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Thursday, July 14, 2016

How to Parent in a Way That Feels Honest and Humane?

Stepping out today, I grabbed the only available umbrella: Ella's beloved Hello Kitty "brella." Candies and fruits! Gum drops and donuts! Swirled ice cream! French macarons! Looking up, into Hello Kitty's deceptively innocuous face, I felt the sheer, saccharine horror of "cuteness," at least as it's peddled to little girls these days--I felt the cuteness, and embraced it, as my life.

Ella's Hello Kitty Umbrella
Have you ever seen a Magiclip doll? Ella has thirty or more, and on any given evening, long after the wine's gone, I've been called to play the part of Prince Charming or Flynn Rider, to ask Ella's Cinderella or Rapunzel, "Will you marry me?"

Last week's shootings derailed me. I felt pointless and privileged; angry and sad. Mostly I felt anesthetized by a shame that stopped me in my tracks. "What can I do?" I asked myself, again and again.

Writing felt frivolous. I wanted to reach out to my black friends, to say, "I'm with you." But as Roxane Gay wrote in Marie Claire: "Black people do not need allies. We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance."

I've been thinking about this. I've been thinking about Roxane's call for white people to "speak up when you hear people making racist jokes. Speak up when you see injustice in action." And of course, I think about how to talk to Ella about all this--how to teach her to "speak up", sincerely, without guilt or a sense of duty--to just do it. It might be too early for that conversation, but recently the sentiment has influenced our conversations.

How to parent in a way that feels honest and humane?

This challenge, like Roxane's, lifts me from my moping, demands something from me. And so I try to take Ella's world seriously. I try to play Magiclips with a sincerity of purpose that matches her own.

Playing, I hope to nurture her voice now, to give her the confidence, now and later, to "speak up" in her way. When called upon, years from now, what will Ella say?

I don't pretend to understand what is required of me as a person, a parent. What I do hope to teach my daughter, though, is to challenge the easy stereotypes, to fight the sort of thinking that denies the experience of difference, and yet, at the same time, to make her life a testament--a celebration--of difference.

Be whoever the fuck you want to be, I hope to teach her. And fight for the rights of others who do not have that privilege.

Originally posted on Facebook

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lucky



Four years ago to the day (more or less; the photo was taken May 26, 2012). Ella was not even three-months-old. I was thirty-five. I'm not sure who has aged more--Ella or me. She's writing letters now, whole names: ELLA, OWEN. She quotes chunks of JAWS. She nails "this shark, swallow you whole." She worries when people call her "beautiful." She doesn't want to be beautiful, not yet. She wants to be "cute." She dresses in clashing patterns. She refuses to tie her hair up. She's "only four," she reminds me.

I'm still wearing a short swimsuit, though not this short. My beard is 50% grey. My prominent nose looks a bit uneven, somehow more flattened and large. And there’s this line, this new line that runs down my left cheek. My skinny man's paunch, I've accepted, is here to stay. It's the wine, I know, two or three glasses a night, sometimes more.

I've just finished writing my memoir--three years in the making. I'm feeling retrospective, elegiac even. I'm remembering life before Ella and Owen. I'm imagining waking in a bright hotel room, wood floors gleaming in the light, wearing a short swimsuit, Karen asleep next to me—both of us free, for one daydream, of the omnipotent hold of our children.

I thought three years of writing about my life might teach me something about life. Perhaps. I've learned I need to love and feel loved by family and friends--that love is all that matters to me. I'm not sure this is a lesson. It feels like narcissism. Maybe saying that is narcissism. Perhaps I should own it.

I'm not especially ambitious, I've learned. I just want to be a good friend, a good son, a good brother, a good nephew, a good uncle, a good dad.

I want my wife, who turns thirty-eight tomorrow, to feel I love her a bit more than anything. I want to be a fabulous husband, though I often fail.

I hope to send my memoir out to the world, though I feel doubtful, just now, after three years of work. You see what I mean? I need people to love; to love me. For three years, I took as my working title a line suggested by my longtime mentor, friend, and boss, Mary Beth: "What is Wrong With Me." After finishing, though, I'm feeling a bit different. "Lucky" feels right to me, now. I suppose that's something I learned, too. However selfish the lesson, I've learned I'm lucky. I try to remember that. I try.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Owen's First Birthday


Tomorrow we will celebrate Owen's first birthday. I post this picture of him (with Ella, on Easter Sunday) because it so perfectly reveals his rowdy spirit. He loves to throw. He loves to shout. What Ella builds--strange installations--he destroys.

Most of all, he loves to eat--by the greedy handful. Bananas. Chicken thighs. Guacamole. Dirt. Ella's horrible Magic Clip Dolls. And just this Saturday, birthday cake, which he devoured angrily, his little mind figuring it out: "They've been holding out on me!"

My favorite part of the day: Halfway through dinner, Owen balls his fists, smirks at me, and growls. I growl back. Ella shouts. Owen shouts, smashing his fists on his tray. The meal devolves to outright savagery--notwithstanding Karen, of course.

Anyone who has ever dined with me will attest to this fact: I've always wanted for the perfectly savage dinner companion. (Ella, God bless her, eats like a bird).

My son. I love the sound of that phrase. I love his bulk, the smell of his head. I love the sister he has made of Ella, my darling. I love the feeling he conjures in our home--the sensation of purpose, a family unified by a sole, implicit duty: to take care of each other. One year after the fact, I have to admit: I love the little guy.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Daddy, Owen, and Ella Day

Ella and Owen, December, 2015
Since the school year started (back in September), I've spent each Friday--from 6:30 AM to 6 PM--with the kids: "Daddy, Owen, and Ella Day," as Ella calls it. I understand plenty of parents--heroic mothers, mostly--spend every weekday alone with the kids. What for me is a weekly "event" is for many stay-at-home parents (heroic mothers, mostly) just another day with the kids.

I also understand that Daddy, Owen, and Ella Day is a breeze compared to Mommy, Owen, and Ella Day. Together with the kids, I take a free agent approach: Let's just all hang together in close proximity: Ella imagining with her Magic Clip dolls; Owen swiftly crawling, stuffing things in his mouth; Daddy cooking.

With Mommy, though, a free agent approach is impossible. Owen cannot be around Karen without NEEDING to be held. He is, after eleven months, still a part of her anatomy: nursing, cuddling, sleeping on and with her. Seeing this, Ella--a week shy of four--demands nothing short of Karen's total attentiveness. "Mommy, play with me." Ella has been known to say this hundreds of times per day. Even when Karen is playing, Ella, noting the slightest lapse, repeats, "Mommy, play with me."

So I'm nothing special. I get that. My anger at the end of the day when Karen is, say, ten minutes late. My tales of poop and sorrow. The hour I spend in our parked, idling car, the kids sleeping in peace. Nothing special.

It's just unfathomable how hard it can be. Monday to Thursday,working and writing, I seem to forget what Friday has in store for me. Then the day arrives, Owen waking early, seeing me and not Mommy, fighting the disappointment, crying, desirous of everything: food, love, hugs, attention. Then Ella, up at seven, not at all fighting disappointment: "I don't want it to be Daddy, Owen, and Ella Day!"

By nine, when we leave to go the Y, I feel the rest of the day collapsing upon me. But somehow, we survive. There's laughter. Owen, the bruiser, smashing his head into something seemingly dangerous, yet giggling. There's reconciliation. Ella eating Daddy's cooking, saying, I swear, "I wish we could go back and do everything over, and I'd never cry, and never get angry, and we could have this great sandwich over and over."

There's love, too, of course, the love I'm taking my time to learn, the selfless love one is urged to embody. There's the selfish love I much prefer, too, the love I'll never give up, my love for Ella and Owen bound in my love for myself, for who they make me: "Daddy," as I say, hundreds of times per day. So nothing special. In the context of my life, though--6 months out from forty--an identity-altering occasion.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Confession


This feels like a confession so I’ll just say it plainly: I am not yet in love with Owen. I could lie. I could say I fell in love when I saw him emerge with his vernix sheen. And I swear (with my hand on my heart) I believe in love at first sight. It happened to me before—twenty-three years ago, to be precise, on the first day of my sophomore year at Wissahickon, when I turned a corner and glimpsed for the first time my future wife, Karen Magowan.

But I did not fall in love with Owen—or Ella, for that matter—at first sight. Perhaps a mother’s love is immediate. Perhaps a father falls in love in fits and starts. When Karen wakes at three in the morning to nurse Owen, I wake too, but not with her sense of serenity. Nursing in the middle of the night, she smiles with a radiance not unlike the happily drugged. She likes the night light. I hate it. So a bit dazed, a bit annoyed, I throw my t-shirt over my face, try to ignore Owen’s glugging, Karen’s wakefulness: her iPhone glow, her feet rubbing together.

Thankfully, I’ve been through this before. Looking at Ella now, I can scarcely fathom a time when the mere thought of her did not mobilize my senses.

Everything for her, I think and feel. And her mother. Karen—who I miss now in my selfish way. Karen—the women I’d share a bed with, alone if not for Owen.

 And everything for Ella's brother, Owen, I suppose I should say.

Fits and starts. At least this is my experience.

Or perhaps this is my own preposterous flaw. I’m hesitant to Google it. I’d hate to discover I’m a monster.

In my defense, I can pinpoint my most recent fit. This morning I put Owen in the nook of my arm and whispered in his ear, “Relax, son.” It was the first time I had addressed him so: son. He was crying, as he does, with his breathtaking lip quiver. Or so it felt to me: breathtaking. So I whispered again (with my hand on my heart), “Relax, son. Daddy loves you.” And who knows, perhaps I was telling the truth—in a way I do not yet understand.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fran Lebowitz on Men Wearing Shorts

"I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I'd just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It's disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they're wearing shorts? It's repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can't take them seriously." 

 ~Fran Lebowitz


What was that you said, Fran Lebowitz?

Read: 'Yoga Pants are Ruining Women' and Other Style Advice from Fran Lebowitz

Related: "The Short Swimsuit: A Personal & Historical Account"

And: "A Good Drunken Sleep on the Beach: A Men's Summer Style Guide"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John Jeremiah Sullivan on the "Weird Implicit Enmity" of American Males in Crowds

"I've been to a lot of huge public events in this country during the past five years, writing about sports or whatever, and one thing they all had in common was this weird implicit enmity that American males, in particular, seem to carry around with them much of the time. Call it a laughable generalization, fine, but if you spend enough late afternoons in stadium concourses, you feel it, something darker than machismo. Something a little wounded, and a little sneering, and just plain ready for bad things to happen."

 ~John Jeremiah Sullivan from his essay, "Upon This Rock."