I’ve been quiet lately.
But there’s been a reason. Actually quite a few.
I’ve been juggling.
Traveling with the circus in a polka-dot shirt and shiny silk pants I toss balls in the air as fast as…
Okay. If you’re with me this far, then thank you because you know that’s not the type of juggling I’m talking about yet you still stuck around through my ridiculousness.
No, I’ve been juggling a lot in terms of life. We all do. Some do so better than others and other times some things give. For me, one of the the things that gave was the ability to stay on top of reflections and writing those day to day anecdotes and lessons of life. But that’s because I’ve often been so incredibly exhausted by the end of the night that I fight to keep my eyes shut.
See, we moved about two weeks ago, give or take. The weeks leading up to it were a maze of packed boxes in our previous house and now that we’re in our new digs, it’s an explosion of boxes as we continually try to get unpacked, and settled. And as many probably know, that kind of task, with a one year old and four year old, is not exactly the easiest.
Throw in our day jobs, the trips back and forth to school for the little guy, my grad school studies, trying to finish packing up the remainders at the old house (the basement and garage, especially), juggling the expenses of two homes until we sell, and anything holiday related – from getting a tree, to shopping, to decorating, everything in life seems to be hitting at once and admittedly, it’s hard to juggle it all. That’s not counting any of the additional work that either of us do freelancing or volunteering. It may not seem like a lot when you see it on paper, but when you’re living it, it’s a handful.That said, the kids have adjusted very well to our move, as have our three feline boys. Knock on wood. Our son loves his new, bigger room, the cats love having a fireplace to lay in front of, and the baby – well, she didn’t even flinch at the change of environment.
It makes me think that we adults are the ones with the most baggage. Whether it was leaving behind the kind neighbors we had gotten to know and see every day as we came and went, or the stray kitties who would come and go from our yard, there were things that completely tugged and continue to tug on our heartstrings about the change.
But there’s so much good. Our commutes have been cut into at least half, if not more, which means more time together and less time spent on the road each day and a little more space as our family grows.
And once we make our way through all the boxes, the clutter, the chaos, I’ve no doubt we’re going to find even more good to look forward to. Okay, let’s be honest. The boxes sometimes never go away and the clutter comes and goes. And chaos? Well, I think anyone with kids can agree that chaos is just part of the daily agenda.
But in between that, slipping through all of it each day are the moments, those little moments that before you know it add up to a life. A pretty good one at that, and for that, I consider myself truly blessed.
It’s amazing how quickly our little family has grown – from Meg and I, to our first cat, then another, then a third. Then came our little guy, followed last year by our little girl. Very quickly, our little starter home started to feel a little bit smaller.
And so, we admit we have been looking for something to move on to – whether it be today, tomorrow, or next year, it will happen when the time is right. I’m convinced of that. I wasn’t always. But I am now.
Even with those feelings of outgrowing our space, of constantly boxing up our lives to make room for the changes going on amidst us, it’s never easy to think about a change to the sites, sounds, and faces that you see every day.
There have been times where something happens that makes me say or think ‘ugh. We need to move’ but those thoughts are then counter-balanced whenever we get close to the thought of actually purchasing a new home.
This was never more pronounced than recently when we had gone and looked at a house for sale and decided that we wanted to make a move on it and put in an offer.
Like an interrogated suspect under the spotlight in one of those old crime movies, my head and body began to swell with anxiety and fear.
- What were we doing?
- Was this the right move to make?
- What will the neighbors be like?
- Will we regret this decision later?
- What type of peers will our kids have in the neighborhood? Will it be good? Will there be trouble?
And so it goes. And goes. And goes until I was just a ball of neurotic over-analyzation and worry. Given enough time I can talk myself out of anything. Maybe that’s the road I was heading down, I don’t know, but it’s certainly the path my brain takes when decisions aren’t made and are given time to settle, to fester, to raise concerns.
In the end, we didn’t get that particular house and another offer was accepted. I truly believe there’s a reason for that. It wasn’t the one for us. The right one will come along at the right time and we’ll know it and if things don’t work out, it wasn’t the one for us.
We walked back to the car, Meg, myself, and the kids, and sure, the standard feeling would be defeat after a situation like that, but it wasn’t.
As we got into the car, offer rejected, we decided to head to Barnes and Noble where our little guy can play with the train table, dance on the stage (he’s never met a stage he doesn’t like to dance on) and just felt…okay.
So this offer, this plan, this house didn’t work out. We still have a house to go back to. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s not as much room as we’d like at times. Maybe there are sometimes some weird stuff going on that I question and worry about. But we have a home, which is something to be incredibly grateful for in a world where so many people don’t. Without even consulting each other, it was like we all took the same mental step back after the rejection and breathed a sigh of gratitude. We had a home.
And most of all, we have each other.
We truly and honestly, felt fully, inside and out that age old saying – home is where the heart is.
As long as we have each other, it doesn’t matter where we are. We’ll be home.
We’ve all seen that cliche image from times past – a father, back relaxed in an easy chair, legs propped up on a footrest. Perhaps he’s wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and even wearing slippers. Or at the very least maybe the family dog is bringing the slippers or paper to him.
I don’t want to talk about those guys.
I want to talk about a few other fictional fathers of the screen that aren’t that stereotype of 1950s America so often thought of when reflecting on old TV shows of the past. I want to talk about a few fellas who, whether the present or the past, have, for the most part (they all have off days or an idea that’s a bit out of touch now and then, but we’ll forgive them) are solid foundations of fatherhood, and examples that those of us living outside the screen can look to for a little inspiration and example as to what it means to not just be a father, but to be a dad.
Judge James Hardy
Putting aside the one initial appearance of Lionel Barrymore, Judge James Hardy is most commonly known as being depicted by actor Lewis Stone in the plethora of films within the Andy Hardy series from MGM Studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. With themes of themes of honor, integrity, courage in the face of scandal, and maturity, the sixteen films revolving around the Hardy Family were an idealized vision of what America could be, if everyone treated each other the right way and stood by a core set of values and honor.
While the films over time took their focus to young Andy Hardy, at the center of those themes and values was James Hardy – father, husband, member of the community, and never too busy for his family. While some onscreen fathers of the time were distant, driven by work, no time for distraction, Judge Hardy always had the time to recognize how crucial wife Emily was to the family and he, to lend an ear to son Andy or daughter Marion, and took the time to listen to their troubles and emotions. Often referred to as ‘man-to-man talks,’ James rarely ordered his children around, instead offering the guidance and wisdom that allowed them to come to their own revelations and decisions of character, that laid the foundation for good, honest people of the next generation.
(Sadly, hard as I try, I couldn’t find a classic Hardy ‘man-to-man’ talk online to post)
Good-natured, goofy, but absolutely neurotic, Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke in the aptly titled The Dick Van Dyke Show, seemed to have a dream life, despite the sitcom hijinks. A loving wife who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and difference of opinion, a son with many questions for the ever-worrying dad, and a dream job as a comedy writer for the sketch comedy show – The Alan Brady Show. Rob had a good heart, even if he did trip over himself at times in trying to be the good dad and husband he wanted to be, and it made he, and the entire Petrie family, all the more human.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, still today, ranks among one of the best sitcoms of all time. 50 years later. And it’s just as enjoyable for audiences. Whereas some shows of decades past feel dated, out of touch, it’s never the case with the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob, Laura, Richie, or any of the characters. Because the brilliant Carl Reiner (who created the show) was making a show about real people. And though times may change, human emotions do not. It’s because of that brilliant writing that Rob is just as great an example of a person, co-worker, husband, and father today that he was five decades ago.
A farmer from Kansas traveling with his wife when they find a baby, abandoned in a field. Oh, and that baby’s inside a spaceship that obviously just fell from outer space.
Jonathan and Martha Kent had no idea what that baby was or what he would become. But they knew, before them, stood a child with no one other than they to help him make this planet his home. Saving him from the government containment, dissection, or weaponization that could possibly follow upon finding an alien, the Kents, salt of the Earth, good, virtuous people, decided to take this baby into their home and their lives, and raise him as their own.
When little Clark Kent grew up, the Kents had no idea who or what he would be or represent. But they knew they had the task to raise a good boy, who cared about others, and one who, as he started to show special talents and gifts beyond those of mortal men, would use those powers to help the world, to save lives, to be a beacon of hope.
That spaceship could have landed anywhere on Earth. And who knows what type of person baby Kal-El of the planet Krypton would have grown up to be? Fortunately for humanity in the pages of comics, novels, cartoons, television, and films, he landed in a corn field and was found by the Kents, whose salt of the Earth personalities, and lives of good morality laid the foundation for the hard-working, virtuous, optimistic, and all-around good person Superman is today. (in most interpretations lately. I hear it varies in recent years)
So he may not be anyone’s top pick, and that’s okay. He wasn’t necessarily mine either. However, there was something about the way Daniel Tiger’s dad, seen multiple days a week on PBS Kids Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, quietly, gently handles fatherhood. At times he may seem like a figure that fades into the surroundings, but it could easily be because he and Mrs Tiger are such equal partners.
Sometimes he’s silly, sometimes he’s childlike, rolling around on the floor or crawling through pillow and sheet tunnels with Daniel, understanding and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a child alongside Daniel and baby Margaret.
And he works in a clock factory that’s shaped like a giant grandfather clock. Tell me you wouldn’t want to show up to work at a building that looked like that everyday.
There’s a bit of him, and the entire show that for those of us old enough to remember, hearkens back to the soft-spoken, big-hearted, watch-wearing tiger cat on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood that inspired this entirely new generation of lessons in what it means to be a good person.
The Man in the Yellow Hat
It takes a lot of patience to be a father-figure to a precocious monkey. But somehow, The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to have the endless patience I can only wish for. Whether it’s a trashed apartment, a lost portfolio, or a stampede of pumpkins causing chaos and scattering crowds in a small town, there’s usually a monkey with the curiosity of a preschooler behind it, and the understanding Man in the Yellow Hat to explain it without losing his top.
While preschoolers can see the world through the relatable eyes of George and his wonder of the world, the level of fear, over-protection, and sheer joy with every uttered “oh boy” or “be a good little monkey” is the parental heart of the series for us grown ups and makes the Man in the Yellow Hat a source of joy, wonder, guidance and learning, and fun for George that I hope we could all be for our own kids.
Of course, this list is by no means conclusive. Merely a sampling of some of my own favorites of fictional dads that I think help set the bar.
What about you? What on-screen dad examples have you ever looked at with a feeling of inspiration?
I played hopscotch today. And it was marvelous.
The little guy wanted to play outside and after a roller coaster winter and early spring, it was gorgeous out. Did he want to bring anything with him? Toys, a ball? Nope. Armed simply with a box of chalk he wanted nothing more than to be out amid the sunshine and the grass of our backyard. And he wanted to be with me.
How could I say no?
He had been asking a lot about hopscotch lately. I’m not sure if he saw it in a cartoon or tv show, but thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show it to him and let him experience it himself. A few scratches of chalk on the sidewalk and our game board was set to go. I fished a small rock from a bucket of green waste headed to the curb and off we went on a crash course in hopscotch.
He didn’t care for it.
Well I shouldn’t say that. He was interested…until he had to jump on one foot. He had little care or desire and quickly walked off to the grass to look for sticks.
“You can play it, though,” he told me as he carried on with his own private adventure.
It could have ended there. I could have moved on. For some reason, though, I didn’t. Instead, I tossed the stone and off I went. One foot, the other, the first, two feet, etc, etc.
Maybe it’s because for several years I’ve lacked real exercise, but I loved it. I could have done it all day.
It wasn’t long, however, before I was wanted elsewhere and soon I had to leave hopscotch behind for a game of ‘chase the leprechaun,’ something Meg made up for him while outside enjoying some of the unseasonably warm weather around St. Patrick’s Day. He chased me around the yard as I shouted in a little Irish accent and got myself so exhausted, I admit needing to take a few rests upon the grass before we picked things up again. Hey, at least I got some sort of exercise in.
That whole afternoon out there got me thinking a bit. I feel like there are so many times in today’s world where we always feel the need to have something, to be entertained by something. But here we were armed with nothing more than some chalk and the sticks and flowers we found out in the yard along with our imaginations. And we had a blast.
There was a time, not too long ago, before tablets, smartphones, etc, when that’s how we did entertain ourselves. We went outside and what was there was what we came across and used to the best way we could.
There’s something almost…primal, reminiscent, rejuvenating about just running around, sitting in grass, looking at stocks and stones, and just skipping across a hopscotch board of chalk.
It felt good to get back to that. I should do it more often.
A castle turned restaurant. Candlelight. Fine wine and amazing food late into the night.
This was a Valentine’s Day for my wife and I several years ago in the days before parenthood.
As I write this in the present, two kids later, it is again Valentine’s Day. There is no wine. Just a large supply of juice, water and hot tea. Amazing gourmet food replaced with bowls of hot soup. And I am the only person awake in our house – a rare sight on any given day, but particularly lately.
We’ve been sick. All of us.
Our son led the charge in this battle that he’s been fighting for over four weeks now. We’ve been to the doctor’s multiple times, the latest diagnosis being that whatever virus he’s been battling has turned into an ear infection.
I came down with it this past week and have been struggling to stay coherent for days.
Yesterday, my wife and our 3 month old began their path down the road to the sickness.
High fevers, constant hacking, headaches, noses that don’t stop running teamed with heads that won’t stop stuffing up, achiness in the bones.
It’s been a ride. I keep thinking back to sick days when I was single. Or even when it was just the two of us. The sick days usually consisted of tea, soup, TV, reading, and general lounging or sleeping as much as possible. The lounging/sleeping part being virtually impossible as a parent.
Being sick can cause irritability in anyone, but in the body of an already energetic three year old, that crankiness and obstinance gets knocked up to 11. That means any energy we adults have managed to muster or conserve amid the late night wake ups, comforting, medicine administration, feedings, diaper changes, etc quickly goes out the window in trying to negotiate with this little version of yourself who seems to want to thwart your every attempt at making him feel better at every turn.
Seriously. When I was sick as a kid, I loved being curled up with a blanket watching cartoons or looking at comics. Not our three year old. Sickness be damned, he is running, shouting, playing, dancing with as much boisterous energy as a Broadway show.
So it’s been trying. On all of us.
We exchanged Valentine’s Day cards in the morning amid coughing up our lungs into our tea (and the little guy’s juice), my wife surprising me with a DVD of one of my childhood favorites – Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks with Angela Lansbury and I her with a copy of the recently published The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney.
Other than that, we have done nothing all day with little regret. Between subzero temperatures outside and the virus that won’t quit, I can’t see any reason to even want to exit our warm home.
And on top of all the human sickness, one of our beloved cats is also ailing. He’s had a history of health issues since we found him, but it doesn’t make us worry any less. The veterinarian just prescribed some new medication to try a new approach to one of those ongoing health issues – his ear, which constantly gets filled with gunk no matter how much it’s cleaned out. While he’s still eating and drinking, he has suddenly become incredibly lethargic, and won’t/can’t open one eye. That same eye has been draining clear liquid as well, leaving a household already juggling sickness among four, adding a fifth to the roster.
Hacking and sniffling all the way, I got him to the vet where we learned he’s suffering from a form of conjunctivitis, also known as Pink Eye. Luckily for us that just means eye drops for the next several days and a return to the vet next week. As well as keeping the little man from getting too close to the all too catchy Pink Eye – a feat for Hercules, asking a three year old to keep away from the kitty while he’s sick and said three year old not seeing it as an invitation to do just that.
So yes, sick days have changed. Yes, Valentine’s Day has changed. But also, so what?
With parenthood comes responsibility. Sure, it may have been easier to rest up when you only had yourself to worry about, but who said parenting was easy? And Valentine’s Day? Let those who can’t help try to out-post each other on social media about how great their evenings are keep on clicking away during their evenings. Tis okay. Enjoy yourselves. Sincerely. Go ahead. Though I don’t know how much enjoying you’re doing if you have to take the time to convince the online world about it, but I digress, a post for another time, I suppose.
This Valentine’s Day, I was right where I wanted to be – with my loved ones. The sniffly noses, the coughs, the sleepless nights, I’ll take it. Cuz you know what? We’re in it together – war buddies in this battle against a virus so stubborn it wanted to take all four (five with the kitty) down together. But it won’t. It may win a few battles, sure. We may retreat to our cold mists and our hot teas here and there, but in the end, we will win, because we’ve got each other to care for. It’s where our hearts are.
And really, isn’t Valentine’s Day about love? Which is really about having your heart in the right place?
“You really have built yourself a wonderful life.”
For a lot of folks, the end of a year is a bit of a refresher, closing out the bad of the previous 365 days while welcoming the good and the potential of the year ahead. But it can also be quite a time of reflection, looking back at the year that’s coming to an end and seeing how far our lives have come from the year before, the year before that, the decade before that, and so on.
Relatively recently, as a friend and I were catching up on life, and what was going on, including the birth of my daughter this past Fall, the incredible growth of my son, now 3, and what both my wife and I had been up this past year (from family outings and projects, to fixing up our little home, her increased freelance writing gigs, my baby steps into some publishing), my friend looked at me and said, very casually “you really have built a wonderful life for yourself.”
And he’s right.
It’s the kind of thing that I don’t take stock of as often as I really should. I’ve admitted in the past to what a list-maker I am – constantly setting multiple goals each day and mentally flogging myself for not accomplishing all of them. Always looking to what the next project or accomplishment can be. Whether it’s another attempt at trying to sell a script, a job pursuit, a house hunt. It’s always something. Some, next attainable goal, leaving little to no time to reflect on how much I really do already have.
When I met this friend roughly ten years ago, I was in my mid-20s. I was fresh off a delayed graduation from college, living at home, trying to cut it art-wise as a low-budget indie filmmaker, and working a quality control job at a factory with my eyes set on journalism.
Needless to say, my life’s changed quite a bit in those past ten years. I left the Quality Control Job at the factory, landing an entry-level reporter job at a weekly paper. That led to a full-fledged reporter job at the daily paper soon after, leading into a foot-in-the-door job doing digital media/web content for a local television news station. That in itself then led to various positions over the years, from assignment editor, assistant news director, a reporter, and a new anchor. It was a long journey over almost a decade, but the experiences along the way were, despite the struggles within, what was dreamed off as I sat doing quality control forms back in the day. And during my tenure in news, I re-sparked my love of the theatre by getting involved in community theatre productions, meeting the woman who’d become my wife, bought a house, got married, and had our first child.
I’d leave news for a job on the professional side of academia, keeping my feet in the creative pool through pieces for this blog, various websites, and the occasional TV appearance on Mass Appeal, one of my favorite stops in New England, to pal around with hosts Ashley and Seth and some mid-morning Dorky Daddy life tips.
I’d see the publication of my first comic book series, which, as a fan of comics most of my life, is still an incredible feeling, to hold one’s own work, tangibly, in their hands.
This year we welcomed our second child, our daughter, to the world, and nothing beats coming home to see her crack a smile and the open arms of my son, who can make you feel like you’ve been gone an eternity with the welcoming hug upon arrival.
In those 10+ years, I went from drowning in credit card debt to not owning a single credit card. Sure, the student loan debt is still there, but it’s paid on, steadily, and more than the minimum amount, every month, chipping away as best I can.
The day job isn’t always perfect. But then, very few jobs are, am I right? Neither was my career in news, no matter how much I miss the work at times.
Yes, there are bills. There will always be bills. Yes, the small house that was perfect for the two of us seems a bit cramped with us, two kids and three cats. But that too will eventually change over time.
You catch my drift, I think.
So much time can be spent focusing on what we feel has to be accomplished next, that we don’t step back and see just how far we’ve come.
And man, I feel I’ve come a damn long way.
Thanks for the reminder, Clarence. My friend’s name isn’t Clarence, but it seems appropriate in name-changing to protect the innocent.
Maybe with a new year beginning, I need to make it a point to still maintain goals, but not to allow them to make me lose sight of what wonderful things I already have in this life. Because it will (and already has) go by pretty quick. If you don’t realize, respect, and appreciate what you have while you have it, it’s going to go by even quicker.