Why is it that when women see a father alone with a baby, they immediately assume we don’t know what the hell we’re doing? Now I don’t want to generalize here. I’m not talking about single women. In fact the single women tend to gravitate towards the daddies at the park or in other public places. Chicks LOOOOVE guys with babies. Babies and dogs. They say, “I want that.” Now of course we men are kidding ourselves because ‘that” is not specifically us, but rather a stable man who’s a good father, and the fantasy is fun. Anyway I’m probably already in trouble with my editor who happens to be my wife (and the two are very rarely mutually exclusive) so I’ll go on. No, I’m talking about the annoying mother who wants to give all kinds of unsolicited advice on how to raise your child. And rightly so. OBVIOUSLY I MUST need this unsolicited advice because my child’s mother is nowhere in sight. I therefore MUST be doing something wrong. And then, I imagine this “guardian angel” will go along her merry way and later at the dinner table tell her family how she saved a child’s life today.
Take this little encounter for example. It was a summer Saturday afternoon about two years ago. I was in my townhouse downstairs and my wife was upstairs with our infant son. I was watching a baseball game and cleaning. The cleaning part is not important to the story but I specifically remember doing it and I always like to remind my wife/blog editor that it does happen on rare occurrences. Anyway I could hear my son crying upstairs pretty loudly. He was probably getting his diaper changed which to him has always been the baby equivalent to a root canal. There was a knock at the door. When I answered it I saw a woman who was walking her dog in front of our door. She asked, “Do you have a baby?” “Why yes” I said waiting for the inevitable compliment. Something along the lines of, I see you walking him. You have a lovely family. or Well, he’s obviously going to grow up to be a very good looking man. Why else would she take the time out of her dog walking to knock on our door? This is why: She looked at me and said, “He’s crying upstairs.” I paused to make sure I had heard her right. Then I said, “Yeah, my wife’s upstairs with him.” She replied, “Oh, I heard the game on pretty loudly so I wasn’t sure you if could hear him” Yyyeeeeahhh. Handled, honey but thanks. I’m sure the children of our housing complex are a lot safer with you roaming the sidewalks knocking on doors. Hey hero, I think I hear a baby coughing a couple of houses down. Do you want to call child services or should I? Or how ‘bout the woman on the beach later on that same summer? I was walking on the beach, my son safely strapped into the front loader on my chest. I felt good. First of all the Baby Bjorn completely covered my huge gut so I wasn’t nearly as self conscious as usual. And secondly, it was a beautiful day and I was walking with my new son at the place I’m always the happiest: the beach. So when I saw a woman walking toward me and eyeing both of us, I started to feel even better. I was sure she could sense the good energy coming off of me and like I said the baby was covering up my huge white shirtless girth so I thought Hey, I think she’s checking me out. So when she passed by and asked, “Does he have sunscreen on?” I was a bit nonplussed. First of all I had practically bathed him in SPF 560 or whatever the strongest baby sun goop is nowadays. This kid could have crawled across the surface of the sun and come away with nothing but a nice base. So I told her, “Uh….yeah…plenty.” She replied, “Oh. Cause his legs look a little red.” and passed by me never breaking her stride. I immediately turned and shouted after her, “Yeah? Well they call his chubby legs and butt baby fat. They call yours cellulite!” ZING! That got her. Of course I didn’t actually say that but ooooh I wish I had.
And these brilliant pieces of parenting wisdom are not confined to just me when I’m alone. My wife has had to endure some slings and arrows of her own. It’s like divide and conquer. Once my wife and I are divided, they love to conquer. I don’t ever want to hear a sentence that starts with, “Y’know what WE do…” I don’t even like hearing it from our parents, but that I understand and tolerate because “parental interference” is in the grandparent’s code book. It’s a God given right. To tell you the truth as my wife and I get ready for baby #2, we’ve learned to tolerate buttinskys a little more. In fact I’m amazed how laid back we are about having another child and we’re only 3 months out. I guess we think of ourselves as old pros now. In fact it probably won’t be long before we’re handing out some advice of our own to other parents who obviously don’t have a clue what they’re doing. I’m sure they’ll thank us for it.
It’s true what they say. Once you become a father, you start to live your life all over again. My son is 2 ½ and I’m finally getting it through my thick skull that while I have said goodbye to many aspects of my younger self (i.e. sleeping in on weekends, peaceful mornings and quiet nights at home, 2 AM drunken breakfasts at all night diners), I have just begun to experience an entirely new quality of life. The life of a father, nurturer, protector, teacher and dare I say, hero. While it is absolutely one of the hardest roles I’ll ever take on, the perks of daddy-hood are irresistible. For instance: nobody has ever been so happy to see me when I come home from work. Every day without fail! Only a dog shows that kind of loyalty and they emit a loud bark rather than an adorable, “Hi daddy!” And I challenge your heart not to melt when your son or daughter lays their head on your shoulder as you gently rock them to sleep.
Something that I didn’t expect was the flood of forgotten or suppressed memories from my own childhood that would begin to resurface. I’ve always prided myself on having an incredible memory. I can rattle off dates, places, historical and personal events at a clip. And don’t even get me started on movie and TV dialogue. I tend to give the impression that all I did as a child was sit inside all day and memorize cartoons and sitcoms. That’s NOT tr…well okay that’s mostly true, but it also has to do with the fact that I have a memory like a steel trap. I thought the extent of my memory only reached back to my 4th or 5th year however. So I’ve been surprised recently because ever since the birth of my son, memories of my toddler years which had been tucked away for one reason or another have been popping up without even trying to recall them. The memories are so vivid it’s as if they happened yesterday. When his cries split the night at 3:00 AM, I no longer curse under my breath while stumbling into his room to calm him down. This is because I recently remembered a particularly terrifying recurring nightmare that I had as a baby. While I don’t remember the details of the dream, I do remember jolting awake while screaming at the top of my lungs and looking towards my bedroom door through the bars of my crib just waiting for it to open and my parents to come to my rescue. I also remember a particular bully from when I was 3. Who bullies a kid when he’s only 3?! Anyway I think I remember him because of his name: Keith Newton Shot. Isn’t that the greatest name ever? Sounds like an assassin. “The Prime Minister’s life was tragically taken by Keith Newton Shot” Then the local news would interview me and I’d say, ‘It doesn’t surprise me. He used to push me off of my Big Wheel when I was 3.” But the point of this memory is whenever I see someone pushing my 2 year old around I have to restrain myself from shaking the kid while yelling,” I WILL NOT LET YOU BE HIS KETH NEWTON SHOT!” But I digress. Another wonderful memory hit me recently and inspired this month’s blog.
Last weekend I spent a lovely weekend at the beach with my family. I’m a HUGE fan of the beach. I tend to pine for days gone by. It drives my wife crazy. The summers are a particularly nostalgic time for me. Growing up I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks every summer at the beach or “down the shore” as we say back East. 3 WEEKS! 2 weeks mid summer were spent at a rented house at the Outer Banks of North Carolina (the greatest destination…EVER! Don’t argue with me.) and 10 days at the end of August were spent at Ocean City, New Jersey. I looked forward to those weeks all year long. Every morning I would hit the beach with a ravenous appetite and stay there until sundown, alternating between boogey boarding in the waves and sitting in my beach chair listening to music or enjoying a good book. My family soon bestowed upon me the title of “Beach King”. Then at night the entire family would have a huge dinner and play games or head to the O.C. boardwalk and go on the amusement park rides, play mini-golf, eat Mack and Manco’s pizza (best pizza anywhere! Don’t argue with me.) And eat caramel popcorn or salt water taffy. It’s the kind of stuff that Bruce Springsteen songs are made of. They were the happiest days of my life. And not only did we kids enjoy those vacations, but the adults seemed to be having the time of their life too. Now that I’m a little wiser I realize that they were all completely drunk much of the time. We kids had no idea. We just thought that they were having a REALLY good time playing Charades with us.
Anyway ever since I became a father, my dream has always been to someday recreate those memories with my kids. Last weekend was my first taste of it. My in-laws own a lovely condo at the beach about an hour from our house. They have been generous enough to share it with us for which, believe me, I am eternally grateful. Last year my son was 1 year old and to him the beach was a brand new and wonderful world. He was terrified of the ocean though. You would be too if the only body of water you’d seen was a bathtub and a pool. This was water that actually crashed down and moved towards you! This year however he grew a little bolder. He would take my hand and actually lead me into the ocean and say, “I need up” which meant he wanted me to pick him up and carry him out to sea. While I was slowly wading out to just in front of the breakers feeling my son clinging to me in excitement with a touch of nervousness, I was blindsided by another memory. I remembered that I wasn’t born the “Beach King”. I had to earn it. When I was my son’s age, I HATED the beach. I used to stand at the top of the dunes and scream my lungs out because I wanted nothing to do with this hot and oddly textured ground and the roaring water beyond it. Then one day my father picked me up and carried me into the ocean gently telling me that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me and that frolicking in the waves could actually be quite fun. I remember how incredibly safe I felt in his arms and the complete trust I put in him. I survived my first foray into the Atlantic and an obsession was born. I saw that same trust in my son’s face along with that same look of cautious excitement as he truly experienced the ocean for the first time in his life. It was amazing. It felt like somebody hit rewind on my life but this time in a weird “Freaky Friday” experiment, the son had now become the father. I’ve begun to relive my life through my son. It made me realize that it was time to let go of the summers of my past and prepare myself for the summers ahead. We’ve conquered his fear of the waves. Can drunken Charades be that far away?
This all being said, is it too much to ask for the little guy to learn how to swim so I can relax in my beach chair and read a good book?!
“It’s okay, buddy. It’ll be alright, pal. Don’t cry.” I say half heartedly. I’m only saying it because it seems like that’s what I’m supposed to say. I don’t really know what I’m doing. In fact I don’t even know this kid. I feel bad saying that because I think I’m supposed to be laughing and cheering as I run down the hallway with tears in my eyes handing out cigars. That’s what every new father does in TV shows and the movies. I’m trying to fake it, but I’m having trouble. It’s 10:00 AM on a stormy morning in April of 2006. I’m in the nursery of my local hospital looking down at my son who was born exactly one hour ago. He’s naked, bloated, still a little messy from the trip, and screaming his lungs out. He’s been bawling since the second I met him. I’m standing over his crib (or whatever they call those hospital issued nondescript wooden rectangles with mattresses.) and thinking he must be freezing. Then I touch his exposed belly and it’s actually quite warm due to the heating lamp above him. He resembles a Rotisserie chicken on display at the front of a grocery store deli. I look up at the big window and there are my in-laws in the waiting room looking in and beaming from ear to ear as they alternately snap pictures and talk on their cell phones heralding the good news of their newly arrived grandson.. Then they look up at me and I figure I should probably go into my routine again. “Daddy’s here, buddy. It’ll be okay. Just a little longer.” I’ve been an actor for as long as I can remember and this is without a doubt my worst performance ever. My wife is in the recovery room after her c-section procedure. She’s probably emotional, lonely and in pain. I’d much rather be with her. She needs me. I’ve known her 8 years. I’ve known this kid an hour. He has no idea who I am. I try to touch his hand but he pulls away. He hasn’t even opened his eyes yet. I can’t even tell who he looks like. I’m just not feeling it yet.
I’ve been up since 4 AM after getting about 3 hours of restless sleep. I drove down to the hospital in a deluge that would make Noah nervous. I’ve been trying to remain calm while at the same time keeping my wife comfortable and relaxed. Our birth plan has pretty much been crumpled up, and tossed into the recycling bin. What was supposed to be a calm, new age-y hynpo–birth without any drugs has turned into an early morning scheduled c-section with quite a few different drugs. All of this after a very taxing pregnancy. Obviously I wasn’t the one carrying the load (literally) so I shouldn’t complain, but I witnessed first hand what my wife was going through and you can’t help but experience some of the hardships too. Especially when the hormones rear their ugly head. I’ll never forget the day I came home from a particularly grueling day of work only to be screamed at for not wanting to name the baby at exactly that moment….7 months before he arrived. Apparently that proved I didn’t even WANT a baby. Pile on the 6 months of fertility treatments, the anxiety of not knowing if we were even going to be able to conceive children and if we did, how we would pay for them once they arrived and you can see what a harrowing year and a half it’s been. And the cause of ALL of that is lying in front of me howling away and not caring. He doesn’t seem to be sorry at all. If anything he should be comforting me. I know this all sounds heartless, but mothers have that maternal instinct. Fathers don’t. My wife has known this child much longer than I have. She’s felt him move. She knows his eating habits, when he’s sleeping and when he’s awake. She has been his personal Santa Claus. I have to learn how to be a father. And apparently I have to learn it right away because my wife is going to be out of commission for awhile as she recovers physically and mentally from a very invasive surgical procedure.
The next few days don’t get much better. I spend the entire week in the hospital room trying to sleep on a small cot that a prison would reject. The baby is awake every two hours of the night and I am still trying to find my way around a diaper. My wife has fallen into a serious post partum depression through the pain killing haze. Oh. And I’m suffering back spasms that would keep a professional athlete out of a championship game. And it’s all this 9 pound 21 inch “bundle of joy”s fault. When does the “you don’t just love your children, you fall IN love with them” thing start? Right now he’s just somebody I have to keep alive. Kind of like those bags of flour they give you for a week in high school Sociology class. Except I have my bag of flour for the rest of my life.
And then it happens. It’s the fourth day of his life. The doctor is about to perform a circumcision. My wife is still bed ridden so I am present at the “ceremony”. There’s a little bit of ritualism as my father in law recites a Hebrew prayer via cell phone. Since my wife and I are an interfaith couple, she being Jewish, I being Catholic and neither of us very good at being either one, we have decided to compromise on the Bris. No big party, but a nice prayer and coincidentally our doctor moonlights as a Moyle. So there we are in a small sterile room in the maternity ward, my son fast asleep and the doctor preparing to begin the procedure. The act itself is not something any grown man should have to witness so I stand back against the wall. I suddenly hear a wail from my son the likes of which I’ve never heard in the span of his short life. I’ve heard him cry pretty much nonstop for a week but this is different. This is a scream of pain. He’s in agony and he’s helpless against it. My boy. My poor, sweet little boy. I would do anything to take that pain away from him. In fact it was at that moment when I knew I would do everything within my power to keep him out of danger for as long as I’m alive. HEY! I think I’m in love. And then a week, nay, months of pent up emotions completely gives way and the levee breaks. I burst into tears and start shouting across the room, “It’s okay, buddy. Daddy’s here. It’ll be alright.” This time I mean it.
The week ended in love but started with indifference. 2 years and 4 months later I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I could hop in my Way Back Machine and stand beside myself in the nursery that first day and whisper in my own ear, “Hang in there. You’re looking at a stranger now, but this little guy will soon be your best friend. He’s going to make you laugh harder than you have in years. When you have a bad day at work, he’ll run into your arms as soon as you get in the door and instantly make it better. He’ll look at you with awe and wonder. He’ll also laugh at everything you do and say and you can’t beat that. So take heart. This is the toughest week of both of your lives. It only gets better from here.” Unfortunately the 2006 me would probably turn and say, “I HAVEN’T SLEPT IN DAYS! YOU’RE OBVIOSULY A HALLUCINATION! BUZZ OFF, 2008 ME!” But still. At least I tried.
Wait, wait wait. Let me explain. Yes, I am guilty as charged. I saw the chickiest of chick flicks by myself….on purpose. But before you cancel my “guy” club membership and make me hand over my remote control, allow me to explain. First of all this is still a daddy’s blog so I’m writing primarily to the guys not the girls. I’m sure the girls think its sweet and have no problem with this confession at all. Okay fine. Thank you ladies, but with all due respect don’t help me. You’re not my target audience. Secondly this is not my clever way of coming out of the closet and revealing my true self to my family in McGreevey-esque fashion. While certainly far from an alpha male, I still consider myself a guy’s guy…but not a guy’s guy if you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I admit that I was a fan of the Sex and the City HBO series. Call it a (very) guilty pleasure. My wife became a fan within the first couple of seasons and kept trying to get me to watch with her, but I refused wholly on principle. However by the third season I finally acquiesced. And what started as reluctance became a genuine enjoyment of the show. Decent acting, good story lines and character development, and some downright funny dialogue. And while I didn’t immediately bring up Carrie and Aidan’s breakup at the water cooler the next day, I was definitely drawn into the arcs of the characters. In fact I would go so far to say that it strengthened my relationship with my wife. No, no, really. NO, I AM NOT MAKING EXCUSES! My wife and I would watch and when a certain conflict or drama would erupt in one of the girls’ and their many men’s lives, I would turn to my wife and say, “Here’s why she’s wrong” or “Okay. Yes. That guy’s a jerk”, or “uhhh….I’m kinda on his side. Is that okay?” The show would kick off some pretty decent marital dialogue between us and sometimes I was even right! If given a chance, the show is a good study of relationships not only from the woman’s perspective but from the man’s as well. For the record I still like The Sopranos better.
So when the trailers for the long awaited Sex and the City movie started to appear I thought, “It’s not a movie I’m dying to see but my wife is constantly chastising me for not taking her to see ‘her’ kind of movies (i.e. chick flicks) so here is the perfect opportunity.” Then my wife saw it without me. Was I devastated? No. In fact I was almost relieved. Now I would be spared the inevitable ribbing from the boys at work that I would have had to take like a man. A Sex and the City-loving man. But I was a little disappointed. I just assumed that my wife would want to see it with only me. I mean it was our “thing”. The plan was to take her to the movie, share eye rolls with the other guys who were dragged there by their girlfriends or wives, and then secretly enjoy myself. But she saw it with some friends and came home bursting to discuss it with me. Just like old times. I told her she would have to wait a few months until I Netflixed it because there was NO WAY I was going to see it in the theatres now. Sorry, hon. You should have thought of that before you went to see it with a bunch of bimbos you just met.
Cut to last week. I was in Phoenix, my wife’s hometown. Phoenix in June means you better have some inside activities planned. I was bored. My son was napping, my wife was working and I had the choice of either going to a movie or hanging out with my mother in law. I ran for the car without checking showtimes or directions to the nearest Cineplex. (Just kidding, Mom. Love you) When I got to the theatre, my choices were slim. I had already seen the current blockbusters. My only choices were Sex and the City, Kung Fu Panda and Speed Racer. The theatre stubbornly refused to pay me to see Speed Racer. Since Kung Fu Panda was a Dreamworks animated film, seeing that movie would have put my status as a Disney company boy in serious jeopardy especially since WALL-E was about to open (playing NOW at a theatre near you!) That left me no choice. I sighed, looked around me like some kind of KGB spy and whispered “one for Sex and the City” to the unbelievably old woman at the ticket counter (this detail adds nothing to the story but I was truly amazed at how old this woman was). I got my ticket, left my male genitalia at the door and walked inside. Luckily the previews had started so the lights were down and I could find my seat incognito. I glanced around at my fellow viewers. The theatre was pretty empty being a Thursday matinee. A few old ladies and some fortysomething mothers. I was the only guy. I didn’t even see any gay guys. Then again I was in Phoenix so that’s no big shock. About halfway through the movie a fat old guy walked in and sat down. I was thrilled. He stayed for about three minutes, realized his mistake and walked out grunting. A single tear blazed a trail down my face.
The movie itself? It was fine. That’s all I can say. I didn’t hate it. I’ll give it a B. It was definitely targeted for women. I could have done without all of the fashion montages over the “girl power” dance music and I wanted to claw my eyes out during the slow motion naked guy shower scene, but the acting and the plot was pretty good. While it wasn’t as funny as I would have liked there were some good puns (“Mexi-coma”, “Poughkeepsie-d in her pants”). However I found that I can only take that show in half hour spurts. This was over two hours. Too much for any guy, I don’t care how in touch with your feminine side you are. But my biggest problem had nothing to do with the movie. I missed my Sex and the City buddy. I found myself relating to and agreeing with the guys in the movie once again. This time however I had no one to turn to and whisper, “He’s right y’know” In fact I related to one of the story lines a little too well and when it was resolved and the happy couple walked into the sunset, the only hand I could hold was my own. So the Sex and the City movie definitely required a team effort. No one should have to go through it alone. Just like running a stay at home business and raising a family at the same time. It’s definitely a team effort. But that’s a topic for a future blog. And looking back at this whole experience I couldn’t help but wonder: would it really have been THAT bad to see Kung Fu Panda?
By the way when I knew the movie was about to end I slinked out of the theatre, bought a 6 pack of Corona and raced home to watch game 4 of the NBA Finals just to flush the “chick” out of my system.
Who speaks for the Dad? Seriously. Think about it. Chris Rock has a great routine about this subject. It goes something like this. Kids are always being told “Tell your mama how good this dinner is.” “Tell your mama how pretty she looks.” You better tell your mama you’re sorry”, “Tell your mama.” Tell your mama” TELL YOUR MAMA” When does daddy get a shout out? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ”Hey, daddy! Thanks for knocking out this rent!”, “Hey daddy! It sure is easy to read with all this light!” What does daddy get? All he gets is the big piece of chicken at dinnertime. Now obviously it’s a lot funnier when Chris Rock performs it, but that routine is dead on. From conception through pregnancy, from the birth of our kids through…uh…well…the death of us, we fathers must learn to cope with the biggest change of our lives pretty much on our own. Not to say that the mothers don’t have a lot to deal with as well (if not more) but there are blogs, support groups and books aplenty to help the mommies get through it. But except for an 80’s movie starring Michael Keaton and a few Bill Cosby routines, the plight of the father is often overlooked. A comedian buddy of mine just wrote a handbook for the new father. If and when it gets published I’m sure you’ll see it advertised on this site. After reading just the book proposal I was amazed at the similarities with my experiences of the last two years and nine months. I found myself wondering if my friend had somehow extracted my memories with some weird science fiction machine and was just writing my story. In fact the title of the book, “My Life Is Over” were the exact words I said to my boss the day before my son was born. Anyway I realized that if my friend had these thoughts, and I had these thoughts, there were A LOT of guys out there who had these thoughts. And it was time to speak up for them. And what better place to speak for them then a website…created by two stay at home moms?? SEE WHAT I MEAN? THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! My wife, Ally, thought of this great concept last year. A website to help stay at home moms. She and her business partner, Kelli, came up with the name “Our Milk Money” I told them to call it “Our Milf Money”, but they thought that might attract the wrong target audience. Can’t say I blame her. Anyway they soon realized (and rightly so) that for every self employed mom out there, there’s a self employed dad also trying to eke out a living while trying to raise a family at the same time. In fact in my opinion the self employed father needs this kind of website the most because we as men tend to put the pressure on ourselves of being the sole provider and breadwinner of the family. This goes back to the beginnings of civilization (stupid, lousy hunter-gatherer cavemen.) I guess it all depends on the family situation. For instance while I am the breadwinner of my family, I am just the opposite of self employed. You can’t get more corporate than me. I work for The Walt Disney Company, one of the biggest corporate machines in the world. In fact I have to go back and examine that last sentence to make sure I’m not being slanderous and thereby subject to a possible lawsuit. OH YES THEY WOULD! However even though I am the “breadwinner”, the bread I’m winning is wet and moldy because I am below middle management at the House of the Mouse which means I probably make less money than you. I know I don’t know you, but trust me on this one. So hi everybody. I’m Chris. Ally and Kelli have asked me to start up this little daddy corner to make sure that the voice of the dad can be heard. Because it’s important that everybody involved with Our Milk Money whether merchant, shopper, or curious visitor knows that this is not just a website for moms. It’s a website for all self employed parents. And everybody should be represented. Well I’m here to represent you, daddies. REPRESENT! Word! Fo-shizzle! Okay I promise never to do that again. I’m just trying to tell you that you’re not alone. I’ll share my stories, hopes, fears, dreams, triumphs and disappointments of being a father. I already have plenty of each category and my son isn’t even two years old yet. Maybe together, we can see this thing called fatherhood through. I’ll leave you with two quotes. The first quote is on a T-shirt that my own father gave me a week before the birth of my son, “Fatherhood: the toughest job you’ll ever love” and the second quote is the answer my boss gave me when I told him my life was over. “Oh no. It’s just beginning.” Turns out, they were both right. Talk to you soon.