Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Good Father Would... Pt. II

A good father would not lose his temper and yell at The Toddler when she spits milk all over the kitchen.  Good fathers do not have tempers.  Good fathers do not yell.  Good fathers know that yelling is almost always the worst reaction to any given situation.

A good husband would not be resentful when The Wife wakes him at 4:00 a.m. to put The New Baby to sleep.  A good husband would remember how hard his wife is working with The New Baby, and he would realize that he slept soundly from 10:30 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. and he was able to do that because The Wife was keeping The New Baby happy and full.

A good father and husband would not need to take a nap.  A good father and husband would know everything that needs to be done around the house and he wouldn't rest until it was done.  A good husband and father would remember that last night wasn't so bad, and he got good enough sleep to get him through the day without needing to nap.

A good father would not be terrified of being left alone with The Toddler and The New Baby.  A good father would be prepared, would have a plan for every contingency, and would be able to execute his plan without misstep and without losing his cool.

A good father would not react to his toddler screaming at him.  A good father would just roll with it.  He would recognize that losing his cool or reacting in any way will just reinforce the behavior.  A good father would know his toddler is just pushing his buttons, looking for a reaction, and he would be able to ignore it and give his toddler only positive attention to reinforce good behavior.

A good husband would take care of his wife who just a month ago endured a successful VBAC.  He would anticipate her needs and give her what she wants without her asking.  He would never be resentful if she did need to ask for something.  A good husband would never put his own needs above her needs.

A good father would not miss his life without children so much.  He would know that children are a blessing.  He would know there are too many people out there deprived of that blessing, some of whom would probably be better parents than he.  He would never make tasteless jokes about taking his kids to the fire station.

A good father and husband would not be threatened by his wife, who somehow never loses her temper, even with him when he loses his.  He would appreciate that she seems so put together and top of herself rather than resenting her for it.  He would never, ever, ever, take for granted that such an amazing woman chose to spend her life and raise her kids with him.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

On Halloween

Last night was Halloween.  Since The Toddler is too little to really understand the holiday, and since it's butt cold outside right now, we stayed in and handed out candy.  The Wife, who is 38.5 weeks along at this point was adorable dressed as Winnie the Pooh, and for a party last weekend, The Toddler was even more adorable as Piglet, and I was along for the ride as Christopher Robin.  If I wasn't next to both of them, I just looked like another dad without any fashion sense.  Image search Christopher Robin and you'll understand.

So we stayed in last night.  The Wife and I love Halloween.  We love handing out candy.  We love seeing all the creative costumes.  We love the polite kids who are friendly and thank us, and we love the parents out there doing their best and yelling, "SAY THANK YOU!" from the sidewalk.  We also love scary movies. 

We decided yesterday afternoon that we'd hand out candy until 8:00 or so, when it's mostly over anyway, and then go watch Rosemary's Baby.  Neither of us had ever seen it and it's a classic horror movie for a reason.  8 rolls around and we still have a lot of candy, so we say to heck with it, put a stool out on the steps, put the bowl on the stool, leave the lights on but lock the door, and we head to the basement to watch the movie.

Mistake 1:  DO NOT WATCH ROSEMARY'S BABY WHEN YOUR WIFE IS PREGNANT.  I loved the movie.  Loved it.  It scared the shit right out of me.  But geez, aside from the being-raped-by-the-devil thing, it includes a lot of the crazy emotional shit that happens during a pregnancy.

Mistake 2:  Leaving the candy out in the bowl.  Some little asshole stole our bowl.  This isn't that big a deal, but it's really disappointing and annoying.  I mean, it was part of a set.  Now we have an incomplete set and what are the chances of finding an individual replacement bowl that matches the rest of the set?!  We're gonna need a whole new set!  Life can be really hard sometimes.

So Halloween was OK.  And I'm certain that two days after we buy a new set of mixing bowls, we'll the find the stolen one thrown in the bushes in the neighbor's yard or something. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On Shame and Guilt

Yesterday was a tough day.  I just felt down.  Can't figure any way of describing it any more poetically than that.  Up is up.  Normal is in the middle.  Down is down.  It's not really depression.  To describe it as such would be an insult to the truly depressed and what they deal with.  At this point, I think you know what I mean, so I won't belabor the point.

I spend a lot of time metacognitating i.e. I like to think about my thinking.  I like to try to get to the root causes of feelings.  It goes back to the first therapist with whom I worked, Jack, who recommended to me a book - Focusing, by Eugene Gendlen.  I haven't read it in a loooong time, but my enduring understanding is that by talking through a feeling and trying to label it pretty specifically, you will eventually understand your feeling, and there will be a release of emotion, often accompanied by tears.  If Jack had just told me about it before he'd worked through a few sessions of focusing, I would've thought it really cheesy, but damn if it didn't work exactly like that for me.  Anyway...

I spoke with The Wife about it last night.  There were tears.  It made me feel a little better, but there's more work to be done.  What I've concluded is that I'm feeling all the things a SAHD feels from time to time.  I'm tired and I feel run down, but because The Toddler is a pretty easy kid, I don't feel I deserve to feel that way, so I'm ashamed.  Shame is a seriously powerful fucking emotion, and is interwoven through all my issues.

Right now, I do everything around the house, something I do by choice and about which I'm proud.  I will reiterate: I take pride in making the choice to, and putting forth the effort required to keep the house running.  I cook and clean and mow and take out the garbage and pay the bills and weed the garden and on and on.  I'm proud because it sounds like a lot, but it's a lot of tasks, not really a lot of work.  I mean, some weeks it is, but I still *regularly* take a nap in the afternoon.  When people talk about how hard it is to be a stay-at-home parent, I wonder if they have more difficult kids than mine, because I've never had any other job that allowed me to pretty much stay on top of my shit AND take a nap a few days a week.  BUT.  I do a lot of tasks, and despite me knowing full well that The Wife works harder than I do, I get resentful.  On Tuesday nights, when I've got the kitchen cleaned up and my bowl of ice cream and we're sitting down to watch House of Cards and I then remember that it's fucking garbage night, I sometimes want to ask her when she last took out the garbage.  And then I remember that she worked a 14-hour day, same as she did yesterday, same as she will tomorrow, and I instantly feel guilty and ashamed.  A Good Husband would not think things like that.  A Good Husband would know how good he has it and would just grow up and take out the goddamned garbage.  And I do, but the guilt is still there.

So we talked it through, and The Wife was wonderful and supportive as always.  She reassured me that what we're feeling (because, as it turns out, I don't have the market cornered on resentment) is totally normal and to be expected.  She is exhausted, but feels the guilt typical of a working mom - does she spend enough time with The Toddler?  Does she contribute enough around the house?  The most puzzling piece of all this is that we really do work to support each other.  I try so hard to show her how much I appreciate everything she does, and she does the same for me, but it just doesn't always sink in.  Again, I think that's pretty typical.

Where does that leave us?  I don't know.  I think a lot about a marriage counselor.  Not because our marriage is bad, but I'm a believer in emotional maintenance rather than fixing emotional crises.  Our marriage is really strong, but as I said, guilt and resentment are seriously powerful, and the issues that bring those feelings out will not go away, ever.  I need to get out our old copy of The Five Love Languages.  As I said, I try to show her how much I appreciate her, but I also know I could do more and do better.  Sometimes I feel like I don't have any idea how to express my appreciation to her, and guess what?  Guilt and shame.

So that's that.  Another post with no conclusions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Self Doubt

I kind of have an anger issue.  I'm incredibly self-conscious about saying that, because I know how it sounds, and I know the images it brings to mind.  So let me be clear: I am not violent, towards myself or others.  To my recollection, I haven't raised my voice to my wife or daughter.  I did yell at our old dog once, and I felt horrible about it.  It's not the kind of anger that you think of when you hear someone say he has an anger problem.

My anger is more like extreme frustration and exasperation, all wrapped up in guilt and shame.  It often doesn't have an object other than myself, which I'll get to.  After The Toddler was born, I realized this anger was going to be an issue, so I talked to a guy, and he helped me through some things, and tried to give me some tools (cognitive behavior therapy or CBT) to deal with the feelings when they came up.  Problem is, CBT takes a lot of work to be effective, and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it, and in the meantime, you're trying to extricate yourself from a hot situation to work on it with your tools, and it feels like the worst time to try to extricate yourself from a hot situation.  I know I'm making excuses.  My point is, even with the best intentions, I realized I was unlikely to get good enough for CBT to be a good resource to deal with these feelings (and, I know.  The work is the point.  The work is the tool.  The work is the CBT is the work is the CBT... I know).

So I thought maybe I'd think about the anger and try to understand it, in the hope that by understanding it, I could steal its power.

The Wife and I are planning a kitchen renovation.  We had a small misunderstanding, nobody's fault, but it made me mad.  This was one of those situations where my anger had no object other than myself.  I was just mad.  Mad at myself.  Mad at being in that situation.  Mad that I got mad.  I didn't, and don't, understand it.  It brought me down for a couple days, thinking about it.

I wonder if maybe I'm angry because I thought I'd finished all the hard work of growing up.  For a while, I felt like a real man, and a real husband, and maybe I thought that would automatically make me a good father without needing to do any more growing up.  Maybe, but that doesn't feel exactly right.

I have this misconception that I've worked really hard to get where I am (I haven't), and to be reminded that hard work never ends makes me angry.  The relentlessness of needing to be a better person than I naturally am.  The realization that you're not nearly as good a person as you thought you were.

I watched an episode of The Sopranos and then I wrote a bunch of this shit down in my journal yesterday while The Toddler napped.  Dinner was leftovers and I had no ideas for the rest of the week.  I felt guilty because instead of watching TV and writing, I should've been cooking and meal planning.  Every day, there are a thousand moments when I know how I would act if I was just a better husband, father, or friend.  The Toddler is throwing food on the floor or licking the toilet.  Those are teachable moments.  Those are moments when if I just had a little more patience, or a little more understanding, or a little more energy, I could decide on one of the many correct courses of action.  Many times, I do what I should.  Too many times, I don't.

I didn't know that the hard part of marriage and fatherhood would be dealing with the relentless march of moments during which I would need to decide to be better than I really am, and then summon forth the effort to act better than I wanted to be.

But how do you balance the ideal with reality?  Most of the time, the way I should act is selfless and the way I want to act, or the easy choice, is selfish.  Instead of watching TV during nap, I should cook.  But I'm not capable of always making the selfless choice.  Nobody is.  How do you know if you're living selflessly enough?  How do you deal with the doubt and shame of feeling like you should do better?  Thoreau wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  I wonder if he was talking about the doubt?

Or was he talking about the guilt of asking the question, and then doubting the motive for asking?  Do I really want to work to be a better person, or am I putting this out into the universe because I know one of my friends will read it and tell me I'm a good person?  Am I asking this question because I really wonder?  Or to absolve myself of the guilt of reaching out for reassurance?  YOU CAN SEE WHY THIS SOMETIMES GETS ME DOWN.  :-)

I got no answers.  If you do, you should be writing the blog, and books, and making bank off chumps like me who sometimes have a hard time getting out of their own way.  All I know is, I'm coming to terms with the reality:  I am not as good as I could be, and to be as good as I could and should be will take a lot of work, every day, for the rest of my life.  Or until I'm old enough that I can be that grumpy old man with no fucks left to give.  Today was a much better day.  I know what we're having for dinner.  I finished the laundry.  I made good progress on a woodworking project that had stalled for a couple weeks.  The sun is shining.  It could be, and has been, so much worse.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Am I Crazy? Or Is The Toddler Possessed?

Like many, The Wife and I sleep with a fan running in our bedroom.  I've slept with a fan on for as long as I can remember.  We just like white noise when we sleep.  We also run a fan in The Toddler's bedroom because it adjoins our living room and because we were so paranoid about her sleep when she was little that we did every possible thing in our power to convert the nursery into a womb short of spraying it down with warm goo.  And we would've done that if the floor had a drain.  Anything to make a baby sleep, amirite?

The Toddler sleeps really, really well now.  Me?  Not so much.  I wake feeling rested, but gone are the days of my head hitting the pillow and waking eight hours later feeling as if I didn't move an inch the whole night.  I toss and turn.  My back gets tight.  My temperature is all over the place.

And I hear things.

Because The Toddler sleeps well, and because her bedroom adjoins our bedroom, we turn the sound on the monitor off at night.  In the rare instances she's really upset, she has no problem waking us up.  Last night I woke two or three times sure I'd heard The Toddler making noise.  When I checked the monitor though, she was sound asleep.  After one of these instances, as I lay there trying to go back to sleep, I noticed the sound of the fan, kind of, maybe, in my mind, sounded like some of the sounds The Toddler makes...  I've talked to friends who've experienced this exact thing, so I know I'm not alone.  It makes you feel crazy.  Or illustrates that you are crazy.

So when I woke up, I had an idea that this should be a movie.  First-time parents are struggling with all the things first-time parents struggle with after bringing baby home: sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, sleep deprivation, loneliness, sleep deprivation, sleep deprivation, etc.  All parents understand the mental fragility during this phase of parenthood.  During this phase, the parents start to hear things through the baby monitor.  Or do they?  Was it just the fan?  Or did the baby make a noise and go right back to sleep?  Are the parents crazy?  Is the baby possessed?  Is the house haunted?

Possible Plot Elements:

  • Mom and Dad are cautiously optimistic as they sit down to eat after putting baby down.  They think they hear a noise and check the monitor.  Baby is totally motionless, staring at the camera with her beady black shark eyes.  (This happens ALL THE TIME in real life)
  • It's 9 o'clock.  Baby has been waking a lot between 9 and midnight.  Parents are exhausted and feeling that terror that only parents feel wondering how bad the night is going to be.  They hear something, but baby seems asleep.  Is she still asleep?  Then what was that noise?  IS SHE STILL ASLEEP?  FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY PLEASE LET HER STILL BE ASLEEP.
  • They keep hearing the baby monitor, even though the sound is off.  Dad starts compulsively changing the speed of the fan in the bedroom, convinced he can find the right frequency to quiet his mushy brain.
  • They hear a noise and check the monitor.  Baby seems sound asleep, but the rock-n-play is rocking.

The title of the movie would be The Monitor.  It could be a comedy, though if it was done honestly, there wouldn't be a goddamn thing funny about it.  It could be a psychological thriller, but again, if it was done honestly and was successful could singlehandedly torpedo the birthrate of any city showing it.  It could definitely be a horror movie, because babies alone are fucking terrifying, let alone when they're possessed.  So, do any of you know how to get in touch with Damon and Affleck?  I need to get a screenplay written.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do We Lack Time, or Control?

We started Daddy & Me class this week with an interesting question: What would you do with 10-15 extra minutes?

My first response was another question: Do I answer what I should do, or what I would do?  That got me thinking more about what the question was really asking...

Responses were predictable.  Play video games.  Take a nap.  Get caught up on chores.  I answered that I would read.  Like I said, predictable.  But we got to the second to last dad in class, and he answered, "I don't really know how to distinguish "extra" time.  I'm a SAHD.  All I have is time.  Time is my only commodity."  I've been thinking about his answer ever since.

I'm still totally stoked on my kid.  She is fucking awesome.  She eats well.  She's happy.  She almost always takes a good nap in the afternoon.  She goes down at 7:30 and sleeps until at least 6:30, and if I don't feel like getting her up until 7:00, she chills quietly in her crib.  She's just rad, so most days, I'm with this dad - I have a ton of time.  I have time in the morning before I get her up.  If I need time, she entertains herself well.  I have time while she naps.  I have time after she goes down at night.  I have time.  But on "bad" days, why does it feel like I don't?  What's different on those days when she's not feeling 100% and needs more attention, or when she takes an unusually short nap?

I'm still fleshing this out in my head, but I think what's different is my perception of control.  On days when she's "normal," I know what to expect.  I can expect her to give me time in the morning, or to entertain herself while I cook breakfast, or to take a good nap so I can relax or accomplish something.  Because her behavior conforms to my expectations, I feel like I'm in control of her behavior, and thus, our life.  On bad days, there's nothing really bad.  It's just that her behavior isn't conforming to my expectations, which makes me feel like I'm not in control, and when we don't feel like we're in control, it means we are no longer in control of our priorities, and that, I think, is what the question is really about.  The question is not about extra time.  I think the question is about control.  We're not really talking about what we would do with extra time, we're talking about what we would do with time over which we are totally free to prioritize.

As a parent who knows I have control issues, this seems like something I should keep in mind on those "bad" days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why I Dress Up For Daddy & Me Class

Like everybody, I have three or four levels of formality in my wardrobe, from my PJs to a nice suit.  Most days, I wear what I think of as "relaxed casual" - jeans and a t-shirt of some kind.  I also have "dad formal" which involves things like chinos and shirts with buttons.  I mostly like how I look regardless of which level of formality an event requires, and in these days of "athleisure" wear, I really could leave the house wearing my PJs and it wouldn't draw any stares.

The Toddler and I go to a class every Wednesday morning, and I noted this morning a trend.  Rather than my usual relaxed casual, I always dress dad formal for class.  It's not because the event demands it - these are all SAHDs, and attire in the class runs the range from dad formal to PJs.  So I wondered this morning why I always make sure I'm dressed well, shaved, and combed for class.

I've always thought of myself as an underachiever.  I did well in high school, got a good score on the ACT, did really well at a college where that wasn't so hard, and convinced myself that that was evidence I was destined for greatness at something.  It turns out my 4.0 GPA in college was my peak; I've never achieved anything like that success (success being defined as being better than my peers) since then, and depending on where I was in life, it's really, really bothered me.  What happened?

I've thought about it.  I've written about it.  I've come to very few conclusions.  But I do know that when The Wife got pregnant, and I knew I would be both a father and SAHD, I told people how excited I was, because I felt like I would be better at being a father and a dad than I'd been at any of the stupid shit jobs that had occupied my time since college.  I really thought of, and still think of, fatherhood as my calling.

Now I think (worry?) that I view fatherhood as a way to redeem myself, and I think (worry?) that I look my best for class because I've defined success as being better than my peers and I want to be the best, most-put-together dad in class (which is impossible, because Stylish Dad is way put together).  It's a competition, and I want to win at being dad.  I'm pretty sure that's not healthy.