trying to contribute is being able to see both sides, I feel like I can give some really good, real-life advice that dads can use tomorrow to help them in their work-family juggles, but also be very realistic in terms of what’s possible in the workplace and what people need to be aware of.

Again, things have changed very rapidly, and I think a lot of companies, it’s finally on the radar that work and family issues aren’t just working mom issues. Many companies have become aware of this. They are worried that they are not able to recruit and hold onto really good employees, both men and women, because of some of the workplace demands and the inability to have a life outside of work, so it’s on their radars.

I don’t think too many companies have quite figured out what to do with it yet, but this was not on the radar of most companies ten years ago, so this is significant progress in a relatively short period of time.

I’ve been booked at several major corporations to lead workshops and seminars based on some of the content of the book, which shows that companies are really eager for information on this topic because they are trying to figure out what to do with it, if that makes sense.

Some companies have been very progressive on this. In fact, there’s only about fourteen percent of private employers offering things like paternity leave, but that number is going to increase pretty rapidly, I think. More importantly than set policy is starting to understand that technology, and the way work is, means that so many more people can get a lot of their work done outside of the workplace and outside of normal business hours.

I think when companies feel a little better about giving employees freedom about how and where and when they get their work done, that  will help both working men and women immeasurably. Companies are not good at evaluating performance, so a boss who doesn’t really know what his people are doing, he tends to evaluate performance based on how long somebody stays at work, or chair time, or face time, which is silly because it’s easily gamed, right?

Oh, yeah.

The productive employees work hard and go home, and the opportunists work slow and stay late until we combat that. There’s been some companies who’ve done incredible work in this area creating flexible workplaces that still are very productive and, in fact, are more profitable than ever now that they have given up some of that control over where and when.

When you’re booked by these employers, do you go to them with these examples as a way to show them how it’s being done right and the positive effects of that?

Yes, absolutely. Getting specifically to the book, there’s a chapter where I advise the reader to think through their ongoing career planning in light of the rest of their lives. One of the things I really wanted to accomplish in this book is that there are a lot of great parenting books out there, but none of them talk about work at all, which is really funny to me.

There are a lot of great career and business self-help books out there, but they hardly ever talk about the rest of your life outside of work. One of the things I really wanted to do in “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide” is to talk about these two important roles together, because they influence each other so much.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying in one chapter of the book I advise people to think about their careers in light of the rest of their lives, because so many of us chose our careers either in college when we’re in our twenties, before we are married with kids, and what might have been a great early career track that suited our lives might not suit our lives ten, fifteen years later.

So many people stay on the track instead of reconsidering what they’re doing. In this chapter I highlight a handful of employers, not to be comprehensive but to be representative of different types of companies, and I give examples of these companies that have done really, really good work in terms of being forward on supporting employees and their work-life challenges. This includes big professional multinational firms, it includes companies that mostly have hourly employees. I try to be very representative.

I think that’s such a good point that you just brought up and I’ve actually never thought about it like that, because I guess from my own perspective, I’ve always known I wanted to write. And that’s such a broad notion, so when I started having a family, I made it work, or I’m still trying to make it work. I’ve never thought about stepping back and reevaluating a career choice to try to find something that’s perhaps a bit more family-friendly.

Luckily there are many different ways to have a good career in writing. There might not be that many ways to have a great career as a law partner or as a corporate executive. People who are on those types of tracks who are traveling out to clients four or five days a week, and are only home and weekends, and they’re road warriors and stuff, those are jobs that are very difficult to make it work.

If that’s what you want, and you’ve arranged your family life, and your spouse is on board with it, and your kids are getting what they need, that’s fine. It’s just, I’d rather people make conscious choices about what they’re doing. In fact, the first section (of the book) is all about thinking through your priorities. What you want out of life. What do you want out of your career? What do you want out of your family life, and what do you want out of your one shot at your kids’ childhoods?

I think it’s easy to feel so busy, because if you care about your career, you’re probably working more than full-time hours. Then, what’s left of your time, you’re probably trying to spend as much of it with your family as possible. I get it. But sometimes we have to almost get off the hamster wheel instead of running on the hamster wheel at full speed all the time, and then sit down in the cedar chips and to spend a little bit of time thinking about the big picture. I think if we figure out what you want in the big picture, then it might not be easy, it might not be quick, but I think we could start making decisions that are more aligned with what we want out of life. Then, in six months, two years, maybe we can find our way to a situation that’s far better for our set of priorities.

In talking to a lot of different dads, did anyone tell you that it’s really hard to be honest with yourself about what you want given the various societal pressures and cultural norms and everything? How do you advise people in that respect?

I recall a situation where I was talking to one of the dads I interviewed in the book and I asked him about this. I said, “What are things that are working well for you in terms of work life balance? What are things that aren’t? What’s getting in the way?” He’s quoted in the book. All the quotes are real, they’re anonomized, and there is no identifying information because some people talked about things they struggled with. One was like, “Man, I always promised myself once we had our kid that I would start getting off the road, and now my son is ten and I haven’t done it, and I don’t see how I can.” He feels the pressure to provide, but he also loves his job, and also I think he feels like since he’s been … It’s set up like a vicious cycle where he hasn’t been around, so then it’s harder for him to feel in sync when he is around. I felt like he can’t find a way to get himself there.

Again, I was interviewing him, I wasn’t trying to give too much advice, but I was like, “Listen, when this book comes out, go through these first couple of chapters and think through this. Maybe it won’t be easy to get off the road or change the career, but maybe in two years, or eight months, or however long it takes, maybe you can get closer to where you want to be.” Luckily life is long, and parenthood is long, careers are long, and we forget this sometimes. We’re going to be working for forty-five years. It’s okay to let an opportunity go by, or it’s okay to temporarily put something on hold.

I think a lot of people don’t like the word balance when it comes to work and family, and I think that’s because they have the wrong idea of balance. When you think of work-life balance, most people think about a tight rope or a balance beam or something where if you are not perfectly balanced, it’s a fall.

Everything falls apart, yeah.

Right, but I think we should look at it more like a balanced diet. I talk about this in the book where it’s okay to be temporarily out of balance. If you are an accountant, March and April are going to be crazy with work. If you have a sick family member, it’s going to be two weeks of all dealing with family and work goes by the wayside. That’s okay, as long as we have a long-term balance.

It takes a lot of different food groups to have a good diet, it takes work, and family, and time for yourself, and time as a couple, and time for exercise, and your own social needs, and religion, and whatever else is important in your life. It’s not just work and family, it should be almost like a balanced life in a broader sense, because we’re no good for other people if we’re burned out.

I think it’s what you’re saying about living a conscious life.

Yeah, I don’t know if I use those words in the book, but that’s beautifully said. Especially that first part, thinking about the priorities. Then, section two of the book is about the workplace, how do we navigate it, what are the things to watch out for, what are our options, how might we be able to work more flexibly or negotiate for things that we need and advocate for ourselves. Then at home, how do we make sure we have enough time for family and that we use this time really well. Then I have a section about taking care of yourself in what I was talking about there.

What do you see as the role of the partner in all of this?

Again, when we are talking about the priorities part of the book, step one is to think through your priorities. Step two is to talk about it with your spouse or the other important people in your life, because you might be a very career-oriented person and that’s great. If your spouse is on board with that and understands that you’re going to be away and then she, let me just use that pronoun for now, is going to pick it up at home, and everybody gets what they need in the family, and everybody is happy with their roles, then great.

You can have a very traditional arrangement, or you can have a very free-flowing, egalitarian relationship, that’s great, as long as it’s whatever everybody needs. One of the things I’ve observed is that a lot of times, if families don’t talk about it, it defaults to very gendered roles in the family where the dad is actually working more than he would want to, in part because the mom is working less than she would like to or perhaps leaves the workforce entirely, and neither of them are really happy with that arrangement. It’s frustrating to be home and be a full-time parent if that’s not really what suits you.

Sure, and nobody’s winning when that’s the case.


The kids certainly aren’t.

Yeah, but I see people suffer through that thinking it’s the only way instead of, again, examining and figuring out, “Well, I might be stuck in this role for the next nine months, but what can I do so that a year from now we can have a different arrangement?”

…Sometimes we internalize this; that we have to soldier on instead of taking a step back and seeking help, or talking about things that we need. It’s better if we recognize this is an issue. Again, one of the reasons I wrote this specifically for working dads – as a fellow working dad – is that guys are not particularly good at asking for directions. Especially when it comes to work and family, I think a lot of guys might not be comfortable talking about this or complaining about their situation, because they see that their wives are struggling with this too, and what right do we have to complain about it?

Even though ninety percent of the book would apply to working moms as well, the way the book is written was very intentional so that it’s much more accessible for guys. That’s another thing I’m trying to add to the conversation is that dads, we need to advocate for ourselves because so much depends on us. Families with involved fathers, the research is unbelievably clear that kids thrive, that their spouses thrive, that dads are happier and live longer if they’re more involved with their kids. It has so many positive ripple effects if dads are supported in the two most important roles in their lives, their role in the family and their role in their career.

Follow @scottbehson on Twitter and visit his website Fathersworkandfamily.com. Order his best-selling book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide.

For Sa and Paul Budnitz, it’s about connection before direction in a shared context

Paul Budnitz is the founder of Kidrobot, Budnitz Bicycles, and most recently, Ello, the ad-free social network. (Learn why we love Ello here.)

When Paul met his wife, Sa, nine years ago, she was living in a spiritual community in rural Montana (where she had moved from her native Germany), while he was living a busy entrepreneurial life in New York City. The couple dated long-distance for a year, then got married in 2007 and decided to start building a life together in the city. Their daughter was born in 2008. 

It was a difficult transition for Sa, who had not only “given up on secular life,” she says, but also had to adjust to “the lifestyle of a big city, being in the United States, (and) being married.” For Paul, the leap from fast-moving creative type to fast-moving creative-husband type proved to be a challenging and important step in his personal growth.

Parent Co spoke with Paul and Sa at Ello’s Burlington, Vermont offices about keeping their relationship healthy and strong amidst the craziness of Paul’s creative career, as well as their philosophies for growing a healthy child.

Parent Co:  Paul, did you feel pressure having Sa move to New York and kind of folding her into your life there?

Paul: Totally. I basically had this burst of maturity. I had to grow up. I’ve been spending the last seven or eight years trying to catch up, so yeah.

Trying to deliver on certain promises or implied promises?

Paul: I think that there was a lot of compensation, like, pretty eccentric things that I did, and still do actually, to keep my life and myself feeling sane. I didn’t realize how much of that really was true until we were married and then there were all these things that I realized were not necessarily compatible with being in relationship. I think that that’s actually one of the great values in a relationship, is both learning how and where to give up your own preferences, and then also how and when you still need to do things to take care of yourself.

For me, it was a great challenge to discover both the stories that had been ingrained in myself about myself that were making the relationship difficult but had nothing to do with reality, and the realities about myself that were making the relationship difficult that I had to work through. So some of it is what we tell ourselves, and some of it is who we actually are and figuring out what’s one thing, what’s the other thing and what’s really both things overlapping. That’s really the great negotiation of relationships.

Sa: Love is a very abstract concept, but I think we have a very strong commitment to each other. We love each other, obviously, but how does that find its place in our day to day life? Why I think our relationship is working, at least for me, is that we both are committed to our personal growth. It’s not like we’re just living this life together. There is something more to it – seeing relationship as a field where we can explore that and grow instead of just having to keep putting expectations on a partner. I’ll look at the things that are challenging for me in the relationship (and ask) how can I use it for my own progress and maturation.

I can relate to the compromises you’re talking about and giving each other the space to grow. I think it’s such a positive and healthy viewpoint. How does that all factor into the way you parent? Are you parenting as a team or when you’re with your daughter individually do you think she has two very different experiences?

Paul: Totally, but I think it’s all held in a very similar context.

Sa: In the beginning, we had a very clear agreement that I was parenting, and Paul was out in the world making a living. That was very clear from the beginning. I feel like with a clear definition, it was actually – for both of us and definitely for me – useful because I felt I could rest in that.

I had very high expectations of myself as a mother. I think if I would have not been able to just take on motherhood as fully as I did, it would have been really hard. I have a lot of gratitude for Paul, that he was willing to, in that way, just be out there and take a stand and keep our family fed and things like that.

Paul: It’s oddly traditional. For two such radical people, it’s actually a very traditional setup.

That’s really interesting to hear because I think that conventional wisdom would assume that if you’ve got one partner who wants to just  rotate out into the world at all times or most of the time, that that would be a source of conflict. It sounds like you’re saying, because it was very clear from the beginning, the roles were defined, that gave you all the freedom you needed.

Paul: Yeah, but I think there is an important factor which is that we decided on a shared context for parenting which evolves and changes. It’s like a living thing. It changes all the time, and Sa really led that. But on all the decisions from how we deal with conflict, how we deal when our daughter is upset, what we do when she wants something for the tenth time, or when things are difficult, whatever, we created a context and then when we talk it out, even though Sa is actually doing a lot of the parenting work it doesn’t mean I’m not around.

Sa: I remember at one point Paul was giving me some input on parenting and I got really upset about it because I’m like, “Hey, hold on a minute. We agreed that I’m the pro here. This is my job.” It’s like when we kind of started emerging a little bit more in terms of parenting and I needed to find trust in Paul as a father, not just being out there in the world and not just as my partner, but also as a father.

Sometimes I think that when your identity becomes so wrapped up in the notion of motherhood, it’s extra damaging when someone is trying to tell you how to do it. Like, “No, I know this stuff!”

Paul: I’m here all day. Who the hell are you?

Yeah. I definitely understand how difficult it is to open up the space for that trust, and then how often you have to remind yourself of it.

Sa: Also, now that she is older, she’s almost seven, looking at her and seeing aspects of Paul in her, that actually in our relationship, in the beginning, they were aspects that would drive me crazy. Then when I see it in her I’m just, “Oh, look at this!” and like my whole attitude towards these things is changing.

I was just saying this to a friend. We were discussing schools and how structured schools should be. I’m a person … I love structure, I was raised with structure, I can totally be in it and then there is a lot of wiggle room and creativity within that given structure.

Paul is the opposite. He comes from a lot of creative, sometimes chaotic energy and then he finds structure through that. Our daughter is very similar. If we play a board game once and then a second time around she will make up totally new rules. It’s really interesting. I’m glad she has that because I don’t have it. I could never give that to her.

Yeah, and I think that’s a really exciting part of raising children with a partner is that you start to see all those traits that you lack, the reasons, probably, that you chose your partner, you see them developing in your children. Even though, like you said, those are things that drove you crazy in your partner, it’s all the good stuff.

Paul: This morning our daughter said, “See, Papa, here are all my pens and my pencils and they each have their own box.” This is like my German daughter. And I’m like, “I’ve never done that.” My stuff is always in big random piles. And now that I run my own companies I hire people to order things for me because I’m incapable of doing it. So she’s, like, keeping her pencils in the perfect place, and then at the same time she’s inventing new ways and places to put them, so she’s kind of taking both parts of ourselves. It’s neat. 

So what is the theory or thought at the heart of this shared context you’re talking about?

Paul:  The key thing about our parenting approach, which I really think comes from Sa, is that everything that a child feels, wants, desires, thinks, whatever, it’s okay. How they act isn’t always okay.

If you say, “You shouldn’t want this,” the minute you do that, you create a conflict within the child, and then they’re suddenly filled with shame… Shame creates trauma and trauma is – we can’t see the trauma in ourselves. When you get to be an adult it creates impulses that are opaque to us that we can’t really control. The key thing that we do in our parenting, and this was really hard for me to get, is that everything that our daughter feels and thinks is okay.

If she wants to do something, if she wants ten cookies and she’s only had one, we don’t say, “No, you shouldn’t want that cookie.” If she doesn’t want to go to bed we say, “No, it isn’t that you shouldn’t want to go to bed now. You have to go to bed now and it’s okay that you’re sad or heartbroken or angry about things,” and Sa’s been really amazing about that and has really taught me a lot. To me it’s like, that’s the biggest thing that we are doing that, when I look around I see hardly anyone holds that context well; the context that everything’s okay, even the feelings that we ourselves are not comfortable with. 

I remember when we were first together, Sa realized that she was uncomfortable with happiness. I was uncomfortable with sadness. I had a great time being angry; for me getting pissed off was not a big deal. But  getting sad and grieving has been hard for me. But Sa, as a person,it was harder for her to let herself just be happy. We realized that, and if that had continued, she could have passed on an inheritance where being really happy was not okay for a little girl and I could have passed on an inheritance where every time she was sad, I’d try to make her feel better. But instead, when she’s sad, we hold her and keep her close, then we let her cry. She cries it out, she grieves it – that she didn’t have nine cookies or that she needs to go to bed now – then she cuddles in our arms and falls asleep.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

It is so wonderful that you both agree on that. It sounds like a pretty spectacular framework under which to raise kids. The fact that you are unified in that is pretty great.

Paul: It wasn’t easy.

Sa: No, it took a lot of work and a lot of discussion.

Paul: Yeah, Sa discovered this and I was resistant to it to some degree, and then I softened to it when I saw that it was working, but it was also very difficult for me.

Were you resistant to the idea of it or to the challenge of implementing it for yourself?

Paul: I think the type of person I am, I can understand things very quickly, but I can’t actually seem to apply them to my life until I can get them almost in my body.

Yeah, until it’s second nature.

Paul: It comes into me and then I’m like, “Oh! Okay, I get that.” It took me a while to see like, when your daughter is crying and crying and kicking and screaming in your arms, because she doesn’t want to go to sleep, she says, that’s what she says she wants but it’s not really what is going on. What she’s really doing is releasing a lot of pent up energy.

You know, it’s a bitch to be a little kid and be growing up, it’s hard, it’s very frustrating. People are telling you what to do, your body is changing all the time, your stomach hurts, you get sick, you feel powerless, and then you feel powerful. And then it all translates into, “I don’t want to go to sleep now,” or, “I just want another … ” whatever it is.

For me, to actually hold her and have her kicking and screaming in my arms, I would think, “Oh, I’m traumatizing her!” But after a while, and Sa pointed this out very early, I realized that she’s safe. She’s literally in my arms and I’m telling her I love her over and over, but she’s struggling and fighting. And all these feelings, I realized, are feelings that I’m uncomfortable with. She is the one having them. Yes, she would like them to end so she could have another cookie, but the fact of the matter is that I’m the one with the problem with those feelings, not her. She goes through them over and over and then I would watch her go all the way through and literally just run out of steam and then just cuddle her in my arms in a way that just makes me cry. Then afterwards she will just be so deeply focused and connected to us.

Sa: I remind Paul, connect before direct. It’s such a simple slogan but really, if you go and have the connection with the child, usually then they follow your guidance. The connection can be disrupted for various reasons, depending on the relationship or what happened during that day.

And Paul, I’ve seen you really make an effort to change and really coming home and connecting with our daughter first. Because her thing is like, “Hello! Will you tell me a story?” In the beginning Paul was like “No, no, no I’m tired from work,” or whatever. Now he’s like, “Okay, a short one,” and that little short …

Paul: Three minutes, yeah.

Sa: That little short story establishes the connection between the two of them and then she’s much more ready to take guidance from him. The whole evening is much more peaceful. But he had to feel that it actually  isn’t just a slogan, it’s actually something that works.

Yeah, that’s great advice.

Sa: If we look at the brain in a very simplified version, there is the spinal cord and the brain stem and the limbic system and then there is the cortex on top. The limbic system is where all the emotions are being processed and the pre-frontal cortex is where a lot of our thinking is happening. Usually there is good communication between those parts of the brain but if we’re emotionally overwhelmed or if our cup gets too full, then the firing of the brain doesn’t work right anymore, meaning you can’t actually think straight and then we act out in ways that don’t seem appropriate. We need to empty out that cup; the emotions need to be released and heard.

Paul: In a safe way.

Sa: In a safe way, not in a destructive way and then we can start thinking again and then we can start following directions again, and then we don’t need to show off-track behavior anymore.

Any kind of off-track behavior in a child, even though it might be disturbing to us because it’s aggressive or regressive or whatever, our understanding is that it’s an expression for a different kind of need. It’s not about stopping, I mean sometimes you need to stop a behavior because it’s hurting somebody or themselves, but it’s a sign that there is a need for an emotional release and building connection to a loving person.

Paul: That’s why timeouts are evil. Timeouts are like your most … Like, really? Basically your child is acting out because they need connection, so what are you going to do? You’re going to send them to the corner? Disconnect from them, send them to the corner and make them wrong and bad?

The only place I can see for timeouts is the parent takes a time out because they can’t handle it, and they take responsibility for it, which I’ve seen Sa do. Sa occasionally will say, “Okay, I just can’t handle this. I’m going in the other room. It’s not you, it’s not your fault,” even though our daughter’s losing it. Sa will go to her room, she breathes 20 times and comes back again and can finish handling the situation.

This is reminding me of something that’s come up recently for my husband and me in couples therapy. I’m curious, are you able to show a similar compassion for each other when you’re having the adult version of a tantrum?

Paul: Sometimes.

Sa: I think, over the years I would say we’ve been getting better and better with the help of therapists, too, along the way and a lot of dedicated practice. We had a therapist once who said, “You need to hug at least for 20 seconds in order for the resonance actually to happen,” so we tried it. She said 20 but we changed it to 30 because we felt like 20 wasn’t quite enough.

So we just sometimes say, “Do you need a 30 second hug”? It takes the edge off because sometimes when I’m in that state of “aaarrrrgh!” I don’t even want Paul to touch me. But if he says, “Do you need a 30 second hug?” I know we are in the same boat. It’s almost like a code word and it works.

Paul: I remember when the therapist said that, and I was like, “Of all the things that I could be asked to do, I know I can do that one.” Sometimes it’s really hard, but I know I don’t have to change who I am. I don’t have to say I’m right or wrong, I don’t have to let go of anything, I just have to give a 30 second hug. Okay, I can do that! And then afterwards it’s just like, “What were we talking about?”

… The thing is, I think it’s hard because what’s shifted for me only recently is this thing that Sa had been saying and other people had been saying and I’ve been listening to Buddhist teachers saying this shit to me forever, and I just never got it. I finally just got it. Like, oh! I am basically responsible for my happiness and everything else. I am responsible for all of it. She’s not responsible for any of it.

If she does something that pisses me off, it’s really not what’s going on. What’s really going on is that I am pissing myself off. I’m already carrying my pissed off around with me before she even showed up. She’s triggering it, and then I can decide what to do about it.

Sa: Also, what we’ve been doing, not so much recently but over the years, especially when times are hard, when there’s more conflict, what we do is a listening exercise.

Paul: It’s so great. It’s like, you’re talking about this thing with your husband, you should try this. It’s really good with Jewish men who’ve had fucked up relationships with their parents, especially their mothers (laughing). This exercise is like the best thing ever invented.

Sa: Yeah, and it takes a lot of practice to actually find the value in it. In really hard times we do, I think, every night 20 minutes. And what we do is we just sit in front of each other and we actually set a timer and one partner speaks for 20 minutes and everything is pretty much allowed but you try to speak as responsibly from a perspective of myself instead of blaming, blaming, blaming. Sometimes it happens, it’s hard but you try your best, I would say, to do that. The other partner does not comment, does not say anything. He or she is really trying to make themselves just …

Paul: Not a word.

Sa: Not a word.

Paul: You don’t say,”A-ha,” you don’t smile, you don’t nod, you just listen and then you switch.

Sa: Then you don’t discuss it afterwards.

Paul: You just empty. You can say, “When you did this, I felt like this and it was like this … ” and you know if you said it in a conversation the other person would react and lose it. You get to say it and they have to hear you, and then you feel you’ve been heard. You actually find yourself speaking a lot more responsibly after a while. You’re like “Oh, but I  realize that maybe I wasn’t very kind when I said this,” and after a while you’re empty, and then the other person just talks and empties.

Sa, do you ever feel that you are somehow facilitating Paul’s life?

Sa: Yes.

And how are you with that?

Sa: (laughs) It’s a good question.

Paul: It is a good question.

It’s a selfish question because I certainly feel that way about my husband a lot of the time. 

Sa: No, I totally get it. It’s interesting because about half a year ago a friend of mine was visiting from Germany and she asked me the same question. I would say that I never question it or it’s never challenging to me but it’s … how can I put this into words?

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is I feel I have a wonderful husband who adores me and who is in this relationship with me, and in this adventure of life and raising a family with me. For me it’s actually not separate. I don’t know how else to describe this.

It’s like, so this is my life right now, it’s this family. Once our daughter leaves and goes off to college or whatever, then something else is going to come up, or when she becomes a teenager, becomes more independent, I don’t know. I think in this phase of our life right now, this is our family and I don’t feel like I’m separate. I feel like our family works with me facilitating Paul’s life in that way. So I don’t really question it because I feel the benefit, and this for me is what I want for my life… I feel like I get the commitment and the love and the adoration and the support that I want for me as a wife, as a woman, as a mother.

Paul: We’re both trying our best, and I’m really fucking immature in some ways, and she’s immature in some other ways, but I’m really much more immature, I think, than she is in certain ways. If our relationship is going to work, which it does, there’s no “should” left anymore. We look within the relationship for solutions and this is the condition of the relationship. So if she has to facilitate certain parts of my life to have this harmonious relationship, and yet she can still ask me to act differently – I don’t know if you can actually ask someone to change, but you can ask someone to act differently – she can ask me to act differently to my capacity and when it gets beyond my capacity she has a choice. If she takes responsibility for that choice, which I see Sa do over and over, 95% of the time, or 99, which I think is the most you can ask any human being to do, then it works.

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Punk pioneer Bobby Hackney on his “family rich in memories, and laughter, and love”

We chat with Bobby Hackney of the legendary punk band Death about his family across generations, faith, and musical legacy.

Bobby Hackney is lead singer and bassist of the legendary punk band Death (profiled in the documentary A Band Called Death), a father of five, and a grandfather of three. He recently sat down at Parent.co to talk about the intersection of family, faith, and passing on a musical legacy. More from our Father’s Day series about Dads Who Rock.

The Reggae Fest you put together, back in the 80’s, I remember it was huge. 

Oh god, this time of year would be … It’s funny, I still feel it, even running the festival for those five years when it was in Burlington, that was the craziest time. Always this time of the year it was just so crazy and so intense. We had so much support from the local community and even from City Hall.

Sara: Bernie Sanders.

Yeah, we had Bernie Sanders, Peter Clavelle. We had so much support. It was like this time of year, I be out almost like a politician myself going from business to business, “Man, we’re looking forward to Reggae Fest, yeah! We want to spot you this year!” It was just really great.

Those were some really great times. It was just incredible in Burlington. I’ll never forget the meeting I had with Bernie Sanders in 1990, because the year before we had 25,000 and they knew that the next year was going to be huge. We had had Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers booked, but they decided to do their tour at a different time, and so we had Steel Pulse.

That’s awesome.

Great years man. It’s just interesting that I have all this musical history being here. It’s just amazing. I was just living it. I never thought until, it was really the documentary that made me look at my whole life in retrospect and the story.

Ed: Yeah, the A Band Called Death documentary. When we were talking to Bobby Junior, we were talking about how crazy it was that he was playing punk music on his own with his brothers and then found out that he had this other side of the family legacy and didn’t even know about it.

Well you see, that was it because we never really told the kids. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell them it’s just that within the Death story if you know about it, we went through so much rejection.

There was so much pain because what my brother David was going through and it wasn’t like I never intended not to tell them. I would hint to Bobby because he was turning me onto all these wild bands he was listening to when he was doing skateboarding thing. I used to tell him, “We used to do some rock and roll. Me and your uncles you know.”

He kind of gave me the old, “Yeah dad.” The great thing about it was is that, that never bothered me at all because he always saw me as this great reggae musician who knew all these reggae acts, who put all these international shows, all these national shows and, “My dad is a big Reggae star. He knows Ziggy Marley. He knows … ”

They were satisfied with that and they were really proud of me. They still are. I was like, “Hey, leave it at that.” You know what I mean? I wasn’t going to tell them about this painful story of when I tried to be a rock and roll star and the world rejected me. I didn’t want to pass that rejection onto them.

I just wanted them to be proud of me and be proud of their family. Little did I know that the real part that really made them proud of us I didn’t tune into so it just worked out that way but it worked out really good. I am super proud of my kids.

Me and Tammy always have said, with all of our children, with Bobby, you can go out and get all the accolades and do all the great things in the world, have all the awards, and plaques but what really matters to us is your character, how you treat people along the way.

In the highway of life and when you meet people and how you treat them and what they say about you. We’ve always tried to instill that the character that you exemplify is more important than anything that you can get. Those things are important too but the character is the way you treat people and the way they treat you.

You can see that in all of your kids. Did your parents play music at all?

You know what, my dad, he was the one that really appreciated music. He always wanted to be a musician. He actually wanted to play harmonica but we were told that our granddad, David Hackney the first, that he was a guitar player. My mom even had pictures of him with his guitar.

I think that was also kind of a little influence on us but we never … I mean nobody else in our family was a musician. My mom and dad, even though my dad was a baptist minister, he was a baptist minister right around the time that Chess record labels was really kicking so he had Muddy Waters records and Willy Dixon. I remember Etta James, a lot of Etta James would be playing in the house and Chuck Berry. Who else? Little Walter, I mean a lot of Blues and BB King of course.

My dad, he really liked the blues. My mom, her taste varied. She liked everything from Dion Warwick to Patsy Cline. She had Sammy Davis, Jr. records and Johnny Mathis records. Johnny Mathis is a big hearth throb at the time.

It’s funny because Bobby Jr. was talking about how in your family getting out the record player is something you guys like to do as a family almost like watching a movie or something.

It was your mom that took you to shows, right?

I was young. I was too young at the time but it was Dannis and David because what had happened was my dad he died in ’68 and my mom had a boyfriend named Jesse Dixon and Jesse … That was really the intro into our rock and roll education because it so happens that Jesse was a security guard and he was the head of his crew so they did all the events in Detroit.

We would get into all these shows free because he was the security guard. We would see James Brown. I saw Stevie Wonder open up for the Rolling Stones.

Wow, that’s amazing.

He was one of the few acts that could open up for the Rolling Stones. Legend has it that they even threw stuff at Prince when he tried to open up for the Rolling Stones so Stevie was one of the few.

We saw Santana, The Who, Alice Cooper. It was Dannis who actually saw Alice Cooper because at the time we were just playing funk music but we were still digging all these concerts because we can get in free.

How did you actually learn to play instruments though?

We kind of just self taught each other. We did have a mentor, a guy named Dion. Dion was kind of a professional musician in Detroit but he had done some tours, had filled in some when the Temptations was doing some shows around Detroit, he had filled in as a bass player and some other things.

He kind of had a wealth of knowledge of clubs and on the Motown scene and he kind of took … The great thing about it was he was a multi-talented musician. He played bass, drums, and guitar. He was able to mentor us on a lot of different things, on each one of our instruments. David was already prolific before me and Dannis got really serious about it.

David was almost already there so he was just a mentor to us and showing us the ropes and that was the one thing that really helped us and that was right around maybe 70′,71′ and that’s what really helped us really get on the track about being a full fledged band.

For the most part, we just kind of self-taught and jammed out with each other and figured it out.

It’s amazing you even wanted to do it though, too. So many people don’t even care it’s like they like music but they are not going to learn how to play it.

Right. That was a big influence too when we were young my dad used to put us in front of his church to sing. If you are a Baptist minister’s son, you got to sing. You got to do something in the church.

It was called PK’s, pastor’s kids. We would get in front of the church and sing. I remember my oldest brother, Earl, he got thrown out because he really couldn’t hold a tune. He was the only one that really couldn’t sing.

You started playing funk and then Alice Cooper came around so that influence happened. How quickly did your music take on a more rock driven aggressive element?

That was right around 72′, because that was when Dannis tried to convince us after he saw that Alice Cooper concert he came back and he was just like … He had never seen nothing like that up close and personal. He was really most impressed by the musicians. He told me and David, he said, “This is the kind of music we ought to pursue.” We were like, “Yeah. You called us up to the room for this?” It took about maybe a year and a half after that really. That was about 72′ so maybe about a year after that because what had happened is we were still dipping and dabbing in rock and roll and all that great music was still coming out so we were tuning into it.

What really got David’s attention was The Who. We got a chance to see The Who come to town and that was the Quadrophenia tour when Pete Townshend rigged up the whole arena with speakers in front and back. Remember the quad sound, everybody thought that was like what they call surround sound now. We thought it was so futuristic, remember? All it really was, was two speakers in the front and two in the back.

Any car today.

The quad sound, man. When you sit in your car, you got … How many in the front and the back? Thank our generation for the quad sound.

You started performing as Death. What gave that sound such an aggressive, charging sound? That’s powerful music.

A lot of it has to do with the rejection but a lot of it has to do with I think our passion for what we play, rock and roll.

It’s awesome. What I think everybody loves about that is the intensity.

Thank you. We appreciate that. Especially David would appreciate that, but we were just really just trying to be like some of the bands from our days like the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent. Ted Nugent had a great band called, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. This was before he went Tarzan.


I mean he was just a cool rocker with a cool band. We were listening to all this wild stuff that was coming out of Detroit.

It’s all local. That’s what’s crazy about it.

On top of that Alice Cooper moved to Detroit and The Who decided to take on Detroit as their sister city. They took a residence in Detroit which was crazy.  Yeah, so it was just rock music all throughout Michigan. You could just breathe it. Then, on top of the fact that we were always getting told, “You shouldn’t be playing no rock and roll. Play me some James Brown.” That made us even a little more aggressive. It was probably had something to do with the music being a little faster. We wanted to kill them with Rock and roll.

I can completely understand. It’s crazy because those people who are basically assholes whether they meant to be or not helped you create something that’s like a timeless legacy which is really pretty cool.

It’s totally amazing. Me and Dannis sometimes, we get together and we still just trying to wrap our minds around this whole thing. We never thought that the music would be heard.

When David passed away, I mean even Dannis looked at me at his funeral and said, “I guess the whole Death thing is going to go down with David and nobody is really going to know about it except our family and people we interacted with in Detroit and the people at Groovesville United sounds.” We never thought that this would come to pass. It’s still mind blowing in a way.  I mean, Politicians in my Eyes has been on Entourage. Freaking Out has been on How I Met your Mother.

We never thought that this would come to pass. It’s still mind blowing in a way.  I mean, Politicians in my Eyes has been on Entourage. Freaking Out has been on How I Met your Mother.

There was also that documentary about the baseball player on LSD…
Bobby Sr.: Yes, about Doc Ellis. Friday night Lights. We have had our music on Friday Night Lights. It’s just amazing.

Are there any offers that you have turned down morally, saying, we don’t align with what this project stands for?

Not really. But we have always made jokes about how it sickens us to see great Beatles songs that we used to love as kids and a bag of potato chips comes dancing over the hill.

After your brother died, how long did you stay in Detroit?

We were here when David passed. As a matter of fact we came here in 1977 and it was David’s doing. We came here in 1977. I did not want to come because I was involved in a hot romance with my wife, Tammy and I did not want to leave her. I did not want to leave Detroit. Believe me they brought me up here kicking and screaming. I think I was bound and gagged too. I mean that was David’s idea but he was the one that went back to Detroit in 82′, end of 81′ but he wanted me and Dannis to go back with him.

We had just began to really raise families and really kind of get established here so we were like, “No, we don’t want to go and start all over again in Detroit.” Which happened actually to be a wise move because considering what Detroit went through in those years, I can’t imagine raising my family right in the middle of Detroit. I couldn’t imagine that. It was kind of a two year standoff.

We thought that David was going to come back here. We were sure he was going to come back. He wouldn’t break up the band. He wouldn’t … We need each other and he was feeling the same way about us in Detroit. In the meantime, we kept practicing the Death stuff and the Fourth Movement stuff just like we normally did when David was here. This went on for about two years and of course me and Dennis had almost gotten used to the sound of just us being base and drum. Working up at the University of Vermont in the day and then taking evening courses at night, I became a WRUV disc jockey because I was in the communications department.

This went on for about two years and of course me and Dennis had almost gotten used to the sound of just us being base and drum. Working up at the University of Vermont in the day and then taking evening courses at night, I became a WRUV disc jockey because I was in the communications department.

You had Bobby here in Vermont and a then few years later … What’s the gap between the kids actually?

We had Bobby in ’78. Then we had another child D’Juan who we lost in ’84..

I forgot about that. I hope you don’t mind I brought that up.

No, that’s okay man. It’s part of our family. We absorb the pain. We still absorb the pain. It’s a progression of life. I just like to think of him being in that cheering section just like Dave, my mom, and all the people who have passed on. That’s a real … It can be real painful for me and Tammy but … Then there was Alesha, then Julian. After Julian there was Urian.

Then Jehric.

That’s right. I forgot Jehric. Hey I think he is my last one. He is our last one. He is 14 now. That’s crazy.

That 23 year span.

Yeah, but you know that I have been blessed that they all love each other and they love their mom and dad.

You have a tight family.

Yeah, we are tight. We definitely are and I am grateful for that. That’s why I am so glad that this thing happened in my older age and not in my younger years because now I have nothing else to do but hang out with the family.

There are tons of things that being part of this family has brought to me but I think seeing how close everyone is especially Bobby and Alesha, they have this great relationship and I often think of our two kids who are the same split, 6 years between them. I love hearing the stories like, “Remember the time you told me you could jump over me and you didn’t and you kicked me?”

That’s hilarious.

Tons of stories.

Just pinning her down and farting on her head so when I see these things between my own to kids I am like, “Oh my God they are going to grow up and never speak to one another again.” No, this is actually the foundation of a very pleasant relationship.

Yes it is. I mean we are pretty much a rich family in memories, and laughter, and love and that’s really what it’s all about. I always try to maintain that with our kids and I am glad that they maintain it with their relationships with each other.

It’s remarkable because you can tell when a family is kind of faking it. They love each other but they aren’t that interested in each other. They don’t have that warmth. From what I have seen your family really seems to have that.

Bobby, he really keeps it going and for all that we have been through and for all that we have faced, it is a real blessing and he has a beautiful family now. I love my grandkids, Kiernan and Josephine and little Michael. They are awesome. I like spending time with them just as much as I do with the older people, probably a little more.

That’s funny. What do you attribute that to? 

I don’t know. I just think we have always had a strong faith and I think that for the most part even Bobby seeing us go through what we went through when we lost D’Juan and bringing our family back… When a tragedy happens to a family and it doesn’t have to even be a loss of a child, it could be a divorce, it could be any number of things. When a tragedy happens to a family what it does is it puts everybody out there in the middle of the ocean. You feel like you are out in the middle of the ocean in a boat without any oars and the whole key is how do you get back to that shore of life and living and laughing and joy and love.

Me and Tammy could have took the choice to be depressed, to be down about it but looking in our children’s eyes that gave us the strength to keep going and I think that that was a big effect on them. Like, “Mom and Dad has been through the worst that any parent could ever go through and look at our family. We are still together, we are still here, we still love each other, we can still laugh, we can still cry, and we can still do all those things.” That doesn’t define us.

This bad thing happened to me and I just can’t get over it and I just can’t move on. What defines us is the love that we have for each other and I just think the lesson that me and Tammy have learned is you just got to live life to the fullest as best you can. Live each day and just be thankful for everything that you have and for the people that you have around you. That’s what’s most important to us. I think that’s the glue that really holds us together is our faith.

Beautiful. It’s kind of interesting because some people would say you are a musical family but actually you are a family and you have music. It’s pretty cool it’s not the other way around. What’s it like for you now to go and see your sons play as Rough Francis? 

Oh, man. The first time.. That just blew my mind. If you ask me what are the top ten mind blowing moments in your life, that will definitely make the top ten because I walked in there and they started playing Death’s Keep on Knocking. Then they played Freaking Out. I am like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe this.” It just gives me a feeling like I have always been proud but at that moment I didn’t even know what words I could put. I didn’t know what words to say.

It must have been so surreal.

It was. It really was. I don’t even know if there is a different word that you can go beyond proud that a parent can be but whatever that word is, that’s what I was.

Seriously. I always think the best thing a parent can ever experience is realizing your kids they actually can take care of yourself, they don’t need you. Even beyond that it’s just so cool.

I have always encouraged them to just go out and enjoy life. I am proud of all my kids.


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