Welcome to Portraits of Fatherhood: We’re telling the story of today’s dads.
There is no better place to witness the changing roles of men and women in the larger culture than through the lens of parenthood. But rather than speculate on what and how contemporary fathers do what they do, we’d like to bring you portraits of the dads themselves. In their own words. Would you like to be interviewed for this feature? See the end of the post for details.
HOMETOWN South Orange, NJ
ON THE WEB BanjoPress.com: home of “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” and other books for dogs
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Three
DAY JOB Alarm clock, cook, caterer, plumber, electrician, painter, carpenter, writer, artist, nurse, cannon, minister of defense, seamstress, upholsterer, maid, driver, teacher, coach, couch, performance artist, ditch digger, eye candy, wheel barrel, submarine, psychologist, philanthroper, jock strap, dancer, brick layer, trampoline, singer, swashbuckler, intercom, secretary, snowman, pet, scientist, interior decorator, decanter, exaggerator, distractor, enabler, magician, penguin, lint brush, napkin, tidy bowl man.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK What children’s book is a favorite in your house and why? What book has made a great impact on you or your kids? Was there/ is there a story that was passed down from generation to generation?
My favorite children’s book is the one we didn’t just read and certainly not that one they picked over and over again when they were four. My kids are “yard sale rich” and one of the easiest scores at yard sales is books. I would say that near half the books we get I’d rather shred than ever read again. That’s not quite right. If I shred them they’d still exist. I’d like to burn them. I can hardly believe what gets published, it makes me cringe.
I’m not really convinced that, especially at a young age, my children are truly capable of having a favorite. It seems that when they were younger the kids tended towards books that were closest to them; any major repetition came about mainly because the book was at the top of the pile or they remembered it from the previous few days.
Once I was sick of the easy access book, I only had to put it further away for them to virtually forget that it existed. Some books I put very far away, Nova Scotia if you must know.
Regardless, we read every night and often at other times during the day. Dahl, Suess and Silverstein are always favorites for me because they generally don’t bore me entirely; this is also true with some of the old nursery rhymes which I enjoy singing hillbilly style, making bedtime a virtual hoedown.
I can’t imagine that any single book has made a “great impact” on my children. What has made an impact is the consistency in which books are a part of their lives. I’ve often heard people talk about books that changed their lives and I can only think that something had to be really wrong with their lives before they read it and after reading it their brains must have become (or gone back to being) amazingly stagnant. This is often reflected in a total lack of dynamics in their personalities. They are nearly as interesting today as they were the day they finished reading that book.
As a child I was not read to. There have been no stories passed down. What impacted me in terms of developing a love for books was a sixth-grade reading teacher that introduced me to stories written with me in mind, stories like the “The Pigman” and “The Outsiders”, which I found thrilling, and which started me off on a lifetime of reading. Though I would never say “The Outsiders” greatly impacted my life. What impacted my life was the introduction to reading itself.
As an adult I fill the house with words from many, many books as well as from a constant drooling banter dribbling out of my mouth hole. Much of what I express to my children is a fairy tale rendition of our daily lives. I find it impossible to imagine that any one thing can affect us so greatly that we cling to it, not when the world is so large. The most interesting thing is always around the next corner.
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
As a “Starving Artist,” I can starve anytime and anyplace I like, which allows me the good fortune of getting fat while starving at home with my children. My wife works a 3am to 11am shift. So I rise with the children, send them off to school and then take care of the chores around the house and/or make feeble attempts at getting my work done. When my wife comes home, we have lunch and she takes a nap; from there it’s whatever we think is important on that day – a short bit of time, a couple hours maybe, before she is off to meet the youngest at his bus stop. Then our life switches to kids kids kids. We get them to and from their activities and appointments. We help them through their homework and settle in for an early dinner (wife has to eat early cause early is when she falls asleep). After the news and Simpsons, my wife goes to bed and I run the kids through some extra academics before story time and a song ends their day.
Basically, even with a master’s degree of my own, I could never compete with what my wife makes, but I have always felt strongly that parents should raise their own kids. In our case, given potential cash flows and to be honest, temperament – I am the relaxed to her anxious — I am the logical choice to be there for the kids. I don’t want someone I wouldn’t even be friends with becoming a major influence in my children’s lives. I want my children’s bad habits and idiosyncrasies coming from me, not a hired hand. So we’ve made sacrifices.
We bought a house that needs lots of work, which I do. We buy things, couches, end tables, lamps, you name it; if it comes into our house, it needs work and I put that work in. We buy second hand when we can, drink from puddles and eat the bugs in the trees, but it works. Sure my kids have the most bugs in their teeth, but they also have a loving parent that is there for them around the clock and whom, they thoroughly believe, knows what they are up to at any given moment, making them better behaved than most children.
Now I know that we are lucky, that we are able to pull off a modern version of the old fashion family and not everyone, especially not single parents, can do this. But I also believe that many people could do with less and would find that they get so much more out of their family.
Life is short, there are only so many things we ever truly have, one of the things we have is family.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
My worst parenting moment is the moment my alarm clock goes off in the morning and I realize that my dreams are not my real life, poof, there goes the girls, poof, there goes the money, poof, there goes the donkey in the tutu, damn, I have to make breakfast.
But really, what is my worst parenting moment? I’m not sure my life divides that way. I have a 6, 9 and 17 year old and moments seem to add up to moments and where I am is still where I am. There’s anger and frustration, but they are always balanced by fun and accomplishment. I don’t think I have a “The time I was a bad daddy” story. I’ve never passed out on a kid or beat my wife using the youngest as a club. I’ve never left the kid on top of the car “by accident” or drooled on their best friend’s mom (or dad for equality sake). I’m not saying I’m anywhere near perfect.
I’ve hurt my kids “accidentally,” but never more than a bruise and usually from me being a big lug during play time. I’ve made my kids cry, but never so much that they didn’t dry (let’s face it; crybaby is a term for a reason). I’ve thrown my kids in the air and forgotten to catch them. I’ve taken them on snipe hunts, but they always find their way home, I’ve rented them to strangers and they always get returned in good enough shape that I have to fully refund the deposit.
I honestly think that being here, as I am, day in and day out, providing education and proper discipline consistently and without fail, kinda flat lines the bad moments. Do I raise my voice too often? I sure do! Am I overcritical and demanding? You bet! Do my kids drive my so crazy that I’ve dug holes in the backyard just to bury them in? You have no proof of that.
What I don’t have is a worst parenting moment story and I’m reasonably sure that neither do my kids.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
God, the black and white of it all! I’m exasperated. I feel that if I don’t have a worst parenting moment I probably don’t have a best parenting moment and god-damn-it I’m a story teller! I’d like to say that my best parenting moment is the moment after I put my kids to bed and I get to dance naked through the house while indulging in classic 70’s transgender porn, but that just doesn’t happen, not with a 17 year old in the house.
They always seem to know when you’re dancing naked while indulging in classic 70’s transgender porn and they do not think it’s cool. Also, I know this is not what the question is asking. I have moments that are better than others, like when I remember to be kind when I want to be off-handed, or when I keep control over my temper after a long and frustrating day and I’m ready to snap, or I try a spoon full of sugar in the medicine instead of flipping them over, dropping their draws and using the turkey baster. Sometimes my best moments are just the ones when I keep myself from being my worst, when the worst is just dying to come out.
Occasionally, I have saved my children just in time, maybe it’s a fall they didn’t take or maybe I kept them from sinking or being hit by a car or maybe there was a grenade. I don’t know. But it happens, it happens every day, if the only thing I’m saving them from is me. I can make things go better and it’s usually a choice; when you hear what you’re in the middle of saying through the look on your child’s face, and you turn the boat around and row on down to happy town. That’s probably as good as parenting gets. It’s when you try instead of just doing, when you remember who you’re supposed to be instead of letting the monkey on your back drive you bananas. It’s when you do all those things you really don’t want to do, because you know it’s the right thing for them.
So what can I say? Sometimes I teach and don’t lecture, sometimes I listen and don’t yell, sometimes I throw them at the soft part of the wall instead of the spikey. Any moment can go any-which-way at any time, so it might as well go toward healthy.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL? For instance are you now careful, when pre-children you led bungee jumping and sky diving expeditions?
Children have made me old and fat. At least this is what I tell the children. I never mention potato chips or consecutive trips around the sun during the conversation. If there is anything that kids need, it’s to be blamed for things (though if my wife is listening I blame her, cause that’s fun for me too!).
I’ve always been crazy, but now I’m slower. Time has changed me more than family in the necessary ways. Growing old, I can say with certainty that I don’t want to be that crazy kid anymore. It gets old, and then you get old and if you don’t change you become the old creepy guy, acting like a fool in young places. Even as a crazy kid I never wanted that. I never wanted to be young forever and as far as being an old creepy guy, I’d rather do that in places more suitable for my age. If anything, the family gives me an excuse; when old friends, now creepy, call me to do childish things, I can bow out blaming the kids.
I’ve always been a little nuts, but I’ve also always had a responsible streak, an ability to judge situations, for instance I’ve never been one to drink and drive, not because I thought I couldn’t, but didn’t want to pay for unnecessary mistakes, and to be honest the whole idea of killing someone by accident has never appealed to me. If I’m going to jail for murder, I’m going to mean it! But honestly, even at a young age when irresponsibility ruled, I was able to differentiate crazy from stupid; crazy is something I’m willing to do, stupid is something I’ll talk someone else into doing. I’m still willing to talk other people into being stupid, but since I’m old, most of my friends are old and fewer of them are willing to perform for my amusement.
There was never anything that bad about me to change. I don’t swear like a sailor, I’m not racist if you’re not English (Erin Go Bragh!), I’m not big into guns or shoot ‘em up films and I’ve never been one for inviting hookers to the house. But I’ve also never been one for sheltering children. Sure I’m not going to let them watch classic 70’s transgender porn, and no, we never dance naked together. But if something is fucked, they’re probably going to hear a bit about it, and I think they should be able to get me a beer and if zombies are attacking they should know what to do.
It’s true, I’m not as crazy as I once was, but I also enjoy not being dead. I used to drive crazy, but not when others were in my car. I used to climb up cliffs I had no right being on, but not with anyone that shouldn’t have been there. I used to drink like a fish, but never with 6 and 9 year olds. Hell, I used to run straight down mountains, but my legs have started hurting and my belly doesn’t make hair-pinned turns.
What is there to say? I’m old, fat and too busy to cause any of the types of trouble that come from having too much time on my hands. Is this the kids fault? I’ll make sure they think it is. But I’ve changed nothing about myself because of them, I’ve only gotten things out of my system.
So, if you’re willing to pay, I’ll jump from most anything I think I can walk away from.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED/CHANGED/IMPACTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP? How often do you have sex? Is it enough? How do you communicate differently (if at all)?
We don’t fuck like we used to, cause that would just scar the kids, though we hold the idea of inflicting this kind of mental trauma upon them in the evil parts of our brains. It would be a good way to make them suffer, a go-to threat so to speak. We imagine using it as a punishment, “Do what we say or tomorrow you might walk in on something horrifying!” I’m sure it would work, especially with the teenager, but the effort of setting up a camera to record his horrified expression and timing everything just right so he sees the worst of it all while waiting all along for the kid to show up, really takes the romance out of the situation.
But really, fucking used to be a great way to spend free time. We still fuck away all of our free time. We have no free time. Let’s face it, my wife goes to bed before the kids and when I get to bed she certainly isn’t feeling amorous. Christ, the days flow past so fast it feels like we’re headed down the Grand Canyon on a slip-n-slide. It used to be that we had all the time (and space) in the world. Now, mostly I’d really like a nap. Ah well, that’s old for you. Would I like more sex? Damn straight! Would she like more? She sure would! So were not going through as much a cold period as we are a sleepy, busy and continuously interrupted phase.
To be certain, the person I really feel sorry for in this situation is my wife. I know she’s getting less then she needs, while I’m getting so much I’m shooting blanks most of the time. Now don’t go thinking bad of me. I’m not a cheater or a porn addict. I’m just an average man with a very strong attraction to his hands. That’s not so strange, you wouldn’t think so if you’d ever seen Rosey Palmer in a negligee or wearing red pumps. Sometimes I take my hands out, wine them and dine them, and sure, sometimes they play hard to get, but I always get what I’m after in the end, whether they like it or not. So don’t feel bad for me, feel bad for my wife, she’s not attracted to my hands at all and they are, without a doubt, what we have in the house that puts out the most.
Basically, we are a family unit. We have decided on it and make a point of it. We are making memories and moments that help us get through life’s general bullshit. Honestly, we know someday the kids will be gone and that keeps us going. But beyond precious memories and knowing the kids will leave and we can change the locks, we are glued together by the common bond of not liking other people very much.
So basically, we are what we have always been, just older, slower and pulling kids along. Considering the maturity of some of the friends we had as youths, this is much as it has always been, though we don’t fuck like we used to.
We also don’t fight like we used to. The good communication is still there, she blathers on and I nod and smile pretending to listen and I say stupid shit and she feigns laughter, so it’s all right. What is gone are the moments where everything might blow sky high and we have to go our separate ways. We’ve accepted each other mostly and are glamorously co-dependent. We know each other and make honest attempt to give the other what they need. Oh we still go at it, we are both strong headed and ready for war, but we give up sooner now. We’ve done the be-mad-for-days thing and it does us no good and makes nobody happy, so we’ve cut it down to hours of bitterness at a time. Eventually we’ll fade into casual sarcasm and general incontinence. But for now, I like most of her personalities and she finds my general inability to act right charming, though we don’t fuck like we used to.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
My greatest strength as a parent is my legs. I can walk with a kid wrapped around each leg half way to the moon. My greatest weakness is my groin. Let’s face it, half of the time we have our children, they’re at groin height and half the careless moves they make careen wildly toward my precious bits.
It gets to the point that I find myself walking around with one hand over my groin just in case they do something I’m not fast enough to catch. That is why I came up with the idea of a sacrificial ball. If one ball can be used to deflect all incoming shots, that would save the other testicle for happy fun time. I imagine the sacrificial ball will eventually harden, becoming strong like a wall, making my groin into a fortress. (Please note: this plan does not work, though I will not stop you from trying it yourself.)
I know, this isn’t what the question is about. But hell, what can I say that’s not boring, my strengths and weaknesses are just the same sides of different coins of maybe different sides of the same coin or maybe they’re a dollar, I don’t know, but everything I’m good at I’m also bad; I listen well, I don’t listen at all, I’m soft and compassionate, I’m hard and without empathy, I’m kind, I’m mean, I’m white with little dots, I really care, I don’t care at all, I love being the stay at home parent, I hate being here, I can throw a fifty pound kid five feet in the air, I can’t catch a kid falling from five feet above me…..all in all, the questions have too much black and white and I don’t feel I have any, well at least no black, cause my little spots are more of a red/brown, okay, now that I think of it I have a few outcrops of black (I’d be happy to send you pictures), but I don’t have any personality traits I’d like to discuss. I’m a terribly wonderful, wonderfully terrible father.
If I have any strength, it’s that I mean to be a father, even when I hate it. It’s my job and I don’t get to ignore it because Mork and Mindy’s on or beer tastes really good. My job is to raise those little so and so’s and I’m going to do it. When they leave me, they will be responsible, they will be hard working, they will know what love is, they will be able to get through life successfully and they will be completely mentally scarred.
WHAT ARE YOUR PARTNER’ STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
My spouse’s greatest weakness is her arms and her greatest strength is her groin, though I don’t want to go into the why or how, but let’s just say it has something to do with the lead content of Filipino food. But again we’re into the black and white and my woman is all colors, sure she’s mostly brown and wears only black, but she bubbles out at least some shade of everything.
She’s responsible and that’s great. She’s no whore and that is wonderful. She’s painfully wonderful and wonderfully painful. She could use a little attitude adjustment sometimes, she frets and worries more than she should and she likes to yell about the house, but someone has to, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be me.
Her greatest strength is that she is not me, cause if she was who would do all the shit I don’t do and her greatest weakness is that she is herself and I only mean that in the “we-are-always-our-own-greatest-enemy” weaknesses kind of way, which makes this whole idea moot and really difficult to discuss.
The valuable point about her, I think though, is the same point I made about myself. She means to be a parent. She chooses family most of the time. Together, we choose our family more than most people I’ve encountered. We choose to make sure they learn, to make sure they listen, to make sure they behave and of course, to make sure they feel loved. My wife has no weaknesses that do not pale before her desire to be a part of all of our lives.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
We don’t leave our children with other people very often. My parents watched them for two days back in 2005 and we’ve had a babysitter three times.
We’ve entered a little golden period where our 17 year old can and will watch the little ones if we want to get dinner or see a show, but once he’s gone, we’ll go right back to almost no one watching them. If we are lucky, life will be long and we’ll have more than enough time alone. Until then, we find time to be together. For the most part, I’ve never been that concerned with where I am as much as the quality of what is happening around me. All we really need is enough time to talk about things that are not the house and not the family and maybe hold hands and as long as we can still do that, happily spending time together, the kids are welcome most every place we go, though we don’t fuck like we used to.
DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS? AND IF SO, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR PARENTING?
My children have a strange notion that I love them, which leads them to seek out that love, which leads me to dark places where I can hide and relax the vigilant defense of my groin; other than that we are very blessed.
We’re looking for a few good dads.
IF you’d like to be interviewed for this feature, please write to Lisa Duggan at: [email protected]
Please write “Portraits of Fatherhood” in the subject line.