Every Little Bit Helps

Quick note: there are a lot of links in this post. You can click on all of them or click on some of them or don’t click on any of them. But if you’re going to click one, please click on the link at the end.


 

I’ve never met Oren Miller.

I’ve read his writing. Oren is the man behind A Blogger And A Father and the founder of the Dad Bloggers Facebook group. His blog is a collection of stories he’s found in other blogs, plus musings about his own experiences as a father raising two kids with his wife, Beth.

I’ve heard his voice. He was a guest on the Life of Dad After Show,1 so I’ve heard him speak in his thick Israeli accent that is so strong it makes me wonder how a man whose first language was Hebrew gained such an incredible mastery of English writing. I remember being surprised when I found out that Oren was originally from Tel Aviv because his writing flows so effortlessly that one would swear the words were put down by someone born and bred in the U.S.

I’ve seen his face. The twinkle in his soft eyes sets off his tanned skin and the rugged stubble on his cheeks. His sense of humor and love for his family come through in his smile that sets everyone at ease with its warmth.

I’ve never met Oren Miller, and yet, I feel like he’s one of my oldest friends. It’s an odd thing about bloggers; we write stories about ourselves and our families and send them out into the ether, effectively releasing any control we might have had regarding the types of people who will have access to them. We open ourselves up to the world, sharing our successes, but also our insecurities and failings as parents, spouses and as people. I’ve never met Oren, but I know about his mastermind idea to expose his kids to art and his struggle with explaining celebrity behavior to his son. I know about his passion for helping to improve the ways that fathers are perceived in popular culture and for giving dads a space to collaborate regarding their experiences as parents.

I know that Oren has cancer.

I wrote last week about how there’s nothing more important in parenting than having a community around for support as you talk on the most important job there is. In Oren’s case, the Dad Blogger community has been his support. One of the other bloggers – who has met Oren – set up a fundraising website with the idea that we could all contribute to help Oren and his family go on one last really nice vacation while Oren still can.2 In less than a day, the money raised had almost doubled the initial modest goal of $5000. Within a week the total had reached $25,000 and it’s still climbing. The story of Oren’s diagnosis and the fundraising efforts that followed were featured on the Today Show parenting website, which has helped immensely, but Oren and his family need all the help they can get to pay medical bills and to find some way to get through this ordeal. I don’t consider myself much of a pitchman, but I hope you’ll consider making a contribution to help Oren out. Click here to donate.

Every little bit helps.

 


1. Yours truly was a guest on a later episode of that podcast.
2. I’m not going to go into the details of the diagnosis here. I’m still kind of in disbelief about the whole thing and how terrible cancer can be. Let’s just say it’s really bad and leave it at that.

Musical Notes

I had a friend in college who had the ability to guess the kind of music that a person liked with remarkable accuracy. We were in an a capella group together1 and we went on a few road trips to sing at other schools. On one such trip, each of her passengers rotated picking the “soundtrack.” When each person chose a CD from her massive catalog she was able to guess the genre, and sometimes, the exact album that the person had picked. I wasn’t so impressed when she said that a friend of ours had picked Aretha Franklin; frankly, that was a pretty easy one if you knew the girl. But I’ll admit, I was kind of surprised when she said, quite confidently, that I would choose something in the alternative/hard rock vein. She had nailed it; I was holding Live’s “Throwing Copper.”

When I was in middle and high school, I struggled a lot with self-esteem issues. I had long-ish hair that was awkwardly parted in the middle and glasses lenses that were so thick that I could have used them to wreak havoc on ant hills.2 One of my favorite songs was Dave Matthews Band’s “Dancing Nancies,” which asks, “Could I have been anyone other than me?” The song itself is written more as a question of hypothetical situations but I always thought of it more as, “Why couldn’t I have been someone else?” It was a typical middle school refrain; I wondered why I was me instead of someone more popular/funny/good looking/talented/choose your adjective. My music tastes at the time were mixed, as they’ve often been, but I remember a lot of Nirvana, Green Day, the Offspring and Pearl Jam. There were appearances by Dave Matthews, Ben Folds, who remains a staple in my library, and Phish, but most of the music I listened to had a significant undertone of disappointment and the feeling that something was missing.

That last piece – the feeling of being incomplete – was the key behind much of my emotional state during that point in my life. I had friends at school, earned good grades, got along pretty well with my family; but still, I always felt like something was off. More specifically, I always felt like there was something inside me trying to break free. I was drawn to songs like MuteMath’s “Typical,” a song that speaks of a desire to become more than the conventional, to exceed expectations. There was a voice inside me yearning to make itself heard. I tried using a number of outlets, including creative writing, acting in the school plays, playing goalie for the high school floor hockey team.3 Things came together slowly in high school, but in college, as is the case for many people, I found the things that helped me turn into the person I would become. I joined the Tonics, studied subjects that interested me and had experiences that shaped my personality. And after I graduated, I started working, got married, Eitan was born and I turned into the person I am today.

I still find myself in that frame of mind of inadequacy from time to time, usually when I’m in a bit of a rut at work or when I haven’t slept properly and my patience with the world is worn thin. It’s in those moments that I still turn the music up, letting the heavy electric guitar engulf my senses and adjusting my pace to the beat of the song. Sooner or later I’m able to emerge from my reverie with the reminder that we all make our own meaning with regard to our destinies. I count my blessings – a loving and supportive wife, an amazing and healthy child and a community of relatives and friends, among others – and remember that, to the people most important to me, I’m anything but Typical.


1. The Binghamtonics. We went to Binghamton University. The name is a musical pun. Every group has a name like that. Yes, we knew we were dorks.
2. Both of my parents and three out of four grandparents wear glasses. My brothers and I were doomed. Thank goodness Eitan has his mother’s eyes.
3. I wasn’t a crazy, quirky goalie like the guys who play in the NHL. I didn’t choose the position because I enjoyed the bruises I endured from every practice and game. I played goalie because I have asthma and I didn’t have the stamina for the running the other positions demanded. Goalies don’t run, so that’s where I played.

It Takes A Village

I ended up missing a day of posts this week because work piled up and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to finish everything that needs to be done. But I made it back on the horse for Friday of the week of posts and, as happens so often in parenting, it may not have been perfect, but it worked out pretty well all the same. I’ve been pretty pleased with the way my posts this week have turned out, though they were mostly shorter than usual. I hope you’ve enjoyed them too.


 

I was checking out the Dad Bloggers Facebook group yesterday – yes, there’s a Dad Bloggers Facebook group – and one of the dads had posted a request for advice for expectant fathers. Apparently his friend’s wife is pregnant and he figured he would cull the dad blogger community for some pearls of wisdom that he could give to his friend. I’m not going to post the answers here; there were a ton of them, plus I’m pretty sure the guy who asked for input is going to use them in a blog post of his own. As far as my own bit of advice is concerned, I said that nobody really knows anything about parenting and that the new father should figure out what works for him. I also included a link to my post from last June about the things I didn’t expect when I became a parent.

One of the other answers was that new fathers shouldn’t be disappointed if they don’t necessarily feel that immediate overwhelming feeling of love and devotion to their infant child. When I thought about it more, I felt like I should have answered with something more along those lines, since I also struggled to find that same sense of connection when Eitan was born. Of course, there were a bunch of other answers that made me think, “Oh, I should have said that,” but that’s how it goes with parenting. There’s always some more advice you could have given, something else you haven’t thought of, no matter how diligently you’ve planned.

The thing that struck me most about the responses, though, was the sheer volume of them.1 So many dads were eager to give advice and support to a man who was about to become a father and, let’s face it, has no idea what he’s in for, no matter how much advice he gets. But even so, he can take comfort in the fact that there are literally hundreds of other dads who are cheering him on and hoping for his success.

That’s one of the things I felt like I was missing during my first six months of being a dad. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to about how difficult I was finding fatherhood and, even though the rational part of me knew that sometimes people have a hard time making those adjustments, the emotional part of me felt incredible guilt and shame for not being better at the most important job I’d ever have. I felt terribly alone and, rather than working to solve the problem, l focused on any distractions I could find; sports, work, fantasy baseball, anything. Rather than seeking out people to talk to who might be able to help, I withdrew and shut everyone out (including my wife, by the way, which made things harder on each of us).

I’m in a much better place now, as a man, father and husband. I’m still not perfect, by any means, but I’m in a better place. I feel much more comfortable with my responsibilities and I know that a lot of that has to do with the fact that I know there are other people out there who are experiencing the same challenges I am. I talk to the dads online and I’ve gotten to know more of the dads in our neighborhood, as well. We share stories, advice and find ways to laugh about the trials and tribulations that parents endure every day. So, if I were to add anything to my bit of advice for that blogger’s friend, the expectant father, it would be that he should find a community of people who will be supportive and who will listen, no matter what he needs to talk about. Feeling that connection to a group makes everything easier, no matter how hard things are going in the moment. Even if we feel lonely, there’s no reason we have to actually be alone.

 


1. With a group that’s closing in on 800 members, I suppose that’s somewhat to be expected.

Peace

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the picture is worth just over 450. For day three of the week, I thought I’d try something a little different from my usual essays. I’d love to hear what you think, positive, negative or anywhere in the middle. Enjoy!


 

A soft breeze drifts through the backyard, drawing a slight rustle from the leaves in the neighbors’ trees. The trees that used to tower above the yard, whose leafy tendrils had formed a canopy that practically blocked out the sun entirely, have been felled. One massive stump is now a work table, currently holding smaller blocks of wood whose future use has yet to be determined. The other two still reach about ten feet high but their branches have been replaced by a single wooden beam that crosses the space between them. A swing hangs down in the middle, a trapeze and pair of rings to its left.

The sounds of conversation fill the air. The talk is of dresses, dates and venues, new employment opportunities, the logistics of moving to new houses and the various adventures that are still to come. The chatter is interrupted periodically by the soft thwack of a ball hitting leather. Two young men stand apart, tossing a ball back and forth between them, while a third stands nearby and only occasionally makes a throw because he does not have his glove. The family resemblance is plain. They share the same high cheekbones and broad grins. The mischievous twinkles in their eyes. The soft-spoken confidence and implicit trust in each other.

The eldest, standing apart without his glove, mentions having developed the yips from not having played catch in years and promptly bounces a throw five feet in front of his brother. His brother leaps to catch the next throw, which sails over his outstretched glove. The eldest apologizes again and gradually works into a rhythm. Their father, watching nearby, asks about his middle son’s current opportunities to play, which leads to a discussion of the Cubs’ poor performance and the defense of front office moves targeted toward long-term success. The consistent thwack continues.

A young boy shouts, “Da-dee!” and runs over to the eldest gleefully, latching onto his father’s leg with a tight hug. His father runs his hand over the boy’s hair and rubs his back. The boy then shifts his attention to his uncles, points his finger and demands, “Ball!” The youngest brother picks up a nearby tennis ball, lowers himself to a crouch, instructs the toddler to put his hands out and tosses the ball softly. The boy fumbles the catch but picks up the ball and lofts it just over his uncle’s shoulder. The group applauds and the boy’s face is lit up with his smile. The suggestion is made that the males should all gather for a picture. The brothers and their father gather close together and the toddler climbs up into his father’s arms. The boy’s mother counts to three and the same broad grin makes its presence known in all five faces.

 

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Laughter Is The Best Medicine

It’s been an eventful week. We saw a lot of my family last week, between my dad being in town and the brunch for my newly engaged brother. Today, though, is all about Trudy’s side of the family (you’ll see why pretty quickly). Today’s post is the latest from the SAHM, with only some minor comments from me here and there. I may write more on this topic later in the week, but this one is more Trudy than anything.


Cancer.

It’s a tiny word that carries such a big punch. We hear about it on the radio and see signs discussing it on buses and trains. We watch our favorite TV doctors dissect, resect and administer drugs. But we, as outsiders, never expect “cancer” to affect our immediate world. It’s one of those things that we always think happens to “someone else,” like robberies or car accidents or getting struck by lightning. And then, out of left field, when you are least expecting it… The surreal punch; one word.

Cancer.

A whirlwind of emotions immediately overtakes you. You’re terrified and angry and confused and in disbelief all at once. Life, as you’ve known it, will never be the same. In an instant, everything has changed.

One little word.

They say laughter is the best medicine. I never realized just how true that is until I became a parent. As children, people do things to make their parents laugh, smile and, of course, even make them cry. I’m certainly no exception. Sure, my friends think I’m funny, but my parents think I’m hilarious.

I always laughed it off when my parents would obsess about something cute I did or said how funny they thought I was. I would always tell them, “Mom, Dad, stop it, you’re embarrassing me.” But now that I’m a parent, I realize that parents talking about their kids isn’t just showing an obsession over behaviors (or just me kvelling1 over how cute my kid is). That pride is an integral part of life that truly helps life seem better and worth living.

I know I’ve wandered a bit in this post. Forgive me, but I’m a bit distracted today. The point I’m trying to make is that life is precious and fragile and we need to cherish the few moments we do have here. It’s important to laugh, at each other, at ourselves, at our kids, at everything. Even at little words and the way those words make us feel. I know today is going to be incredibly hard. It’s scary and hard to grasp and I’m still not sure I can name all the feelings. But I’ll be laughing as much as I can. Eitan needs to see me laugh and so does my dad.

Laughter will get us through it.


1. Yiddish for “bursting with pride.”

Post-Father’s Day Thoughts

It’s been an eventful week for my family. My dad was in town last week, Eitan’s second birthday party was on Saturday, Father’s Day was on Sunday and there’s more going on this week too. There has been a lot going on in my head so I’m going to try to make sense of it all in separate blog posts each day this week. The posts may be a bit shorter as a result, but there will be more of them, so I suppose it evens out. As always, any sort of feedback is always welcome.


Father’s Day is a weird day.

I wrote about Father’s Day last week, but now that the day has actually passed, I’ve had some more time to think about it. I understand the general premise of the day; as important as it is to appreciate the people we love all year round, it’s nice to take one specific day and designate it just for those people. Birthdays are like that too, obviously, but days like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day celebrate the effort that goes into the “hardest jobs in the world.”

I say it’s a weird day because Father’s Day has so many different meanings for different people. For people who have – or had – positive relationships with their parents, the day serves its intended purpose of celebrating the people who are most important to us and recognizing the work that they put in to help us achieve our goals. But there are also those people who have not been fortunate enough to grow up with a positive father figure, for whatever reason. I’m thinking of kids whose fathers have struggled with substance abuse, kids in foster care and kids who have been raised by single mothers, just to name a few. I’m not taking anything away from the incredible work that the caregivers of these kids do; I’m simply thinking about the fact that there wasn’t a father involved. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a parent who has lost a child when Father’s Day comes around. For these people, doesn’t Father’s Day just become another (sometimes traumatic) reminder of what separates them from the rest of American society?

Look, I know it’s not up to me to solve everyone’s problems and to make things better for every person in the world. I’m not saying we should do away with Father’s Day entirely.1 I do what I can for the people I can help and I’m satisfied with that. As Pirkei Avot teaches, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I came to terms with my struggles with the Jesus Complex2 a long time ago (during a conversation with my father, not-so-coincidentally). But there were different points yesterday, whether I was playing catch with Eitan and my brothers and father, or pushing him on the swing in my wife’s cousins’ backyard, or this morning, when Eitan wouldn’t let me leave for work without sitting with him at his kiddie table while he ate breakfast, when my mind drifted a bit and I remembered just how lucky I am.

I hope you were able to enjoy Father’s Day. I certainly did.


1. Although, I suppose there could be worse things, despite this committee’s apparent sole purpose.
2. Because I wanted to save everyone, not because I actually believed I was the Messiah.

Happy Father’s Day

I don’t ask for things very often.

I don’t mean I don’t ask for help often. It’s also true that I don’t ask for help, even when the rational side of my brain knows that doing so will make my life easier, but that’s a different discussion for another blog post. I mean that I don’t ask for things. Hanukkah, anniversary, birthday… You name the special occasion, I still don’t ask for anything. My wife will tell you that her least favorite question to ask me is, “What do you want for ________?” because my answer is invariably, “I don’t know.”1

I get too wrapped up in practicality most of the time. I don’t ask for sports jerseys because I don’t know when I would wear them. I don’t ask for memorabilia because it would just sit on display somewhere. I don’t ask for music because I just buy it myself. I don’t ask for clothes because I don’t really need any. I know that the point of a gift is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be practical; gifts are supposed to be more about “want” than “need.”2 But I still don’t ask.

Part of the issue is that I have trouble seeing myself as deserving of special attention. People thank me for doing something or compliment me about something else, and I minimize my role by saying things like, “You don’t have to thank me,” or “It’s just part of the job.” Why should you thank me for doing something I was expected to do anyway? I’ve gotten much better in recent years about just saying, “Thank you” when someone offers me a compliment but there’s still an awkward feeling inside me whenever it happens. It’s easier when I’m being recognized for a job well done but for gifts, even for special occasions, it’s like I feel guilty for accepting something I haven’t earned. The thing I’ve come to realize about parenthood is that nobody really knows anything about the “right way” to do things; at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and that’s worth celebrating (and accepting any praise that comes my way).

I was thinking about this over the last few days because Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday. Perhaps you noticed the sudden flood of pro-dad television commercials and internet articles. Some members of the dad blogger community are quick to point out that it would be nice to see dads get credit for their hard work as parents throughout the year, as many moms are recognized even when Mother’s Day isn’t around the corner.3 Others take a different side, choosing to appreciate the progress that’s been made rather than focusing on how much there is left to do. I probably lean more towards the latter position, although I’ll admit that I’ve become much more aware of mom-specific advertising campaigns (as opposed to those targeted to parents) in the last two years.4 If you haven’t noticed the shift, it’s something to think about.

Regardless, I started thinking about Father’s Day gifts when I heard someone refer to the day as “Happy Tie Day,” implying that the only things fathers ever get on Father’s Day are ties. It was an innocuous comment but a disappointing moment for me, as I had thought that we, as a society, had moved far beyond the idea that a dad’s purpose is simply to provide for his family, as opposed to being an active participant in family life. I realize that some dads still fit that mold, avoiding involvement in their kids’ lives and shirking any parental responsibilities. If you know a dad like this, by all means, buy him a tie. But so many dads have taken the opposite route, capitalizing on every opportunity available to prepare their kids’ lunches, do amazing crafts or just find ways to communicate with their children. If the dad you know falls into this category, someone who demonstrates what it means to be a positive male role model and finds ways to connect with his children whenever he can, consider getting him something a little more meaningful. He might feel weird asking for it and he might tell you that you didn’t have to get him anything, but I’d bet he’ll appreciate it more than he can say.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.


1. Incidentally, a very close second on the list is, “Do you remember where the __________ is?” That answer usually ends up being some variation of “No.”
2. Lone Star and Princess Vespa from Spaceballs had the all-time best exchange ever in the need vs. want lesson.
3. Remember this Olympics commercial?
4. If you’re interested in reading more about this, Zach Rosenberg of 8-Bit Dad does an excellent job keeping track of these kinds of things.