Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Holiday Travel

By Blake Friis

It's midnight in the middle of winter at the Kansas City airport. I am waiting for a rental car and singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to an understandably pissed off 8-month-old. The reality of traveling with a baby is falling short of the cautious optimism I carried into the trip.

Traveling 850 miles to create timeless family memories begins with a question void of Christmas cheer: which mode of transportation will make me want to kill myself least?

Driving offers the freedom to dictate pace and keeps the misery private when the junior member of the operation decides being confined to a car seat for 12 hours is a crock of shit. Babies throw massive fits over the course of a drive, but a 30-minute cool-down stroll through an Oklahoma Wal-Mart during the holidays provides all the motivation one needs to get back in the saddle and carry on to greener pastures.

The downside of the road is it’s a boring beat down. A family road trip is like the drive-home from Spring Break. Everyone is tired, irritable, and hopes the smelly loudmouth in the backseat doesn't puke.

That’s why we choose to shell out a few extra bucks to fly. But the friendly skies are not without their own set of challenges.

Driving is a battle of attrition, but flying has an unmatched ceiling for potential chaos. Airport security, cramped airplane restrooms, and ear-popping changes in elevation prove humans were never meant to fly. Challenging the laws of nature with a child in tow is especially egregious.

One year ago, in the Minneapolis airport, we shared a laugh at the expense of a couple struggling through the terminal with a young child and all the baggage – physical and emotional – required to travel anywhere with young children. Approximately 364 days later, we laughed at ourselves, despite not finding the situation particularly funny. We had become the overwhelmed couple in the airport with sore shoulders short fuses.

Looking over my shoulder from the boarding line, I was relieved to see a dozen other families with small children. There is comfort in a theoretical blanket of anonymity, but that is contingent on each baby having about the same lung capacity.

For most of his first flight, my son was a trooper. He charmed the grandfather-to-be sitting next to us and endeared himself to the high school English teacher sitting behind us. With the exception of the man in front of us, whose hair he attempted to grab on more than one occasion and whose seat he took great joy in kicking, everyone in our section observed his happy disposition and returned his smiles.

Then our plane began its descent. That’s when the levy broke.

For the final 15 minutes of our flight, my son managed to transfer the pain in his ears to the ears of all the friends he made over the previous 45 minutes. He wasn't the only child to dial up a good freak out on the flight, but his was by far the most powerful.

I don't know if it was general understanding or holiday spirit, but the people on our flight could not have been more understanding and supportive as we struggled.

There is no perfect way to cover 850 miles with a young child, but the experience can be surprisingly fulfilling. We met some great people on our trip that we never would have encountered before parenthood.

When childless couples with one piece of luggage laugh at us in all their beautiful, well-rested glory, we smile and nod. They’ll appreciate the smile more than they know one day, when an inconsolable little maniac with hurting ears makes them feel like those parents.

Turns out we’re all those parents.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Man's (Actual) Best Friend

By Blake Friis

I knew one thing for certain as I drove 90 miles per hour down the home stretch of a six-hour drive from Dallas to Emporia, Kansas – we didn't come all this way to eat lunch at Braum’s.

So, we exited the turnpike and pulled into Applebee’s.

I don’t make a habit of rising before the sun on Saturday and loading my family into the car for a six-hour drive to lunch at a franchise restaurant; It just so happens the Emporia Applebee’s marks the halfway point between our home in Texas and my parents’ in Iowa, which makes it the ideal meeting place when the health of a marriage requires unloading the family dog on one's folks.

Welcome to Emporia
There have been few contentious arguments in our 19 months of wedded bliss – which is to say I fold like a lawn chair in the face of potential unpleasantness.

We budget items we can comfortably live without. Last week we discussed the necessity of cable television and my iPhone – we both have iPhones, but only mine seemed a frivolous expense. We have since decided since my company offers a fitness center to both of us, the cancellation of our current gym memberships will free up enough discretionary income to justify keeping the cable. It is, of course, pure coincidence this decision coincided with my wife’s newfound love of true-life murder mysteries on the cable network ID.

My wife is like a great runner in baseball. She can steal a base at any time, and my defensive approach is let her go and casually toss the ball back to the pitcher, feeling I am better off dealing with the next batter. That's our marriage - aggressive baserunning against defensive indifference.

As her desire to live in a dog-free house intensified, however, I continued to step off the mound and look her back to the bag. Knowing my success rate, it was critical I never let getting rid of Elvis escalate past hypothetical chit-chat.

Shortly after Gabe was born, I wrote about the battle raging inside our home between my wife and our boxer, Elvis. My desire for our son to grow up in a household with a great pet lead me to dig in my heels on Elvis’s potential relocation.

The more we failed as dog owners, the more Elvis stated his displeasure by destroying everything in his path. I tried to take him for more walks, but my efforts proved futile. Summer’s patience was wearing thin.

It was only a matter of time until she broke for second base. I tried to throw her out this time, but Elvis intercepted the ball and chewed it to shit, just like every other goddamn thing in the house.

Still, when we handed Elvis over to my parents it was just as sad as I imagined it would be. I couldn't help but feel like I'd let him down and deprived my son of the opportunity to grow up with the unique bond a boy shares with his first dog. This guilt and regret were difficult to deal with. I was nearly half-way through the potato skins on the appetizer sampler before I was able to shake it.

In the weeks since Elvis moved to the farm – a real one, not the one in finger quotes where many children are told their castoff pets run happy and free – our life has been exponentially better. We never come home to a disaster in the kitchen, our patio doesn’t smell like a boarding kennel, and we don’t have to fear Gabe being injured by the paw of a well-intentioned, but dangerously hyper 60lb dog.

Thank goodness I never get to make the big decisions.

It turns out Man’s best friend is actually a happy wife.

Later, Buddy

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Children and Profanity

By Blake Friis

Parenthood is loaded with challenges. There are daily struggles of diapers and feeding, and long term worries about the changing world and how to equip a child to survive, let alone thrive in it.

But what concerns me most is that I can’t seem to stop saying ‘fuck’ in front of my son.

He is a verbal sponge and I know I am in danger of creating the most foul-mouthed parrot ever to roam the Greater Dallas daycare scene, but the more I attempt to reel myself in, the more the goddamn Bears blow consecutive leads at home to Pete-Scumbag-Carroll and the Seattle-Fucking-Seahawks.

Sometimes it feels like the world is conspiring against you. Actually, most of the time when you root for Chicago sports teams.

Parenthood is also loaded with lessons, and you never know where they are going to come from. When a couple kids from the neighborhood knocked on our door Sunday afternoon and asked if they could play with Gabe, I gained a whole new perspective on the value of squashing my free-cursing nature.

The dynamic of a suburban neighborhood is not a complicated. There are adults and there are kids, and if you can only befriend one, choose the kids. They’re a pleasant source of entertainment, and more importantly, very forthcoming with the dirty laundry of neighborhood grown-ups.

As the sweet little girl from down the street launched into an unprovoked monologue about her parents’ delinquent rent payments, I realized we are not dealing with parrots, we’re dealing with little journalists who unapologetically report “off the record” observations.

I no longer fear the words my child might repeat; I fear the things he might report.

Because we are the youngest couple on the block, and because every little girl on the block wants to be Summer when they grow up, our house has become a relatively high-traffic area. The annoyance of other people’s children hanging around would be trying if they weren’t so damn good at inflating our egos.

“Blake, can you teach me how to make the football spiral like that?”
“Summer, I knew you were good at sports because you’re skinny and you run a lot.”

They should run for office. I would literally vote for them tomorrow.

The compliments took on a new meaning when they shifted from our athletic prowess to the vibe within our home. The kids were quick to acknowledge how laid back we are and how well we seem to get along, which is apparently not always the case with their folks. One kid talked about hearing her parents fight over money. Another discussed his concern with the age gap between his dad and stepmother, a viewpoint that – given his age – has almost assuredly been cultivated by his mother.

The inside scoop on the neighbors personal business is definitely the kind of stuff you would like to unhear, but the kids spilling the beans have no idea they are crossing a line. We find ourselves uncomfortably attempting to steer them back to the story about their older brother pissing his pants while watching the SEC Championship.

Dropping F-bombs in the presence of my son was something I decided I better work on. After learning how openly kids talk about their parents, good or bad, I am scaling those efforts well beyond cursing. The adult issues we deal with have to remain between adults, so our kids can enjoy being kids.

Parenthood is loaded with heavy shit like that.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Distance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

By Blake Friis

It turns out distance – and a lovely salmon dinner interrupted by an intensifying fire in the vicinity of your wood deck – can make the heart grow fonder.

My mother-in-law swears salt is a highly effective tool for combating small grease fires.  At her urging, I threw a tremendous amount of it at the camping grill on our patio while the flames rose higher and the fire grew hotter and, I swear to God, laughed at me.  When the salt remedy – or possibly my mother-in-law’s elaborate attempt to murder me – failed, my father-in-law grabbed an extinguisher and put out the fire; not in time to save the grill, but at least before the flames teamed up with the propane tank to royally fuck up Thanksgiving.

Standing over the smoldering mass of hot metal and melted plastic covered in a uniquely soothing layer of white fire extinguisher residue, I couldn’t help but think about what else I’d be willing to light on fire to create more moments like this.

Memorable moments are at a premium when you live 800 miles from your parents.

We moved from Iowa to Dallas for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the burning desire to no longer live in Iowa.  It is this mentality that leads so many people away from their small towns for a dose of big city living, only to return to the previously taken-for-granted comforts of home.  I knew this when we visited Dallas for a week and returned with a lease.  I knew the seemingly impulsive nature of our move set the over/under for our time in Texas at one year with heavy weight on the under.

Despite professional advancements and a renewed personal happiness, several family members continued to believe the move was temporary.  The belief was that we would move closer to home when we decided to start a family.

That might have been the case if our only reason for moving was an entertaining change of pace, but there was more to it than that.

Moving was not about proving something to myself or anyone else, it was about finding a place that allowed me to become the person I had been unable to become in my hometown.  As I drove the moving truck out of town, I didn’t know if Texas was going to be the long-term answer, but I knew, based on 26 years of trial and (mostly) error, the Iowa chapter of my life would remain in the rearview mirror.

The better things have gone in Texas, the easier it has been to detach from Iowa.  Texas has become home and Iowa is the place our parents live.  We go back for Christmas and try to make it sometime in the summer as well.  And that feels like plenty for us, but having a child complicates the matter.

The theory of quality over quantity was on display while we watched my in-laws interact with Gabe for an entire week – with the exception of the 15 minutes spent dueling with a three-alarm grease fire – over Thanksgiving.

Our parents are going to miss certain parts of their grandson growing up, and that is unfortunate.  We are going to have limited opportunities to utilize their inherent babysitting and diaper changing abilities, and that is absolutely tragic.  But the moments we are able to spend together are twice as meaningful, and that is a unique blessing.

Many people in my position end up moving home with a new appreciation for the life they once took for granted.  I am creating a home with an enhanced appreciation for life’s little moments, and I don’t dare take that for granted.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Killing Time The Target Way

I will be pushing a stroller through Target on Saturday morning. Every Saturday. You can set your watch to it.

With my wife out of town for her nursing program, I am not just responsible for making sure our son lives through each weekend – though it is a minor detail of some importance. For two days each week I have the unenviable task of finding a baby-appropriate activity to get out of the house and avoid going batshit crazy.

There are numerous places a man can play househusband. Parks are especially effective. A walk through the park says, “A healthy lifestyle is important to me and I wish to pass that on to my son, whose development I take very seriously, which is why I coordinated his outfit with this very expensive jogging stroller.”

Unfortunately, I break a sweat changing diapers in my air-conditioned living room. The park is out.

I own a jogging stroller like the park crowd, and I actually use it. The big tires and performance suspension are perfect for cutting across neighborhood yards on my way to the corner store. I could stick to sidewalks and add 100 yards or so to the half-mile walk, but that seems like a lot of work for a six pack of beer.

While parks hold a branding edge among time-killing activities, I find nothing matches the enjoyment of wandering around Target. Having a baby creates an infinite list of things you need and things you don’t, but can justify anyway. For an unsupervised father with frivolous spending habits, the latter can lead to some dangerous conversations with the missus. When my wife comes home physically and emotionally drained from a shift at the hospital in which she watched a patient take their last breath, she struggles to understand why the baby did, in fact, need a regulation size basketball and a Nerf sword.

"I watched a man die today, I don't need this shit!"
"You're right. Let's put a pin in this discussion and go to Target, they have a foot massager that I think we can agree you've earned."

And they do. I know this because after three months of leaving the house on Saturday mornings exclusively to purchase the materials for Gabe and I to survive the weekend – food, socks, Halloween masks, Mrs. Doubtfire on DVD, etc. – I have a tremendous feel for the place.

It’s become our home away from home. And the sight of us waltzing up and down the aisles inspires a range of responses from our fellow shoppers, primarily women toting around a young child or two of their own. Target is like flypaper for us pretty suburbanites looking after the children while our goal-oriented spouses grind through the weekend.

When they see Gabe sitting in his stroller, calmly playing with a toy, they give an approving look, like I am a pair of yoga pants and a complicated Starbucks order away from being part of the club. As their eyes shifts from the stroller to my shopping basket, the looks become sympathetic. They see Hot Pockets, a six-pack of beer, and four Red Bulls and assume my wife upgraded to a man with abs and ambition, and the sweatpants-clad derelict before them is struggling through his weekend with the baby.

Save the sympathy for someone who needs it, Ladies. My marriage is great. And I have a brand new Nerf sword at home.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Language of Idiot Dads

It's Sunday morning and Gabe is sitting in what has to be a dirty diaper at this point, but the image of his previous blowout has me too grossed out and gun-shy confirm my suspicions. While he happily chews on a clean diaper his mother would have changed him into by now, I down a breakfast of Hershey Kisses and Pringles, wondering where the media gets off portraying the modern dad as a bumbling idiot.

The cavalcade of inept fathers depicted on television can be quite depressing. After being subjected to promo after promo for ‘Guys with Kids’ on NBC, I can’t help but wonder where capable fathers reside in the pop culture landscape.

I play the role of single dad for 36 terrifying hours each week while Summer is at the hospital for clinical nurse training on the weekends. This arrangement gives me plenty of time to contemplate the state of fatherhood in America, especially since we’re up at 5 a.m. Well, we don’t actually get up, but that’s when I attempt to bribe the boy back to sleep with a bottle. He generally shows his appreciation by puking in my bed. I cover it up and allow him to act like nothing happened, because I’m one of those cool, relatable dads.

Great parents appreciate the importance of forming good habits at a young age. A lack of adult supervision doesn’t mean the two of us are free to lie around eating garbage and being filthy. I drive that point home by feeding him a hearty breakfast of turkey and sweet potatoes – the building blocks for a future major league prospect.

At a certain point it becomes critical for young children to get some rest. After contemplating bathing Gabe and changing him into clean clothes, I pass in favor of playing with every toy in the house and watching Lee Corso dance around the ESPN College Gameday set in full leprechaun garb. Then we watch the Iowa Hawkeyes attempt to play football. The traditional name for this activity is nap time.

Okay, so maybe the media’s representation of the bumbling idiot father is not 100% fabrication, but it isn’t a completely fair example of art imitating life either.

For most of us, parenting is like picking up a second language in adulthood. Taking classes and reading books can help you familiarize yourself with a foreign language, but every bilingual person will testify there is no substitute for immersion  Sometimes you just have to go into a foreign country and figure out how to find the nearest bathroom. There are bound to be some confusing moments, but after pissing in a coat closet or two, you’ll pick up on signs and tendencies, and eventually fully understand the language and all that goes with it.

The bumbling idiocy in fatherhood is not a destination, it’s the part of the journey in which some of us piss in a coat closet on our way to figuring out the language.

But seriously, I’m pretty sure he’s sitting in shit.

Summer will be home in 14 hours.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quality Time - A Grayson County Day Trip

Despite the fact it is an hour north of our house, and is the birthplace of President Eisenhower, I’m not sure I had even heard of Denison, Texas at this time last year.  It certainly never jumped off the map as a town I would take off a day of work to visit.

I’d like to say we never would have spent the two hours required to pack clunky baby accessories for an overnight trip if the La Quinta receptionist had let us know ahead of time they were without cable and internet access, but that’s not entirely true.

When you have a six-month-old child and the limited babysitting options that come with living 800 miles from all his grandparents, the least glamorous destinations become strangely attractive potential day trips.

Since the clinical portion of my wife's nursing program is at the hospital in Denison, I decided to take Gabe and spend the night with her in this strange town she spoke of with such bewilderment.  Most of her experiences take place in the hospital, which is uniquely insulated from the fringe weirdness of the area, but front and center to the extreme cases that make their way to the ER on Friday and Saturday nights.

The stories that make their way home with her tend to stem from dinner outings with her classmates.  There may be no better way to gauge a town than by breaking bread in one of the local establishments, and if you really want a unique experience, try walking into said establishment during their down time, with a baby.

I woke Gabe up and plucked him from his comfortable car seat, pulling him immediately into the bright light and crisp air of the North Texas afternoon, and hurriedly walked into Johnny Carino’s Country Italian.  When we strolled through the door our expressions were similarly confused even though I had been awake for hours and played a role in choosing the restaurant.

My confusion started the second we decided on Carino’s and encountered the phrase Country Italian.  As best I could tell from our experience it means your baked tortellini will be brought out by a 22-year-old who drops his g’s and thinks the most effective way to engage a couple with a baby is to discuss his four children, ages 7, 5, 5, and 2.

“Oh, you have twins?”

I suspected there was more than one lucky young lady in the greater Denison area.

It turns out in Denison you get two waiters.  One to take your appetizer order, strictly a hobby as he never did relay the information to the kitchen or put it on our bill, and one to take over when the first waiter has to “run to the store for the manager.”  His trip to the store took approximately the amount of time it would take someone to go outside and smoke their drug of choice, and based on his demeanor upon returning, is equally as relaxing.  I have always said nothing takes the edge off like running a quick errand.

Luckily, our brief replacement waiter also had a son, and thus the ability to regale us with totally relatable parenting tales.  He validated Summer’s decision to order a side salad by sharing that his two-year-old enjoys their bread and ranch.  Well, actually, just the ranch.

But the real jewel of the dining experience came when the appropriately named Waiter #2 discussed his son’s ability to let he and his baby mama know when he has to poop.  The boy typically “walks around in boxers” so when prompted, they put him in a diaper so he can do his business, then clean him up and return him to the comfort of his boxer shorts.

“So he should be easy to potty train,” said Waiter #2.

Yes, I suppose he will, considering he is already out of diapers until he demands you put one on him so he can shit in it and force you to clean him up.

If this power-tripping ranch dressing enthusiast isn’t nicknamed “The Mayor” by age 14, I’ll be stunned.

We left Johnny Carino’s feeling full and awesome about the job we’re doing as parents.  All that was left to do was check into our hotel and relax.  Most couples who check into the La Quinta Inn off the highway in Denison with a giant bottle of Sutter Home are there to make a baby, so it did seem a little odd to be bringing ours with us, but that’s what constitutes a date night when your spouse is in a demanding program with the most intensive training taking place over the weekends.

Unfortunately that program is contingent on having access to the internet at all times, and for any non-student or meth user to spend the night in Denison without television is unthinkable.  When a down-on-her-luck gal at the front desk informed us the hotel was without both – in between phone calls from more than one hotel guest asking what time it was - we had no choice but to cut our trip short and head home.

At this time last year I would have considered two hours of packing, three hours of driving, and what felt like an eternity of parenting chit-chat with a wait staff that put the country in Country Italian a complete waste.

Now I appreciate the uninterrupted time with my wife and son so much I never want to unpack the car.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Series of Infuriating Cat Naps

Sweet Jesus, please let the little monster go back to sleep.

This is what I think on a nightly basis as my precious little son attempts to break the glass out of his bedroom window, armed with little more than over-developed lungs and as much ambition as God could pack into 19 lbs of teething nocturnal psychopath.

I'm told this phase will improve dramatically after Gabe's teeth come in.  That would provide a degree of solace if the relentless aggression in his middle-of-the-night outbursts didn't have me absolutely convinced we have a future biter on our hands.

Try me, Old Man!

I shall soften this strange man who yells at sporting events on television, as though his cheers affect the outcome, by destroying his equilibrium with sustained inner ear damage and constant fatigue.  Then I feast!

This little narrative speaks to the sleep deprivation I am dealing with.  In my mind, Gabe is a cuter Stewie Griffin with a more animalistic approach to confrontation.  And in my mind, I respect him for it.

If it didn't piss me off to no end, I'd actually be extremely impressed by the way he is able to time these seemingly random outbursts.  I say 'seemingly' because it has become extremely difficult to believe it is a coincidence that he lets out his blood curdling screams exactly 22 minutes after I achieve REM sleep, regardless of what time I go to bed.

If I make it an early night and turn in at 10:00 p.m., Gabe is tuning up the band at 10:22 p.m.  If I stay up to finish work and go to bed at 1:30 a.m., he wakes up hungry at 1:52 a.m.  And after watching a Rocky marathon the assholes at Spike TV had the audacity to air on a week night, when I quietly crawl into bed at 4:25 a.m. in search of a couple hours before my alarm goes off, my human alarm and his poopy diaper sound at - you guessed it - 4:47 a.m.!

More remarkable than the soul-crushing time of his cries are the psychic abilities they have bestowed upon us.  Early on, when Gabe would throw a fit in the middle of the night, Summer and I learned to negotiate baby duties using as few words as possible.

"C'mon, Baby," she would say, meaning, "It's your turn."
"Rah-duh-wa-uh," I would reply, meaning, "No thank you."

These exchanges have gone to a whole new level in recent weeks.  We no longer give short coded responses.  We hash it out entirely through telepathy.

When I returned to bed after getting up to handle an exceptionally harsh fit the other night, Summer touched my arm and told me, without actually saying it, "Thanks, Baby."

I rolled over and pulled the covers to my face.  "Go to hell," my exhausted aura replied.

The exact same exchange was shared the next night, but the roles were reversed in the interest of fairness and sanity.

That's called a healthy marriage.  If you want to learn more, shoot me a telepathic message in 22 minutes.

Good night!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Car Seat Follies

Parenthood and home ownership have one striking similarity; you are always one unanticipated cost away from walking outside to unleash a string of expletives under the sonic camouflage of the lawnmower motor - which sounds like it could use a little oil.  Goddammit.

Toilets break and kids grow faster than you expect.  When you're on a budget, you try to delay those unexpected costs as long as possible.  No big deal when it means not using the half-bath by the living room because you haven't gotten around to fixing a plumbing issue, but it's a little tougher to push back the purchase of a new car seat when you look over and see your freakishly tall five-month-old with his ass in the air and feet on the floor.

My son has learned to escape a level one car seat, but gives me a befuddled look whenever I try to get him to hold his own bottle so I can get things done while he feeds.  Bullshit, Houdini.

Normally it's cause for concern when my wife tells me to get in the car and drive to the house of a stranger she met on Craigslist, but these things seem reasonable when following the aforementioned budget, and said stranger claims to have a car seat for $30 under retail.

After a 30-minute drive to a suburb on the other side of Dallas, we pulled up the the house of the woman selling the car seat.  The house was in a nice semi-affluent neighborhood in the kind of suburb where everyone has the same shit and looks pretty happy about it.  This is also the type of neighborhood where the local news interviews people who can't believe their quiet, church-going optometrist neighbor had a rape room in his basement and tortured 26 women between 1996 and 2011.

The last bit didn't occur to me until I looked up and realized I had been checking Facebook on my phone for 25 minutes while my wife was inside the house, a curious amount of time since the woman had originally brought the box containing the car seat to the door with her.

At this point I confronted the reality that I may have to barge into what I had determined was a suburban torture chamber and save my wife from impending doom.  Of course that would have meant releasing my son's car seat from the base and carrying him into the firestorm with me, because in Yuppie Suburb America assault and murder can be swept under the rug, but leaving a child in a car unattended for 3 minutes - even with the air on - while you save your beloved from a Craigslist serial killer is the second most damning act you can commit. The first, obviously, being striking a dog for any reason whatsoever.

So I resorted to a very direct, yet understated method of rescue...

Text message: problem?

Shortly after, Summer emerged from the house without the car seat.  Son of a bitch, I was right, she's making a run for it!

Actually the woman had spent most of that time explaining to Summer that the car seat was probably not right for her, laying out an explanation that covered weight, rear-facing vs. front-facing, and neck muscle development of the typical five-month-old.

Knowing that one out of every two Craigslist postings is a front for sexual deviants, we decided not to go back to the well, instead shifting gears and going to Target to pay full price on a car seat like a couple of hip-hop moguls.

The car seat selection at Target is vast and overwhelming if you allow it to be.  Because I am above all that, I simply looked for the cheapest model containing the desired features we agreed upon.  Summer, predictably, took my liking of the economically sound, reliable-looking $100 car seat as an act of careless parenting.

I'm convinced the only reason the $100 car seat is on display is to make people feel better about getting the more expensive model, despite the fact there is little to no difference in quality.  It wouldn't shock me at all to learn that everyday they just switch the price tags around based on inventory.

But I'm not here to hate the hustle, and it worked like a charm, as my wife pointed out the $180 seat was on sale for $150 and there was only ONE LEFT!!!

"Baby, we lucked out!  Do you realize how lucky we got?!?"

So lucky.  In fact, at that very moment I felt the tingle in my loins usually encountered after surviving a near-death experience.  My wife experienced a similar rush of carnal desire ten minutes later when she stopped, weak-kneed in the coffee creamer section.

"Yes!!!  Holiday flavors already!"

We are very different creatures, men and women.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CrossFit Cult(ure)

What would a Sunday afternoon be without a lively game of Puke or Pass Out?  That's the street name.  In a garage-like gym full of crazy people, they call it CrossFit.  It's a strength and conditioning program which provides a convenient facade under which a cult of incredibly fit lunatics gather to wear goofy socks and compete in a series of made-up events called a WOD.  I'm told this stands for workout of the day, meaning this charade is carried out on a daily basis.

Curiosity, a philanthropic spirit, and a bat-shit crazy wife are the main factors that lead me to participate in my first WOD on Sunday.  I have been hearing about CrossFit for quite some time, because I have friends who belong to the cult and in typical cult fashion, they refuse to shut up about it.  A friend invited us to a charity WOD with proceeds going to fight cancer, and said he would keep an eye on the baby while we worked out.  I would have paid the $40 just for the babysitter, so why not get a sweat and fight cancer while we're at it?  WOD for a Cure is the kind of event you can write on the calendar in marker when you are married to a woman whose primary source of happiness is beating others in athletic challenges.

The problem with lying to impress a girl is, if you're successful, you are stuck in that lie.  The bigger the deception, the more dedication and sacrifice required to maintain appearances.  Early in our courtship, I took up running because my wife is an avid runner.  I also got a membership to the gym she worked out in, as well as her tanning salon.  I hate all that shit, but given it's the foundation on which our relationship was forged, I am now stuck doing things I absolutely despise, like CrossFit on a Sunday afternoon when Tombstone is on AMC.  Lest she discover I am a lazy fat-ass.

The entire day leading up to the 2pm WOD, I did everything I could to convince Summer we should bail.  

...That gym is 45 minutes from here (not quite) and I'm pretty sure we need an oil change (not true), can you imagine if we broke down in this heat with the baby (it was unseasonably cool, but looked hot and she hadn't been outside)...

Not a chance.

You tend to make certain assumptions when an event is for charity.  There is a lightheartedness that accompanies the very word.  Take golf, for example.  At a charity golf tournament there is often a large contingency of people whose ability levels range from average all the way down to piss-poor.  It matters not, everyone is just there to have a good time and support a good cause.  Driving to the charity WOD, I expected to be greeted with an equivalent field of well-intentioned participants.  Wrong.

The charity CrossFit crowd looks strikingly similar to a regular CrossFit crowd, the lone exception being a dopey heavy-set gentlemen wandering the gym in a "Will Play For Beer" slowpitch softball shirt.  I suspect they took one look at me and rightly assumed I would be gassed after the warm-up and that CrossFit is so foreign to me I actually believe WOD is a verb.  Both correct.  I suck at WODing.  Summer, on the other hand, WODs like a champ.  

While my wife obliterated the field in the women's division, I managed to take third place in a men's division that consisted of three men.  I estimated the second place finisher to be no fewer than 15 years older than me.  When my third place finish was announced I re-entered the gym behind the stroller containing my sleeping son, a shameless move to excuse my poor performance.  The "new" baby excuse holds up significantly better when the woman who actually gave birth to the baby isn't handed a first place prize four minutes later.

The drive home was wrought with silence, on my part anyway.  Summer was on cloud nine and wanted me to find satisfaction in a tremendous first step toward getting back in shape - remember, she still thinks that is important to both of us.

I know approximately how the CrossFit cult operates.  The good news for me as I walked away tired and dejected was I couldn't imagine a group of people with whom I felt less connected.  CrossFit is loaded with ripped guys covered in tattoos who remain strangely unintimidating.  I think it's their rigid Paleo diet.  I fear no man who fears complex carbohydrates.  By any account, I couldn't imagine a situation in which we would mesh in a social setting.  Cult averted.

"You know what was great?" Summer asked, somewhat rhetorically.

"Oh shit," I thought, but didn't say.

"I've been to a couple CrossFit places, but I think those people are more like us.  Like, I could actually see us hanging out with them"

Four years was a pretty good run for such an elaborate lie, but this is where I draw the line.  If anyone needs me I'll be on my couch watching Tombstone.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

P&G Thanks Mom, Pisses Off Sensitive Dads

For two glorious weeks, the United States kicked the world's Olympic ass to such a degree the mere rumor of water's existence was reason enough to send a mega-rover to Mars in search of a more competitive swimming adversary.  In between these dominant sessions, Procter & Gamble unleashed its 'Thank You, Mom' advertising campaign.  The ads were impeccably produced and struck an emotional chord that would make Hollywood's top filmmakers envious.

Thank you, Mom -  a universal message people can get behind.  With the exception of your run-of-the-mill misogynist blowhard, who could possibly find offense in a heart-string tugging homage to the amazing women often overlooked in the sports lexicon?  Needy dads with hyper-sensitive feelings, that's who.

In response to the claims of sexism and gender stereotyping, and to the call for P&G to apologize to dads and grant them equal time, I offer a response P&G's lawyers would rather they not deliver directly: get over yourselves, dads.

Yes, dads coach, encourage, discipline, and support.  Yes, dads are critical to the development of children, let alone children that become world-class athletes.  There are libraries of research to back up these claims, but I am quite certain a critical piece of market research also revealed something dads do with far less regularity - purchase shampoo and laundry detergent.  'Thank You, Mom' is designed to woo the demographic with greatest influence on purchase decisions for household products.

In other words, there is a subculture of dads who have caught feelings and congregated on the internet to demand an apology and lobby for equal a shampoo commercial.  Is this where we are as a society, whining about equal attention from marketers regardless of the product?  If so, look out.  Hell hath no fury like a community of mommy bloggers spurned by the lack of strong feminine players depicted in commercials for jock itch spray.

The other day, my father-in-law and I walked into a restaurant to meet my wife and mother-in-law, who spent the day out and about while we watched the baby.  It was not all that long ago the idea of men watching the baby while the women went out would be laughable.  Fathers increasing their domestic responsibilities is progress.  Demanding the world give you credit every time mothers receive a tip of the cap is not progress, it's whiny bullshit, and it's embarrassing.

Let's spend less time worrying about public kudos from corporate giants with an agenda, and focus on preparing our children for success.  We'll need a collective effort to take gold at the Rio Games in 2016, especially if the Martians are as tough as advertised.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Glorious and Irrelevant Wrigley Field Scoreboard

It has been regrettably easy to lose sight of the Cubs in the three years since I moved to Dallas.  While my favorite franchise in all of sports has been sucking wind, I have been trying to justify my flirtation with the suddenly successful Texas Rangers.  Essentially the Rangers are the sexy girl you meet in college, with the Cubs playing the role of the high school sweetheart back home, who - between you and me - isn't helping matters by gaining weight and talking your ear off about the same stupid bullshit.  You're STILL hanging out with Alfonso Soriano?  You're closer STILL walks in the losing run in the ninth?  Jesus, are you ever going to grow up?!?  Whatever, I gotta go.  What??  No, it has nothing to do with the Rangers, we're just friends...

The Rangers and I have had some good times.  They've let me ride along to Division Titles, AL Pennants, and back-to-back World Series appearances.  The only problem is as fun as these successes have been to witness, they aren't mine to celebrate.  I am just a Cubs fan, living vicariously through another long suffering franchise that finally figured it out.  Being a Cub is woven into my DNA, but my son was born in Dallas in a time when the Rangers are the class organization in all of baseball.  He has the chance to cheer for a perennial winner, provided his father doesn't do something asinine like get him hooked on a team whose best shot at the big prize was derailed by a guy in a green turtleneck nine years ago.

Society would be outraged if an obese parent disregarded their child's natural affinity for vegetables and forced Twinkies on them to cultivate a common ground on which to bond.  So why on Earth did total strangers shower me with approving smiles as I carried my three-month-old son into Wrigley Field with a freshly purchased "My 1st Cubs Cap" atop his precious little Texan head?

There are plenty of insults lobbed at Cubs fans from the other side, and nearly all question the fundamental way in which our minds process the game.  South-siders marginalize our historic stadium as The World's Largest Singles Bar - an environment void of genuine passion and fundamental baseball knowledge, replaced by stacked plastic cups previously full of Old Style Beer and the carnal desires that accompany shirtless summertime day-drinking.

The most hurtful criticism, though, is not the one lightly veiled in truth, but backed up by a startling undeniable trend - that it is entirely likely we will spend our natural lives waiting for a championship which will never materialize.  That generations of Cubs fans - generations, plural - have suffered such a cruel fate.

With that harsh reality heavy on my mind, I stood at the street entrance of a parking garage on Addison with my son strapped to my chest, facing away from me, looking onto the diverse madness of Wrigleyville on a gameday, and my hand started to shake slightly.  Not the familiar brew-shakes from standing in line for a tallboy at a packed Murphy's Bleachers, but shakes caused by the question ringing in my head - am I about to condemn my innocent son to a lifetime of miserable heartache?

A comforting answer would reveal itself over the course of a typically beautiful day of predictably ugly baseball.  The results on the diamond are secondary to Cubs fans, at least to this particular family of Cubs fans.  Not second to the pursuit of hook-ups and hangovers, but second to the creation of life-long memories and shared experiences that transcend age, geography, and lifestyle.

The Ron Santo statue at Wrigley Field

We were a regular Chicago street gang making our way from the parking garage to the stadium.  Assuming, of course, intimidating Chicago street gangs consist of babies, toddlers, a pregnant woman, and the gang's patriarch documenting the whole thing on his Blackberry.  I married into a tight-knit nuclear family.  This Cubs game was an aggressive attempt by my in-laws to recreate memorable past outings with their children, with the addition of spouses and grandchildren.

Like many Wrigley Field experiences, this one went by too fast.  I fed my son, held him while he napped, held my niece with my free arm when she decided it was my turn in the rotation, and engaged surrounding fans in conversations about families, hometowns, and which Cubs players were due for a big hit, glancing momentarily at the field to see said players on their way back to the dugout.  Cubs players tend to stay "due" for weeks at a time.

But the lasting impression I will take away from this game was not the home runs the Cubs gave up or the runners they left stranded.  My attention repeatedly drifted back to my in-laws, who may have actually seen less of the game than I did.  They always had a grandchild in their arms, and spent a fair portion of the game smiling at the people in the row behind them when told, once again, their family was beautiful.  There is a look of pride a person gets when congratulated on a job well done.  Those looks pale in comparison to the look my in-laws wore throughout this game.

The question as we left the stadium was not whether or not this was the best experience I've ever had at a ballgame.  It was, and by such a margin I couldn't tell you which game is second place.  As I watched my father-in-law standing under the Ron Santo statue with his granddaughter and walked into the frame with my wife and son, I knew this was among the best days of my life.

Those of us lucky enough to have a comfortable deathbed will likely lay in it watching the Cubs lose while a new generation of opportunistic WGN cameramen lens-bang a new generation of busty 20-somethings who sip beer and occasionally glance toward the field of play, advancing the myth of the party superseding the love of the team.  But then our sons and daughters will take their children to Wrigley Field and share special moments not unlike the memories we created.  It won't matter whether it's been three years or 153 years since the last World Series title because the unique love we share in this beautiful ballpark never has to wait til next year.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Art of Moving On

Mistakes can be rectified and losses can be rationalized, but grudges are a bitch to shake.  I know this because in my four years as a baseball coach, I made mistakes and lost more games than I care to admit, all of which I have come to terms with.  But four years after being forced to resign, I tend to refer to the school's athletic director and a handful of helicopter parents with a word my wife would not approve of me using here or anywhere else.

Coaching baseball in my early twenties didn't make me the man I am today, but it motivated me to cease being the man I was before I got involved.  It began, appropriately enough, on a friend's couch after a long night of drinking, near fights, and a delightful late night burrito - often the salvation of a sad Friday night routine.  While contemplating the amount of hypothetical money I would pay for a toothbrush and a Gatorade, a friend asked if I would be his assistant coach for 7th grade baseball.  I said yes, provided he could give me a ride to my car.

I didn't arrive at the first practice with any intention of making a real impact, and I certainly didn't expect to be impacted.  I love baseball, but truthfully, I just needed a daily activity for the summer that didn't revolve around a case of cheap domestic beer.

Over the course of the summer I realized something; I didn't simply enjoy coaching, I absolutely loved it.  My connection with the kids inspired me to make improvements in my life.  I didn't want to be someone who demand more of the teens I worked with than I did of myself.  I enrolled at the University to get my degree and started making plans for life after graduation.

Everything was going well as I entered my fourth season with the program.  Our teams made two trips to the state tournament at the junior high level, and in my first season at the high school level, my JV team finished above .500 despite key freshman and sophomores playing at the varsity level due to a lack of upperclassmen.  What our program lacked in experienced talent, we made up for with youth and momentum.  On top of that, one of my best friends was named varsity head coach.

I went into my fourth season with every intention of making it my last.  I was about to graduate and my desire to move was no secret.  I figured I could stick around, and use my familiarity with the existing players to help ease the transition for my friend as he took over the program.  I never imagined the shit show that ensued...

Losses piled up for the varsity team.  Fast.  As things got worse, the best players on my team were called up to try and provide a spark.  The more we lost, the more upset the parents got.  It should be noted, parents are the fucking worst.  Except the ones who liked me, they were cool.

By the end of the season, the varsity team had managed to win only five games.  My team lost more than they won by a fair margin, the roughest stretch around the time a 500 year flood hit Iowa that summer.  That is exactly what it sounds like - a flood, the degree of which is so great there is only a 0.2% chance of it occurring in a given year, and the most appropriate meteorological metaphor for a baseball season in the history of baseball...or water for that matter.

Mistakes were made.  The losses were painful and relentless.  I told people in the off-season I would consider returning for one more year.  I had done some good work and was not too keen on going out a failure.  I am a competitor, and as such I needed to avenge a poor season.  Not to prove it to myself - I knew I was a good coach, still do - but to all the people (read: parents) whose opinions I pretended not to care about.  I did care about their opinions, but apparently my boss cared even more...

The news of my "resignation" was delivered to me by my friend, who was also ousted as head coach.  He met with the AD and she informed him that he would have the option of remaining on the staff in an assistant capacity, but due to some complaints from parents I was not welcome back, and she would appreciate it if he would let me know.

Upon hearing this, I went to the school for an explanation.  She reiterated there had been complaints, though her descriptions were vague and, of course, no names or details were revealed.  Among the complaints that rendered me black-balled after four years of blood, sweat, and tears - some people think you had too much influence on the varsity line-up.

Translation: I am friends with a couple moms that think you're an asshole, so you can't ever coach here again.

After four years - two of which were volunteer - of pouring my heart and soul into the program I was out, for reasons unclear, without the respect of receiving the news first-hand.  Grudge.  Locked.  In.

I met my wife shortly after that final season.  We moved to Dallas and have done some pretty damn cool things over the last four years.  The mistakes I've made have faded from my consciousness and nothing could possibly feel more arbitrary than teenagers losing baseball games in a town of 2,400 people.  But my grudge against a handful of people in that same little town, people that have absolutely no impact on my life, wouldn't subside.  Stupid pride, I suppose.

The lens of fatherhood has given me a fresh perspective on most of my personal interactions.  This personal interaction actually prepared me for how I intend to approach at least one small aspect of fatherhood.  If my son chooses to pursue sports, I will give him as much instruction as I am capable, but my primary role will be as a fan.  Let the coaches coach, because I know how difficult the job is even without unsolicited advice.  All bitterness aside, I am grateful for that lesson.

Driving home the other night I saw a message on my phone stating the program I used to coach had made it to the state tournament, a dream I had shared with them a few short years ago, ultimately replaced by utter disdain.

I was surprised by the feeling the news triggered within me.  I didn't give a damn.  I expected to be jealous or disappointed, maybe even embarrassed that the people who ran me out now had the ultimate scoreboard justification for their actions.  But I didn't feel any of those things.

My family occupies all the space in my mind and heart I had previously wasted on unnecessary anger.  Each and every second I spend with my son is better than the last, and I have no intention of wasting a single opportunity by using that time to look back at past disappointment.

I have no room in my heart for grudges.  That space is spoken for.

So, what the hell - Go Bears!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Decade Three, Day One

I think I understand why some people cry on their 30th birthday.  It's because they went to a pub the night before and consumed just enough beer to make every second in the office tick by slower than the last, thereby compounding the real problem - in 29 years and 364 days they failed to acquire the foresight to request an obvious day off.

Each milestone birthday encourages us to take inventory of accomplishments, failures, and opportunities left on the table.  Most of us have two checklists, personal and professional.  My lists have accrued the bulk of their respective checks over the back half of my twenties.  That's how a branding wizard positions a decade in which the first five years were marked by hazy indifference.  And "hazy indifference" is how a branding wizard says "drunken stupidity."

But in the last four years I met a girl, got a degree, moved to Dallas, got a job, proposed to the girl, got a better job, got a dog, married the girl, got a promotion, bought a house, changed jobs, and became a father.  A pretty good run.  My personal life is better than I ever dreamed it would be, so naturally on my birthday I spent eight hours in the office being depressed about the professional dreams which never materialized.

I didn't have terribly lofty or specific goals, just that by age 30 I would have two published books under my belt.  The first would enjoy modest success, but I would hit my stride with the second and be working out the movie rights, turning down bigger dollars in favor of a small studio that would allow me the pen the screenplay.  You know, easy stuff.  The kind of daydreams that haunt you when, on your 30th birthday, you are sitting at your desk in the ad sales bullpen hanging on a client approval e-mail that will decide whether or not next Thursday's revenue meeting will be your turn to get smeared across the conference room by the CEO.

When my eight hour pity party was over, I climbed into my Ford Escape with a backpack full of work materials and a head full of professional regret and headed home to what was to be a fireworks outing with my wife, son, and visiting brother.  For anyone that is unfamiliar, going to a fireworks show in Dallas means arriving ridiculously early so you can get a parking spot, fighting 100,000 people for a place to sit in the Texas heat, and packing up shop after the first boom scares the living shit out of your three month old son.  Needless to say, this did not seem like a suitable remedy for my state of self-loathing.

When I have a bad day at work, the sight of my son's face as I walk through the door makes my frustration vanish 99% of the time.  The other 1% it takes being greeted with Batman streamers, a baseball cake, and my son in jorts and a patriotic onesie that reads "All-America Hunk."

Gabe and Uncle Jay - two great Americans

I am guilty of placing pride ahead of perspective far too often.  I complain about minor inconveniences and I am always embarrassed in hindsight.  I spend a great deal of energy acting as though I do not care what people think, when in reality it consumes me.  These are the qualities of a man whose sanity depends on a supportive wife and family.  The kind of people who know a bad mood evaporates into the thick smokey air of the Red Knight's cheering section of Medieval Times.

Dallas is very much a "too cool for school" type of city.  There are pretty people everywhere.  This makes choosing a dinner spot incredibly difficult for a 30 year old man driving around with his wife and brother in matching Ultimate Warrior face paint.  Therein lies the brilliance of the Medieval Times tickets they sprung on me as a final birthday surprise.  We would have been ostracized at nearly every restaurant in Dallas, but not MT.  There we were called Lords, complimented on our enthusiasm, and given a very welcoming smile and nod from a man I would later learn was literally a King.

Gabe, understandably confused

If there is one thing I've learned in my 30 years, it's that I am a better husband, father, and person in general when I focus on today.  When I wake up with one simple goal - do what it takes to deserve the family you have when you lay down that night.

There are going to be plenty of rough days and professional frustrations along the way, but I have strung together a hell of a lot of great days, and with the exception of the under-performing Red Knight, I have some amazing people in my life.

You've gotta believe there's a book in there somewhere...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Be A Patriot, Not A Dick

I used to love a good boozed-fueled political debate.  Then a girl I wanted to date, marry, and possibly impregnate informed me I was not being patriotic, I was being an asshole.

Politics and cigarettes are the vices I gave up in order to see The Girl Who Would Change My Life naked.  Smoking was a walk in the park.  It's a far greater challenge to keep from engaging in political combat.  In retrospect, however, I believe those arguments were killing me at a more rapid pace than Parliament Lights.

Passion has the potential to make politics great, but it's also what inspires otherwise polite and agreeable gentlemen to speak in ways that suggest they are irrational knuckleheads.  Far too scarce are political opinions steeped in pragmatism and common sense.  Commonly shared political opinions tend to be bold, exaggerated, and passed down from generation to generation.  Show me the loud-mouth asshole stirring up a political argument in a bar, and I'll show you someone whose father was a loud-mouth asshole that enjoyed stirring up political arguments in bars.

The generational nature of political beliefs carries a certain weight when you become the generation dispensing lessons, rather than receiving them.  Many parenting lessons are simple - baseball is awesome, firecrackers are dangerous, and school may suck sometimes, but unemployment sucks worse.  Do your homework.  Politics is different.  Our country operates almost entirely in gray areas, but the national political narrative is constructed in the black and white of a two-party existence.   

The only bearable way I see to handle this education with my son is to check politics at the door and focus on patriotism.  

Despite what he may see on television, radio, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and every platform that gives access to an opinionated blowhard, neither party is more patriotic than the other.  That's lesson one; there are so many reasons to love this country, don't make the mistake of believing your reason is more valid or righteous than others.

Sleeper Cell

My son lives in an amazing country.  He is going to have privileges he won't even know are privileges because he was lucky enough to be born here.  He will also come to find out that because he was born in this country, in this era, political rhetoric is going to be entirely unavoidable.

The late comedian, George Carlin - a great American I will teach my son about with complete bias and appreciation - stated the degree to which you believe someone is an asshole is directly related to your physical distance from that person when you make the discovery.  When you see a guy giving the checkout girl a hard time at the grocery store because a special didn't ring up properly, you're inclined to say - under your breath - to the person next to you, "that guy's kind of an asshole."  Meanwhile, when a political analyst is beamed to your television from a studio 1,000 miles away, you stand and yell, "WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE!!!"

The internet has given everyone the ability to share their bold opinions from the safe distance Carlin references.  The result is an overwhelming amount of negativity, misinformation, and incendiary trolling on social media.  Instead of giving these people the 42 comment threads they desire on their Facebook page, I will encourage my son to close the browser and do something productive.  Any act, great or small, that positively impacts those around you, is the truest form of patriotism.  Snarky remarks about poor people or warmongers on social media may draw a crowd of like-minded people, but they accomplish nothing.

When he is old enough, we will look back at some of the seminal moments that shaped our country, and for those in my adult life, I will do my best to explain their meaning without bias or prejudice.

When showing him images and video of George W. Bush delivering his iconic speech from Ground Zero, we will not discuss the political implications.  It is easy for conservatives to give an explanation of a great man in, possibly, his greatest moment.  To speak of a leader picking up a wounded nation by displaying the courage and confidence of a wartime president.  For liberals, it is easy to launch into a tangent about non-existent WMDs and the politicizing of a true American tragedy for years following.

I will pass on the hero worship, as well as the bitter cut-downs.  There will be no description of America's greatest moment, nor will there be a back-handed Dark Knight-themed compliment about not being the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed at the time.  Instead I will talk about a traumatic time in our nation's history, and how in a sensational moment, an imperfect man elected to lead a nation of imperfect citizens, perfectly captured the sentiment of a shaken collective.  And we were better for it.

We'll watch Barack Obama's victory speech without talking about healthcare reform or controversial Chicago pastors.  When my son asks me about the outpouring of raw emotion from the tens of thousands of people in attendance, I will not launch into a speech about the end of racism.  I will also refrain from derogatory commentary attributing their tears to the realization that retirement was no longer an option in socialist America.

I'll tell my son that every four years we hold an election, the results of which upset nearly half of those who voted.  But regardless of how you feel about the man in office, one of the pillars of America's greatness is that any child - even you - have the opportunity to one day hold that office.  Unfortunately, there were multiple generations of Americans who felt excluded from that dream, and this moment made them believe otherwise.  Those people were crying because dreams are that important.

I want my son to love his country unapologetically, and I don't want him to fear speaking his mind when compelled to do so.  I just don't want him to be a loud-mouth asshole starting fights, based on a bumper sticker or Facebook status worth of political knowledge.  That's not being patriotic, it's being a dick.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Making The Case For Violence

Almost daily, I fantasize about socking teenagers square in the nose.  In fact, I believe one of society's greatest failures is the taboo status attached to beating the ever-living piss out of a 16 year old, regardless of how badly the little asshat is begging for it.

Early Wednesday morning the internet caught fire in the wake of an excruciating ten minute video of New York schoolkids verbally abusing an elderly bus monitor.  Various mainstream media outlets have since picked up the story, and by week's end the woman will almost certainly be making the morning talk show rounds as a new twist on a growing national narrative on bullying.  

What is wrong with these kids?

I have a theory.

Nothing keeps people in check like the fear of physical harm.  That was true 100 years ago and it will hold true 100 years from now.  If you take that chip from authority figures, it falls directly in the lap of the very people that need checked most.  It is this "who watches the watchmen" dynamic that has long made the school bus a petri dish of youthful douchery.

Bullying has always existed.  The school bus was no picnic when I was a kid, and the rural Iowa community I grew up in was Mayberry compared to New York City.  What concerns me about this particular incident is the victim is a recognized authority figure.

That is what keeps new dads up at night.  We want our sons to be sweet, compassionate, and peaceful without becoming a target for bullies, while instilling a strong, quiet confidence to counter the pack mentality that transforms otherwise decent children into the bullies we mean to protect them from.

It's clear what has to be done.  We must teach our sons to kick ass.  Not just figuratively - as in one who kicks ass at long division - but literally, as in "hey, that kid is being unspeakably awful to the sweet old lady on your school bus, rather than document this for your Facebook page, go kick his ass."

It is important that we establish some ground rules.  These skills we intend to develop are not to be taken lightly.  The last thing the world needs is another hothead running around picking fights for sport.  Our children's violence shall be tempered and righteous (read: Norris, Chuck).

If we discourage any and all violence, there are two likely outcomes.  One, only rule breakers will develop the wherewithal to leverage the fear of physical harm.  This leads to one jackass kid with inept or absent parents terrorizing his community from the back of the school bus.  Unfortunately, this will also be the teenager getting laid regularly, until he impregnates some poor girl, thereby launching her to MTV Teen Mom stardom.  I hate to spoil the ending fourteen years in advance, but the kid named after a car, whose "dad" is an aspiring...can't really tell...ends up being a shithead.

My wife makes me watch the show...

The second potential outcome is scarier yet.  Just kidding, nothing is scarier than the idea of your teenage daughter getting knocked up by a total spare and having MTV compound your problems by giving her the fame bug.  I'm sure all famous actresses get their start by documenting their quest for a GED in Chattanooga.

"A dialect coach?  Nah, you don't sound that southern."

But back to the bus.  There is a negative consequence to the anti-violence stance that can be devastating, even in the absence of an ill-fated star turn on MTV.  There is the distinct possibility we could succeed.  The only thing we need less than one bad apple running the show, is nobody running the show.

The New York school bus incident wasn't the result of traditional bullying, it was a collection of kids that don't spend enough time wondering, "is there a possibility this could get me punched in the face?"

If the first kid to make an off-color comment to a defenseless elderly woman would have received a Chuck Norris roundhouse to the ear, I have a hard time believing that situation escalates to newsworthy status.  

I know the case for situational violence isn't universally popular.  Just remember, when your teenage daughter comes home with a positive pregnancy test and an MTV camera crew, you can't sock her asshat boyfriend in the nose.  

I think it's best we cut him off at the school bus and save you the frustration.

"Hold my bottle, I'm gonna go settle this..."

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Open Letter From Dad to Dad

Dear Dad,

For years I believed you had all the answers. I believed you were a superhero. For crying out loud, I even believed you were a defensive driver with a sparkling record.

You sneaky bastard.

Now that I have joined the tribe called Dad, I have reassessed the position. At best, we are skilled actors. At worst, terrified frauds. Fatherhood is not an all-knowing powerful state, it's a high stakes improv class. On this stage, failure to execute a scene on the fly doesn't get us heckled, it results in physical or emotional pain for the person whose overall well-being is the success metric of our own legacy.

I finally get it. I finally understand your joy, your pride, your love. Most of all, I understand your fear. In the face of that fear, I hope to display half your patience and courage. 

Armed with a new perspective, I don't want to simply wish you a Happy Father's Day. I want to give you two gifts I have denied you too often - appreciation and apology:

I am sorry I didn't earn your support often enough, but thank you so much for always giving it anyway...

Thank you for saving newspaper clippings of my accomplishments between the ages of 5 and 18. I am sorry the six occasions I appeared in the paper between the ages of 19 and 22 were not merit-based...

Thank you for helping shield me from the gory details of divorce when I was too young to understand them. I am sorry for not seeking your side of the story when I became old enough...

I am sorry for putting all my energy into being an average baseball player, while underachieving in the classroom. Thank you for making me feel like a superstar by never missing a single game...

Thank you for helping me settle into my first home. I am sorry my friends and I absolutely DESTROYED that place. Thank you for working around the clock to help fix it back up when the party finally ended...

I am sorry you were given the task of delivering the news to Ben and I when Mom took her life. Thank you for being there for us every single second since...

Thank you for talking me out of towing my car behind a moving truck that I was hardly qualified to drive in the first place. I am sorry I used the truck to move to a city with such awful traffic...

Thank you for having all the answers that mattered. I am sorry I suggested you aren't a superhero in the first paragraph. You are every bit the hero I hope to be to my son.

Happy Father's Day.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rock of Ages

Pete Townshend of The Who once did an interview in which he gave a very simple explanation for the drama, infighting, and eventual break-up of successful bands.  When individuals evolve personally and professionally they often have increasingly less in common with the friends of their youth.  Members of a successful band are expected to collaborate with friends in adulthood on a shared wavelength that, in many cases, hasn't existed since high school.  It would be unnatural if these collaborations didn't occasionally end badly.

I've never been mistaken for a rockstar.  Sure, I've been overserved at a townie bar and stepped to the mic to help a local band "bring it home" (said help was not solicited).  And in my early twenties I knew a guy that knew a guy whose cousin was friends with a dude that once smoked a marijuana cigarette.  Inhaled and everything, I understand.  Shameful.

When the majority of us reference rockstar, we are likely referring to an energy drink or quality parking spot at the mall.  But whether you rip ice cold guitar solos for The Who, punch a time clock in a factory, or type away in the florescent wonderland of the Corporate America cube farm, everyone can relate to the changing dynamic of friendships that accompany age and evolution.  The older the friendship, the more complicated the dynamic.

When you live in the area you grew up, your strongest friendships remain relatively consistent.  The life experiences are similar.  The music evolves and the tour schedule changes, but the band stays together.  Moving across the country in search of new and different opportunities feels kind of like leaving the band to work on a solo album.  People question your motives and talk about how you've changed, but it's not ego or Yoko, it's the natural distance between an individual on their 15th and 30th birthdays.

Every trip to my hometown has shed an increasing amount of light on how far my old friends and I have grown apart from one another.  I have spent many long drives after weddings and holidays reflecting with my wife about the growing disconnect.  No ill will, no hurt feelings, just rapidly decreasing common ground.  Like a band pleasantly reuniting for public appearances, but never breaching the topic of picking up instruments or getting back in the studio.

What has been especially amazing about fatherhood are the unintended benefits.  The way you view everything in life is shaped indirectly by the way you view yourself.  When you become a father and do the requisite soul searching, you begin to analyze all your relationships a little differently, including old friendships.

We recently spent the weekend with one of my lifelong friends and his wife.  As you can imagine, when 30 year old guys have been friends for 25 years, they've been through some ups and downs.  The phrase "like a brother" is generally overused, but it is appropriate in this case.  There have been hugs, shoves, shit-talking, and heartfelt praise.  The phrase "like a brother" is only appropriate if you love someone, but have, on more than five occasions, wanted to wring their fucking neck.

The fact that our friends are expecting their first child made the visit especially unique.  I expected the weekend to be fun.  We always have fun.  What I didn't expect was for us to meet each other for the first time.  It turns out Gabe's Dad and the Father-to-be have a hell of a lot in common, and not just that we think Dwayne Wade is a goddamn poser.

Fatherhood has the ability to motivate a man to actively demand the best of himself.  In a weird way, I think our best qualities are the same we display as children, before things like greed, jealousy, and Captain Morgan come into our lives and turn us into adults.

After a great weekend with friends, I am excited to see what the future holds for some of the relationships I had begun to consider strictly in past tense.

We may never collaborate on a new album, but I will treasure the jam sessions.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Striking The Balance of Personal Growth

Few events create an environment of complete emotional concession. Everyone remembers the shared experience immediately following 9/11. We were in such a fragile emotional state we abandoned our selfish inclinations and embraced community like never before. These are beautiful times, but they aren't meant to last. If we allow a rogue citizen to steal a parking spot without threatening physical harm, even after we have waited patiently and applied the turn signal to make our intentions known, the terrorists have won.

Becoming a parent has a similar effect. You emerge with a redefined purpose and the strongest feeling of unity imaginable, which in turn leads a grown man to say things he never could have imagined just a few short months ago:

"Absolutely, Baby. Let's go to Hobby Lobby."

When you're about to become a parent, people say, "your life will never be the same, it will be so much better!" That is correct, with one exception - every single second spent inside Hobby Lobby feels like the Seventh Circle of Hell when you have a baby in tow.

Unless your hobbies require floral arrangements or acrylic paints, there is a better than average chance this particular lobby is not your cup of tea to begin with. Women utilize the store for their floral, craft, and scrapbooking needs. Men utilize the store to decorate the doghouse they reside in because while their wife was visiting her parents, they drank beer and watched football all weekend instead of getting the house picked up...which was the one thing they had to do...and that shouldn't be too much to ask...

The euphoric high of fatherhood nullifies many of life's annoyances, but it couldn't make me enjoy Hobby Lobby any more than empathy could make me pull for the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. Sometimes you have to be confronted with something you despise to realize what a ridiculous emotional waste of manhood you've been, and inspire you to locate those testicles you haven't been putting to use.

I believe it was the moment shortly after Gabe finished his bottle and spit up all over my shirt that I was struck with this moment of clarity. As I pushed my son around the store, weaving in and out of elderly people, middle-aged women on a mission, and other men toting children and wondering how they got here, I caught my reflection in a lovely white lattice mirror.

"Holy shit, I look terrible and I know how to identify a white lattice mirror!"

I immediately found my wife and started hovering over her shoulder, a surefire way to tamp down the enjoyment of mulling a fabric purchase, thus getting us to the check-out counter while she plans a return trip without us.

I know I am too domesticated to get all the way back to the pre-baby version of myself, and that is probably a good thing. I'm happy to lend a hand around the house, and I actually don't mind watching televised singing competitions, like the rest of the old people that shop at Hobby Lobby.

Personal growth is all about balance. The next time Summer wants craft supplies I will just drop her off and take Gabe to the nearest sporting goods store. And if someone tries to steal a parking spot while wearing a Yankees hat and scrapbooking, I'll feel completely justified kicking the shit out of him.

It's all about balance.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Growing Old Overnight - What The Hell Is A Blu Ray?

Earmuffs, Gabe...

Parenthood is a 24/7 beating that makes you old.  Not wise or mature, OLD.  Wise people don't wear socks and sandals to a fancy place like the Olive Garden, and you rarely hear a mature person sniff twice then utter the phrase, "there's vomit in my hair again," placing no emphasis, ironic or otherwise, on the word again.

Make no mistake, there is a very fine line between mature and just plain old.  For my wife and I, that line sits smack dab on the threshold of the local Blockbuster.  Yes, the same bankruptcy-riddled Blockbuster that has been hemorrhaging cash and attempting to reinvent its business model because technology has rendered driving to a brick and mortar location to rent a DVD inconvenient and dated.

You know those conversations about how dramatically things have changed, and the basic activities of our youth that will be so foreign to our children that we will appear prehistoric when describing them?  Going to the store and physically renting a movie is one of those activities.

I know this because we recently went to Blockbuster to rent the first Lord of the Rings.  I'll repeat that, because I feel it bears repeating.  My wife and I went into the local Blockbuster, specifically to rent the first Lord of the Rings.  This is not the act of someone you'd categorize as wise or mature.  It's actually the act of someone you'd categorize as virgin, which is probably why I instinctively walked down the aisle waving my son over my head.  That's the sign language for, "Back away, Nerd, I am not one of you.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'll take my copy of Fellowship of the Ring and be on my way."

En route to the register, I spied with my tired old eye, a new release that really piqued my interest.  It turns out the romantic hero of our youth, Jack Dawson - of the Chippewa Falls Dawson's - has resurfaced to play none other than J. EDGAR HOOVER!  Well son of a bitch, looks like bedtime is getting pushed back to 9pm, because that poorly reviewed biopic is coming home with Daddy.

Had I been wearing my glasses I may have seen the disc was labeled Blu Ray.  Instead, some mouthy punk in need of a haircut let me know while he was ringing us up.  Apparently, at this particular location, new releases are ONLY available in Blu Ray.  Tough break for those of us without the requisite player.

The hippie basement-dweller at the register seemed equal parts surprised and amused that I didn't own a dual purpose gaming system.  No, I don't have a PS3, but find a PS2 and a copy of NCAA Football 2003 and I'll wear your young ass out!  Maybe I'll say next time.  This time I just took my copy of an 11 year old fantasy adventure film and shuffled quietly out the door.

The joke is on them.  I intend to return my movie late and use the dropbox.  Little trick I picked up back in '99.  You're never too old to be a rebel.