Adventures in Fathering

Four out of five, because it’s impossible to get them all together…

When you take over as a full time parent, people always seem to have expectations for your success or failure. Dads are particularly singled out with these expectations, but not in the way one might think. From what I have experienced, the male of the species is expected to do a lot less.

I get compliments all the time about my kids. I suppose I could just chalk it up to how good they really are, and beautiful, and smart. But most of the compliments seem to be aimed at me. But I am only half of the reason they are how they are, if that. Would people compliment my wife like that? Would they compliment her if she had to wrestle all five of them through a church service? They tell me I’m doing so well bringing them week after week, would they do the same to her?

The double standard seems to assume men aren’t as capable of parenting as women. Fathers are inept creatures, barely able to juggle one child, let alone five.

Frankly the assertion makes me laugh. Yeah, my kids are a handful. They are constantly moving, vibrating really, and sometimes they make noise at inopportune times. They treat me like a jungle gym. They stand firm in “no” and make me drag them by the leg into certain places. But it isn’t hard. It’s exhausting sometimes to be sure, but not “hard”.

I love them. I love the challenges they bring. I love watching them make connections and grow and learn. I love that they force me to be strong and active. I love that they ask complex questions and make me think. If I was not actively involved in their lives I dare say I would atrophy.

I pity the men out there who don’t have kids, or at least act like they don’t. I pity the men who don’t know their kids well enough to know what discipline works for what kid (hint: they are individuals, every one is different). I pity the men who never engage with their kids, physically or mentally, for they will grow olds quickly without the exercise.

Most of all I feel a bit grumpy towards the men who fit the stereotype of inept and aloof. They are the reason for so many misplaced compliments towards men like me. They are the reason I will get five compliments to every one my wife gets. They are the reason my kids never get told how awesome they are, everyone is too busy being surprised by me.

Next time you see a lone father (or mother) with well behaved (mostly) kids, compliment all of them.

They’ll appreciate it.

Advertisements

The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

Boyish and Girlish

Oh look, a butterfly, so girly!

My wife sent me a link last week knowing that I would just have to comment. I have written at least three posts about the subject after all. I didn’t ask this exact question though: Why is it that girls can be “boyish” but boys can’t be “girlish”?

Perhaps that is the wrong question. The more pertinent question is: How do we define what is “boyish” or “girlish”?

The article in question discussed several points like clothing preferences (colors and sparkles) and personality traits like compassionate or caring vs agressive and aloof.

To the first: preferences like these are almost completely cultural. What one culture considers feminine may very well be masculine in another culture. Pink and blue are not inherently gendered. A flashy man is not a less masculine man. There just happens to have been a movement towards dull drab colors on men in our culture over the past 120 years or so. If your son likes rainbows and flash he is not less of a boy for it, he just likes something less boring than the current culture would like him to.

To the second: what makes character traits feminine or masculine? Sure, there are definite hormonal and physical differences between males and females that result in slightly different personalities, but these are hardly universal. And they aren’t even that big of differences when we really look at them. My sons are definitely different from my daughters, but the differences are so subtle I couldn’t tell you if it was gender or simply their personalities.

Why this cultural push to make gentleness and compassion a strictly “female” trait? Why assume that a gentle man is effeminate? Why assume a woman who is strong and courageous is “acting like a man”?

Personally I think we are a culture much too obsessed with sexuality and gender. Since when are people narrowly defined by who they want to have sex with? Since when does gender dictate every character trait and personality quirk?

It’s gotten to the point where people even worry about their sexuality in church. Someone was complaining that worship songs in their church sounded “gay” because they call God “beautiful” or express a sentiment of wanting to be with Jesus. While I could agree that the theology of these types of songs is usually lacking and they are usually set to fru fru tunes it is ignorant just to lay them out as “gay”. Are those sentiments incorrect? Was it “gay” when Jesus washed His disciples feet or when we are told to greet one another with a holy kiss? What is it about expressing love in a gentle fashion that is “gay” or even “unmanly”?

Back to the first question though: Why is it that girls can be “boyish” but boys can’t be “girlish”? For that answer you’ll have to wait for next week.

Control Freaks

There is a cold that seeps in slowly, down to your bones. You may not even realize it’s there until you’re snapping at loved ones or unable to sleep. You won’t always see its full strength, sometimes you can keep it in check. Sometimes it will scare you with its intensity.

Anger takes many forms. Sometimes it is righteous, but more frequently it is not. Often times anger is just a sign that we are a little too concerned about the amount of control we have over our lives.

We are anxious creatures, always wanting to have everything in line. Certainly some people aren’t as concerned about having all their ducks in a row, but I dare say the vast majority of us like to have our routines and our schedules and our predictability.

I am one of those people. I operate best when I have a written schedule and predictable hours. This is however not the existence I have chosen. Nor has it been the life chosen for me.

I worked in wildland fire and now my wife works in wildland fire. This is not a predictable line of work at all. I now stay home with five children. Control over every minute detail is impossible with little ones. Many of not most days it seems Chaos is the supreme ruler of the house.

My three year old wiped my phone completely clean. Squeaky clean. Nothing that wasn’t in the cloud was saved. I lost it. I yelled so much. I couldn’t handle the fact that my life (and by extension my three year old) was not totally in my control.

My wife has been having some (completely normal) growing pains starting this new job. Money is tight (as usual). The truck struggles to get up the hill from town (duh, it’s a 35% grade). The van has a coolant leak (super slow). The trailer gets kinda messy (seven people in 200 sq ft).

There are many things for my anxious mind to latch onto. So many things to spin me into anger. I can’t seem to get anything together. One day I keep my cool, the next I’m bickering over some dirty dishes.

Our pre-marriage councillor was the first person to point out to me that I liked control. It had never occurred to me before. But man was he right, feeling out of control is the number one reason I spiral into an anxious and contentious mess. I tend to pick a lot of fights when I feel out of control, even with myself.

I think God has put me exactly where He wants me. He knows exactly the kind of crucible needed to make me trust Him, or die trying.

Knowing Who is ultimately in charge is not a fun lesson to learn. Especially when one is a control freak like me. I am a hard headed sinner indeed.

Tight Spaces

A trip to get internet…

When you live in a tiny space, you tend to know well your living partners.

Every cough, every fart, every bump into the wall. Every single time they go to the bathroom (where is that WD-40?). You hear all the quarrels, all the laughs, all the times they play a little too rough with the cat.

There is a certain level of intimacy that you simply don’t get in a sticks and bricks house. There are no rooms to lock yourself up in, nowhere for the kids to hide. You go outside for alone time, or you kick them out. Or you simply hide in the van. Or you get over it and accept that these are in fact your children and you will never escape them. Much of the time though, someone’s going outside.

You get creative in the marital department. It’s really not much different from when we were co-sleeping with toddlers and newborns. We have curtains and did I mention that van? We even have a tent if we need a “night out”.

Tight knit spaces seem to make for tight knit families, at least at the ages they are at. We’ll see how it goes in later years…

Seasons

This is my third season.

In fire, we describe a firefighter’s experience level in terms of “seasons”. A typical season is six months long and can be quite arduous. Sometimes the season is busy and physically demanding, sometimes it is slow and mentally exhausting. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

This is my third season as a stay at home dad. So far I find that parenting is a lot like that as well.

My first season began in Truth Or Consequences, NM. My wife handed me the keys to our truck and trailer and said “don’t destroy our house.” She went off to fire boot camp and left me to find a camping spot for five kids, two cats, a dog, and me. I never felt so free and optimistic. I was newly unemployed, and she had no job prospects, but I felt like we were finally headed in a good direction.

That first season we stayed with family in Virginia. She worked 60 hour weeks and I battled family disagreements, juggled school and play, and tried to keep seven people fed well. It had its problems, but for the most part it was easy. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt that I had it under at least some control.

Then came the second season. After a fire season in New Mexico, we returned to our home in Florida. I now had to worry about more than just a couple rooms and a trailer. I had an entire house to care for. I stumbled. I failed. I succeeded in some, I completely missed the mark in others.

It wasn’t completely the role reversal we were going for, and I almost wonder if that is part of where the struggles came from. I still worked. I still tried to take on more than I could. I let some things slide and over focused on others.

I didn’t even realize my failures.

Now I am in my third season, the beginning clearly marked by a new living space and a stable schedule. I have only 200 square feet to care for, not nearly the same distraction as 1800. I have been given an opportunity to make a good season.

This is going to require focus and determination, two things which don’t come to me easily. I intend to learn in a small space what I couldn’t in the impersonal space of extended family’s houses or the “large” overwhelming space of an entire house. This tiny space doesn’t require too much work, unlike the tiny people in it. They are going to be a main focus this time in a way they weren’t in previous seasons.

If I can’t handle this, I definitely can’t handle a “normal” living quarters.

Fatherhood Perils

This is an old post I wrote years ago, I’m not sure I ever posted it anywhere, so here it is now, many years late but better than never!

Pulling a five year old off of my leg was a great start to my day. The tears, the whimpers, the “but I miss you”s. All are too much to handle. While I don’t agree to coddle every whim of my children, this is one anxiety that I will comfort. So what if I’m a little late? Work will wait, the growth of my children will not.

There are times when her professed love for me is nothing more than an attempt to stay awake a little longer, or to flatter me into giving her this, that, or the other. Children can be incredibly flattering when they want something. There is a genuine inborn unconditional love that children have for parents, and I don’t think it healthy to crush this love by constantly pushing them away. But there is also a natural inborn selfishness in every person that should be crushed with every opportunity. Distinguishing between these two is an art form every parent needs to practice.

Some days I feel incredibly guilty over my absence in the house. I wonder how good parenting (or at least good fathering) can be done in four hours a day. Somehow I doubt this was God’s intention for family life. One cannot adequately bring up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in so few hours. But alas, God has put me where I am, and I am to do what I can with the little bit of time I have.

Absent fatherhood is an epidemic in this country. The most obvious type of father-absenteeism is single motherhood; the child simply does not know his father because the father is not there. Other well documented cases are the work-a-holic father or the father who spends his non-working hours at the bar, clubs, or golf course.

A less obvious occurrence is the working father who comes home to roost in his recliner and watch football, play on his computer, or involve himself in myriad hobbies. This father is not absent in the traditional sense, but being male he is focused on other things. Women may be “present” with their children while reading something on a screen, but in my experience men are not this adept with multiple stimuli.

Physical and mental absenteeism plague me with guilt. My long term goal is to work from home so that I can minimize physical absence from both spouse and children. However, this kind of work can easily lead to mental absence. If I over-focus my work around the house, shooing the kids away and losing my temper over the slightest disturbance, it may be better for them if I were working in an office somewhere.

I used to think that “being there” for my children meant playing with them. If I was not playing with them, or at least focusing on them and nothing else, I was “not there.” I quickly realized that this simply isn’t true. There is a time for play, but the bulk of life should be spent in diligent labor. To play with them all day would leave my house and garden in shambles. It would also give them the false impression that fun and playing are all there is to life, and work is something that should be boxed into as few hours as possible (think 40 hour work weeks).

They need to see me joyfully working. They need to see me careful to plan and prepare my labor, work steadily, with temper, and not worry when the work is not accomplished in the time I’m given. God gives us enough time in the day to accomplish exactly what He wants us to accomplish. If they see me wasting time in laziness or in hasty sloppy work it will not benefit them.

It is not absenteeism to be an example to one’s children. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite of absenteeism. The entire point of spending time with and around your children is to be an example to them. They will grow up being imitators of you, whether they are drinking beer and watching the game every night, or overworking themselves in the garden, cursing the cold, the darkness, and the lack of rain, or whether they are being good stewards of their time. You are the example they will follow.

Lately our eldest (the above mentioned five-year-old) has taken to “helping” at every instance. This is the perfect opportunity to be an example to her, even if it is just an example of patience at her mistakes. I am thankful for this opportunity to teach her in the short time I have.

She has also toned down on the early morning tear session. Now she is content to pray with me and tell me to “be careful. Take care of your friends, don’t get burned up” and other such words of wisdom.