Friday, December 6, 2013

Coming Full Circle, part I, in which I mull over the birth of a Stay at Home Dad Blog


It was, say, the summer of 2003 when I got wind of a little thing called Blogger. Billed as a free, simple platform for publishing anything and everything, it almost seemed too good to be true. My fingers started twitching. It would be my own little slice of the interwebs. There were even “blog rings” that would let me follow the few other people writing about similar topics. So without even a second thought, I signed up, hit send and just like that I was a “blogger.”

But I should probably back up for a moment.

At the risk of revealing that I’m an old guy, I am proud to note that I was an early refugee from the static tyranny of yellow legal pads and ballpoint pens the moment I got my hands on WordStar. It was the early 80s and it was magical. It was on a machine that displayed whatever you typed on a screen. You could go back and fix mistakes. No more clickity-clack of steel keys, no more smell of 3in1 oil, no more inked ribbons that reliably went dry each and every time you had a final paper due. With a computer I was a WiteOut-stained-wretch no more.

And it’s been an electronic free-for-all ever since: papers for school, letters to editors, opinion pieces for any paper that would have me and bits of ephemera for myself. Bits of ephemera that were, parenthetically speaking, really little more than poor imitations of S. J. Perelman. (The real irony is, of course, that it’s a stylistic thing that I can’t seem to avoid. Just consider this piece as a whole. Although there is eventually a point, it’s all discursive prose that noodles here and there and is chockablock with so many extra words that I can hear my copy of Strunk and White weeping softly. And see? I’m doing it right now.)

Anyway, mention of discursive prose brings us back to the summer of 2003 and Blogger. Until then I had been sending off pieces about this Local Issue and that Personal Observation to our local Gannett rag, the Journal News. (Pieces I sent on paper, in stamped envelopes via the fine folks at the USPS. I know, right?! ) The Gannett editor at the time seemed happy enough to publish much of what I sent, but now I had the ability to focus and publish my own column of sorts; and so Dad’s On The Couch was born.

Dad’s On the Couch? Yeah, I was younger, my kids were wee and I realized that this was the perfect outlet for sharing my experiences as a dad who was home raising his kids…

Anyway, tomorrow in Part Two, I connect virtually with some other dads via Web Rings and I discover that there was an official name for me: I was a Stay at Home Dad, with capitals.
.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The epic college odyssey, part I. Gaaa.


It would be hard to argue, I think, that one of life’s greatest pleasures is serendipity. The serendipitous discovery of, well,  pretty much anything. Food, music, people, authors, even words; it really doesn’t matter. Well that’s not true, I’ll try any kind of food. And lots of it. I’m just easy that way. I’m much pickier about my authors.

In any case, a bit of serendipity dropped on me today when I came across the word Decidophobia. I suppose you could make the case that as a word it’s a little bit obvious or literal minded, but I still think it’s perfectly descriptive in a lean, efficient way.  Mostly because I have the perfect use for it: Decidophobia – “a condition that may afflict parents with a teen looking at colleges.”

 Yes, we’re in the midst of the labyrinthine and baffling rite of passage that is looking at and sorting schools.

And I’ll be damned if these parental rites of passage aren’t getting harder each time.  The early ones are easy: Hand-wringing over whether or not he’s walking and talking on “schedule.” Potty training. Dealing with the first school bully. First trip to the ER for stitches. Braces. Learning to drive and watching the first broken heart.

Piffle, I say. All those rites of passage were mere child’s play (ha ha!) when compared to staring at a list generated by Naviance that includes 15 colleges. Which is a list that started with 160. Sure, we’ve already been in consultation with an awesome counselor and teacher which is why we’re pretty sure which schools have strong programs… but that was the easy part. We’re told that admissions departments DO care if your kid has requested information, visited with a rep and taken a tour, so how do we schedule visits to schools that are more distant than Kate Gosselin’s 1000-yard stare?

And then we need to schedule SAT prep, sitting for the SAT, and trips for NYSSMA since we’re looking at music programs. Which also means there will be an audition process for each school which is a whole separate thing.  Breathe slowly.

And none of this has even addressed what is, unfortunately, perhaps the biggest issue. Yeah, you know the one. Tuition + room + board = Gaaaaaaaaa.

As we continue to make progress though, my Lovely Bride remains the voice of reason on our team and keeps reminding me that we’ll figure it out one step at a time. Of course I think that a crippling case of decidophobia is still a real threat to be guarded against, but I’ll keep you posted. Gaaaa.
.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ticker tape, the Giants and dad's shoulders.


The  sky was grey, it was crowded, and the weather was colder than  Kate Gosselin’s smile. And yet none of that mattered because Underdog was floating past me, up in the sky, larger than life. Perhaps most surprising though, he was also in Living Color, complete with bright red standard-issue superhero tights and a blue cape. Who knew? Mostly this was remarkable to me because  I had only seen him on our black and white Zenith TV, which also meant that it was not just Underdog, but Mr. Rogers, Big Bird and Easy Reader who were rendered in a surprisingly small number of grey, grainy hues.

That being said, it was exactly the sort of day that a six year old never forgets because it was not just my first Thanksgiving Day parade, but an adventure in the city with my dad.

My father is an interesting guy for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most important to me is that he’s a guy who straddled a transitional period in our culture when notions of what success, family and fatherhood meant were shifting. He was in some ways entirely traditional: each morning he left before everyone else was  up to catch a train to the city where he worked at a mysterious job in a mysterious skyscraper. He then came home around dinnertime and read a paper while listening to the news. (He did, however, wisely avoid the pipe and martini thing which thankfully remains in the dustbin of dad-history. There are some clich├ęs that no one can pull off, short of an Adolphe Menjou or Claude Raines.)

Traditional as he may have been, though, my dad made a conscious decision to (mostly) not work late, not bring work home and to not work on the weekends. He had made a calculation about what was important to him and then made it his business to be present in our lives even though it must have cost him professionally. Sure, we could probably have lived in a bigger house and had cooler cars, but I was luckier than that.

And so that’s why I’m assuming that even more memories are being made today at the Giant’s victory ticker tape parade. The streets are lined with families dressed in blue and there are little kids on shoulders watching bigger than life figures make their way down the canyon of heroes. But here’s the thing, even if you didn’t make it to New York today there are still plenty of opportunities to get outside with the kids and see the weird and wonderful things that only happen in a parade.

An obvious one is the St. Patrick’s to-do in either Pearl River or New York, but there are more parades than you would suppose. Try the Columbus Day parade, or the weird and creative Halloween parade in Nyack. And in case you didn’t know, there’s an annual Volunteer Firefighters parade to be watched.

Or, have you ever had the urge to see a 30 foot Dora the Explorer? Of course you haven’t, but your kids want to, so make sure to hit the easy-to-navigate Thanksgiving Day Parade in Stamford. It’s actually extra cool because it features a whole herd of full sized balloons.  And of course there’s the far more hilarious and entertaining Halloween parade in the Village, but, well, you know. Take the teens.

So anyway,  even though Eli Manning probably won’t be at any of those wearing red tights and blue cape, your kids won’t care. Just make sure they get a turn on your shoulders. Do it.
.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Nine Minute Winter, Golf and Kids.


For those of us able to remember 1979, if only because age-wise we’re  in that sweet spot somewhere between untenable youth and impending infirmity, the year was  sort of a mixed bag. There were a few bummers: the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor threatened to melt down, about a dozen fans were trampled to death at a Who show in Cincinnati, and perhaps the most shocking of all, Britain’s first nude beach was established in Brighton. On the up-side though, Three Mile Island’s coincidental timing guaranteed boffo box office for Michael Douglas in The China Syndrome and the Who disaster guaranteed boffo ratings for a subsequent “very special” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

I can’t imagine, however, any up-side to a nude beach populated by a cluster of pasty, doughy Britons shivering on a rocky, overcast shoreline. Yeah, I know.

Anyway, 1979 was also the year that Steve Martin published Cruel Shoes, a collection of whimsy which included a shockingly prescient piece called The Year Winter Lasted Nine Minutes.  Which sounds rather a lot like this very year, I’d say. As a kid that story struck me as worst case scenario, but as an ostensibly grownup dad, the notion of a winter-that-never-was sure is appealing. And now with the roughly nine minute snowfall of last week well behind us, it continues to be a season with plenty of opportunity to get out with the kids and pretend it’s spring.

If, for instance, you’ve never gotten around to teaching the kids how to hit anything longer than a nine iron, now’s the perfect time. There are ranges still open and waiting, some of which even have heated stalls. Moreover, it’s a big bonus that there’s never a wait for a bucket this time of year. (Presumably  most of the old retired guys are busy dodging gators in Florida.)

And even better, some ranges have mini golf on site in case you have little ones to amuse while the older siblings are busy shanking the afternoon away. And if the kids don’t hit balls yet, now’s the time to get a lesson, because there are plenty of pros sitting around busy hoping they won’t have to spend the winter running from gators. Do it.
.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kids, Snow and Gravity = Perfect Family Time


It was a crisp morning above the frost line on Whiteface Mountain during, lets say, 1988. The air was still and a few inches of fresh powder were a nice change from the usual late January ice that makes skiing in the northeast a more of a chore than it really needs to be. It was, all in all, a fine morning, right up until my buddy Dave and I found ourselves facing a drop so sheer that we weren’t really sure that we were supposed to be there. Clearly we had missed a trail marker while we were chattering and trading stories about the previous night that had started at Lums and ended up, well, never mind.

Anyway, retreating back up the lengthy trail wasn’t an option, so we decided to face this nasty bit of black diamond the way only real men would: we took off our skis and started sliding down on our butts. Genius? Absolutely, and we were feeling pretty good about the whole business until we heard the telltale swish of a skier flying down the hill behind us. Needless to say it turned out to be a kid, all of six or seven years old, and not only was he flying down the hill in perfect form, he even spared a second to glance back at us with an expression of pity I’ll never forget.

It had never occurred to me until that moment that kids and skiing not only mix well, but are a perfect match. And it was just that combination of fearlessness and ability to pick up new things that I was counting on years later when we took our boys to Ski Big Bear when they were about six or seven. Since then, the three of us have had a lot of great days not just skiing, but enjoying some of the other benefits of a day on the slopes: getting a chance to shoot the breeze while standing on line, talking music and whatnot on the lifts, and just generally having a good time away from the pressures of school and the distractions of home.

So even if you’ve never been skiing or are looking for an excuse to get back out after some time away, now’s the perfect time to pack up the kids and take advantage some of the resources out there. There are, for instance, late season packages, discount ski passes offered by retailers such as Costco, and the very tidy Liftopia.com. And… now’s the time to start thinking about your fourth or fifth grader for next year because there are skipass and passport programs available for free lift tickets wherever you may be. Do it.








Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frank Wiley’s behind the curve. (And I ramble about some self evident things.)


Picture, if you will, it’s a warm summer evening, the sun is starting to drop and we’re playing Wiffleball in the street. Moreover, the radio in the front yard is blaring “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Yes, yes it is.  Because it’s 1976, that’s why.

Which also means that most of the cars that pass by as we play are driven by dads coming home after having spent a long day somewhere mysterious doing things even more mysterious. “At work” is pretty much all we’ve been told, because at that age we don’t even really care much anyway. All that matters is that dad is back and it’s time to head indoors for dinner.

That, however, was a long time ago and the world in which I find myself is very different indeed. I’m a dad now, but instead of a Buick the size of a nuclear submarine in the driveway there is a small Japanese SUV. There are no bell-bottom pants in sight, and, god help us, we have more than one TV in the house. Alright, more than two.

Inexplicably though, all this may be lost on Frank Wiley as he notes with a slight tone of surprise that more dads than ever are staying at home with their kids. Yeah, I know. In my neck of the woods this is no surprise, as the neighborhood is filled with cops, firemen, and restaurant/food service guys. There are also families in which the wives have the most earning potential, guys in the trades, and guys who are simply “between jobs.” Simply put, this is an average neighborhood and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dude pushing a stroller around while waiting for Starbucks to open. 

Yes, Wiley is simply pointing out that more dads are staying home with kids, but reporting on this trend as if it’s surprising (which it likely is to Frank, since he will admit only that this delightfully vague information has appeared in “a U.S. report” with no further elaboration) seems very… 90’s.

And yet, I must admit a certain nostalgia for the nineties, if only because back then politics seemed harmless, the interwebs were shiny as a new penny, and it had been a full decade since that movie with Michael Keaton had added that phrase to the lexicon. Just saying.
.