Monday, June 29, 2009

Aaaah, the Power of Words

Just the other day, I was sitting in my office writing as my 3-year-old son, William, was playing in a nearby room. Suddenly, I realized that he was repeating a phrase I couldn't make out. I stopped my typing, leaned towards the room where he was playing, and listened more closely. After a moment, it hit me what he was saying. William had gone to Bible School that morning at church. He and his classmates had learned the story of Zacchaeus, the tiny tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree so that he could see Jesus. William was obviously re-enacting the story. He was saying over and over again, "Ikea, come down from that sycamore tree!" In William's version, it wasn't a Jewish tax collector, but rather an international home products store, that was being called to descend from the treetops to have dinner with our Lord. While not exactly a word for word translation of Luke's gospel, it's not hard to see why William might have thought Ikea is in the Bible. After all, along with Wal-Mart and Sam's, the store comprises one-third of his mother's holy trinity of shopping. Given that my children often accompany Meredith on her weekly pilgrimages to witness first-hand the pentecostal-like joy with which she celebrates bargains or the bliss of buying in bulk, it's no wonder why they might view any one of these establishments as divinely sacred.

William's "biblical" reference to Ikea is just one of the latest additions to a long line of verbal gems I've heard from the mouths of my children. It's not only exciting and heart warming when your kids begin to talk, it's also hilarious and, at times, embarrassing. Take, for instance, my daughter, Emerson. Shortly after William was born, Meredith wanted to have a family photo taken. Emerson was only two years old. While the photographer was finishing her preparations, Meredith happened to share with her that we sometimes called Emerson "Peanut." Just before we were about to take the picture, the photographer leaned over to Emerson and sweetly said, "So, I hear you are a little peanut." Emerson got a somewhat irritated look on her little face, looked the photographer square in the eyes, and firmly replied, "I'm no peanut; I have a vagina!"

The letter L presented a linguistic challenge for both of my older children. Both Emerson and William loved American flags. Any time we would be out somewhere and see an American flag, the two of them would get very excited. The only problem was, when each were about two years old, neither of them could say the letter L. Whenever we would be out somewhere and pass a government building or an establishment displaying Old Glory, my little guy or gal would suddenly (and at a volume I'm sure everyone within a one-mile radius could hear) blurt out, "Look, Daddy, a fag!" I can distinctly remember one Veterans' Day in which William and I were passing a couple of older vets, each of whom had no doubt bravely and honorably served our country. Each was wearing his old military garb and carrying a miniature American flag. Imagine my embarrassment when, on a day when such individuals should be honored, my young son pointed at them and enthusiastically yelled, "Daddy, I see two fags!" All I could do was apologize, explain, and navigate our way out of the sea of giggles and shocked looks as fast as I could. All the while I could feel those two vets glaring at me like I was some sort of commie sympathizer sent to humiliate them on their special day. For at least three years, I couldn't take my family anywhere near midtown Atlanta on the Fourth of July for fear that we'd be arrested for a hate crime.

I love to sing to my kids. One of the songs I sometimes sing to them as I pick them up and fly them around the room is Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle." As you might imagine, small children eventually try to imitate the words that a parent is singing. William, in particular, likes to try and sing "Fly Like an Eagle." Unfortunately, until he was almost three, every time William sang the words fly like an eagle, it sounded like he was saying "fall like a negro." Therefore, I was careful not to sing the song to William while we were out in public, lest he try to imitate me, be mistaken for a midget white supremacist, and get his little butt kicked.

Of course, not every memorable phrase has involved a racial slur or a homophobic reference. There are the times when William wanted to watch the "Grease" who stole Christmas, or Emerson wanted to ride a "neigh-neigh" (her original word for horse). Many of the words our children say are funny. Others melt your heart (such as when my youngest, Carson, tells me he loves me: "Wuv ooh Dayee"). A few tempt you to pretend that you don't know your children as you look around in public and ask, "Whose kids are these?" But each is a memory. Each is a reminder of how precious our children's first words truly are. You cherish, savor, laugh at, and shake your head over the phrases that escape your children's lips because they are part of the journey for both you and your kids. They are some of the precious moments that we can miss or fail to appreciate if we are too busy, too worried, or just not around enough. They also serve a valuable purpose. The words our kids utter are learned predominantly from Mom and Dad. Having children is a lot like living with a tape recorder. You hear repeated back to you many of the comments and attitudes you, yourself, are expressing. Nothing convicts me and makes me want to change quite so fast as hearing a tiny "damn it" or recognizing something yelled in anger between siblings that I know my kids heard me say to Mommy the night before. Nothing encourages me and makes me feel as awesome as hearing my kids say that they love God, express compassion towards another person, or offer to help one another because that's the example they've learned at home.

So I guess my message is this: Enjoy the words! Be there to hear them and cherish the memories. But LISTEN to the words as well. Not only do they reveal what your kids are learning, they teach you a lot about who you are as a person and what you, as a parent, still need to learn.

JUST A HEADS UP: There will be no new Dadlosophies post next week. I'm taking time off to enjoy the Fourth of July with family. Look for my NEXT POST on MONDAY, JULY 13 first thing in the morning! Have a great holiday!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Atlanta's "Hottest Dad"

About two weeks ago, my wife, Meredith, entered me in the HOTTEST DAD in ATLANTA contest. This morning we learned the results. The people have spoken. Atlanta area parents have voted for change they can believe in. Yours truly has been dubbed "Atlanta's hottest dad." From this day forth, the phrase "hot dad" is obviously no longer shackled to a shallow reference to physical appearance. No, we've clearly blown that stereotype right out of the water. After twelve years of marriage, three kids, and more than a few extra pounds, being a "hottie" no longer has anything to do with broad shoulders or rock-hard pecs. Those anatomical niceties might mean a lot to twenty-five-year-old ladies who are still playing the singles game, but if you want to drive a mom wild, just change some diapers, wash some sippy-cups, assume charge of a bath time, and--if you really want to make her swoon--take the little ones to a park for an hour so she can get a nap. Big biceps and a butt you can bounce quarters on might be attractive extras, but nothing says "Don't you want me, Baby!" to a mom like a husband who's just built a Lego tower with his three-year-old and smells of diaper ointment.

To all those who voted for me, I want to say "thank you." It was a tough campaign. I couldn't have won without your support. While I cannot accommodate everyone, I assure you that there will be places in my administration for many of you. I especially want to thank the men who voted for me. Any man willing to risk his male reputation to cast a vote for me or any other guy as "Atlanta's hottest dad," is either a true friend or a little creepy. I choose to believe that the vast majority of you are the former (except for one or two of you whose emails I recognized; to those few I would simply remind you that restraining orders are enforceable by law). If, after humbly answering my wife's call to swallow your male pride and cast a ballot, you feel that you have somehow been violated or could swear that your testicles have shrunk a size since going to the polls, let me assure you that your condition is temporary. Just drink a beer. Smoke a cigar. Watch some sports (not women's golf). Catch a Clint Eastwood movie. Eat some meat. These actions will raise your testosterone levels, and you'll be okay.

All the credit and thanks in the world goes to my beautiful campaign manager: my wife, Meredith. She was the architect behind our great victory. She shamelessly emailed and called friends. She contacted people via Facebook, gmail, cell phone, Morse code, carrier pigeon, that silly thing kids do with two plastic cups and a long piece of string, seance, and any other method she could think of. A tireless warrior, she prodded, persuaded, begged, and perhaps even threatened friends, neighbors, co-workers, family-members, pizza delivery personnel, neighborhood children, unfortunate Jehovah's Witnesses who rang our doorbell, and at least one Nigerian prince who randomly contacted her online to cast their vote. Partly because she wanted me to win and partly because she refused to be outdone by the other wives, my wife pounded the online pavement. When the results finally came in, Meredith sat back with her Saturday morning cup of coffee, smiled the smile of the victorious, and joyously savored her hard-fought victory.

Of course, I cannot help but wonder what doors my newly acquired title will open. Perhaps I'll get my own reality TV show: Atlanta Hot Dad! Addicted viewers can tune in every week to see which one of my obedient children is offered a rose, while watching the disobedient ones get voted off to go spend time with their grandparents. Surely, a professional photographer will be calling any day to schedule my photo shoot for the "Hottest Dads of the South" calendar. I'll no doubt pose in my standard middle-aged dad ensemble of Bermuda shorts and black dress socks. Shirtless, I'm sure they'll want me to throw the camera an alluring look while showing off my sexually enticing I just got done mowing my suburban lawn farmer's tan. And lets not forget the inevitable book deal. I can only imagine how large the crowds will be when admiring parents line up to get their autographed copy of How I Became a Hot Dad: Kindred's Keys to Finding Your Mojo in a Minivan. Yes, the possibilities are endless. If I play my cards right, there is no end to the fame and income this baby could generate. Before I know it, I'm likely to wake up and find that I've built a "hot dad" empire!

In all seriousness, while I find more than a little humor in the idea of me being Atlanta's hottest anything, I am grateful for and proud of the title. Not because I think it means I'm really Atlanta's hottest dad (less than two hundred people entered and, I can assure you, no one is mistaking me for George Clooney when I go out), but because of the thought and sincerity that inspired my wife and friends to support me. The mere fact that Meredith wanted to nominate me was special enough; after all, what better compliment can a husband and father ask for than to have his own wife sing his praises as a great daddy to her children. But to watch the zeal and determination with which she worked to get others to vote for me showed me how much she truly appreciates all I do for her and the kids. In addition, to have so many people respond to Meredith's call with votes, kind words, and compliments was very touching, extremely humbling, and challenged me to work harder to be the father they seem to think I am. To everyone who took a few minutes out of their busy life to hop online, write a comment, and cast a vote, I do offer the sincerest "Thank you."

And so, the lesson I've learned from becoming a "hot dad" is this: As a father, people are noticing even your smallest efforts. Your wife notices. Your neighbors notice. Your friends notice. And, rest assured, your kids notice most of all. What to me is a few moments jumping with my children on the trampoline or helping them learn to ride a bike without training wheels, is to my family the very thing that makes me a real "hottie" and the household hero. Of all the roles we strive to fulfill as men, none is more precious or valuable than those of husband and father. Succeed in every other area but fall short in these and, no matter what your bank account says or what title hangs on your door, you've failed. So keep all the other awards out there. In fact, you can keep hottest dad in Atlanta too, as long as I still get to be the hot dad in my own family. I may never be voted the hottest anything ever again, but that's okay. I don't need to hold some title that says I'm a great dad. I just need to strive each and every day to be worthy of the nomination.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Dozen Years Down, A Lifetime to Go

I once heard a story about a conversation God had with Adam right before He created Eve. "Adam," God said, "I can see you are lonely. Therefore, I'm going to make you a companion. She will be totally devoted to you. She will wait on your every need. Her whole existence will be centered on making you happy and fulfilled."

"Wow!" exclaimed Adam, "that's awesome!"

"Yes," said God, "but that's not all. She will also never criticize you. She will never try to tell you what to do. And she will never correct you or tell you what you should have done after you make a mistake. She'll always take your suggestions, and she'll never insist that you talk to her when you are tired or just want to be left alone."

"That's incredible!" responded Adam. "But, God, it sounds too good to be true. What is all this going to cost me?"

God paused for a moment, then said, "Adam, I'm not going to lie to you. It's expensive. It's going to cost you an arm and a leg."

"Ooooo," Adam replied. "That is expensive." Adam thought for a minute, then asked, "God, what can I get for a rib?"

I share that story because today Meredith and I celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. The years have sure flown by fast. In twelve years of marriage, Meredith and I have lived in two states, four cities, and seven homes. We've seen our best laid plans blow up in our faces, taken unexpected twists and turns, zigged when we should have zagged, and, at times, slipped temporarily into madness. We've lived through the pain and sorrow of three miscarriages, experienced the joy and blessing of three beautiful children, built friendships with people that mean the world to us, and owned one dog. Through highs, lows, career changes, family struggles, the death of old dreams, and the birth of new ones, Meredith and I have held on tight. We've laughed together, cried together, prayed together, and, on many occasions, fought rounds that made the "Thrilla in Manila" look like a game of patty-cake. Still, here we are: a dozen years down, a lifetime to go. Meredith is still my best friend. Even when she does things that leave me ranting unintelligibly or typing the words All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy over and over on my computer, there's still no one else I want to be with. She's still my "Little Rib." She's five-foot-four of sheer passion. (She'll try to tell you that she's 5'4'' and a half, but don't believe her.) There's not a smile on earth that compares to hers, and when she walks in the room, every other woman still pales in comparison in my eyes. Yep, I'm a lucky man. I'm an aluminum ring set with a diamond. I'm a discount beer that somehow wound up on display next to fine champagne. What did I get for a rib? Someone beyond my wildest dreams.

The fact that it is my anniversary got me thinking about how marriage changes once you have kids. Before children arrived, Meredith and I used to talk about movies, politics, current events, our future, religion, our jobs, and so on. Once we became parents, topics of conversation changed drastically. Where to find the best deal on diapers, the consistency of baby bowel movements, Sesame Street’s number of the day, and the state of Meredith’s nipples quickly became the dominant topics of conversation. Make no mistake, once you have children, conversations change drastically.

The concept of a social life also undergoes a major overhaul when you become parents. Before Meredith and I had children, we ate out often and usually hit a couple of movies every month. We actually hung out with friends. With kids, things are different. Going out suddenly becomes a major logistical operation. There are diaper bags, bibs, strollers, and hand wipes involved. There are windows of opportunity that must be considered. Take a baby or small child to a restaurant or store at the wrong time, and you invite a meltdown reminiscent of Chernobyl. Your "relaxing meal out" days are over. No more heading out to eat around 7pm. Now you find yourselves battling senior citizens for the best seats at places that offer early bird specials. In addition, the word buffet takes on a whole new meaning. Buffets mean no waiting. No waiting means less screaming, fewer meltdowns, shorter periods of scrutiny from bothered co-patrons, and less money spent on sedatives to calm your parental nerves. Golden Corral, CiCi’s Pizza, and Ryan’s become a parent’s Ruth’s Chris. They’re fast and as close to convenient as visiting a restaurant gets. If you’re lucky, you can be in and out before the kids ever realize that they’ve missed the opportunity to become a public spectacle.

As a dad, I’ve become a better tipper. Not that I have more money—in fact, just the opposite. But God bless anyone who has to clean up our table once the Howards leave a restaurant. Rarely do we depart an establishment without leaving the floor around our table riddled with Cheerios, food scraps, spilt milk, and broken, restaurant-issue crayons. I can just picture the soon-to-be-pitied bus boy crossing himself and kissing the crucifix around his neck the moment he sees our family escorted to a table. I feel his pain. I live with it at home. Therefore, I try to throw a few extra bucks on the table when we're done. To not do so would be more than inconsiderate, I’m convinced it would be a damnable sin. You just can’t do that to another human being and expect to still find a place in heaven.

One of the biggest areas affected by parenthood is sex. Before children, sex is an event. Women insist on foreplay. There’s romance. Often, there’s a date. You take your time. You connect. The house is all yours. If the headboard’s hitting the wall, who cares? It just means you’re having a good night. If one of you feels inclined to make loud animal noises, you go for it. If you want to don a cowboy hat and play a round of Marshall Dillon meets Miss Kitty, so what—it’s fun. You enjoy the experience. There are no boundaries.

With kids, sex is on a timer. Now your wife says things like, “If we’re gonna do it, we gotta do it now; the baby will wake up in twenty minutes.” It’s like playing a game of double-dutch jump rope; you have to jump in at the right time or you’ll miss your turn. Sexy lingerie gives way to flannel pajama pants and t-shirts that smell of spit-up. Banging and animal calls are muffled by sounds of “shhhhh, you’ll wake the kids!” Even the art of emotionally connecting is cast aside as your wife insists that you hurry up and finish so that she can get some sleep before someone has a nightmare or the next round of breastfeeding begins.

It is essential to remember, dads, that there is no room for male egos in the post-baby sexual scenario. You just have to accept the fact that, nine times out of ten, your wife’s mind is going to be somewhere else. You can’t let it bother you that the idea of a nap is far more likely to send her into a state of bliss than any sexual maneuver you might perform. Not to burst your bubble, but if she’s moaning, it’s probably because she just realized that she forgot to buy wipes at the store rather than because of anything you’re up to. Just suck it up, stud. Don’t let it get to you. You’ve still got it. It's just that she's too tired to want it right now.

But regardless of the changes, parenthood is an amazing blessing when shared by two people who love each other. Sure it totally turns your life upside down, but once you have kids, you realize that upside down is a lot more fun than what you had before. Our talks, social interactions, and romantic lives might be drastically different, but who really cares when you're sitting side-by-side clapping for your daughter at her first dance recital, yelling encouragement to your two-year-old tee baller as he beats the crap out of a tee with his bat (rarely, if ever, touching the ball), or chanting together "Whoop, there it is," after your toddler finally poops in the potty for the first time? Sure parenthood is exhausting sometimes, but when you finally get the kids down and have a moment to sit together amidst the scattered toys, topless markers, and half-eaten graham crackers, you realize that there is absolutely nothing more beautiful or important that you could do with your lives than to have and raise those amazing gifts from God you call your kids.

So let me use this week's post to say, "Thank you, Meredith." Thank you for choosing me, when you definitely could have chosen better. Thank you for trusting me with your heart and your future. Thank you for forgiving me for the times when I've forgotten just what you mean to me and have taken you for granted. Thank you for supporting me, loving me, and believing in me when I haven't believed in myself. And thank you for not killing me when you read this post and realize what I've shared about our personal lives. I would not have the incredible life that I have without you. You are my soul mate and closest friend. I will always love you and need you. Most of all, thank you for Emerson, William, and Carson. I don't know what most men feel like they got for a rib, but as for me, I got the only life I would ever want. Happy anniversary, Babe.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sorry Everyone, no new Dadlosophies this week. I'm taking a week off to focus on my book and spend extra time with the fam. Look for my NEXT POST MONDAY, JUNE 15th, first thing in the morning.


Have a great Week!


Monday, June 1, 2009

Little Bubba

With the return of warm weather comes the chore of mowing my yard. I'm not overly concerned about how my yard looks. As long as the grass stays cut and the bushes are trimmed enough to keep the HOA gestapo satisfied, I'm happy. Once a year, I'll take a weekend to pull the weeds around my house and, perhaps, put down some new mulch. After that, this lawn boy's finished. Sleep easy all you lawn gurus who relish your Yard of the Month kudos and love to bask in the glory of your perfectly displayed flower beds. You'll get no competition from me. As long as I can be confident that the Vietcong aren't hiding in my backyard, I'm good.

Mowing the lawn is definitely a suburban 'daddy task.' If you live in the burbs and have kids, you haven't earned your wings until you've dawned a pair of dirty shoes, thrown on an old t-shirt, and cut the grass on a Saturday morning. I mention mowing my yard because this year marks the first time that my oldest son, William, has wanted to help me. William is one of my best buddies (his sister and brother being the other two). Since the day he was born, he's been my "Little Bubba." He's only 3 1/2 years old, but that doesn't stop him from wanting to help Dad with all the big jobs. He helps me carry out the trash. He'll help me put signs together for my part-time real estate business. And he often accompanies me when I have to inspect a property or show someone a house. I refer to him as my "junior partner." And now, you can add "assistant yard technician" to his list of prestigious titles. As I push my lawnmower along, cutting grass (and weeds), William follows twenty or thirty feet behind, his Fisher-Price lawnmower cranked on full power. Focused and proud--distracted only by the occasional insect or need to urinate--this lawn-manicuring mini-me doesn't miss a spot. He follows in daddy's footsteps, making sure the old man hasn't by-passed a single blade of grass. Like Dad, he wears his sunglasses. Like Dad, he stops half-way through to wipe his forehead, take off his shirt, and grab a quick gulp of cold water. Then, like the shirtless studs we are, William and I complete the task at hand before relaxing on the back patio to survey the terrain we've just conquered. "We did a good job, didn't we Daddy?" asks William. "Yep, Sport," I respond, "We sure did."

Because of William, mowing the yard has gone from a mere chore to a precious opportunity. It allows me to spend time with my son. It offers me the chance to make him feel important and help him feel what I already know is true: He's very special to his daddy, and there is no way his father could ever live without him.

I love my Little Bubba. The things he says and does are enough to keep me entertained continually. Take yesterday at church, for instance. We were in the middle of communion. The ushers were passing the trays. As William sat in Meredith's lap, he imitated me and took a little piece of the cracker that our church uses for bread. As he put it in his mouth, I heard Meredith whisper to him, "This represents the body of Jesus." William put the cracker in his mouth, got a confused look on his face, and then, turning to Meredith ,whispered back, "Jesus' body tastes like Saltines."

The more time I spend with William, the more I love him. But it is also sobering. I see how much he wants to be like me. He doesn't just imitate the way I take communion at church or how I go about mowing the yard. No, he wants to imitate everything. He truly is my mini-me. On one hand, such desire to be like "Dad" makes me feel great. It warms my heart to know that my son looks at me and sees a hero. I know that, one day, posters of sports figures and rock stars will cover the walls of his room instead of pictures he drew for dad at preschool. Sooner than I realize, dad will fall from the heights of "greatest guy ever" to "Dad, you're embarrassing me." I'll become the guy he begs for money and gets mad at for not letting him use the car, rather than the guy he wants to be two-steps behind no matter where I go.

That's all fine. That's the way life goes. I don't want to stop those times from coming, I just want to make sure I make the most of the stage William's at now. I won't get a "do over" with William, so I'd better make these days count. Equally important, I better be conscious of the example I'm setting for "mini-me." What is he learning when he sees how I treat his mom? What is he learning when he sees how I spend my time? Does he see a patient man or a temper? Does he see faith or worry? When he looks at his father, does he see a man who values people, or does he see a man who chases money?

One day, William will live his life largely based on how he's seen me live mine. If I'm too busy with work, chores, bills, and the daily concerns of life to enjoy a quick wrestling match or answer a million and one questions about why birds can fly but doggies can't, then there's a good chance he'll grow up to be just as "busy." I know I can't be a perfect father. I'll have to apologize a lot. But the greatest gift I think I can give my son is the gift of example. In particular, the gift of setting the right priorities. It's not enough to tell people that my kids are the most important thing to me; I have to make my children feel like they're the most important. That doesn't just go for Little Bubba, that goes for his sister, Emerson, and his brother, Carson, too.

One day, I might be replaced with other heroes, but for now, my wife and I are it. Plus, you never know; by pouring time and energy into making our kids feel special today, we dads might just find that long after the LeBron James and Rock'n'Roll posters come down, we've, at some point in our children's early adulthood, been re-elevated to the place of
"greatest guy ever."