Thursday, 19 April 2012

Punk Rock Dad?

DISCLAIMER: The following post comes dangerously close to sounding like fatherly advice which, clearly, I am in no position to be dispensing.

Hey, Owen. It hit me today: I'll never have the same freedom and flexibility I had before you were born. I always knew this in the back of my mind, of course, but for some reason it suddenly felt real to me today and I got a sense of what that actually means.

And it pains me to admit it, but I’m grieving right now.

Grieving that this upcoming all-too-short Yukon summer I won’t be able pedal home from work, yell to your Mom that I’m going for a ride, grab the dog, switch bikes and head out the back gate. Grieving that when my riding buddies are gathering Saturday mornings building their form with long spins up the highway I’ll probably be home, fitness languishing, trying in vain to get you to go down for your nap.  Grieving that I’ll be reading the results of local races, wondering how I could have done if I actually had time to train… and actually had time to show up on the start line, of course.

OK…I  just realized that all these things I’m  supposedly grieving for are actually just one thing: pedaling a bicycle.

I’m SUCH a dick.

But I can’t deny that I’m feeling this way… and there’s a heavy sense of guilt that comes along with it. I’m assuming I’m not the first Dad to have these feelings, but you’re not supposed to admit this stuff. Especially Dads like me who dreamt of becoming a father and endured two years of disappointment along the way and grappled with the heart wrenching thought that we might not ever be able to have a child at all.

SIDE NOTE: I just had the sinking feeling that I'm using the term “heart wrenching” a little too much on these posts. I would hate to think that if someone ever Googled “heart wrenching” this blog about my son would pop-up as the first hit. So…


Where was I? Ah, yes,  grief, guilt, and heart wrenching disappointment…

My friend Breda asked me the other day if I ever regretted having you, and the truth is, I hesitated before I answered. But only because she was asking earnestly and out of genuine interest and I felt like she deserved an honest answer rather than the automatic, “Heavens, no! Of course not! I wasn't even a whole person before I became a parent!”

Here’s the truth: I feel happy, blessed and grateful every single day that you are in my life. But on some days I also feel resentful, and I grieve for my former autonomy.

Ouch. That hurts to admit. I'm pretty sure parents aren't supposed to say that kind-of thing. I might be in for some hateful comments if anyone actually reads this far.

The truth is these two things, my joy and my grief,  are totally compartmentalized – one doesn’t diminish the other.

I have a theory: Of course there needs to be some serious compromise when a person becomes a parent,  but I think what's even more important is the process of reinvention that needs to take place where you're still "you", but you're somehow also the guy trying to be a good Dad.

Having a kid can be sort-of like getting caught in an avalanche if you let it – where you forget about absolutely everything and everyone else and just try to survive. But I maintain that you need to still be the person you were before you became a parent.

I know by now this is far from an easy thing to do. You have to fight for it. You have to fight to be loving and respectful of your partner even when you can’t remember the last time you slept for more than 2 hours straight (yup, sorry prospective parents). You have to fight to still be involved in your community somehow. You have to fight to find time to read, write, follow your muse... And yes, you have to fight to find the time and energy to ride your bike. And you have to carry-on this fight without compromising the health and happiness of your child or your partner.

I recently finished the book, “Punk Rock Dad” written by the lead singer of the punk band Pennywise ( My brother, Steve, gave it to me probably as a novelty read than anything else; He and I attended our fair share of punk shows together. I had the obligatory “Sex Pistols” and “Dead Kennedys” markered on the side of my Chucks in high school and I try to hang onto some of  that “question authority” and DIY ethos today (and I hope you inherit a bit of it... a *BIT* of it).

 I was expecting the book to be a bunch of contrived anecdotes by the author, Jim Lindberg, lamely trying to prove that even though he's a dad now, he’s still a bad-ass punk rocker. In fact, I was stoked to realize he actually had lots of insightful stuff to say about what it means to be a dad. Especially what it means to be a GOOD dad while still holding onto the values that make you the person you are.

I appreciate this. Because, after all, if nothing else your kid probably deserves to know the real you.

For better or worse.


The other day I was pretty ticked-off at a harried store clerk who treated me to a special dose of rudeness and incompetence. I brought my bitterness with me as I carried you out to the parking lot in your seat. There was just something in how you looked at me as I buckled you in, “Oh, alright.”  I sighed. Quick stop at (unnamed major coffee retailer) and we were back at the store with a gift certificate for the agitated clerk of my contempt. “Seems like you’re having a busy day.” says I, “Maybe when you get a break you can grab a coffee on me.”  She pretty much melted.

If you let it, becoming a parent can make you the most bitter, exhausted, cynical person you know. But if you let it, it can also drag you (kicking and screaming in my case) closer to being the kind-of person you want your kid to grow up to be.


Where to start? In the last few weeks you have started eating “real” food (if mushed-up rice gunk qualifies), had a couple of teeth poke through, and in general seem to be using your hands and mouth to interact with and explore your world more than ever. But my favourite recent milestone by far is the introduction of your “Jolly Jumper”.  You especially like bouncing to Reel Big Fish cranked-up on the stereo while Dad *skanks in the living room. 

*Skanking (from the Urban Dictionary)  

The bizarre, wild dance done to the music known as Ska. Not to be confused with a, "skank" skanking resembles running in place while flailing your arms.  Unskilled skankers are sometimes mistaken for seizure victims.
Ex: Good Skanker: Most Reel Big Fish fans. Identifiable by their large sunflower sunglasses and festive attire.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Jack and the X-Man

Hey, Owen. Naturally I've been pretty fixated with all the attendant tribulations and anxieties with raising a baby of your age, but I got a nice reminder the other day to appreciate just how easy you are. As someone once told me, "Appreciate each phase, because the next one is not always better than the last."

My friend and fellow stay-at-home dad Jack and I do "the trade-off" a couple of times per week at the rec centre. One day he takes care of you and his 18 month old son Ximon (uh...they're Basque) while I swim, then later in the week I return the favour when Jack goes for a run while you and I and Ximon hang out. We've done this probably a dozen times so far and generally it works out great; You're pretty chill with Jack and I have no worries about leaving you with an experienced Dad who I trust,  and Ximon is a mellow little guy who seems happy enough to toddle along with us on the days his dad splits. It's fun.

At least it usually is...

I guess Jack was recently away for a few days and little Ximon developed a 'touch' of separation anxiety. At the next trade-off, when Jack tried to walk away from us Ximon got pretty stressed and howled for him not to leave, grabbing at his dad's leg.

"Yeah, he's been doing this a bit recently." says Jack, "Let's head down to the playroom and the toys will distract him so I can leave."

"Ah," I think to myself, "Smart".

Yeah, Ximon wasn't having that.

Apparently the over-sized charms of the playroom were not nearly as interesting to him as clinging desperately to his Dad. At one point,  Jack tempts Ximon to check out the  slide as he winks at me and gestures with his chin towards the end of the big blue cylinder. I comply and move into position. With Ximon poised at the top, Jack says, "Yeah, go for it buddy" nodding enthusiastically behind his back in my direction.

All-of-a-sudden it dawns on me what's about to go down. I panic. I shake my head vigorously at Jack, eyes wide with alarm. Too late. Ximon slides into the void. Jack slips out the door like a ninja.

Ximon pops out the other end where I stand, holding you in one arm. I freeze and smile big. He immediately smells my fear, wheels around for his dad and finds only a swinging door.

Well, you can imagine how things went from here. The mellow little 1.5 year-old I had erstwhile known laid-down what can only be described as a full-on "wobbler" -- anguished sobs, dramatic collapses, blood curdling screams for his Dad, even some head butts against the playroom door for good measure.

Now, with you, by now I have developed a meager set of tools and strategies to deal with the various crises that can pop-up in our day: Fussing in the car? Easy: rock the car seat with my elbow while I drive. Getting hungry but it's still 30 minutes before mom nurses you? Here, suck on my finger, son. No worries.  But at this point, with Ximon thrashing himself against the door, you sitting in your car seat and starting to cry, the terrible realization dawns on me that I have ZERO skills suited to this particular situation. There's nothing in the tool box.

I try to pick Ximon up and move him over towards you so at least my twin crises are within the same 10 foot radius. This only serves to ramp him up even more as he thrashes wildly in my arms. I'm suddenly terrified that he may actually seriously harm himself, so I switch from, "How can I happy him up?" mode to, "How can I avoid giving Jack his son back with a few fresh dents in him?" mode. Other parents (read: Moms) in the playroom are starting to stare. Look away, people, I think to myself-- surely you've seen this before? A few comment, "Oh, looks like someone misses mom." Sheesh. I can't resist retorting with, "Missing his other Dad, actually". I relish the palpable awkwardness that follows and welcome the brief respite from my situation. My other friend Dave who is at the playroom with his daughter comes over with a cartoon on his iphone and tries to distract Ximon from his misery. Nice try, but no dice.

At  this point you are full-on crying in your car seat, but I can't leave my position 'spotting' Ximon for fear of the harm he might do himself. I'm desperate. I start to sweat. My brain races, speed-dialing through my feeble mental rolodex for something that will rescue me. Nothing. I give up.

"Well, OK, Ximon. Let's just go find your dad, then."

I pick up your car seat and we exit the playroom into the busy hallways of the rec centre, Ximon marching resolutely ahead of me. After about 30 steps he is so distracted by all the interesting sights and sounds of  people scurrying around that he has completely forgotten about his Dad. After 10 minutes of walking the halls I suggest we head to the playroom. He thinks it's the greatest idea ever.

20 minutes later I'm sitting on a bench in the playroom watching Ximon play on the slide while you suck contentedly on my finger, reflecting on what a parenting genius I am. Super Dad!

A little girl of about 6 sits next to me a few feet down. I smile and nod. Her mom pulls off her toque and lets out an audible sigh. The little girl's hair looks like it's been teased, blown, hair-sprayed and lovingly coiffed into a long, frizzy,  spectacular... mess. It's impressive. Very '80's metal band. I suppress a smile. The little girl looks over at me and says matter-of-factly, "My daddy did my hair today."

 I tell her it looks great. Mom rolls her eyes.  Another Super Dad.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Trust. Forgiveness. Sleep.

Hey, Owen. I was prepared for the worst, but it was even worse than that.

We started "sleep training" you last night. Any recent parent  will know what I'm talking about. There's many wildly differing and contradictory theories on how to do it, but no matter which method you choose you're in for tears,  heartache, and confusion... and baby won't like it much either.

It's not important which specific method we've put our money on, but we purposely chose one that does not require us to leave you alone with your anguish and "cry it out". Therefore, for better or worse, I was and will be with you for every sob, every choke, every heart-wrenching minute of panic and anxiety. I guess we're "all in" little guy:  we can't let the scariest, most confusing night of your life be for nothing. I suppose we've got to follow-through now.

One of the hardest parts is the doubt. You can will yourself on if you believe all the terror and sobs will be worth it --  if this is truly what's best for you and will lead us to a better place. But at the worst moments the insidious doubt creeps in like a shadow: How do I know that I'm doing this right? How do I know it's worth all this heartache? How do we know this lady isn't a crackpot who's just saying something -- anything -- to sell books to anxious parents? Will you be OK? Will you ever trust me again?

By 6:30 am I had all I could stand. I took you to the sofa and we finally slept. I wrapped you in my arms, laid you on your back on top of me, and absorbed your forgiveness. Mended your trust.

Later in the day I bundled you into your ergo carrier, your head against my chest,  and we walked in the spring sunshine feeling the snow melt under our boots while you absorbed my abiding love and commitment.

Forgiveness. Trust. Love. Commitment.  I hope these things will be enough to get us through tonight.


Night #2 was waaaay better than the first night. Is there hope?

Night #3 your mom took over. Up from 12 to 3 am. What fresh hell is this?!?!?!

We agreed we would give it 2 weeks before we bailed on this process, but of course we secretly both hoped  you would be sleeping through the night A LOT sooner than that. We knew it would be hard, and it is. You seem no worse for wear (if a little overtired, like this rest of us). Hopefully we'll all find the resolve to see it through.