Why This Dad (Sometimes) Feels Unproductive As a Parent

January 22, 2012 at 8:32 pm , by 

14 months.

It’s Sunday night and I’m exhausted. My wife is upstairs with our son right now giving him a bath and then she’ll put him to bed for the night.

Finally, I have a good 25 minutes to think about whatever I want to, including “nothing,” without hearing him crying, without trying to keep him from making a mess, or without attempting to invent yet another new way to entertain him.

In other words, I’m spent.

Physically, mentally, and psychologically, I’m done for the weekend. I hate to admit I look forward to going to the office in the morning, but I do.

Why, though?

Because there’s no way to verify my productivity as a dad.

I would love it at the end of the day to receive a “Daddy Report Card.” A while back, I explained that I am the kind of person whothrives on constructive criticism. I’m obsessed with being the best possible version of myself I can be.

Without knowing how to improve and without someone being brave enough to tell me; and without some confirmation of what I’m actually doing right, I tend to get disillusioned, frustrated, and even angry.

Welcome to fatherhood… I know, right?

It doesn’t change the fact that I have good reason to feel this way right now.

At my sales job, the numbers at the end of the month give me a confirmation either way whether or not my dedication paid off.

Here writing for Parents.com, I can know at any moment how well (or unwell) a particular article of mine is doing with readers by viewing something called StatCounter.

Like today, I am pleased to see all my hard work writing about chicken nuggets paid off; people evidently want to know how those things are made. Certain posts like this one take less than 25 minutes and I’m done; just vulnerable streaming of consciousness. But the one about mechanically separated chicken took about 4 days and several people editing it for me to get it just right.

If only a stressful day in Dadland was like that:

“Today, you scored a 99. The only thing to improve on based on today’s role as a dad was that you let him eat a Cheerio off the floor.”

See, that would be cool. I don’t know- blame it on my culture or my generation. I sort of like instant gratification.

Parenthood isn’t that way. Can you really ever know when you’re successful at it? Maybe when they grow up?

(Probably not.)

 

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The Curious Case of Collecting

Collect them all… whiles supplies last!

The marketing teams working for our favorite kids’ cereals brands and fast food restaurants obviously had a good reason to promote collecting the whole series of toys they attached with the food they were selling: to increase profit. But what is strange is the way my actual response was often “sure, okay” or “I won’t make any promises, but I’ll try”. Because in the bottom drawer of my dresser at my parents’ house back in Alabama are several complete collections of plastic figurines.

A few months ago I gladly let a co-worker borrow my Dave Ramsey CD series on Financial Peace. Within a few weeks, she was no longer employed where I work. When I called her to say I’ll drive to her side of Nashville to get my CD’s back, she assured me that she will bring them to me when she’s finished with them. I waited two more months and called again- her phone is out of service.

The funny thing is, I don’t even need the CD’s. I’ve already listened to them and daily apply what I learned. At this point, I should consider them a gift that she needed more than I did. In fact, I didn’t even buy the CD’s myself. Someone gave them to me as a gift.

But they were MINE. And now she has them.

Why must I feel so compelled to want to possess things? Things I definitely don’t need. Things that aren’t even mine.

I am learning to convert this desire of collecting material items to collecting memories of new experiences instead. Collecting all the state quarters does me no good but travelling to random states like Rhode Island (which my wife and I did) stays with me. And I don’t even need a souvenir. As long as I have a memory, I’ll always remember when my wife and I got hot stone massages from two very strong hippie women in downtown Providence. And if one day my memory does fail me, I’ve got the pictures on facebook to remind me.

“There’s something missing in us, we long to make it whole. Though it never feels like it, I know you have it all.” -Pete Yorn (Social Development Dance)

Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

Hall and Oates are Officially Cool Again, Says Me

They make my dreams come true.

Yesterday my wife and I were hanging out at our new favorite brunch spot in Nashville, The Perch.  As we were waiting on our crepes, we both had our laptops up and running (she was working on stuff for her Master’s program, and I was catching up on burning about a dozen CD’s that I’ve bought since last December).  An energetic couple sat down at the table across from us; as she walked past, the wife snuck a peak at the pile of CD’s I had laying on the table.

“Just checking out your musical style”, she said with a curious smile.

I lifted up Landon Pigg (a local Nashville artist recently featured on an ATT commercial) and Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson to give her a good idea of exactly was is music to me.  She approved.

But then, I pulled out the one she couldn’t see because it was currently being burned.  And that definitely got her attention as well as her husband’s: The Essential Hall and Oates.

She eagerly told me about Daryl Hall’s current website, in which he invites special guest musicians to play concerts in his house.  Within a minute, she had emailed me the link.  http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/index.php?page=ep30

As if it wasn’t obvious, being that I’ve referenced Hall and Oates in the last couple things I’ve written, I’m a little bit obsessed with this feel-good duo.  Maybe it started when they performed on the recent American Idol finale and I realized they not only are still performing but also haven’t changed who they are one bit.  Because there was John Oates bouncing and bopping around on his electric guitar and Daryl Hall running the show in all confidence.

Some musical acts could have only been popular during the time they were popular.  Hall and Oates is the epitome of them.  The late 70’s and early 80’s were the only time that a male duo singing group looking the way they did and performing the way they did could not only get away with it, but have six Number Ones and have 34 singles to chart.

The duo of course is comprised of  Daryl Hall (of Scottish heritage) and John Oates (half Italian, a quarter Spanish, and a quarter British English).

Hall and Oates is also the kind of musical act that sings so many more songs than I ever realized.  I’d been hearing their songs all along, assuming it was a random one hit wonder.

If I was asked two weeks ago (before I bought their 3 disc greatest hits set) which songs Hall and Oates sang, I would say “You Make My Dreams”, “Maneater”, and “Out of Touch”.  Just the tip of the Oatesberg:

Here’s a brief looks at their credentials:  Their six Number Ones were “Rich Girl”, “Kiss on My List”, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”, “Maneater”, and “Out of Touch”.  A few of their 34 singles that charted include “You Make My Dreams”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’”, “One on One”, “Say It Isn’t So”, “Adult Education”, “Method of Modern Love”, and “Sara Smile”.

But after listening nonstop to the 40 plus songs on the 3 disc set I bought exactly a week ago, my favorite song of theirs, to my surprise, is not “You Make My Dreams” (which hilariously leads into the guitar solo with the lyrics “well listen to this”).  It’s instead one that I truly never heard prior to seven days ago.  A song that peaked at #6 in June of 1983.  The song is “Family Man”.

Complete with a grungy guitar riff reminiscent of Weezer’s 2001 hit “Hash Pipe”, perfect back-up vocal spurts, and the off-beat subject matter (for a pop song) of a faithful husband and father basically saying “skat!” to a temptress.  And best of all, it was a hit in 1983.

As I recently explained to a friend who was much less familiar with Hall and Oates as I made him listen to them in my car, “They’re the kind of music you should listen to if you’re considering suicide.  You’ll change your mind by the end of the first song.”

Now Simon and Garfunkel, well, that’s a different story.

The Euphoric Therapy of iTunes: Listening to Music is Like Traveling Back in Time

 

The only thing I really buy for myself that is not a basic need, is music.  My CD collection now contains well over 700 albums, not including the several hundreds of songs I’ve “traded” with friends via laptop swap or the “borrowing and burning” of each other’s CD collections.   The one material thing that I actually spend money on (though I often buy at a much discounted price at Unclaimed Baggage) is music.

My stereo speakers are never silent as long as I’m the only one in the car.  There are times when I actually get tired of my own massive music library, but even then, I turn the radio to a classic rock station (“I want to know what love is, I need you to show me…”) or an alternative station where I get introduced to current bands like The Avett Brothers (“In January, we’re getting married…”).

 

Music is therapy.  It’s invisible.  But music has a way of ministering to the soul and to the emotions.  It enhances the mood and the moment.  Music makes sad times sadder and good times greater.  And when I don’t know how I feel, I listen to the abstract vagueness of ‘90’s alternative bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Live, and Foo Fighters.

Music is euphoric. It’s not tangible.  But music has a way of lifting a person’s spirits or helping them to connect and relate to the pain they are feeling at the moment.

Music is a drug. Teenagers use it to “express themselves” (or the idea of who they think they want to be) and to get in touch with their out of control emotions.  Adults use it to relax, to escape, to take a trip to an easier time in their lives.  And yes, music is an addictive drug.

I can not hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and not be affected.  Or Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”.  Or my newest obsession, the Scottish one-hit wonder from 1983, “In a Big Country” by Big Country, with its piercing lead guitar riffs reminiscent of a bagpipe:  “In a big country dreams stay with you like a lover’s voice…”

Music is engrained into our pop culture.  It freezes a year, a moment, a memory forever.  Listening to a song can be like time travel.  It stays with us.

And it’s amazing to me how music can make nonsense words and phrases acceptable by the mainstream.  Because seriously, everybody should wang chang tonight.

I can’t imagine a world where the words “I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller” meant nothing to me.