Monday, February 25, 2008

Service and Servitude

On Saturday we took our boys to a family friend's birthday party. It was held at a facility that does catered birthdays as well as daycare on the weekdays. About halfway through the festivities I picked up Jamie to change him and found that the only place suitable to do so was in one of the daycare classrooms. As neither of our boys has been in daycare I've never actually been in such a room - and I have to say, it sort of spooked me. The cribs were placed in perfect rows, the tables with openings cut into them where the babies are placed for meals, the push cart that could hold the entire group. The smiley pictures and drawings adorning the room were, to me, a very thin veneer of the Machievellian persona of such a place.

Not a very happy picture I paint, is it? The reason I'm writing about this is to explore more about my personal reaction to the daycare place than the place itself. Who knows? Maybe it's the most wonderful place to have ones kids. Maybe the teaching staff is fantastic. The point is that it dredged up in vivid detail my own personal judgements about daycare. Deep down, my emotional response is that a place such as this is bad. That kids should not be stuck in places like this - where they are being groomed to become employees in the cold corporate culture as their parents are currently. But who am I to judge? I suppose I could say the same about nannies and sitters as well, except that my wife and I employ a fabulous sitter who takes care of our kids a few days of the week so we can do other things. My rational reaction to sitters and daycare, etc, is that if they are good and really care about the kids, then utilizing them in order to get other stuff done can be a tremendous asset.

Let me be absolutely clear about this: it would be presumptive and foolhardy to look down at a dad who works full time and because he doesn't spend as much time with his kids as I do. Everyone has different circumstances and limitations and most people, I believe, really want to do what's best for their kids.

So, with all of this said, why am I really writing about this today? Because, when it comes down to it, this is an exploration into to what extent we are in service and to what extent we are in servitude in our lives. What's the distinction between service and servitude? For me, it's an awareness or lack thereof of ones choices and actions in the context of our living in our society. I wrote at the top paragraph about my feelings about children being groomed to be employees but do I think jobs are bad? Certainly not! As I recall from studying Plato's The Republic from High School, society works when everyone learns a "techne" or some technical skill that can benefit themselves and the other members. So, I'm not condemning the idea of work. I think it's important for each and every one of us to serve society in a conscious manner. Being in service is a good thing. My hope of course is that this film will be of service. I also consider myself to be of service to my family in a myriad of ways. Service is good.

What isn't good is servitude. When people feel like they have no choice. When people are so strung out in their lives that they either don't have the time or don't have the willpower or interest enough to take a step back and look at how their lives really are and what they could do about it. The phrase 'Ratrace' comes to mind (perhaps more accentuated after watching Ratatouille over the weekend:) Let me also toss in one of my favorite quotes:

"If you don't have a plan for your life, somebody else does."

The point of all of this is for us as fathers, mothers, men and women, as individuals of value, we need not just to serve but at the same time to actively seek to improve our lives and the lives of everyone else. We must continually question what is going on, whether we are really in service or servitude and think deeply and openly about how things can be improved. Hopefully, we can find out the answers together.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Are Moms and Dads Really Ready For Change?

A few days back I was talking with a working mom who is newly pregnant. She's someone I really like and respect. Anyway, I asked her what she intended to do regarding maternity leave and she told me she expected that she would take a few weeks off from work. I then asked about her husband and it became quickly apparent that, aside from his taking a few days off, they hadn't really thought about it. I asked if she knew about the Family Medical Leave Act and also about the proven benefits of having a father involved as much as possible early on. What she said surprised me:

"You know, I don't think I'd want him around the house all the time like that."

This comes from a college educated woman who deeply loves her husband. She's also someone I would've have thought would be open to getting him more involved.

It's made me reevaluate my thinking a bit. Are people really open to change - even if the benefits to them and their family would be tremendous? Or are most people just satisfied with complaining about their unbalanced work/family lives and not willing to take that extra step to improve it?

It seems to me a pretty major truth that getting dads involved in the discussion about parental leave, flexible schedules, etc, would help further these causes. But do moms really want them in the discussion? Certainly, there are some forward thinking people who would definitely say 'Yes' but what about the majority?

My goal in making this film is to bring people together and to educate and inspire with new ways to get fathers more involved with their families - something everyone can benefit from; but what it comes down to is this: are moms and dads really interested in stepping out of their comfort zones to push this along?

I'm making The Evolution of Dad regardless. That's beside the point. But my greater goal is to help be a catalyst for change. If you agree with this intention it'd be great to hear from you. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When Life Creeps In...

This morning my four-year-old son, Charlie, wanted to be in his room, playing by himself without the nuisance of his fifteen-month-old brother and he has that right. The only problem was that when Charlie shut the door he didn't seem to notice that Jamie's tender little fingers were in the crease.

I was a few feet away, taking the dishes out of our dishwasher when the shrieking erupted. To experience sweet little Jamie in such pain nearly killed me, the wave of emotion riding through me was so intense. There's nothing more horrible than experiencing one's own child in pain.

The good news is that Jamie's hand was only a little cut and bruised, but man was that a moment.

This has kind of been my life lately. I usually reserve this blog for the positive, the insightful and the productive, but once in a while, what the hell. Life creeps in. It certainly has for us these past few weeks.

My family and I are in the process of pulling up stakes. This has required us to ship out about a third of our stuff to make our apt look 'bigger' and to allow a constant stream of visitors into our place to take a gander. My wife, who is an interior designer as well as a disciple of all those reality TV home improvement shows, has figured out to almost scientific precision how our apartment should be presented. It's a funny reality we're selling. Hand towels we aren't allowed to use. The high chair stowed away in the closet. Everything perfect. I mean, the overall message we're trying to convey to the prospective couples, mainly city professionals, who are all thinking of moving to this apartment and starting a family is : "Hey, you too can live in this pristine apartment with kids and no mess." Yeah, right. Of course, prepping the apartment into this state of being every time someone wants to come to see it with two energized boys mucking about is a little stressful. And when we're not doing this funky routine, the rest of the time is spent house hunting for ourselves. What a nutty song and dance.

Add to this is the new wake-up schedule of our two boys. I swear they must have a secret pow-wow every night before bedtime because invariably one of them will insist on waking up at an ungodly hour in the morning while the other will sleep in. The next morning they'll reverse their schedules. It's like tag teaming daddy every morning, which is making me go to sleep earlier and earlier as a result. I've been so foggy-eyed these past several weeks, trying to focus on the project at hand is certainly a challenge.

Anyway, there's my rant. The good news is that we have a serious offer on our apartment and in this market that's a good thing. As for the project...Stay tuned. The fog is (hopefully, please God!) starting to lift.

Attention: Dads Who Home School Their Kids

For those of you dads out there who are home schooling your kids, the below note from a woman, named Ponnie Cousins, might be of interest to you:

I am currently working on an ebook to encourage and help single parents home school. I have been gathering stories and sadly to say they are all from women. My goal is to have a finished product that any single parent in the USA (male or female) can use as a viable tool to help them get started and know that they are not alone.

Having a couple of stories from dads would be a plus. A single dad would be like hitting the mother load of course, but a SAHD who is married would also be very helpful.

She can be reached at:


Friday, February 15, 2008

A Dad's Tale

One of the great rewards of making this project is to have so many fantastic people reaching out to us with their thoughts, their stories and their their determination to improve their families and the world. Below is pasted a note we recently received from a dad named Rich. We found it to be inspirational. Thanks for sharing, Rich. Here it is...

A Promise

I used to think I knew everything about myself. I figured I was a fairly simple person that knew where I was and where I was going.

Then I became a dad….not thinking or even knowing what being a dad really meant. The best memory I will most likely ever have is when I heard the doctor say “I see girl parts”. Seeing my daughter for the first time was having all my needs and wants met at the same time. When Ava was born – A switch clicked inside – and I really knew who I was…Ava’s Dad!
Minutes, hours, days, months and even a year and some months have gone by. Every day Ava teaches me things about the world and myself. My profession is a teacher… but I will never be able to teach to others like Ava teaches to me. A look, smile, cry tell me so much.

Feelings never meant so much to me. I want her to be happy, safe, smart…I want her to be everything she wants to be.
Funny thing – this normal every day person was given a tremendous gift. Not sure why I was chosen – but I know I have to nurture, teach and keep safe our precious little girl. Ava is going to grow up and do great things in life.. it is my job to make sure she has every opportunity.

When Ava was born, we figured she would go to daycare and we would return to our normal lives. My wife had 3 months for maternity leave and then I had the summer off. The plan was Ava would go into daycare when she was 5 months old. We visited many daycare or should I say “learning centers” before agreeing on one close to our home. As the day grew closer – I felt something just wasn’t right.

The day before Ava’s first day of school I went out and bought her a new outfit. It then hit me..I am sending my 5 month old baby to stay with strangers during the most important time of day. With this in my mind.. I went to work that day. I called the “learning center” to make sure Ava was doing ok on her first day. The worker informed me Ava was not at the one dropped her off. Honestly, my first feeling was relief, I figured my wife changed her mind. I called my wife to make sure … and was informed that she dropped Ava off about an hour earlier. In a panic I left work and headed to the center – on the way – as I was calling 911 – the center called and said they made a mistake.. Ava was there. I then realized that I had made the mistake. When I picked her up that day I made a single promise to her – I would devote all my energy for the rest of my life to protect and care for her.
We called on all our relatives to take week long shifts to watch Ava. The hope was my wife would be able to leave her job and stay home. Unfortunately, we are not wealthy people and my wife makes the money in the family. So, I left my teaching job and began the most important job I will ever have.

One problem was solved- Ava was no longer in day care. Another problem began – we needed more money. I decided to try and start my own business to make ends meet. After many long nights I decided to start a poop scoop business. It sounds ridiculous now, but I was desperate to make it work. I would go to a vet office and pick up dog poop. The worse part is I was doing it for free – well they would let me advertise in their offices.

The business was not working, money was running short, and my promise was slipping away. Knowing that failure was not an option I kept looking for work. Searching the internet I came across an online teaching job – interviewed and after a part-time stint – I was hired full-time! I usually work when Ava is napping in the afternoon – then stay up until 3-4am in the morning finishing my work. It sounds like a lot but I know I will want these days back when I am older.

Ava and I now spend our days together in our own crazy little world. She loves music… we dance to old records… loves to watch the record go round and round. We go to the record store and search for old “Who”, Neil Young, Tom Petty or Zeppelin records. We go to the beach, zoo, park, playgroups, theme parks, library, Gymboree, baseball, basketball, football games.. we go everywhere.

Funny thing is I feel a lot of guilt. I wish my wife was able to stay home and experience Ava. It seems more natural for the mother to stay home during the day. When we are at the playgroup or playground – and I am the only dad – I can feel out of place. The moms would probably approach my wife and Ava would have more friends.

Since I have been home with Ava I have noticed other dad’s asking a lot of questions. One dad has decided he is going to stay with his daughter. Maybe the single promise I made to Ava can grow to other dads and their daughters….

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Daughter Who Wanted To Be A Dad

We're always on the lookout for people to help with the project who are incredibly passionate about fatherhood. Meriel Shire is one such person. She grew up under the care of a divorced father and their bond is something very, very special.

"When I was a little girl and I learned that I couldn't be a father when I grew up, I was really upset," Meriel remembers.

Meriel shared with me how devoted her dad has been over the years. When she was going through puberty he took her bra shopping. They would have very candid conversations about sex and other things that most fathers would squirm at. Meriel shared how her father became a surrogate dad for many of her friends who had poor or non-existent relations with their own actual fathers.

In a time where so many daughters don't really know their dads, it's a real pleasure to hear accounts like Meriel's. Listening to Meriel and others, it becomes so clear how much potential the role of fatherhood can have.

So, welcome aboard, Meriel. We're so glad to have you involved in the project!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The #1 Reason Why Dads Get Involved

I've mentioned Jessica DeGroot from The Third Path Institute in these annals before and here I am doing so once again. Jessica is someone who truly understands the larger issues of what is happening regarding balancing family and work and I am ever so grateful for her contributions to the project. The reason I'm waxing poetic about her is primarily due to an email she recently sent. We had been discussing some of the factors that help dads get more involved with their families. Here's #1 on her list:

"I think the number one reason men in professional jobs get more involved with family is because of the mother's attitude - for some reason she feels very strongly about having the dad involved."

Jessica's assessment seems to cut to the core of the issue. If moms really want dads to get more involved with the family then they have to be not only willing to give up some of the power in their 'separate sphere' of the home, but they must expect that involvement. If this expectation isn't there then the likelihood, especially given the current attitude of most companies, is that most dads will fall back into the traditional role of detached breadwinner.

Now, the good news is that we are in a current state of flux as to perceptions about what men and women can do in areas they were previously unwelcome. Hillary Clinton's bid for the presidency is of course the most visible current example of this. Unfortunately, there's still a long way to go. Most moms and dads have a hard time with difference. Their identities are so wrapped around being the breadwinner, the supermom or what have you that they aren't willing to let go enough to let their partners in - even though doing so would make for a healthier and happier situation.

Author Julie Shields wrote in her book, How To Avoid The Mommy Trap, about how important it is for couples to sit down and really discuss these issues before having kids. This is a team effort and the more that men and women are willing to let go and be more inclusive, the more involved everyone will be and the better off we'll all be.

Hang in there, Pat!

I just learned that one of the project's contributors and a really great guy, Pat Gagnon, barely survived a horrible blaze that struck his apartment in Hoboken last week. Pat managed to get out of his three story apartment building but, sadly, his roommate was not so fortunate. Pat is currently resting in VT with his family and we want to wish him a quick recovery from such an earthshaking event. Hang in there, Pat.