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.