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It’s a scary world out there, parents, especially if you take everything — EVERYTHING — you see and hear in the news or on the Internet to heart. Sometimes you just have to step back as a parent and say “whoa.”
In the latest of our “City Dads Sessions” video series, our intrepid Los Angeles Dads Group co-organizer Trevor Mulligan asks several fathers for their best parenting tips, and as a result we got these great tips on how to “find your chill” when all seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.
Here is what they had to say:
City Dads Sessions: Finding Your Chill - YouTube
Thanks to these dads who take time for themselves for taking time out from the 2017 HomeDadCon at-home father convention in Portland this past September to share their words of wisdom.
There is friendship in them there hills. (Photo: Patricia Honea)
Friendship: What is it? Where do we find it? How do we keep it?
According to Facebook, a friend is someone we may have met for a minute, added to a list and left to the algorithm.
According to Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, friends (like Romans and countrymen, respectively) tend to lend their ears and are often prone to peer pressure.
According to my youngest son, friendship is a compass that points to where your heart is, regardless of time or distance.
Sorry, Bill, but I’m with the kid on this one.
“I’m not tired,” said that same kid, lying through his eyelids, then his mouth fell open and never closed again. We were five hours into a 10-hour flight, somewhere over something dark. It was late. We were all tired. He was asleep.
We were on our way to Sweden. Again. Friendship, you see, like any compass, is a magnetic thing, and it pulls us through the iron of our heartstrings. Frankly, it is a wonderful way to travel.
I get that it isn’t for everyone. There are far more obstacles to family travel than not, with money being perhaps the biggest. It wasn’t easy for us, either. In fact, it nearly didn’t happen. Despite buying our airfare so far in advance that it was cheaper than most domestic travel, and having accommodations provided via the generosity of our friends and their timeshare, it was still a big undertaking that involved a lot of saving and even more corners cut. The benefits, of course, outweigh everything.
Friendship is a pretty good investment
Our collective children learning to snowboard with the cabins in the distance. (Photo: Whit Honea)
The slopes of Storlien look soft from a distance, white and fluffy like marshmallow rivers running down the sloppy side of a bright, cold sundae; and the nuts in the thick of it are those you love the most, with sprinkles on their feet and downhill growing wide beneath them. Mountains are made for metaphors, while ice is cold and mostly water. It is not nearly as soft as the brochure suggests, but it is worth it all the same, even more so for the sharing.
This is where we spent a week, a quick walk in the snow, uphill both ways, between cabin and ski lifts. We were an overnight train ride from Gothenburg, sans Internet and dressed in more layers than an onion. The temperature stayed well below freezing. The wind blew it colder. The kitchen, however, was cozy with wine and conversation.
Friendship, when done correctly, becomes the family that you choose.
Ours started seven years ago, when two little boys, both new in town, met in a California classroom. Neither spoke the language of the other, nor did they seem to care, but they knew what laughter sounded like and they understood kindness perfectly. Their friendship rippled to include their older siblings and their parents, from play dates to family game nights to theme parks on the weekends. And then they moved back to Sweden, which could have been the end of it. We all know that life has done meaner things.
But it wasn’t. Absence, it turns out, really does make the heart grow fonder, but the digital age provided a tether that wouldn’t break. In fact, the boys’ friendship grew all the stronger, and they took the rest of us right along with them. It is an easy comfort.
Hence, our trip to Sweden, and plans already in motion for the next trip we will all take together. We’re thinking somewhere warmer.
Friendship is anything you want it to be, and everything you make it.
The United States is the only industrialized nation without a federal paid family leave law, but that might be changing — albeit slowly and only at the state level.
Four states, mostly recently New York, have added laws to make sure private employers allow workers to take time off with at least partial pay so they may care for a new child in the family or for a sick loved one. Washington state passed a law years ago but never enacted it because of funding issues. Connecticut’s legislature introduced bills in 2017 that only received symbolic debate in the state’s capital, though Democrats vow to bring the issue up again this year.
With some momentum behind the movement, the Modern Dads Podcast welcomes Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, an organization dedicated to promote equality and expand choices for women and men at all income levels so they may care for their families without sacrificing their economic security. Along with the New York’s employee-funded paid family leave law, we also discuss the 25th anniversary of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the potential for a nationwide paid family leave program.
When a child is born, a parent is born. It’s a simple and obvious concept.
And so our partner, WaterWipes, the world’s purest baby wipes, launched its #ParentIsBorn campaign with a party in New York City featuring well-known media influencers, celebrities, and member of our very own City Dads Group.
The campaign aims to showcase and celebrate parents’ journey, something that is too frequently overlooked amid the fuss of snapping baby photos and the routine drudgery of diaper changes.
City Dads Group co-founder Lance Somerfeld, appearing on a panel speaking to the #ParentIsBorn experience, reinforced WaterWipes messaging that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and often one must simply trust your instincts.
The panel at the WaterWipes #ParentIsBorn launch party in New York City featured, from left to right: moderator Rachel Gorton of Motherly; Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety; City Dads Group co-founder Lance Somerfeld; co-founder of Birdsong Brooklyn and doula Erica Livingston; and designer and influencer, Whitney Port.
“Parenting is being in the trenches, but with a ray of sunshine,” Somerfeld said at one point of the night, causing heads to nod throughout the room. “When they use the word ‘parent,’ a lot of people are talking about the mom. The bar for dads is still extremely low, and I try, as often as I can, to help elevate that bar. The more society portrays parents as a team, the more it’s going to make mom’s life easier as they won’t feel as much pressure, that they’ll feel they have a partner in this, that they don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility.”
The discussion — which also featured included Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety; doula and co-founder of Birdsong Brooklyn Erica Livingston; and actor, designer and new mother Whitney Port — was by turns funny, enlightening and even chilling as the speakers recounted their moment of realizing they were born as a parent.
Lance Somerfeld and Whitney Port pose for the paparazzi.
The panel proved encouraging and inspiring, but the night wasn’t finished when the panel concluded. WaterWipes put out a good spread of food and beverages, and even provided massage therapists. Members of our NYC Dads Group in attendance enjoyed an evening mingling with old friends and making new ones.
During the panel discussion, WaterWipes — makers of a soft and gentle moist towelette made from 99.9 percent water and a drop of fruit extract, debuted their stirring new commercial.
When a Baby is Born, a Parent is Born - YouTube
“Parenting is full of your highest highs and lowest lows, and we wanted to bring that to life in a way that felt powerful and true,” Sarah Lipes, brand marketing manager for WaterWipes USA, said about the #ParentIsBorn campaign. “Crashing waves signify rough times and tranquil water brings us back to those intimate, beautiful moments. As a brand that was founded by a parent, it’s important for us to accurately capture the parenthood experience and showcase the entirety of the journey.”
Many of our attending dads brought their children along to enjoy the evening, and having the kids around drove home the points of the campaign – that parenting is in fact full of ups and downs, and the journey we’re all on is something we don’t have to go through alone.
When a #ParentIsBorn, so too are the cute expressions you make when feeding your child, right Solomon?
NYC dads Chad R. MacDonald, Lance Somerfeld, Matt Schneider, Jason Greene and Rob Mathews enjoy the WaterWipes #ParentIsBorn launch party.
Evenings like this, with friends, food and fun, when you’re validated as a parent by others who are on the same journey, are absolutely priceless. Big thanks to WaterWipes, for a wonderful time, and reminding us of how important a time it is when a #ParentIsBorn.
All photos by Chad R. MacDonald.
Disclosure: We proudly partnered with WaterWipes and were compensated for this event and post.
On the same day President Trump reportedly said “s—hole” countries in Africa were inferior sources for future American immigrants, my 12th-grade daughter was starting to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in English class. The juxtaposition was too much.Conrad’s British novel indicts the racism of European imperialism in Africa in the late 1800s, specifically during the ivory trade. Ironically, however, many readers consider the novel a racist text because of the way it backgrounds Africa, stereotypes the “primitive” natives, and treats the whole continent as a blank slate for the white imagination.
So there I am debating the relative racism of a British writer’s 1899 novel, when Trump’s 2018 “s—hole” comment (and preference for Norway) drops into the mix. Talk about the return of the repressed. What a shameful moment for our public discourse that deserves bipartisan condemnation. This is not a criticism of Republicans or Democrats — just a call for all Americans to reject such language, and for all parents to help their children navigate the fallout.
After processing my disgust, I brainstormed ways to turn the incident into a teachable moment. First, my daughter and I discussed how wrong the statement was, but also how Trump’s denial that he said the word and his lack of an apology compounded the problem. I also condemned Trump’s defense that he had to use “tough” language to make progress on the immigration issue. What he said was not tough, straight-talking, or just politically incorrect. It was supremely ignorant and arrogant. Not only is the statement not true about African countries, but it completely ignores the destructive legacy of American slavery in many of those countries.
Second, I searched for recent books that explore parenting and racism in our current, far from “post-racial” reality. I was pleased to find Julie Lythcott-Haims’ recent memoir, Real American. Lythcott-Haims, who also wrote the free-range parenting book How to Raise an Adult, is the daughter of an African-American doctor and a white British teacher who married in 1966 in Ghana. Real American explores what it means to grow up “a biracial black woman in America,” sometimes in searing detail.
She explains that while growing up in white-dominated upper middle class environments, she struggled with her identity as white, black or sometimes neither. Rarely did she feel an integrated sense of self. As she declares, “I come from people who survived what America did to them. Ain’t I a Real American? . . . I’m so American it hurts.”
“Real American” by former Stanford University dean Julie Lythcott-Haims helps educate readers about racism and racist microaggressions.
Lythcott-Haims’ journey was filled with microaggressions. A poignant example is when her close white friend in high school said: “I don’t think of you as Black. I think of you as normal.” But over many years she learns to accept “my light-colored skin, the sound of my voice, the biracial kink of my hair … I would one day fully embrace my Black self like a long-lost mother, hold myself in my own arms.” She is also happily married to “the Jewish boy named Dan” who long ago “loved me when in my deepest self-loathing over being both too Black for whites and not Black enough for Blacks I couldn’t even locate a self with which to love myself.”
Lythcott-Haims and her husband are now parents of two multiethnic children, and she tells them: “You are part Black, Eastern European Jew, and Yorkshire coal miner. … You come from people who survived.” She also appreciates her husband’s efforts to become “the best possible white father to our Black son,” saying “He develops his consciousness about the Black experience by reading, listening, watching, informing himself.” If only all non-black Americans could engage in similar self-education, especially President Trump.
Beyond discussing Real American with me, probably the best way my daughter fought back against the “s—hole” comment happened a few days after it was reported. On Martin Luther King Day, she participated in a “Day of Service” involving people of many ethnicities. The whole experience reminded me of how much our children are watching and listening to the adult world, especially one dominated by cable news. Passionate, partisan debate over important issues like American immigration is fine. But blatant racism demands bipartisan rejection.
MommyCon hosts a DaddyCon subset of speakers and events just for dads at certain exhibitions around the country.
A little food, a little play and a whole lot of bonding between fathers and children — and probably among fathers themselves. That’s what City Dads Group will be bringing to major parenting events in five cities this year.
Local City Dads chapters will host lunchtime playdates for dads and kids at MommyCons being held in Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; New York City; Orlando; and Pasadena, Calif.
MommyCon is a nationwide educational/product exhibition series dedicated to natural parenting.
“We appreciate this opportunity to partner with MommyCon to create an opportunity for new and expecting dads to connect with City Dads Group across the United States,” said City Dads Group co-founder Matt Schneider. “Parents are in this together, so it great to see the MommyCon team welcome dads into the mix.”
In Chicago and Orlando, City Dads Group will actually be involved with DaddyCon, a separate track of educational panels, activities and workshops focused on fathering that runs concurrent with some MommyCon shows.
Chicago site of 1st MommyCon partnership
The partnership kicks off next month in Chicago. City Dads Group serves as media partner for the March 3-4, 2018, DaddyCon at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in suburb of Rosemont, Ill. The Chicago Dads Group will host a one-hour lunchtime/playdate event for its members at the convention, providing an opportunity to add to its membership while bringing some of our dads out the convention to learn and shop.
According to its organizers, DaddyCon focuses “on bringing fatherhood to the forefront of the parenting conversation.” Its mission calls for creating “a community of support, acceptance and non-judgement for parents journeying through parenthood.”
“With over a dozen speakers, the event convention will take a playful approach to discussing all aspects of fatherhood: from being there at birth through every diaper change, scraped knee and ballet recital. The conversation will explore first-hand accounts from todays most prominent father figures while exploring the bond fathers have with their children,” its website states.
The other MommyCon/City Dads Group events will take place:
Anchorage, situated on the south central coastline of the largest state in the union, contains around 300,000 residents — more than 40 percent of the state’s entire population. When the entire metropolitan area is taken into account, the 400,000 residents make up more than half of the Alaska’s population. All this makes Anchorage the perfect location for City Dads Group to open for business.
Michael Jenks, a married stay-at-home father of one boy, will lead the Anchorage Dads Group. He said he hopes to offer area fathers activities that won’t leave newcomers and the introvert “locked into an awkward social situation.”
“You don’t have to do anything but show up and have fun,” he said.
Jenks speaks from an experience common to most at-home dads. After leaving a full-time job in October 2016 to take care of his son, Franklin, now 2, he’d go out to parent-child activities and find only women there with children.
Stay-at-home father Michael Jenks, shown with his son, Franklin, is heading the new Anchorage Dads Group in Alaska. (Contributed photo)
“Women have a tremendous ability to develop new social networks based on life circumstances, where men tend to use existing networks, whether it be childhood friends, or work friends,” he said. “I met a lot of men, but we had no real organization due to the limited number of us compared to women.”
As a result, Jenks said the goals of Anchorage Dads Group are to:
Provide fun activities specifically designed for dads and kids.
Provide opportunities for kids to socialize and learn.
Provide opportunities for dads to talk about their “job” and learn ways to manage their children.
Jenks worked for 10 years at an award-winning healthcare organization, some of which he spent in maternal-child health management and improvement. “I was exposed to many studies that showed how much of an impact a father has in a child’s life. A positive male role model — father or father-figure and preferably both — is a great predictor of how well the child does throughout life,” he said.
The 40th birthday party my wife threw for me was legendary – the next day’s massive hangover being evidence enough.
My head pounded on that first official day of my fourth decade as I trudged out of bed and began picking up the remnants of the past night’s celebration.
As I emptied the second half-full beer can of the morning, I mumbled, “F*ck 40.”
My tone was dismissive – as if I was saying something snide like, “I’m better than ever” or “age is just a number” or “40 is still sort of a millennial, right?”
Maybe I was trying to convince myself.
The hangover, though, has not gone away. Four months later, my solemn disposition persists. And, whether I brand my subdued mood as a mid-life crisis, depression or just a funk – the fog has been heavy, real and has lasted far too long to ignore.
I’ve started calling this mood my “fine fog” – the state of being neither great nor terrible, not good or bad, not well or sick. I am stuck being “fine.”
There is a loneliness of living in neutral. Little has been written to help guys struggling like this. Talking to my buddies about how I’m feeling isn’t appealing either and, face it, men generally stink at emotional discussions anyway.
It is up to me to solve this. But no matter how much I tried, nothing lifted my “fine fog” – and that made me feel worse.
How could I not be “great,” I wondered. I have a great spouse, five great kids, a solid career path and relationships with friends that others covet?
It must be turning 40, right?
When I started feeling down, I thought the approaching holidays would help me regain my vigor. But no jingle bells, no silver bells, not even a trip to see my extended family helped. The fog continued to loom.
That’s when I started to realize that I might not be so fine.
When back at home after another fine day at work, I turned to my wife, “I think something is wrong, hun. I can’t seem to shake this funk. You all seem so happy, and I’m just not.”
She nodded. We talked for a while.
As it turns out, those around me had taken notice of my fine fog, too.
Later that night as I drifted off, I dismissively mumbled, “F*ck 40.”
How I’m beating those 40th birthday blues
I was at a tipping point. I had to change. Fine, for me, just is not good enough.
From the next morning on, I’ve tried.
I can’t say I’m happier than I was as a carefree 21-year-old. I won’t say I don’t have fleeting thoughts of self-doubt or of fear or of feeling unprepared or unworthy.
My fine fog does still roll in – but I try to burn it off quickly. I do so the only way I know how – through my family. After all, being a dad is what I do best – so it stands to reason that lifting the fog has to involved my wife and children.
My family is a case study in energetic happiness – and, I need some of that immediately.
My kids bounce out of bed each day.
My wife smiles more than she frowns.
When my kids see someone – a friend, the school crossing guard, anyone – they get excited.
Each of my five children fight to extend their day – rather than looking forward to it ending.
I’ve been working on modeling these simple behaviors – except maybe the whiny, crying 4-year-old’s “I’m not tired” tantrums each night at bedtime.
Today, I’m good. That is light years ahead of the “fine” I’ve been stuck in for the past half year.
I want to be great, though – to match the way I feel each day with the tremendously fortunate life I know have.
I’ll get there – I have to believe that sunshine await out there, somewhere.
But, until the sun permanently burns off the fog, it feels cathartic to, from time to time, say, “F*ck 40.”
Every year I leave town for a few days to attend a conference. In addition to my wife’s usual role “making the dough,” during these three or four days she also takes on my role: “running-the-shit-show.”
While at my conference I always learn a few things, but, it never fails, I learn just as much at home once I return from my trip. For example, upon returning, my wife told me all the things my kids did for themselves without any help from her. Most of these were out of necessity as she was trying to get herself ready for work, but nonetheless my kids did them without parental assistance nonetheless. Now I’m wonder if they’ve outgrown me.
When I’m at home, I get up well before my kids’ alarms (even though my son, Middle Man. is part robot and requires little sleep and is usually up anyway) to cook them breakfast. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not making pastries from scratch or gourmet meals, but I make eggs, sausage, pancakes, and some days granola, cereal, etc.
While my wife was in charge, my oldest daughter, First Born, make all the breakfasts every day. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve had her scrambled eggs, and they taste better than mine.
When I’m home, my other daughter, Blonde Bomber, asks for help getting dressed every single day. It doesn’t matter that she will get herself dressed and undressed 25 times playing dress-up, but dressing herself in reality rarely happens. When my wife was home running the show, Blonde Bomber got herself dressed, no questions asked. Talk about frustrating.
This got me thinking: Do my kids ask me for help, simply because they always have? Do I do more for my kids than I need to for my own sake? As a stay-at-home parent, this is difficult to wrap my brain around. My “job” is to take care of my kids, to do things for my kids. It has been this way since Day One. Now, the requirements of my job are changing. My kids now need me to do less for them. Instead, they need me there for them and they need me to teach them.
However, the more I teach them, the less they need me. See the trickiness of the situation I now find myself in?
“Dude, I felt the toothbrush and it’s not wet. It’s been three days since the bathroom was cleaned, yet the sink contains not a single glob of blue goo. And I marked the level of the anti-cavity rinse in the bottle with a Sharpie this morning and — boo-yah — it’s unchanged.”
For this is not the first time I’ve laid out how I compile all the evidence against him when he tries to fib his way out of brushing. Why doesn’t he learn from these calling outs about his lying? Seriously, he could just run the toothbrush under the water, put a dab of toothpaste on his tongue and a mess more in the sink, and the dump a little mouth rinse out?
I think it’s because deep down, he’s morally good and grounded. He’s also somewhat lazy.
What’s a dad to do with a lad who refuses to practice good oral hygiene even though said lad maintains a diet based on all the major members of the -ose family: glucose, fructose, dextrose, etc.?
I’ve tried reward charts, punishments, electric toothbrushes, musical toothbrushes, toothbrushes shaped like fire trucks, toothpastes featuring cartoon characters, toothpastes endorsed by TV stars — you know, everything a good American would try except standing there and actually watching him brush because that would make me a helicopter parent and kids needs to learn responsibility. Also, I’m somewhat lazy.
After one recent argument with him over his failure to brush and greater failure to lie convincingly, I rhetorically asked:
“What do I have to do to get you to brush your teeth?”
Since rhetoric, like penmanship, is not part of the school curriculum in our town, he had an answer.
“Drop your pants,” he said.
So I did.
I did as graceful a “half monty” as a desperate dad could muster. Thankfully, I had put on a pair of relatively new pair of boxer-briefs that day and the elastic held tight to my waist.
And no sooner did the pants hit the floor did the boy scurry up the stairs, twist on the tap and begin to brush.
Maybe I’m on to something here?
Next, I will attempt to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.