Monday, October 26, 2009

Hello weekly dadlosophites! Sorry for the late notice, but no new post this week. Been busy hanging out with the guys (see last week's post). Look for the next Dadlosophies post next Monday, November 2nd, by 11am. Have a great Halloween guys!



Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guy Friends: I Need 'em

My wife says I need more friends. I suppose she's right. The guys I feel closest to still live in North Carolina, where I spent most of my life. Here in Georgia, I really don't have close friends. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of guys I know. A lot of them I like and would enjoy hanging out with. But when it comes to people I feel like I can totally be myself around or have a natural inclination to hang out with, I really don't have those kinds of friends. I know some guys from church and in my neighborhood that I think I could potentially be close to, but at this stage of life, it's difficult to build new friendships. I think most guys feel the same way. Once you have kids, life becomes consumed with work and family. It's all you can do to make sure your wife doesn't feel neglected, much less have any time left over to hang out with the guys.

Women are different. They're naturally more social than men are. My wife can strike up a lifelong friendship with someone in the car line at my sons' school for cryin' out loud. Just the other morning, she met her friend Sylvia for coffee at 9am. She called me at noon to tell me that they were just finishing up and that she was running to the store on her way home. How the heck can you have coffee and just talk for three hours? Guys can't hang out that long unless they're watching a ballgame, playing golf, dealing cards, or tracking something they intend to kill. Even then, we don't say that much to each other. Words aren't that important. We bond just being together while we do something. Women bond through talking, expressing emotions, and validating each other's feelings. If one of the guys asks me how my day was, I usually respond with something like, "It was good; you?" To which he will likely respond, "It was good." Boom! Conversation over. Pass me a beer and a bag of nachos, and turn the game on. If, however, you ask my wife or one of her girlfriends how her day was--trust me--you better have already peed; it ain't gonna be a brief conversation.

Don't even get me started on telephone conversations. With the exception of business calls, my longest phone talks last between thirty seconds and two minutes. I'm on the phone just long enough to know who I'm talking to, relay or receive any relevant information, find out if I am expected to be anywhere at a later time as a result of the phone call, and, if so, when and where I am supposed to be. Beyond that, I have no reason nor desire to stay on the phone any longer. It's short and sweet; a cell phone company's nightmare; no going over my minutes.

Women, on the other hand, are the reason cell phone company CEOs own vacation homes in Europe. They can talk on the phone for hours--ABOUT NOTHING! I can get off the phone after a forty-five second exchange and tell you exactly what has been or will be accomplished because of my talk. My wife, by comparison, can walk in the house on her cell phone, remain engaged in the same conversation while she unpacks her groceries, keep talking as she prepares an entire dinner, and not hang up until food is on the table and the kids have washed their hands. After which, if I ask her what she and her friend were discussing, she's likely to say something like, "Oh, Mary (or Sylvia, or Angela, or Stacy...) was just telling me about her day."

Yep, women have a whole different outlook and expectation of relationships. Men want someone they can hang with. He doesn't have to be deep or ever discuss a single human emotion. Heck, it's not even essential that he has any emotions. As long as he owns power tools we can occasionally borrow, we're good. Women, on the other hand, want someone to talk to, connect with, know on a deeper level. It's two different definitions of friendship.

All that being said, I'm seeing as I get older that it is important to make time for friends. Being married with kids is a high-pressure life. You're responsible for making sure your wife and kids feel loved and secure. You struggle to provide for their future as well as their present. All the while, you want to be a great example for the little ones you know are looking to you to learn how they should behave and what kind of people they should grow up to be. I need guys I can talk to. Sometimes, I just need to vent while they listen. Other times, I just need to shut up and listen to their stories so that I realize I'm not the only one struggling to try and be the man I should be. We're all baffled by our wives, tested by our kids, and stressed out (at least at times) by the daily concerns of life. I don't just need friends, I need the right kinds of friends. I need guys I can respect, who I know share my passion to be a godly, faithful, and loving husband and father. Those are the kind of men who can help me with their words, while inspiring me with their example.

Yes, I want to enjoy watching the game or cutting up over a tall cold one; but I need the occasional meaningful talk and good advice too. So, as a husband and a father, I'll make more effort to build the relationships I need here and now. I have no intention of listening for an hour while you tell me about your relatively uneventful day. But if you can help me be a better husband and father, I'm all ears.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Slower Moments

Normally, when I sit to write my weekly Dadlosophies post, I have a specific topic in mind. Maybe it's the state of my minivan, the materialism and expense of modern-day birthday parties, or the discouragement of discovering that the second sock I just spent twenty minutes looking for was hijacked and made into a hand puppet days earlier. To be sure, when you're a dad (or a mom) there's no shortage of material. But today, as I sit at a local coffee shop, sipping my $2.39 cup of mediocre coffee and listening to a CD by someone who sounds like a graduate of the Bob Dylan linguistics academy, I have no particular topic on which I feel the urge to expound. Instead, I just want to share a little about my weekend. After all, while fatherhood is certainly a fast-paced existence--full of dips, climbs, zigs, and zags--it also has its slower moments; times when, if you're lucky enough to catch yourself and realize that you need to soak them in, make for the simple but special memories that make all the challenges of parenting worthwhile.

My two oldest children spent last Friday night at their grandmother's. My wife's mom is always great about wanting to spend time with the kids. Occasionally, when she's feeling really bold, she'll invite the two older ones to sleep over. It's always interesting to notice the transformation that just twenty-four hours can bring. My mother-in-law never fails to pick the kids up in her usual, "Oh, aren't we going to have so much fun at Nana's house" demeanor. There's talk of the popcorn they'll pop, the movies they'll watch, the park they'll go to, and so on. The kids cheer and jump up and down with excitement. My mother-in-law smiles with delight at the joy on her grand kids' faces. How could such happy people ever have anything less than non-stop fun? Then, less than a full day later, my mother-in-law returns, her car riddled with McDonald's fries, her hair slightly less kept than the day before, and the words can I please have a sedative? written all over her face. Meredith and I emerge from the house to see Nana unstrapping two angry midgets who have taken the place of the delightful children who left the day before. Tears and yells abound as the two continue their heated exchange over a Happy Meal toy, each desperately trying to be the first to present their case to mom and dad that the toy is rightfully theirs. Sometimes we convince Nana to stick around for a while. Other times, she doesn't even turn off the car.

But Nana's continual willingness to voluntarily be alone with small kids for extended periods of time--while a fascinating study in human behavior--is not the main point of this article. No, I want to focus on the time I got to spend alone with my youngest, Carson, on Saturday, and the time I spent with my family on Sunday. Carson is only two years old, but he's old enough to feel left out when the older ones get to do things he's not yet ready for. So, to make Carson feel special, Meredith and I took him to a family festival in Atlanta Saturday morning. It was cool for Meredith and I to have some time with just Carson. Sometimes, the little guy gets lost in the madness of the Howard household, so it was nice that he got to be the center of attention for a while. The highlight, for me, was walking beside a pony while Carson took his first ever "horsie ride." My little guy grinned from ear to ear as he rode round and round, his tiny legs barely spread wide enough to straddle his mighty steed. It was awesome seeing how happy he was and hearing him say "nice orsie" over and over again as he pet the pony's mane. Later that day, Carson and I sat on the couch together to watch a college football game. I don't even remember the score of the game; I just remember I couldn't have been more content. I was right where I wanted to be. Sitting on my couch, my little buddy snuggled up to me in his baseball cap, my arm around him while we watched the game. Sure, he was there largely because he wanted some of the chips I was eating, but so what. I could tell by the look on his face every time I squeezed him close and told him that I loved him that he was kinda glad to just be close to dad too.

By Sunday morning, the Howard household was back to normal. Emerson and William were home. Despite the hectic pace of getting ready for church, we all made time to sit and have breakfast together at the kitchen table. William chose that moment to display his newly discovered talent: the ability to cross his eyes. What made William's performance even more hilarious was how badly it freaked out his mother. Once William knew he had Meredith on the hook, he refused to let her go. With every "Hey, Mom, look at me," that William threw Meredith's way, he elicited screams, cringes, and comments like, "William, stop it before you ruin your eyes!" Meanwhile, Emerson, Carson, and I couldn't help but die laughing at the sight of Meredith squirming uncomfortably as a giggling William continued to shoot her cross-eyed looks.

Later that afternoon, while Meredith and Carson napped, Emerson and William helped me clean up their toys. Then Emerson asked me if I would teach her to play chess. I'm no chess guru, but I know enough to show a six-year-0ld the basics. So, for the better part of an hour, Emerson and I played chess. The TV was off (when it comes to my daughter, football has to wait). The sun was shining through the windows to the kitchen. We could hear a few birds chirping outside. Work that needed attending to sat untouched the entire day on my desk in the office. All in all, it was a great day.

Life's crazy. As a self-employed freelance writer, it's easy for me to let work and the pursuit of an income crowd the time with my family. School activities, daily errands, and trying to keep a house full of rambunctious little people in relative order, could easily keep Meredith and I going non-stop. But you know what? Sometimes, you just need to stop anyway. If you're waiting for a convenient time--or even a practical time--to stop and take a break to enjoy special times with your kids, then you're likely to miss many of the priceless moments you could have experienced. Most of the really awesome memories I'll enjoy looking back on later are just simple things. They're first-time "horsie" rides, cross-eyed looks over a couple of scrambled eggs and a pop tart from the other side of the table, and a beginner's game of chess on a Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness for the quieter, slower times. Feel like you need a break from the craziness of work and the daily routine? Block out a day just for the family. Make the work, the cleaning, and the errands wait while you laugh together in the living room or at the kitchen table. Trust me, the craziness of life will be waiting for you the next day when you return.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Where Were These Kinds of Birthday Parties When I Was a Kid?

Just over a week ago, my son, William, turned four years old. Birthdays are always a special time, especially when it's a small child's. I'm a forty-year-old, married father of three. My own birthdays aren't that exciting for me. Each one means I'm one year closer to that unfortunate day when I don a pair of Bermuda shorts, throw on some black dress socks with an IZOD shirt, grab a metal detector, and delusionally think to myself, "Oh yeah,... I look good." Nowadays, all I want for my birthday is a nap, the chance to watch what I want on television for one day, and the knowledge that my prostate is okay. I usually don't even remember it's my birthday until I enter the kitchen the morning of to find my beautiful wife greeting me with a cup of coffee, a soft kiss, and a pleasant, "Happy Birthday, Honey." Then, I proceed to dish out kisses, hugs, and expressions of appreciation for the hand-drawn cards the kids have made me. All the while, I pray under my breath that the two younger ones won't ask me to tell them what the scribbling on the front of their cards are pictures of. One year, I seriously hurt some feelings by suggesting that a picture intended to be me and my son playing baseball was, instead, a portrait of two blobs of Jello fighting for space in the same bowl.

But, as I said, kids' birthdays are much different. A child's birthday usually ranks second only to Christmas in terms of excitement and anticipation. William is certainly no different. For several months leading up to his fourth birthday, he asked almost daily, "Daddy, is today my birthday?" Each time following up his question with the same request: "Daddy, when I turn four, can I have a skateboard?" Fortunately, my relentless bargain-hunting wife found just the perfect sized skateboard on one of her consignment sale safaris. I wrapped it the night before William's birthday and left it on the kitchen table. Meredith and I couldn't wait to see the look on his face the next day when he ripped into his special gift. The moment certainly didn't disappoint. William was so ecstatic that he even let his sister play with his other birthday gift (an almost unheard of gesture in Kids Who Can't Yet Read world ). My little buddy beamed with pride as he coasted up and down the driveway, still dressed in his choo-choo train jammies and wearing his studly, one-size-too-big, Spiderman skateboard helmet. All day long, the skateboard never left his side. If William wasn't riding it, then he was confidently carrying it under his arm, helmet still on, strutting like an old pro who'd just kicked some serious butt at the Munchkinland X-Games.

Of course, the highlight of William's birthday was his party. We reserved one of those places with all the jumpy things. The kind where you pay, take off the kids' shoes, and then let 'em run wild. The kids love it. They don't even notice the floor burns from all the sliding until you get them home and put them in the bath. They even like the overpriced cardboard-like pizza. Heck, when you're a four-year-old, life just doesn't get any better than running and jumping on giant, inflatable, jungle animals.

Which brings me to my question: Where the heck were these kinds of birthday parties when I was a kid? Oh sure, we had parties; but the birthday parties I went to normally consisted of cake and ice cream at someone's house, a couple of goofy party games, and some poor kid going home crying because he inadvertently wound up with a cut-out donkey tail tacked to his ass while playing an otherwise uneventful game of pin the tail on the donkey. Try passing that off as a birthday party today and you're liable to find yourself labeled the lamest parents in the subdivision (your only rival being the dad who still wears his 'Frankie Say Relax' T-shirt to the community pool and the Mom down the street who hands out fruit at Halloween). Today, a child's birthday party requires serious event planning. Instead of hosting one in your own backyard, parents are expected to rent out inflatable amusement parks or places with giant, dancing mice who cause the birthday boy or girl's younger siblings to have nightmares for at least two weeks. And if that weren't enough, moms and dads are also expected to provide gift bags for every child that attends the party. When did this start? I never got a gift bag when I went to one of my friends' birthday parties. No, in my day, we went bearing gifts and got nothing in return. Instead, we just watched the birthday boy or girl tear into their booty. All the while, we sat giftless off to the side, sucking the last remnants of Betty Crocker icing off of our paper plates and trying to act nice so that we wouldn't get our butts spanked for being rude when we got home. Now everyone who comes to the party has to get something. What is this, communism?

Oh well, what are you gonna do? I guess the most important thing is that William had a great day. As a dad, that's my job: to make sure that my kids' birthdays are memorable. The truth is, it doesn't take a jumpy place or an expensive party. As Meredith's consignment sale magic shows year after year, it doesn't require the newest, most expensive, or state of the art gifts. All it requires is being there and making your little boy or girl feel like the day is just as big a deal to you as it is to them. My kids' birthdays aren't about making sure they have the nicest or newest stuff. It's about reminding them that they are one of the most precious blessings in their daddy's life (along with their mother and siblings). Happy Birthday, William. We look forward to your fifth birthday next year. I just hope it doesn't get here too fast. And while we're on the subject, tell your sister and brother to stop growing up so fast too. I've still got plenty of room in my office for more of those hand-drawn cards.