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Jun 17 2011

Friday Night: Father’s Day

By at 2:01 pm

Not my husband or my kid, but these guys are clearly bonding.

As a mom, you have a special relationship with your children. After all, you do carry them inside of you for 40 weeks (41, in my case). Those months of uterine massage (read: constant kicking) sure does make you love them. Or simply want them out out OUT!

One of the things my husband remembers best from our childbirth education class was that the instructor recommended that the father get to hold the baby, alone, for at least 10 minutes that first day. To help them bond. Dan thought it was kind of silly. Why wouldn’t he bond with his baby? But he did get those 10 minutes (and more, even) just a few minutes after our daughter was born.

Abigail has always loved her daddy, but I’m a stay-at-home mom (that is, besides the time when I’m working from home). Which means that I spend most of my time with our daughter, and it’s definitely strengthened our bond. But a few weeks back I went to a conference for three days, which was my first time away from her. And though she loves her babysitter, she didn’t love three straight days of babysitter. I got text messages from my husband that said things like, “Dress shirt covered in tears and snot.” Seems that there was some serious crying every morning when the babysitter showed up.

But when I came home, Abigail greeted me with happiness and I figured everything was just fine.

Until the next day, when she tripped and fell, and instead of wanting Mama to comfort her, she screamed for Daddy. I even tried and was told, “No! Want Dada!” Yeah. That’s a game changer.

So Happy Father’s Day, honey. I guess those first 10 minutes really did make a difference. And even though our daughter might love you a little more than me these days, I’m still going to let you sleep late on Sunday. (So keep that in mind when you’re doing the early shift on Shabbat morning!)

Affirmative Action for Dads

By at 12:09 pm

Editor: Can you help promote Neal Pollack’s father’s day post?
Editor: on the Facebook and Twitter
oh no when is fathers’ day?
this sunday, daddy-o

Okay, I was SO ON TOP of Mothers’ Day. We’re talking breakfast in bed, presents up the wazoo, distracting activities planned, and a little special something for after the kids went to sleep (yep, I scored us a copy of the unaired Buffy: The Animated Series pilot). Now that I’m a father, I (a) know the value of spoiling and flattering the woman who pushed my own next-of-kin out through her uterus, and (b) I appreciate all the tzuris that I gave my own mother when I was a kid. And a teenager. And a rebellious twentysomething living in San Francisco and dating pagan rock musicians. And, uh, when we came to visit last week.

But Father’s Day?! In our household, Fathers’ Day always seemed like a bit of a joke. At least, it has for the three years that we’ve had kids. I seem to remember one year, my wife let me sleep in? Except that I had to be up by 7:30 anyway to pray on time. And I do make a big deal out of trying to be an equal-opportunity parent, but the fact is, when I’m out of the house each week for 50 of the kids’ waking hours, there’s only so much ground I can cover.

Fathers’ Day feels like an affirmative-action holiday. As though someone was flipping through the official calendar records, going “Mothers’ Day? Check. Grandparents’ Day? Check. Secretaries’ Day? Check. Fathers? Fathers? Sperm donors? Uh, fathers who?” I’m reminded of Kwanzaa-bot from Futurama, who flies a sled through the air and gives kids a picture book called What the Hell Is Kwanzaa? Yeah: fathers get shafted. And, by my scorecard, it’s more or less deservingly so.

Having said that, I fully anticipate an all-out breakfast with hash browns and tofu scramble, a Jackson Pollack-esque card or two from my favorite avant-garde babies, a day at the park, and even a gift or two (this book looks awesome, for instance) (and did I mention that my birthday is a week after Fathers’ Day?). Why? I don’t have to answer that if you’ve ever made an art project with a 3-year-old or a 1-year-old before — because the most fun is in the process. And because, with two little kids, we need an excuse like this to force ourselves out of the house (packing food, nappies, water bottles, extra clothes, sunscreen, toys, and remembering to get all of us fully dressed). But mostly because any reason to party should be fully embraced…whether you remember in advance or not.

Jun 16 2011

Who Decided Dads Want This Stuff?

By at 10:40 am

Because I wrote a book about fatherhood and because I used to blog regularly on the topic, my email address has found its way onto many PR lists. This allows me to unwittingly and constantly gaze into the rotting, stinking, desperate hull of American parent-industry marketing. Do you really think I care that your E-list celebrity mom was spotted with a stylish diaper bag? Do I look like the kind of guy who writes about fishing poles? Or what a cornpone psychiatrist with bad hair thinks about schoolyard bullying? Please leave me alone!

It gets really bad around Father’s Day. For the last month, I’ve been barraged with constant “Great Gift Ideas For Dad” emails, some of which have actually caused me to scream at my laptop. In the last three days, I’ve learned about Father’s Day promotions for: a “ Share a Frosty With Dad” charity at Wendy’s, a photo-sharing application that encourages me to “take a snapshot with dad,” a weather-sensing sprinkler system that will “give your dad the gift of water savings,” a liquid that will “help dad remove that stain from his favorite armchair,” and an iPad cookbook app that includes a recipe for the horrible-sounding “Chipotle Spice Rubbed Beer Can Chicken.”

I’d like to call for a definition of fatherhood that doesn’t include shitty gadgets or corny grillmaster accoutrements. But what’s the point? That’s clearly the role in which I’ve been cast. Given an impossible-to-cast-off set of clichés, I’d at least like people to stop trying to sell me that conception, or any conception, of fatherhood, along with their how-to guide for Pulled Pork Quesadillas. Actually, those sound pretty good.

For my present, I bought myself a ticket to a play for an evening several weeks before Father’s Day. There was no other way to justify the expense, and no other present that I really wanted. No one tried to sell me anything, other than the ticket itself, which made me happy. I went to the play, enjoyed it, and didn’t have to think about being a dad for a second.

On Sunday, maybe my wife will make homemade biscuits and my son will take a few hours off from telling me that he hates me because I won’t buy him another pack of Pokemon cards. That’s all I ask. And to any PR people who might be reading this, please give me a few days off before trying to sell me stuff for the 4th of July.

To hear things from a different dad’s point of view, read the chronicles of a gay Jewish dad in birthing class. And if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift that isn’t a grilling gadget, try one of these books all about fatherhood.

Jun 15 2011

Happy (Separated) Father’s Day

By at 4:22 pm

Jesse & Ronia

I don’t know when Fathers’ Day is this year, or even where the apostrophe goes in its name. My daughter is still too young for obligatory gratitude, though she can still melt my heart by saying “I want to be with daddy” on her good night phone message. Sometimes I cannot resist telling her how fortunate we are, how much more time we have spent together than many fathers and daughters, even with us living apart half the time.

When my daughter was little, I was a stay at home dad and now I work part time. So even though Ronia’s mother and I are now separated, Ronia and I get to spend a lot of time together. It is true we are lucky, but I have no idea how she will assess this over her own lifetime. How will she weigh having to negotiate two homes, the many times that she wanted the parent who was not there? I can’t say I will ultimately deserve her thanks–if she gives it–but the fact that she has already told me “thank you for doing my laundry!” will last me a long time.

Father’s Day, the day for my daughter to officially thank me, embarrasses me.

During the last Father’s Day together with Ronia’s mother, I was part of a Jewish father’s group. The mothers of these men’s children wanted to show their appreciation with all the fierceness you would expect from such a group. After a vast number of emails, they settled upon stainless steel water bottles bearing the label “Peace, Love, and Abba.” Mother’s Day had gone uncommemorated by us abbas collectively, but it did provide my estranged wife and me with a rare moment of bonding at the ridiculousness of it all.

My reluctance to accept praise for my fathering, on Father’s Day or otherwise, was nicely encapsulated by Michael Chabon’s excellent Manhood for Amateurs, a Jewish American man’s user manual if ever there was one. He relates an episode at a crunchy Berkeley grocery store where a woman accosts him. “You’re a good dad, I can tell!” She tells him. Chabon goes on to explain that we would never evaluate mothers so casually.

Once a year, maybe, and on certain fatal birthdays, and at our weddings or her funeral, we might collate all the available data, analyze it, and offer our irrefutable judgment: good mother.

I don’t want to give myself or other fathers too much praise, feeling how the creep of low expectations, of “I could always be worse,” sneaking in. But I feel like at a certain point, I do need to celebrate. I enjoy many a problematic holiday, Jewish and secular alike, so why not hold onto something this Father’s Day? That after a year of school, and over a year of separation my daughter and I still feel close?

So for one day, I am going to try to set aside my self- and other father-deprecation and celebrate a bit. And usually I find the way to enjoy a festive occasion more is to widen it.

On this Fathers’ Day, let us honor the working class men who form the bulk of stay at home dads. Let’s honor the queer dads, who now must not pretend to be straight to become fathers. Let me honor my own dad who confounded rural Wisconsin by rarely being seen without his own children in tow. Little did I know when he dragged me to hardware store after hardware store that something pro- and trans-gressive was occurring! And finally let us hoist our stainless steel water bottles to all the mothers, our own, our children’s, who have set such a wonderfully high bar should we actually try to aspire to it.

Looking for the right book to get dad for Father’s Day? Check out this list.


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