Thursday, August 27, 2015

Yes, Dad's a Man - But We CAN Talk About That

"Daddy!" I heard my daughter scream from behind the bathroom door.  In a sheer panic, I dropped my kitchen knife that was chopping onions for dinner that strewn about the floor as I rushed to the bathroom door to make sure my daughter was OK.

My heart was pounding out of my chest and I frantically yelped, "What? Honey, what is it? Are you ok?"

"No.  I need Mom."

"Mom's at work."


I quickly realized she did not, in fact, trip and split her head open on the tub, nor did so sever a finger on one of my razors (though the urgency in her muffled scream promised otherwise).  She needed her mom because she had a "girl question," and since my wife would not be home for another hour, I was her only available option for advice.

"We've talked about this before, hon. I have never gotten my period, and I don't know what it feels like - but I know all the ups and downs and ins and outs and we can discuss this." 


Earlier this year, I had a brush with my daughter getting her first period on my watch.  I truly believed she had gotten her period, and panicked a bit (though held myself together as much as I could to act like I wasn't phased).  I wrote an article that tried to take a humorous perspective on the event (which did not actually happen that day), and had it published a few months later.  In a fascinating timing of destiny, my eleven year old daughter got her period the day the article was published.  She had read (and approved) the article before I submitted it for publication, so we had already begun a dialogue (and shared some laughs - link to the piece is below).  I knew 'silence' should not be accepted at face value.

"Remember how you thought it was funny when you read how 'brave' I was being when that incident happened with the popsicle, and you told me you saw right through it?"

"Um, yeah."

"I think we've come a long way since then and I truly am brave and am someone you can talk to if you need to, or ask questions if you have any."


"OK, if you change your mind, I am going to finish making dinner," I assured her.

As I turned back towards the kitchen, I heard the lock on the handle click as my daughter emerged from the bathroom looking absolutely miserable.  "Daddy, why do I feel like this?"  

I gave her a hug and then guided her towards the kitchen where I prepared a cup of chamomille tea and warmed a damp dishtowel in the microwave.  

"Here put this on your belly under your belly button," I advised, as I handed her the dishtowel.  I cleared my throat and gave my daughter that little 'we're about to get real' look I sometimes give her, as I added honey and lemon to her tea.  I continued,  "Your body is going through a lot of changes, as you know, and you are going to start experiencing your period every single month soon. You are lucky because as a female you are able to have kids, but with that gift comes this responsibility that can often feel like a curse or a burden."

"Why do we have to go through this every month?  I get so upset and emotional and I don't know why and then I hurt.  It makes we want to rip my hair out of my head."  

I chuckled to myself at the thought that I will soon have three daughters going through this and a wife in menopause.  I scrambled to find next words and offered, "I don't know why it has to be every month, and I don't know that it is fair that it has to be every month (in my head: for ANYONE!). The key is for you to recognize when you need some extra "me" time and take a step back from whatever you are doing.  Have a cup of tea.  Put a hot compress on your belly to help with the pain, and sit in a quiet room for a few minutes to regroup.  If you have symptoms that get worse, there are pills you can take, but I want you to try to follow these steps so you will learn now that your period doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It will be more like an inconvenience.  Don't allow all the feelings to take over your mood or ruin your day, and get ahead of the physical symptoms to make sure you feel well."

My daughter gave me the most beautiful and reassuring smile as though a lightbulb clicked on for her.  She cracked the half grin which means 'you're great dad' that she does every so often. I put my hand under her chin and winked and smiled, and returned to chopping onions. I motioned to her to join me in preparing dinner and she started peeling potatoes.

"So you basically have no idea or clue what you are talking about, but I can still go to you when I am scared?"  she asked in a slyly sarcastic undertone.

Without skipping a beat, I said, "You catch on quick, push-push (her nickname). I do my best, but I don't have all the answers. I imagine if I were faced with what women have to endure, that is what I would do." My daughter rolled her eyes and mouthed a dramatic "WOW" and smiled.

We both chuckled and prepared dinner while talking about school and work. My wife came home from work and had a conversation with our daughter and all was well in the world. 

I checked my email later that night, and push-push had sent me an email from the account we created for her to email her friends from her old school after we relocated.  I opened it up and found: "Dad, thank you for today and for actually being brave this time.  I don't think you were right, and that towel didn't do anything but make my shirt damp. I feel like I can talk to you about anything. I love you." 

I sighed and smiled at the same time, wishing I knew everything, but glad I handled the situation as well as I could.  I wrote back and told her that I am a parent and an adult, but I do not have all the answers (no one told me that as a kid).  I promised to always be there for her and that she could turn to me with EVERY question she ever has - I am strong enough and brave enough to handle anything." 

The next day I received another email asking me how she can tell if a boy likes her.  She is eleven. THAT is a lot to process, but I have seen her and a boy in the neighborhood interact several times where it is obvious "that" time is not far off.  I wrote back and advised her that I knew she liked (name redacted), and since I have seen how he regards her, and have witnessed how he will walk away from the other boys to walk with her, and listens to her and asks her questions, that most likely he likes her and that he is a good boy.

Later that night, she responded, "(name redacted)???  EW, gross Dad!  I meant (name redacted of two years older hockey playing boy who I am not particularly fond of)!!"

I have this sense of being on a precipice, and know that free-falling is not an option.  My daughter and I have since continued these email conversations on a daily basis.  Sometimes she just says "hi" (like back when she was to and would just randomly say 'hi'), and sometimes I get hard hitting questions.  I am not google and I am not female, but I am a father who loves and adores his kids.  I may not have all the answers, but I hope we maintain this connection and openness so that at least my empathy and understanding come through in the whirlwind that is about to guide the next years.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The one that did not stump me

Dear Dad,
I have one that is going to stump you. I was raised to respect my elders, and to grin and bear anything for the sake of keeping others comfortable, especially when they are guests in my home. My husband and I are both liberal Democrats and politics are important to us, but aside from voting and following the news and elections it ends there. My in laws, however, are die hard conservative Republicans and have something to say on everything from abortion, to gay rights, to illegals, to any type of entitlement "lazy bums" think they are entitled to!
My father in law is the worst. He arrives at my home and starts spewing off news stories like he was a ticker on fox news and does this in front of my young children. My husband knows it bothers me, but what he doesn't know is that I am about to go off on them! They came to dinner last week and started talking about the next presidential run and going off on what a moron Hilary Clinton is and how "only a woman would have 30,000 personal emails to delete as the secretary of state."
I don't want to rock the boat, but what do I do? I don't think I can sit through one more minute, never mind this Sunday's dinner with these people!! I love them, but what do I do?
Dear 'Did Not Stump Me',
I, too, have in laws and outspoken family and friends, and assure you, 'Did Not Stump Me', that you did not stump me, and I hope I can help you. I also frequently host dinner parties which are both work and friend oriented, and know that the first rule of thumb as a host: NEVER allow political, religious, or money talk. I have mastered the art of changing subjects when something controversial comes up, and pat myself on the back with my ability to keep the evening flowing in a peaceful and enjoyable way. When it comes to family, however, it is a whole different beast.
I, too, was raised to make sure those around me are comfortable while hosting a party, even if it is just dinner with my mom. I also have outspoken family members in my own and in my wife's family. My way of dealing with outspoken opinions is to cordially respect what someone is saying, and revert to my "change the subject super powers" as needed. When one crosses the line into 'newsfeed banter', however, I approach my wife and we discuss how to put the kibosh on things immediately.
We, too, have a family member or four who say things they should not be saying in front of six year old children and that crosses the line into inappropriate. We have confronted these family members - GENTLY - and advised them that current events are not part of the curriculum for our children, and that while we respect his/her opinions, we would like to reserve these types of discussions for when the children are sleeping, or when our hearing has completely failed. HA! OK, so maybe not that last part, but the point is we are direct, even when sometimes it feels uncomfortable.
My advice is for you and your husband to confront your in laws about this subject and communicate how you are feeling. I think setting boundaries is especially important when these conversations are taking place in your own home. Yes, they are your elders, but that is YOUR home and it is YOUR rules. You should never, even as host, be made to feel uncomfortable in your own home. You also have a right to communicate these feelings in their home because you are being a good parent. Why should anyone be discussing current events around small children? They should not be, it is inappropriate.
I send you good thoughts and energy, as you are going to go through something uncomfortable. I want you to ask yourself, 'Did Not Stump Me', at the end of the day: do you want to have one uncomfortable dinner with your in laws, or a lifetime of what you have been enduring?
We all have that outspoken friend or family member who takes things too far during normal conversation, or even on their social media accounts. How do you deal with the outspoken in your life?

The One With The Mom Who "Feels Wrong"

Dear Dad,
Please post this anonymously. My ex husband and I have been separated for 6 years and divorced for 1 year. We have both moved on as he is with another girl and I'm getting remarried in May.
My oldest son with my ex husband now has a cell phone. I look through my son's phone, as he is only 10, and discovered a text message sent to his dad's girlfriend that said: "I love you mom and dad". Now, mind you this lady has only been in his life for a year, and his dad has only been around for two. I get very upset hearing my son call her 'mom'. Am I wrong in feeling this is wrong?
Dear 'Feeling Wrong',
My answer, here, supersedes any prior advice I have given on this subject. I answered a similar question not long ago, and the feedback and discussion which followed my advice made me re-think my perspective.
One year hardly constitutes a girlfriend/boyfriend qualifying as a parent, step parent, or even parental figure. I believe it is inappropriate for your son to refer to your ex husband's girlfriend as "Mom." What if they break up? What if they never marry? I think even for a ten-year-old, calling two people 'Mom' is confusing (heck, I'm 40 and I won't call my mother-in-law 'Mom' as I already have a 'Mom' - but I also don't want to disrespect her, so I often just refer to my mother-in-law as: "Will you please pass the gravy?" or "Hey, do you know what time it is?" grin emoticon ).
I have several questions the information in your question does not provide answers to, but at the end of the day I am going to go with the consensus and with what I learned on this topic: it is NOT OK for your son to call his father's girlfriend of one year 'Mom', and you should immediately put the kibosh on him doing so.
My wife comes from a blended family, and we have Grandma, Nana, and Mee-Maw. My advice is to have your son and ex and ex's girlfriend come up with a title which is more respectful than calling her by name, but more appropriate to her role (and, while I don't know your feelings on the subject, I will assert here that: "Daddy's ho" or anything of that nature will probably not fly - in fact, probably you should not vote on her title). wink emoticon
I do have to add that once you are married in May, so long as your spouse is acting as a parent to your son, I find it completely appropriate for your son to refer to your new husband as "pop" or "Dad (whatever your last initial is)". If one is in a committed long term relationship and their spouse/partner is acting as a parental figure, they have earned the right to the appropriate parent-implying title. Please keep us updated and let us know what happens.
I believe a name is just a name, except when it comes to a situation like this. I once advised someone that if someone acts as a parent, they deserve to be called as such, without taking into consideration that duration and longevity play a crucial role in what a child calls a parent's current flame where there is no long term commitment nor deserved role for such a title. Do any of you have any experience with what to call a step-someone-my-parent-is-dating who is not married, nor engaged/planned to be married nor in a long term committed relationship anytime soon?