Dear ScaryMommy, Marginalizing Dads is a Scary Mistake

Since becoming a father, I, like many people, have spoken up about dads playing more of an involved role in the upbringing of their children — as well as how this increased involvement is still not only being downplayed, but even ridiculed by so many. And being the kind of person who loves to whip out my soapbox from time to time, I never have a problem when it comes to defending fellow dads.
This year has been unofficially deemed the year of the dad. We’ve seen some pretty big strides taken to help break down the stereotypes of the idiot dad, but it still feels like we have a long way to go. For every hip and cool commercial, like #HowtoDad from Cheerios and the call to celebrate dads with Real Dad Moments by Dove Body Care, we still encounter examples of dads being marginalized on a daily basis. Some men even face particularly harsh criticism; such was the case with baseball player Daniel Murphy, who took off the three days of paternity leave granted to each player by the MLB to attend the birth of his son. Because that paternity leave conflicted with opening day, Murphy was subjected to major criticism by many in the media. Even long-time family traditions like apple picking are not safe from those who would like to drum up a laugh at dad’s expense. Don’t believe me, just look at the picture below: Read more

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That Time My Marriage Almost Ended, And Why That’s a Good Thing

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In the fall of 2012, my 3 year marriage to the love of my life was moments away from being over. My wife and I had many heated arguments during which the dreaded word divorce was shouted with such anger that, to this day, I continue to wonder how we came out the other side.
But much like that dreaded first step into a cold swimming pool, I know it’s time I take a deep breath and step off the side of the pool if I ever want to enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from a refreshing swim. Yes, it’s going to suck at first, but in the end there is a much needed benefit. For me, right now, the benefit I’m looking for is the unblocking of my mind; a release from the baggage that continues to weigh me down and impact my well-being. Allow me to back up a bit before we move forward.
Like many first time parents, that first year of my son’s life was really hard on the Wife and me. For reasons we couldn’t pinpoint, our history of meeting in the middle and balancing out one another, was eluding us.
We dealt with a great deal of stress during October-December of 2011. My Wife sadly lost her grandmother, we had a scare at 20 weeks where we thought our son was coming early, family drama throughout the holidays, and finally a couple we associated with gave birth to their son about 5 weeks before us, and named him the same name we were going to name our son. Yes, it’s laughable NOW to think of how worked up we got over the whole naming situation, but try explaining that to an almost 8 month pregnant woman.
Having some distance, I am able to look back and recognize these were simply excuses for our troubles. The real reason we were having issues is because we weren’t communicating. Simply put, we weren’t talking, our communication was broken. At least not about the things that didn’t involve sleep training, feeding and diaper duty. We neglected to communicate about the stuff that mattered most: Us.
So fast forward almost a year later. Our son was very difficult in his first year. No, that’s not fair to him. He was typical baby, maybe a bit more cranky than others, but normal nonetheless. It was his parents that were not well.
Unresolved stress from the prior year, was now growing with the addition of new stress. It all continued to pile up – stress of a cranky baby, a very difficult bout of postpartum depression, my own person life-long struggles with depression. And thanks to the continued presence of social media, it felt as if all we saw were other couples with children the same age as our son bragging about how awesome life was, and how kick-ass they were at being new moms and dads. I swear to everything holy, if I saw one more “#Blessed,” coupled with a pictures of an angelic baby with smiling, seemingly well-rested parents, I was going to go on a homicidal rampage.
We spent more time sitting around hating the kind of parents/people we weren’t while being angry at each other, that we failed to invest even one second in our marriage and, even more importantly, ourselves.
We tried, on occasion, to be that better person and support one another, even in our supremely broken state. Most days, unfortunately it was an exercise in futility.
But, even in all our brokenness we knew we still wanted us to work. So we took steps to fix us. We sought outside help, and dedicated ourselves to being better with each other. Was it easy? No fucking way. But nothing good, nothing that matters ever is.
I bring all this up because the Wife and I were having a discussion while out to lunch recently – a discussion that floored me.
Wife: You know, I’m kind of thankful for all the crap we went through two years ago.
Me: How in the hell can you say that?!? What good can you possibly have gained from that? We threatened each other with divorce.
Wife: Yeah, but we didn’t do it. And besides, look at all the good in our life now. None of that would be here if we didn’t go through the dark times.
Me: Oh, bullshit. I just cannot agree. You don’t think we would be happy or in a good place if we didn’t almost ruin each other.
Wife: In a way, no, I don’t. Neither one of us would be on the path we’re on now without our rough time.
I left lunch in a fog of confusion and disbelief. How could she see what we went through as a good thing? Our son was almost a statistic of a broken home before he even knew what a home was. But as I sat with it for a while, I got to thinking that maybe she had a point.
Since her bought with PPD my Wife has worked very hard at changing her career/life path. She is now tirelessly working on becoming a birth educator and eventually wants to open a center for women that will focus on every need during pregnancy and post-natal; she explained that this is a path she most definitely would not have embarked on if we hadn’t experienced the rough period, especially if our experience was similar to the #Blessed people because the motivation to help others would have not been there. She also pointed out my renewed desire for writing as an example of how things have gotten better. Yes, I was writing/blogging before my son, but I had little direction. Now I have found that direction, started my own website (PapaDoesPreach.com) and have even formed relationships with other mom/dad bloggers. Many of those relationship have helped me see that parenting, as well as cultivating a marriage, is a rough and sometimes messy process, but at the end of the day both worth the effort.
From time to time friends have remarked how they think the Wife and I are the perfect couple, and how they one day hope to have what we have. They wonder how we do it, how we manage to be so great. I just hope after reading this, they now understand when I simply answer with, “it takes hard work” that I really mean it.
My Wife made the point during our lunch conversation that we should celebrate the fact that we’re better with each other. Are we perfect? Not even close. Do we still have room to be better? Of course – there is always room for growth. But all in all we are a team again. Before the pregnancy funk we made a promise to each other to always value one another the same way we did before we found out we were going to have a baby. Just as we did the day we said our vows to each other.
Because at the end of the day, “we were” before “he was”.

Reframing Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2014 was a little over a week ago. As the day neared I began to dread it; the same way I do every year. I had planned to write a piece about how hard the day is for me due to my fractured relationship with my mom, but for whatever reason the words just weren’t coming to me.
I have written a lot over the years about my strained, and now altogether non-existent, relationship with my mother, but recently I have been asking myself, “What message are you trying to get across with this? Are you just complaining; are you looking for a hug? Or are you actually trying to convey a real message and connect with others who might be dealing with the same issue?” To be honest, I’m not sure, but having looked back as much of my writings it feels like I’m doing a great deal of whining and not as much connecting as I would have liked. I’d like to change that going forward.
In 2006, after what felt like a life time of emotional abuse (and physical when I was younger), I cut off all communication with my mother. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I can remember standing on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant where my girlfriend (now my awesome Wife) and I had just shared Sunday brunch. I can also still vividly remember feeling the pain of listening to my mother on the other end of the phone telling me that I was no longer welcome in the family; I had been told this on many occasions during my life, as it was my mother’s favorite dagger to use when bullying me or trying to emotionally break me to get her way. But most of all I can also remember the overwhelming sense of relief when on that day after brunch, I finally stood up for myself and said, “No more!” I chose to be free of the abuse.
I wish I could say life got easier once I made that choice, but the reality is that it didn’t. In many ways it got worse, but those are stories for another time.
Eventually my Wife and I decided to relocate to the other side of the country, not altogether because of my mother, but she definitely factored into the decision. And since living on the East Coast, life has chilled out as it pertains to my estranged family. But every year (mostly around the holidays, and Mother’s Day) I’m reminded of a dynamic that is missing from my life, which I so desperately wish was there. I wish I had a mother/son relationship to foster in my life, and even more now that I have a child of my own.
It has been very difficult to see other friends who have had children cultivate, grow and experience this new and awesome relationship with their kids and their parents. I witness how they change as adults, and cannot help but be a bit envious as they can lean on the lessons of their parents to help them become better parents themselves. I don’t have that feeling or resource for my son, but more importantly I don’t have that relationship for me. This leads to a great deal of my anxiety about being a parent.
I know that parental estrangement is not as uncommon as it used to be, which is kind of sad in itself, because that just means the idea of broken families and estranged kids has become the norm now. In fact, it’s becoming so common that individuals in the media are starting to take notice.
At the end of 2013, I was honored to be interviewed for article written on the Huffington Post Parents website. The article was about people who have become estranged from their parents, and have now become parents themselves. Titled, “How To Be A Parent When You’ve Stopped Talking To Your Own,” was written by Catherin Pearson and did an excellent job capturing the whirlwind of feelings experienced by a new generation of young parents who don’t necessarily have the strong family dynamic to lean on.
In the article Pearson quotes a psychologist (Joshua Coleman) who says that one reason why we see estrangement on the rise is that over the last five decades we have become a “culture of individualism.” He goes on to say that kids are now asking themselves, “Does this family work for me?   Is this where I want to be?” While not altogether untrue, I really feel Coleman’s point of view make this topic way too narrow.
At least for me, and many others whom I have spoken with over the years, the decision to break ties with our families did not come as easy as it sounds in Coleman’s questions. It wasn’t simply a question of does this work for me. The simplistic question strips away all contexts for why people feel the need to break ties. It instead make people sound selfish and self-centered, when in many, if not most cases those same individuals would give anything to have family support.   For me, I had dealt with what felt like a lifetime of abuse, and one day I decided enough was enough. And though I made that decision, almost a decade later it’s still very hard on me; sometimes on a daily basis. Since making that decision I have battled my own substance abuse issues, and I still battle depression on a regular basis. But through all my trials I do feel lucky that I have had some incredible friends and loved ones, like my Wife, by my side to help me through.
The past eight years’ worth of Mother’s Days have been hard; not having someone of my own to call and say, “Hey, thanks for being an awesome mom to me.” But, it’s not like the mother’s days pre-estrangement were all puppy dogs and rainbows either. So for last two years I have made a strong effort to reframe how I see Mother’s Day. While it will always be hard because of my past, I have instead chosen to focus on, not the mother that I had, but the mother I live with now. I am trading in the sadness and negativity of the mother who I lived with growing up, for the mother that I live with now and who is raising our son to be a healthy and happy boy. And like so many ways we celebrate in our house, my Wife chose to celebrate Mother’s Day 2014 with me. She did that by buying me a Mother’s Day gift saying, “I know this is my day, but I couldn’t do it without you.” We both know she could, but it’s still nice to be loved so much that she would say that.
 
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Gifts my Wife got for *me* on Mother’s Day, because we do this as a team.