My son, affectionately and respectfully known as Young Master Oliver, (said with an accent similar to Alfred, young Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and mentor) was born almost four years ago.
In the years and months leading up to his birth I was one of
those people who swore he would never plaster my Facebook account with photos
of my kids.
Then, no sooner than he was born I was, yep, plastering my Facebook with photos of my gorgeous child. At first it was as simple as sharing the images with friends and family who were too far away to see him in person. It was efficient. I was also jubilant in my pride.
My son beats my heart.
As time went on posting about our day became a sort of public document of our adventures as father and son. I loved the idea of letting friends and family members come along as we played with our Lincoln Logs and in our sandbox and on our trips to the zoo, museum, and anywhere else life took us.
So too did I want to share my experiences as a father.
I began using my Instagram less for my music and songwriting endeavors and more for sharing these father and son moments. I began using hashtags like “FaceOfFatherhood,” “DadLife,” and “FatherandSon.”
In doing so things took on a slightly different tone.
It was no longer just about sharing life with immediate friends and family. Rather, it became a very public display of parenthood.
It became important for me to show anyone who cared to notice what fatherhood looked like for me. In a world where mothers are viewed as the primary parent shuttling kids to and from grocery stores, museums, pharmacies, doctors’ visits, and everything in between, I felt it essential to show that there is more to being a dad than lawn care, lazy Sundays drinking beer on the sofa, and bumbling around the house waiting for mom to save the day. This image that permeates sitcoms, animated shows, and film, I believe, is a huge disservice and an affront to engaged, competent fathers and the very notion of gender equality.
In my family I was the one with the BabyBjörn doing the groceries, vacuuming, laundry, getting my steps in at the zoo, and juggling a career while getting a master’s degree, and running a household all with a toddler on my hip or top of head.
In taking such a public approach to parenting I found myself
interacting with an entire community of likeminded dads and supportive moms who
were also using social media to model healthy and enthusiastic parenting.
Sometimes we shared smiles and laughter and other times frustration and tears
because as most engaged parents know, for every one of the former there is at
least one of the latter.
But as time has moved forward things have changed a bit. My phone stays in my pocket (or even in the next room) more than it used to. I find myself more dialed into what’s happening and enjoying my life and family from the inside rather than observing it all from than from the outside. I feel more inclined to fully experience and enjoy every moment than I am in documenting them.
I’ve also been writing less frequently in my personal journal and I’ve been wondering why this has been happening but I think I know why. I’m not spending as much time documenting my life. I’m not spending as much time writing about what kind of life I want. I’m actually living that life.
Don’t get me wrong, I still snap photos and quick videos when the moment calls, I still pull out my journal but it’s most definitely not as big a part of my day-to-day. It’s hard to take time out of my life when I’m enjoying every moment of it.
I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for filling my feed with their family photos because I truly enjoy it. I love seeing my friends share their kids’ graduation, prom, birthday, and anything else moments.
And rest assured, once the summer gets into full swing and
we get back from the First Annual Benninghoff-Becerra Family Vacation: Cruise
Edition there will be more than enough photos to go around.
These days though, I’ve been so truly content to just live in the moment and enjoy our adventures as a family. I’m hardly living a life of isolation but there has certainly been less emphasis on sharing for the sake of any larger motivation.
Documenting every single giggle and groan just doesn’t seem as essential these days.
Enjoying them in the most intimate way possible does.
I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.
Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.
Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.
Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.
Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.
My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.
Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.
Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.
Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.
We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.
There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.
Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.
Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.
Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.
The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.
Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.
Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.
If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.
I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.
Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.
Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.
So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.
I am different now.
Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.
But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.
So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.
I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.
On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.
This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.
Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.
I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)
Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.
That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.
The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.
And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”
I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)
The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.
We’re in this together.
And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.
I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?
I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.
If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.
And so I am different now.
I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.
Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)
There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.
It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.
Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?
I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.
I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!
But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.
Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”
We have seen an incredible wave of progressive movements aimed at challenging conventional roles and ideas in recent history. From what constitutes “beauty” and “gender” to what constitutes “bullying” and even what “presidential” means.
Those discussions are certainly beneficial to the ambiguous and distant collective we call “society” but they are essential to we the individuals who comprise that society.
And so too, I’ve taken notice of another, not so vociferous, movement that is creeping its way into the zeitgeist: the roles individuals play within a given family structure and fatherhood in particular.
It’s been somewhat refreshing to see commercials feature fathers in rolls that don’t depict them as sofa-riding oafs. A favorite of mine is the “Glass Full of Smiles” spot from Minute Maid that shows a dad and his daughter enjoying a refreshing glass of juice as she draws with her crayons. It’s pretty adorable with its ”to the fridge!” ending.
There have been a few others peppered into the mix but they seldom earn the attention or praise that similar advertising campaigns earn when they feature people of color when children with special needs are shown in Sunday circulars. When fathers or husbands are depicted as uninvolved or clueless, these ads fail to receive the same level of ire and criticism as those that attempt to embrace diversity but fail miserably leaving us to wonder who would actually sign off on such ads.
Now, before we get too deep, I really want to take a moment and be clear. There’s no direct or literal correlation being made between fatherhood or husbandry and centuries of mistreatment, persecution, slavery, civil rights abuses, and other such atrocities upon humanity.
This is simply an observation I’m making about current trends in marketing and advertising and how I believe they both reflect and shape our collective attitudes and biases.
I bring gender, physical, and racial/ethnic diversity into the topic to simply discuss how mass marketing has begun an unprecedented shift away from the white wife/husband with two kids in a suburban home aesthetic and towards an image that attempts to be more indicative of ALL our realities.
It wasn’t that long ago that the world was turned on its head by Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie Bunker. Now we find ourselves with TV shows featuring people of color, homosexuals, children with cerebral palsy.
So then, has the time not come to also include the roles each individual plays within a marriage? Should we not examine further what fatherhood looks like and then attempt to both reflect and encourage the positive aspects of it?
I’m a child of baby boomers, a Gen Xer as they say. I grew up with the latch-key kids, though I was not one myself. I grew up with a strong mother and father where she stayed at home managing the operations of our household and my father worked just as hard outside the home to fund those operations. Neither was emotionally unavailable. Neither ever too busy to play or talk or anything else. I had it good.
Being of my generation I also grew up bombarded with messages about deadbeat dads and how many children there are without a strong male role model…about how many African American children grew up with only their moms because their fathers were in prison.
TV dads like Steven Keaton (Family Ties) or Jason Seaver (Growing Pains) gave way to Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and so forth.
Mothers are typically depicted as the ones who have to come and clean up the mess left in the wake of these bumbling fathers. Mothers are the problem-solvers, the multi-taskers, the heroes.
And rightly so. I’m a big fan of mothers. Some of the people I most admire are women who are, all at once, mothers, business owners, educators, artists, students, musicians, and so much more. Mother is indeed the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. But where does that leave fathers?
Are mothers always the blessed angels and fathers always the couch potatoes?
I know many a mother for whose children my heart aches. These children will never know the intimate love felt between a child and both their parents.
I know many a mother whose children sit in soiled diapers, hungry (for food and for attention) while mom flips through the TV channels yelling “stop touching that”.
And so too do I know many a father who come home weary from a long day but still anxious to embrace their children and give piggyback rides. Count me among them.
So too, do I know many a father who wake up for the late night bottle feedings, the nightmares, and the “hey I just want to play even though it’s 2 am” moments that come with babies. Count me among them.
Acknowledging one does not have to come at the expense of the other. We can celebrate the sanctity of motherhood without dismissing the fact that dads are pretty neat too. We can also talk about the challenges that arise from those parents who struggle with or refuse to embrace their sacred and privileged responsibilities without painting such a wide brush that it smears the ones that do.
I joke among my friends that I am the most handsome housewife they’ll ever meet. (Haha It’s probably not true, I’m not that handsome but the joke plays well.)
I do “husband/guy stuff” like making sure the cars get in for service (I’m not so much of a “real” man that I can do it myself haha). I assemble toys and furniture (like the crib my soon-to-be-three-year-old never used). I lug stuff around…at least as much as my twice-operated-on back will allow.
But, I also do the laundry, careful to ensure darks with darks/whites with whites as well as the proper amounts of detergent, softener, and dryer sheets.
I clean toilets and polish fixtures. I dust and mop and vacuum every week. (Vacuums…a favorite topic of mine. I could write volumes so don’t get me started haha)
I do the shopping…some would say I’ve become a bit “extreme” in my coupon strategies.
If there’s a dish yo I’ll clean it…or at least put it in the dishwasher.
Balance the checkbook, pay the bills, stay on top of maintenance schedules for things around the house like those darn vacuums (yes folks, you do have to clean and vacuum your vacuums) HVAC components, the yard, trees, etc…all that stuff. Some of it is “man/husband” stuff but a lot of it is traditionally thought of as “mom/wife” stuff.
More than anything however, the one thing that I am most proud, passionate, and unyielding about, is the relationship I have and want to continue building with my son.
I dote on him. I love shopping for his clothes. I massage him with baby lotion. (I love the smell of baby lotion and cologne) I enjoy dancing with him and turning myself into the most ridiculous sack of humanity ever just to get a giggle out of him. Bath time is party time.
He fascinates me. It has been a marvel to watch the way he has evolved from a tiny infant into a real person with a voice and a personality all his own. I love peeking around a corner to watch and listen as he talks in different voices for each dinosaur and dump truck as they carry on discussions about any given topic. His creativity is astounding and gives me boundless pride.
I am a father the way my father was before me. I don’t know any other way to do it, nor do I care to learn honestly.
While mothers are typically seen as the nurturing, kind-hearted, and doting of the two parents fathers, well…we have to teach our children to be strong and tough because the world is a dangerous and merciless place. I believe I can accomplish the latter by embodying the former.
I can’t be “that” dad who rules the house with an iron fist from a recliner. Why would I want to be? I don’t want to be the kind of father who sets demands and defines punishments instead of expectations and rationales. The latter can almost entirely erase the need for the former.
Now, I say that, not to tell anyone what kind of dad or parent they should be but to point out that the role I play is hardly the one that many of my peers, and perhaps many of you reading this, have come to understand a father to be. It is certainly not the kind of father I generally see depicted on television….other than the bumbling part. I am perhaps one of the clumsiest people you will ever meet. I fell through the ceiling once. I’m certain I’d fall through the floor if it were possible.
I’ve never, ever, assembled a piece of furniture without having to disassemble it at least once because I did something backwards.
So, anyway, haha…to my original point: why are these depictions of men not criticized for being unproductive and unhealthy? Why are men not more effectively and positively represented in mass media?
I think a great deal of that has to do with who the ads are targeted towards.
Men and fathers are still not the primary audience for commercials promoting baby diapers or other products. We aren’t the ones that marketing departments think about when they are putting together a campaign for household cleaners, laundry detergent, vacuum cleaners, and whatnot.
Watch the commercials. In many respects they would fit as nicely into a break from Leave it to Beaver as they do now. They are typically Caucasian women (though as mentioned an increasing number of women of color) and often with a baby on their hip or playing nearby. These ladies pull the laundry out and smell the wonder that is spring air or lavender romance or whatever silly name they’ve attached to a product. They wear heels while vacuuming.
Now these commercials are often criticized as being unrelatable and unrealistic and for sure, they absolutely are.
I don’t wear heels when I vacuum. I wear sneakers or Dr. Martens, cargo shorts, and a toddler on my shoulders. I don’t smell the laundry because I don’t have time. I have a dozen other loads of laundry to get through, a roast in the oven, Alexa telling me my son’s chicken nuggets are ready, and oh my god why is the dog barking?!
And yet, just a quick glance through the personal products section of any given store provides a horrible insight into what companies think of men.
Action Blast! Adventure Advanced! EXTREME DRY!
Wait, what…Dark Temptation?! I’m not sure what’s going on there.
Again we see these notions of men being aggressive and dominant reaffirmed in something so simple as soap and personal hygiene products. I don’t want to smell extreme. The only adventures I go on involve coupons and fighting through hoards of crazed shoppers to get my detergent deal where I spend 50 cents per jug when regular price is 6.99….talk about EXTREME!
Through all this I began using Instagram.
I had an account but it lay fallow for year. When I founded a small promotions and record label (Cathedral Records) I began using my account a bit more to share photos of the studio, of artists I was helping to promote, of instruments, etc.
Then I started sharing photos of the food I cook. (I’m a passionate home chef). And of course, like any proud dad, the baby pics started to elbow their way in. Using Instagram and Facebook gave us a way to easily give my family and few friends the opportunity to sort of tag along as my son and I went through our days together. I’d never used a hashtag on Instagram but I had come up with one that I began slapping on my photos after seeing so many tags about motherhood: #FaceOfFatherhood.
I thought it had a nice ring to it and summed up what I thought these photos of our adventures together were “saying”…if they were saying anything at all.
As the weeks and months and passed I began getting comments from friends and colleagues about how close my son and I are. How it’s so special to see a man so attached to his son. How it’s so obvious that he and I share a special bond. I started to look at these selfies with different eyes and I began to realize that these photos were saying something. They were depicting something special.
Thus, I switched my Instagram to “public” and began using it more often. I was curious about this whole hashtag thing so I started adding different ones and all of the sudden I was greeted by an entire world of men modeling healthy, positive, and relatable images of what it is to be a father.
Stereotypes are being challenged with every “heart” and each one leads to another.
I’ve seen men of color, most often portrayed as these incarcerated dead beat dads, braiding their daughters’ hair and cuddling with their kids reading a book.
I’ve seen strong, well-built guys that would otherwise seem like some “dumb-jock” painting his adorable daughter’s tiny toe nails.
I’ve seen out-of-shape “every-guys” grinning like the proverbial cheshire cat as they toss their toddlers in the air.
One of my favorites is a gentleman with a big burly bearded chef who hunts and prepares these gorgeous meals. He has a gang of daughters who he photographs even more often than his meals and he can’t stop gushing over them. This big bad woodsmen just melts when his children are around.
Indeed the face of fatherhood takes many forms.
It is reassuring to see so many men sharing their experiences, their devotion, and their love. Something so simple as a selfie can say so much.
We are here and if no one else will tell our story, we will tell it ourselves. And if many won’t listen, it doesn’t matter, because our children are listening and they will tell their children, and eventually it will be The Story.
Keep it up dads. Our work is the only work that matters.
Until next time,
Be Well and Kind…and give your kids an extra tight hug today.
We negotiate often without even really thinking of it such terms. All our interpersonal dealings involve some form of winning and losing…someone gets what they want and someone surrenders something.
A job interview, for instance, is most certainly a negotiation. You’re selling yourself, they are selling themselves but they already work there so they are in somewhat of a position of power. You need them to like you more than they need you to like them…typically speaking. You can certainly turn it around and look at is as they’re the ones who are looking for help. Right? You get my drift though.
Asking your employer for a raise, talking about potential vacation spots with the spouse, even walking through the grocery store looking at what’s on sale or being featured this week…all of it can be boiled down to an old west duel between two dusty cowboys each unwilling to yield even a step.
Now in another life many years ago, I worked in retail management and sales. I’ve been married for nearly 15 years. Lots of negotiating….to say nothing of the years I spent as a young boy trying to smooth-talk my way into a later curfew or an extra few bucks for a day out with my friends at the mall.
However, just yesterday I found myself in the most heated and anxious battle of wits I’ve ever encountered. And I must admit…the other man won.
Allow me to set the stage:
It was about 4:45 pm…a day like any other. Left the office, drove home, traffic was not horrific, the weather rather pleasant. I entered my home to find my mother putting the finishing touches on what would be a splendid meal, (arroz con pollo y platanitos) while my father sat with my precious son watching television and playing with Lincoln Logs.
I heard the joyous cries from down the hall: Dadddddyyyyy!!!!!! A warm embrace, peck on the cheek and our afternoon began with a diaper change, assembling some train tracks, and discussing the finer aspects of his day spent enjoying all the finest appointments of toddlerdom.
A bit of time passed and, as has been the norm since his arrival, our recently adopted eufy robovac Alfred (HIGHLY recommended by the way) was summoned. My son, Young Master Oliver, adores his friend Alfred and they spend hours together…Alfred vacuuming and Oliver dancing and jumping around him while “feeding” him bits of popcorn or anything else he comes upon.
After a short while, Oliver wanted to take Alfred into the Cathedral. (The Cathedral is the large studio room ideally used for recording music but in the almost years since my son’s sacred birth has become more of a parking lot for wagons, strollers, and a candy-apple red Jaguar).
Now I didn’t want Alfred in the Cathedral…or Oliver for that matter. There are instrument and speaker cables, computers, valuable guitars, and there are bottles of wine (that we just found out last night he can reach! So I guess that should be “were” bottles of wine).
So like any parent I say “No, don’t go in there. You and Alfred stay over here.”
And so it began. Our negotiations.
Yes! Daddy…I want to take Alfred to the Cathedral!
No son. Stay over here. There’s plenty for you and Alfred to do.
Oooh Daddy, I want to take Alfred.
No son. Come on. Let’s go outside and do stuff. It’s pretty. Leave Alfred be for now.
Oliver don’t….stop. Wait. Don’t take Oliver in there. No.
Oliver I mean it. Stop that.
Heeeheehee YES! Daddy, I’m taking Alfred to the room!
Ok that’s enough. I mean it. Stop right there!
Now I have him. He’s cornered. Yes he took Alfred into the Cathedral but he hasn’t turned him on. We aren’t past the point of no return. This isn’t a hardcore punishment situation here. Rather, it’s an “opportunity” to correct behavior, assert my role as father and provide precious, gentle yet firm, guidance.
He wants to play with Alfred in The Cathedral.
I want him to leave Alfred alone and do something else….or at the very least, bring Alfred back to the living room and kitchen area.
Son. Don’t turn Alfred on. Don’t press that button. I mean it. Pick him up and let’s go.
Yes? Yes what?
I want to press the button.
Now mind you, he says this not in an aggressive manner. Rather, a sweet pleading tone…it’s a ploy. Don’t buy into it.
I’m too smart for it though. I’m on to him and this little act. I’ve seen it plenty of times over the years. I lived through the sales floor at Guitar Center. I can get through this no problem.
Son. No. We aren’t pressing the button. We are going to go get socks and shoes and go outside! (happy enthusiast voice!)
I’ll preeeesssss the buuuutttttoon.
(Seriously? Am I in a cartoon?)
My son’s index finger is literally hovering about two centimeters above Alfred’s seemingly eager, and perhaps even mockingly, blue lit button. Oliver’s eyes are locked onto my own. A grin has now come across his demented little face.
I know this play. It’s the “I’m cute” play. Girls used this on me for years! You know how many apartment moves I’ve done? How many errands I’ve run? How many discounts I gave at GC because of the “I’m cute” game?
Plenty….and I’ve learned my lesson.
I’m 42 year old man, married, homeowner, tax payer, voter, business owner, and aspiring-something-or-other. No way the “I’m cute” thing is going to work on me at this stage in life.
Son. Seriously. Get away from Alfred. We’re not pushing the button. We’re not letting him vacuum in here. We’re going to the living room. Pick him….gently….and bring him back to the living room. We’ll go do something else for now. Maybe later we’ll bring Alfred in here but now.
My voice is beginning to take a bit more bass, my posture a little more rigid. I have about 3 feet on him so it’s easy to lean over him….for now at least. Inside of a year he’ll be nine feet tall so I’ll need a different strategy. But for now I have this.
Physical posture is important in these things so I try to assert myself without being menacing.
I’ll ppppuuuush the button….
Oliver. Do. Not. Push. That. Button.
Now we’re at the stalemate.
Silence takes over.
We’re those two gunfighters in the New Mexico sun.
Eyes locked. His finger hovers over the button. Alfred’s blue light letting me know whose side he’s on.
I stare deeply into my son’s eyes.
I got this.
My face tenses up. His grin seems to grow by another nine inches, Alfred’s blue power light signaling whatever everyone but me seems to already know.
Silence continues. I stiffen up a bit more hoping it’s the little bit to put me over the top.
His hand drops another millimeter or so closer to the button.
I feel it coming up from inside me. A tickle perhaps…emanating from my Dr. Marten’s that quickly leaps up to my spine but I fight it back.
I tighten up again. I’m not losing this.
I recall all the lessons I learned in that boiler room of a sales floor where one wrong move meant losing profit margins and gross sales figures…everything that made the world go round both as a store and as an commission employee.
I’m staring a hole through him but then the tickle returned and it rose into my chest and I knew what Oliver and Alfred had known the whole time: that for all my posturing, for all my sad little attempts at being stronger than a toddler, I had lost.
I just didn’t know until that moment.
I lost before I even followed them into the Cathedral.
I lost before I even brought Alfred into our home.
Hell, I lost almost three years ago.
My stern face gave way to giggly defeat and Oliver pushed the button in glorious victory.
A wise man once said (probably not one with a toddler I’m guessing) that you should never enter into a negotiation without knowing how it’s going to end. You have to know you’re going to walk away with what you want or you’re going to walk away period, having given up nothing.
I have grown up with a father who cherishes baseball. Some kids were told bedtime stories like “Goldilocks” or “Three Little Pigs” but I was cradled while being regaled with stories of him hanging around Yankees spring training in Florida, of Mickey Mantle’s heroic feats, and of Earl Weaver’s passionate belief in The Three-Run Homer.
Some kids grew up quoting chapter and verse while I grew up citing batting averages and RBIs. As popular as “The Goonies” and “Star Wars” were in my house, “Bad News Bears”, “Major League”, “Bull Durham”, and of course “Field of Dreams” were constants.
His decorated broadcast career included several years as the “Spanish voice of the Houston Astros” so the Astrodome became somewhat of a second home. I marveled at that incredible scoreboard and was shocked when it was torn down in favor of more seats. My childhood was shaped by watching Jose Cruz, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Doran, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Brad Ausmus and so many others. When watching at home, the TV volume was always down so I could listen to dad or to Milo call the game on the radio.
Every year we looked forward to spring training. Dad took me to several and those were among my most favorite family outings and come the regular season, I rooted along whether my beloved Astros won or lost.
When the team announced they were moving out of the Astrodome I was shocked but understood. By that time I had come to loathe Astroturf and looked forward to our boys playing on real grass…like God, Nature, and Sparky Anderson intended!
I still vividly remember listening to the radio when the team finally announced Minute Maid’s field dimensions. I scratched out a quick diagram and could not, for the life of me, figure out how it was going to work. 315 to left, 404 to left-center, right-center 376, right 326 and what? A flag pole sitting in centerfield…on top of a hill?! Is that even legal?!
I immediately picked up the phone and called my best friend David to ask if he was listening to the radio and we just couldn’t make sense of any of it.
All these years later it is still the most beautiful and dumbfounding stadium I’ve ever seen. The team seemed to enjoy the move too. We had fantastic lineups throughout the 90s and 2000s that included guys like Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Daryl Kyle, Mike Hampton, and Roger Clemens. They came close to winning the series in 2005; I even had tickets…..to game 5. Ha.
Which brings me to this season…this incredible, magical, transcendent season.
There has never been a question about what my son Oliver and I would be doing at game time. I come home from work and we play a bit, bath, dinner, and then time to cuddle in front of the TV to watch the game.
Every night I would hold him and tell him stories of the great Ken Caminiti and his superhuman plays at third base. I’d run down Jose Altuve’s batting stats. He was told tales of Lunhow’s master plan and how it was all coming together. I’d do my best impression of dad and provide play-by-play for Oliver as he drifted off to sleep. On off days we watched “Major League” and “Field of Dreams”.
Then Harvey happened.
My parents’ home, just a few blocks from mine, was completely flooded and while I am so very happy and grateful to be living under the same roof again, this isn’t how I hoped it would happen.
FEMA claims, inspectors, disaster relief…all these things came to be regular themes in our lives but so too were evenings spent watching the Astros.
Now my son AND my dad were sitting with me watching the ballgame…I am indeed a fortunate son.
While everything else was swirling around my family, the Astros were the constant. The Astros provided a calm, joyous diversion that connected three generations together. My dad was once again spinning yarns about baseball of days gone by, when girls were girls and men were men…when starters never came out of the game and how we could indeed use a man like Joe DiMaggio again. I have so thoroughly enjoyed watching Oliver with this little pillow running to the sofa only to stop realizing he had to make a choice: cuddle with his dad or with his grandfather. It was adorable…even when I lost out. Sitting there in front of the TV with my son and my dad, the games took on an otherworldly and poetic nature.
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
I have a great pal, Jon, who has never really cared about baseball…or sports in general. As the Astros moved into the playoffs he surprisingly found himself wrestling with his rabbit ears and scouring the web for game streams. He would send rapid fire texts throughout each game asking why Hinch yanked a pitcher or telling me how stressed out he was watching each pitch.
He asked questions about rules, about why the catcher keeps walking up to the mound, about why runners are safe or out in any given situation. The exchanges remind me of all the questions I ask him about computer coding, hardware, or things like gun laws and mechanics. Through the season he and I exchanged knowledge in a way I think is perhaps becoming a bit too rare. Our thoughtful explanations and respect of what each of us knows, and more importantly of what each of us doesn’t know, was a real joy. We are better for it…and I think I turned him into a baseball fan!
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
Just as important, over the course of this season I was brought together with friends I had not seen in years. I literally reunited with my dear friend Chris at the ballpark…where David and I happened to be sitting enjoying a game. Of all the seasons, of all the games, of all the seats, we happened to be just one section over and Chris happened to spot us. Beginning that evening, Chris and I have chatted almost daily…about baseball, about our families, movies, music, our past together, and everything in between. There are no words for how grateful I am to have him as a friend again.
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
Throughout the season David and I spent hours breaking down the team, strategies, Hinch’s pitching decisions, and almost every discussion ended with “In Lunhow We Trust.”
Of course all our exuberance and hope was tempered by the unspeakably tragic and inescapable fact that his brother, one of the dearest people I’ve ever known, was fighting an inexhaustible battle with a cancer diagnosis whose prognosis was far less optimistic than our beloved Astros’ season. Each moment we spent rooting for our team, so too were we rooting for Kevin. A passionately Astros fan, all of this became so much bigger than just nine guys playing ball. Somehow how our team allowed us brief moments of escape from this cruel reality but also did it provide a means of facing it. As bittersweet as the team’s amazing success is for us, I’m not sure any of us could have managed the grief without our team.
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
During the season I was also brought face-to-face with someone else I’d not seen in many years: Dave and Kevin’s cousin, Jennifer.
We met in 2nd grade and from that point until our early 20s she was a fixture in my life. I have no memories of my school years that don’t include her in some capacity. She was actually the one who introduced me to David and to Kevin and Chris and so many others that have meant so much to me and have made such unmistakable imprints on my life, my universe, and everything.
After about 15 years of not seeing one another, what did we talk about? Baseball. The Astros. This Season.
Conversations with someone I never thought I’d see again came as naturally and as easily as if we had never lost touch. So in some ways, while everything around us has changed, perhaps nothing has changed at all.
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
There were a lot of tears shed last night by a lot of people. I know that when the last out was registered a lot of us held our brother, cousin, son, husband, father, friend Kevin very deeply within our hearts and souls.
I also know that I will always hold, very deep in my heart and soul, that I spent last night with my dear and precious son in my arms and my hero to my right as we watched our team win a world series.
My dad, my son, my friends…we all shared something this season and especially last night. We all received something special from this team: comfort, closeness, escape, inspiration, and joy. And yes, I think we’re stronger for it.
The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.
As my son continues to develop from a little baby into an actual kid, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood, my childhood, and my parents. I’ve also been thinking a lot about being a “working parent” and what that means as well as what it means to be “just” a parent.
I believe everyone, parent or not, should have the opportunity to explore their passions and ambitions.
I believe we should all have the opportunity to achieve our professional ambitions and I am a strong a proponent of women joining their male counterparts in the workforce. I celebrate women like Kathleen Kennedy who have reached the top of their chosen fields. I admire women like my friends Renee Main of Main Made Cakes and Cupcakes and Ashley Newman of Ashley Newman Photography who have built independent businesses while raising children and supporting their husbands.
I admire and endlessly thank my wife for her ability to support me in my seemingly endless ambitions while succeeding in her professional career. Her boundless perseverance has resulted in her becoming one of the most essential members of her organization and I couldn’t be more proud of everything she’s achieved in the incredibly challenging advertising and media business.
I fear, however, that in our collective goal of encouraging and ensuring women’s rights and opportunities to build their careers and establish their identities independent of their roles as mothers that perhaps we have diminished the sanctity and unique blessings of being “just a parent.”
Likewise, I think the “stay at home” movement has similarly painted working parents as somehow not as devoted to their children and families.
This is troubling to me.
My family’s “org” chart
My dad was a “working parent.” My mom was what has come to be known as a “stay at home mom.”
I suppose my dad would be the CEO. As I’ve grown and now have a child of my own my father has risen, in many ways, to the position of Chairman of the board of directors.
Growing up my mom’s titles included COO, CFO, and CAO and as I’ve grown, she too has risen to something along the lines of Executive Confidant or Special Advisor.
While one of them worked outside the home, the other worked inside it. My mom didn’t have a job that came with a W2 but it was no less essential to the success of our family than my father. While my father wasn’t home every second of the day, he was no less committed to us, their children.
They were two sides of the same coin.
A Day in the life of Dad
My father’s days were a blinding whirlwind of activity. As a successful professional broadcast journalist and media personality (and singer to boot!) his days were full of hosting and appearing on radio and television shows. There was a seemingly endless list of personal appearances, hours spent in recording studios doing voice-over work for commercials and tape-delay content. He was the Spanish Voice of the Houston Astros, Rockets, Oilers, and Texans. He broadcast World Cup soccer, indoor soccer, and even hockey. He hosted telethons, sat on political panels, and covered every major news event during his 40 year career…and is still going strong. Despite stretches that were as mesmerizing for his ability to maintain as they were brutal in their demands, he still coached my peewee baseball team, attended almost every single choir performance, basketball and football game. He was at every birthday. He was at the dinner table almost every single night.
When he got home after bedtime, he would poke his head into all our bedrooms to look at his children to make sure we were safe and to get one last look at us before going to sleep for an hour only to get up and do it all over again.
He was known among my friends as “the coolest” dad who talked to us and shared stories and jokes. He participated in our pick-up football/baseball/basketball games. He would even do the play-by-play while throwing or shooting the ball. It was awesome.
His professional activities did not preclude his presence and involvement in my life in any way shape or form. Quite the contrary…it was inspiring.
A Day in the life of Mom
Make no mistake. My mom’s days were just as packed. She would rise every day before my dad, no matter when she went to bed or when he needed to be up. She always wanted to make sure he had what he needed for his morning and then switched gears to do the same for us kids.
For most of my childhood there was only one car so sometimes they had to get creative with how they swapped turns with the car throughout their busy days to make sure everyone got where they needed to go and got picked up when they were done.
There are about 6-7 years between each of my siblings so there was never a time where mom was alone in the house. There was never a time where we were all in school. Thus, every minute of her day was spent with at least one child in her arms or tugging at her shirt.
Her days were a blur of chores and children, and “oh, you said I’d make 5 dozen cookies for your homeroom party TOMORROW?”
Being the CFO, she would pull these shoeboxes out (one for every account) and balance the checkbook by hand, pencil and paper – no calculator – can’t trust them and they take too long. Haha
Each dime was stretched into a dollar and she made sure that no matter how silly my obsession with any given fad, I always had the best school clothes, the nicest shoes, the coolest backpack, and trendiest supplies. Somehow she managed to take my father’s firmly middle class earnings and create a life for my siblings and I that seemed like we were the wealthiest people on earth.
As I grew older I understood a big part of the magic behind it all – they never got anything for themselves.
We kids came first.
Vacations? We all went or no one went. I remember my parents saying “why would we go anywhere without you kids?”
At no point did my mom’s lack of a career ever come up as curious or as disappointing.
Quite the contrary…I was and am grateful that I never came home to an empty house, that she was ALWAYS there.
It was inspiring…and still is.
Yet somehow, according to some, it seems like my mom’s life was somehow less than what it could have been. There are voices among us that say she “could have been so much more.” These voices say that somehow my mom, and millions of parents like her, “settled” for “just being a parent when she could have been out there striving for something “more” the way my dad did.
Likewise, many voices say my dad worked “too hard” and may not have given us kids as much as he should have.
My father will be the first one to say – all that he has achieved of any significance has nothing to do with being a singer or a media personality or a Hall of Fame broadcaster. His success lies in his children.
The same is just as true for my mother.
There’s no such thing as “just” a parent
I WISH I could be a “just” a mom the way mine was.
I ALSO wish I could just be a dad the way mine was.
It’s one of the defining dualities of my life.
Yes I want to advance my professional career in order to provide more for my family. I want to continue writing songs and developing Cathedral Records. I look forward to releasing an album after I graduate this spring. I look forward to all the possibilities the future holds for me in a professional and creative capacity. I am an ambitious man who likes to stay busy and challenge myself, just like my father.
BUT – I am my mother’s son too and the idea of being able to stay home to manage the operations side of things while being with my son every day feels like the unattainable dream. I would take that deal in a heartbeat.
Two of the most significant gifts I received from my parents are ambition and drive. My mother’s ambition and drive were no less than my father’s – they were just directed somewhere else – somewhere just as essential to the success of my family, to me, and ultimately to my son. My father’s professional drive and ambition were never for the sake of his own success. Rather they were a product of his commitment to his family. He never lost sight of that.
I would not be who I am without the BOTH of them working, striving, reaching, struggling, and sacrificing in pursuit of a singular goal – making sure their family was taken care of.
Fulfill the measure of your creation
A dear old friend of mine once used that phrase and I’ve stolen it…used it for years.
I’ll never tell anyone what they should do with their lives. Chase your dreams. Follow your heart. Do what you gotta do.
We should never begrudge someone who is trying to pursue their goals, so long as there is nobility in their intent and actions.
A good parent who has the opportunity and desire to stay home and devote the entirety of their lives to managing a household and raising the children is no less a success, and no less a role model, than a parent who leaves the home every morning to provide financial backing for that household.
Similarly, being a working professional does not inherently define us as not being as focused on our children and spouses as one who stays at home.
I may be a busy guy but I’m a father first, second, last, and always. I inhale every moment, embrace every opportunity, absorb every experience with my son, who seems to have found his favorite spot to be atop my feeble shoulders. Together, we go about our evenings doing chores, making dinner, cleaning house, and even playing guitar. We turn the mundane into our own little adventures….just my parents did with me.
We should all champion and celebrate the much-deserved and rightful rise of success for women who have chosen to pursue professional endeavors.
We should choose our words and measure our tone when we talk about those who decide to “just” be parents or those who decide to pursue goals outside the home.
We all have our paths as parents and as long as we walk that path with love and devotion for our children in our hearts, we’ll be ok…and our children will better for it…at least that’s the plan right?
After all, mother (and father) is the name for god on the lips and hearts of children.
Until next time…don’t forget to give your kids a hug today and every day!