Dating Dad: Little Lady

By Eric S. Elkins

I’m sitting on a little prop plane, Simone to my right, deep into the first rough chapters of my next young adult novel, while my charming psychotherapist cousin taps away on his laptop to my left. We’re returning from a weekend in Helena, Montana, where we were fortunate enough to be guests at my eldest nephew’s bar mitzvah.

I love family gatherings — I come from a very warm and mushy extended family; all huggy and kissy, in each other’s business, overwhelming, and ridiculously loving in a fully unconditional way. Those of the older generation — my parents and my aunts and uncle — are cluelessly inappropriate, talking over each other and constantly interrupting without listening to what the others are saying, but there’s a feckless joy and sweetness to them that’s irresistible. They drive me bat-shit crazy, and I love them all the more for it.

So we were sitting in the Saturday morning service for my nephew’s bar mitzvah, and I looked over at my youngest sister, sitting beside me with her new love (another single dad), and said, “I don’t think I can do this alone next year.”

I was annoyed with myself that I’d drifted away from the accomplishments of my nephew, standing at the front and reading from the Torah, and had turned the moment into one of those, “Holy-crap-Simone’s-growing-up-and-her-bat-mitzvah-is-next-year-and-there’s-so-much-to-do-and-damn-she’s-getting-older-by-the-second” stream of anxiety moments.

I write every so often about Simone’s journey into young lady land…how her attitude and body are changing, how she has become more sophisticated in her tastes and outlook. Even my cousin noted some of her more insightful and mature assessments of our family dynamic.

But she’s not struggling right now; I am.

Last month, I realized she didn’t really have something appropriate to wear to the big event. In fact, I was sick of trying to cobble together somewhat dressy outfits every time we had a social gathering, whether it was a restaurant opening or a religious holiday. Simone’s never been a dress person, so I reasoned that maybe giving her some say into how her dressy clothes were designed and how they reflected her personality might provide motivation for enhancing her wardrobe.

Lucky for me, I’m friends with a dressmaker who has a funky, cool sense of elegance, and Simone took to her designs right away. A fun session where she and Simone talked about preferences and styles was followed a couple weeks later with a fitting session in the little boutique.

No one else was in the shop — it was just the dressmaker, Simone, and her dad, who kept saying things like, “Um…that’s a little too low-cut for an 11-year-old,” and “I think that’s a bit too fitted for your body.” At one point, I had to help Simone into and out of a dress, and she was both embarrassed and annoyed that she needed assistance. Her bra went askew, the dress got caught on her shoulder, and we both had no choice but to laugh ruefully as she finally got herself sorted.

The dressmaker made some adjustments to Simone’s three favorites, and then suggested we hit up the Forever 21 store at the mall for appropriate accessories — belts, tanks, shoes, etc.

I sneezed three times in a row as we walked into the store, and Simone said, “Daddy, you’re allergic to teen fashion. But don’t worry, so am I.”

I felt hapless and aimless in the large, disorganized shop, not especially secure in how to select from different fabrics in the tank tops, or the appropriate width of a belt. Simone felt somewhat the same way, with an added measure of disgust over the choice of music playing and the awful clothing that was available for kids her age. We muddled through together, picking out stuff that we were both reasonably sure would work, then made a break for the fresh air of the parking garage as soon as possible.

As I write again and, I’m not one of those feckless fathers from TV sitcoms; I take my relationship with my daughter seriously, and am generally secure in my ability to keep her safe and raise her well. But there are girl things I just don’t know, and though she has a few aunties here and there to help us out, they’re not in the house with us when things go awry. I’ve lived with women almost my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I know how to think like one.

For instance, it didn’t occur to me, when I was helping Simone pack for our Montana trip, that you should always pack lady products “just in case.” If my middle sister hadn’t been keyed into her niece so well once we got to Helena, we definitely would have had a serious disaster on our hands. I should have recognized Simone’s moodiness and skin changes the day before as a precursor, but it took my sister to point out the connection to me. That’s one mistake I won’t make again.

And it’s so important that Simone knows she can talk to me about anything, which means I can’t freak out or remain willfully clueless when it come to her changing, maturing body and attitudes. I have to remain engaged and supportive, even when I want to put my hands over my ears, close my eyes, and yell, “La la la la la!”

So there I was, my baby sister sitting beside me at the ceremony. We watched Simone, up front with her cousins, resplendent in her custom red dress, black leggings, and sweet ankle boots. She and the bar mitzvah boy’s little brother were behaving much better than my cousins, sisters, and I did at each other’s services — we’d cut up and giggle, barely suppressing our mirth — but Simone and Max sat attentively, supporting the first of their generation to take the stage.

“I can’t do this all on my own next year,” I said to my sister, feeling a sense of despair, not knowing what role Simone’s mom will be willing to take on, but understanding that Simone’s bat mitzvah would be primarily my responsibility — the details, the expense, the hours and hours of planning, and of course pushing Simone to study and learn her responsibilities for the big day.

We’ve been going head-to-head about homework, and it turns out I’ve been a sucker to Simone’s manipulations, resulting in angry emails to me from her mother about missed or incomplete assignments that Simone had told me were done or nearly so. I’m instituting some changes here in the house this week, and I’m not looking forward to the clash that will ensue; so the thought of adding in regular nagging about her bat mitzvah studies twisted my stomach into any achy knot.

And then one of the final prayers began; a joyful song of praise and wonder.

“Hear that?” my sister asked me. I stopped singing to listen, and heard Simone’s voice loud and clear and confident, riding along and above the melody of the adults in prayer.

I took a deep breath.

“We can do this,” I thought.

Eric Elkins’ company ( specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: Rabbit Stew

By Eric S. Elkins 

Simone and I have had pretty much the same bedtime routine for most of her life. It goes something like this:

1.  She gets ready for bed (“brush face, wash teeth, jammies on”) while I make her some Yogi Bedtime Tea

2.  She crawls into bed and I lay beside her, bedside lamp on, and I read a chapter of some epic novel to her (voices and all), while she drinks her tea out of a sippy cup

3.  I find a place to stop reading, she grouses about “one more page,” and then I turn out the light

4.  She sings the sh’ma, a very important Jewish prayer, and then we snuggle for a few minutes before I kiss her head and leave her to her slumbers

Many, many months ago, I decided it was time for us to read “The Hobbit” together. It took at least a month or two to get through. But we both loved it so much, we went right into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy without even taking a break. After we’d finish each book, we’d watch Peter Jackson’s movie version.

Little did I know that this foray into Middle Earth would turn from a nighttime routine into a lifestyle decision for my daughter.

I wrote recently about the nascent geek goddess living in my house, but I didn’t explain just how deeply Simone loves the world created by Tolkien — not just the film versions, which were so well-wrought, but the books themselves. She re-read “Fellowship of the Rings” at least three times this summer, crafted her own hobbit tunic from a large T-shirt and fabric markers, and has even taken to reading the many pages of the appendix at the end of our collection — pages and pages of Middle Earth minutiae that she can recall at will. This includes the pronunciation guide, the backstories of several characters, and even some of the history of regions in the fictional world.

So it was Simone who brought it to my attention that September 22 was mentioned as both Frodo and Bilbo the hobbits’ birthdays in the novels. And she was the one who figured out the crazy coincidence that we would most likely finish the last book in the trilogy on that exact date! In fact, Simone had some specific ideas about how she wanted to celebrate her favorite characters’ birthdays.

And, once she told me what she had in mind, I knew I really had no choice but to make it happen. I mean, how could I deny a real-life celebration of the end of our literary adventure, especially when the date was so propitious?

So, the week before the big day, I started researching recipes. The day before, in spite of an unreal amount of work on my to-do list AND a speaking engagement at a local Tedx gathering (video to be posted soon), I found myself driving across the city to find the special ingredients I needed. Exhausted from a full day, after we read the penultimate chapter in the novel and Simone was settled in bed, I stayed up late making Lembas cakes (the elven food our heroes ate on their long journey).

After I woke Simone up early the next morning (and she opened the little elf leaf clasp I ordered for her, to wear to school that day), I made her an omelet with three kinds of mushrooms (she loves, loves, loves mushrooms, and so do the characters), and packed the Lembas in her lunch, wrapped in paper towel “leaves.” Once I dropped her off at school, I came home and taught myself how to make rabbit stew with ‘taters (another staple of Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins).

We walked through the door that evening, a comfortable rustic scent of sage and thyme filling the house.

We filled our hobbit bellies with savory rabbit stew and fresh bread before starting our bedtime routine. And we finished “Return of the King” that night…the last chapter takes place on September 22, so it was all very lovely and poetic. For Simone, it was the perfect culmination of our time reading the book together. For me, it was a gesture of devotion; creating happy, memorable experiences for my little girl.

Friends and Twitter peeps who learned of my efforts were generous with their kudos — they saw me as a wonderful father who was creating lifelong memories of dad/daughter experiences for my little girl. And I appreciated those words of support. But I also couldn’t help wondering if I’d gone overboard; if I had taken on too much, more than I should have, considering how over-committed my life is right now, with work and my community organization and obligations and everything else. Was I spoiling my girl at the expense of my own well-being?

No. I don’t think so. Because making Simone smile, and feeding her passions (whether it’s dinosaurs or monotremes or geek lit) is good for her development and supremely satisfying for me.

Which got me thinking about something else…I just might make a kick-ass boyfriend someday.

Because being the kind of dad I am — one who goes to great lengths to identify and create opportunities for growth and joy for my daughter — comes from being a good listener. I know how to do fun stuff with and/or for Simone because I pay attention.

I’m betting that I’ll be able to do the same thing for a grown woman, too — I’m already in the habit of listening and scheming and coming up with little details and big surprises, so why wouldn’t that translate to a grownup relationship?

Actually, I know I have it in me already, because as early as the first date with someone I like, I’m listening for preferences and passions. Before the first kiss good night, I’m already thinking about gestures both grand and goofy that would make her smile. If it’s one of the rare occasions when I’m being smart, I’ll keep these ideas to myself until a later time when it would be appropriate to share. But…well…I think it’s established that “appropriate” is not an adjective that resonates for me very often.

But it’s interesting to wonder if being a father is also preparing me to be a better partner. Some women I’ve dated over the years have opted to not stick around because they wanted to be the number one person in my life. They didn’t relish the idea of sharing me, or knowing that I put Simone first. But there have been many more who saw my dedication to my daughter as a positive thing — a promise of something good that ran deep in me.

But what if it’s even more than that? What if my daily challenges and struggles (internal and external) to become a better father are actually strengthening my ability to sustain an adult relationship? What if my intention around raising Simone could make me a better spouse some day?

That’s some exciting stuff to think about.

I also learned this summer that having someone around who pays attention to me and the things I love and am interested in is pretty fulfilling, too. But that’s a story for another time.

Eric Elkins’ company ( specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: Solo Journey

By Eric S. Elkins

I wasn’t able to give much thought to my own vacation until Simone was on the bus to summer camp, headed into two-and-a-half weeks of adventures. Adventures I’d only learn about via the occasional letter and by scrolling through hundreds of photos on the camp’s web portal, looking for hints that she was enjoying herself.

The days before she left were fraught with preparations — gathering up the needed clothing and equipment for the session; coordinating with her mom to make sure we’d made the right purchases and had collected sufficient underwear from both houses; pre-addressing and stamping envelopes to make it easier for her to write to me, her grandparents, her aunts and friends. There really wasn’t time for me to start compiling my own pre-vacation to-do list.

But after she was finally on the bus, both of us waving nervously to each other, with me suppressing tears until I was walking through the emptying parking lot, I pointed my car to Target, and spent the next half-hour gathering up travel supplies. By the time I got home, I finally got to work building out a list of stuff that had to happen before I hit the road. It was extensive.

The plan for my trip stemmed from a conversation I’d had with the Peach in late spring, actually. We hadn’t spoken for several months, and decided we were past-due for a catch-up. The Peach and I are still friends, and we enjoy meeting up every once in awhile to share the latest stories and developments. This time, the plan was to meet for tea at one of my favorite spots, then go to a yoga class with her favorite teacher.

I was thrilled to see her as she came into the shop, and I jumped up to give her a hug. After the usual pleasantries and updates, we got to talking about Simone’s latest exploits, and I mentioned her upcoming trip to overnight camp.

“What are you going to do with yourself while she’s gone?” The Peach asked.

I told her I hadn’t come up with anything satisfactory yet. I knew I wanted to run away somewhere, but the thought of another solo trip didn’t really appeal to me, and I’d been stalling. I told her that I didn’t mind traveling alone, but I wasn’t the kind of guy who makes small talk in some bar with a group of like-minded travelers. So that meant, no matter where I went, I’d share a lot of meals with a book and beer.

The Peach smiled, not really believing that I’d be very long without making new friends, but made a suggestion — to attend a yoga retreat center in Costa Rica. She and her sister had been there a couple years ago, and she thought it would be perfect for me.

“The meals are communal, so you’d be able to eat with people and get to know them if you wanted to, but you could also have your alone time. You’d get to do yoga everyday, and really have some time to unwind!”

My email inquiry was answered within an hour of sending it, and I was presented with a package that was truly irresistible — a yoga and surfing vacation, with three vegetarian meals per day, and a daily shuttle into the seaside village of Puerto Viejo. I paid my deposit and used miles to book my ticket before I had time to over-think it and talk myself out of the trip.

So there I was, two days away from an 11-night solo getaway, and I hadn’t done crap to get ready. I was only interrupted from my flurry of activity (finalize work stuff and take care of requisite deadline deliverables, shop for a raincoat and wicking clothing, arrange pet care, do laundry, pack, get recommendations for the couple of days after my time at Samasati ended) when I took a moment to browse through the aforementioned web portal and found a photo of Simone, smiling with her new bunkmates. I broke down, the sob escaping my chest involuntarily, and I couldn’t stop weeping for a good twenty minutes. By the time the heaving and sobbing tapered off, I was sitting on a dining room chair with my head in my hands. I was so relieved to see that smile, and so heartbroken to miss her so much already. It took me a few more minutes to launch myself out of the chair and get back to it.

And, damn, the trip was a stunner. I’m still processing the time I spent in Central America — I’ve returned with the sort of existential questions that only an extended period away from the familiar and mundane can bring.

I spent the first week at the retreat center, in the jungle above the Caribbean. Samasati is both rustic and refined; although my bungalow was elegant and beautiful, there were still geckos running along the ceiling and the occasional prehistoric-looking insect crawling on the wall. Where there wasn’t wood paneling was open air, except for screens instead of glass. So basically the whole little hut was a giant screen from waist level on up.

It took me longer than I would have liked to fall asleep that first night. I was super-conscious of the sounds of the jungle, and laying there in the darkness, I couldn’t get comfortable. The loud buzzing of insects and spooky calls of night birds was louder than pleasant white noise.

Every once in a while a faint breeze would just barely cool what little exposed skin I allowed out from under the white sheets of the bed, and a thin film of perspiration made the pillow stick to my face. A couple times in the night, I’d wake up with a start and pull the flashlight from under my pillow, flipping it on and shining it around the cabin. But waking up early that first morning, to the lion’s roar of howler monkeys in the trees above me and the smell of rain and leaves and earth washing through the screens, I was filled with a sense of contentment.

Of course I made friends the very first day — it felt almost like I was at my own grownup summer camp. I shared meals with a fun, diverse crew of travelers, went to sunset yoga every night, and did some decent surfing. I didn’t go on most of the excursions with the group of guests that fell in together (except for one night of carousing in the little beach town), and though I felt like I was a bit of an outsider for that, I also knew I’d made the conscious choice to do my own thing. Some mornings, I’d write my next novel for hours at a time, watching the rain fall in sheets all the way down to the ocean.

On one of my surfing days, I met a French woman and a Spanish guy, and ended up drinking beers over a delicious fish taco lunch with them. The Spanish dude and I even spent a day hanging out; the morning chilling in the courtyard of his hotel in town and then riding bikes down the coast to spent the afternoon on a pristine white sand beach, splashing around in the waves.

When my time at Samasati was over, I took a shuttle back to San Jose, then navigated the gritty Coca Cola bus station to purchase a bus ticket to the Pacific Coast. I’d expected a painful, sweaty 4.5-hour ride to the beach city of Quepos, and when my assigned seat turned out to be next to a mother with her wiggly toddler on her lap, I sighed, took out my book, and hoped for the best. But the trip was easy, and a mere three hours, and of course the little boy and I got along great. By the time I hit Quepos, I was feeling pretty happy with my decision.

Because that was a big takeaway for me — traveling alone can be a blessing and a curse, when it comes to making decisions.  Sure, you get all of the autonomy you want; which means the freedom to just do the things that appeal to you. You don’t have to answer to anyone else’s needs or travel quirks, which can be extensive sometimes.

But you also don’t have anyone helping you decide what you want to do. And, as a classic Libra, I can be pretty indecisive, over-thinking my options, and second-guessing my final decision. When a group of my new friends at Samasati invited me to join them on a horseback riding excursion, it just sounded sweaty and buggy, and I declined. But they came back that evening with hilarious stories and a sense of camaraderie that I missed out on. I don’t regret taking that day to write another chapter of my next novel (, but I do wonder what I missed.

The other thing about having a travel companion is that you’re less likely to make stupid or unsafe decisions, like wandering through a large city late at night trying to hunt down some dinner. Or leaving your raincoat on the bed of the hotel before heading into a national park and getting drenched through, underwear and all, when the torrential downpour comes out of nowhere.

Overall, the trip was good for me, mostly because of the things I was missing — someone to enjoy and share the trip with, hugs and the human touch, meat, vodka, a steady flow of data and communication via phone and computer. I came home wondering how I could take some of the healthy living that I’d been forced into and build it into my daily life.

I’m struggling, because it was too easy to fall back into pre-vacation patterns. But I’m awake and aware, and though the changes may not come all at once, I can still strive to regain elements of that zen contentment and lifestyle, and to integrate them into our lives.

Simone starts middle school in a week. We’ll both need all the help we can get.

Eric Elkins’ company ( specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: Rock

By Eric S. Elkins

Even before I was a father, I daydreamed about sharing the things I loved with my kids. I mean, what could be better than introducing your child to the joys of your life? I reveled in the idea of sharing amazing foods, books, music and other experiences with my offspring. And when Simone was barely a mass of cells, I’d sing to her mother’s belly whenever I had the opportunity — kid-friendly songs, ballads, and the Sh’ma; a prayer that Simone has known by heart her entire life.

I’ve written about the ways having my girl with me has enhanced my life, and if you’ve been paying attention, you probably noticed that one of my greatest joys is sharing experiences with her — watching and learning as she interacts with new things in her world. Sure, there’s the innate pleasure in watching her face as her brain processes new inputs, whether it’s foreign currency or duck fat fries — the moments when she first saw Big Ben and then the Eiffel Tower, her eyes wide, mouth open, iconic clichés suddenly real and wondrous, are treasured memories for me.

But the larger satisfaction that comes from sharing new things with Simone is in her appreciation of the things I love. I’ve never pressured her to like what I like, but she is the child of two geeky, sci-fi-loving, pop culture-addicted parents, so she’s kind of wired to appreciate the cerebral, the outlandish, the edgy. 

Simone never asked to listen to Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana. But she will request some Arcade Fire, maybe a little Decemberists, and always They Might Be Giants.  In our house, there’s plenty of Dave Brubeck, and at the age of three, Simone would ask to hear Ella Fitzgerald in the car. When she was six or seven, I took her to an off-the-radar Flogging Molly concert (another favorite, for both of us), and she danced with abandon backstage to their Irish-infused punk raucousness.

So when I bought two tickets to see U2 in Denver a full 18 months ago, I always knew Simone would be my preferred date at the stadium spectacle. We were disappointed early last summer when it looked like we’d need to sell off the tickets because of our trip to London, but then Bono threw out his back and the tour was postponed (sad for him, good for us). The rescheduled date is almost a year after the original one, but it’s coming up this weekend. Simone’s never seen an effects-heavy rock show. She has no idea what she’s in for. I feel so very lucky that I get to be there when the giant stage explodes with music and energy and she gets swept up in the majesty of it all.

I am starting to feel a little uneasy, though, about shaping Simone into an unabashed geek wonder.

See, sometime last year, I found out from a friend that the hoary old TV series SeaQuest DSV was available on Netflix Instant, and I thought it would be fun to watch with Simone. I had no idea that she’d be immediately enthralled, and would want to watch one episode after another. But the more we watched, the more I would laugh and say, “This is just Star Trek under the sea.”

Simone became very curious about this Star Trek of which I spoke, so we started out by checking out random episodes of the original series and The Next Generation (aka TNG) that I’d sweep up on the DVR. The old show was a bit too dark and cheesy for her tastes (though she did laugh through a few episodes), but, damn, she took to TNG right away, immediately loving the characters and story lines. That enthusiasm gave me the impetus to break into the DVD sets I’d been hoarding for years — when I used to write movie, book, and video game reviews, companies would send me tons of products. In that time, I managed to collect boxed sets of every season of the original show and its late ‘80s reboot. I’d been reluctant to break through the shrink wrap and desecrate what could be a small eBay fortune, but the thought of making our way through the mythology together season by season was much more exciting than maybe selling the set off for a few hundred bucks some years down the road.

For a time, Simone didn’t want to watch anything else except for the next episode of Star Trek. She abandoned Top Chef All-Stars, lost interest in reruns of Phineas & Ferb. It was Star Trek or…

…well…this is where I have started to feel a little guilty…

…because if we weren’t watching Star Trek on TV, Simone would beg for us to read J.R.R. Tolkien together. I know. I know.

Although Simone plows through massive novels on her own, we have a special ritual of reading together every night at bedtime. When I introduced her to “The Hobbit” (which her mother told her was boring) I wasn’t sure how she would take to it. But the story is so exciting, the writing so descriptive and rich, and the characters so lovable that Simone couldn’t get enough of the book. We didn’t even stop to breathe before we dove into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, immersing ourselves into the warm glow of Middle Earth and embracing “Fellowship of the Ring,” reading it aloud together at every opportunity; less TV, more curling up on the couch or in a sunny patch on the carpet digging into chapter after chapter. I’d read, different voices and accents for different characters, until my voice was ragged.

And, oh, when we finally finished the first book and I decided she was ready for Peter Jackson’s epic film version, we were both giddy with excitement. For me, it was all about experiencing Simone’s wonder at the loving manifestation of the novels — to be with her when she saw Ian McKellen’s Gandalf for the first time, or the meticulous creation of The Shire, the home of her beloved hobbits. Or — and this was so incredible to see with her — the appearance of the fire-winged balrog in the depths of the Mines of Moria. By the time the credits were rolling, Simone was a sweaty bundle of exuberance. In the same breath, she said it was the best movie she’d ever seen and could we get reading the next book in the trilogy.

At school these days, she and her pals play “Lord of the Rings.” Simone walks through the world with a Frodo name tag, a homemade necklace with a yellow clay One Ring, and…um…a sword wrought of pipe cleaners. 

Oh crap. What have I done?

Simone is her own person, and I would never want her to feel obligated to like something because I do. I want her to develop her own tastes and preferences. Did it break my heart when I realized she may never love roller-coasters? Sure, a little bit. But I’d rather she became a media-savvy consumer of art and culture — of the stuff that appeals to her at a cellular level — than a clone of her father. And I don’t want her to become so geeked out that she can’t communicate with the normals.

So her enthusiasm for Star Trek and Lord of the Rings gives me pause. In the midst of the deep satisfaction and pleasure I have when she asks me to re-read a beautifully crafted description in “The Two Towers,” I feel just the slightest pang of apprehension. I realize I need to give her the tools to feed her passions (as I’ve always done), but maybe to step back, too, a little more often now, as she navigates her tween years, and see what happens without my steady curating.

The good news is that, next school year, she’ll be surrounded by her tribe — creative, quirky students and teachers who will fill her receptive mind and heart with a diversity of perspectives. And music. And books. And movies. She’s headed into a fecund time of exploration, and I’m thrilled to see what new passions she brings home to share.

Who knows…maybe she’ll feel a surge of pride and excitement when she introduces me to some treasure for the first time, and I’m the one with a giant smile on my face.

Eric Elkins’ company  specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: My Parents

By Eric S. Elkins

April always brings a kind of fraught loveliness for me. It’s a mixture of joys and pain all wrapped up in the teasing buds and blooms and snowflakes of early spring. In Denver, April is when you withhold your trust that winter has truly left, unable or unwilling to suspend your disbelief, knowing that a 70 degree day could be followed unbidden by one of those spring blizzards that shatter the branches of the city’s newly green trees, leaving everyone feeling sort of bereft, even though we should have known better.

And that’s sort of how I felt when my parents got divorced when I was in my mid-20s. April 1 would have been their anniversary, and it it never goes by without my wondering what might have been. I’m no April fool, but I am still the kid of two wonderful parents, and though I don’t grieve for their marriage in the way I once did, the first day of the month always catches me a little sideways.

My parents had been married for a little more than a quarter century when they pulled the plug. When I talk about it, I say that I’d thought we’d beaten the odds — most of my friends came from divorced families, and I felt like we were the rare exception that had made it through. I mean, shit, my parents were married when they were 20 and 21, and had me, premature and unlikely to live more than a few days, just months later. They were still kids when they had my middle sister, and not even out of their 20s when my baby sister came along. We moved up and down the East Coast, then away to Denver when I was 8, to LA when I was 10, and back to Colorado on my 14th birthday. And, through it all, my parents, though they fought here and there, were, at least in my eyes, a model of love and affection.

So when my father and I met for lunch one day, something we’d do every few weeks, I was surprised by the news, but not altogether shocked. To make some extra bucks, my mother had been working as a traveling nurse all over the country, staying in nursing shortage areas like Fresno and Sacramento for months at a time, and every time she returned, she was more worldly and independent than before. I could see that she was becoming her own person, defining herself outside the context of a relationship that had kept her in a little box since she was a teenager, and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if she found herself back in the house with my dad.

I remember the day Mom drove off to Sacramento, where the hospital she’d been working for had offered her a permanent position. I know she was feeling devastated, leaving my high school-aged youngest sister and my dad to fend for themselves. I’m trying to piece together where we met — I think it was at a park and ride on the outskirts of the city, just off the highway she’d take westwards. Her car was loaded up with items she’d bring to her little apartment; the whole back seat was stacked with boxes and clothing…26 years of stuff whittled down to whatever could fit into her Ford Tempo. I remember Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” playing, plaintive and heartbreaking. I remember that it was a cloudy, grim sort of day, the mountains barely visible in the distance. And I remember my mother’s tears as she hugged me goodbye.

Thinking about it now, I imagine the torrent of feelings that must of been wheeling through her heart at that moment — wracking guilt over leaving her children, maybe some doubt about ending a lifetime of love with my father, a sense of devastation at everything she was giving up, and then, if I’m not mistaken, that heart-pounding feeling of possibility, of liberation, of an adventure that could go anywhere.

My parents have never really talked to me about the divorce — I was out of the house, dealing with my own relationship, and I think they believed it wouldn’t affect me like it did my sisters. Of course it did, in ways none of us would have guessed.

But here’s where April threw me a curveball this year.

My father sent me a text wishing me a happy Passover, adding that he and his wife would be at my mother and her husband’s house for the first night of the holiday — for first seder.

Both of my parents remarried within a few years of the divorce — my mother met a man in Sacramento and stayed there; my father met someone in Albuquerque and moved there to be with her. A few years ago, though, my father was transferred to Sacramento, and he and his wife moved within 10 minutes of my mother.

The new arrangement was a little uneasy at first…one year, when Simone and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving at my father’s house, my youngest sister insisted he invite my mom and her husband. It was a fun night, but everyone was a little on edge. Still, it was a good start, and having my parents live in the same city is much easier on the travel budget.

But I attribute the latest changes to dogs and illness.  

A couple years ago, when my mother learned that my father and his wife had picked up a gorgeous puppy, expected to grow into a very large dog, I told her there were still sibs left in the litter. She ended up with one of my dad’s puppies’ brothers.

After a time, my mom and dad would meet up at the local dog park, and the brothers would play together while they visited. Pretty awesome, right?

And then, last summer, my father was diagnosed with cancer and had to go through several months of chemotherapy. My mother ended up keeping my father’s dog at her house occasionally, to take some pressure off of Dad’s wife when she was ministering to his needs. And then, when my mother needed foot surgery, Dad and his wife took her dog quite often, and the boys would play together in their backyard.

Now I receive mobile photos of the two dogs together at one house or another. And I smile every time.

See, I don’t expect my parents to get back together; they are happy in their respective relationships, and have found some sort of sustainable equilibrium. They were best friends for 25 years, so it only makes sense that they’d find a way to enjoy each other’s company again.

Ever since the early days of my divorce, I’ve had a fervent wish that Simone’s mom and I could find our own friendly equilibrium — that, once the initial anger and hurt went away, we could see that it would be in Simone’s best interest for us to get along. And I’ve tried, at times, to encourage that kind of interaction, from inviting Simone’s mom and her family to join us for her birthday brunch or our Hanukkah latke-making party, to letting them know that Simone and I would love to watch her baby sister for a few hours if they ever need it.

And though none of those invitations have been accepted, they also haven’t been met with the same incredulity of the early years. So we all attend Simone’s functions together, whether it’s a school play or a Taekwondo belt test, and I get along with Simone’s stepdad. I also always make a point of getting down to kid-level with Simone’s sister, because I don’t want her to think I’m just the guy who takes her “Sissie” away from her. 

Dad and Mom have been divorced for many more years than we have, and they were together much, much longer. But they do give me hope that, someday, Simone’s mom and I will find our way to, if not friendship, at least a sense of mutual admiration for our roles in our daughter’s life. Maybe we won’t have Passover seders together, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll find ways to celebrate and honor Simone’s accomplishments as one big family.

Eric Elkins’ company  specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: Remote

By Eric S. Elkins

A year or so ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a really beautiful woman. Honestly, I might have accepted the request not knowing anything else about her, but she wrote that she’d been one of Simone’s preschool teachers years ago, and upon a closer look, I recognized her. I remembered the young, sultry teacher around whom I’d studiously maintained a low-key sort of coolness, not wanting to screw anything up for Simone by being the creepy dad who ogles the teacher (it was good practice, and is actually serving me well this school year, if you know what I mean).

After I accepted the friend request, we started communicating a little bit, and I learned that she was now a single mom of two very young children, living in a remote town in Colorado. She wanted to hear all about her Simoney, and I was happy to share. The more we talked, the more we found we had in common. When she mentioned that she’d be in Denver for a conference in a few weeks, I expressed an interest in crossing paths.

The exigencies of our parenting schedules (she and her kids were staying with her mother) and her conference commitments gave us only a short window of time to see each other — not more than a few hours one evening. But from the moment we made eye contact, the connection was electric. Our first hug felt both familiar and thrilling, and I couldn’t believe she was even prettier than I’d remembered. One of those rare, ethereal beauties, she had soulful brown eyes, a delicate face, and an achingly sweet smile that seemed to carry a secret within it. The evening was a stunner — not knowing the nature of our rendezvous, I was elated when, after lots of conversation, the kissing began. Everything fit, and it was all I could do not to feel smitten.

In fact, a couple days later, when she was able to come out for just a little while and meet me at my home for an afternoon, I said, “Oh no, I can already feel it starting.” She laughed and kissed me hard on the mouth.

The situation was both beautiful and depressing — she and her two kids lived in a faraway town that wasn’t easy to get to. With her ex and his family there, moving herself and the kids to Denver would be out of the question; just like me, she believed in the importance of her children having both parents in their lives. When we said our goodbyes, we promised each other we’d find a way to spend more time together soon.

But airfares and commitments and parenting and everything else got in the way, and we didn’t see each other for a couple of months. Again, we felt that thrill of connection, but she was much more pragmatic this time around, keeping a bit of distance at first, but finally unable to resist the pull of our ridiculous chemistry. We spent a couple of beautiful evenings together, with her returning to her mother’s house late each night.

I remember taking her to my favorite bar for pre-dinner cocktails, and somehow settling right into the girlfriend-boyfriend dynamic. She told me later that she felt the same thing — it was like we were a couple, and I wasn’t self-conscious in the least about holding her hand as I introduced her to the most delicious martinis on the planet.

I’ll admit that I was close to tears when she left town that time, feeling hopeless, and wondering at God’s sense of humor. I finally met a woman who was right for me in every way, with whom I shared chemistry and connection, whom I could love so easily and for so long, and she lived 800 miles away.

And, yes. I know what you’re thinking. That perhaps the reason I could love her so freely was because there was no danger of a real relationship with her. I get that. I agonized over it. I talked to my shrink about it — about my feelings and about our impossible situation.

After that trip to Denver, she went on radio silence. I respected her lack of communication. It seemed like spending time together was just a way to keep our hearts aching. It was pointless. She eventually emailed me those exact thoughts, explaining that the way she felt about me would make it impossible for her to find love closer to home. I understood. I had the same concerns for myself.

But that didn’t make my heart ache any less.

Mid-summer came along, and she let me know that she and the kids would be in town for a few days. If I was up for meeting her for lunch, she’d love to see me for a little while. The message was clear — we can only be friends, and the way to ensure that we don’t get caught up in each other again is to only meet in safe places… during the day.

Man plans, God laughs.

We settled on a gorgeous country Japanese restaurant downtown, and she was waiting for me outside the door with that mysterious smile of hers. Our hug lasted a long time; I don’t think either one of us wanted to let go. Finally, we followed the hostess to a little wooden table in the beautiful garden area behind the restaurant, where we ordered noodles and soups and tender side dishes of Japanese delicacies. I realized before she did that we were being incredibly solicitous of one another: I’d wave a low-flying insect away from her sashimi, she’d gently wipe the little splash of soy sauce off my cheek. We couldn’t help it; we’re both wired to care for others, and putting us together was like the perfect storm of mutually nurturing behavior.

I’d craved that responsiveness for so long. It was the first time I’d met someone who was so naturally caring since the days of the Peach.

We talked about nothing of consequence, avoiding any danger of drifting into the terrain of heartbreak. We kept it light. But in our shady corner of the garden, with its tall, fragrant blossoms, the quiet buzz of other diners, and the indolent warmth of a summer afternoon, it was easy to drift into the complacent contentment of the moment. We hugged goodbye. I kissed her lightly at the apex of one of her perfect cheekbones. She put her hand to my cheek, and kissed me on the lips. And then she got in her car and drove away.

But she couldn’t stay away that week, and managed to sneak over for a little while Saturday morning. She found me reading on an air mattress on my balcony, still in my pajamas. After curling up with me for a few minutes, she managed to lure me out for brunch down the block, followed by a visit to our local panadéria. As we stood together, hand-in-hand, looking at the magical array of Mexican delectables, I had a vision of us doing the exact same thing, but in some faraway country.

As we walked back to my place, I said, “You know, it would be amazing to travel together someday.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said.

Which became an ongoing text conversation for the next month — where would we travel together? What would it be like? I told her that we should try something small, first — spend a weekend together away from our homes, like in Taos or San Diego. Schedules and budgets decided for us, and I bought her a plane ticket to Denver, so we could spend Labor Day Weekend together in the mountains.

Full disclosure — Summit Mountain Rentals is a ( client, and one of the perks is free lodging for me when inventory permits. And it is quite the benefit — the company manages a slew of well-appointed condos in the lively mountain town of Breckenridge. So it was a matter of a phone call to get us a romantic spot right in the center of the city.

Our anticipation was like a fever.

I picked her up at the airport, and we hightailed it for the hills. This was our chance to see what it would be really like. We’d never spent more than a few hours at a time together, but now we’d have two days and two nights to really see what was possible. Sure, the longterm situation hadn’t changed, but that didn’t matter.

The weekend was definitely romantic, but only to a point, and it turned out to be ultimately disappointing for both of us. We found little incompatibilities, differences in communication, and something undefinable that made us both realize that we weren’t quite right for each other. As much as we loved each other, and enjoyed each other’s company, our weekend together never caught fire. Maybe we were both distracted, or overly careful, or just not into it. Maybe the timing was off. Whatever it was, by the time I dropped her at the airport, the hug goodbye was real, but the kiss was perfunctory.

I drove home that afternoon feeling a sense of desolation. She hadn’t even thanked me for the weekend, and that just sealed what I’d felt. Something was missing between us.

As time passed, I could only feel gratitude for that weekend away — we learned something valuable; it helped us move on in our own worlds without the heartbreak of a breakup. And it helped me realize that I was still capable of feeling smitten and could still surrender to love and possibility.

We’re still friendly, catching up here and there. I’m excited that I’ll get to see her when she comes to town in a month or so. She might not be the right woman for me, but I’ll always adore her.

Note: Out of respect for our experience and love for each other, I ran this column by her before posting it. So before you start beating me up for sharing a story about a real person, know that she read it and approved it before anyone else did.

Eric Elkins’ company  specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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Dating Dad: Shiver and Spark

By Eric S. Elkins

Being pragmatic is getting me nowhere.

Last week, I looked back at all of my thousands of Twitter updates (also known as “tweets”) from 2008 for another piece I was working on, and, though I was looking for more business-y types of highlights, I couldn’t help noticing a lot about my personal life in those 140-character missives.

Sure, I drank my share of dirty Ketel martinis and dirty chai (no, it’s not a theme), and I cooked/ate some amazing food. My Twitter stream also proved to me that Simone and I had incredible adventures together in 2008, and that I’m doing a pretty decent job, parenting-wise. I could pinpoint changes in my feelings for the Peach — especially when I felt decimated, which gave me pause.

But I also noticed that the Twitter stream didn’t express much about the magical moments in my love life from the past year. There are two reasons:

1. There weren’t very many of them.

2. I didn’t feel free to share them when they did happen.

That isn’t to say I didn’t have very enjoyable dates and rendezvous with amazing women. Because I did. I’m grateful for the very special moments I shared with some very special people this last year. Believe me, I’ll be replaying some of them in my mind in the lonely months to come (more on that in a sec).

Looking at my thousands of tweets, I could pinpoint exactly two (obscure) references to being overcome by that shiver and spark of chemistry and potential.

You know what I mean — the stomach-knotting craving for a particular person’s company; the shiny thrill when that one person’s name pops up on your phone or in your inbox; the painful, pleasant longing when you’re apart; the exhilaration spiced with doubt and fear that makes the best rollercoaster ride seem like a trip down the kiddie slide.

How many times in the last year did I make excuses for the woman across the table from me? “She’s really, really smart. And, um, she has pretty eyes — maybe I’ll come around,” or “She doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to say, but she’s gorgeous and close to my age,” or “Everyone says we’d be good together.” And then we’d go out on a second or third date, with me working hard to convince myself that it could work. And when, invariably, I needed to walk away, it left her upset and me unsatisfied and guilt-ridden. Truly, how can you explain the sentiment, “I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it”?

Talking to my counselor, I’ve realized that, in the several months after ending things with the Peach, I’ve started to settle. Not in the usual, “Maybe this is the best I can do,” way (e.g. giving up), because, honestly, I’ve seen some truly wonderful women come and go. No, I’ve started to settle for less than what I really, really want to feel. I’ve tried to ignore the lack of fire in my belly, thinking that maybe that joy and tension isn’t as important as the other stuff.

In other words, I led myself into the trap of the not-so-young single parent. I’ve listened to those twin imps of self-doubt and fear of loneliness. “I’m tired of being alone. I’m not getting any younger. And she’s really great. Maybe that’s enough.”

But it doesn’t turn out to be enough, does it?

So, though I’m not going to ignore reality completely, and though I’m not going to wait around for some unattainable ideal partner, I am going to hold out for that one girl who makes me crazy — the woman who makes me forget the doubt — the one I can really open up to, sharing my strengths and weaknesses, my loves and my pain. That one girl who can complete our family and share in the sweetness and difficulties attendant with being close to someone as screwy as I am. The one who makes me think dinner at home and a makeout session on the couch sounds infinitely better than a dirty martini in a crowded bar on a chilly winter night (but who will also make me get off the couch and go enjoy a guys’ night out).

Because the other thing I’ve realized through my hard work is that, as much as I love my single lifestyle, I really do want to be with someone. I’ve fought with myself over the last six years, and I’ve worried about my ability to maintain a true relationship, but I know I’m hard-wired to love and cherish the right woman. In the meantime, though, I’m better off spending my non-parenting nights focused on work and friends and myself than going on another date “just in case.”

When it comes down to a real relationship, finding the right person will be as crucial as my being emotionally available to her. In fact, I finally believe that one is dependent on the other.

As a friend said just a few days ago, “When you’re done being single, you won’t be!”


You know what else I noticed about the last year? I didn’t write nearly enough funny dating stories. I’ll work on that, too.

Eric Elkins’ company ( specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

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