Dads Behaving Dadly

At the National At Home Dad Network Convention in Denver last year I met many fellow Stay At Home Dads from around the country. Two of the guys that I met, Al Watts and Hogan Hilling, shared their dream about a book they were writing together. They were soliciting submissions from dads who were willing to share stories about being dads. At that time I hadn’t really written very much since my college days. I hadn’t even started my blog yet and, to be completely honest, wasn’t sure if I had anything to offer them. Well, I started my blog a few weeks later and realized how much I enjoyed writing about my life as a SAHD of six kids. Then, shortly after the calendar flipped to 2014 I received an email from Hogan asking if I’d consider submitting something to their book project. I still didn’t know what to do as I didn’t think my writing was really worthy of consideration. After a few months of mulling his offer over I got over my own insecurities and emailed him my blog post from February, entitled Bad Dad: Seeking Forgiveness. Amazingly, I received word that they liked it enough to include an edited form of it in their book. I was going to be a published (contributing) author! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever happen. Yet, they sent word that the book was going to be released in June.

Dad book cover

Dads Behaving Dadly: 67 Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood is a collection of stories from dads around the world. But they’re more than just stories. They collectively show how modern dads are dealing with every day life in a more hands-on manner than ever before. Gone are the days where dads went off to work and returned home to read the paper while having a mixed drink before dinner was ready. This isn’t your grandfather’s book. From the very first entry clear through to the last one I was moved by the honesty and raw emotions in this book. Be warned. Have a box of tissues nearby. This isn’t a collection of feel-good stories that paint an unattainable picture of the perfect father. These 67 stories run the gamut of real-life experiences: the joy of birth and the agony of miscarriage; depression; divorce and blended families; parenting wins and parenting fails. The book stands on its own as a great representation of what it means to be a father in the 21st Century. As I read this book I was amazed by the many great things my peers are doing in their families and was inspired to be a better husband and father as a result. This is not a book just about SAHDs. Many of the men who contributed to the book work outside of the house. The common thread we all share is being a dad. While I’m proud of the overall book I’m humbled and honored to be a small part of it as a contributing author. It’s truly a dream come true to see my name in print.

book page

I bought several copies when Dads Behaving Dadly was released earlier this year and have been giving them away as gifts to family and friends. If you’re looking for a gift for any dad (or dad-to-be) this would be a fantastic idea. It’s available on Amazon (click here to order) for $17.28. (Free shipping if you have Prime membership.) This past weekend the New York Times published a wonderful article about the brotherhood of the Stay At Home Dad. Their reporter/photographer was at the convention in Denver this September to interview several of the conference attendees and book contributors while we had a book signing. The photo below appeared in the NYTimes and showed me signing the book. I was in the New York Times! How cool is that?

That's my bald dome in the lower right signing the book.

That’s my bald dome in the lower left signing the book. Hogan is in the middle and Al is next to him.

With Hogan at the book signing.

With Hogan at the book signing.

I'm honored to call these guys friends. They're also SAHDs and contributing authors to the book.

I’m honored to call these guys friends. They’re also SAHDs and contributing authors to the book.

Since I have enjoyed this book so much I want to give you, my readers, a chance to win your own autographed (yeah, I’ll sign it!) copy of this book. Simply enter through this Rafflecopter giveaway. Contest ends at midnight on December 1, 2014.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Please share this post with anyone you know who would benefit from and be inspired by a fantastic book about modern fatherhood.

++++++++++

Disclosure: I was not paid or compensated by Hogan or Al in any way for this post. The views represented are 100% mine.

Advertisements

The Hug That Defined My Teaching Career

“Can I give you a hug?” It was a simple question, really, spoken by a person who was trying to extend compassion to someone who was hurting. Yet, simply asking that question meant taking a huge risk, possibly putting a young career in jeopardy. It was 1996. I was barely 24 years old, just over a month into my second year as a teacher. I had gotten to school early that morning to prepare for my first hour science class. It was 7:15 am, which meant that I had roughly 35 minutes of peace and quiet before students were allowed in the building. At about 7:25 I heard some crying from the hallway just outside my classroom door. I discovered a girl standing in front of her open locker, sobbing uncontrollably. This girl was in my first hour class, and I asked her what was going on. She was barely able to communicate through sobs that some of the kids on the bus that morning had been making fun of her and said some pretty mean and hurtful things to her about her appearance. I had flashbacks to my own childhood, in which a lot of my classmates had made some pretty mean comments about my big ears and about that one time I had been mean to a classmate. I knew her pain all too well. I invited her to come into my classroom to get herself together before everyone else arrived. I handed her a box of tissues and kept on getting ready for the lab we were going to do that day in class. After a few minutes her sobs became more sighs, but she was still obviously hurting. As a young teacher I thought that I was ready and able to take on whatever challenges I would face in the classroom. I was wrong. There had been nothing in my own education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to prepare me for this particular moment.

calvin hug

Not knowing what else to do, I sat on a chair near her and asked her if she wanted to talk about it. She didn’t. Yet, when I looked into her eyes I could see that she was barely keeping it together, the tears still welling up. I couldn’t just let this girl suffer like this. What was I supposed to do? In that moment a bunch of thoughts whizzed through my head. It was obvious that this girl needed a hug, some reassurance, some humanity. But, if I gave her a hug I could get fired for “inappropriate contact” with a student, right? Or maybe get hauled off to jail? Bye-bye, teaching career. Bye-bye wife and young daughter. Seriously, those thoughts were going through my mind at that moment. Instead, I looked at this girl as someone’s daughter who needed some help to get through her own teenage crisis. So, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and mustered as much courage as I could as I asked her, “Could I give you a hug?”. She nodded and we embraced. At that time my own daughter was only two so I had never known what it was like for a young adult to literally melt into your embrace. After what seemed like several minutes but was actually probably only 15-30 seconds she took a big breath and sat down again. Only, she looked at me with what appeared to be a slight smile, a marked change from moments before. She excused herself to the bathroom to wash off her face and returned a few minutes later all ready for the school day to begin.

I was glad that she was feeling so much better but still very nervous about what had just happened. Had I crossed some line by giving her a hug? I reassured myself that I had done nothing wrong by showing her some kindness and compassion in her time of need. I was actually feeling pretty good about it when I received a voice mail from her mother the next day. I nervously played the message from her and was greatly relieved when she thanked me for being so kind and understanding. It put my mind at ease that I had done the right thing. A few weeks later I met her parents in person at Parent-Teacher Conferences. The first thing that they brought up was this specific incident and thanked me again for my thoughtful actions. As we talked more I learned that their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was coming up in a few weeks. Having been raised in a Christian home I had no idea of the amount of preparation by the child that goes into such an event. They graciously extended an invitation for my wife and I to attend the ceremony. It was an eye-opening opportunity for me to learn more about my students and another culture that I doubt would have happened if not for “the hug”.

Looking back on this incident from nearly 20 years ago I think that “the hug” was really a career-defining moment for me as a teacher. It showed me the importance of being real with my students. I had heard some professor during undergrad talk about the importance of developing rapport with students and he tossed out one of my favorite quotes

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. -Theodore Roosevelt

This particular experience perfectly illustrated his point for me. I had been told by some older, more veteran teachers, that I was being too “real” with my students. That they would only respect me if I kept them at arm’s length. Don’t ever let them really know you. Yet, that wasn’t me at all. One of the things that I loved about teaching was the relationships that I could build with my students over the course of the year. I truly wanted to make a difference in their lives and I felt that would only happen if I showed them my humanity; showed them that I cared.

Before writing this post I contacted the girl I wrote about above. Of course, she’s no longer a “girl” because, well, that was 1996. We talked on the phone about this incident and how it impacted her life. She agreed to let me use her first name but I sensed some hesitation so I’m not going name her. Interestingly enough, she is a teacher herself. She told me that there were three teachers, one in elementary school, one in middle school (guess who?!) and one in high school that really impacted her in a positive way. She lives in a major city on the East Coast and teaches third grade. She said that she, too, has discovered the importance and value of being real with her students, something that she learned way back in middle school. I have to admit that it made me a little nostalgic for my teaching career. I miss the relational aspect of it. But not enough to give up my current gig. (Not even close.)

Finally, while I believe that “the hug” was a defining moment in my teaching career, I know that it has also impacted my career as a Stay At Home Dad. I try to show my kids how much I care every single day. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes an encouraging word, sometimes just a safe place to let them vent. All I know is the importance of being real with them. I’ve worked hard to establish a trust and rapport with them so that they will feel comfortable with bringing big stuff to me for us to deal with. Together.

hugs-101

Do the Right Thing: An Apology 30 Years Too Late

“Dad, what was the meanest thing you did when you were a kid?” That simple question by my ten year old son set in motion an apology that was 30 years overdue. It was really an innocent conversation last month with my son while we made some cookies together in the kitchen. He asked me that question and immediately I thought of the only time in my life when I was truly mean to someone else. I shared with him two incidents from when I was in sixth grade. Upon hearing the stories from my past, my son immediately asked, “Did you apologize to her for that?“. I told him that, well, no, I hadn’t apologized back then because I never admitted to her what I had done. “You should do it now, Dad.” I agreed and told him that I’d try to find her on Facebook and see what I could do about it. After all, it’s never too late to try to make things right…even if it’s 30 years later!

So, I checked on Facebook. No Kelly. I Googled her. No Kelly. I looked on whitepages.com. No Kelly. As a last resort, I posted on Facebook to see if any of my friends from high school knew of her now. To my surprise, a few of them knew of her whereabouts, as she was still living and working in the area. I reached out to one of the people who had responded, Carrie, my childhood friend and next door neighbor, to see if she would be willing to deliver a letter from me to Kelly. Thankfully, Carrie agreed and I composed my letter and emailed it across the country from Washington to Wisconsin. I’ll admit that I was more than a little nervous about actually contacting Kelly after all these years. Was I going to cause her even more pain by bringing up the past? Would she respond? If she did, how would she respond? I told my son (and my other kids, for that matter) that I had sent the letter and that Carrie was going to deliver it a few days later. Here’s the letter that I wrote.

Dear Kelly,

I’m writing you today as a result of a conversation I had with my ten year old son a few days ago. He asked me to tell him about the meanest thing I did when I was a kid. Without hesitation my mind raced back to a couple of choices I made as a twelve year old at Wilson Elementary School in Neenah. I shared with him two stories of how I mistreated you. Actually, I didn’t just mistreat you, I was downright mean, cruel and hurtful. The first incident I recalled was how I purposely left you behind when my mom was driving a group of us to Neenah High School for a district-wide choir rehearsal. In an attempt to gain favor with the “popular” kids I lied to you about where to meet so that you wouldn’t be in the van with us. At school the next day I had to lie to you again to cover up my original lie. The second incident was how I discovered your locker ajar (it was next to mine, I think) and saw a tampon on the shelf. Instead of simply shutting your locker I took the tampon and placed it on your desk for everyone to see upon our return from lunch and recess. Again, I chose to purposely embarrass and hurt you. Even putting these awful actions from 30 years ago in writing makes me feel like a huge jerk all over again.

And that brings me to the present. My son was shocked that I could have been so mean, cruel and hurtful. Quite frankly, so am I. He asked me one question, “Did you ever apologize to her?”. Regrettably, the answer to that was “no”. I told him that I was so ashamed of myself that I never admitted to you that I had lied to you about the choir trip or confessed about putting the tampon on your desk. I decided that I needed to own up to it and, through the connections of old classmates on Facebook, I found you. So, Kelly, I want you to know how sorry I am for making those awful choices. Will you please forgive me for choosing to be mean, cruel and hurtful to you. I know that I cannot erase the hurt that I caused years ago. I’ve taught my children the importance of both apologizing and seeking forgiveness and this is an opportunity for me to do that, albeit 30 years too late.

I understand if you don’t want to contact me about this. If you would like to contact me you can call or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email me at xxxxxxx@gmail.com. I live in Washington state with my family (wife and six kids) and get back to visit my mom in Neenah once in a while. I’d love to hear about how you’ve been if you want to reach out. I wish you and yours peace and joy.

Sincerely,

Carl

Kelly responded a few days later in an email.

Dear Carl,

Imagine my surprise at your letter being delivered to me at work today. I hadn’t thought about those things in many years. Of course I forgive you. The reason being Jesus forgives me my wrongs against others as well. While I cannot deny those things hurt, and yes some one told me in a rather mean way I had been left behind a bit later. I know that the in crowd can be a huge pressure at that age. After a time you learn to be yourself no matter what others do. School that year was rough but it was used in ways that built a heart of compassion within me. That awkward kid figured out that God loved her very much as the years went by, no matter what others may have done. Even then I knew God saw the tears I tried so hard to hide from others. It built in me compassion for others, to treat others as I wish to be treated.

Fast forward to now. Twenty-one years of marriage, a son soon to be twenty-one, an eleven year daughter. Life is never boring here. I work my secular job while being an assistant pastor at a small church for the past few years.

May God bless you and keep you well.

Kelly

When I received that email I was snuggling my 16 month old daughter in my arms as she was falling asleep. Through tears of joy I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for such an amazing response. Later that evening I replied.

Dear Kelly,
Wow. I am completely blown away by the grace and kindness of your message. I’m so thankful that God was able to turn such a difficult time in your life into something positive for you. I actually learned a similar lesson about compassion and kindness for others as a result of being mean to you. Reading about how God has used you for his good despite hard circumstances makes me think of how God used Joseph for His greater purpose after the terrible treatment he received from both his brothers and Potiphar’s wife. I’m glad that you have such a strong faith. And, honestly, I’m even more disappointed in my own shortcomings from years ago because I, too, grew up in a Christian family and I knew that what I was doing was wrong.
I told my kids yesterday that I had written you a letter and that Carrie had delivered it before getting your response. I’m excited to share it with them because it’s really why I did this in the first place. To show that it’s never too late to do the right thing, even if it’s 30 years later. I’m also eager to show them, through your gracious letter, how God can turn hardship into a beautiful testimony to His enduring love and faithfulness.
Blessings to you and your family,
Carl
As I shared with my children that next day about Kelly’s amazing letter I realized that I wanted to blog about this experience of seeking forgiveness but would only do so with Kelly’s permission, which she graciously granted. I’m glad that my son asked me that question last month because, without it, I probably wouldn’t have sought out Kelly to apologize for my poor choices 30 years ago. I didn’t share this so that you all would think that I’m some sort of saint because I apologized for something I did a long time ago. Nope, I’m human and just as flawed as anyone else. I shared this because it shows that it is possible to try and make amends for mistakes from the past. I would encourage you to not wait 30 years, though, before seeking forgiveness. However long it takes, it’s never too late to do the right thing!

Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish

I’ve been a parent for almost twenty years and have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books to my six children over those years. My wife and I have placed a high value on reading to our children so that they can not only learn how to read but also to love to read. Our personal “library” of children’s books is large and includes classics like Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla, 10 Little Rubber Ducks, Dr. Seuss, and many others. As a Stay At Home Dad I make it a priority to bring my kids to the library so that they can choose books for themselves. It helps to give them ownership and builds excitement and anticipation for when we return home and snuggle up on the sofa to read together. We can travel to many wonderful and exciting places through the pictures and words in those books. There’s nothing quite as sweet as the feeling of your children nestled into your lap, heads resting against your chest as they contentedly connect with the book.

Despite all of these lovely sentiments and feelings surrounding reading to my children I have one major issue. Some of the books that we own or check out from the library are really poorly written and/or illustrated. I’ll admit that my formal education is not in Art or Literature or Writing. The extent of my education in those areas came from a few School of Education courses while I was in college. I guess my “qualification” to write a book review comes from a limited formal background combined with pretty extensive field (or couch) experience as a parent. Like most parents, if the book I’m reading to my kids is hard to follow or uninteresting for the kids it’s going to be even harder to read with much feeling or interest on my part. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Barbie and Clifford books.)

What if I told you that there’s an opportunity for you to get your hands on a fantastic new book that’s not even yet published? Would you consider supporting such a venture? It just so happens that my friend and fellow SAHD, Christopher Routly, is back at it again with another book. Last year I met him at the National At Home Dad Network annual convention in Denver, Colorado and I was thrilled to win a paperback copy of one of his children’s books, The Animalphabet, which he authored and illustrated for his own two boys back in 2012. I liked his colorful and vibrant illustrations and, upon bringing the book home, my kids agreed. Well, this time around, in his yet-unpublished book, Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish, Chris has taken a simple and slightly silly sounding statement from one of his kids and created a picture book that tells the story of two brothers who are packing for a trip. One of them packs a jellyfish and the story goes from there. Chris was kind enough to send me a link to a digital copy of his book and a few things about it caught my eye. First, his illustrations are engaging, colorful and simple. The text flows nicely between the brothers while sneakily introducing new vocabulary to the unsuspecting reader. Do you know the proper term for a group of jellyfish? I didn’t. But it’s in the book. (Bloom, in case you’re wondering.) Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish is also uses humor to draw in the reader. I showed the book to both my four year old daughter and ten year old son and they both loved it. When asked why he liked it so much, my son said “I think it’s pretty cool that he wrote a story about what his son said. And I liked the part about having a jellyfish clean up your messy room. That would be fun.” My four year old mostly laughed and giggled and said that it was silly…before requesting to read it again. It’s one of those books that I would enjoy reading right along with my kids. Even multiple times in a row!

Jellyfish

What’s especially cool about Chris’s book is that it’s not even published yet. It’s pretty much ready to go to the publisher but there’s one catch. Money. (It’s always that, isn’t it?) This time around Chris wants to raise $10,000 to properly launch his book. He actually made a short video about his book and related fundraising campaign. Please take a moment to watch it. He explains it far better than me. Plus, there’s some nice music in the background of the video clip to cheer you up. Interestingly enough, after reading the book and watching the short video my son asked if he could donate to Chris’s book campaign from the money that he’s saved from allowances and doing extra chores. I’m also making a contribution. But, here’s the deal. It’s not like you’re just giving Chris your money and you get nothing for it. There are rewards for making a contribution. In essence, you’re pre-ordering the book since most of the rewards include getting a signed hard-cover copy of the book. It’s not often that one gets a chance to help “kickstart” a project like this. Please, check out Chris’s video about his book or his blog, which is Daddy Doctrines, for more information.

Finally, don’t just take my word about this book. Check out a review from another friend named Chris, who is also a SAHD and blogger at DadNCharge, living in Philadelphia, PA. Neither one of us was compensated in any way (now or in the future) for our reviews. We’re simply passing along an opportunity to help launch a wonderful children’s book while simultaneously encouraging Christopher Routly to keep on pursing his passion for writing and illustrating children’s books.