Tag Archives: Dad

Must Love Like Tolerate Dogs

At the beginning of any relationship, there is often a carefully orchestrated release of information to make yourself seem more attractive to your potential partner.

In what would now be generously referred to as “alternative facts,”  the majority of the embellishments I would share when I first met Jen regarded my relative interest/experience in doing anything remotely outdoorsy.  For example, walking 8 miles after your car breaks down sounds an awful lot like hiking.

But the one trait I would have a hard time talking my way around was my love, or lack thereof, of dogs.  For that, I would be put to the test when I met Jen’s overprotective, 160 lb roommate.  A feisty gal with personal space issues who just happened to be a Great Dane named Tula.

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Tula and I learned to see eye to eye.  Mostly because she was able to get in your face while you were eating.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate dogs.  Or even dislike dogs.  But I have just never had the bond with them that most people do.  I don’t want to be kissed or licked by a dog.  If anything, I would give them a firm, respectful handshake.  Which would require me to take the time to train a dog how to shake.  Which is a real Catch-22.

While Jen grew up as an erstwhile Dr. Dolittle, living in what sounds like it may have been a discount pet store, I grew up with a dog named Spanky who was treated more like an animal who happened to rent a room from my parents.  My only other dog experience came when I lived with my brother, whose dog Rub was a laid-back Spuds Mackenzie lookalike who was fond of eating loafers.  And nickels.  And the occasional downspout.

As I got to know Jen’s dog Tula, I found out that she was a gentle giant.  As if Godzilla decided that instead of smashing Tokyo, she would rather lay on a futon mattress and watch squirrels at the front window.

Over the next couple of years, I would become the step-father Tula never had.  And possibly never wanted.  We grew into a comfortable routine of her scaring the hell out of me when I would wake to find her an inch from my face and having to keep her distracted by throwing pepperoni across the room like tiny cured-meat rodeo clowns in order to eat some pizza in peace.

When we found out that Tula had cancer, I accompanied Jen across the state for chemo treatments at a hospital that also specialized in farm animals.  Chances are pretty good that I will never again have to extend a trip due to an incident involving radioactive horse urine.

When the day came that Tula got so sick that Jen had to make the choice to put her down, I was genuinely sad.  Not just because the person I loved had to say goodbye to someone that she loved, but maybe, just maybe, because I had grown to love her too.

For the next several years, as Jen and I started a family, the subject of a new dog would surface frequently.  With Jen contemplating a puppy each time she was set to be on maternity leave since she would “be home anyway.”  In hopes of delaying the addition of a dog to our household for as long as possible, I would dance around the subject by using every Mom’s passive-aggressive favorite: “I trust that you will make the right decision.”  As steam would shoot from Jen’s ears, she would slowly realize that having a newborn would already take up roughly 25 hours of our day.

I held out as long as I could, but when you are pitted against someone who once threatened to get a hog because you told her that she couldn’t, you can only last so long.

Two years ago, we brought home a Chocolate Lab named Barry, so named by our son Matthew because he “loves to bury bones.”  Little did we know how prophetic that would be as Barry (Bear for short) has now turned our backyard into a permanent trip hazard in an effort to hide rawhides from some phantom intruder.  But who really needs rawhides when you can eat the screens out of basement windows and chew on the gas meter?

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“Is there something around here that I could eat?”

 

Luckily for Barry, he has a lot of fans in our house.  Jen and Matthew both adore him, and Kate loves him the same way that she loves me.  By that I mean that she tells him that she loves him one moment and then tells him to leave her alone and not touch her the next.  It is really, really sweet.

So, in the cheesy 80’s family comedy that is our life, I have definitely been cast as the curmudgeonly father who gradually gains a begrudging admiration for the family dog.  Only to have that dog knock over the Christmas tree as the credits roll.

So, maybe I still don’t love dogs.  But I love people who love dogs.  So I guess that makes me a “dog person.”

Now, cats….?

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Filed under Dogs, Humor, Pets

I’m getting too old for this….stuff

There are very few people who can really say that they have made a difference in their professional lives, but as my Dad retires today, he can proudly say that he did.

While he ends his career as a State Investigator, he spent most of his life as a policeman and a detective.  Working in a part of town where most people would be afraid to stop to get gas.

Growing up, it was not uncommon to see my Dad interviewed on the local news about a murder investigation or for him to get a page (ask your parents) in the middle of the night to head out and see something that was no doubt horrible.

While my friend’s fathers came home from a day at the McDonnell Douglas plant or some desk job, my Dad came home for dinner every night and set his handcuffs and gun on the stereo in our living room.  Eager to hear about our day and always filled with stories of his own.

While my most exciting work story on any given day probably involves what I had for lunch, my Dad would (and still does) regale people with tales of prostitution stings, standoffs that ended in tear gas, and all out brawls in disco parking lots that wouldn’t look out of place in a Burt Reynolds movie.  And all of this seemed very, very normal.

Movies and TV have conditioned us to think that policeman are all dark and brooding, bottling up all of the horrible things they have seen.  But if any of these things bothered him, you would have never known it.

Through the course of his career, my Dad put away countless criminals, returned precious items to their rightful owners and brought some sense of closure to grieving families.  There is an elderly couple whose daughter was murdered more than 30 years ago with whom he still keeps in touch with and helps to this day.

While my Dad would probably tell you that this was just a job, I would have to disagree.  He made a difference in the lives of more people than I will ever know.  All the while, he worked to support his family and made sure that they always felt safe, secure and, most importantly, loved.

Congratulations on your retirement Dad.  On behalf of everyone whose life you have changed for the better, I say thank you.

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What To Expect When She’s Expecting

Walk into any bookstore (if you can find one) and you will find row after row of books devoted to advice for women on their pregnancy. While these books offer tips for dad’s which generally boil down to “try not to be a jerk while your wife is pregnant,” there are very few practical guides for men, outside of Billy Cosby’s 1987 bestseller “Fatherhood.” Which, if memory serves, is mostly just a transcript of that “Cosby Show” episode where Denise makes Theo a really ugly shirt.

So, in the interest of helping expectant Dad’s navigate the minefield that pregnancy can sometimes be, please enjoy these tips, tricks and observations from a man who has went through one pregnancy and is in the midst of a second. This is solely based on my experiences, so your results may vary.

First of all, don’t be a jerk. Your wife will be going through a lot of physical changes, and you are going to see, feel and hear a lot of things. Things that you will want to make “funny” comments about. Don’t. For those nine months, you would be best served by sticking with Omerta, the Mafia’s Code of Silence. You didn’t see anything and you didn’t hear anything. “My wife is as beautiful today as the day we met” is what you will say under oath. And that’s all you will say.

The real challenge comes with the emotional changes she will be going through. During Jen’s first pregnancy, she would cry during insurance commercials, old episodes of “Friends,” and anything featuring dogs and the music of Sarah McLachlan.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

During this pregnancy, things took an even stranger emotional turn when Jen passed gas like a long haul trucker, then asked me to leave the room, then started laughing, which led to crying, and then went back around to laughter. When she asked me to come back in the room she went into a half laugh/half cry which I can only imagine would be the reaction to finding out that a beloved clown had passed away.

In these type of situations, you will be expected to react accordingly to the situation. Do you offer reassurances, laugh with them or just offer a hug? I would like to be able to offer you a guide on how to respond accordingly, but the truth is that no matter what you do, you will have made the wrong choice.

The most important piece of advice that I can give to expectant Dad’s or new father’s is to always be doing something. Fold clothes, hang pictures, unload the dishwasher. It doesn’t matter. To be safe, just carry around a tape measure.

While the first pregnancy can be tough, the second can offer a whole new set of challenges as memories from the first time around are still fresh on your wife’s mind.

What I didn’t realize when I became a father was that I would never again be truly tired. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am very tired. But I can’t say that I am tired without receiving a reply from Jen that begins with the question “You think you’re tired?” Apparently, she has not slept more than two hours straight in the last 15 years. Like Leonardo DaVinci….or a meth addict.

Similarly, after your wife has had a baby, any physical pain you may feel pales in comparison to childbirth. I don’t care if you have stepped onto a bear trap, unless you want to hear the phrase “Now imagine if that bear trap came out of you,” it is best to keep it to yourself, hobble your bloody stump to the kitchen and take out the garbage.

And when you add a toddler to the pregnancy mix, as a Dad you better be ready to take it up a notch. Our son Matthew hasn’t quite figured out that he can’t do a running belly flop onto Jen’s stomach, so I need to take some of the heat off of her and bring his attention to me. Like a rodeo clown.

As a Dad you need to recognize that your pregnant wife needs some time to take it easy, and that means you to take over baths, play with blocks for hours at a time and read your toddler loads and loads of terrible books. I don’t think the author of “The Teletubbies in Who Stole the Tubby Custard?” was even trying. But I may just be bitter because Tubby Custard was my nickname at summer camp.

So basically, whether it is your wife’s first pregnancy or her sixth, the real key is just to be a good guy. Be nice, get involved, and save all of your snarky comments for a little-read blog.

I think that ultimately, my wife will be able to look at this and laugh. Or cry. I really can’t tell at this point.

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Filed under Baby, Fatherhood, Humor(?), Parenting

Father’s Day 2: Electric Bugaloo

This time last year, I was on the verge of celebrating my first Father’s Day with a baby boy who was not yet  a month old.  I think that I have learned a lot in this last year, but all I really know is that I have no idea how much is still to come.

I would like to say that I remember every moment of my first Father’s Day, but at this point, all I can say with some certainty is that I probably had slept about 3 hours the night before and that I hadn’t had time to shower.  My Father’s Day gift was to leave the house and go to the movies for a couple of hours.  I didn’t get to go.  Instead, I got to go to the grocery store for about twenty minutes in flip-flops and a t-shirt which most likely had spit up on the shoulder.  If you have ever had a newborn, that twenty minutes out of the house was still pretty sweet.

The Dad abides.

Now, almost a year later, here are some of the things I have learned:

  • If you have time to think to yourself  “I will only have the diaper off for second, what could happen?,” he has time to pee all over you, him, the wall and the fresh diaper you are holding in your hand.
  • Try not to think about how much money you have spent on full bottles of formula which were not drunk or diapers which were soiled 10 seconds after you put them on.  It’s like dropping your Slurpee after taking two steps outside of 7-11.  It is best to just let it go.
  • When you take your baby out for the first time on your own and the car ride seems to soothe him, don’t get cocky and stop at a drive thru for a soda.  Hauling a toddler is like the movie “Speed,” if you slow down below 35 miles per hour he will explode.

Going through our pictures, it is hard to believe that our one-year-old is the same little guy whom we paced around the kitchen with for hours at a time just praying that he would fall asleep.  He lost the baby peach fuzz sideburns which connected to his eyebrows and now looks like a little man who can frequently be found moving every kitchen chair in the house to the living room.  He’s very big into feng shui apparently.

Matthew vs. 1st Birthday Cake? Matthew won in a decision.

The most exciting part of watching Matthew get bigger, is seeing the ways in which he communicates develop.  Although, like most parents, Jen and I were convinced months ago that any burp or grunt was actually a complicated three syllable word.  “Did you hear that?  I think he just said satellite!”

And I could watch for hours as he sits on the front window sill and “reads” his books.  Looking me straight in the eye and dropping mini ravioli on the floor to express his displeasure with dinner?  That I could do without.  But the book thing is very cute.

No matter how many times it happens, having your child call you Dad just melts your heart.  Unless they continue to chant it at three in the morning on a Wednesday.  Then it is half heart-melting and half frustrating.  Maybe 70/30.

Our lives have changed quite a bit in the last year, but all in all I would rather spend my nights watching Matthew take first steps which look like the ramp up to a drunken stage dive than anything I would be out doing when I was still single.

Jen and I weren’t exactly spending our Friday nights attending gallery openings and regattas before Matthew came along, but most Friday’s we can now be found struggling to stay up until 10 to watch the end of  “48 Hours Mystery.”  Which has taught me that if you have a numbers of options for the detective’s question, “Would anyone want to see you dead?,” and you aren’t Batman, then some of the suspicion should probably be focused on you.

As a Dad, I know that I am barely out of the permit driver phase .  And I know that I still have a lot to learn.  But the one piece of unsolicited advice which I would give to a new dad is to learn to be unselfish.  It is no longer all about you.

I have had a wonderful example of what to do from my own Dad, and I think the biggest compliment I could ever receive is if someday Matthew can say the same about me.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Smile for your Grandpa

The year was 1987,  and a tearful nation said goodbye to Clara “Where’s the Beef?” Peller, a young George Michael freaked out parents with his rampant heterosexuality, and the McMullin clan was marvelling at Disney’s vision of the future at Epcot Center.

It was there that Disney’s least memorable character, who appeared to be a burly homeless man who had shopped at Willy Wonka’s yard sale, posed for a picture being taken by my father and said, “Smile for your Grandpa.”  My family had a good laugh about it, but now that I have realized that my Dad was maybe a year or two older than me at the time, I am guessing that he found it less humorous than the rest of us.

White shorts and a Swatch? I had it going on.

If there is one thing that I have learned in the five and a half months in which I have been a father, it is that it would have been much easier to be a dad at 28 than it is at 38.  If I have learned a second thing, it is never where a nice shirt when you burp a baby.  I no longer own any shirts that don’t have a stain on the right shoulder which resembles the Galapagos Islands.

 Even as recently as a few years ago, when I was single and all three of my daily meals sometimes took the form of some variety of burrito, I pretty much felt mentally and physically the same as I had since my mid-twenties.  All of that came to screeching halt just in time to have a baby. Babies, as it turns out, require a lot of bending over.  Who knew?
 
The first cracks in the veneer started to show when my wife and I decided to put wood floors down in three rooms before moving into our house.   While the box promised “Installation over a weekend,” the good folks at Armstrong failed to take into account the work of my father and I.  Two people whose names have never been associated with the phrase “Old world craftsmanship.”  So a few months and several thousand squats to the ground later, I ended up straining my hamstrings.  Apparently that one time I stretched in high school gym class did not get me properly limbered up.
 
After a lifetime of rolling my eyes at professional athletes who were put on the disabled listed for an ailment which sounded like the consequence of not keeping Kosher,  straining my hamstrings resulted in the longest recovery of my life.  It probably didn’t help that I spent months telling Jen that I was fine as I fought back tears after standing up from the couch. 
 
Middle age caught up with me just in time for the most physically demanding job of my life.  (And I worked as a roofer for one day.  Long story.)  I risk waking Matthew every night when I walk him to bed among the creaks and pops that come from either my knees or the (practically) professionally installed floors in our house. It is about 50/50 at this point.
 
Lugging around a baby, and the gear they require on a daily basis, is like working with a narcoleptic personal trainer.  He yells at me to get me motivated and then falls asleep in a heap  And the physical demands are nothing compared to entertainment demands.  Every night, I am singing songs, making funny faces and doing some inspired mime work.  Now I know how Don Rickles must feel doing three shows a night in the big room at Caesar’s.
 
 

Either a picture of "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles, or an artist's rendering of what I will look like at Matthew's high school graduation.

 
While all of these things remind me that I am not getting any younger, my beautiful wife is always there to comfort me. Whether it is by reminding me that I am practically 40, or by asking me where I was when I learned that Richie Valens and The Big Bopper had died.
 
But even if I do feel like I am falling apart and Jen’s gentle reassurance makes me think that I will be nothing but a cryogenically preserved head by the time Matthew gets married, I know that if I had started a family when I was 28 that it wouldn’t be this family.   And that makes all the difference.  So I guess I can deal with the creaks and the strains as long as……oh, God my back!
 

Forget vertical stripes and stove-pipe hats, the best way to take attention away from your double chins is by holding an adorable baby in front of you.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Awake is the new sleep

“You better get all of the sleep you can now before the baby comes.”

If there is one piece of advice that you will get over and over again before having a baby, it is that you need to get as much sleep as you can. Of course, this advice is ridiculous, since you can’t store up sleep like a squirrel hoarding nuts. It is like telling a drowning man that he should have breathed a lot more last week.

Little did we realize that the roughly three hours of sleep we had over our first two nights in the hospital, waiting for Jen to give birth, would be just the beginning of our sleepless journey. Our little bundle of joy would add a new wrinkle to sleep deprivation that would make me long for a solid three hours of sleep on the vinyl love seat that would be my bed for the next four nights in the hospital.

Matthew flaunting his ability to sleep.

Following the actual birth, there was a flurry of activity. Doctors, nurses, family and friends all passing each other in the revolving door to our room. But as the day drew on and our families headed home for the night, we were eventually left with just the three of us.  I can’t be sure, but I think Matthew may have suspected that we didn’t know what we were doing.

Experts will tell you that getting a baby to sleep is all about the 5 “S’s”, one of which I can now assure you is not Sitting. The first “S,” swaddling, is the practice of making a baby feel as confined as they were in the womb by wrapping them up like a burrito. If the ingredients of that burrito had wildly flailing arms. I found that my swaddling skills were roughly equal to my gift wrapping skills. Which is not a good thing. With swaddling, unfortunately, it is generally frowned upon to use scissors to cut off the foot-long section of blanket that I would have left over when I was done. Matthew has yet to face one of my swaddles from which he could not escape.

What the baby books and TV shows fail to teach you, is that a newborn eats every three hours from the time they started eating, not when they finished. So after they eat, and you try to get them back to sleep, you are left with about an hour to get things done or, hopefully, sleep. This doesn’t seem like as big of a deal at three in the afternoon, but at three in the morning it will fry your brain.   I think this is how the Navy Seals train, only with a diapered bag of flour to teach them about parental responsibility.

You know that you aren’t getting enough sleep when, not only do you watch a Discovery channel show about a toothless redneck assembling a Dream Team of fellow noodlers to catch giant European catfish with their bare hands, but you get upset when you doze off before seeing how things turned out.  At least I think all of that really happened.

After several days at the hospital, with little sleep and irregular showers, I stopped caring about what I looked like on my daily jaunts to the cafeteria. T-shirt complete with spit-up? Check. Hair that looked like I had combed it with a Filet ‘o Fish sandwich? Double check. I’m sure my fellow cafeteria patrons were just happy that the glassy-eyed man at the Nacho Bar was finally at the hospital, getting the help that he so desperately needed.

Can the little boy who sleeps all night and doesn't drive his parents nuts please raise his hand? Not so fast Matthew.

In those first few nights in the hospital, I was left with one burning question: Why would anyone ever have a second child? I can only assume that going for round 2 is like my annual trip to White Castle, when I finish my meal by declaring, “I will never eat here again.” Then about a year later, my memory foggy from the passage of time (and possibly beer), I look down at the empty boxes and think, “Oh yeah, that’s why I never eat here.” But it is too late, the damage has already been done.

After four nights with Matthew in the hospital, the training wheels finally came off.  We were free to go home to not get any sleep in our own bed.  Our whole time at the hospital seems like a blur now.  I guess the lack of sleep and free Graham crackers will do that to you.  But we had our beautiful baby boy, and about 10 tubes of A&D ointment that I took from his bassinet daily, so it was all worth it.

We were parents now, and the real adventure was about to begin.

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Yes sir, that’s my baby

With the clock counting down to B-Day, like most parents-to-be, my thoughts are often consumed with questions of who this little person coming into our lives will be.

Is it a boy or a girl?  Will they have Jen’s nose?  My eyes minus the poor eyesight?

Will they be the best possible combination of us or the worst possible combination of me?  A short, sarcastic girl with a neck that keeps her from wearing any off-the-rack turtle necks.  These are all valid questions.

Since we are not finding out the sex of the baby, around our house the little one is affectionately known as Baby McMuffin. A cute play on our last name and a potentially lucrative cross-promotional opportunity for any McDonald’s executives who may be reading this.

For corporate naming rights, I am willing to take cash or those little fried pies you have. Your choice.

The one bad thought that continues to echo through my head is that familiar parent’s curse that someday you will have a child who is just like you.  Since as a kid, by most accounts, I was kind of an a-hole.   In addition to kicking rented bowling shoes into light fixtures, I was quick to bite, followed through on my threats to throw up if I was forced to eat vegetables, and was only recently able to step foot back into Sears.  To make matters worse, I followed the Mafia rule of Omerta, by never admitting to anything, even when I was the only suspect.

From what I can tell, Jen was a sweet little girl who grew up to be a little more wild as a teenager, whereas I became the world’s most boring teenager after an early childhood which may have been the inspiration for the movie “The Omen” ……or at least “Problem Child.”

John Ritter's untimely death means that we will never see "Problem Child 4."

Nobody wants their little bundle of joy to grow up to be one of “those kids.”  The sort that kick the back of your seat on a plane, or scream at their parents that they hate them in the middle of the toothpaste aisle at Target.  All while the parents stand there with a defeated, “what can I do?” look on their faces.

The unsolicited advice of recent fathers doesn’t help to assuage my fears either, as they tell me horror stories about sleep deprivation and temper tantrums.  The fact that each story seems to legally have to end with the phrase, “But it’s great, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world” doesn’t really help.

I guess I need to trust in the fact that we will know what to do.  Or, at the very least, that our baby will be so cute that we won’t seem to mind so much. 

I need to focus less on the what-if’s and start worrying about the real stuff.  Like putting together the baby furniture, and baby-proofing the house, and figuring out how we are going to pay for everything.

But it’s great, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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