Monday, 30 July 2012


A Dad literally makes up at least half of a Dyad. OK the metaphor breaks down because there is no Y in Mum but, still, I like the conceit. I may have given the mistaken impression that I'm doing a lot of the parenting thing on my own. Quite the opposite. Time to correct that.

This idea of parenting being a team competition is prompted by my reading about the first Canadian Olympic medal being awarded to a diving pair, Heymans and Abel. It made me think about the high flying aeronautics of co-parenting. Dyads are apparently what they call athelete pairs such as you see with the medalled women divers, in tennis, volleyball etc.

What strikes me in looking at the picture of the divers flying through the air in synch is - how much work it looks like. Graceful, beautiful but freaking hard stuff. No "flying through the air with the greatest of ease". Those ladies' muscles are a-popping and their faces are rigid with effort as they plunge downwards with increasing acceleration. Why does this make me think of parenting? If you're a parent I think you already know.

I love how they're in synch and know what the other is doing without verbally communicating. They can't even really be looking at each other they just have to trust their teammate is doing what they need to. The true secret to a successful pair of parents. And necessary as one of my common sayings is, "We don't talk, we're married". If it wasn't for cc'ing emails and relying on neighbours informing me of what my wife is up to daily communication would drop to close to zero. There's just no time. But I know if I drop the ball she's got it.

Reading sports psychologists tells me that those dyads who do not master communication and express confidence not only in themselves but in their teammates are destined to fail when things get tough. They also have to respect that each has their own way of working because they share a common goal. That's maybe why I hate hearing when women complain that their husbands are essentially "useless"and can't be relied upon. That puts the "die" in dyad, I fear.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Sorry Excuse for a Man

OK this could actually be the title for my autobiography but I digress.

I read a recent "report" in the news saying you should not require young children to apologize because they don't know what they're doing and so it doesn't mean anything to them.

I call B.S. on that. My kid does something wrong, I ensure that they look the other person in the eye, explain that they're sorry, ask if the other person is OK and if there is anything they can do to help. Do I care if they are really sorry? Nope. Totally irrelevant to the exercise. This is called social conditioning. They need to know that this is the behaviour expected of them and nothing less is acceptable. They need to know society, as currently represented by me, will make sure they own up and take responsibility. It's not just the words, mind you, but the inquiring about how the other person is doing and offering to help that is what ensures it is not just an empty mouthing of words.

As for the idea that the kids do not understand what is going on? Double B.S. I have forced three year olds to say sorry and the way they resist doing that proves to me that they completely know what is going on. If they didn't, they wouldn't struggle so much.

To the point that they are not really sorry and so making them apologize doesn't aid in the development of the empathy, that ignores part of the role of the parent - I will MAKE them sorry for bad behaviour. Does this miss the point? I don't think so. They will learn bad actions that hurt other people must be made right and the only way to lessen the fall out is to engage with that person and make a proper apology. One of my kids is the type who honestly does not care so much what the world thinks of him. This is a fantastic quality but it does sometimes result in appalling behaviour. I can't make him say sorry but there are repurcussions until he offers up an apology which I find acceptable. He hates it. I hate it. It is hugely embarassing. So what? As B.B. King says, it's part of "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss".

There is also something powerful in an apology, the transgressor gives power to the victim and it can be very transformative for both. I used to be a lifeguard and would regularly have upset kids come up to me to complain that someone splashed them, took their flutter board etc. and those kids just expected me to chew out the other person. Instead, I shocked them by inviting the other kid over, have the complainer reiterate their issue and give the other kid a chance to respond. Almost every time the other kid would quickly apologize and they would both go off happy. I saw this a few times as a prosecutor when one of the people involved in the accident apologized spontaneously to the other person and you could just see the anger and hurt fall away. Both parties would be kind of choked up. Those were some of the few outright "wins" in my experience.

But here's the rub - you have to do the same thing. Saying sorry was not really modelled behaviour in my home or a message I embraced growing up. However, I have nver felt as truly sorry as often as I have since I became a parent. I also have never apologized so much since I became a parent. I screw up repeatedly through the day and the only way to move forward is to apologize to my kids. It also has to be a real apology - not one like - "Because you did this, I did that, but I'm sorry". That sucks and is not really an apology.

I think a lot of parents err on either side of this. Your kid runs into the street or they hit some other kid over the head with a sandbucket so you yell at them and then they start crying becasuse you yelled at them. I see some parents apologizing for that. Essentially apologizing for doing their job, looking after their kids and making them good citizens. Why? The kid was being stupid or was engaging in bad or risky behaviour. Don't run into the street or hit someone in the head and I won't yell at you. However, losing your temper with your kid because you're tired and they spill grape juice on the floor, lose their third baseball hat  in a week etc. is something that you should apologize for. You lost it, behaved badly, own it and move on.

Some parents don't want to apologize because they feel it weakens their authority. Wrong. It strengthens it because you show that you are strong enough, mature enough, to admit wrong and fix the problems OF YOUR OWN VOLITION. It reduces resentment and leads to a better relationship. You are also modelling the behaviour you want to see them exhibit. Otherwise you're just sending the message that apologies are for the weak and children.

If I got any of this wrong, I'm sorry.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


I'm just putting it out there - most guys hate Pot Lucks.

OK, sure, there are exceptions and I'm completely basing this statement on a very limited sample. It seems to defy logic - number one it is very close to something dear to many men's hearts - the all you can eat buffet - and number two it means that, by providing something modest, you are entitled to eat a great amount and of great variety. If that is all it was it would no doubt be fine. But it is the unspoken requirements that go along with Pot Luck that ruin it. And, again forgive me, these requirements seem to be female imposed. Or rather they are self imposed by women and men who venture too close to pot luck get caught in the undertow. Also, some of the food is plain gross and unidentifiable but you are expected to try everything.

A couple of years ago, when At Home Dadding, my middle son's co-op nursery school held its annual end of year pot luck. I had a couple of other kids to wrangle and wasn't sure that it was going to work for me and so I didn't sign up for anything. My wife noticed this. And as the time approached, she mentioned more than once I should let them know if I was going and if so what I was bringing. I nodded agreeably and did nothing.

The morning in question I came downstairs to find her dressed for work with an array of foodstuffs on the kitchen counter. She proceeded to give me a quick tutorial on how I could whip up some quick and delicious party sandwiches if I decided to go to the party at the last minute. It did seem quick and easy and they would no doubt be delicious and so at the end of the presentation I thanked her. But then advised her that I wasn't going to be making any party sandwiches. In fact I was not going to make anything. Earlier on in my stay at home career I might have felt obliged to do so and feel resentful or pretend that I was going to and then come up with some lame excuse later on about why I couldn't  but the success of stay At Home Dadding requires a forthright and regular announcement of how you plan on running your show.

She spluttered in indignation. I couldn't just show up and free ride on the pot luck. I explained I had no intention of doing that but, should I decide to go, I would simply pick up a couple of bags of Smartfood cheese popcorn. There followed a shocked silence and then the claim that I couldn't do that either. Why not? It just... wasn't done... She would feel horrible showing up with only a couple of bags of Smartfood. What would the other mums say?

She had to go to work and had no choice but to leave me to my own devices. At the appointed time I did just as I promised (though with admittedly some pangs which I did my best to quash) and showed up at the potluck, popcorn in hand. It was a huge hit. One teacher sidled up and thanked me quietly - with all the healthy homemade fare provided she appreciated the junk. As did the kids who quickly devoured the two bags. Oh, I got some passive aggressive comments and dirty looks but I didn't care. I felt remarkably free. The worst thing from my wife's point of view was that I got praise from a bunch of mums for even bringing that. She was outraged by the double standard. Me? I just enjoyed it.

So the lesson here, Dads? Don't be afraid of falling short of external standards. Don't be guilted into doing what is "expected". As always, make your own Pop Luck.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Stunt Parenting

I am very attuned to claims about the existence of Super Dads. Not so much because I feel threatened (I don't, OK!? So back off!) but out of genuine interest in what is considered "super" behaviour. Essentially, I want to know what is their "secret sauce". Being a parent is an endless example of creative destruction. I always learn the most in the flames of a bad parenting moment. I don't emerge from the ash like a Phoenix so much as I Stop, Drop and Roll and then evaluate how I might handle such a situation better next time.

When I investigate said Super Dad claims, what I often hear about are the two extremes of something I call stunt parenting. Dads are either given too much credit for the mundane (He gave his baby a bath! He made Kraft dinner!) where rather basic competence is treated like it's some sideshow freak of nature or they demonstrate some McGyver like prowess (He transformed his baby carriage into a sled for winter using a $7.99 Canadian tire plastic sled and bungie cords!). The second brand of action hero stuff can be impressive but there's the slight whiff at both ends of the spectrum of the "look at me" syndrome of the involved dad. Hey, I 'm guilty of it myself, walking down the street with one baby in a sling and pulling another in a sled, it gets to the point that you expect the "Aw, isn't he an awesome dad?" look on the faces of women as you pass and you feel nettled when you don't get one.

One of the latest stunt dad examples I have heard about is a guy in my neighbourhood who was determined to create the biggest and best soap bubble for his kids. I thought I was pretty cool when I mentioned that glycerine was the trick to the most stable bubbles. That observation was quickly discounted. Apparently, this dad did major research and determined that the best thing to use was bovine obstetrical lubricant with the attractive commercial name of J-Lube. He ordered a large quantity online from Wisconsin in order to effect this bubble creation. Your wife finding a large quantity of bovine obstetrical lubricant in your workshop might raise some awkward questions ("What happens in Wisconsin stays in Wisconsin") but it was worth it, I guess. Apparently he was able to create a ten foot long bubble which is kind of cool. He was declared without irony a "super dad". I'm sorry but this, to me, does not have much to do with the grind of being a good parent.

I was reminded of this after I alone took my kids off to the cottage to visit the grandparents for a "vacation". It was fun but not relaxing. My father was in awe of the endless demands upon my time, energy and sanity and commended me - which was nice on many levels. I'm certainly not claiming my performance was super but my goal - the ability to handle what comes along every single minute without losing it - would be to me a super achievement. That is why I always am looking to hear about the guy who does this dad thing with grace and panache so I can get his secret sauce. I'm pretty sure it doesn't have much to do with J-lube.