Category Archives: Other

These Frail Hands

This has been the strangest year of my life. I have had some pretty strange years in my life too–my family fostered children and I saw 7 foster children come into my home, which was always strange in one way or another. In one year in college I slept for 2-3 hours a night so that I could keep up with school, work, maintaining a relationship with the woman I was engaged to, and rehearse/perform a play that did well in the college theatre festival system and which garnered me an acting award nomination.

But nothing compares to a year of fatherhood. In the past 15 months I started a new career and began my own business at the same time; I determined that the self-same career is probably not the right path for me ultimately; I helped to create a new non-profit in our community, including serving on its board; I bought a house; and most importantly, I became a father.

I never anticipated much fatherhood is informed by cultural conceptions of masculinity, and in turn, how much my own understanding of masculinity is impacted by my fatherhood.

America needs fathers. And yet, America has no clue what a father is, because America has trouble figuring out what a man is. Is a man the typical action movie star? Is a man a high-powered corporate executive, defined largely by career success? Is a man a clueless slob? Is a man heavily devoted to his hobby and using every available weekend to pursue it, whether its sports, hunting, fishing, cars, or something else entirely? What is a man? And what are male humans that don’t fit into those nice, neat little holes that America uses to define men?

Furthermore, what is a father? As we hear every Mother’s Day, mothers are kind, loving, nurturing, life-giving, caring, sacrificial, supportive, and more. What unique parenting space does that leave for men? Personally, I don’t think men need a unique parenting space, but American culture doesn’t know how to accept a man who might have some or all of those “mothering” traits, let alone the “mothering” role. You don’t need to look any further than the “Mr. Mom” title that I still receive from time to time or the sexist posturing embraced by the leadership of some Christian denominations or the widespread use of popular yet divisive fatherhood training programs by even more American Christians to see that.

I don’t have any answers for America or American Christianity, even though I am glad to be both American and Christian. I think they both have their own path to walk to find true answers about fatherhood and masculinity. Hopefully we can all arrive in a positive and appreciative understanding about fatherhood and masculinity soon.

As I reflect on a year of fatherhood, I think about how insecure I was a year ago as a father. Nobody can fully understand how large a change parenthood is until they go through it themselves. I had some really bad days. I still fail at parenting quite a bit, although not as often as I did in the first few months.

I was very insecure about being a stay-at-home-dad. I looked for support online and found some good role models and fathering communities, which was very helpful. I worked far more and far harder than necessary–and for too little money–because I wanted to contribute financially in some way, and because I was worried about the “hole in my resume” from when I could not work outside the home as a stay-at-home-dad.

I agonized over my own masculinity due to thoughtless comments from friends and family and deliberately inflammatory statements by wolves in sheep’s clothing. For what it’s worth, all is forgiven, and I know, I think too much.

One of my dominant memories from early childhood is anticipated my father coming home from work and excitedly running to the door to greet him yelling “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” all the way. On some level it disappoints me that I will never receive that same greeting, even though I’m sure Emily will receive her own gender appropriate equivalent, and I know it will make me happy to hear Sam greet her in that way.

And yet I’m happy. I’m thrilled to be a father. I’m very happy to be a stay-at-home-dad. I recognize that I can add a great deal to my family and community without working. I have time to pursue greater interests than a job allows, and I am able to spend more quality time with family when we’re not forced to do housework in the evenings or on the weekends.

And I love Samuel. The boy who walks, talks, has a great smile and an even better personality. Who is learning to love books and music, and learning how to love and show love to others. Who is a dynamic and ever changing person.

My hands may be frail or unwilling at points, but they are and shall be the hands that pick Sam up when he falls, tickle him until he’s delirious with laughter, and carry him to bed when he’s fast asleep.

I couldn’t be happier to be who I am today.

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The End Is Near

I know, I’ve been on unintended hiatus for WAY too long now–sorry about that. Life has gotten in the way. In fact, my life is such that I have little time to write for this blog any more, and since my life has changed so dramatically in the past 9 months, I also have little interest in continuing to write here.

I hope you all have enjoyed reading this blog, and I intend to leave it up for a while yet. Hopefully others will appreciate it in the future, and it’s always possible that I might write something new every now and then. But for now, my plan is simply to write a few more entries over the next couple of weeks and leave it at that. I will be shutting down the twitter and facebook pages as well sometime in July.

Thank you all, and I wish you all the best.

A Gateway to Board Games

I’ve got a writing deadline this week which means I don’t have a whole lot of spare time. I wrote this post for a board game blog I had conceived a couple of years ago but never actually created. Enjoy!

When you’re new to the board gaming hobby you might spend a lot of time playing or hearing about “gateway” games, or “casual” games, or even “family” games. Although I would argue that each of those have slightly different connotations, the main idea is to identify games that someone who is new to the hobby can jump into and enjoy quickly and easily, but which is still rewarding to play many times over.

My personal feeling is that a gateway game can be anything. If you peruse the forum threads and geeklists on Boardgamegeek.com pertaining to gateway games, you’ll see answers ranging from Risk, to Axis & Allies, to The Settlers of Catan, or even Apples to Apples. Simply put, a gateway game is a game that causes you to become more interested in the board gaming hobby.

A game of Settlers of Catan in action

However, much of the discussion about gateway games today involves the theory that certain games work better than others as that first step into the hobby. A list of games commonly suggested as good gateway games can frequently double as a list of Spiel des Jahres winers. The Settlers of Catan (SdJ 1995), Carcassonne (SdJ 2002), Ticket to Ride (SdJ 2005), and Dominion (SdJ 2009) all regularly appear on gateway game lists.

I agree that these are all good games and they make a good introduction to the hobby, but what is it about these particular games that make them a good beginning place for a new boardgamer?

Although it may seem superficial, I think one of the first factors is simply the way the game looks. Many of these games have beautiful artwork and well designed components–ie, the cards, boards, box, and playing pieces. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and a game may be excellent even though it is not beautiful, it is undeniable that part of the appeal for some games is that they’re nice to look at–which simultaneously dispels any preconceived notions about board games being dark and obscure things that belong in somebody’s basement!

I love the graphic design of Ticket to Ride!

Another key factor is that the rules are short and easy to understand. Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride both have 4 page rulebooks, and Settlers of Catan and Dominion’s rules aren’t much longer. This allows the game to be accessible for someone who is not used to reading and comprehending a 30-page rulebook for a complex, 4 hour game. Of course, the fact that the rules are short also indicates that the game itself is short, and these four games all generally run from about 30-90 minutes.

However, in my opinion, the most important factor in these games is that not only are you having fun, but you are having fun building something.

There is an undeniable appeal to creating something from scratch that you can be proud of later. All four of these games involve the action of building. Whether it is a colony, a kingdom, a railroad network, or even the landscape of the French countryside–and the board itself!

In Carcassonne, players build the game board–depicting the titular French countryside–in the course of the game

This is what I think draws people to these games more than anything else, and is the biggest connection between the games. Although they vary by designer, publisher, mechanics, and theme, all good gateway games tend to give people the sense of accomplishment that only comes through building something from your own plans and with your own actions.

Of course, as I said at the beginning, a gateway game can be anything, and what drew you into gaming could be completely different. If it was not this desire to build or one of these four games, what brought you into the hobby? Comment below with your thoughts!

Recommended Game:  Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan Moon, published by Days of Wonder.

The Ticket to Ride game box.

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The Importance of Reading to Children

You all know I am passionate about childhood literacy, so much so that I am helping to start Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in our home town. However, I want to talk a little today about why childhood literacy is so important.

Here are some frightening statistics for you: Two thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. 37% of children enter Kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning. Or, the one that’s most disturbing to me, The US is the only nation out of 20 OECD free-market countries where the current generation is less well educated than the previous.

This is not acceptable. This is not how any nation in the world should be, and we need to take steps to reverse these trends. Fortunately, reading to young children, making books freely and easily available to them, and encouraging them to be life-long readers can make a huge difference in their lives!

Let’s look at some other studies too that show the value of reading to young children: A study of children aged 3-5 who were read to at least 3 times a week revealed that these children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, two times more likely to have word-sight recognition, and two times more likely to understand words in context. Creating a steady stream of new, age appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.

Of course, maybe the US Department of Education says it best:

If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food! Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind loses 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and stories. A kindergarten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment. (USDOE, 1999)

How can anyone make up for it? Read to your children. Support childhood literacy programs in your community. Make a difference in the lives of children today.

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Holiday Game Guide

It’s no secret that I love board games. The last time I wrote about board games here, I got a question on my facebook page (Have you liked the facebook page? It’s a great way to keep up to date on new posts!) about what games would be good for a very small child. Since we’re now fully into the holiday shopping season, I thought I would pass along a few more thoughts on what would games would make a great gift for someone in your life.

Animal Upon Animal in action–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com

AGE 3 & UNDER

It’s hard for children much younger than 3 or 4 to really get into games. Ability to understand and follow rules, take turns, and stay engaged for the entire length of the game all make it difficult for kids this young to really get it. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean that you have to resort to Candyland (which frankly isn’t a game anyway) either! I recommend something light, easy, and that has value as a toy, even if playing as a game doesn’t appeal to the child at first: Animal Upon Animal, designed by Klaus Miltenberger. In Animal Upon Animal, players build a pyramid of animals, stacking them on top of each other, ala Jenga. Great fun, and your kids will love the animals.

AGE 4-7

At this age, kids should be able to handle more complex rule systems and stay involved with a game longer. However, I don’t want to leave the land of toys quite yet, so here I will recommend Pitchcar/Pitchcar Mini, designed by Jean du Poel. Better yet, if you can still find a copy of Cars 2 Sorry Sliders, go for it. It’s substantially the same game, but at a fraction of the retail of either Pitchcar game, even at full price. I picked up a copy on clearance last week at a Toys R Us (Cars 2 the movie did come out 2.5 years ago after all), so move fast if you want to go that direction! For more information on Pitchcar, I recommend reading the review I wrote about a month ago. In short though, it’s a fantastically fun game where players race around a track by flicking small “cars” on their turn. Kids this age particularly seem to love it (I picked up a copy of Cars 2 Sorry Sliderslast week and Sam’s 7 year old cousin couldn’t get enough of it!), even though people of all ages will enjoy playing.

Pitchcar Mini in action–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com

AGE 8-10

Now this is a great age for board gaming! This age group should be able to handle the complexity of most “gateway” or “casual” games, like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, or Pandemic. If you don’t already have those, they’re all great choices that no modern game collection should be without. However, I want to veer a little off the beaten path here and recommend Zooloretto, designed by Michael Schacht. Zooloretto is a great game and 2007 Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year, one of the highest awards given for board game design excellence) winner, about running your own zoo. Kids love the animals, and its light enough they will get it and enjoy it, but interesting enough adults won’t be bored.

AGE 11-13

This is the point when your options become very wide open. These kids should be able to handle most things, and are really ready for some complex interplay between game mechanics. I can’t think of a better choice than Dominion, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. Dominion, another Spiel des Jahres winner (2009), is all about building a medieval kingdom. However, while the game can be enjoyed on a fairly simple level, a well planned strategy will always win out. At this age, most kids should be able to handle the game (it is also incredibly easy to explain), and will enjoy diving deep into the many strategies available.

TEENAGER/COLLEGE STUDENT

Again, anybody this age should be able to handle virtually any game, and some will be interested in playing the highly complex games of the world. However, by and large they will be more interested in playing light “party” style games with other people. To that end, I recommend 2 different games: Zombie Dice, designed by Steve Jackson, and Wits & Wagers: Party, designed by Dominic Crapuchettes. I don’t really know why, but zombies seem to be the pop culture flavor of the year, and Zombie Dice will suit your zombie fans perfectly. A fairly simple dice game where players play a zombie who, unsurprisingly, wants to eat brains and not get shotgunned. Roll dice hoping you get brains, but stop and “bank” your brains before you roll 3 shotguns. It’s fun, simple, can be played by any number of people, and leads to great moments when someone defies incredible odds as they roll the dice.

Wits & Wagers: Party is a new version of the modern party game classic Wits & Wagers. Really, either game would be a great choice, but the party version is designed to be simpler and easier to jump into, and without the vegas style betting system the original has. Both games feature number related questions where all players write down a guess, like in many trivia games. However, then players guess who actually wrote down the closest answer, so it really doesn’t matter if you know the answers or not–you can win simply by knowing who does know the answer. It’s another game that large numbers of people can pick up and play quickly, and your kids and their friends will love as much as you.

Of course, I may have missed some other great games that would make equally good gifts for someone in your life–or you might have a special case and you’re looking for some more insight into great games for your family. If so, write a comment! Let me know what I missed or what else you might be looking for.

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