Blog Voyage

Carnival Cruise Day 1 August 2010 from Ron Mattocks on Vimeo.

Blog Voyage

As you may have already seen via the tweets and Facebook updates, the Mattocks bunch officially embarked on their Caribbean vacation yesterday aboard the Carnival Cruise ship, Conquest. For me and the girls this constitutes our maiden voyage on a body of water larger than a reflecting pool. For my wife, Ashley, this is her second such trip, the previous one being taken with her girlfriends, during which she proceeded to get hammered and then engage in a karaoke melee to the upbeat stylings of Fiona Apple. Given that our current excursion is intended to be more family oriented, Ashley has promised to refrain from singing of any sort.

We arrived at the port in Galveston around noon, and by dinner the ship departed. In between this time, we grabbed a bite to eat, got situated in our room, and then attended the mandatory muster briefing, at which everyone was informed on the evacuation procedures “in the unlikely event” the ship should sink. (I have to say, I’m rather enthralled with the engineering of the lifeboats, touted as being “unsinkable” by the ship’s Cruise Director.)

What gets me is massiveness of the ship, something impressed upon me from the moment Ashley pointed it out to everyone …when we still a good three or four miles away. “There’s our ship,” she said with a matter-of-fact sort of glee. Given the distance it was difficult to make out any sort of details, but the grayish-blue form looming ahead reminded me of a scene from the recent Star Trek film where a young James T. Kirk gazes out at the docked Starship Enterprise which dominates the twilight horizon. Am I being dramatic? Naturally. (Hellooo, It’s me, people.) However, the notion of a swashbuckling Captain Kirk at the helm of the Conquest provided me a solid thirty minutes of amusement.

Then again, maybe that wouldn’t be such a great idea given that I’ve grown rather attached to my life vest. (The ship’s staff has had to switch out three of them with me already because I can’t keep from tinkering with the built-in homing beacon. Apparently, it sends out a distress signal the Coast Guard or something like that.)

No, I’m thankful that the ship’s crew is so safety conscious, as well as being even more engaging. Everyone from the wait staff to the stewards have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and to ensure we have everything we need. This is particularly impressive for the cleaning personnel who I have to imagine are forced to deal with all manner of unpleasant discoveries while servicing rooms.

For the record, I do not attribute these courtesies as being endemic to our family’s role as Carnival Ambassadors. Yes, there have been some associated perks, but as a whole, the majority of the staff and crew are unaware of our purpose, and so I would have to say such friendly treatment is the rule and not the exception. No quid-pro-quo here.

To underscore this somewhat, there’s a few things I should mention here. What Carnival didn’t realize when they invited me to be their guest, was my propensity for free-wielding cynicism. Add to this my being raised in the Workaholic faith, where relaxation is considered a sin (even a few hours of TV can induce a soul-crushing guilt redeemable only through an afternoon of yard work); and then compound these with my inability to ignore the laws of physics which dictate that steel is a material that sinks in water, and what Carnival has on its hands is a pessimistic, antsy, nervous Neddy. It’s not out of the question that such a volatile combination of these nefarious traits could justify rechristening the Conquest as the U.S.S. Maine (proverbially speaking of course).

My wife better sums up these behaviors which always tend to surface when I am forced out my routine, referring to me as a curmudgeon. Admittedly, there’s probably some truth to this. At the current moment, I am in the ship’s library typing away amidst other sixty year-olds who, in between bridge hands, are complaining about the limited hours for checking out books. Still, I do intend (at my wife’s prodding) to engage in a whole host of activities with shuffleboard, napping and early dinners ranking high in the order of priorities.

Ultimately, though, I am enjoying myself, which I think was my family’s chief concern. When I am at my curmudgeonly best, it tends to put a damper on things for everyone. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case thus far. Ashley’s wit is running at full-speed ahead, while the girls’ excitement over the array of activities designed specifically for them can hardly be contained. Their giddiness may or may not be influenced by unlimited access to the all-you-can-eat dessert bar. But whatever. If having fun means gorging themselves on mass quantities of Key Lime Pie and cheesecake the same way that that annoying Ke$ha claims to guzzle whiskey in her overbearingly loud and rock music, then have at it, girls. After all, the point of a vacation is to have fun, and based on the last twenty-four hours, that’s what everyone seems to be doing.

Note: In compliance with FTC regulations I am required to disclose that Carnival Shanghais’d me on their dime for this swell cruise in exchange for my humble thoughts posted here.


Teaching Moments Redux

Last week the ever talented Jack of Random Thoughts wrote a great post titled Teaching Moments. In it he reflected on his role as a father giving his children guidance, and he framed it with a touching story about his son. (Yes, I'm saying you should read it.) In the comments, I remarked to Jack that with the boys only being here for a short while this summer, I was trying to jam in teaching moments whenever possible. At one point, after asking (telling) my oldest son, Noah, to redo an assigned chore because he hadn't done it right the first time, he mumbled, "So this must be another one of those life lessons."


And his chore? Cleaning the toilet in the boy's bathroom. In fact, there were a few more life lessons inspired by that toilet, ones I pray will stick with them forever.

However, it's not just the boys who I've had to share pearls of potty-inspired wisdom with, if you recall the story behind this photo and the oath I made the girls swear by.

Even so, I believe it will take a long time before any of these lessons will sink in ...and this includes my wife based on this Superman Action Adventure story, and the subsequent security camera footage captured below.

For now, though, all I can do is remain consistent in my parental guidance, hoping they will never commit such transgressions while visiting the neighbors. In the meantime, I'll keep looking to Jack as my inspiration for believing that teaching kids life lessons really does have an impact on them as they mature.

Finally, want to do something really wise? Please take a moment to help in the fight against the painful and potentially deadly autoimmune disease Juvenile Myositis. Vote for the CureJM Foundation as they are in the running to receive a $250K grant from Pepsi to fund research in putting an end to JM. It's as simple as three clicks. And if you would, please share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers too. Thanks!


All Kinds Of Stuff, All Kinds Of Questions

All Kinds of Stuff

The girls started at their new school yesterday, and despite their anxieties, they actually survived. When I asked how things went, ever true to their personalities, they each had differing opinions. Avery informed me through a beaming smile that her first best friend had a crush on her. Allie was less enthusiastic, pointing out all the negatives which included being assigned to a front-row seat. I tried to refocusing her attitude by having her name three good things about the day. She thought for a minute. "Nothing, nothing and nothing." Allie's never been one to embrace change. Needless to say, she's reeeeeally looking forward getting away from school and going on the cruise next week (unlike her stepfather who has yet to reconcile the physics of a large hunk of metal floating in an even larger expanse of water).

September is going to fly by at a crazy pace. After the cruise, there's the Modern Media Man Summit, which I'm even more excited about after PJ Mullen (Real Men Drive Minivans) and Chris Singer (Stay-At-Home Dad in Lansing) contacted me to say they would be in coming. (Incidentally, you can still get tickets aaaaaand be entered in a drawing to win an iPad. See here for details.) Hell, I haven't even purchased a new pair of shoes for this thing! What? Isn't that the sort of thing you're supposed to talk about incessantly for the two weeks prior to a blogging conference? Okay, whatever. I'm just taking my cues from what I've seen on Twitter.

Following M3, I'm having a medical procedure preformed on me. I'm not going to say, but you can get a clue from Home and Uncool. (And no, there are no aliens involved.) A week after this, I'll be walking around all funny-like amongst the bloggers at the Type A Mom Conference in Asheville, NC. Why will I be there? Two reasons: One, I'll be reading excerpts from Sugar Milk at Malaprop's Bookstore on the 23rd. And two, Kelby Carr and the organizers have put together a series of Dad Tracks sessions, one of which includes Megan (Velveteen Mind) and myself talking about what dad bloggers can learn from the years of experience gained by the moms. Tickets are still available for this conference as well, and there is a discount for dads (enter the code #dadtrack to receive the savings).

October is clear... as far as I know. Unless I attend the At-Home Dads Convention in Omaha, Nebraska. Tickets are still available for this great gathering which has been going on for 15 years now. (And we thought this SAHD thing was so new.)

All Kinds of Questions

Over the past couple days a few new interviews have been posted. Yes, more of me talking about me. However, both the interviewers, Chris Singer, who also manages Book Dads, and Parenting Squad Editor, Lela Davidson do a fabulous job of making me (there's that word again) sound more interesting than I really am. One of these refers to Sugar Milk as "a flipped over chick lit novel" (that's good right?) and in the other interview, you'll find out the (working) title of my next planned book. You'll have to check out both to find out which is which.

Finally, if you do nothing else, please take a moment to help in the fight against the painful and potentially deadly autoimmune disease Juvenile Myositis. Vote for the CureJM Foundation as they are in the running to receive a $250K grant from Pepsi to fund research in putting an end to JM. It's as simple as three clicks. And if you would, please share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers too. Thanks!


Top 10 Mom and Dad Blogs I'd Like To Read

Counting down to #1...

The Top 10 Mom and Dad Blogs I'd Like to Read

10. "Brokeback Mommy: I wish I new how to quiet you" This mom blogger sparked a mountain of controversy after disclosing how she punishes her kids in. Read for yourself in her post, Out of the Closet. With her caustic wit and rural Wyoming homestead, she's often been referred to as the Rosanne Barr version of The Pioneer Woman.

9. "Big Mother" This mom of four writes her blog parodying the reality show Big Brother--the only difference is, three of her kids are older than 18 and she can't kick them out of the house.

8. "Cool Hand Puke: Musings on Failures in Communication" This daddy blog by a Father living in the deep south is a well-written account of moments with his 4 year-old son. Favorite post: The one where his boy chows down on two dozen hard boiled eggs. Hilarity ensues.

7. "Parent Normal Activity" A light-hearted blog about a mom's search to discover who is responsible for all the little messes, and disasters happening around the house. (Hint: she is highly suspicious of her twin boys.) In the "About" page she explains how she got the idea after coming home to find the Ouji Board in flames on the coffee table. Uh oh!

6. "Tuesdays With Mommy" This touching blog is filled with incredible photos and can be a real tear-jerker. Wordless Wednesdays will have you reaching for the Kleenex by the handful.

5. "Red Hot Poopie Diapers: What You Got I Gotta Take And Clean It Off You." Very cool blog by a former rocker turned stay-at-home dad is a real hit with both moms and dads. It's full of a number of insightful little numbers including his trial-by-fire education on breastfeeding under the category tag, "Mother's Milk."

4. "The DAD-churian Infuriate" After losing his seat in the California senate and unable to find work again, this dad blogger writes about his struggles with being forced into the role of a full-time parent (sound familiar?) before realizing how he'd been brainwashed by societies definition of what it means to be a man.

3. "JetBlue Momma: I'm not a stewardess; I'm your Mother!" This fiery mom of toddlers watched her site quickly vault into Babble's list of Top Mommy Blogs (she's ahead of dooce), after posting an account of her reaction to being hit in the head with an unapologetic women's diaper bag during a playgroup function. And what did she do? In a huff, she grabbed two boxes of Juicy Juice and exited the playroom via the kiddie slide.

2. "Hairy Father and the Prisoner of Diaper Rash" This absolutely hysterical blog by a nervous first-time daddy is collection of funny stories about muddling through the nuances of taking care of a new baby, along with his attempts at losing weight before the kid can walk. In a clever twist, he plans to rename the blog like volumes as his daughter gets older--"Hairy Father and The Order of The Fruit Snacks" (toddler) and "Hairy Father and The Ulcerous Stone" (teen years) are a few titles being kicked around.

And the number one title of a Mom or Dad blog I'd like to read...

1. "I Skull-BLEEPED Mary Poppins!" Don't let the hard-core name of this dad blog fool you. Surprisingly it's a tender collection of heart-felt poems and maxims dedicated to three little girls by their father who's a franchise owner of a Denver area Build-a-Bear.

NOTE: I searched all over and to my knowledge these blogs don't really exist. Some were close, but not close enough for me to drop them from my list. (If anyone proves me wrong, then I'll link to their site and totally give them all the credit in the world.)

And please, if you can come up with some of your own, put 'em in the comments. I'm sure there are better titles you can come up with.

By the way... Please take a moment to help in the fight against the painful and potentially deadly autoimmune disease Juvenile Myositis. Vote for the CureJM Foundation as they are in the running to receive a $250K grant from Pepsi to fund research in putting an end to JM. It's as simple as three clicks. And if you would, please share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers too. Thanks!


The Death Of Cool At Home Of The Uncool

Hello all. Just to let you know, today I am filling in for prolific DadCentric writer and all-around good guy, Mr. Always Home and Uncool (@homeanduncool) while he's off for the week. And as you will see, I'm demonstrating my level of coolness for his readers.

But before sending you over there, one thing I would ask is that you take a moment to help in the fight against the painful and potentially deadly autoimmune disease Juvenile Myositis. Mr. Uncool's daughter suffers from JM, and even the simplest of acts contributes to making her better. Please take a moment to vote for the CureJM Foundation as they are in the running to receive a $250K grant from Pepsi to fund research in putting an end to JM. It's as simple as three clicks. And if you could, please share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. It's a simple click, click.

And now off to that guest post...

* * * * *

This week I had a checkup with my gastroenterologist. It’s been several years and I figured it was time. Or, in other words, he shut off my prescription refills until I scheduled an appointment.

As we headed out to the his office, my 8-year-old stepdaughter, Allie, asks me, “So, Ron, is the doctor going to give you the finger test?”

Read more about the finger test by clicking here.


Follicles for Algernon: One Man’s Struggle with Male Pattern Baldness

I started reading Beta Dad's blog earlier this spring with a post memorializing the fall of Saigon and his wife's family after their escape. Since then, I'll admit to being a little in awe of the guy. If you look at his profile, it gives some basic facts--stay-at-home dad (to baby twins!), mid-forties (still in good shape), does a little carpentry (he's building an addition to his house), teaches part time (yeah, college level English Lit and composition), traveled the world (Russia of all places?)--yet it comes across with a casualness that belies Beta Dad's truer persona of being sensitive, intelligent and manly all at the same time. What's more he manages to so with the same hint of self-effacing humor George Clooney is famous for. (His post today demonstrates that). Beta Dad's embodiment of what I consider to be an example of modern masculinity comes, at least, in part from his father who I have likened to that guy in the Dos Equis commercials. ("Stay thirsty my friends.") Oh, and did I mention Beta Dad also is one of the regular contributors to author, Jeremy Adam Smith's site, Daddy Dialectic. In layman's terms, the guy's too cool for school. See for yourself.

Follicles for Algernon: one man’s struggle with male pattern baldness

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where, like a lot of men, I need to make a decision about my hair. The options, however, are limited. I guess it would be more accurate to say that the reasonable options are limited. I could always go for something like the look rocked by one of the cashiers at my local Home Depot: kind of a William Shakespeare thing, curling under at the jawline, with the few remaining wisps on top swept back like the gossamer wings of a dragonfly. Or I could spend hours each day maintaining an elaborate comb-over like the guy who sits in the old K-Car filled with newspapers and plastic hangers in the parking lot by the tennis courts.

It’s easy to laugh at these guys and their ill-conceived or simply insane attempts to deal with hair loss. In fact, bald guys are always easy targets for comedy. But it’s not so goddamn funny when you’re as self-absorbed as I am, and during your formative years relied on your handsomeness to fill in the gaps where your talent, skill, intellect, social instincts, and common sense failed you.

I was a major playa in grade school, with my long, flowing tresses and cavalier attitude toward cooties. I thought it would always be thus. Middle school was trickier due to my hormone-induced rage and refusal to be civil to anyone who didn’t share my enthusiasm for punk rock. By junior year though, I had modified my look and my attitude from angry freak to charming rogue, and the ladies dug it. All was right with the world.

But just as my spotty teenage complexion was clearing up, the whorl on the back of my head began unfurling, leaving openings where bits of scalp would glint through if proper dosages of Dippity-Do and Aquanet were not artfully deployed. There was plenty of raw material on top to create a calculatedly scruffy cascade over my forehead, but a heavy downpour or high wind would reveal my advancing widow’s peak; and heaven forefend I should be brightly backlit, because the outline of my very skull would become as visible as if an X-ray had been beamed through my melon.

During my third year of college (after a young lady I was dating said she couldn’t marry me because I was losing my hair, in response to which I was all first off, sister, ain’t nobody talkin’ about marryin’ nobody around here, and second of all, I have just as much hair as Sting), I invested all my hope and a goodly portion of my beer money in the new and wondrous snake-oil known as Minoxidil. After a year of treatment, my scalp was noticeably moister and shinier, but alas, the density of my mullet continued to wane.

I realize that it’s kind of funny, in a pathetic way, to imagine a twenty-to-thirty year old man muttering oaths at his image in the mirror while applying styling products to the small handful of fuzz on top of his head, especially when so many people—probably most people—have far graver matters to worry about. But think about how seriously we take the emotional damage people (especially young women) endure based on body image issues. And for most people, it’s possible to do something about their bodies. No diet or exercise could make me grow hair.

And if by chance I managed to go for more than a couple hours without thinking about how shitty my hair looked, some smartass buddy of mine would be sure to remind me that I was going bald. Thanks, pal. That is some * fresh* comedy material. Never saw it coming. (Actually, if someone would have tracked my various anxieties on a CAT-Scan or some other machine with electrodes that makes squiggly lines go across a screen, I think my hair-loss would have registered as a constant presence with occasional spikes, rather than something that came and went.) As with many aspects of male culture that I don’t really get, ribbing someone about their appearance, presumably to help promote the growth of the masculine force field against insecurity, did not have the intended effect.

I never spoke openly about my hair anxiety back then (still don’t, really, except for right now) because it seemed vain, frivolous, and downright unmanly. I sometimes complained to my mom in a lighthearted way that belied the depths of my misery, perhaps in search of sympathy, or maybe to make her feel guilty for not passing on the good hair gene from which every male in her family who came before me benefited (her dad died from a heart attack before he was fifty, but—Man!—what a head of hair!). Mom would say, “What? Who cares? Women don’t even notice stuff like that. I’ve never heard any woman talk about a guy’s hair.” I would allow myself to believe that she wasn’t just trying to make me feel better, and it would comfort me for an hour or so.

It also didn’t help that my dad’s prodigious mane just became more impressive as it silvered with age. The only culprit I could find in our family tree was my paternal grandfather: bald as an egg before he was forty, and perhaps partially because of that, compelled well into middle age to beat to a pulp anyone who challenged his status as toughest man in Havre, Montana. Although I was proud of almost any likeness I had to my folk-hero grandpa, I shook my fist at my family’s gene pool for giving me the head of a prizefighter and the disposition of a public accountant.

But a few years after I graduated from college, there was a glimmer of hope. Some observant scientist realized that men who were on the drug Finasteride for a prostate condition were developing luxurious coifs of Bon Jovian proportions! They re-branded the elixir as Propecia, and I started gobbling the little testosterone-inhibiting tablets like Mike‘n’Ikes. And lo, how my hair did thrive! At the very least, anyway, it stopped retreating.

Most men who take Propecia don’t feel any side effects, but a few guys will experience any number of a wide range of sexual problems including impotence, erectile dysfunction, or erections that last “indefinitely”(!). Oh, and they might grow breasts. But I ask you, wouldn’t a thick, luxurious pelt be worth those minor inconveniences? I thought so.

I didn’t experience any more sexual abnormalities than usual while taking Propecia for the next six years or so, and my cup-size mostly held steady, fluctuating just a bit when I gained or lost weight. My self-confidence increased, and space in my brain was freed up for other obsessions by the knowledge that even if my hair would never look like Johnny Depp’s circa “21 Jump Street,” it would never be any thinner than Sting’s.

Pre-Propecia, I probably spent ten hours a week cursing and lamenting my shameful condition. During the Propecia years, that particular strain of self-loathing was nearly eliminated. Even if my hair looked like shit, I knew that it was not going to get any worse.

While Propecia doesn’t present much risk for men who take it, any contact with it by pregnant women—even simply touching a broken tablet—is extremely likely to have devastating effects on the baby’s reproductive system. So when it came time to get to the business of having some babies, we couldn’t even risk keeping the stuff in the house. My hair had to take one for the team. Imagine a kid with the toxic mixture of ambiguous genitalia and his dad’s self-absorption and insecurity.

Once you stop taking the magic pills, your hair rapidly returns to the state it would have been in had you never started. Thus, the first months post-Propecia were like a cosmetic Flowers for Algernon: I was witness to my hair’s inevitable decline, and there was nothing I could do about it. But surprisingly this did not send me into a shame spiral. Perhaps because I was over forty, and hoping to be a father soon, baldness seemed more appropriate. Now, four years since I quit taking Propecia, and a year after the birth of our twin girls, my hair looks like I’m in the midst of a rough bout of chemotherapy.

Although I’m not presently obsessing (much) about it, I still need to face the fact that my hair looks like shite. When my duties as stay-at-home dad allow me to leave the house, I usually throw a baseball hat onto my ravaged pate. But when I prepare to teach every Monday and Wednesday evening, I’m confronted with a patchy, wispy mess that probably embarrasses my students to witness. To “style” it seems a farce, but to leave it unkempt produces the effect of a disheveled wino.

I know what you are thinking. Take it down to the wood. If the hair offends thee, shave it off. My wife thinks this drastic solution is unwarranted, probably because from her perspective, several inches below my chin, it doesn’t look that bad. I could go back on Propecia, but I’m not crazy about taking hormone-tampering meds if I don’t have to; and—who knows—we might want to try for a couple more sets of twins. But the prospect of a cleanly shaven head troubles me. I would feel vulnerable, like a naked mole rat cowering from the sun. I’m also not sure about how aesthetically pleasing the shape of my head is. I’m afraid I would look like a fish-fleshed alien.

In writing this, I didn’t mean to ask for advice, but I guess that’s partly what I’m doing. I really just thought it would be interesting to explore the crazy amount of anxiety I have had throughout my life concerning—of all things!—my hair. So there you have it. Instead of pursuing a “career” or fighting for a “cause,” I spent my twenties and thirties seething about the inequity of a world in which I was denied reaching my handsomeness potential by matters beyond my control. I suspect that other men share my anxiety. At least I hope they do, or else I really look like a narcissistic douche bag. And a balding one at that.

You can follow Beta Dad on his blog as well as at Daddy Dialectic. I highly recommend it.

One other thing I highly recommend is helping in the fight against the painful and potentially deadly autoimmune disease Juvenile Myositis. Please take a moment to vote for the CureJM Foundation as they are in the running to receive a $250K grant from Pepsi to fund research in putting an end to JM. And if you could, please share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. It's a simple click, click.


Hello Mr. Ambassador, Welcome To The Love Boat

So I've been given a new title--Mr. Ambassador. And just where is it that The Secretary of State is sending me off to? Liechtenstein? Tuvalu? Well, not quite. In fact the State Department has nothing to do with it, but I will be seeing some foreign countries. Okay, I'll stop being cryptic here if you promise not to hate me. I've been named an Ambassador by Carnival Cruise Ships (affiliate link), and yes, my family and I will be going on a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean later this month (some of you have already noticed the badge) .

This is one reason why everyone trying to hunt me down at BlogHer couldn't find me. With speaking gigs at The Modern Media Man Summit and The Type A Mom Conference coming up next month, another conference was just too much time away, and so the choice came down to drunken revelry in NYC (not entirely unappealing) or having drinks brought to me on a nice relaxing voyage through the tropics. Yeah. It was a tough decision, one made all the easier after my wife provided me with her 'objective' opinion on the matter.

The idea is that during the trip, I'll be tweeting and posting about how much fun we're having. Although, I'm not so sure the idea might backfire, as I lose all my friends and Lunchbox readers due to spite for me. As Home and Uncool remarked, and I quote, "Boy. Your life really sucks, Mattocks." (by the way, click and vote here to help cure JM)

Well, I guess so, but if it's any consolation, I'm not good with heights; small spaces make me hyperventilate; and the idea of riding around on a large chunk of metal (metal is known to sink according to scientific studies) on an even larger body of water makes me a tad nervous. My wife, however, assured me that she felt the same way on her first cruise. "Besides," she added, "after a few drinks you forget all about it." Funny, I recall that being the same thought I would have every time I would break up with someone.

That's not to imply trouble with the wifey. Quite the opposite actually. I was never able to give her a honeymoon, so this hopefully makes up for it. She deserves it.

So, look out people. I've never been on a cruise, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be something like this:

If you are so inclined, you can follow along on Carvnival's Twitter handle (@CarnivalCruise) and their Facebook page. And of course, per FTC guidelines I'm supposed to disclose that Carnival is providing me and the family with a cruise--I think I said that already. Oh, but did I mention we're getting a huge cabin with a balcony? Never mind. Forget I brought that last part up.


'Tis the Season (For School Shopping)

August is upon us and with it comes the beginning of another school year. Hard to believe summer went by so fast—that’s what we say when making small talk with the other parents waiting in line to purchase washable markers, safety scissors, and non-toxic (edible) glue required for the first day of classes. My five kids will be spanning grades from kindergarten to middle school which translates into a lot of preparation beforehand, and this year more so than last.

Because we moved, my stepdaughters will be attending a new elementary school—one that requires uniforms. Actually, it’s a dress code, but still, my wife and I anticipated balking from the girls, especially Allie who takes her appearance way more seriously than any eight year-old should. Not so as it turns out.

Read the rest here at Houston Family Magazine

By the way, there's still time to register for the Modern Media Man Summit, September 9 - 11th in Atlanta. If you come, look me up--first round of drinks is on me!


Gandhi And The Ghosts Of 3 AM

It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep. My head is buzzing, the aftereffects of too many Starbucks espresso shots and an extra dose of Adderall. The queasiness in my stomach caused by plastic-like strands of strawberry Twizzlers and handfuls of gravelly trail mix that I’ve eaten throughout the day isn’t helping the way I feel. In the past forty-eight hours, I’ve spent more than thirty of them driving round-trip from Houston to Illinois in order to drop my three boys back off with their mother.

It’s quiet now just as it will be several hours later save for the curious footsteps of my two stepdaughters coming down the stairs for looking for breakfast and cartoons. This is a drastic contrast to the boys whose rambunctious behavior remained constant from the time they tumbled out of bed at dawn until the moment they flung themselves back onto their mattresses that evening. All that energy translated into a lot of noise, and without them here the vacuum of silence seems all that more pronounced.

Handing the boys back over to their mother proved to be as hard as I had expected. It’s always hard, but more so this time given how much closer we had become over the past several weeks. Recalling the number of occasions when the boys each expressed their desire to live with me only added to the emotional turmoil churning inside. Given what they had shared with me about their home life, it’s easy to understand why.

They are forever bickering with their stepbrother and older stepsister who lost their mother to cancer then saw her replaced in less than a year by my ex-wife. The animosity over this is palpable, particularly with the their stepsister since she not only watched her mom die, but she did so as a young teenager, a stage when daughters need their mothers the most. Instead she inherited the neighbor lady and three squirrely stepbrothers.

This is what I remind the boys of when they complain about how mean their stepsister is to them, but they are too upset to care. And besides, their stepsister makes a perfect villain for them to direct their own change-induced anger towards.

Troublesome as this is, it concerns me less than does Mr. X, the name I’ve given the boys’ stepfather who I have yet to meet. In my Ex’s words, such an introduction would be “inappropriate,” an assessment that ignores both expert advice as well as the “ridiculous” notion that a father might want to know what sort of man his sons are being exposed to.

To date I have kept my fears and suspicions in check, not wanting to spark the powder keg relationship between my ex and me, that already sits tenuously close to the flames of volatile emotion. In fact, as I’ve familiarized myself with the issues of blended families, co-parenting and parental alienation, I’ve adopted a non-hostile Gandhi-esque approach to dealing with the boys’ mother.

And as a by-product of this, I have avoided speaking disparagingly of her in public forums. Some have advised me that my attitude here is too passive, and yet, I’ve gained more ground with her via this method than through the heated confrontations we’ve had the past.

Gandhi summed this up better when he said:

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

I have put my faith in the belief that refraining from confrontational outbursts even when I was right would pay off in the long run. When my ex gives me detailed advice on how to handle certain situations with the boys, rather than pull out my driver’s license to show her my date of birth along with a quick reference to my full-time parenting gig, I instead just nod my head, allowing her to enjoy the illusion of control. It's not that important to feel right for a brief second when there is more at stake. After my boys expressed their unsolicited feeling with me, though, I have lost confidence in this tenet as well as in the assurance that they are safe.

At dinner one night, the boys announced that Mr. X does not love or care for them. Yes, he puts on a good act when their mother is around, but the show’s over once she’s gone. They've told me this before, and I used to take it with a grain of salt. Being a stepfather is hard. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back by any means. The number of mistakes I’ve made with my stepdaughters is directly proportional to the ten years of therapy ahead of them.

My point rather is that, as a stepdad, you instantaneously "step" into a role where you have to love children you don’t really know, and you have to let them into your life unconditionally, or I should say a stepfather has to do this if he intends to have a positive impact on their lives. But even for the most compassionate of men, this can be a difficult process and it takes time to build that relationship.

This is why I’ve always given Mr. X the benefit of the doubt. However, when one of the boys tacked on that Mr. X doesn’t even like his own kids, my tolerance and understand shifted to simply doubt. Doubt further justified when my six year-old told me later that mommy and Mr. X think I - their father - am stupid. When a man doesn’t want stepchildren, they will know. When he doesn’t want his own children, then it’s all the more pronounced. When that man belittles his stepchildren’s father; he is a coward.

That my children prefer to live with me over their mother may appear to be vindicating, a small victory in my favor; however, it is not. There are no winners in these situations. The intricacies on many emotional and psychological levels are far more complex, and splitting the boys up between their mother and me as they turn thirteen is not a healthy option. The only practical route for the moment is to live as near to my sons as possible, a goal I’ve been working on unsuccessfully for the past few years.

In mentioning my attempts to relocate, I’ve sometimes felt like a high school Calculus teacher when people respond with offhand remarks like, “I don’t see why you just don’t move,” or “you should get an attorney.” Yes, Suzie and Johnny, you are correct. Now, show me your work, and by “show me your work” I am alluding to the convenient way in which these people have ignored minor considerations such as a job and money before arriving at the obvious conclusion.

Then again maybe I am not trying hard enough. Maybe my passive resistance has, over time, morphed into a complacency masked by the inability to find an easy or conventional solution that would get me closer to my boys. This is the question I asked myself over and over during a fourteen-hour drive through seven states.

Now, at 3 AM, an hour when ghost have felt as real to me as the bed I laid half awake in, I am haunted by this thought as well as something else my oldest son realized the night before we left. “Now that I’ve seen a real family,” he said, “I know that Mom and Mr. X have been lying to us.”

I have no money and no conventional job. I have nothing at my disposal except for these words. Regardless, I must act because as Gandhi also stated: “Action expresses priorities.”

The priorities here are clear.

PS. If anyone knows of opportunities in the Chicago area my resume can be found here. Many thanks in advance.

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