Good Hair

Dip the cup into the water and fill it up. Gently place my palm against his forehead to avoid spilling into his eyes. Slowly pour over his head. Repeat until completely saturated. Add conditioner. Rinse. Add leave-in conditioner. Then, with Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet, Joe Duplantier of Gojira, or Devin Townsend of Strapping Young Lad punctuating the background, the ritual starts.

Slowly, methodically, my fingers snake through his curls, catching on knots and tangles. There’s much work to be done tonight since bicycle helmets have their own unique way of adding to the nest of tangle-opolis. And sometimes he’s not as amenable to this 10-minute exercise in patience, so in some ways it feels like the clock is ticking here. Yet I find myself enjoying it. My hands move in seemingly random yet fully intentional patterns. Extract the curls with my fingers, find the knot, slowly yet precisely unwrap the strands. After doing this nearly every bath for at least the past 2 years I no longer need to focus; I can meld the movements and the music into one.

I love everything about his hair. The curious intersection of tight ringlets and loose waves. The thick, gentle knot he’s weaved just behind his left ear from constantly twirling his finger through. That it can turn into this beautiful, voluminous afro when it’s both wet and dry, curls falling gently over his ears and down his forehead. I can only hope he loves his hair as much as I do.

But then it hits me. As much as I want him to take pride in his hair, there are millions of people who haven’t or don’t. People have been scorned, shamed, bullied, beaten, and even killed because of this hair, the roots of its culture, and the illogical and unfounded threat it supposedly represents. Generations of children, women, and men have seen this hair as “unnatural”, as something broken to be “fixed” in order to look pretty, to look human in the eyes of others. Billions of dollars are spent every year on products designed to make this hair – a natural gift – look like “white hair” to avoid being seen as the other, a reject, an outcast.

This is something I’ve never had to live through and not something I want my son to experience. And yet I need to accept that he most probably will, especially if we stay in this little town where we live much longer. This is one of many lessons we will have to teach him about acceptance, being accepted, and loving who you are and from where you come. These lessons may be difficult as I acknowledge the world we live in but above all else he can look to me and his mother for wisdom, guidance, and support.

But even then isn’t it much easier for me to lead by example when I, as a cis white man, am the least likely to be oppressed? Even as his advocate, defender, and protector, will he not eventually turn to me and say, “Dad, you can never understand what it’s like to be me”? And for me to then have to painfully admit that I can’t??? Can I ever be more than a parent, an educator, a safe harbor, and a comforter?

Then a literal splash of water hits my face, preventing me from exploring these real-yet-philosophical depths further. This water is cold which signals the end of bath time. I open the drain, slowly lift my son out of the tub, and wrap a towel around him.

I watch the tiny droplets of water bead up and dangle at the end of his corkscrew curls, unaware neither of the safe space from whence they came nor the cold reality of the hard bathroom floor they will meet when they fall. I pull my son in close and hug him tightly; this is a metaphor for everything.

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Rivers of Light, Streams of Consciousness

15 months, nearly 16 at the time of this writing. It’s been fun and amazing for sure, and certainly kept me busy. It’s insane how much he’s learning and understanding and at such a rapid pace. He’s been such a joy in my life that every time I look into his eyes I see hope, light, promise, and future. And I certainly try to reflect the same back to him, but sometimes I get the sense he can see through me, deep into the darkness below. You see, there’s certainly enough darkness to go around. Darkness in the news, darkness in adapting to this new home, darkness in the sky (although that’s getting better as we move into Spring), darkness in some relationships, like I said, more than enough. That two admittedly fucked up adults can come together in love and create someone so perfect is beyond comprehension to me. His life is so pure, so innocent, that he doesn’t deserve to be affected by it. Hell, I don’t think I deserve him sometimes. So I put on a brave face, strap on my big-boy pants, and try to shift the narrative.

Being with him, observing him, and looking into his eyes help. As much as he needs me and depends on me as a child when I’m with him, I almost need him more. I need him to show me that light, shine a bit of it on me as I bask in his innocence, curiosity, and wonderment at discovering new things. It’s almost addictive; without his light a void remains, a reminder of what I am and what I am not. The constant push-pull struggle is still there, right underneath the surface. I want to be the role model for him, yet I don’t want him to be me. I am flawed; I am lots of things I don’t want to be and certainly don’t want him to be. But then a small sliver of light shows up through a simple hug, a snuggle, “da-da” in his soft beautiful voice, or climbing over my legs and plopping in my lap to read books. In this moment at least I am doing the right thing, I am doing right by him, and the darkness recedes gently like the tide.

I think I’ll just enjoy this little bit of light right now until the tide rolls back in.

Batteries Not Included

As I sit here with my 11-month-old son watching him inspect my iPhone and figure out how his favorite song (The Incomparable Mr. Flannery, by Clutch) is emanating from this mysterious black box, a small pit forms in my stomach. I begin to question myself: “Should he be exposed to my phone screen?” “Will the bright colors and sounds desensitize him from the simpler things in life?” “Shouldn’t I be sheltering him from all this technology?” “Am I using my phone as a substitute for real interaction?” It took me quite awhile to really understand where these thoughts came from and even longer to figure out how to answer them.

My wife and I grew up in a period of technology explosion. Stuck firmly on the corner of Generation X and Generation Y, at the intersection of latchkey kids and 90s grunge/alternative, I feel like we occupy a unique place in technological history. Our childhoods are filled with memories of playing with friends outside AND digital experimentation. Big Wheels, Slip ’n Slide, Skip-It, “Ghosts in the Graveyard”, and “Cowboys and Indians” right alongside MTV, AOL Instant Messenger, Napster, Myspace, and Facebook. So of course our experiences have cultivated a subconscious and visceral gut-check to ensure we do not use TVs, iPads, the Internet, and DVD players as de-facto babysitters for our children.

But is sheltering our children from technology at such a young age the right answer? I’m starting to think it isn’t. There’s a HUGE difference between using it as a babysitting crutch and teaching them about it, watching them learn and discover it. You see, our children will be growing up in another unprecedented era. A world where this technology is not only ubiquitous, but also taken for granted. A world with new technological breakthroughs that I can’t even begin to fathom. And my job as a parent, above all, is to prepare them for this world. Sheltering them from this technology is doing a giant disservice.

I love watching my son figure things out, discover the ins and outs of how things function, cause and effect. That if he pushes the big round button he can “speak” to Siri, who will speak back. That if he touches the screen on one of my color drawing apps he can literally create something new, something from his own mind. I can see his brain working overdrive during phone calls as he tries to figure out how mommy, daddy, or grandma got their voice into this tiny black box. He’s even starting to understand video chat, which will become incredibly important as our family and friends are spread all over the place: Peoria, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington state, and even Sweden.

It goes without saying that my other job as a parent is to set reasonable limits for how and when to use said technology. My childhood experiences (as well as my wife’s) have ingrained in us that there is no substitute for good, solid playtime with other kids, especially outdoors. It remains a core and primary value. But our children will live in an entirely different world than the one we grew up in. Recognizing that and understanding how to merge the two worlds is the new challenge. This merge smacks me in the face yet again as I hit the “Post” button on this blog, written on my laptop from my couch with iTunes playing in the background, staring out my front window at the multi-colored leaves of our giant oak tree in mid-Fall. Wow.

Raising a Respectable Son

A couple things have happened over the past few weeks that caused me to reflect on how I should raise my son to treat women. Inherently I know that he will develop a lot of thoughts, actions, and attitudes based on my words and examples, but it dawned on me that I will not be the only source of influence that shapes his behavior. I’m really interested in feedback from other parents of boys, so please feel free to comment.

One: Photoshop Advertising
We were at the mall a few weeks back and I was holding T. as we waited for the rest of our party to finish up in the restroom. On the wall behind me was a large advertisement for women’s make up that featured a very pretty woman with big eyes staring out at the world. T. was absolutely transfixed by the poster, grinning from ear to ear. This came as no surprise to me since he’s a huge flirt with all the ladies, but I realized that he was staring at a digitally-altered image that represented some marketing firm’s perception of what natural beauty looks like to the most popular audience. Even at this age what he sees is shaping his views of the world. Of course he liked the image, but I don’t want him to limit his scope of beauty to what the advertisers are feeding him. (NOTE: This digitally altered perception of beauty also applies to advertisements of men, so if T. happens to be gay I believe this still applies.)

Despite our best efforts, he is going to be bombarded with the highest concentration of marketing and advertising of any generation – and this is coming from someone from someone who lived through MTV, the advent of the Internet, Myspace, Facebook, Nickelodeon, and Saturday Morning Cartoons. Looking back I know my generation was a marketing cash cow, but my son’s generation will be a marketing wet dream! I want him to be able to differentiate what is real from what isn’t, and the lines are so blurred now that it’s difficult for even me to tell. At the very least I want to teach him that true beauty lies on the inside. Oy.

Two: The “Sexy X-ies”
I “follow” our local commercial rock radio station on Facebook. Just like every other corporate rock station in America they have local women in the 18-25 age range that dress up in skimpy outfits and appear at promoted events with the sole purpose of increasing participation from their target audience – males between the ages of 18 and 29. Now to this station’s credit, they do a decent job at selecting a wide variety of women instead of pulling an Abercrombie & Fitch and trying to sell a particular “image”. But that certainly didn’t stop the haters on Facebook from coming out full force. The radio station posted an image of their latest group of “Sexy X-ies” and some of the comments were jaw-dropping. Some verbatim examples:

“Looks like a bunch of butter faces.”
“They look like the [local strip club] rejects lol.”
“2 outta 5 ain’t bad.”
“Ugly ass girls lol.”
“Man this is all false advertising.”

I could go on and on with the vitriol but you get my point. Most of these comments were made by the radio station’s target audience – again males age 18 to 29 – and they certainly didn’t mind their names being out on display in a public forum such as Facebook. What kind of boys are we raising if this is their level of judgment against women, and let’s remember that these women are someone’s daughters? More disturbingly, what kind of men will these boys turn into if we deem this acceptable? This has all sorts of implications for the self-esteem and self-image of these women, rape culture, and chauvinism, yet the voices who spoke up against it were batted down and rendered irrelevant. This is NOT how I want my son to behave towards ANYONE.

Such are the challenges that await me and my wife as he develops. I can’t help but feel this world is very, very different from the one we grew up in, the one in which our parents raised us. And while I passionately look forward to raising him right and teaching him about love, beauty, and respect, the fact remains that it will be an uphill battle against the fabric of society. Oy indeed.

Travel Restrictions and Blackout Dates May Apply

So I have to travel overseas for work in a few weeks. My job doesn’t normally involve a lot of travel (5% per year at best), but this trip is mission critical, which is why it came up so fast. Normally I’m excited for trips overseas, even to places where I’ve already been. I usually carve out a few hours for exploring because who knows when I’ll get back to places like England and Northern Ireland again. Travel and vacation was a big part of my childhood and adulthood so certainly I’d like to instill that same excitement in my son. But I am most definitely not excited for this trip.

I haven’t traveled for work since my son was born. Hell, I haven’t traveled for work since my wife became pregnant with him! I’ve never slept away from him for a single night, never been away from him for longer than an 8ish-hour work day. He’s developed, changed, and grown up a little bit every single day. And I’m going to miss an entire week of it?!?!? Moreover, my wife has to be his caregiver 24/7 (plus or minus a few relatives) while I’m gone. Yikes!

Technology is a wonderful thing as I plan to Skype with my wife and son every night. I couldn’t imagine being gone for what will seem like an eternity with no contact other than a phone call. He seems to change so fast that I’d come back from my trip to an entirely different person! I was lucky enough to schedule the trip so I don’t miss any appointments or our weekly Music Together class, a.k.a. Full-Of-Awesomeness class. I made those choices intentionally. If work is going to take me away from my family for a week I’d like it to be as much on my terms as possible.

But I know it won’t always work out that way, which got me thinking about work/life balance and career limitations. I’ve had conversations with co-workers who were told in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t make it to the next level because it required AIS time of at least 50 hours every week. Lots of jobs at that next level also require 20-25% travel. I’m rapidly approaching that level of potential based on my current job position and performance. My personal philosophy has always been “don’t gripe about how many hours I’m in the office as long as my work is getting done”, but I know not every manager and company sees it that way. Based on my co-worker’s experience my company (or at least my division) has already drawn their line in the sand. Based on me writing this blog post I think you know where I stand. This will undoubtedly cause some tough decisions at some point down the road. I don’t want to be the father that misses his son’s first words, first steps, sports games, recitals, or other general displays of child awesomeness because work got in the way.

I know there are alternatives out there such as telecommuting, working from home, flex time, etc. Between VPN, IP phones, instant messenger, and email I am able to work in mostly real time with co-workers across the world right from my desk, so being confined to my cube always seemed inane anyway. But I digress.

It is vitally important for me to be as involved in my children’s lives as they’ll let me be. Not only for them, but for me as well. I feel like I’m evolving and changing right along with him, developing new skills and insights into life on the fly. Who knew I had this much to say on a blog anyway?? Speaking of, enough of this. I’m about to close up shop for the day and go spend some quality time with my family.

Have a great weekend everybody.

My Journey Into Fatherhood – Part 1 (Prenatal)

[Disclaimer – This series of posts is about my personal journey into fatherhood. There are an infinite number of ways to be a good father and parent and I made the choices I felt were best for me and my family. I do not rank or judge other peoples’ parenting choices so please respect mine.]

As I sit here with my son nestled tightly to my bare chest in one of our baby wearing carriers I can’t help but wonder how I got here. I mean, I understand how I got here on planet earth (basically the same way he did), but how did I become a father? I keep repeating the words “I have a son. This is my son” to myself and even after almost 11 weeks it still seems surreal. There’s no class to become a parent, no final exam, no certification or prerequisites. And yet over the course of the entire pregnancy and the last 10+ weeks I’m now a baby wearing, cloth diaper changing, nose booping dude who sings and dances with his son in his arms. Seriously??? The same dude who not too long ago was playing drums in a heavy metal band and riding his bicycle across the entire state? That guy?? I ask this in the best way possible – What happened???

I owe much of my journey to my wife. Without her I would not have found the books, movies, and other educational material to be the parent that I am. She’s so much more intuitive and natural at this; it’s amazing watching the interactions between her and my son, even during their struggles. I know I would have figured out how to be a good parent eventually, but a lot of the things I read I would not have ever done despite them making so much sense, mostly because I just plain hadn’t thought about them. Having all this awesome background knowledge has given me the tools I need to make better parenting decisions grounded in logic and facts as opposed to gut feel and urban legends. That’s a good thing for an engineer. 🙂 Specifically, I’m talking about books like Origins, The Baby Book, and Great Expectations; the movie series The Business of Being Born, and our Bradley Method prenatal training classes. To me there was no better way to become an involved father than to gain as much knowledge as possible from the moment he was conceived. To give him the best possible start I could in life was and continues to be my prime goal. I am blessed with the good fortune of physical, emotional, and financial health, and I definitely want to use those to advance him in life as much as possible. I want to look at him when he finally strikes out into the world on his own and say, “Son, I’m proud of you, now go make this world a better place.”

I want to give a HUGE shoutout to the Bradley classes and our instructor, Melissa Lee. Bradley’s entire focus is husband-coached natural childbirth, which is what we wanted from the very beginning. But wait, husband-coached? Me? Yeah buddy. It remains to this day the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, which is not meant to minimize what my wife went through in any way at all! I can legitimately say that I prepared for his birth and that I was there helping bring him into this world.

But would all this preparation help me out once he arrived? Would things go as smoothly as I had hoped? Would my training and confidence help me weather the storm of being a first-time parent? Would I be able to stand with the weight and responsibility of raising another human being on my shoulders? That’s what this blog is for, to figure all of that out, so definitely stay tuned. I’ll reassess at 3 months with Part 2. 🙂

PS – Feel free to ask me any questions about any of the material I referenced, or just weigh in with comments! If you don’t feel comfortable posting here you can just email or Facebook me. 🙂

Some Adjustments May Be Required

Through the magic of paternity leave and a corporate holiday shutdown I was able to take 15-1/2 straight days off of work last month. It wasn’t super relaxing with all the holiday running around, visits (everyone wants to see the new baby!), and general ruckus. But it was definitely two things: 1) time away from work; and 2) nearly 100% spent with my wife and new son. And despite the fractured sleep, general holiday stress, and ever-present learning parenting learning curve, I had a lot of fun. So now as I’m 1 week into the new work year, things feel a bit different. The work I’m doing doesn’t feel as critical and important as it once did. I’m a lot less tolerant and quicker to weed out the things that I do that are pointless and wasting my time (there wasn’t much there anyway, but still). I’m kinda irritable and a little bit annoyed at things.

That’s when hit hit me: I miss being home with my wife and son. And not just because I don’t have to do work. I can honestly say I like my current job and career path and enjoy coming to work most days. Let’s be clear: parenting is work, and when I leave my day job I go home to my second job. Only my second job is way more fun and rewarding. And for that reason I feel like when I’m at my day job that I’m missing out. It feels weird to come home and change a diaper when I haven’t changed the one before it. I’m agitated that I can only spend a few hours with him before having to prepare for the next day – prep for breakfast and lunch, then do pet chores, wash, rinse, and repeat. Worse, some part of me feels like I’m not being a parent, not taking care of my son, because I’m at work. Isn’t that ridiculous? I know logically that working provides financial support and stability and that’s one of the core tenets of being a parent. But it’s indirect. It’s not tangible. It requires me to be away from him. And right now I don’t like it one bit.

I know that this is just an adjustment thing and eventually I’ll be comfortable with it, but I’m not sure I really want to be truly at ease. We all know that time accelerates and kids grow up way too fast. He’s already growing up before my eyes; it’s amazing, wonderful, scary, and sad all at the same time. I don’t want to open the door to prioritizing work over my son. A good friend of my wife’s gave me some good food for thought when we were discussing how she balanced work and family. To paraphrase, she said “When I’m at work, I’m working. When I’m at home, I’m a mom.” This resonated with me then and even more so now. When I’m at work, I’m an engineer. When I’m at home, I’m a dad.

Now if only those “make millions from the comfort of your own home” scams really worked……