The Perspective of My Messy Kitchen

At just after 2 am Pacific time last Wednesday morning I pulled our van into our driveway, arriving home with my youngest three kids (ages 11, 5 and 2) after a week-long vacation at Grandma’s house in Florida. Nearly 17 hours before, we had hugged her goodbye and made our way diagonally across the U.S., taking a variety of planes, trains and automobiles to get back to our home in the state of Washington. We were all exhausted from traveling, yet my kids were still excited to go hug Mommy, who was already sleeping. They ran in ahead of me as I brought in a couple of bags, dropped them on the floor inside the front door, and followed them upstairs. The first thing I noticed once I got upstairs was the clean floor of my girls’ room, which had been totally messy with clothes, shoes, toys, and plastic bins when we left a week earlier. My wife had cleaned it all up while we had been gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to find upon our return. It was a job that had taken her a considerable amount of time to complete and I made sure to thank her for doing it before I went to sleep that night.

At about 5 am my five year old woke me up, complaining of a headache and hunger. Obviously the three hour time change and long day of travel was catching up to her. I brought her to the kitchen to get her some yogurt and a glass of milk. I wasn’t prepared for the mess that was revealed when I turned on the lights in the kitchen. Every surface of the counter was covered with what appeared to be week-old wrappers and boxes from several restaurants, dirty dishes, mail, textbooks, half-filled soda cans and mostly empty cups. I slowly shook my head in disbelief, got my daughter her food. After two bites she was full and I put away her yogurt and milk in the fridge and turned out the lights. The messy kitchen could be dealt with later after I had more sleep.

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My Messy Kitchen.

Thankfully, my younger two kids slept in until about 10 am that day, so I was feeling reasonably well-rested and appreciated the warm sunshine as we began our first day back home. The girls marveled at their now-clean room and I made sure to remind them that it was because of the hard work of their mother that it was so nice for them. They wasted little time in bringing some dolls and stuffed animals into their room to play on the expanse of clean carpet. While they entertained themselves upstairs I snuck away to the kitchen to assess the mess in the light of day. It was just as bad as I had remembered from the middle of the night. Only, this time I started to feel really angry at my wife and two teenage daughters. It felt like a literal and figurative F-you to see a full load of clean dishes in the dishwasher, dirty dishes piled up in the sink and on the countertops, and the rest of the mess all over the place. Even the dining room table, which had been completely cleaned (by me!) after our Easter dinner the day before we left, was full of all kinds of stuff that didn’t belong there. I debated taking my little girls to a nearby favorite cafe to eat because of the mess. I really wanted to teach my wife and older kids a lesson about respect and responsibility. I felt this almost righteous indignation because I had worked really hard to make sure that the house was tidy before we left so that there would be no excuse for it to be messy upon my return. I really wanted to just leave the mess for them to clean up. I didn’t deserve this extra work. This was literally their mess to clean up.

As I was starting to really get myself worked up over this my two year old wandered into the kitchen to ask me to make her some pancakes for breakfast. Pretty please with sugar on top, Daddy? Of course, even though there was not even one spot on the counters clean enough to to fit a mixing bowl, much less a griddle, I told her that I would be happy to do that once I cleaned up a little bit. Without being asked, she cheerfully started to empty the dishwasher. If my little one could help clean, I figured that I really had to figure out a way to get over myself and get a better attitude about this mess, but, oh boy, I was struggling. I decided some upbeat Christian music might help change my angry spirit, so I plugged my iPhone into some speakers and started cleaning alongside my little girl. It took a few songs until I really started to realize that cleaning up someone else’s mess wasn’t really the end of the world. Sure, it was irritating and disappointing. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to come home to a cleaner kitchen. But, as I began to clean, I started to gain a different perspective from my messy kitchen.

For one thing, while we were having a great time at Grandma’s pool and at the beach, my wife was busy working at her job to provide financially for our family and my teenage daughters were busy with school, homework and water polo practice. Because of my wife’s faithfulness in working hard at all times, even while I am on vacation, I am able to be a Stay At Home Dad. I am able to take these kinds of trips with my kids. Sure, it was a working vacation for me because my SAHD duties didn’t end just because I wasn’t at home, but it was still a vacation all the same. Also, it dawned on me that this was an opportunity for me to really practice what I preach, or, at least blog about. Just a few weeks ago I wrote What’s In Your Garden?, a blog post about cultivating kindness and gratitude in all of my relationships by focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. After all, since my wife had done a great job of cleaning up the girls’ room and my girls had taken care of their school responsibilities, cleaning up the kitchen shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? Even if my attitude hadn’t fully caught up with that positivity, I was sure that it would at some point. Then, my phone rang, cutting off the uplifting music and my mojo along with it.

It was my oldest daughter, calling to talk about some other stuff. I wasn’t really in a mood to talk at that moment and I was, sadly, a little short with her, as I let my frustration with the situation in my kitchen affect my conversation with her. As I was talking with her and flipping pancakes my teenage daughters arrived home from school (it was an early-release day) and came in the kitchen to say hi, as they hadn’t seen me since we had gotten back home. Instead of returning their greetings, I shot a very sarcastic “Thanks for the mess, girls!” at them. So much for that attitude of gratitude. Epic dad fail. That, obviously, set a negative tone for the next few minutes, until I realized what a complete tool I was being. I asked their forgiveness (both my girls at home and my oldest who was still on speakerphone) and shared with them my feelings of frustration and that I was really trying to have a good attitude about it all. They graciously forgave me and I finished serving pancakes to my little girls while the older ones made themselves some lunch. After the kids all finished eating and cleared out of the kitchen, I finally had a chance to eat my own pancakes, enjoying the sudden peace and quiet. It was then that I fully released the burden of being angry about the messy kitchen. It’s just stupid stuff. What really matters to me is relationship with my family, not if my kitchen is perfectly clean.

It took quite a bit more effort on my part to get the kitchen cleaned up. I think I ran the dishwasher three times in the first 24 hours I was back and did a load of hand-wash items as well. I also took moment to consider the fact that we’re fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful home with plenty of food and dishes to get messy in the first place. And we even have a functioning dishwasher to help. It’s really all about perspective. It’s been almost a week since I came home to that messy kitchen. I realize now that it was an opportunity to really teach my family a lesson. Only, the lesson was one of grace, not one of punishment. And it was not just their lesson, but mine as well.

EDIT: Please note that I’m sharing this to encourage others to examine what’s really important in life. In no way was I trying to embarrass my wife or daughters for not cleaning up the dishes. It’s only a temporary mess that was cleaned up within a couple of hours. Much more meaningful to me are the lasting relationships in my life with my wife and daughters.

Daddy Cookies: Snitching Sisters

Last Saturday morning my two and a half year old daughter woke up and came downstairs to find me in the kitchen, where I had just emptied the dishwasher and was enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before everyone else would wake up. She climbed up into my lap and happily announced that she wanted to make cookies with me. But, not just any cookies, Daddy Cookies. As a rookie SAHD back in 2001 I realized that I really enjoyed making cookies with the help of my kids. I stumbled upon a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie recipe booklet for oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that were an instant hit with both my kids and me. I’ve tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (extra vanilla is yummy!) and added the secret ingredient, The Mixing Dance. My kids named them Daddy Cookies because it was much shorter and easier to say than the official full name. At any rate, I eagerly agreed and we started to gather the necessary ingredients and the mixer.

After she pushed a chair to the counter by the mixer we began to add our ingredients, starting with the two eggs fresh from our backyard chickens. My daughter is learning to crack eggs and does a pretty nice job for someone so little. (In a related note, her tiny fingers are excellent for picking out tiny pieces of shell.) Just after we added the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, butter, salt, vanilla and peanut butter and mixed them all up, my five year old arrived downstairs and asked if she could help. My loving two year old excitedly told her big sister that she could help us before I even had a chance to respond. I was really enjoying the fact that she was willing to share this baking experience with her sister and wasn’t feeling threatened by her sister’s presence. I suppose it’s what she’s always been used to, being the sixth of six kids in our family. Well, after we added the next two ingredients, the flour and oatmeal, my girls realized that they needed to snitch some dough. I don’t mind it but I do ask that they use spoons and that they wait until the mixer is turned off. (I know, I’m so mean.) I’ve been snitching raw cookie dough my whole life and have never gotten sick so please spare me any comments about that. I will admit that eating dough is one of my favorite parts of making cookies. All that was left was to add the chocolate chips and we would be set to scoop and bake the cookies. Except there was one small problem.

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My helpers

The can of chocolate chips wasn’t in the cupboard where it was supposed to be. With two teenage daughters and an 11 year old son in the house, I figured that there was one of three places it could be. Since my son was already gone hiking with my wife, I figured that we would check his room first. So, I told my girls that whoever found the can of chocolate chips first would get the first snitch with chocolate chips. My five year old declined, of course. My two year old, however, literally jumped at the chance to go into her brother’s room without him there (usually a no-no). As my two year old started to climb down from her chair by the counter, my five year old decided that it would be fun, after all, to get the chocolate chips and because she would be able to run faster than her little sister. As they ran through the living room I could hear their shrieks: delight from my five year old and dismay from my two year old. It grew quiet as they went upstairs into his room. I was already mentally preparing myself to not overreact or come across as harsh when the inevitable screams would resume in a few moments when one of them would have won the battle for the can of chocolate chips.

So, you can imagine how my heart delighted when those screams never happened and instead I heard giggling. I turned my head just in time to see my two little girls both carrying the jar of chocolate chips. I wish I could have captured a picture of them as they were both beaming broadly and were practically hugging each other and the can at the same time. It was so stinkin’ cute! My five year old told me that she didn’t want her sister to feel sad so she suggested that they both hold the cookies so they could both get the reward. Choking back tears of gratitude for such a kind and generous daughter, I knelt down in front of both of them and wrapped the two of them in a great big Daddy Hug. I told my five year old how proud I was of her for making such a kind and compassionate choice with her sister. They brought the chocolate chips to the counter and each put a scoop of chips in the steel bowl and we finished the final mixing as we danced one more time. As I spooned the dough balls on the baking sheet I noticed that my girls were both grinning and trying to “sneak” additional snitches from the bowl of dough. I feigned a growl as they both giggled some more and we all laughed. While my kids continue to get older I love knowing that they all have very fond memories of Daddy Cookies. 

Chabee Diaper Bag Review

I never thought I’d be writing a product review for a diaper bag. As a parent for over 20 years and as a Stay At Home Dad over the last 15 years I’ve used an wide variety of diaper bags and backpacks to get the job done for schlepping around diapers, wipes, spare outfits, snacks, toys, kleenex, Cheerios and an assortment of other necessary items when out and about with my kids. I was never really very particular about the style of the bag. Anyone that knows me understands that I can rock a purple or pink bag just as comfortably as a blue or brown one. I just need the bag to hold everything that I need and to be comfortable to wear. And easy to clean. And durable. When my five year old was born my wife thought it would be nice to get me a more manly diaper bag since most of the previous ones had been what would be considered more girly, for lack of a better term. She found one that had been created by dads and looked manly. Only problem was that one of the shoulder strap buckles (made of plastic) broke a week or so into my use of it. For the next few months that diaper bag worked pretty well, but it irritated me that I could only use one shoulder strap instead of being able to wear it like a backpack. I actually replaced it with a backpack a short while later. When my two year old was born I didn’t even bother with an actual diaper bag. I grabbed my favorite Jansport canvas backpack from the closet and filled it with the essentials. I suppose that’s what having my sixth kid meant. Forget the formality of it all and just go with my old reliable backpack.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m telling you all of this when the title indicated that this is a product review. Well, almost a year ago some guy I had never met in person but who was, like me, a member of a Facebook group for SAHDs, asked us dads for feedback regarding a diaper bag he was in the process of making. This guy, Jesse, seemed nice enough, so I responded and told him much of the same stuff that I shared in the paragraph above. I figured that was it. Well, a couple of months ago, he contacted me out of the blue to thank me for the help and encouragement from earlier in the year and to ask for my address so that he could send me a diaper bag to review. Two days after I responded with my information a box was delivered to my front door. My kids excitedly helped me open it up and were slightly disappointed to discover that it was “only a diaper bag”. I examined it for a few minutes before setting it aside to finish making dinner. The next day I decided to start using it so that I could get a good feel for how it would perform over the course of a few weeks. Well, that was about six weeks ago now and here’s what I found.

First, this bag is made of waxed canvas. Unlike the cheap plastic of many bags or even regular canvas like many backpacks, this bag feels different.

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Pouches designed to hold smart phones and tablets

Jesse told me over the phone that he’s passionate about honesty in his life and in his company. He said that there’s only one company in the U.S. that makes such high-quality waxed canvas and that’s the one he uses, even though it’s a little pricey. He didn’t want to get it from overseas where it’s the product of unethical labor practices, even if it would be cheaper. The quality of the material is obvious from the very first touch. It took a trip to the Tacoma Children’s Museum two weeks ago for me to realize how important the quality of the material is. You see, it was pouring rain (I live in the PNW after all) and once my girls and I got inside the museum I looked down to see how soaked the diaper bag would be only to discover that the water had beaded up on the outside of the bag. I gently shook the bag and the water fell off like when a duck ruffles its feathers. I was so relieved that the cloth diapers and clothes inside the bag were still nice and dry.

 

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Inside of the bag

Another nice aspect of this bag is the design. As I used it more and more I noticed that it wasn’t too big and bulky yet it still comfortably held 3-4 cloth diapers, wipes, wet bag, spare clothes, snacks and such. There are small pouches on the inside as well as ones on the outside that fit my iPhone. Jesse mentioned that during the course of his bag design (he went through five prototypes) he made sure to include spaces for smart phones. Yet, because the bag is made from canvas it’s flexible, which I appreciated greatly on that trip to the museum because, unlike my backpack, this bag fit easily in the locked cubby storage unit. There are small details that I noted about the bag that set it apart from others I’ve used. The buckles and snaps are brass, not cheap plastic.

 

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Changing mat (banana for scale)

There’s even a changing mat that’s attached on the back on the outside. I didn’t realize how convenient this would be until last week, when I had to make an impromptu diaper changing station at the Washington State History Museum. The bathroom had no changing table yet my two year old fit on it with room to spare, which is no small feat given that I’m 6’8″ and my kids are all tall.

 

The final thing I want to highlight about this bag is that it comes from the passion and experience of a real, live person. Jesse and his family recently relocated to northwest Wisconsin, just about an hour from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He’s been a SAHD since his oldest daughter was born four years ago and he and his wife now have three kids. He started Chabee Outfitters on his own and has worked hard to get to this point.

Chabee is a mash up of the words “change” and “be”. The name was formed to encompass the beautiful Gandhi quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” While many attach this quote to grand changes in the world, we at Chabee are obsessed with how it applies to the intimate details of life. Our greatest goal is to create a company we would want to do business with. We carry this concept in our name because we want to carry it with us in all our business relationships and decisions. -from ChabeeOutfitters website

I appreciated talking to him on the phone for about 30 minutes because it was good to hear him describe all the joys and frustrations that he has experienced in designing and making this bag. Interestingly enough, it’s made in Tacoma, Washington (such a small world because I live nearby) with all American-made materials.  As is the case with many things in life, you often get what you pay for. The same is true with this diaper bag. Because of Jesse’s attention to detail and desire to deliver a high-quality diaper bag this bag is currently listed at $225. But, if you’re looking for a bag with a 100% lifetime guarantee that will be durable enough to be used for multiple kids and then as a pretty nice messenger-type bag after that, this might be the bag you’re looking for. If I could go back 20 years to when my eldest child was born (and if we had the money then!), I would’ve gotten this bag in a heartbeat. As a special promotion for readers of my blog, Jesse has graciously agreed to a 15% discount if you enter the coupon code “BCD” at checkout. The website is www.chabeeoutfitters.com. Find them on Facebook here.

Disclosure: I was given the diaper bag (pictured) to review. I received no other compensation. The words and opinions above are mine.

Enough of the Dad-bashing already…please!

As a Stay At Home Dad over the last 15 years I’ve seen and heard a lot from others as I’ve been out and about with my crew. Over time I’ve grown accustomed to old ladies telling me how nice it is to see a dad out with his kids. I’ve been asked countless times if I’m giving Mom the day off or if I’m babysitting. I don’t get mad about it or reply with some snarky comment that’s equally ignorant. My normal response is to simply smile, look the other person in the eyes, and tell them that this is my job. All day. Every day. And I love it! My kids are old enough now that they even respond for me sometimes. I suppose that it also helps that I have three t-shirts that proudly proclaim, “Dads don’t babysit. (It’s called ‘parenting’)”. Somehow I end up wearing one of them nearly every time we go out.

I’d like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor about my career choice as a SAHD and that I’ve developed pretty thick skin about it all. But lately I’ve been seeing a spike in people – moms especially – complaining about their husbands being so incompetent when it comes to caring for their own children. While I’m not personally offended or hurt by such comments, it got me to thinking a lot about how such comments, even when made in jest, are hurtful to our sons and daughters. First of all, it shows our kids that moms are the only ones who know how to properly care for children. One mom posted this in a group that’s supposed to be for “families”:

Trying to sleep train my husband. As in training him to put baby to bed. Oye. Men really don’t have instincts on how to soothe a baby. No advice please just needed a place to get that out.

Really? No instincts? I’ve done that for all six of my children over the last 20 years. What was more disappointing was the fact that 97 people “liked” that post and roughly 85% of the comments were from moms who agreed with the original post. I thought about posting something snarky but instead waited a few days and started a different post in that same group.

I know it’s not diaper-related, but I really enjoyed reading (someone’s) post the other day bragging about her husband’s military award. As one of the few guys in this group (thanks to my wife for adding me a long time ago) I would love to start a “Spouse Brag” thread to combat a lot of the “ranting” that I read on this page, particularly that’s directed at the dads.

I’ll start. I appreciate how hard my wife works every day to provide financially for our family so that I can be a SAHD. I know that she misses out on a lot while she’s at work…

Amazingly, over 200 people liked that positive post and 45 moms commented something positive in response. I’m not sharing this to show how popular I am, but rather to illustrate that there are plenty of men who are stepping up and partnering with their wives. Sometimes what you’re looking for determines what you’re going to find.

papa-bioSecond, this dad-bashing comes from places that seem to promote family values. As a teenager I read the stories of the Berenstain Bears to my younger siblings. Most of them have some sort of lesson to be learned and they’re meant to promote good values. Once I became a dad I slowly began to realize how Papa Bear was marginalized in almost every single story as this incompetent man-child who was just as childish and immature as his cubs. And, thank God for Mama, who had to swoop in nearly every time to extract Papa and the cubs from their mess. Those stories perpetuate this myth that dads can’t possibly care for their own children without the ever-watchful eye of a mother. It’s almost as creepy as Big Brother from 1984. Except that these are passed off as cherished family books. While we still have most of our Berenstain Bears books on our bookshelf, I make sure to discuss with my kids some of the errors contained within the stories. We know, Dad. You told us this same thing last time we read this book. (At least I’m consistent!)

Third, if my daughters should choose to get married and have children I would hope that they would choose men who are willing and able to share the joy and responsibility of parenting in an equal partnership. I don’t want them to be the only care-givers to my grandchildren. Or to view their husbands as children. Yet, social media is littered with memes and comics which portray exactly this message. I hope that I’m modeling for them that it is, indeed, possible for a man to be nurturing, loving and competent in what’s been a traditionally female role. Heck, hopefully they’ve learned from my SAHD career choice that being a true partner in a marriage means sacrificing of yourself for the good of the family. While it was never my goal in high school or college to be a SAHD, I’ve come to realize that this is something that I love doing and that I’m pretty good at…and that it’s what’s best for my family.

Helping little sisters climb up the play structure near the Space Needle in Seattle.

Helping little sisters climb up the play structure near the Space Needle in Seattle.

Fourth, I’m trying to raise my son to be prepared to be a good father someday. Even though, at age 11, he swears that he’s never going to have kids and girls are still mostly gross. (He has three older sisters…so I can’t blame him!) Even if he never has kids of his own, he’s going to be an awesome uncle! While he’s far from perfect and gets frustrated at times, I also see a tender side of him with my younger girls, ages 5 and 2. (Sometimes.) I’ve been teaching him how to be a dad: change diapers (cloth even!), warm and give a bottle (not any longer, but in the past), prepare meals, and so on. It’s not easy. In fact, at times it can be downright frustrating when he doesn’t do what I’m asking of him. In those moments of frustration, I need to remind myself to show him the love, patience and understanding that he will need to have for his own kids in the future. I don’t want him to become one of those guys that the moms complain about, whether in person or on whatever social media platform will exist in the future. I want to equip him with the best skills to succeed in this important area: being a dad.

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us what we choose to promote. Dads and moms, are you listening to what your words and actions are teaching your children? My children? Our children? I’m trying to focus my time and energy on being the change that I want to see in the world. If I want the world to be more inclusive of all parents then that needs to start by teaching my own children and everyone else in my sphere of influence. While I will still make mistakes in this effort I know that, in the long run, it’s all going to be worth it. After all, the future well-being of my children is priceless!

No Love at 425* in new Papa Murphy’s ad

Since we haven’t had a TV in our house in nearly four years I don’t see many commercials. Yet, today I learned about the latest Papa Murphy’s ad from my SAHD brothers at the National At Home Dad Network who posted this on their Facebook page today.

Extremely disappointed in Papa Murphy’s for their new “Re-Bold Your Man” ad campaign, which so drastically misses what modern fatherhood is all about, and falls back on such ridiculous concepts of masculinity. Terrible on so many levels.

Playing with your kids and delighting in them doesn’t take away your manhood, it only strengthens it. And what partner wants their kids’ dad LESS engaged with them, and pines for a father more interested in sports than in fully engaging in play? It just makes no sense.

See the ad here, and let us know what you think: http://www.ispot.tv/ad/AL8x/papa-murphys-pizza-re-bold-your-man

DeBolded

I’ve watched the short commercial a few times and my first reaction was that it was cute to see the dad playing with his girls like that. If you’re a dad with daughters, chances are pretty good that at some point you’re going to find yourself getting the full-fairy treatment, much to the delight of your girls. I find the initial portrayal of the dad to be pretty positive, actually. Yet, according to the voice-over this dad is being “de-bolded”. I’m pretty sure that’s Papa Murphy’s euphemistic expression for something more graphic than I’m willing to put in my blog. The basic message to dads and moms is that such an actively engaged and loving father is not to be desired or upheld as the goal. Oh, no no no. You’re not a man if you’re actually enjoying spending time doing something that your daughters want to do. Nope. Instead, this dad needs to be saved from himself. His masculinity needs to be re-bolded by a bold Papa Murphy’s pizza and, of course, football. Seriously, Papa Murphy’s? I think you need a time-out to ponder the larger implications of this seemingly benign commercial.

Please don’t think for a minute that I’m offended by this. This is the type of ridiculousness that we face daily as men who choose care for our children as our full time career. Don’t call me Mr. Mom or Babysitter! I learned a long time ago that getting offended or butt-hurt by the ignorance of others does very little to actually create the positive changes which I desire to see. So, instead of getting angry, let me try to explain this in a way that even my five year old daughter could understand. It is my hope and prayer that my son, if he becomes a dad, and my five daughters, if they become moms, will each take delight in being a parent as much as I do in being their dad. I hope that they will not give in to the pressures of our society to assume certain gender roles. I hope that they will choose the career that is best for their individual situations.

Big Cheese Dad sporting a tutu

Big Cheese Dad sporting a tutu

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I decided that it would be best for me to be the primary caregiver as a SAHD while she pursued her advanced degree and established her career. While other men blazed the SAHD trail many years before me, I know that making such an unusual choice was one of the most BOLD things I have ever done. There is no shame in being an actively involved, loving and nurturing father. I love my job more and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I believe that the world needs more dads who are willing to play dress-up with their girls than those who are obsessed with the performance of their sports team. Modern fatherhood and masculinity are not bound by the stereotypes of old. We (ALL dads, not just SAHDs) are more engaged than ever in the lives of our children. Gone are the days of the bumbling and inept dad. We are boldly going where few dads have gone before!

Another beef that I have with this commercial is how it portrays the mom and daughters. First, the mom is in the kitchen. About the only thing missing was an apron. The 1950s are calling…they want their stereotype back! Second, this mom should be supporting and encouraging her husband for showing their daughters that he’s comfortable enough with his own masculinity to play dress-up and get his nails done. He shouldn’t have to be re-bolded because he’s actively engaged with his own children. Are you suggesting that my wife will be happier with me and think I’m more of a manly-man if I ignore my kids and choose instead to focus on sports and food? Clearly, I’ve been doing it all wrong! Third, why couldn’t the daughters be playing catch with their dad and mom, or helping to change the oil, or riding bikes, or anything but the stereotypical “girl” activity of playing dress-up? Please. These gender stereotypes are so lame. I want my children to be free to express themselves without the constraints of our messed up societal expectations for their gender roles. This goes for my girls as well as my boy. Finally, if you’re bent on portraying this stereotypical commercial, at least do it right. No mom is going to re-bold serve greasy pizza to “her man” on the sofa without a plate or napkin..and a BEER. And that white carpet is going to get ruined if the girls are painting his toes without a towel under his feet. I’m so disappointed with you, Papa Murphy’s; I know that you can do better.

In the end, I’m not looking for an apology from Papa Murphy’s. After all, I’m not the one that’s truly being hurt by this ill-conceived commercial. This is hurting all of our families by reinforcing outdated gender roles. I would love to work with the ad people at Papa Murphy’s to create something that truly promoted family values that didn’t lean so heavily on old gender stereotypes. Until such a replacement ad is launched, there will be no Love at 425*. Instead, it’s more like Feel the Burn at 425*.

Dress For Success?

A few days ago I was at a local children’s museum with two of my children when I witnessed something that is still pervasive among parents, even among those of us who might consider ourselves liberated from traditional gender stereotypes. A little boy, probably around age 4 or 5, emerged from the costume area of a theater area in the museum wearing a ballet tutu around his waist. He proudly pranced about the stage while his mother started to say something to him, but then caught herself mid-sentence. His father, however, appeared horrified at the sight of his son wearing a tutu, much less frolicking about the stage where someone might see him. To the father’s horror, as he glanced around the room to see if anyone else was witnessing his son’s behavior, he and I made eye contact. He immediately shrugged his shoulders and dropped his head while looking away. He spoke no words to me but certainly seemed embarrassed by his son’s innocent play. I returned his embarrassed look with a huge grin and told the boy’s mom that I thought it was great that her son was dressing up as it reminded me of my own son doing something similar when he was younger. She mumbled something that I couldn’t understand and moved toward her husband in a different area. This whole encounter took maybe 15 or 20 seconds but it’s been on my mind a lot these past few days. Why are we so hung up on the gender roles and stereotypes for our boys and girls?

It’s 2015 and most of us agree that boys and girls can pretty much play all sports and play with all toys. Some stores (such as Target) have even dropped gender labels in their toy departments because such labels were deemed “unnecessary”. Yet, many parents lose their minds when their sons want to do anything that’s even remotely feminine. When I was a child growing up in the 1970s and 80s I never tried on any girls clothing or makeup. For one thing, I was the second of three boys and my sister was born when I was 9 years old. And the neighbor girls who lived next door never shared their dresses with me, although I can’t remember either of them ever wearing a dress when we were out playing in our yards. Well, times are much different now. At least in my house. I’m blessed to be the dad to five girls and one boy. Yeah, my son, who is now 11, has three older sisters and two younger ones. From the time that he was born he’s been surrounded by girls. Dresses. Princesses. Nail polish. Barbies. All of that stuff. And guess what? When he was little, he even (gasp!) played with those items. I’ll admit that for a fleeting moment I was a tiny bit worried about what others might think if they saw him. But then I saw how much he enjoyed playing and being creative with those so-called “girl” toys and I realized that it really wasn’t a big deal. In fact, it was no deal at all. That realization for me as the parent of my son created an incredible amount of freedom for my son to be who HE wanted to be. To do what HE wanted to do. To play with what HE wanted to play. So, from about the time my boy was able to crawl around he played with Barbies. Did you know that Barbie loves to ride on trucks as much as in her Barbie car? She also loved to go flying…down the stairs and off the back deck!

Little Mermaid birthday cake

Little Mermaid birthday cake

Thanks to the influence of his older sisters, my son fell in love with a pink-haired mermaid Barbie that he often carried with him when we were out and about doing life. It’s worth mentioning that he also loved wearing a magenta Lion King dress more than any other piece of clothing. It was, of course, from an older sister, but he insisted that he be allowed to wear it because he LOVED lions. So, imagine the looks that we would get when this boy with beautiful blond hair, wearing a Lion King dress and holding a pink-haired Barbie.

The Lion King dress

The Lion King dress

And the comments from others were something else when I informed them that his name was “Frank” (not his real name, though). It got to the point that I just nodded and didn’t bother correcting them. When he turned three he wanted a Little Mermaid themed birthday cake, complete with an Ariel candle. And guess what? We made him a Little Mermaid themed birthday cake and found an Ariel candle that he loved so much that he carried it around the house and played with for weeks months after his birthday. I’m pretty sure that my son has had his nails and makeup done by his older sisters more times that he could count on his hands. In fact, just two years ago when I attended my first NAHDN Convention I received a text picture from home showing my boy all dressed up in an older sister’s dress, complete with makeup and hair decorations. (He said I could write about these things but declined to allow any photographic proof for your viewing pleasure. He’ll have no such luck if he should ever get married!)

The thing is, this is so NOT a big deal. Kids are naturally curious and I believe such curiosity should be encouraged. I remember when my two nephews were younger (about 4-7 years old, maybe), they would come over and be excited to play dress-up with the plethora of ballet and dance dresses that my girls wore when they were younger. I once took a picture of them all dressed up and their mother made sure to tell me to never show those to their father, as he would be mortified. She thought they were funny and didn’t have a problem with it but wanted to keep it quiet all the same. Not surprisingly, none of our boys were scarred from the experience of wearing a dress or playing with Barbies. As a dad, I want my children to be able to have as many experiences as possible. As long as they’re making safe choices, I don’t really care what clothes they’re wearing or with what toys they’re playing. It seems that more often than not, the hang-ups of parents are limiting the opportunities for their children. At the risk of making a Frozen reference, I would suggest that parents just Let It Go!

No Bad Blood for Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

I never would have thought that, at age 42, I would be writing an open letter to a famous person, much less a 25 year old young lady who is one of the most popular performers in pop culture right now. Yet, here I am, trying to not sound like an anxious 13 year old who can’t figure out how to say his own name when the pretty girl at school says “hi”. I’m writing you today to tell you how much I appreciate you. You see, I have six kids who are currently 20, 16, 13, 10, 5 and 2 years old. (The 10 year old is the only boy.) They are all T. Swift fans. When we’re in the van driving somewhere and there’s nothing good playing on the radio all I have to do is ask one of my kids (or do it myself) to put on some Taylor Swift songs. Doesn’t matter which one. They’re all popular with my kids. Within seconds everyone is singing along, belting out the songs with smiles on their faces. The thing is, I’m belting it out right along with them! As a 14 year veteran Stay At Home Dad I’ve had to put up with scores of artists who are questionable in their musical talents or abilities or taste in what passes for music. Please don’t get me started on the ridiculously raunchy and revolting nature of the lyrics of many of the Top 40 songs over the years. One of the things I love about your music is that it’s not only pleasant to listen to from a musical standpoint, but the lyrics are able to tell a story without being graphic or unsafe for my children. Thank you! Being classy never goes Out of Style.

On a road trip a few months ago my youngest daughter (then 21 months old) was having a tough time and was really fussy. As soon as I asked my 15 year old to put on some Taylor Swift she stopped her fussing. Everything (has) Changed as the first measures of “22” filled the airwaves as my baby’s mood became a State of Grace. Seriously. 0708_taylor_swift_autographs_970-630x420Your tunes also provided some fun bonding with my 15 year old just a couple of weeks ago on a hour road trip from our house in Washington to Multnomah Falls in Oregon. We decided it would be fun to learn the lyrics for your current hit Bad Blood (featuring Kendrick Lamar). At first I tried to learn the rap but couldn’t quite get the rhythm down, so my daughter learned the rap while I did my best T. Swift impersonation in my falsetto. I think that we may have permanently scarred my 10 year old son who had to endure hearing us (mostly me!) singing that lovely song over and over again at least a dozen times in a row. I’m going to think of that fun car ride every time Bad Blood comes on the radio from now on.

Two years ago when you came to play your Red concert at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington, we were lucky enough to score a pair of tickets from one of my oldest daughter’s friends. My then 14 year old daughter chose me to attend the concert with her and we both had a great time. I know that 40 year old men are not your target audience, but I’ll happily admit that it was a fantastic experience. Having attended several other concerts with my girls over the years I can say that yours was by far the most enjoyable experience for me. No offense intended to Lizzie McGuire Hillary Duff or Justin Bieber. I left the concert thinking that we had actually gotten our money’s worth and was glad that my daughter liked your music so much.

My family’s love of your music began at least 5-6 years ago when my oldest daughter, now 20, discovered you and your music. At the time she was just learning to play guitar and was also going through some of the difficulties associated with being 14 and tall. You inspired her by simply being you. You publicly embraced your own quirkiness and awkwardness and height while putting out some incredible music. She was tremendously inspired by you and recorded covers of several of your songs on her YouTube channel. swift14f-1-webBut even more inspiring than your music has been how you have used your success and stardom as one of the most popular artists in the music industry. While I can’t possibly pretend to actually know who your are, if your long list of good deeds is any indication, it appears that you have A Perfectly Good Heart. Many famous people seem to forget the rest of the “common” people once them achieve their stardom. It seems that you’ve been able to buck that trend by showering countless people with your kindness and generosity. (Click here for an article about some of Taylor Swift’s good deeds.) Sure, the monetary gifts to help people in need are nice and attract a lot of attention, but the fact that you interact with people on social media to encourage them shows just how much you care, especially because those interactions don’t receive the same fanfare. As a father of five girls I hope that they will use their lives to build others up and encourage them in whatever ways they can. Thank you for showing my daughters and my son that it’s cool to be kind.

Finally, thank you for making the transition from teenage break-out star to full-fledged superstar without going through any embarrassing public spectacles like other recent stars have done. I appreciate the fact that you’re not drinking and driving, on drugs, in and out of rehab and other stuff like a lot of stars who make that trip from teenager to adult along a very bumpy path. It’s refreshing to see someone remain true to herself. Your parents should be proud of their hard work in raising you because you seem to be comfortable in your own skin doing what you want to do, not what others think you should do. I hope that my girls will be as strong as you as they mature into young adults. Thank you also for taking the time to remember where you came from professionally. My oldest daughter has been impressed by your willingness to confront Apple and other recording industry giants over their greedy business practices which don’t hurt you as much as they do the smaller artists. Again, thanks for living your life with such integrity.

1418267354-taylor_swift_1989I know that you’re coming to Seattle in a few days to play at Century Link Field. We live 45 minutes away to the south in University Place, near Tacoma. If you have the time in between your arrival to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and your concert duties my kids and I would love to show you around. The famous flying fish at Pike Place Market or the Space Needle or eating fish ‘n chips at Ivars. Maybe my daughter and I could even regale you with our rendition of Bad Blood. Thank you for being you, Taylor Swift.

Sincerely,

Carl, a.k.a., Big Cheese Dad

PS-In 1989 I was a junior in high school. Ha!