The misadventures of a first time father

Monthly Archives: May 2014

My recent trip to Massachusetts got me reflecting a bit on how much things change.

Flashback more than ten years ago. I was 21 years old and living for the first time on my own in a small village in Massachusetts. I worked serving drinks in a small cafe across from an all-women’s college, juggling the need to pay for rent, utilities and a car with a full load of classes as I studied Film-making and Screenwriting.

While it was one of the poorest times of my life (what isn’t for many college students), it was certainly one of the most fun. Classes by day, pouring coffee and chatting up customers by night and making writing come to life with low-budget films into the late, late hours of the night. Those late film shoots with theatre majors wanting acting experience often ended in great friendships and conversations about life over eggs at some 24 hour diner. We talked of life, of our dreams, of the future success that lay before us. Call it Destiny Over Easy (Hey, that’s a good film title right there. Need to jot that down).

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The carefree twenty-something phase before ‘grown up stuff.’ I still have the red t-shirt, but wish I knew where those sunglasses went to.

Speed the clock up a bit. When I could no longer afford the private school I was attending and the student loans it took to stay there, I switched gears. I moved back home to upstate New York and enrolled in a state school where I would finish out not under the major of film, but Broadcasting and Media Communications. I would finally graduate (albeit a year and a half late), have trouble finding a job and spend time working in an office for a company that made airplane and turbine engine parts.

I couldn’t stay there but didn’t quite know what to do next. I didn’t have the leap of faith to pack up and go out west like others I had worked on the films would do. A large part of me didn’t want to. This was my home and I felt attached to it and those around me.

I still dreamed of what great things I would do, great pieces of art I would write/create. I still had the outline of my life set forth like some type of whirlwind adventure – even saying to someone I had been dating at the time that the writer’s journey I had in store had no time for kids.

I got a nighttime internship at a newspaper while working at the turbine engine company during the day. Maybe Hollywood wasn’t the next step after all, maybe a steady paycheck would be. That internship eventually led to a job at the paper. From there, I delved head-first into the world of journalism. It was an environment I would stay in for more than seven years, leaving the paper to work in television, writing copy for their website. In time, I would eventually move to a position running the day-to-day operations of the TV newsroom and anchoring the midday news.

Along the way I kept the performing arts bug alive not through film, but through area theater-houses, directing and acting in plays and eventually being cast with a quirky and funny young woman I would later marry. Together we would rescue three cats who otherwise were not likely to have survived on their own in the wild. When that trio of felines entered our lives, something about my outlook began to shift, my focus on nights with my wife and these furry little friends, savoring every moment of time and affection with them for that short period they would be in our lives. It didn’t take long before I started realizing this was some type of paternal instinct awakening inside, and before too long it dawned on me how much I really did want to be a father.

Moving the hands of the clock farther ahead, it would happen. I would come home one Halloween night from work to find notes clipped to the collars of our cats, the first two asking questions like ‘will you still love me?’ With only two wandering the downstairs and tears in my wife’s eyes, my immediate thought was fear that something had happened to our third cat, the one with health problems since we rescued him. When I found him upstairs sleeping soundly, it wasn’t a note attached to him, but a pregnancy test showing that we were going to be parents. It was like placing me in a clear sphere of fear and excitement.

I started this blog shortly before our little guy was born as a way to get a lot of those thoughts out of my head and just…somewhere for others to read. About a year into our little guy’s life I would once again pull up stakes and transition out of news and into a career writing for the world of academia at a university. It brought me less stress and more time for him, my wife, and of course, this very blog about all of it.

So, imagine the feeling when it was this very blog and the very life changes that I had undergone on the way here that would lead me right back to that small town in Massachusetts once again. I was invited to do some television segments for the mid-morning lifestyle program, Mass Appeal recently. So I hit that familiar road once again, just like I used to so many times in the past. Only this time, it was as a family and while we had made the trek to MA before, this would be different for one other, very different reason.

Sure, we had to get off the thruway and drive back when the check engine light went on and borrow my mother-in-law’s car to then start our journey all over again, but that’s not what made it different (interesting, but not different).

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The next generation.

What made it different was when we saw some old friends, Missy and Josh, made long ago during those bygone days of coffee shops and college and indie film-making, only now they were new parents too, with a beautiful nine-month old boy.

Here we stood in their living room, our almost-two-year-old joyfully hugging their son, talking to him and bringing him toys as he cheerfully laughed and cooed. There were moments in between the laughs, between the baby-chasing and between the frantic parent-search for shoes, bags, toys, etc, when we would just look at each other and wonder ‘how did this happen?’

If you had told our younger selves as we goofed around with scripts and costumes and Guerrilla filming that we would be finding our thrills, our excitement and our greatest joys in these small creatures stumbling around like little drunks, their every utterance a source of amazement, we would’ve said we were nuts.

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Whose kids are those and why are we pretending to be adults?!

I’ve realized that there have been many times since I left that place that I want a return to that area in Massachusetts to be a step back in time, to be frozen just as I remember it – every business, every face, every feeling.

But that’s impossible. Not only have those businesses and familiar places that I once knew changed, but so have I, so have the people I knew. A physical return can’t mean a return to the mindset and feeling as it was back then – because that’s exactly what it is – back then, in the past.

Yet, here we are. More than a decade older. Still the same people, yet not quite. Things had changed. Priorities changed. We had changed. Sometimes your destiny is fame and fortune. Sometimes your destiny is to help guide a young soul on their own path. Despite all the jobs I’ve had over the years, or even all the jobs I’ve wanted, I can honestly say that fatherhood in these first (almost) two years, has been the best job yet.

And despite what the us of the past may have said, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

We had lunch that day, but no diner eggs. Still, I’ll call it destiny, over easy, because it sounds funnier.

 

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Coinciding with my recent post about great children’s books that will keep adults entertained at story-time, I was lucky enough to be invited back recently to the mid-morning Lifestyle program, Mass Appeal to talk briefly about those books and the authors who make them so much fun for both parents and kids.

Having way too much fun before going on-air.

You’re gonna’ trust this guy with books?!

We had a spot of trouble getting there, as we got on the thruway only to have the check-engine light come on for my car. With my wife’s car having its own trouble at the time, we had to get off the thruway at the next available exit, turn around, and borrow my mother-in-law’s car before getting back on the thruway. It added an extra 45 minutes of time to our trip and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we were going to make it in time for the segment.

Fortunately, all went well and we made it with plenty of time to spare and nothing owed to a lead foot. I apparently managed to make it without breaking speed limits or rules of the road.

The even greater news? For both the trip there and back, our little guy did phenomenal with the travel. Even when he wasn’t napping, he kept himself entertained with books, toys, or just chattering with us about some of his favorite words.

I really had a ball and where else can I say that my fellow guests included a baby alligator and a parrot?!

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We not only talked about the books but I also got the chance to play quasi-game show host and quiz the program hosts, Ashley and Seth on some ‘dorky pop-culture trivia.’ I even pulled a jacket from an old Halloween costume (The Riddler) out of mothballs to wear on air for it.

It was a lot of fun and though our time in the area was limited, we did squeak in a brief reunion with some old friends and THEIR little one, who I’m relieved to say, at nine months old, did not seem frightened by our little guy’s Frankenstein-like onslaught of hugs.

While it won’t let me embed the video, please feel free to give the segment a watch here, if you like: http://wwlp.com/2014/05/23/great-reads-activities-for-toddlers/

 

 


I know that these days, many people associate Memorial Day as ‘the unofficial start to summer’ or a ‘long weekend’ to barbecue, travel or get together with family and friends.

None of those are inaccurate ways to spend the day. Heck, we took advantage of nice weather and worked on our garden. Just make sure while we enjoy having fun with loved ones, to take a moment and remember those who helped make it possible for us to do that. Those who have fought, who have passed and who have fallen.

Regardless of your politics, leanings or beliefs, it’s not a day about sides. It’s about people. People who put everything on the line and in some cases gave it all, for others. It’s a time to say thank you and to remember that.

I’ve often talked about my fascination with the WWII era, as well as my love of pop culture and comics from that time period. I can’t think of a more suitable depiction for a blog called The Dorky Daddy to symbolize it than with this piece by one of my favorite artists, Darwyn Cooke, and the 1940-era super-hero team The Justice Society, saluting a true hero.

Happy Memorial Day.

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Not our actual bookshelf, but boy, doesn't it look pretty?

Not our actual bookshelf, but boy, doesn’t it look pretty?

Storytime is a wonderful and strong tradition to have in your household, and the earlier you start with your kids the better.

We’ve made storytime a nightly habit in our house, starting the week our little guy came home from the hospital. Now almost two, it has become routine for him to go to the bookshelf, grab a few books he wants and then bring them into our room for a family reading on the big bed.

Needless to say in that time, we’ve amassed more than a few that not only he likes, but my wife and I love to read as well.

As much as I often get nostalgic and wish for ‘simpler times’ or the always-idealized ‘old days,’ one of the great things about the current age we live in is that children’s books have come a long way from “Goodnight, Moon,” which, let’s be honest, is not one of my favorites.

These days, children’s books can be just as enjoyable for parents to read as the kids, so these are just a few suggestions that entertain parents as well as the kids that you might want to add to your family bookshelf if you haven’t already.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” & “The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle

It’s the 45th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this year and this book helps to teach days of the week and successive numbers through the timeline of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. It’s one of those classics that is just educational, fun, and absolutely beautiful, as are all of Carle’s books.

“The Grouchy Ladybug,” as her name states, is a bad-tempered bug that doesn’t say please, doesn’t say thank you, and has quite the ego, thinking she’s better than everyone she encounters. The story follows her journey and teaches about concepts like size, time and, of course, good manners.

If you end up really loving Eric Carle’s books (and how can you not?), take a road trip to Amherst, MA to visit the wonderful Eric Carle Museum right over in Amherst. You’ll find his original artwork, as well as get to view the work of guest illustrators on exhibit firsthand. This place is like a mecca for our family.

 

Elephant, Piggie and PigeonBooks by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is a writer and animator and worked on Sesame Street for several years, where he won Emmy Awards, as well as shows on Cartoon Network. He has written so many wonderful books, but these are some of my favorites.

The Elephant and Piggie series – Gerald the Elephant (named after his favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) and Piggie are best friends and through these books deal with issues of friendship. Sometimes it’s separation anxiety, other times it’s being nervous about getting invited to a party, or sharing a new toy or ice cream. It’s all done in a conversational, comic book type style with word balloons and they’re just a lot of fun, each with its own great, positive message.

The Pigeon books – They star, obviously, The Pigeon, who usually wants something. Sometimes it’s to stay up late, or to get a puppy, or to drive the bus, and it’s always something he’s not supposed to do, giving the child, who oftentimes is being told “no,” the opportunity and power to say no themselves. These are highly interactive, so kids love them and parents can enjoy the humor, too.

That is Not a Good Idea – It’s done in a style of silent films, with a great twist ending and deals with just what the title says – not so good ideas.

 

How do Dinosaurs Love their CatsHow do Dinosaurs Take Care of their Cats by Jane Yolen

This book asks the question “How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats” and it’s just one of a wonderful series by Jane Yolen. Each book teaches manners and the proper way to act in different situation, this one, of course being if you have cats at home and the proper ways to treat them. There’s books for dogs, parties, playing with friends, cleaning your room; this goes on and on. Great lessons and great images by Mark Teague with a dinosaur name hidden on each page. Many of these types of dinosaurs are well beyond the common ones we come to know, which provides an additional educational element.

 

Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack

It’s about two friends with very different views on life – one optimistic and one not so much. When children are emergent and anxious to start reading, this is a great book. There’s only 5 total words in it. Those words are repeated, so they learn them better and can eventually read on their own. And the story itself is just funny and touching, and shows why it’s nice to look on the bright side of life.

Good News Bad News

 

I Wish That I had Duck Feet and Gerald McBoing Boing by Dr. Seuss

Sure, there are more popular or well-known books by Dr. Seuss, but these are two that really have great lessons. Both are about being yourself.

In “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet,” a little boy daydreams about what it would be like to have different animal parts but realizes the downside of each.

I Wish That I had Duck Feet

In “Gerald McBoing Boing,” a little boy named Gerald can’t speak but is born with the ability to make incredible sounds when he opens his mouth. He gets made fun of by others for his difference, being called Gerald McBoing Boing by bullies, but it’s about Gerald finding his place in the world and being happy with who he is that ultimately finds him happiness.

 

Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

We have the collection with the first three books of the series.

Cronin writes these to be entertaining and hilarious, and this book details the trouble of poor Farmer Brown as the animals in his barn begin to type and start becoming literate.

When that happens, they have more bargaining and leveraging power with the farmer when he demands things like milk, eggs, etc. It’s a great book that really teaches about give and take and even peaceful protest.

Click, Clack Moo - Cows That Type

 

Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman

The kids will get sucked in by the beautiful art and images of Batman and Robin by artist Ty Templeton, but the well-researched story by Nobleman tells the real-life story of Bill Finger, the man who created most of Batman’s villains, decided he should wear a cowl and gloves. It was his ideas that Batman what we know today and sadly didn’t get the credit for it. A great true story told in the form of a children’s book.

Bill the Boy Wonder


© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationThere is just something inherently creepy these days about the Ice Cream Truck coming down the street.

If you’re an ice cream truck driver, I apologize. It’s very likely not you. Or at least, I hope it’s not you.

Oh, I’m sure that back in the day it was an innocent and smile-inducing moment to see that white truck making its way through the neighborhood, music and bells ringing through the air. Heck, even I remember just two and a half decades ago, how normal it seemed to have the ice cream man come down the street and eagerly await to get some cold treats in the summer.

Through a little internet searching, here’s some background on the ice cream truck, or ice cream van as it’s sometimes known.

Early ice cream vans carried simple ice cream, during a time when most families did not own a freezer. As freezers became more commonplace, ice cream vans moved towards selling novelty ice cream items, such as bars and popsicles. Early vans used relatively primitive techniques: their refrigeration was ensured by large blocks of dry ice so the engine was always turned off when the van was stopped for sales. The chimes were operated by a hand driven crank or a take-off from the engine, so they were not heard as often. Modern chimes are always electrically operated and amplified.

I know it's too much to ask for it all to still seem like this, but...

I know it’s too much to ask for it all to still seem like this, but…

There are different types of ice cream trucks currently in use in the United States, some simply novelty trucks and some are soft-serve trucks.

Professionally built ice cream trucks that sell prepackaged product (Novelty Trucks) use commercial cold plate freezers that plug in overnight and when unplugged maintain the cold for at least 12 hours. Music systems are mechanical, such as pianos, or more commonly digital devices that have no tape or other moving parts. Each “music box” may be able to play one or multiple tunes. The opening on the side that drivers serve from is commonly referred to as a serving window and will usually have a serving counter. Awnings can be attached to trucks over the serving window. Safety equipment usually comes in the form of an electric or vacuum swing out sign which may resemble a stop sign or a triangular shape, as well as vinyl lettering or decals that advise others to use caution.

These are the only types of ice cream trucks that I’m familiar with in my own youth, cruising up and down the street, making me bug my parents or grandparents to buy me a Pink Panther ice cream on a stick, shaped like his head, with pink and white ice cream, and bubble gum for eyes.

Soft-serve ice cream trucks are actually a whole foreign concept to me. Instead of the pre-packaged ice creams, they actually have soft-serve machines in them and can offer you cones and sundaes. Honestly, I think I would’ve liked this a lot better than the pre-packaged stuff. They aren’t seen very often in the U.S. because of the extra costs with building such a truck. Oh, U.S. – cheap, cheaper and cheapest. Aesthetics and quality never really come into play here, do they? It’s a shame.

Maybe because of that desire to keep costs low, those ice cream trucks don’t always hold up well over time, which certainly doesn’t help deter the creepy factor I now see as an adult, the run-down rusty-looking truck barreling down our street at speeds quite unsafe for children who may be running out into the street to follow.

Or perhaps it’s the Dateline culture we live in these days, the numerous kidnapping stories splashed across the headlines, the horror movies made on the subject. As an adult, I just raise a skeptical eyebrow when I hear the jingles of the ice cream man coming down the street.

Honestly, maybe it’s the fact that he comes down the street at 9 o’clock at night, when most young kids, I would think, are safe indoors, that makes me raise a cynical eyebrow.

I think we’ll leave this one out in the cold and I’ll just go to the store to grab some ice cream for the family.


Bill Kenwright production ofSCROOGEwith Tommy Steeledirected by Bob ThomsonWhether it’s writing a check for your car payment or clicking ‘pay online’ for that student loan installment, carrying around debt can often times feel like you’re dragging along the undead chains of Jacob Marley.

That’s why I’ve already started the ball rolling in the past few months on what I want to take full-strength into the end of this year and the start of the next – paying it off. It’s possible to have a debt-free life. Oh, I know there will be bills to contend with, but debt is not the necessity that so many of us have been fooled into believing is necessary.

That whole idea that you need to spend some credit to get credit?

Nah-uh. I no longer buy into it. Why create more debt for yourself so that you can add to that debt or create new debt later?

I’m not preaching from on high on this. I’ve been saddled with debt for a very long time. I transferred around colleges a lot, including two years at a private school before going back to a state school. During that time, I frequently would get those student loan notices in the mail that would offer me the chance to make a payment then, but would read “$0.00 due.”

Well, the coffee shop barista/movie theatre projectionist who was working while in school and had expenses to pay for (apartment, food, gas, car payments, etc) chose to focus only on that “$0.00 due” and never gave a thought to the bigger picture. “Graduating college was a long time off, right? I’d get a great job and pay those off in no time when the time came.”

That’s what I told myself.

After college came some very low-paying jobs…and credit cards were added to the mix. I should have seen the warning signs early on that when I was relying on credit cards to get me through gas fill-ups on the car, among many other things, there was an issue. I didn’t see it, or chose to ignore it and I paid for it, with interest, later on.

Fortunately for me, it took about 3 1/2 years, but that credit card debt, all $10k+ of it was paid off in full several years ago. I can’t express what that felt like. It was like a boulder had been taken off my chest, and to know that I was able to pull that boulder off with some hard work and dedication, made it all the greater a feeling.

After that came paying off one of my four student loans, this one through Keybank. (Don’t you love how banks can sell/buy your debt around to each other, splitting off loans, adding to your monthly payments, as if you were an indentured servant? It’s scary.)

These days those ‘debt chains’ consist of the remaining three student loans and my car payment and I intend to pay them off as quickly as I can. It’s a lesson I learned but wish I hadn’t done so through “trial by fire.” I started an Investment Fund (with the intent to be used for education) for our little guy the minute I could, as did some relatives, contributing a little each month into investments that can be used for his education, should he choose to when he’s of age. It’s a head start for him, and it’s all in an effort to make sure he doesn’t repeat the same mistakes that I did.

So, I’m on the mission to pay this stuff off, sooner rather than later. Why am I telling you this and putting it out there to the blogosphere for all to see my financial shame?

Easy. The answer is – pressure.

tim_foley_student_debt-articleCurrently, how much I have to shell out every month and how much debt is still hanging over my head is known really only to me, my wife, and some of our family. I feel that by putting it out there, there is more pressure on myself to stick with it, to make it happen, or else I’ll have to admit to you and all the world on here that I failed, that I caved, that I didn’t see it through. And I see things through, even the not so great ideas.

I’ve read of something called the ‘Snowball Effect,’ where, once you pay one debt off, you take the money you were paying into it each month and throw it at another debt like wood into a fire. Disregard higher interest rates. You throw everything at the next lowest balance and pay the minimum on the rest. When it’s paid off, you take all that and throw it on top of the next one, etc, etc.

With that said, here’s where we stand (these are rough estimates):

National Education – $1,500

Car Payment – $6,800

Sallie Mae – $12,200

Discover/Citibank Student Loan – $23,000

So here’s the plan. I had been paying $75 on National Education every month. I’ve taken the money that went to Keybank ($150) and applying that to National Education EVERY PAYCHECK, on top of the monthly $75 I was making. So, that means I’ve gone from paying them $75 a month to $375 a month. By my estimation, that should have National Education paid off by the fall.

Once that is done, that $375 then gets tacked on to the $325 I already pay every month on my car, meaning I’ll be making $700 payments on my car each month. If I did the math right, that should wrap that up by the middle of winter.

Hopefully, you see where I’m going with this.

So, there you have it, interwebs. That’s my plan, and I would never share something that personal with the world if not for the need that by putting it out there, I feel the pressure to stick with it every month. It can be done, and it will be done.

But I will admit that I’ve given myself the clause that after National Ed and the Car are done, that I could use that $700 towards a mortgage if we’ve found a house in an area we like at that point. We’ve only been casually looking as we continue to fix up our own and try to find one we love, with room for our little guy to run around safely and possibly more kids down the line.

We’ll see, but there you have it. That’s my plan to unlock these chains.

 



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