Tag Archives: unexpected lessons

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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Your Parenting Goal

In college I was forced to take a class on leadership–I didn’t want to take it, I hated it while I was in it, and it has turned out to be the most useful class I took out of all 40-50 formal classes I was in during those four years. One thing I took away from that class is the importance of setting and meeting goals in all areas of life. Parenting is no exception!

Small child or international basketball superstar in training?

People have all sorts of goals for their children. For their child to have a certain career. For their child to reach certain achievements. For their child to have a safe and loving environment. For their child to have all the things they never had as a childhood. Some parents simply want to ensure their children have a childhood, instead of being forced into too many responsibilities too quickly.

My goal is a little different though. To be honest, I really had not thought about my goal as a parent until talking with some friends whose oldest child is going to college this fall. They said–and I’m paraphrasing here–their goal was to develop their children into self-sufficient, independent adults.

It’s such a simple thing really. Parenting philosophies abound today ranging from extremely regimented to extremely lax–or even creating a regimented system of lax ideas! But it seems obvious to me that childhood is by its very nature preparation for the rest of life, and I can’t believe I had never thought of it in such simple terms until that conversation.

In fact, I have adopted that as my own goal as well–I want Sam to be able to cook, wash his own laundry, clean up after himself, teach himself new things, think critically and make up his own mind on issues, work hard, and create a meaningful and happy life for himself. To be sure I want all those other things too–like a happy childhood–but I have an achievable end-goal in mind.

Don’t worry, Sam isn’t forced into cooking 5-course dinners for us!

I don’t know if it would be beneficial for everyone to think through their goal as a parent, but I think it has for me. It’s certainly shaping the way I think about Sam and what I should and should not be doing for him and with him. Have you thought about your parenting goals? If so, what are they, and have they been successful and/or helpful to you as a parent?

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Every New Day

I am filled with wonder at Sam. Of course there are the new skills he has developed over the past 9 months that amaze me as he crawls, holds his own bottle, feeds himself, pulls up (although for some reason his mouth is an important aspect of his pulling up ability), and walks along the edge of the couch or from chair to chair around the table. Those things still wow me when I think about the tiny thing he was not so long ago.

But it’s the little things he finds amazing that fill me with wonder. He loves to look out the window at our back yard. There’s nothing particularly special about our back yard, yet there is very little he finds more enjoyable than just looking at it for hours every day. I inevitably lose interest after a few minutes and do other things while he continues to look outside.

This seems to capture Sam’s thought process pretty well.

Every time my face suddenly appears through a doorway or around an obstacle, he still smiles and laughs. We’ve been playing peekaboo for his whole life, but he still finds this game incredibly fulfilling. Even just turning his head and seeing me across the room will plaster a huge smile on his face.

There’s something beautifully pure about childhood. We lose so much as we gain greater understanding and responsibility. I quickly decide that checking facebook or twitter is more interesting than seeking out the unique details of our back yard with Sammy. What do I gain from social media? Nothing really. But what could I gain from spending slow, quiet time contemplating the beauty of the natural world with Sam? What else deserves the type of intense attention to detail that Sam likes to give things?

Probably one thing that deserves that attention to detail is my cleaning ability, which I type as Sam finds yet another cheerio I somehow failed to sweep up off the floor and he immediately pops it into his mouth. In all seriousness though, I think we gain as much from our children as they gain from us. Here I have been given a perfect example of how to live in deeper connection to my surroundings. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’ll try to make the most of it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a window to look through with my son.

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The Tragedy of the Milestones

Early on in Samuel’s life, I couldn’t wait for him to reach a new milestone–holding his head up on his own, rolling over, sleeping through the night (oh, that was a blessed night indeed!), and many more. Those milestones even caused me some minor angst, when I felt like his mom and I were not giving him a stimulating enough environment, since many of those milestones were reached away from home.

Since then something has happened: mobility. Yes, Sam has been crawling for close to two months now, and I think crawling is in fact the biggest milestone of all. It’s the game changer. Lots of little milestones came together to help Sam transition from being an infant/newborn to a baby not only able to interact with other people, but a person who enjoys it; however, mobility itself is in many ways the first form of independence. It’s a great thing!

The thing that concerns me at this point though is that I find myself simultaneously looking forward to new milestones and dreading them at the same time. Crawling is fun, but won’t walking be better, since he will be further away from all the dirt and dust on the floor? On the other hand, he will just be that much faster. I already can’t keep up with him and do everything else I need and want to do! Won’t language skills be great? He’ll be able to tell me exactly what he needs/wants, instead of me having to guess! And he’ll be able to talk back, say “no”, and trick me into arguments where his logic will never lose.

Do I want him to continue growing and developing? Absolutely. Is it that I am trying to hold onto some perfect period in his life, where he is the most enjoyable? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t feel like this is a unique feeling either–I know billions of parents across time and space have had this mixed anticipation and trepidation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I have been aware of the tension of parenthood’s balancing act between what a child wants and needs and what the parents do, I had not yet experienced this other tension. This slow-moving tragedy. The tension between a parent trying to hold onto his old life and the child reveling in discovery, excitement, exploration, and the inevitable changes he creates in the world around himself. The change in family and interpersonal dynamics forged by sheer force of child willpower.

Pondering my continued loss of control saddens me, but I think I may be missing the point. It’s not a tragedy at all. From the perspective of two and a half feet off the ground, it’s an adventure.

Who could dread that?

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Relaxation of childhood

This post was initially intended to go up last Friday. Frankly, I forgot to post it as the horrific news from Newtown Connecticut spread. However, I’m not sure there’s any better time to talk about enjoying the simple things in life and spending special time with your family than now, so here’s the original post.

Although there are many joys of parenthood and being a stay-at-home-dad in particular, one of the best is the ability to relax easily. I have to admit, this doesn’t always come easily for me. I have a tendency to push hard and actively do things, even if they are intended as a form of relaxation or entertainment.
In fact, it helps me to remind myself to take things slowly. One of the best things I can do as a parent is to take things slowly and let life develop at its own pace, or perhaps more accurately, Samuel’s pace.
It is good to relax. It is good to sit outside and watch the leaves fall–not that there are any left at this time of year. It is good to turn on the lights decorating the Christmas tree and just look at them and the ornaments on the tree. It’s good to sit and watch a ceiling fan. It’s good to just lie on the floor and play with each others fingers.
Of course, it’s good for children to play with toys and to challenge ourselves in new ways as well. But I think it’s easier to forget to relax than to forget to play, which is just plain too bad. Take some time to smell the flowers–literally or otherwise. Let life shape itself around you instead of trying to mold life or mold yourself into a certain way. I think you and your child will both be better off for it.

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5 Things I needed to know about Labor & Delivery as a dad

This post was originally written for another parenting blog I thought I was going to contribute to regularly. That didn’t work out, and the original version of this post was written in their proprietary system, so this is a rewrite based on my memory. Still, I liked how it turned out before, and I liked how it turned out now, so here’s some wisdom for your week!

Books have been filled with this topic, like every other parenting topic. I can’t claim to know all the secrets, but I do know that I learned a lot (some by doing the wrong thing…) about what it’s like to be a dad during labor & delivery at the very least. It may have been almost 6 months ago–which is incredibly hard to believe–but hopefully this will help other non-delivering parents make it through the labor and delivery process.

Walking around the hospital with barefeet is just a bad idea…

1. Don’t walk around barefoot. Ok, so this should be a no-brainer. Walking around a hospital without shoes on is dumb for a number of reasons–cleanliness is paramount, who knows what else has been on that floor (and in the labor & delivery ward, you REALLY don’t want to think about that), and who knows what medical supplies might have fallen on the floor that you could step on accidentally.

Keep your shoes on. Even if you try to sleep. If you do take your shoes off, put them back on before you leave the room. Period. Even if you think you need to go get something immediately, at least slide your feet in your shoes. I kinda learned this the hard way, and I’m still recovering from the tongue lashing I received–and deserved–from the nurses at the nursing station.

2. Keep a sense of humor. This is essential. There’s nothing pretty about childbirth. It’s messy, ugly, your body (or your spouse’s body) is doing things you never really thought about or understood before, and it’s extremely undignified. All of this is why I have to say thank goodness for Ann, our first nurse. We got to the hospital a little before 7 PM, after water broke at 6:15.

The overnight nurse (Ann), was incredibly gracious, kind, and hilarious. She helped us figure out what we were doing and what was going on while maintaining a wry sense of humor about it all. There are some points where you just have to laugh about things, or at least treat them lightly enough that you don’t let it overcome you, and humor is a great way to do it.

They will make–or break–your hospital stay. Make ’em happy.

3. Be nice to the nurses. Another no-brainer. The doctor may get the glory, but the nurses are the ones who do a lot of the unpleasant but necessary work. You will rely on them throughout the whole process, and your life is just plain easier if you suck up a little and give them all the courtesy, kindness, humility and thanks you can.

4. Don’t be surprised if the non-laboring spouse gets less rest than the laborer. Ok. Now, before we get too far into this, I want to be clear–I did not expect to get much (if any) sleep, and I’m certainly not complaining. Frankly, I probably got more than most people, thanks to the soporific effect of the epidural. Nonetheless, between the adrenaline, the uncomfortable chair I had to sleep in, nurses coming to check on things in the night, me waking up to take care of things in the night, and the trouble I have going to sleep anyway, it just didn’t happen for me.

Thankfully, I brought three books and got a lot of reading done that night, so there’s a silver lining for you.

5. It’s ok to go home and sleep. All of the other things on this list are important, and I wish I had been told, or actually was told, before labor. However, if I only could share one thing with you, this would be it.

I had grand ideas about spending our first night together as a family of three. I thought it was important to set a precedent. I didn’t want to force my wife to take care of the baby herself the night after she had given birth. I wanted to be there, just like I want to be there for so many nights and years to come. However, I just couldn’t do it.

I was exhausted–see point 4. I had been through countless completely new experiences in the past twenty four hours. I was still coping with the incredible changes my life had just taken. I needed time to myself and time to decompress. But I would not accept that I needed to go home, decompress, take a long, hot shower, and get a good night’s sleep in my own bed. Thankfully, my exhaustion was apparent enough to my wife and mother-in-law that the women prevailed upon me and made me go home.

I needed that more than I can say, and although every family is different and has different needs, I will affirm anyone’s decision to do this. Don’t feel bad because you want a real shower or a solid eight hours of sleep. You need it–you’re a parent now! And one night to yourself isn’t going to make you a bad spouse, parent, or person.

Like I said, there is far more to labor and delivery than I could ever say, even just on the dad side of things. Hopefully this will help a little though, and best of luck to all of you who will go through this soon.

If you have any more tips you wish someone had told you (men and women!), feel free to comment below!

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New Environments

Recently I talked about how we went on a picnic, and how that was a good experience for me and Samuel.  Since then we visited family in Tennessee, and those two experiences have been rolling around in my brain and giving me a lot to think about.
It seems like every time we visit family (or when they visit us for that matter) Samuel learns a new skill. He’ll suddenly start reaching and grabbing things or sitting up on his own, or any number of other new developments.
Frankly, it concerned me for a while, when I began asking myself if I was failing as a father by not creating a stimulating enough environment or interacting with him enough/effectively. Fortunately, my wife has a much more level head about such things and reassured me that I was indeed being a good father, but it was simply him reacting to a new environment that helped him unlock something new.
It’s fascinating to me that he can teach himself complex new skills in general, but particularly that he does so when he’s “out of his element”. I suppose on a neurological level he’s creating new pathways in his brain due to the new people and places, so it’s easy to create yet another new pathway for a skill. On the other hand, maybe it’s just that he is able to evaluate the skill in a new light since he’s literally in a different place.
Being “out of the comfort zone” doesn’t apply only to Samuel though. On the contrary, I find myself “uncomfortable” on a regular basis, simply because parenting is still so new to me. When you then add in that I’m learning how to be a blogger and a freelance writer at the same time, life becomes even more complex for me!
However, there is so much more for me to learn as well–one thing Samuel’s got going for him that I don’t is that he is constantly changing and growing, while I am mostly the same. Certainly my perspectives and knowledge are changing all the time, but they’re tempered by the experiences I’ve already had, and physically I remain much the same, even if my hair is slowly becoming a little grayer.
From my perspective though, every day is different than the last as Samuel continues to grow up. In many respects, I constantly get the benefit of being in a new environment because Samuel is constantly new himself.
Even more important than any brain health benefits from Samuel’s growth is that I get the chance to watch his growth and hopefully grow some myself at the same time. It’s not the most glamorous thing I’ve ever done or ever will do, but it’s still very exciting to me–even if I never expected to say that in my entire life!

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You’re not a bachelor anymore

I did something dumb recently. I had trouble falling asleep and ended up being awake until after 3 AM working on projects. From a professional and productivity standpoint, that was a fairly good decision–I got a lot of work done and since I work from home, I could just sleep in.

From a parenting perspective, it was a nightmare. First of all, I’m not a teenager anymore, and I physically just can’t handle that as well as I used to. Staying up that late would not have been unusual for me in the past–I even went for a few weeks on just a couple hours of sleep a night due to a particularly busy semester in college–but I haven’t done that in years, and definitely not since Samuel was born.

Since Sam wakes up at 7 or so most mornings, this could have been a complete disaster, resulting in a grouchy daddy being a bad parent and a bad writer for the whole day. Fortunately, Sam slept in and our day rolled along pretty well. Even so, it reminded me of my new responsibilities in life.

It’s better for me to miss an opportunity than to miss my child. It’s better for me to fall behind in current events than it is for me to ignore my child in the pursuit of my own desires. It’s better for me to push away the laptop and pull up the picture book I’ve already read 5 times today for yet another few minutes of one-on-one time with Samuel.

It’s not always easy and I certainly continue to make those mistakes, in addition to the occasional evenings and weekends when I disappear for a bit to get some necessary work done. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and I’m going to keep working on it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear someone stirring in his crib. I have some life to live instead of just work to do.

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4 Things I Learned About Parenting From Milligan College

This weekend we’re all heading out to “Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains” to visit Sam’s grandparents and attend homecoming at Milligan College, our alma mater. Thinking about Milligan reminds me not only of academic subjects, friends, and the good times I had there, but also the life lessons I learned without even realizing it. Since I spent 4 years at Milligan, here are 4 lessons about parenting I learned at Milligan, even though I didn’t know I was learning about parenting and wouldn’t become a parent for years after graduating.

1. Leadership is service

Milligan’s classic catchphrase, “Servant Leadership”, was incredibly well demonstrated to me during my time there. I can’t think of a faculty or staff member who did not live up to their responsibility to lead students through their service to students. Additionally, I am proud to say I was a member of the Institute for Servant Leadership and participated in a number of different service projects, including playing a leading role in some.

Furthermore, I learned how to be a leader during my time at Milligan. Thanks to the opportunity to direct two one-act plays, edit the Phoenix my senior year, and serve as the president of Sigma Tau Delta (including organizing not only public poetry readings, but also a public reading of literary criticism), I learned through hands-on experience what it takes to be a leader.

In some ways, parenting might be best described as servant leadership. I’m not sure there is any better way of describing the actions of a servant than by discussing what I do as a parent on a daily basis: I feed, clean, and care for Sam, since he is incapable of doing any of that on his own. However, I also have to provide leadership for him by putting others’ needs first: his needs, his mom’s needs, and what is best for our family and community. Milligan taught me how to do that.

2. Life is incredibly interconnected

Humanities. A word that can still instill fear in the hearts of alumni everywhere, conjuring images of blue books and all night cramming sessions. I have to say that I loved Humanities and learned a lot from those four semesters beyond the Praxitelean Curve or Pascal’s Pensees. I learned that it is impossible to separate the world into neat little boxes of literature, science, history, art, theatre, philosophy, music, or architecture. The world is messy. The scientific discoveries of the Renaissance directly influenced the art of the time and it is impossible to act otherwise, even though it is tempting to act as if science and art are diametric opposites, along with “left-brained” and “right-brained” people.

Like I learned in Humanities, parenting is something that suffuses every part of your being. It’s not a job to be picked up and put down, because even when you are away from your child, you still think about him and act with him in mind. And when I am with Samuel, I have learned that everything I do with him influences how we interact. Parenting is just as messy as the rest of the world, although that burp cloth I’ve been using might be the messiest thing of all.

3. Mentors can teach you a lot

Like I said in point 1, Milligan is full of wonderful people. I’m not sure you can graduate without making a deep connection to at least one faculty or staff person. I was blessed to have a number of people who cared deeply about me and my success, and I learned a lot more than how to evaluate an academic source for a research paper or the intricacies of a properly diagrammed sentence. I got to watch these people live their lives in ways I wanted to live my own life and I got to talk with them about problems in my own life and figure out how to help solve them.

However, some of the most valuable things I learned were how to treat my own wife and children. How to love, serve them, and lift them up. How to deal with the pressures and injustices of the world. How to create and fulfill goals for my family, regardless of how big or small those may be. Thanks to Milligan College, I saw love and parenting in action, and I was able to learn how to do that myself.

4. You can learn a lot from different people

Yet another seminal Milligan experience is Christ & Culture, the capstone course that everyone has to take before they can graduate. One of the final assignments in that class is to spend some time with people “different from yourself”, because of how easy it is to lose sight of how the rest of the world views life.

Ever since then, I have consciously tried to be sure I look at life from others’ perspectives. It tends to teach you not only about the rest of the world or new things, but also a great deal about yourself. This has been invaluable in my life and parenting so far, by helping me determine what works and what doesn’t, and what is good for my family and what is not–and to my surprise, those answers have not always been what I anticipated before hand!

You can learn a lot from people that you hope to emulate, as I mentioned in point 3. But it is just as important to realize that we all have so much to learn even from people we may have no intention to emulate at all. Parenting is no exception! I have loved learning how different cultures, and even different American subcultures, choose to parent their children. However, I might have never chosen to make a conscious effort to think critically about the world if I had not been shown how.

You know, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t include this bonus lesson I learned from Milligan.

5. Everything’s better with a good chase

I studied Theatre while I was at Milligan, including spending two semesters touring local schools as part of the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) class. One thing Prof. Major always emphasized was how much kids love a good chase scene, and I don’t remember ever seeing a TYA performance (or being in one) without a chase.

I may not be doing much chasing yet, since Sam hasn’t learned to crawl, let alone walk or run, but I have no doubt it will be happening every day soon enough. I’ll have to be sure to join in the chase and give our cat–whom I am sure will be chased by Samuel far more frequently than he wants to be chased–a break every now and then.

How about you? What lessons about parenting have you learned when you didn’t expect them?

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