Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back to Work

By Blake Friis

Tomorrow morning I will go to work. Under normal circumstances there would be nothing special about that statement, but there was nothing normal about the circumstances under which I was fired three weeks ago.

I was driving home, an easy residential drive I count among the many perks of my job, when I received a call from one of our HR representatives. She asked if she had “caught me at a good time”. I would later find that an interesting lead-in when calling to fire someone. I told her I was driving home, and she insisted we speak when I got home because she doesn’t like distracting people as they drive. As the father of a 9 month-old, the car is actually the best place to secure my undivided attention, but she was adamant we speak after I arrived home. There is no “good time” to receive news someone refuses to share while you’re driving.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of being fired from the job you love, over the phone, 45 seconds before walking into the house. It leaves you with no time to digest the news, search for a silver lining, and contemplate the best way to break the news to your wife. Instead you are left to shuffle through the kitchen, into the living room where your wife is ready to hand you a smiling baby, and drool the words down the front of a button-down shirt about to hibernate in the closet until further notice.

I just…lost…my job.

It’s devastating to be in that position. It’s especially difficult when you have no answer to the obvious question that follows.

What happened?!?

Actually, I had an incomplete answer. I failed a background check. I wasn’t sure how, but I had a hunch. An hour later I received an e-mail that confirmed my suspicion.

Seven years ago I was the victim of identity theft. The crimes flagged on the background check were committed by the person who stole my identity and was subsequently arrested posing as me. The events are still associated with me because my name is connected to the perpetrator as one of his known aliases. I guess this is a common practice if you have your identity stolen by your brother.

To my employer’s credit, they held a position for me pending a favorable result to a dispute filed over the results of the background check. The ensuing investigation cleared my name after two painstaking weeks. Two weeks is a long time for a husband and father to sit in a holding pattern, void of income, with the increasing weight of a mortgage bearing down on him.

It’s most important to count your blessings in the moments when it’s difficult to focus on anything but the struggles in front of you.

The healing power of family was on display every second of those two nerve-racking weeks. Despite the disappointment I may have to find a new job, and the awareness that bills need to be paid regardless of how hurt my feeling are, we managed to make the best of a bad situation.

Once the appeal was filed and the supporting documentation was sent to the appropriate parties, we took some time to enjoy being a family with free time, regardless the cause. We ate meals together, took long walks around the neighborhood, and tackled projects we may never have started otherwise. Above all else, we sat on the living room floor and played with our son. Not in shifts, together.

I’m in no hurry to experience joblessness again, but it had its moments. I would love to take another walk with my wife and son, but tomorrow morning I will go to work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Best Accessory

By Blake Friis

I don't have a great eye for fashion. I buy the shirt and tie combo on the department store mannequin and call it a day. If it’s good enough to display at Kohl’s, it’s good enough for a spot in my work/wedding/funeral rotation.

I am not someone you would seek out for advice on accessorizing, but I picked up a piece last spring that has made ALL the difference. If you don’t already have a baby, you must get one. They go with everything and will genuinely change the way people look at you.

My go-to outfit of gym shorts, flip-flops, and a backwards baseball cap was rock solid, but there was gradual change in the way it was received beyond my mid-twenties. Many seemed to find it downright pathetic as I neared 30. I strategically paired the ensemble with an array of slow-pitch softball league runner-up T-shirts for gravitas, but the disapproval from the grown-up community intensified.

A baby wasn’t my first attempt to accessorize my way out of a sartorial shit storm. I wore a watch, but its impact fell short. I wore a cross necklace outside my shirt, thinking surely a man of faith would be given a pass on his choice in mere Earthly rags, but the pretentious dickwads didn’t budge. It looked like I was on the verge of retiring college sophomore chic for the world of khakis, button-downs, and styled hair, which would mean showering on Saturdays! If that’s growing up, consider me a Toys ‘R’ Us kid.

When I got a Toys ‘R’ Us kid of my own the game changed dramatically.

There are many great reasons to embark on the journey of parenthood. An uncharacteristically warm reception from the most judgmental people in the neighborhood is rarely listed among them, but it’s nice nonetheless. Some of the snootiest people I know are disarmingly pleasant when they see a baby in my arms.

An adult wearing sweatpants while not purposely breaking a sweat is branded lazy. Sweatpants paired with a baby indicate an active parent far too busy and selfless to be burdened with wardrobe decisions.  Kudos for putting your children ahead of such superficial concerns, Stranger!

Many view a backwards baseball cap on a 30-year-old man as a sad dose of Peter Pan syndrome, unless the 30-year-old is holding a baby wearing the same backwards baseball cap. That shit is just adorable.

The best in human nature is on display when you carry a baby in public. Everyone you encounter sends good vibes and totally disregards the fact your outfits are not appropriate for your age – unless of course you are a woman, in which case the same people who pardon my Pensacola Hooters t-shirt with the armpit holes think you look a little skanky and wonder if the man you’re with is even the father of your child. Sorry, Ladies.

Babies have a quality unmatched in their adult counterparts; they are incapable of being assholes. Now, mathematically speaking, many of your children will surely grow up to be assholes, but in the baby stage they possess a blank canvas quality that seems to bring out the best in people. Perhaps it is the inherent innocence or the endless possibility for a brighter future. That’s a little deep. It’s probably because babies have cute cheeks and “wook so ado-uh-bull in dare wittle hat”.

If you question society’s capacity for warmth and goodwill, I offer the same recommendation as if you requested feedback on your acid-washed jeans and a Who Farted T-shirt: you need a baby.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fatigue and Cheerios

By Blake Friis

Anyone who has been in great shape, only to cease working out for several weeks, understands the fragile nature of human conditioning.

Months of weekends alone with our baby should have prepared me for my wife’s three-night vacation. Summer attended clinical nurse training at the hospital every weekend throughout the fall. My confidence as a parent grew. I became completely comfortable bathing a baby and never missed a feeding, regardless of how much great football was on television.

When my in-laws invited Summer to join them for a weekend in Reno it seemed like a no-brainer. Of course I could man the fort while she was gone. I’d done it 12 consecutive weekends. You’re dealing with a pro here.

Have you ever jogged on a treadmill after a period of laziness?

You approach it like nothing has changed, until you look down and see you’ve run just .24 miles and question the machine’s ability to gauge distance. And are these the same shoes you ran in last? And for Christ’s sake, why can’t you find the right song on your iPod? Better step to the side rails and scroll through your library.

With Summer home for the holidays, our routine has been broken and my independent parent swagger has been shelved. I am only as responsible and ambitious as circumstances dictate. Give me the opportunity to kick my feet up and where do my feet go without hesitation? Up.

Dad, I'm trapped. Call Mom.
When Gabe and I took Summer to the airport – I drove, he just sat there and didn’t even offer a dollar for the toll – I realized my parenting legs had grown a little heavier than I thought over winter break.

I narrowly avoided an accident on the way home from the airport, a classic Dallas highway encounter. One driver slams on the brakes causing a chain reaction that ends with a speeding truck skidding toward me before swerving into the median to avoid a pile-up. I attempt to sooth Gabe, who woke up amidst the commotion. He cried for the remaining 30 minutes of our drive, making it feel like two hours.

Summer hadn’t made it through airport security and I was already counting down the hours until her return.

The first workout after a layoff can be brutal, but it doesn’t take long for your body to wake up and get back in the groove. I found my rhythm in the cereal aisle.

Growing up with three brothers, all cereal enthusiasts with healthy appetites, I became all too familiar with generic cereal. It hurts my heart to see my son learning to eat solid food with Toasted O’s, even if it makes economic sense and he doesn’t know the difference. I threw down an extra $0.79 for Cheerios and set the tone for the rest of the weekend. We may miss the occasional bath when Dad is in charge, but we smile like idiots and eat like kings.

By the time Summer returned I was in such great parenting shape I could have easily handled another couple days. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little conditioning and name brand cereal.

Never going back to Toasted O's

Saturday, January 12, 2013

No Vacation, No Problem

By Blake Friis

Snowshoeing up a Colorado mountain was just as miserable as I believed it would be when my wife suggested it. Hundreds of people having the time of their lives flew downhill, many taking the time to inform us we were going the wrong way.

I was making the best of a “ski” trip with my wife, who had been pregnant for six months and had non-refundable tickets in her possession for seven, so I laughed and nodded instead of telling each unoriginal yuppie to eat shit and die.

A vacation planned on the strength of skiing, alcohol, and hot tubbing is substantially marginalized when one of the participants becomes pregnant, but we made the best of it and managed to enjoy ourselves. We looked ahead to the following year and thought the trip would serve as a nice getaway during our first year of parenthood.

Our friends made the annual trip to Steamboat this week. Our participation was limited to “Liking” their pictures on Facebook.

As parents, we love to go on about the greatness of parenthood – the journey, the joy, the legacy. Less common are discussions on the cost of parenthood. The cost of this miracle is freedom. At the very least, freedom is a relative term with children.

Every single day I look at my son and can’t believe he’s mine, but there are days I also think it would be nice take my wife out to dinner without having to pack a diaper bag. We no longer have the luxury of going to a movie on a random Tuesday night or eating at a restaurant where it's frowned upon to leave a wake of crackers and cheerios on the floor by your table.

No recreational activity or extra hour of sleep on the weekend can match the wonder of an average day with my son, but there are moments when even the most engaged father longs for the freedom to strap clunky snowshoes to his feet and trudge his fat ass up a mountain to the amusement of wealthy skiers and their turtlenecks.

As our friends were skiing we realized something amazing; every day with our 9 month-old has a vacation-like quality. Watching my son meticulously pull everything out of his toy box until he finds his green maraca has become our mountain sunset. Chasing him from room to room has become our snowshoeing. Thank God.

There are times I miss certain elements of life before parenthood, and I don’t think there is any shame in admitting it. We don’t have the freedom to take off on a whim, whether it’s for sushi on a Wednesday or a weekend out of town. We haven’t been to a concert or movie since Gabe was born.

What we have done is much more fulfilling.

The Dark Knight Rises would have been better on IMAX than on our television, but we couldn’t get to the theater. On the other hand, no form of entertainment could possibly match the freedom to spend an afternoon helping Gabe get the hang of the Batman cart he got for Christmas.

Freedom is a relative term. So is Luck. We have sacrificed a lot of freedom over the last nine months. I have no idea how we got so lucky.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Dreams Team

By Blake Friis

My favorite piece of business advice is also great relationship advice: don’t make decisions or enter into partnerships for financial reasons. Follow your heart and surround yourself with positive people, and money will work itself out.

In some parts of the world the term “breadwinner” carries with it a certain panache, which I’m sure applies to many in that role.

My wife will be a nurse soon and we will become a two-income household, but for now I am climbing the corporate ladder while my wife stays home with the baby and takes online courses. And by “climbing the corporate ladder” I mean sitting in a florescent cube farm answering email and bouncing from meeting to meeting until the coffee runs out.

In some parts of the world the term “stay at home mom” carries with it the preconceived notion of book clubs and yoga pants, which I’m sure applies to some in that role.

My wife chases a very mobile 9-month-old around the house and attempts to study during the fleeting moments of solitude. Most of her academic responsibilities are fulfilled after I return home. This means her days are twice as long and intense as mine and few recognize the incredible grace with which she accomplishes this largely thankless routine.

Because we have a mortgage and my comparative comfort cruise is rewarded a paycheck, the outside world recognizes me as the family breadwinner. The outside world is not technically wrong, but the title couldn’t be more irrelevant.

Bread is not the working currency in our home. A strength of our marriage is our collaborative process for pursuing our individual dreams.

People who are unattached can invest entirely in their dreams and operate with a singular focus that borders on selfishness. Selfishness is not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be the most efficient path to achieving ones goals.

Parenthood tends to have a sobering effect on people, and not just because they can no longer afford to go to the bar. Being a great parent requires a healthy dose of selflessness and dreams are difficult to rundown without the ability to exercise a little selfishness.

If my wife and I checked our professional dreams at the parenthood door and made career decisions based on money, we’d have unfulfilling jobs and buy crap we don’t need to deal with the day-to-day unhappiness. Instead we made an agreement to support each other in the pursuit of our dreams.

Summer’s desire to go back to school and become a nurse required a commitment that works best with a spouse who has the ability to build their schedule around the demands of the program. I become a situational stay-at-home dad as she sacrifices her nights and weekends. I am an active participant in the process and I feel pride when she succeeds.

When I told Summer I wanted to leave my sales job for a less lucrative opportunity in line with my desire to write for a living, she was completely supportive. She doesn’t love that I am on my laptop as soon as our son is asleep, but she understands. She pitches me so many book ideas you’d think she was my literary agent.

There are things we can’t afford and things we have to do without, but those are just things. We are working towards our goals and doing so without depriving our son of the most valuable resource we have – our time. Whether or not we achieve our dreams is not as important as the example we’ll set for our son by never giving up on them.

Having a family requires sacrifice, but that sacrifice doesn’t require abandoning what you want to be when you grow up.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Who's Afraid of a Little Leaf?

By Blake Friis

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. When my 8-month-old son attempted to swallow a random object he found on our living room floor, I held him with a steady hand and spoke in a calm and deliberate cadence to my wife as she identified the object in the back of his throat as a leaf.

Of all the things to give new parents their very first choking scare, ours was a goddamn leaf, probably carried in on one of our shoes.

My wife’s second and third attempts to sweep the leaf out with her finger failed and Gabe vomited in a way I hadn’t seen from him, and haven’t since. At this point I could have won an Oscar for my portrayal as a calm and confident father. Inside, I was scared shitless and could hardly move, but the character I was playing – this “Dad” who is more believable in print – would never get rattled in front of his son.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation – your child chokes and the only useful ability you possess is bullshitting those around you in hopes your soothing disposition facilitates the appropriate action – I pray you are also married to a nurse. Summer was amazing; she persevered through the failed finger sweeps and heartbreaking vomit, grabbed a pen light, tongue depressor, sterilized tweezers and calmly removed the leaf in no time.

And scene.

The moment Summer pulled the leaf from Gabe’s mouth he flashed his giant, toothless open-mouth smile, as though seconds earlier he had not projectile vomited spaghetti-flavored baby food onto my chest as his body fought the foreign object stuck in his throat. 

I, on the other hand, dropped the tough guy act, sat down and cried.

It's all good, Daddy

Maybe it was the feeling of helplessness or the fear. Maybe it was all the news coverage of murdered children finally hitting me through a tangible example of what losing my own son might look like. These emotions hit me the second I realized Gabe was in danger. Holding it in and covering with false bravado in the moment, only seemed to elevate the degree to which it poured out after the fact.

So, why fake it?

Certain childhood memories impact actions in parenthood. Not in the sense they shape you and subconsciously impact your behavior, but in ways so profound you process the memory in real-time with your mind racing in the face of adversity. The most terrifying thing in childhood is identifying fear in a parent.

As my son began to choke, the best help I could offer was to conceal my fear and tell what I hoped would not turn out to be a total lie.

“It’s going to be okay.”

When the close call ended, along with my inclination to keep up the fa├žade, Summer was surprised by how rattled I became. She tried to pick me up by saying my demeanor helped her remain calm and she couldn’t have done it without me.

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. Hers immediately made me feel better about myself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Challenges

By Blake Friis

My wife and I sat in front of the television on New Years Eve, wearing sweatpants and watching Angela from The Office lead throngs of freezing people through an uncomfortable rendition of Gangnam Style.

And so ended the greatest year of my life.

I spend more time looking ahead than reflecting on the past. This used to be necessity rather than strategy. I didn’t make great decisions in early adulthood, and as a result looking back created a lot of regret.

The last several years have been a different story.

Each year since I met my wife has been the best year of my life. I know that sounds like the kind of sappy horseshit teenagers post on their Facebook page, but it’s true. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but we’ve stacked one major life event after another – 2009: met my future wife and graduated; 2010: moved to Dallas, got a job, got engaged; 2011: married and pregnant (in that order!); 2012: bought a house and welcomed our son into the world.

Good-Bye 2012, Hello 2013

As my wife fell asleep on the couch well before midnight and an unlikely pop sensation from South Korea took center stage in Time Square, I began to look ahead to 2013.

It is entirely unlikely we will experience another major life event this year, and that is strangely unsettling. This year we have to focus on micro-level challenges, like making sure our son is wearing pants when we put him to bed so he can’t remove his own diaper and throw a one-person pee circus in his crib.

Weddings and births are amazing experiences, but they are easy compared to real life. Nobody sends a “Congratulations for Not Letting Your Son Recreate the Bellagio Fountain Show with his Penis” card.

This is shaping up to be a year of little fanfare, a year of trying desperately to excel as a father or husband each day.

It is difficult to imagine a more exciting and fulfilling year than 2012, but I look forward to the challenge.