About Fatherhood (The Curse of Donna G’s Boobs)

 

This is the final and concluding installment of the Donna G Project. This project has been written to and for my boys. It was inspired by my wife’s friend Donna G and her experience with breast cancer.

The final subject of the Donna G Project: fatherhood.

If you’re a dad, and you take your kids out for breakfast without your wife, there is a 100% chance that someone will come up to you and say:

“What a good father you are.”

It’s a sure thing. It usually happens 2-3 times over the course of the meal.

Now let’s break this down. A dad spending time with his kids without his wife is so extraordinary that strangers feel the need to come and recognize it. Hell, you’re not even making breakfast – you’re taking your kids out so someone else can do the cooking. But still, it stands out as a marvelous act of fatherhood.

Think that happens if a mom goes somewhere alone with her kids? Not a chance. But that’s how low the bar is for dads.

The fact is, dads get a pass. For some reason, wives, kids, society, everyone is just fine with dads getting away with doing 10% of the parenting. Watch families in public for 5 minutes and you’ll be stunned.

Dads pretend to not smell the dirty diaper. They pretend to not hear the baby crying. They dodge their own kids and for some reason that’s OK. It’s actually expected.

That’s the bar for dads.

Now you may ask yourself: How can this be? Why is it like this? Good question. Well, as a father, I can share 4 reasons that help explain the current state of fatherhood.

Reason #1) There are times when fatherhood sucks

Everyone will tell you it’s wonderful being a dad. Children are a blessing. But in reality, some things about fatherhood are just awful. Fatherhood is sitting through 2-hour pre-school “concerts” where 14 classes of kids sing crappy songs. You wait for your kid’s class to sing and then afterwards you tell them how amazing they were at singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Fatherhood is pushing a big wheel around the driveway until your back is killing you because kids don’t pedal for themselves. Fatherhood is deep knee bends down the hall at 3:55 AM trying to get them back to goddam sleep. It’s rushing into the skankiest gas-station bathroom for an emergency poop and suspending a 4-year-old over the bowl for seven minutes with your face level to the lip of the foul-smelling toilet.

Fatherhood is boring. It’s exhausting. It ruins vacations. Hangovers are brutal.

A lot of the time, it sucks having kids.

Reason #2) Kids make it easy

Fatherhood is the most unfair relationship in the world. You have all the power – and that is awfully seductive. You make the rules. You define good and bad. You have the power to punish and reward. You can say: “Daddy needs to watch this game and then we can play.” And because you said so, you’re right. Hell, you can punish them if they don’t leave you in peace.

In other words: if you want to avoid fatherhood, all you have to do is tell your kid that it is right to do so. They will accept your rules as right because you’re the dad, and you have the power to enforce your bullshit rules.

And on top of it all, that kid worships you. So after laying all that unfair bullshit on them, when you finally do get up and spend 20 damn minutes kicking a rubber ball around the backyard, your kid will forget the 3 hours of waiting. They’ll be deliriously happy. Kicking that ball will be their favorite memory of the whole week. They’ll tell you you’re the best dad in the world.

That is how easy kids make it.

Reason #3) Technology makes it easy

Give your kid your phone – done. Put on a video – done. Set them up with the iPad – done. This one is obvious, but still it is so easy to fall into that trap. Whole teams of brilliant experts are developing technology designed to be more interesting than you. Your kids will beg for it and all you have to do is say yes and you’re off duty.

Reason #4) Society (including wives) make it easy

Think of it this way: if you went to your job and 90% of the time, dodged your workload and dumped it onto your co-workers, what would happen? There’d be a damn mutiny. You’d be fired in a week.

But dads do that every single day and for some reason it’s fine. Maybe wives just give up and decide it’s not worth the fight.

In fact (and I swear I’m not making this up), I wrote a draft of this in an airport and right across from me…a mom, dad, 3 little kids. The kids were crying and fighting and the mom was struggling to wrangle the 3 of them. That dad sat right there, talking on his phone, like he didn’t even realize his kids were there.

So now when you ask yourself why the fatherhood bar is so low, you have 4 solid reasons why. Someday you may experience these reasons first-hand. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go. But before we go there, we’re gonna take a time out. This is the last installment of the Donna G Project, so I thought it made sense to check in with Donna G. Let’s revisit her story, shall we?

It started with an abnormal blood test. Then a scan and the detection of cancer in her right breast. There was telling her husband. There was telling her two daughters. (You boys know them, imagine that moment.) There were logistics and appointments. Then the surgery.

They laid her on her back, put her under, and took scalpels to her breasts. They cut down the tops and across the bottoms, discarded her nipples, and then peeled the skin back like opening up an orange. Then they cut out all the flesh of her breasts. They slid implants under her pectoral muscles. Then with great care and precision, they sewed the skin back together.

Start there. Consider that mutilation. That physical devastation.

From there, the slow, plodding, aching recovery. Physical therapy. Muscle spasms in the pectoral muscles. Knots in the tendons under her armpits that a physical therapist would have to “crack” by pushing down hard with both thumbs. That’s what Donna G went through.

It’s been two years and no sign of the cancer returning. But still the thought never leaves. When Donna’s knee hurts after going for a run, cancer lingers. She will think: “Has it spread to my bones?” Horrible doubt and fear lurking. Donna G lives under that shadow.

She takes medicine that causes her hands to ache. Her daughters will notice when it’s bad and say, “You don’t have to braid my hair, Mommy. I’ll wear it straight today.”

Donna has faced it with grit. With bravery and clarity. She told me, “cancer is a control freak and you have to take control back from it.” That’s what she does. That’s what she has done. “It’s the new normal,” she says.

And as I read that over, it occurs to me that those are her reasons. If she wanted to do a half-ass job as a parent, she had plenty of compelling reasons.

So with that, let’s go back to fatherhood, shall we? Because as we come to the conclusion of this project, I am invoking all the power of Donna G. The suffering, the endurance, the refusal to live under any terms but her own. I invoke all of it and bring it to bear in the form of a curse.

When it comes to fatherhood, you two don’t get a pass. Your pass has been revoked. You two get a different bar and I’m setting it right here and right now. In all the other things I’ve written, I’ve given you advice. This is not advice. This is a requirement. This is mandatory.

I am calling on the full power of Donna G’s boobs and laying this curse upon you.

If you choose to have kids, you are going to be kickass dads. You read that right; I am placing an honest-to-God curse on you.

Oh, and remember those 4 reasons I laid out? Well those don’t hold water for the two of you.

“But sometimes being a dad is so annoying. I thought it would be fun.”

Too bad. Get in there. I don’t care how bad it sucks. Especially when it sucks. You will engage every friggin’ time. You will get your ass off the couch. You will dress up in dumb costumes. You will play hide and seek even though kids always hide in the exact same spot every stinkin’ time.

“My kids tell me I’m a great dad. They understand that I need time to myself. I’m helping them be independent.”

You don’t get to pull that bullshit. That incredible power over your kids is to be used to make them good people. It is to teach them good life habits and ingrain them with a sense of right and wrong. You get to use that power responsibly and for the interest of your kids, not for your own self-interest. It takes tremendous restraint and discipline – but that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.

“They don’t want to play with me – they want their devices.”

You’re gonna put that shit down. Devices are not the parents — you are. You need to be more fun than the device. Cut that bullshit out.

“But that’s how dads are. My wife gets it.”

BULLSHIT! 100 times – bullshit! You will not buy into that – do you hear me? You’re gonna get down on that rug and roll around. You’re gonna push that kid in those swings and chase them around the playground – then do it again. You are going to be the first to smell that diaper and you change it, goddamit. That’s your kid. Spring out of bed at night when you hear the crying. Read those awful picture books over and over.

You two listen to me, and listen good. This curse is real. It is legal and binding. It is happening. If you boys choose to be fathers, you will honor this curse or you will spend fatherhood with my foot (and Donna G’s foot) up your ass.

That is the curse of Donna G’s boobs – and I hereby lay it squarely on you both.

Pause.

Full stop.

Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’ve just had a curse placed on you. Because now I want to follow that rant with a few stories. Check it out.

My precious son, Jack:

The day after you were born I went for a run. My run took me through a tunnel and as I ran through it I suddenly found myself bellowing: JACK! JACK! JACK! It just gushed out of me. Again and again, I yelled it with all the might my thunder-throated voice could bring. The sound of your name crackled off the concrete arches and each time I heard it, reality sunk in deeper and deeper.

What had happened didn’t seem possible – but it was real. I was a father. I had a son.

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My son, Alex:

When you were three we spent a whole day together. Mom and Jack were away for some reason. You and I ran errands, we played ninja fights, we had dinner together. That night, I put you to bed and you were falling asleep the second you lay down. As I tucked you in, you said to me in the sleepiest voice:

“I wish we were twins.” Your voice was so tiny.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then we’d be together always for our whole life.”

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My son, Jack:

When you were two years old and we were living in that temporary apartment in Pennsylvania, you wanted to play cars outside after dinner. It was raining just a little, so I sat down on the concrete and rested against the door. I expected you to go play cars on the sidewalk, but instead you sat down right next to me like it was perfectly normal and suddenly everything everything locked into crystal clear focus. The whole universe instantly made perfect sense. In that moment I literally knew the meaning of life with absolute certainty. I had it in the palm of my hand. The doughy little boy, side by side with me on that cold concrete was everything I had ever wanted or needed. It was more than I ever had the right to ask God for, but there it was just the same.

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My beautiful son, Alex:

Our first backpacking trip. We slept in the shelter, and in the middle of the night it absolutely poured. The rain rattled so loudly on the metal roof it woke me up. I sat and listened to the whole world roaring around me. Out there with no one around for miles I sat there with your tiny sleeping body next to me, and I wished that moment would last forever.

My two sons. My two magic boys:

These moments are endless for me. I could fill pages and pages and pages with these moments. You boys have brought me joy that dwarfs anything else I have ever known. When it comes to my love for the two of you, it feels like God himself pulled the sun from the sky and stuffed it into my chest. To me, that is fatherhood. That is what the two of you have brought to me.

So yes, I have put a curse on you. But in spite of what the majority of people seem to believe, Fatherhood is not a curse.

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Is Jack Thinking Bad Thoughts?

About 2 weeks ago, Jack shared a list he was making titled: Ways to Die. Here are some of his favorites:

  • Jump into a pool full of sharks
  • Get steamrollered by a hippo
  • Tie yourself to the front of a bulldozer

He thought the list was a riot. He even did some brainstorming with Alex to come up with some new ones.

Needless to say, Shani and I discussed this list at length. We took our typical roles. Shani was overly worried and I was overly calm.

“Why is he doing this?” Shani fretted.

“He seems to think it’s funny. I think it’s fine.”

“Maybe he needs to talk to somebody.”

No matter the issue, Shani and I take these opposing stances.

“I heard a drip. I think we need a new roof.”

“It’s just rain. The roof is fine.”

“This chicken is green. I’m throwing it out.”

“Just cut around the edges. I’m sure it’s OK.”

The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. But then again, I do get the advantage of living in a state where everything is just peachy, where Shani has more weight on her shoulders. Hmm…I’m just realizing that it’s nice to have married someone who does all my worrying for me. I should buy her some earrings or something to say thanks.

But back to Jack’s list. It was cause for some concern. It is odd to have a 9-year-old crafting a list of ways to die, right? I mean, why would he even think to do that?

Then the other night at bed time, the boys had my phone. I could hear some corny music and they were giggling. I wandered into the bedroom.

“What are you watching?”

With big smiles, they restarted the video. Odd blob characters pop up on the screen and begin to sing:

Dumb ways to die.

So many dumb ways to die.

They then go into all kinds of zany ways for the blobs to die. Dress like a moose in hunting season. Eat a tube of superglue. Poke a bear with a stick. There were dozens of these videos. The boys said that all of their friends were watching them and coming up with their own lists.

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“AHA!” I yelled. Then proceeded to sit down with the boys and watch a few.

The next day I mentioned to Shani that I’d figured out why Jack was making that list.

“The boys showed me,” she replied. “I think those videos are awful.”

And when Shani thinks it’s awful, it’s a pretty good indicator that the boys and I are going to think they’re a riot. See Shani, I told you there was nothing to worry about.

Get your toast out with a fork
Do your own electrical work
Teach yourself how to fly
Eat a two week old unrefrigerated pie

Book Review: October 1964 by David Halberstam.

(I read a crapload of baseball books. I’ll try and write a review for the non-baseball-nut.)

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I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It’s written in a readable, light novel style that has compelling characters and plot. It takes you through the 1964 season, which was the end of the greatest of the Yankees dynasties. Made me think of the currently collapsing Yankees dynasty.

There are 4 things I really liked about this book, and 1 thing I loved.

4 Things I liked:

  • Mickey Mantle once hit a home run that was 595 feet – which is actually TWO home runs in many parks. His entire career he wanted to hit one out of Yankees stadium (he once came close – which is unimaginable).
  • The dozens of ingenious ways Whitey Ford would cheat to scuff up the ball.
  • The awesome, dark rage of Bob Gibson (who I think is the best pitcher in history). Imagine the angriest person you’ve ever worked with in the worst mood possible. That was Bob Gibson pitching to you.
  • Learning about Buck O’Neil (first black scout in major leagues – I’ll probably write a blog just about this guy). Someone really worth looking up to. I handed up this section of the book to my leadership team at work.

But the thing I loved most: This is a perfect gift for my father-in-law — and picking gifts for him is hard.

Here’s the deal – my father-in-law is a real-deal baseball fan. He grew up in St. Louis and legitimately roots for the Cardinals. We went to a game last summer together, which was terrific.

So I figure this can supplement his baseball facts.

He’s  SUPER smart. He’s a Phd Biologist who headed up a lab involved in the human genome project. He wrote some of the foundational computer programs for gene mapping. It’s crazy when you google the man.

This book is something he’ll really enjoy reading. He’ll love a story of his Cardinals triumphing over my Yanks. Plus it will help him a little in the Cardinals fact department too.

X-Mas Letter to Jack

I wrote my kids and my wife each a letter this year as a Christmas gift. Here’s the letter to Jack. It’s germaine to the blog…

 

My son Jack is a baseball fan. He goes on Google Maps and scrolls from city to city searching for satellite views of the baseball stadiums. His birthday party was spent at a Trenton Thunder game. His Christmas and birthday wish lists are dominated by jersey and cap requests. He plays in baseball leagues and then is regularly found alone in our front yard deep in the drama of a baseball game in his imagination.

This summer we took a family roadtrip that took us from New Jersey to Arkansas and back with loads of great stops in between. We hit Hershey Park, Cleveland, Memphis. And of course we went to a Cardinals game in St. Louis. But that may not have been the most memorable baseball game of the trip.

In Arkansas we went to see the Arkansas Naturals play. We ate hot dogs and the strange sasquatch mascot signed my boys’ hats. We sat right above the home dugout and at the end of the 6th inning the catcher came in and rolled a real game ball across the aluminum dugout roof that went right into my kids hands. It was unbelievable.

At the end of the game we went around near the side of the dugout and my boys hung over the railing that the players passed as they left the field. The Naturals had lost so the players did not stop to autograph balls for any of the kids standing there. But as their cleanup hitter, Carlo Testa, walked grouchily by, he stopped. And suddenly the thick wooden knob of a bat appeared right in front of Jack. Jack froze and then looked back at me.

“Take it! He’s giving it to you!”

Still not able to believe it was real, Jack lifted the bat. The thing was massive and had been split from Carlo’s groundout at the end of the game. The bat weighed a ton and was sticky with pine tar.

“Can I call Mom?” Jack sheepishly said to me as we walked for the car.

It was 11:00 and his mother was asleep. We decided to wait and tell her in the morning – which turned out to mean that at 5:45 AM we found Jack at Shani’s bedside trying to hold back a smile.

“Mom…I got this bat.”

However, his grandmother was awake the previous night. And when we got home Jack loudly told her all that had happened.

“We got the bat. And these three balls. And the mascot signed out hats.” Then he proclaimed: “It doesn’t get any better than that, Grandma.”

When Jack was born, we lived in an apartment in Washington Heights. Having my first child was exhausting. I was getting no sleep due to this tiny reddish creature. And not only that, every action surrounding the child (feeding, changing diapers, holding him) I did with the intensity of deactivating a bomb. I was frazzled and fried.

Mothers bond quickly with babies because they nurse. Moms have the food. So when Jack cried I usually couldn’t help. Jack wanted his mom. I felt a little left out.

Then one evening, when Jack was about 6 weeks old, I was sitting on the couch with him in my arms. Jack was scrawny and wearing a yellow onesie. He had spiky black hair and pupils so huge it made his eyes look nearly black.

I looked down at him, stuck my tongue out, and went: “Blah!”

Jack looked into my eyes. Until that moment he had never done that. They say when a baby looks into your eyes they see your soul. It felt that way. We suddenly had eye contact. He knew I was there. And he opened his mouth.

“Aaaa,” he peeped.

“Blah!” I said back.

“Aaaa,” he responded. Tears were now pouring down my face.

“Blah!”

“Aaa.”

I know how it feels to love. But at that moment it was like God took the sun out of the sky and stuffed it into my chest. In fact, it is part of the reason I believe in God. The love you feel for your kids is too huge. It’s too big and mighty to be generated by a person. Only something with divine power could create a love like that. The sun cannot fit in your chest, but there it was in mine.

I think of that moment quite a lot. And as I watch Jack growing up, time and again that massive sun glows inside me. And it glows just the same for Jack’s brother, Alex. Now there are TWO suns in my chest.

And when I think of that night after the baseball game in Arkansas, it occurs to me that Jack himself summed it all up perfectly:

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Merry Christmas, Jack.

Love, Dad.

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