RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: September 2012

Confessions of a Rookie Father

Believe or not, I was a pretty good little league baseball player. If there was better 8 year-old fielding shortstop in West Wichita, circa 1986, I’d like to meet him…of course, history has a way of allowing us to remember things the way we want, no sense in getting caught up in facts. As I got older, I wouldn’t say my skills diminished as much as my body stopped growing, and the other kids got better…much better. My playing time decreased, rapidly, and I looked to find someone to blame.  In my case, it was easiest to blame my father.  In my mind, he had put pressure on me to perform…too much pressure.  So I did the unthinkable…I asked my father to stop attending my games.  He stopped showing up and my playing time continued to drop, until finally, I got cut from the team. Although my Dad wasn’t to blame for my benching’s, I was sure I wouldn’t put pressure on my kids when I became a father of my own.

*********************************************************************************

Four weeks shy of his sixth birthday, my oldest son, Henry was about to start in goal for the first time in a competitive soccer game. Turns out Henry acquired some of his ‘Ol Man’s hand eye coordination and has quickly showed a real gift for the little round ball.  This year, my wife and I decided to enroll Henry into a competitive league in our area, complete with yelling coaches, score being kept, and parents that really, really care. So it was, on this particular Saturday, that Henry found himself, between the pipes, with all of us parents looking on. As the whistle blew to signal the start of the game, I was overcome with a weird sensation. As the ball rocked and rolled around the field, bouncing like a pinball amongst the clump of boys, my heart began to race. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I found myself beginning to yell…”BE READY, HENRY!”. He didn’t look ready…, but why is he looking at me now? “WATCH THE GAME, NOT ME!”…what’s he doing?…he’s not even looking at the ball…oh no the ball…it’s coming right at ’em…I was sure my  heart was going to explode.

As if it had been blown out of a cannon, the ball broke away from the pack and was now heading right towards my oldest.  There was Henry, like a deer frozen in a head light,  as the opposing forward approached and with one swift kick, as if in slow motion…the ball went right through Henry’s legs.

My first thought was, why are all these people screaming? Then I remembered…all those parents care. The crowd was simultaneously groaning and cheering. When, from the corner of my eye, she turned. She had been sitting there since before the game, making small talk with me…

“…where do you live? Oh really? My son goes to the same school, what teacher? Oh that’s great, us too.  Don’t you just love this soccer team?…”

As my ears continued to ring from the groaning cheers, my emotions began to lava over…she turned and muttered,  in the condescending voice only a mother can deliver…”It’s OK, I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it.”

My mind erupted with emotion:

“Get the hang of it? Get the hang of it? Do you know who the hell my son is! Ya, the one that scored the winning goal last week, the only one that can kick a forward ball with any real force! Is that your son sitting in the dirt, eating grass? Ya, thought so…Henry will “get the hang of it” as soon as your son “gets the hang of putting his shin guards on right!”

Luckily, that was my internal voice…

The external voice was saying something like “That’s OK, Henry. You’ll get’em next time.”

It wasn’t till later that my emotions for the game subsided enough for me to fully reflect. As I drove home, I was filled with questions, most notably, had I become my father? Was I becoming the very type of pressuring parenting I never intended to be? The feelings I had were real, but what was I feeling exactly? Why did I care, in the heat of that moment, so much about my son’s performance? My initial thought was something along the lines of “He has so much potential, and I just want to see him compete like he does in the backyard with his friends, after all, I’ve seen him stop those kind of shots in his sleep”…but that would be false parental rationalization on my part. The truth is, I want him to do well for me.  We, as parents, do sometimes live vicariously through our children, and if we are not careful, we can want for our children what we really want for ourselves.  It occurred to me that all I want for my kids is for them to be happy…and that happiness has nothing to do with soccer or sports.

As I pulled into my driveway, I began to realize that although I have three boys, I’m a rookie when it comes to my oldest.  Every new experience for him, is a new experience for me.  No matter how many diapers I’ve changed or boys I’ve potty-trained, I’ll never be fully prepared for Henry’s new experiences…and that will last his lifetime.  I shouldn’t be concerned that I felt that way for his first competitive game as goalie…only concerned if I don’t change my thought process.  Because like any good rookie, I must learn from mistakes, or risk being put on the bench by a son who thinks his father is to blame.

Clifford The Big Red Dog – A Statistical Analysis

20120915-030923.jpg

As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions. Many can’t be answered and that can become overwhelming. There are medical questions like “What is that bump on his head? Is it serious? Should I call the doctor?” There are social questions like “Does he play well with others at school? Does he misbehave like this when I’m not around?”  Even political questions like “Which of these two candidates give my family the best chance for continued success? Which candidate will implement policies that are best for my boys?”  To be honest, I don’t consider myself qualified to answer many of the questions that pop in my head, so let’s stick with one that I am qualified to answer:

“How much do you think it costs to care for Clifford the Big Red Dog?”

If you are new to parenting small children, or have retired from that game many years ago, you may not be aware of the three-storied Clifford and his child owner Emily Elizabeth.  But if you are aware, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself that question numerous times…right? No, really, please tell me that you’ve asked yourself that question…maybe once? No? Well, let’s move on…

As the story goes, Mary Elizabeth sets out to buy a puppy and chooses the runt of the litter, which happens to be a red Labrador. Once she brings it home, it begins to eat them out of house and home, becoming larger and larger until he’s outgrown the apartment, forcing Mary Elizabeth and her family to leave the city for the spacious island life off the coast. Let’s start here: That takes some real parenting dedication to uproot your family and job for a dog. Also, wouldn’t you think about selling him at this point? I mean you have a red dinosaur-size dog in your possession, at best, Purina wants it for science, at worst a traveling freak show would pay high dollar for this thing…sell then and you probably break even, hold onto him and your about to make a very sizable investment, how large? Let me answer that for you…Read on, my friends, read on:

Food

Can you imagine feeding that animal?  This would be one of your larger line items when assessing the cost of ownership. When you watch the opening credits of Clifford, it’s easy to see that he’s grown to become a 3 story behemoth.  According to http://www.goldenretrieverforum.com, the average lab grows to be about two feet, meaning that Clifford is approximately 15 times the size of the regular dog (30’/2′). According to that same site, labs tend to eat 4 cups of food a day, once again multiplying this by 15, that’s 60 cups a food a day. Considering you can get 208 cups of food out a 52 lb. bag, it would take about 2 bags to feed Clifford for one week, or about 104 bags a year.  At $25/bag, that’s about $2500.  Let’s not forget treats, after all, Clifford spends most of his day saving the people of his island from fires and floods.  Let’s assume 30 boxes of Kibble n Bits for the Big Guy, which will run us another $500.  Grand total for food?  $3,500/year.

Water

Imagine filling up your child’s backyard pool…2-3 times…everyday! That’s a lot of water. I watered my grass a bit this summer and filled up the pool a few times and saw my bill skyrocket by over $100/month. I’m willing to be conservative here and say that Clifford would increase your water bill by $300/month. Who knows, maybe you could move to place that has a well or is close to a lake, but for the sake of this projected budget, let’s assume we don’t.

Housing

Ol’ Cliffdog’s not sleeping at the end of your bed.  If you’re an avid watcher of the show, you’ll know that Clifford lives in a warehouse-like dog house. It looks pretty cool, actually, for a dog-warehouse.   New construction on a place like that, with heating and cooling, could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we’ll assume $100,000. Further, let’s assume you believe Clifford will live for 15 years and you take out a 15 year loan, at a very competitive 4.35%, your mortgage, including estimated tax and insurance would come to $878/month.  Congrats, you now have two mortgages.

Leashes, Collars & Toys

I checked out this site, to get an idea of various dog ownership costs.  It’s been a while since I had a dog…Gracie was her name, lab/chow mix …she was nice…scared of her own shadow, shed all over the place, couldn’t sit down in a car, but nice none-the-less.  She bit my oldest son, twice, so now she’s in doggy heaven.  Look, I pretty much took the numbers from that site and multiplied it by 15…we don’t have all day here people, it’s a cartoon.

Grooming

A shampoo & rinse at my local Petsmart runs $25-$50.  If we multiplied that by 15, it puts us at $375-$750.  How many times does Clifford need washed?  Every six weeks?  Every few months?  Who knows, but I assumed $3,500 for the year.

Medical  

Type of Expense Approximately Amount/Yearly
Food and Treats $3,000
Water $2,500
Mortgage on Dog House w/ 1% Tax $10,300
Toys $1,000
Leashes and Collars $375
Grooming $3,500
Routine Veterinary Care $3,500
Preventive Medications and Supplements $500
Yearly Total $24,675
Average Monthly Cost of Owning a Dog $2,014
15 Year Cost $370,125

The costs to medically care for a dog the size of Clifford could be off the charts.  According to the site referenced above, you should budget $200-$300 year, which would put us in the $2,000 range, but quite frankly, that seems low, so I made up a number and we’ll go with $3,500.  Throw in another $500 for preventive care and supplements and I’m beginning to wonder if Obamacare covers Big Red Dogs.

So, how much does it cost to care for Clifford The Big Red Dog?  About 2 G’s a month, $24,000 a year, or $370,000 for a 15 year life span…for that kind of money, he should be able to talk…oh, he does?  Maybe we should call that freak show!  The lesson here?  Don’t let your child buy a red dog…ever.

********************************************************************************************************

As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions.  There are, of course, real questions that need my attention.  Questions like, “which school should Henry attend?” “Is Charlie’s speech OK for a three-year old?”…”Is that O.J. or pee on the floor?”

Other questions enter my mind, or better yet, are sent there from others.  But part of finding balance is understanding which ones stay and which one’s go.  A father, a mother, a parent of any kind, could, if they weren’t careful, spend a lot of negative time and energy debating questions of perceived importance.  They could double down on that mistake by debating those questions with information based on assumptions.  Assumptions of fiscal cliffs and balanced budgets…assumptions of future job growth and unemployment…assumptions of tax rates and “One-Percents”, but debating at the top of my lungs those items based on assumptions & assumptions only, seems to be silly to me…as a silly as a statistical analysis of a cartoon dog.

Photo Credit

Parenting in the Facebook Era

Bullies & Cliques: Two interpersonal dynamics that, unfortunately, don’t out-grow adolescence. You know Noah who makes fun of everyone on the playground? Well, he grows up to be Noah in accounting, the guy that constantly tears you down during staff meetings.  How about the cool girls in school, the one’s with latest fashions & trends, standing in a crowd, pointing at you…giggling.  Well, that’s the same crew that gathers in the office lobby and continues to giggle at you as they pile into the elevator for lunch.  Unfortunately, maturity is not a rite of passage experienced by all…nor is self-esteem a requisite for adulthood.

Nothing personifies this today quite like Facebook. As fathers & mothers of young children, we are sandwiched between our parents, who often find the technology to be overwhelming, yet are engaged by their 36 friends and pictures of the grandchildren. On the other side rests those young kids who’ve grown up in a Facebook world. Let’s just say I’m happy FB wasn’t around for my college road trips, European travels, and previously unknown high school parties at my parents’ house.

“Wow, there was a Jim Beam bottle in the mailbox…really? Uh, not sure where that came from Mom, got go to school, see ya!”

(Note to the future Me: Don’t leave my youngest alone on Prom Weekend)

No, our Facebook challenges are more difficult, more cerebral. Today, our generation tends to do 1 of 4 things on Facebook:

1. Play Games. Speaking of which, do you need something to do? I’ve got 3 things that come to mind if you’re looking for some productive use of your time…there names are Henry, Charlie & Max.
2. Re-post somewhat humorous/inspirational pictures that have you feeling like you’ve entered an online version of an Oprah show.
3. Expound on their political views. Freedom of speech has it downsides.
4. Post picture/stories about their kids.

I’ve been, to varying degrees, guilty of all of them…But it’s the fourth that creates issues for parents today. As we scroll through our timeline, it can be difficult to understand that we are seeing the parenting peaks of our friends, not the collection of one super-human, all-encompassing parent.  And because we tend not  to post our parenting valleys, we can get the sense that everyone you know has got this parenting thing figured out while your three kids are running around like a band of vigilantes.

“Henry, stop swinging your brother, he’s 7 weeks old and you’re gonna make him throw up…Charlie get away from the door, and put some pants on…Ohhh, see, he threw up all over his new shirt…GET IN TIMEOUT, NOW!…”

We don’t see FB updates like “Spanked the hell out of my kid in public today” or “went ahead and mailed it in and put my 3-year-old in front of the TV for 3 hours while I ate like dog shit”.

No, instead, we post items that highlight our children’s world, mostly so that people in our circle can be kept abreast of the comings and goings of our lives…yet our posts can seem arrogant, superficial,  cliquish…

The result can be devastating. So much so that a few people I know and respect have gotten off FB altogether. I can respect that. Often times the best way to overcome negative energy is to move away from it.

I tend to think the upside of connecting and sharing out-weighs the negative thought processes that enters my head. Besides, if we remember that these postings represent parenting peaks, then we should be truly happy for our loved ones & friends.  We shouldn’t take it as an indication of our inability to parent. Here’s my “Am I Good Parent?” test:

1. Do I love my kids? Check
2. Do I wake up every morning, and try to do my best in balancing the needs of my kids, with the needs of my wife and myself? Check

Everything else is secondary.

So, next time you jump on Facebook, after sifting through the Obama/Romney discourse that enlightens everyone…and you see that your neighbor went to school to have lunch with their kids, or took the day off to take’em to the zoo, or whatever it is that we do to make a difference in our children’s lives, don’t take it personal, don’t feel inadequate.  Ask yourself the two test questions above.  If you can answer yes to both, you’re all right in my book…

….now, I think I’ll go post this on Facebook.

%d bloggers like this: