Don’t Wish Me a “Happy Mother’s Day”

Over each of the past 13 years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad there’s been at least one person every year who thinks it’s funny to wish me “Happy Mother’s Day, Mr. Mom”. Here’s the scoop. It’s. Not. Funny. The first few times I heard that I laughed at it, in the same way that I laughed at being called a “Mr. Mom”. More cringing than laughing. Then, after it happened a few times I began to think about why it was insulting to moms and dads for me, a dad, to be wished a “Happy Mother’s Day”. This day celebrates moms. All moms. Those who choose to work at home as full time moms and those who choose to work full time outside of the home. And any combination in between. Retired moms. Expecting moms. You get the picture. Just because I have chosen to work in a role that has been traditionally filled by women doesn’t make me a mom. I’m still a dad. And my wife is still a mom.

My friend that I met at the National At Home Dad Network annual convention last October, Mike Andrews, Jr., blogger at Geek Daddio of 4, put into words very nicely what I wanted to say. Check out his full blog entry, Mother’s Day: A day for moms. Not dads. Here’s a quote from that piece.

We handle every aspect of the house while our amazing wives do what needs to be done to ensure there is food in our mouths and clothes on our backs. But I ask this one simple question, Since when does Mother’s Day mean Homemakers Day?

Exactly…It doesn’t

To me, it seems that by giving an at home dad a Mother’s Day gift you are just slapping both, moms and dads, in the face. You are saying, “Dads, you are not man enough and working moms you are not womanly enough because you don’t stay at home.” And that is just wrong. Moms deserve Mother’s Day. It is their day to relax and forget about their problems while the kids serve them. It is a day to honor our mothers and just our mothers. At home dads have their own day, would you give a working mom a Father’s Day card because she is doing a mans job?

In essence, I’m asking you to help end the tired and worn out stereotyping of us SAHDs. It’s 2014. Not 1950. Mr. Mom is dead. Besides, this holiday is all about celebrating and honoring mothers. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Boycott Mother’s Day?

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It’s that time of year again where we’re all reminded to pay homage to moms. There’s even a whole day set aside in one week to recognize how fantastic and wonderful and perfect and amazing moms are and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. While it’s true that none of us would be here if not for our mothers, I find the whole idea of “Mother’s Day” to be quite ridiculous and contrived. Sure, the idea of stopping and showing appreciation for the countless hours and unconditional love is nice. Maybe it’s even something moms look forward to. I know for sure that Hallmark and Kay Jewelers are among the many businesses that pressure us to show our moms (or wives) how much they are appreciated by showering them with cards and expensive gifts and maybe even a special dinner that mom doesn’t have to prepare. But, why? Why only one day in May? I’m not suggesting that we have “Mother’s Day” multiple times each year. What I’m suggesting is that we show our appreciation and love more than one time each year.

How about instead of buying into the commercial aspect of the day we show true appreciation? Write her a letter. (Email doesn’t count.) Take mom for a walk in a park to look at the flowers while you engage in conversation. Make a photo collage or book and give it to her. Don’t buy her flowers or jewelry now (stores jack the prices now for suckers like us). Wait until some other random time (or times) and surprise her with flowers and a note of thanks. Do make her a nice dinner at home. Don’t overpay at some crowded restaurant. Take her out for dinner some other time. If you must eat out, maybe get it to go and make it a picnic at a park. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your mom but you do need to spend your time with her. Celebrate her and help her to know how much you appreciate her. But don’t just do it next Sunday and then wait a whole year to do it again. I assure you that it won’t get old if you do it over and over and over…as long as you mean it. Thank you, moms, for all you do. You are loved and appreciated by this guy.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone actually boycott celebrating Mother’s Day. Like most holidays (Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.) it is the over-the-top commercialization in our culture that I’m railing against. Mothers deserve our highest honor and respect all year long and they don’t need a necklace to prove it…just like I don’t need a tie or some other kitchy thing to prove my worth on Father’s Day.

 

Moms-What do YOU think? Did I get it right or am I way off base? Please let me know. I genuinely am interested in your comments.

You won’t believe what my 14 year old posted on Facebook

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Yesterday afternoon my 14 year old daughter made me so proud to be her father that I’m going to tell you about it right now. Call it a “humble brag” if you want, but reading what she posted as her status on Facebook yesterday brought a tear to my eye for not only the truth in what she wrote but also because it’s the kind of leadership that I want for my children to embrace.

Here’s her status:

It honestly makes me so mad when I see people commenting on pictures telling their friends that they look Autistic. It makes me sad what our generation has come to. It’s as if people have no respect anymore for those who really are Autistic. Seriously, just put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about how they would feel if they saw someone mocking the way they look. Think before you make the comment, because what you say really does hurt people. I don’t care if it was meant to be funny, it’s just not okay. Kids my age are always wondering why adults don’t have as much respect for them anymore, and this is why. Making fun of other people is not cool or funny, nor does it make you any more popular. It just puts people down and makes them lose respect for you. It also makes the many people who can see it lose respect for you. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Sorry about the rant. I just thought it needed to be said.

To those of you with young children I want to encourage you to really think about the message that you’re sending them every time you open your mouth. They’re watching and listening and learning from your example. They’re also watching to see if you stand up for people who don’t fit within society’s awfully narrow definition of “normal”. Perhaps they will be encouraged and empowered to stand up for others in the face of potential backlash from their own peers. I remember a banner that used to hang at a school where I used to teach. It’s message was clear and very applicable to what my daughter did.

Doing what it popular isn’t always right. Doing what is right isn’t always popular.

Unlike many jobs where you can see tangible results of your efforts or your supervisor gives you an annual review, being a Stay At Home Dad (or Mom) requires a LOT of patience. You have to embrace the notion of delayed gratification and have faith that what you’re doing as a parent is going to work out well (or at least not screw up your kid so much that therapy can’t undo it). So, for me it’s a pretty big deal to see my daughter put such a post on her page where her friends can see it. I want my kids to be kind, considerate and compassionate people who are willing to be leaders when necessary. In this case, my daughter saw something written on Facebook and, unlike many of her peers, didn’t turn the other way and keep on scrolling. She stood up for what she knew was right and spoke the truth. Way to go!

 

Repeat after me…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been intrigued by both the NFL and Lean In attempting to persuade people to not use certain words. According to reports, the NFL is considering making it a penalty for a player to use the N-word on the field. Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In and others have started a campaign to #banbossy. I know of other campaigns to ban words from our daily usage as well. While in high school, my oldest daughter alerted me to the campaign Spread the Word to Stop the Word in relation to the term retarded. I know there are other words that people or groups have tried to ban, also with perfectly legitimate reasons. However, I don’t want to debate the merit of any of these campaigns. I’d rather look at childhood language development since I’m viewing this through the lens of a dad with young children.

As a parent, and specifically as a SAHD (but this applies to any At Home parent) because I’m around my kids so much, I have a huge influence on the development of my children. I am fully aware of this critical role I play in their lives and that’s one of the many reasons I chose to become a SAHD over 13 years ago. One of the biggest areas of influence is in the words I choose to use with my kids. And in front of my kids. They learn how to talk and what words to use from how I speak around them. Back in 1998, when my oldest was only three years old, my younger brother brought his girlfriend to meet us all for the first time. At some point during their visit his girlfriend said “stupid” in a playful manner about something. My daughter heard it and told her very seriously, “We don’t say that word in our family.” To this day they still joke with my daughter about that incident (my little brother married her despite her potty mouth). I wish that I could report that the term “stupid” is never uttered in our house. The point of that cute story is to illustrate that language is learned and can be guided. I go back to my own childhood for a not-so-cute memory about the word nigger.

I remember being in the back seat of my grandpa’s large Buick sedan as we drove from Lake Michigan back to his house across town in Racine, Wisconsin. To get back to his house we had to go through a part of town that wasn’t middle-class white. Being born in 1902, my grandpa used the term nigger like it was no big deal when talking about black people. Although, in this particular instance he was using it in a rather derogatory manner because he probably felt threatened by the black people “taking over” his beloved city. Was he racist? Most likely. He died in 1990 when I was only 17 so I can’t really speak to his thoughts about black people. But, I can say that his use of that term was very jarring for me. It wasn’t a word we used in my house. Looking back at that memory makes me appreciate the fact that I never heard my own father use that term even though he grew up with a father who used it. My father chose to break away from the pattern of his childhood in how he raised his family. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that choice. I know plenty of people today who still use that term to try to express their hate and vitriol for black people. It’s probably one of the most loaded and vile words in the English language. Even typing the word nigger for this post makes me very uncomfortable. (My guess is that it makes you equally uncomfortable to read it and that’s the point!) It is a word that I don’t use and have never even typed before because it is so terribly offensive and hurtful. My nine year old son had never heard of the term when I asked him about it before writing this post. So, I explained a little bit about it and made him promise to never use that word and to speak up if he ever hears someone else use it. While a small piece of his childhood innocence was lost in that conversation I hope that I’ve begun to instill in him a sense of moral and civic responsibility to speak up when people use words like nigger (or retarded, faggot, homo, etc.) which are meant to hurt and demean others. I asked my 14 and 12 year old daughters if they knew what the term meant and they both told me that they learned about it in school from teachers. My 14 year old said, “I know it’s bad. Besides, it’s not like you and mom ever use that word.” So, since I don’t use the N-word at all, much less around my kids. I must be a great dad, right?

Not so fast! I’ve been fortunate enough to be a SAHD for many years. One of the things I get to do is drive my kids to/from school and all over the place as we do stuff together. While I don’t swear at all or beep my horn much, I do enjoy venting a little bit at the stupid (we don’t say that word, either!) drivers who are constantly surrounding me. It’s not even on the scale of road rage or anything like that. Just some good sarcastic humor to help me cope with their stupidity (sorry again). Only problem is that I’ve got ears in the back seat with a mouth that repeats. This point was illustrated not too long ago when my adorable three year old noticed the Prius ahead of us not moving when the light turned green. Naturally, she admonished the driver to go, saying “Come on old lady, find the gas pedal!”. While I was proud that she was contextually correct in the application of her language, I was appalled at what I’d just heard. When my daughter opened her mouth, I heard myself. Pretty sobering. It was at that moment that I decided that I needed to curb my comments, although once in a while a “Learn how to drive!” or “Roundabouts just aren’t that hard!” flies out of my pie-hole before I realize it.

By sharing these different stories I’m trying to raise awareness about the importance of the words we each choose to use. And yes, it’s a choice. How we talk to and in front of our children can, does and will influence what words they choose to use. It also tells a lot about the kind of person we each are on the inside. If we, as parents, would choose to use our words to build up and encourage one another instead of to tear down, then we wouldn’t need to have campaigns to ban certain words. And that starts at home with us, setting expectations for our children while being mindful of the influence that we have on their development. They’re always watching us and absorbing like big sponges. The bottom line is that our words have power.; the power to build up or the power to tear down. I’ll leave you with one last anecdote that just happened today. As we were driving, one of my older kids said the word “stupid” and my three year old said, “Oooh. You’re going to get in trouble. My daddy doesn’t allow his kids use that word!” Message received and delivered.

She knew my voice

I wasn’t going to write this blog today. I had several topics that I’ve been wanting to write about that have been swirling around my brain for the last few days until I had a few minutes to write. But those will have to wait. While driving my 11 year old daughter to school today the song on the radio ended and the news came on. The man talking said that this story was his favorite of the day so we both listened instead of changing the channel. He told about how a dog found an infant that had been abandoned in the bushes of a park. The dog pulled the owner to the bushes and the baby was saved. Interestingly, the baby girl was named Jade, after the dog who saved her. (See links below for full story.) While my daughter thought it was a neat story I immediately choked up to the point of tears. I was barely able to tell her why it caused such a reaction without my voice breaking. I’m sure she thought I was slightly off as she exited the car for school. I sat for a few minutes after she left and tried to figure out why I had reacted that way. Even as I type this I’m not 100% certain that I’ll do my emotions justice as I try to express my thoughts.

My first reaction was one of anger toward the woman who basically threw her baby girl away, leaving her for dead in the bushes of a park. How dare she do that. Blah blah blah. Insert other self-righteous garbage and you get the point. Almost immediately that was changed to a feeling of complete sadness for what this mother (and father!) missed out on by dumping this little girl in the park. How hopeless and scared and terrified must she have felt to think that that was her only option? I cannot imagine that level of utter despair. As the father of six children I’ve been able to look forward to their births and lives with excitement. My wife and I, together, preparing for the arrival of each child. The anticipation of each new life. What would he or she look like? How would the siblings adjust? I doubt that Baby Jade’s parents shared such positive feelings. As I sat in the car my thoughts drifted to the birth of my daughter (who had just left for school) almost 12 years ago. She was our third baby and I had made a concerted effort to talk to and sing to her while she was in my wife’s belly. I had done that a little with the first two but not to the extent as I did with her. Sitting in the car, what I remembered was the first few moments after she was born. I got to cut her umbilical cord before the nurse brought her to my wife to snuggle. After a few mother and daughter moments I spoke a quiet greeting to her, saying something cheesy like, “Hello, baby, this is Daddy. I’m so glad you’re finally here. I love you!”. What I wasn’t prepared for was how she whipped her head toward my voice the moment she heard me. My baby knew my voice. She was moments old and she knew my voice. I’ve told that story to countless people over the years and I’m still blown away by it. Maybe that’s why I was moved to tears upon hearing about the baby that was thrown out like trash in a park. I feel sad that those parents won’t ever get to have that tender moment with their baby like I did.

As I thought about Baby Jade more during the day my condemnation of the parents’ actions (deplorable as they may be) really dissipated as I thought about what a complete miracle it was that someone was walking a dog through the park at that time; that the dog sensed there was something in the bushes and was able to communicate that to her person; and that Baby Jade was still alive and should be just fine after this ordeal. I know that I gave my four month old baby an extra long hug and kiss after I took her from her car seat this morning, remembering what an honor, privilege and blessing it is to be a parent.