Tag Archives: Writing

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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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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5 Ways to Deal with Stress & Frustration

I sometimes feel like I give the impression that I’ve got it all together or that parenting is a breeze for me. Let me tell you, it’s not always! I have my bad days, and Sam does too–particularly when a writing deadline is staring me down, like right now. However, I have some tools I use to help me deal with this stress, and I’ll pass them on to you. Please feel free to add any other tips you have in the comments below!

1. Worry about/do stuff when it needs to be done.

This has been a major problem for me throughout my life. I have a tendency to over think even the smallest of things–or even worse, things that never even happen! Because of this I have been working hard over the past few months to think about and do things when they need to be done.

Don’t misunderstand me though–I’m not saying you should only “live in the moment” or something like that! Sometimes things need extra planning hours, days, or even months ahead. The trick is learning which is which and how much time it actually takes to do/plan things rather than letting it overwhelm you. Learn to handle tomorrow’s troubles tomorrow and you will be happier.

This has absolutely been what I have looked like before.

2. Walk away.

This seems counter-intuitive. You’re a parent caring for a child who is incapable of doing anything on his or her own, and I’m encouraging you to walk away?

Yes and no. I’m not saying you should abandon your child. I’m also not saying you should hide and let the kid scream for hours. What I am saying is that frustration builds easily when you’re doing your best to take care of a child all day (and sometimes all night) long and nothing seems to help. It wears on you–quickly. It’s no wonder Navy SEALs are trained to withstand torture by listening to babies cry for hours on end!

However, leaving yourself in a situation where you could easily hurt your child or yourself is not heroic in any way. Put your baby in the crib and walk away from the screams for a few minutes. Ideally your partner or another helper can step in at that time so you can get a break, but even if you have to let the baby cry for a little while, it’s better than remaining put when you just need a five minute break.

3. Get help.

Speaking of needing a break, get help from somebody. As I’ve mentioned before, I had some fool-hardy and “heroic” notions about new parenthood. Thankfully, we had a lot of help from the beginning and my wife and I still have good teamwork and regular visits to and from our parents.

Even if you don’t have parents nearby (Sam’s grandparents range from a 2.5-4.5 hour drive away), rely on your partner or other members of your community. As you know, I’m a stay-at-home-dad, but there have been some times when I have needed help during the middle of the day. Fortunately my wife has a job where she can quickly and easily leave if I need some help–or at the very least take an early lunch–and we have had some times when I needed that.

There’s no shame in needing help.

Yeah, this has been me before too.

4. Take a deep breath.

This is really simple. I’m not a medical expert and I can’t explain it, but the act of simply taking a deep breath does wonders for stress relief. If you practice yoga or other activities that involve deep breathing, continue that practice and use that knowledge for when you’re in the middle of the 17th straight spoonful of peas that have been thrown on the floor and you just can’t take it any more. Take a deep breath or 5. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps.

5. Lower your expectations.

Again, I have sometimes had overblown notions about what was expected of me or what I needed to be doing. Probably because I over think things (ahem, point 1). Anyway, release those notions. You’re not going to be Super-Parent. There is no parent of the year award–or if there is, I don’t know about it because I’m spending too much time rescuing paper from Sam’s non-stop chewing. You don’t have to be a great parent. You don’t have to have a great kid.

You just have to be the best you can be. And sometimes the best you can be is somebody who needs to put the baby in the crib while you walk away, take a deep breath, and dial the number of somebody who can lend a hand for a while.

That’s ok. Really.

As my wife says constantly during baseball season when her favorite players come up to bat, “Don’t be a hero! Just get a base hit!” Keep plugging away at the daily work of parenting while not becoming overwhelmed, and you will make it through. It may not always be pretty, but your child, your partner, and ultimately, you, will thank you for it.

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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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“So you’re ‘daddy day care’?”

You know, the truth is that line could be any number of things. “Mr. Mom”, “baby sitter”, “Dad-mom”, or any number of other things. This is what people have said to me in the past, and “daddy day care” is just the most recent one.

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the news–stay-at-home-dads are on the rise, there are 2-3 times as many of us as there were 10 years ago, we’re generally pretty happy to be doing what we’re doing–that’s all true. It’s tempting to write that there’s a lot more to who I am and what I do than the old, preconceived notions about being a stay-at-home-dad or even this new understanding of who we are. However, I’m really not sure that’s true. To be sure, I am a freelance writer and editor, self-acknowledged geek, bread-baker, sometime amateur actor, aficionado of both books and board games, and a lover of my wife and son.

When it comes down to it though, what I really am is a father, or more generally speaking–and perhaps more significantly–I am a parent. That’s all I do as a stay-at-home-dad. I parent. It’s nothing more noble, demeaning, or really even more complicated than that. While I’m busy parenting though, I want to share what it is to be me and the things I discover along the way–whether that’s a great new book/game/movie/cd for kids and families, the latest crazy or entertaining thing that has happened to me while I’m parenting, or even just some insight into how we can all be better parents, I hope you can find it here.

If you’re still along for the ride, feel free to find me on facebook (facebook.com/mommyisatwork) or twitter (twitter.com/mommyisatwork), and let me know what you think along the way.

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