Father’s Day ain’t what it used to be…

Father’s Day, a day meant to celebrate Dad and show our appreciation for how hard he works to provide for us,or just to show him how much he is loved. As a Dad myself, I have always held the belief that a day like this should be earned, rather than expected – extreme, I know. You see, to me, there is a clear delineation between being called a Father or Dad versus being a Father or Dad. One is just a title whereas the other is a commitment; a way of life. So if you prescribe to my thesis, then Father’s Day has a completely different connotation. Father’s Day becomes more of a day that simply highlights how much family means to us – in other words, Father’s Day is more about giving to our families, rather than receiving gifts or accolades. Taking all of that into account, Father’s Day was amazing – for the most part. I got to spend quality time with the family, doing different activities and of course, taking the mandatory trip to Disneyland. My Father’s Day unfortunately hit a sour note, when I experienced a situation that reminded me that our Dad “culture” is in need of some serious tune up, especially on a day like this.

It all started off with what was supposed to be a light-hearted Father’s Day “Olympics” hosted by my daughter’s preschool. The “intent” of the day was to participate in several Olympic style events along with our children. I hate to say it like this but, as things typically do when you get a bunch of guys together in a competitive environment, the day quickly spiraled out of control as some Dads began to take the events way too seriously – which all culminated with the final event. The gold medal event was an obstacle course that consisted of several events: 25-yard dash while carrying your child, 10 jumping jacks, 15-second squat, jungle gym run thru, 10 yard skip, a hurdle and then a last 25-yard dash while holding your child – whew, it even tires me out just to write that! Well, I am proud to say that my daughter and I won our first heat! But, during the championship round, it was clear things had taken an ugly turn.

The first thing I noticed, as the winning Dads from each heat lined up for the championship round, the immediate and border-line inappropriate trash talking…in front of our children. As the apparent voice of reason, I quickly retorted, “c’mon now, this is about the kids, lets keep it classy” to which I received no reply. We were off! I fit in nicely in second place as we entered our second event, the 10 jumping jacks. As we got the station, the lead Dad accidentally skipped the station and was on to the third. Upon realizing his error, he quickly returned to the second station but by this time, the rest of us Dads were already on our 10th jumping jack. So what does this guy do? He rejoins our group and yells out “Ten” while doing one jumping jack – so now this guy is a trash talking cheater! As we proceed through the other stations, this guy and I are now neck in neck, tied for first place. As we approach the second to last event, the hurdle, let’s just say that I received a nudge which caused me to temporarily lose my balance – but I still was tied for first. We reach the final event, the dreaded 25-yard dash while carrying our little ones – I am completely out of gas. I muster whatever energy I have left and pick up my daughter and begin to head towards the finish line. At this point, I am solidly comfortable with my apparent second place finish as this guy now has a good 10 yard gain on me. But it’s what happens next that quite literally shocked me and stopped me in my tracks.

Now although I am a believer in what goes around – comes around, because this involved a child, I really hope in this instance, this wasn’t the case. About 10 yards from the finish line, this Dad turns around and gives me a look that I can only describe as a taunt, as if he were very pleased with himself and his first place finish. As soon as he turned back around to face the finish line – he totally eats it by tripping over his own foot and landing on top of his daughter! Seeing it again in my mind’s eye – only in slow motion – it was a very scary sight. My daughter and I immediately stop to pull the Dad off his screaming daughter. Dad is in a daze and the child has bumps and scrapes and is starting to bleed, I couldn’t help but looking at this whole situation from a 30,000 foot level. Was the trash talking, cheating and taunting worth this outcome? And worse yet, what type of example was he setting for his daughter. And just as worse, the damage control I now I have to do with my own daughter who has witnessed all of this!

You see, this Dad was completely blinded by the idea of winning, that he put the safety of his own daughter at risk. And, in a way, this incident is a metaphor for some of us Dads. We can be so consumed by our own goals, desires and needs, that the needs of our children and families often take a backseat. It’s only when we begin to the change the paradigm of what it means to be a Father, that we begin to realize that being one is much more than simply being called one. It’s about cherishing this wonderful and unique opportunity to positively affect the lives of those whom we truly love.

Even Superman gets a day off…right?

As young children, our Fathers (or male figures in our lives) served as our template of virility. They were the strongest, smartest, funniest, most athletic and most handsome men we ever knew. Then, somewhere along in our childhood timeline, some of us come to realize that those traits we so admired when we were children, have either changed or were seen through an innocent and naive lens and were never really there at all. But some of us still see these men in the same light (if not more so) as we did when we were children.

I have often wondered about those of us who fall in the latter of these two groups. You’ve heard people like this typically say (usually with some bravado in their tone), “My dad is the (fill in the blank) person I have ever known!” Really?!? It’s a wonderful sentiment – and it seems like something any good son or daughter would say – but let’s be real, a vast majority of Dads aren’t competing in any Mr. Olympian competitions, or debating Steven Hawking, or in the NBA Playoffs, or hosting open mike night at The Laugh Factory. Be that as it may, you still hear people practically canonizing the men in their lives – I even do the same thing when talking about my Dad!

The source of my wonder comes from trying to understand what makes us say these things in the first place. I mean, any objective on-looker might have a completely different opinion about “our” men – but we’ll stick to our guns, “don’t you say anything bad about my daddy!” We aren’t born this way but we do develop these feelings early on in life. Who knows how early these sentiments form but maybe it develops the first time we playfully throw our children up and catch them or, they see us doing something rather benign and they laugh like it’s the funniest thing they have seen in their lives, or better yet, our children ask us why something works the way it does and we are able to explain it with ease – maybe all of this contributes to the “legend”. For some dads it might be completely legit – they might have high IQ’s  can dunk a basketball without jumping and are comedic geniuses – but for the rest of us, we do the best with what we have and hope that we can keep our facade up long enough so that our children will keep us on that pedestal!

While I continue to contemplate the origin and reasons behind all of this, I obsess over the hope and dream that when my children are older, they will talk about me with such reverence and admiration – which is partly why our recent experience with moving to a new home had me incredibly anxious. Several years ago, my family moved to a new yet familiar town, to be closer to the Grandparents. It was a calculated decisions with enormous payoffs for my daughter – it was a welcomed move. The actual physical moving of our household items, although laborious, was pretty standard. My 70 year old Father-in-law led a motley crew of family volunteer movers including myself, some uncles and some cousins. We rented a truck, my Father in law expertly loaded it and at the end of the weekend, our powerhouse team of rugged, athletic and dangerously handsome men, completed the job!

Flash-forward to a couple of weeks ago while planning our most recent move – my how things have changed. Most significantly is the loss of my Father-in-law (aka Master Mover Expert Level) – his guidance and leadership was sorely missed. And that crew of young and debonair movers? Knee surgeries, degenerative discs, arthritis, fatigue and lets be honest, a few dozen pounds – the Dream Team was more like the Convalescent Team – in only a couple of years, we completely fell apart! So I decided to do something, that on the surface made complete and logical sense to me, but on the inside I struggled with immensely – I HIRED MOVERS! *GASP* Now before you begin laughing at the thought of me having such trepidation over hiring movers, let me try to explain.

On the one hand, the ability to physically muster a household move is degraded, so help had to come from somewhere – why not hire “professionals” (I use that term loosely)? But on the other hand, deciding to hire movers felt like I was conceding a certain part of my man essence (hmm, that sounds weird) – and yes, I did have a brief moment where I thought to myself, “Will my daughter look back at this moment in Dad history and knock me down a peg or two?” At one point I posted on Facebook about how lame I felt sitting back and watching the move take place. It wasn’t the best of feelings for sure and I just couldn’t resist loading whatever boxes I could and that my back would allow.

It wasn’t until I reflected on the overwhelming support I received for hiring movers and the sheer disdain for moving that we all share, that I realized that there was nothing wrong with hiring movers. My Dad rep did not take a bruising, the movers actually provided me with the opportunity to tend to more pressing matters, and my family was spared from unnecessary amounts of inconvenience – and that’s what mattered most to me. You see, I think some Dads put the weight of the world on their shoulders because we feel we need too – we aren’t dads or men, if we don’t. But the real key is knowing when that pressure is appropriate and when it is not. So maybe that’s the key to Dad “longevity” – not how strong, smart, funny, and athletic you are but more about how you use what you’ve got and do whats best for your family.

 

A donkey and an elephant walk into a bar…

While watching the Sunday morning political round tables with my daughter – which has sort of become “our” thing, my little 4 year old made a very astute observation. She says, in only a tone that I can describe as annoyance, “why is President Obama on every channel?” Now this could be her own way of telling me I have a habit of flipping the channels too often – but what dad doesn’t, am I right? But it got me thinking, yeah she’s right. This has been one of the most contentious national elections I have ever experienced and the whole thing makes me feel like this little girl wishing for it to be over.

I have always had a love of politics which was first fostered in me as a young child and what ultimately convinced me to choose Political Science as my college major. When I was about 10 or 11, my dad ran for President of his Police Officer’s Union. Although I don’t remember what is platform was or what campaign promises he might have made, I do remember, quite vividly in fact (which if you know me, you know that’s a feat in and of itself), participating in campaign calls, walking the precinct and handing out flyers and eventually accompanying my dad to the polling location. Although this was the first, it wouldn’t be the last time I participate in such a campaign, but what struck me in particular about these experiences wasn’t the development of my political identity or ideology, but rather the value of civic responsibility – being connected and present.

I learned the invaluable lesson that as a citizen, I had a duty to serve my country by being involved. Furthermore, with my dad winning the election, I got a front row seat in witnessing how a person can make a difference in their community. I think ultimately, it’s this since of service to one’s community and country that led me to serving in the military. As much as I value that experience, in a way, I am glad I was not exposed to nor remember (most likely the latter) what campaign promises my dad might have made, if he kept them or what ideology he promoted. I believe, when it comes to politics, my parents provided an environment where I could develop my own political ideology. That isn’t to say that their beliefs and convictions did not have an impact on me, but I think we as parents need to be careful, especially in this politically charged climate. Like Chris Rock (parental advisory for language) points out, we are all a little bit of everything.

I think it’s a good thing to have your political convictions and to share them with your children but, like with all things, in moderation. To me, we do injustice to our children when we bombard them with visceral political rhetoric – whether it be from our own conversations with others or from the pundits on television – they are learning lessons about our political discourse that can possibly plant seeds of political disenchantment. I think about my own experiences and had I been exposed to the political environment that exist today, my thoughts about being involved might be a lot different. I do believe in exposing children to the civic responsibility aspect of these elections and I think one way we as parents can foster that sensibility is by talking to our children about voting and taking them with us to the polling place. I plan on doing this with my daughter and it’s my hope that I will be able to impart in her that voting is a way that we exercise our citizenship.

We have talked briefly about the concept and I am hopeful the Election special on PBSKids will help hammer the message home. Being exposed to countries where there is no political freedom – or any freedom for that matter – I have gained a new found respect for the ability to vote. And I think as dads and the “molders” of the future leaders of this country, we have the responsibility to foster civic responsibility in our children. Do you plan on taking your children with you to vote? How have you talked to your children about the election? Add a comment and let me know.