A Short List Of 2009's Favorites

Given that it's not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade too, I figured maybe I should put together a reflective post on what I've learned while sprinkling in a little commentary on the human condition ...nah! Booooring. Another day perhaps. Instead, I'm taking a page out of Suburban Scrawl, SurprisedMom and Weasel Momma's playbooks and run a short list of the best Lunchbox posts from 2009. Not as boring (maybe).

Looking over the year's worth of entries, I decided to make two lists: my top 5 favorites and those 5 that were the most popular with readers. There wasn't a whole lot of science behind this; picking my entries was easy--simple personal preference. For the reader's selections, however, I considered the amount of comments, the number of page loads, and the overall topic. Not a perfect method, but whatever, I'm rambling. (Dear Brain, shut it! ...speaking of which, I need to post a follow up on that topic.) Here they are, ranked top to bottom.

My 5 Favorite Posts of 2009

1) While You Were At BlogHer (July 27th): I probably watch this slide show of our summer vacation three or four times a week. It might be because of the Coldplay soundtrack, or it might be that it's a rare moment in the year when I can be with all five of my children at the same time.

2) 10 Reasons Why Being A SAHD Made My Wife A Man (June 24th): You she my wife's feet propped up at the end of the day while she smokes her pipe and reads the paper.

3) Celebrity Profile Status Updates On Twitter (March 1st): I'm cheating a bit since this one is a published entry on the webzine Sloth Jockey (which y'all need to read sometime), but eeh.

4) LOST, Stephen Hawking And Biblical Plagues: How Swine Flu Shut Down My Kids' School (May 1st): Swine Flu hysteria, the title says it all.

5) Things Past and Present (January 15th): A reflective essay on living in the moment.

Reader's 5 Most Popular Posts of 2009

1) Dear Soccer Mom (September 25th): Apparently thousands of you know someone like this stereotype (It also earned a double post at Confront Your Bully).

2) What's Not Fair (May 15th): This post about my role as a stepfather mad and impression on a lot of people to include, believe it or not, my ex-wife's attorney.

3) Superman Doesn't Like Cleaning Your Messes (September 11th): The Man of Steel is not keen on coming to this planet only to pick up after kids as this surveillance taken in my bathroom proves.

4) Why I "Hate" Danny Evans (August 17th): How could I hate a guy for writing a book about his battle with male depression? Easy.

5) Hope (August 4th): Being separated from your own children is miserable, but giving up the idea of being together again isn't an option.

If you've read all these, then thanks for taking the time. If you've already read them before throughout the year, then I also say thank you for coming back to my smatterings of drivel.

To close out the year, I want to express my gratitude to everyone for making Clark Kent's Lunchbox as successful as it has been in 2009. I don't normally talk stats, but it has astounded me that hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people hit this sight daily. My life has become truly better for the connections and new friends I've made through the blogging community. I only feel bad that I cannot visit with everyone as much as I would like; I ask that you please forgive me on that point. And while I'm at it, thank you all too for your support on Sugar Milk. I just hope it lives up the hype when you read it in a few more months.

Finally, not that it carries much weight in this big 'ol world, but I offer you all my sincerest prayers that 2010 will bestow many blessings, good health and much prosperity upon you and your families. Here's to you. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

- Ron


Holiday Wishes

This little post hardly does justice my appreciation for all your support, comments and kind words over this past year. I've have been blessed to meet some incredible people throughout the blogging community. Friendship is one of the best presents anyone could ever receive, and I am both grateful and humbled by this.

So let me just say, Happy Holidays to you and your families. Here's to you. May 2010 find you all healthy, content and loved. See you next year!


If You're Smart, You Will Not Get Your Wife This For The Holidays

It's not that I'm disparaging the importance of women having this done regularly, it's just that I can think of better ways for husbands to show their love during the holiday season. Save giving this present for Columbus Day or perhaps Labor Day--just make sure to send flowers. Watch...

Or "light up her Menorah."

And should any of you brave souls decide to do this, I suggest including a box of diamond ear rings, while also avoiding anything from Victoria's Secret.


Chores FAIL

In a time when kids believe that being "naughty or nice" equates to life or death consequences when it comes to presents, one would think Allie and Avery would be a little more conscientious of doing their chores. No. Chore FAIL continues to hallmark their behavior, and I'm still repeating myself eighty-thousand times until they either accomplish the task or I jam a pen in my eyeball. "Make your bed." "Wipe off the table." "Put your shoes away." And so on, and so on.

Millions of kids assembling Zhu Zhu pets (very slowly) in sweatshops all over the Far East, and Allie can't clean out the sink while Avery continues hanging up her backpack on the carpet. I mean, it's not like I'm asking them to press my shirts or change the oil in the minivan. They have a good six or seven years before that.

Well, that's okay. I told them I posted these pictures so "Santa" could track their progress. They think he reads my blog.


All I Want For Christmas Is My Va-sec-tomy... Wait, Huh?

Last week my wife called me from work around lunch as she normally does in order to acquaint me with the events of her morning: so and so did such and such; I can't believe they want me to do this and that; a large man sat next to me on the bus and passed gas during the entire ride to work and, "Oh, your appointment with the urologist is next Tuesday at one." Her strategy of slipping this little tidbit into the conversation behind news of the Farting Man was slick, but not slick enough to elude my razor-sharp sense of hearing. "I'm sorry. What did you say, dear?"

"Your consultation appointment with the urologist is next Tuesday, and then the procedure is scheduled for that Friday." By the way she said "procedure" you'd have thought it were code for making a hit on someone, which, in a technical sense, I suppose is true; it's just that that someone hasn't been born yet. "He said he could've fit you in on Christmas Eve, but I thought that might be bad timing."

Picturing myself sitting around the tree on Christmas morning, handing presents to the woman I love while readjusting the package of frozen peas tucked under my own package did seem to detract from the festive feel of things. "But ... this is pretty quick don't you think? We just got done talking about this a couple months ago."

"I just figured you'd want to get it done this year since we've met our deductible."

Ah yes. The money angle. Well played my cherry blossom. Well played indeed.

Getting "fixed" (an oxymoron that in this case I consider on par with "military intelligence") had been the option we settled on, and it was only fair. My wife had already tried using a little device known as an IUD. However, we started referring to it as an IED--improvised explosive devise--since it brought her much pain and discomfort and needed to be removed. Of course there was the pill, but there were issues with this method as well.

With these choices exhausted, the burden of birth control now shifted to my lap--literally, and seen as how I'm pushing 40, and already have five kids to deal with, something a little more permanent was in order. Mint-flavored and glow-in-the dark condoms were out; snip, snip, clip, clip was in.

The consultation appointment was informative, but not surprising. I already had a good idea of what to expect. However, this particular doctor offered me an interesting choice: I could go with a plastic locking clip designed specifically for vasectomies, or I could go with the traditional metal clips that are not approved by the FDA because these tiny metal clips were meant to close off thin-walled blood vessels, not the thicker-walled vas tubes. Furthermore, the locking clips are less painful and carry fewer complications. Given these options, the answer was a no-brainer.

Sort of.

Turns out this doctor is the only one in Texas who uses these clips, and as such the insurance companies refuse to cover the cost of the clips themselves which run $250 a piece. Yes, $250 for a piece of plastic roughly the size of a grain of rice and about as complicated as a part from a children's toy. In the doctor's words, he could, "use baler twine and barbed-wire with the normal method, and it would be covered, but you'll have to pay outta pocket if you want the clips. Just call and let us know the day before."

Pain or Christmas presents? What to do? What to do?

Yesterday I called the doctor's office with my decision. "Yes, ma'am, could you let the doctor know I'll be going with the regular method."

"You mean the 'classical?'"

"Classical," that's ...classic. "Uh, yes, I'll be kickin' it ol' school."

Now, maybe I shouldn't be so open about all this? Maybe I should retain some sense of dignity by not sharing my impending plight with the general public? Perhaps. But I don't think it matters anymore thanks to my wife.

Last night was her company Christmas party. Understand that my wife's company is one of those places where the rigid boundaries of conservative corporate culture are solidly entrenched within the dark-paneled corridors connecting impressive offices that tower above downtown Houston. To give you an idea of the company's stature, the owner served as the energy advisor for both John McCain and Barrack Obama simultaneously during the election campaign. It's a place where you don't fool around.

The owner did not attend the party; however, a number of people from the top down did. It was a highly social affair--a lot of "a mix and a mingling," which naturally gets interesting when there's an open bar. It's only a matter of who it gets interesting for.

After, let's say, eleven, maybe twelve margaritas, my wife feels comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone inside of a fifty-yard radius, making sure to include the details of my surgery. As she talked, the news of my "procedure" surfaced after three or four other items, but with more drinks, it suddenly became breaking headline on par with Tiger Woods's recent predicament. She was like Nancy Grace on crack.

"You wanna know what?" she would lead in with. "I got tomorrow off. Wanna know why?" Then my wife would point to my crotch-al area. "We're getting him fixed tomorrow!" While she laughed wickedly, my cheeks warmed yet again encasing my chagrined smile.

Managing directors, department heads, the CEO's wife, and several busboys know the truth: today I will be sterilized, never to populate God's green earth again--assuming I'm not in that one percent failure category.

Yes, at noon today, I will be sitting in a sterile, white room while a large man with thick glasses arranges metal clips, scissors and a cauterizor on a tray in preparation for "the procedure." And soon my jiggle bells, won't jiggle so merrily.

Brought to you by Fatherhood Fridays at Dad-Blogs.


One At-Home-Dad Answers Questions About His Vagina

Depending on which source you read, it's estimated that the number of stay-at-home dads (SAHD) ranges anywhere from 140,000 (Census Bureau) to 2 million men (CBS News). Other statistics claim that of the nation's 11.3 million preschoolers whose mothers are employed, 25% are regularly cared for by their father during their mother's working hours (Census Bureau). These are just a few of the figures cited as indicators that more and more dads are becoming the family's primary care giver. The trend has, as of late, received increased attention given its direct correlation to the poor economy. Many previously employed fathers, such as myself, suddenly found themselves thrust into an unfamiliar role that a number of other fathers had already been preforming well before Wall Street took a dive. One such dad is Joe Schatz, a stay-at-home vet and author of the book, Daddy, Where's Your Vagina? What I Learned as a Stay-At-Home Dad.

In his book, Schatz outlines the reasoning behind his decision to remain at home with his three daughters, and then draws on these experiences to share the lessons he learned. But this is no "how-to" book full of diagrams and sterile facts on changing a diaper or fixing a bottle. Instead, Schatz, who is the national fatherhood writer for The Examiner and co-founder of the social networking site Dad-Blogs, provides practical advice, setting a realistic expectation for down-and-dirty fatherhood not found in other conventional parenting books. What's more, he does so with a style of humor that makes this book as entertaining as it is useful.

If suffering through a sleepless night with a hungry baby, Schatz advises, "Fellas, don't watch Girls Gone Wild ads while feeding a baby--it's just wrong."

Wise words.

Other gems include being vigilant as to the scenarios in which a baby is likely to pee on you; how to tell a toddler "no" by saying "yes"; and incorporating a rating system for judging which of the many kid's art projects stay and which get trashed without sacrificing their feelings. ("Does the artwork contain any unintentional profanity? 10 points per word)

Brilliant stuff!

However, this book is not some at-home dad version of Heathcliff Huxtable, grabbing chuckles while spouting off with parental wit. Schatz displays his depth of emotion in the gut-wrenching account of his wife's miscarriage with their fourth child. This is a place few men would go, but Schatz does, showing that a father's grief during such tragedies is no less real than a mother's.

Like most stay-at-home fathers, Schatz struggles to reconcile his male ego against the traditional notion of men as the the family provider. In time, though, he resolves this issue by recognizing the greater potential and unique impact he can have on his children by staying at home. "Men have a tough time separating ego and money, and it limits us," Schatz concludes. Through the course of the book, he manages to challange the prevailing paradigm of child-rearing roles without coming across as a zealot.

Schatz doesn't shrink away from how people perceive him either. He's proactive, even in awkward moments such as being the only dad in the neighborhood playgroup. Rather than justify not his participating, he places the importance of his children's' need for social interact over his need for acceptance from the other moms. In fact, he goes a step further, initiating conversation within the group. Brave? Very. Especially with the education he receives in the process. In half-jokingly asking the group their opinions on the Baltimore Ravens football team, Schatz finds out that mommies have their own language and no subject is off limits. Based on this encounter, he develops a list of terms SAHD's need to be versed on if they plan to make it in mommy social circles. For example, the difference between McDreamy and McSteamy might not appear significant, but screwing it up at a play date will kill a dad's street cred.

Ultimately, the theme of this book is empowerment. Schatz shows both mothers and fathers that men are fully capable of being effective, full-time parents with something to offer. However, in order for this to happen, men (and women) have to stop buying into the stigma of dads being incompetent and aloof. Ironically, it's a misconception that often originates within the home, stemming from the false assumption that mothers are better equipped to deal with their child's needs, which leaves dads in the cold. The seemingly innocuous actions of mothers who always step in to change the diapers or sooth a crying baby inadvertently deny fathers the opportunity for direct involvement, thus reinforcing the message of men's shortcomings in caring for children. It's this cycle of "learned helplessness" that overshadows the truth of what fathers can do.

Schatz demonstrates otherwise through the advice and experience he shares in his book. Not only does he set an example for other fathers, at-home or otherwise, but he also proves to mothers that men have something relevant to offer in the realm of child-rearing. Daddy, Where's Your Vagina? shows that men can be the primary care providers, and find fulfillment in this role at the same time.

For more about Joe Schatz and his book, go to his official website.


"Manhood For Amateurs" - Another Book Review

Over this past year I have become a big fan of Michael Chabon. How it's taken me this long to discover the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I don't know, especially given the many elements in his works that I can relate to. Wonder Boys, for instance, takes place in roughly the same part of Western Pennsylvania where I grew up (the movie adaptation is an all-time favorite too), and being a comic fan-boy, Kavalier & Clay, for which Chabon won the Pulitzer, kept me enthralled through all 600-plus pages. I had just started in on Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands with Mysteries of Pittsburgh waiting in the wings when I learned Chabon had just released a new book centered around masculine identity--another topic that strongly resonates with me. Needless to say, I dropped everything and went straight to the bookstore to get my copy of Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of Husband, Father, and Son.

Plowing through the book in two days, I wasn't disappointed. It felt like I had just mentally gorged myself on a large satisfying meal, and now required a long afternoon in order for it to digest. In exploring what a man is in today, Chabon approaches the issue, drawing from his own personal experiences as a husband, father and son to create a mosaic of the man he has become over the course of these moments. But Chabon doesn't point to himself as someone who has figured it all out; rather, he hands the reader his flaws, mistakes and hurts, and tempers them with the corresponding insights, joys and successes that make manhood worthwhile.

Each essay takes a conversational tone that makes Chabon seem as if he's talking to you over coffee. In fact, it doesn't matter that he ignores the the conventional advice given to writers about avoiding twenty-dollar words when a five-dollar one will suffice; Chabon is one of the few people who can pull this off without losing the reader or coming across as pretentious. Still, I kept a dictionary handy just in case, since his vocabulary choices could crash the word-of-the-day app on your iPhone. (No one's accused me of being smart anyway.)

Chabon draws from past memories, random objects, current events, pop culture, and recent moments in his life as the context within which he interpret modern day masculinity--a box of Bisquick and traditional gender roles; comics and the feminine mystique; a grocery store encounter and parental intimacy. But, of all Manhood's stories, my favorite was the aptly titled "Faking It", where Chabon contrasts replacing a towel rack against navigating a blizzard with an SUV to illustrate the difference in convincing his family of his competency by masking his ineptitude as opposed to gaining their faith through genuine self-confidence.

Of the many aspects of Chabon's life, it's that of a husband and father where he finds the greatest fulfillment. The affection he holds for his wife, fellow writer Ayelet Waldman (Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace) is evident, as is the pride he takes in parenting their four children, Sophie, 14; Zeke, 12; Rosie, 8; and Abe, 6.

"... there's nothing I work harder at than being a good father, unless it's being a good husband ... I define being a good father in precisely the same terms that we ought to define being a good mother--doing my part to handle and stay on top of the endless parade of piddly shit. And like good mothers all around the world, I fail everyday in my ambition to do the work, to make it count, to think ahead and hang in there through the tedium..."

It's with this same level of honesty throughout Manhood, that Chabon demonstrates a comfort with his own masculinity. And he doesn't just accept it, he owns it, doing so with equal amounts of fascination, humility and appreciation. In the end, Manhood makes it safe for men to celebrate the beauty of who we all really are--amateurs.

To read more of Michael Chabon's work, check out his page at Amazon.com. I also recommend this NY Times article profiling Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman's lives as parents.


"The Good Men Project" - A Book For Good Men, By Good Men

If there's one thing that's changed the most about me as a result of my transition to stay-at-home dad, it's how I view myself as a man. Frankly, this re-evaluation of my masculinity was not an easy process, and it evoked a spectrum of emotions from anger to severe depression (some of which I deal with in Sugar Milk). Truth be told, however, I had been struggling with my male identity long before I ever lost my job and started getting kids ready for school. If anything, the events of the last two years were the catalyst forcing me to find the truth behind the questions I had always been asking. Is this what a man is supposed to do? Am I the father and husband my family needs? What does it mean to be a good man?

It was convenient to mask my confusion behind the success I had achieved professionally--a good job, a nice house, and three happy boys. By all appearances, the answers should have been simple, but they were not. When all of these external indicators were peeled away like the dead skin concealing a blister, it exposed a painful part of my psyche I considered as endemic only to myself. In this isolated state, it never occurred to me that other men faced similar type issues--not without being committed to a sanatorium somewhere upstate anyway. However, when I happened upon the Good Men Project website earlier this year, I realized the extent to which men have been bottling up the mixture of feelings on their male identity.

What started off as a simple idea between two men, James Houghton and Tom Matlack, resulted in the newly released book, The Good Men Project: Real Stories From the Front Lines of Modern Manhood (edited by both Houghton and Matlack along with Larry Bean). The idea in Houghton's words stemmed from his own questions.

Might there be something meaningful in gathering a diverse group of men to write essays about difficult or challenging times in their lives and what they learned from those experiences? ...it seemed that the men of our generation spend a lot of time struggling to balance the competing interests of achieving professional success and being good husbands and partners and father and sons.

Houghton's concluding thought was that if men wrote about their struggles openly, "other men might recognize a little of themselves in those stories and take comfort in their shared humanity." In reading Good Men, I can attest that the book has achieved Houghton's core intent.

Good Men's compilation of essays touches on the major roles of manhood--being a father, a son, and a husband along with the challenges men face in their work lives. Further adding to the book's appeal is the diversity of contributors which include among others: a professional athlete, writers both professional and amateur, businessmen, doctors, academics, a photo journalist, and a former gang member. Given the varying array of perspectives found in Good Men, readers will be hard-pressed to ignore the voices behind these essays, some of which will haunt you even after closing the back cover.

In fact, it's the writers' raw openness in their words that gives Good Men the authenticity needed for gaining credibility with male readers. If there's one thing men are good at, it's recognizing frauds, and in the pages of Good Men they will not find a one. The shame of addiction, the tenderness in raising a child as a single father, the anguish over losing a child, the confusion of a father after a divorce, the taste of blood after a fight--these elements fuse together in a universal message that men are not alone in their journey to be good.

The passion behind Houghton and Matlack's belief in this book is evident, not only in the quality of the submissions they have included in Good Men, but also in their efforts to bring this project to fruition. I found it ironic that fifty different publishers rejected the concept claiming men wouldn't read a collection of essays of this nature written by other men. Maybe. But could that also be part of the problem? Maybe that's what our mainstream society has lead us to believe? Then again, maybe hearing it straight from another guy is exactly what men need today? The Good Men Project does just that.

To learn more about The Good Men Project and the documentary movie by the same name check out the The Good Men Project's official website.

Disclosure: In compliance with FCC regulations, a copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes by the publisher. No further compensation was included.


Books For Christmas: "Packaging Boyhood"

This week I'm making a brief return to share several reviews of books that could make good gifts for the holidays.

This summer I made the mistake of taking my boys to see Transformers 2. The first one didn't seem so bad, and despite the lousy reviews I figured the sequel wouldn't be either. Wrong. I spent most of the movie, either covering ears every time the mom opened her potty mouth or explaining to the boys that college is not quite the near-orgy atmosphere projected on the screen. But by the way they kept saying how cool it would be for the minivan to change into an awesome robot (that would be awesome), I'm not sure they grasped my warnings. Still, I felt like a bad parent for exposing them to such blatantly deceptive images of what a boy's life could be like. I felt even worse after reading Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheros, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes.

Written by Doctors Lyn Mikel Brown and Mark Tappan, both Professors of Education at Colby College; and University of Massachusetts Mental Health Professor, Doctor Sharon Lamb, Packaging Boyhood is a follow up the successful, Packaging Girlhood. Like it's predecessor, Packaging Boyhood focuses on the methods used by marketing and media strategists in defining a false image of who boys, and how that image comes to play in how boys perceive themselves. If you're one of those people who skips the introductions to books, don't with Packaging Boyhood as it does a superb job of laying the foundation for the authors' premises. Three sentences in, I was hooked.

...the way popular culture defines what it means to be a boy has become narrower and narrower. That's because media and marketers spend billions of dollars every year promoting a version of "cool" that requires the latest fashions, technology, and lots of money and then takes advantage of his fear of not matching up or being called a wuss or "faggot."

The book spends the next several chapters outlining the impacts of pop culture on boys through what they are told to wear, what they are to watch, what they encouraged to read, what they are supposed to listen to and what they are to play with. Ultimately, these elements come together to form a bombarding message that leaves boys confused and frustrated in their attempts to reconcile what they are told they should be verses who they really are.

With girls, it's easy to see the degrading image that's being pushed on them. However, in reading Boyhood, an element of subtlety in efforts targeting boys started to take shape, and it's an element the corporate world has become adept at exploiting, using billions of dollars to perpetuate the message in order to get boys to buy into it--literally. According to the writers, some of these messages include: that acts of revenge are okay in certain situations; that life was meant to be lived to the extreme; that being anything less than the best is to be a loser; that if you can't be the best then be a clown; that friends should be sidekicks as opposed to confidants; that material wealth is the ultimate goal; that you should want sex all the time; that unless something involves a gadget, it's not fun; and that being a slacker in school is okay. In reading the details in how these messages are conveyed, I was astounded and, at times, sickened. (Axe Body products are banned for life around here.)

Despite the worthwhile message in Boyhood, the book is not without it's flaws. For example, learning that Shannen Doherty played the lead role of Sidney Prescott in the Scream horror franchise (it was Neve Campbell) put a dent in the credibility of St. Martin's (Press) fact checkers. Yet, on another level, questioning things like why toy truck makers don't always include toy figures so boys can consider the driver's feelings came across as far-reaching, while the arguments against superheros contained an overly zealousness bent reminiscent of Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent. In this context, there were times when I found myself wondering when does a little boy get to act like a little boy without it being scrutinized as solely endemic to the ills of a consumerist society?

Nonetheless, this should not detract from the overall significance of Boyhood's argument, which the authors present with equal amounts of intelligence and rationality. What's more, Boyhood doesn't simply leave readers with a bad taste in their mouth over the plethora of aforementioned influences, but rather, the writers go the extra mile, laying out recommendations for parents to use in guiding their own sons through the mass media maelstrom.

Too many times I've seen parents who recognized these negative images, but who then walled their boys off from all exposure without providing any explanation beyond, "because it's bad for you." Time and again, these boys grew up without the tools needed in discerning the complexity and sophistication behind marketing efforts targeting their naivety. For boys to acquire this ability, parents need to possess not just an awareness of this issue, but also the knowledge to help their sons discover a healthy male identity independent of those fabricated by mass media. Packaging Boyhood provides mothers and fathers the resources to do both.

You can find out more about Packaging Boyhood and its authors at their website: PackagingBoyhood.com

Disclosure: In compliance with FCC regulations, the author would like to disclose that a copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes. No further compensations was included.

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