Drop the “To get to her, you need to go through me” tough-guy act with our daughter’s dates.

57585073You’ve all seen them. The pictures, the posts, the memes with a father and his infant / young / teen daughter. Sometimes the father has his arms crossed with a scowl on his face. Other times he’s holding a gun with the same menacing expression. Sometimes there’s even older male siblings practicing being a bodyguard. All of these with the intent to intimidate and be confrontational when it comes to future male suitors for their daughter. “To get to her, you have to go through me first”.

I know, no big deal right? Harmless fun. Only I find these things laughable and ridiculous for a few reasons.

a) It shows that there is absolutely no faith that boys can be raised to be respectful and polite to women (or by default to people in general). Instead of raising daughters to fear men, lets raise our boys to respect women. To have self-worth. To say it’s wrong to go against a woman’s wishes. To stand up to those who do.

b) It shows that those fathers have zero confidence in their ability to raise their daughters. If they truly believed they could raise a self-aware, strong, confident woman then this whole song and dance becomes pointless and unnecessary. It shows no confidence in their daughters ability to be a good judge of who she befriends.

c) It shows that feminism still needs to be talked about. It shows that woman are still weak and feeble creatures that need their fathers with guns to protect them. It shows ownership over someone else’s body and decisions.

Yes I have a daughter. No, I will never bully or intimidate a friend or future boyfriend or girlfriend she brings home to meet me. If s/he is worthy enough in her eyes to bring him/her home, then s/he worthy of my respect until s/he proves otherwise. This thought process of the possessive, over-bearing father is outdated and rooted in insecurity.

The evolution of the relationship with my son.

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DinoBoy and myself enjoying popcorn and goofing with the camera. This is the picture that choked me up.

The other night I cried.

It was a personal moment.  The rest of my family was peacefully sleeping. I was browsing through hundreds of old pictures; searching for that perfect one for a profile picture for an upcoming interview. There were endless pictures of just my son and I. Some were selfies where we were goofing around making silly faces. Others were of just him, enjoying life; unhindered with no agenda. They were all taken while my wife was at work and we were on mini-adventures; whether at home or while out.

These were moments just the two of us shared; a still frame from a life still being lived. I pause at one picture. It is slightly blurry and not well shot. It’s fuzzy, much like my memory of the moment in time it captures. This photo is both flawed and perfect. It represents more than just the image it contains. It holds the power to conjure memories. Those of my son and I dancing in the living room, gazing upon the moon in wonderment, sneaking in a bowl of popcorn after my wife went to bed, our hikes through nature during the brisk fall in the Midwest. Moments when we could just stop and have a cuddle on the couch while indulging in cartoon.

It was then that it dawned on me. This chapter that I am recalling is complete. Written and concluded. That these free, unbridled moments when it was just two of us are now over. The world we used to enjoy as a duo has quickly evolved into a trio. Those quiet, intimate moments no longer exists with the same frequency. My attention is now divided between two children who need me equally, but in different capacities.

In that moment, the realization of how much I truly missed the closeness, that special bond and the undivided attention I had with my son became too much. The emotions flooding me culminated into a lump in my throat that could not be swallowed. Only tears alleviated them. It felt as if I was mourning the loss of a relationship. A relationship that is evolving so fast I failed to see it. A child growing so quickly I did not want to admit it.

The relationship with my son has not been lost. It is not  fizzling. Rather it has matured. He understands. He is quickly becoming more independent. It was that independence that I mistook as a lack of connection. Our bond is still strong; still intact. The neediness is gone. The clinginess is fading. In its place is a new being. One that is needy. One that is clingy. One that needs that constant touch, love and holding. He sees this. He understands. He is not mourning this evolving relationship. He is embracing it. At times we both fumble in the moment, but he knows.

After the emotions run their course and I feel better for having them; I now know. I understand.  It is now time for me to embrace it.

I chose you.

20140824_101344-EFFECTSThere were dishes collecting in the sink. I saw them. We created them. I also saw you. A different you. A disconnected you. A you reaching out for attention. I chose you. Together we went to the zoo. I held you while you fed a giraffe. I ran next to you while you tried to race a cheetah. I flew with you while you soared next to the bald eagles. I laughed with you as we made a mountain of mulch in the play area. I discussed animals with you while we enjoyed lunch; and napped with you after our day in the sun. I chose you.

There were 3 hampers and a pile of clothes that needed folding. I saw them. We created them. I also saw you. A you vying for your mom and dad. Parents whose time is now split with a new family member. I saw you in a confused moment with an unfamiliar feeling. I chose you. Together we went to the park. I walked next to you along the creek shore, throwing small rocks into its waters. I held your hand as we crossed the chilly flowing water to the hollow tree. Through the trails we ran, laughing as I tried to catch you. I chose you.

There was a living room in disarray. I saw it. We created it. I also saw you. A you in need of assistance. An F4 tornado version of you that needed wrangling in.  A you without a compass. I chose you. I invited you on my lap to do your favorite activity: reading books. Together we read the same words as you learn how to read. I enunciated while you mimicked the sounds. Together we read 5 books; all of which you can recite by heart. I chose you.

There are things that can wait, and things that simply cannot. In the days since your sibling’s birth your behavior slightly changed. It’s a lot to process in a small amount of time for someone of your limited capabilities. You were not jealous of this new arrival, in fact quite the opposite; you embraced her. You felt you were losing your home base. Your security. I could see that. Your behavior was telling me when your words could not.  I chose connection over control. I chose love over fear. I chose you.

Skipping Stones.

Down by the creek bed he crouched, grabbing stones without discrimination. He watched as they splashed with a kersplunk when they entered the water. Ripples spread to the tiny shore and he giggled at his accomplishment. Another rock was sought.

It was a very sunny Sunday morning and still slightly cool, requiring a light jacket. The air was clear and we were all alone in our adventure, basking in the moment.

There was an area of calm water that had a shore riddled with fragmented shale begging to be skipped. I was a bit more selective with my choices, picking only those with characteristics optimal for their skipping ability. Too square, too thick, too thin. Ah! This one. It fits perfect between my finger and thumb, perfect weight distribution, just the right circumference. It was beautiful.

This will be the stone I show him his first skip with. I placed the stone in my palm; eager to show him it’s capabilities. I stood and turned towards my son. He was still indulging in his circular pattern: find stone, throw it in water, listen to splash and repeat.

I watched. His blissful moment. There was no concern for the type of stone he selected. No worries on how it entered the water, just as long as it does. His concerns lie in what it can do, not with what it could do. It can splash crazily in the water. He couldn’t care if it has the potential to skip wonderfully to the adjacent shore. It was beyond his realm of current interests and abilities.

I joined him; with my perfect stone; and tossed it high into the air. It spun and twirled until it hit flatly against the water with a quiet plop. My son giggled, commented on its tiny splash and went for his next stone. There will be many future opportunities for that perfect skip. For now this moment is complete with a slash and kersplunk, it was his agenda.

Moon gazing.

Doug-Zubenel2We were driving home from date night out, my wife and I. DinoBoy (2.5) picked up from care and now in tow, we pulled into the driveway. Upon getting out of his seat he discovered the crescent moon; glowing ever so majestically in the sky.

“I see the moon! It’s right there!”
“Wow. I see the moon too. It’s high up in the sky, huh?”
“Yeah! So so so high!” he said excitedly while reaching up towards it.
My wife: carrying in the food from our date night – “Are you guys coming in?”
Me: “Hold on Mama, we’re enjoying the moon and stars.”
DB: “Ya. The moon mommy. It’s so so high in the sky!”
Wife: “Okay guys. Enjoy. Mama’s going in and getting off her feet.”
Me: to TB – “Can you reach it?”
DB: “I can’t, It’s tooooooooo high!”
Me: “If you could pull it down and grab it. What would you do?”
DB: “Ummmm……”

I could see the mental cogs turning. I knelt next to him and looked up at the same patch of sky, the same constellations, the same glowing moon and ghostly clouds. His mind drifted off into all of the possibilities that could be. He stood in silence, me kneeling by his side with my arm around him and his head resting on my shoulder. Wonderment on his face and awe in his breath.

Me: “Want to hear something crazy? The sun is what makes the moon glow!”
TB: “But the sun is asleep!”
Me: “You’re right! That’s what makes it crazy!”
TB: “Wooooowwwwwww.”

These moments only happen once in our busy workaday lives and can be fleeting, but very magical; and if we don’t slow down and pause to recognize them, they may never happen at all.

I lost a connection.

I have slowly lost a connection.

It wasn’t realized until a few days passed and my irritability level increased way beyond my normal demeanor. The listening, on both sides, decreased. I was putting my self-interests unhealthily above that of our relationship; and he was attempting to communicate as much, but I wasn’t listening.

When bedtime became an immense struggle; I was looking at my son (2.5 yrs) with contempt, rather than compassion for his plight. And that’s when the disconnect struck me. I had the next day just him and me while my wife worked her 12 hour shift; and I dedicated it solely to him.

We spent the day building snowmen, playing games, giggling and reading many books while snuggling on the couch. We went out to eat lunch and made silly faces without a care in the world; followed by a shared afternoon nap after we got back to the house.

All aspects of our relationship righted and our bond restrengthened. That night, at bedtime, I heard a quiet voice call out in the dark: “Daddy, can I have a kiss?” “Of course you can TB.” I leaned over and we pecked: “I love you TB.” “You too daddy”. And with that he snuggled up to me and drifted off. This on the heels of the previous night which took over an hour of back and forth struggles with much frustration.

I quickly reestablished a connection.

That Similac Ad: A rebuttal of sorts.

MomWarsI know everyone on earth has seen it, laughed at it, cried because of it and inevitable got into some debate from it. I’m not going to get into the psychology of the ad itself as it’s been discussed ad nauseam. I will however briefly explore a wider realm of detriment it imposes: a disguised attempt to end The Mommy Wars. I’m not a fan of the term, but I’ll stick with it since it’s universally known as that.

I’m going to dive in about the meatier battles within the war. If you use a stroller over baby-wearing, then roll on. Disposables over clothe? Not worries. Formula vs. breast? He’s being fed, right? How you chose to birth or whether you work or not doesn’t matter. Even though some hold merit over others; these are all the smaller ‘to each their own’ type battles. But under this same umbrella would fall the bigger, more detrimental practices such as CIO (cry-it-out sleep training), corporal punishment and circumcision; which definitely do not fall into the ‘to each their own’ hat when science has proven otherwise.

Imagine for a moment, that all discourse on parenting practices ended. That would mean studies on the effects of these harmful practices would halt and anyone speaking against the act would be deemed a judgmental asshat. Yes, there are those extremists who sling mud and run off at the mouth on all sides, but a majority of those are simply presenting information in an attempt to inform, not belittle. This often comes across as attacks to those that are sensitive or have quilt from utilizing them.

A complacency in allowing inadvertent (yet sometimes purposefully) harmful practices would be the suppression of further discussions and sharing of pertinent information vital to future generations; which is a grave disservice. I would never, ever say “It’s okay that you struck your child. You love them.” Or pat someone on the back and tell them it was good decision to allow their child to scream themselves to sleep; we’re all just parents after all. I will never condone the circumcision of your son; a practice routinely done mainly in the U.S. and is largely falling out of favor (most of the world condemns the U.S. for it). How can I condone any of these things when they have been proven to cause harm? That’s not ‘mommy wars’; that’s fighting for the well being and rights of our children. That’s being pro-child.

This ad is eerily similar to one with the photo shoot of the various moms holding opposing signs together in harmony, and now the granola add. In light of these two campaigns anyone who speaks out (on either side) is frowned upon; further suppressing information. As is anyone that doesn’t particularly like the campaigns. ‘How can you not like them and their message?’ they’ll scream. Let us not forget that Similac is a for-profit company that is combating a large breast feeding movement, which is potentially cutting into their margins.

I say let’s keep the discussions going, keep sharing the information and parent on. Let’s stop the bashing, name-calling and mud-slinging during these discussions. It is true: we do all love our children and want the best outcome for them.