Words for My Father

By Gregory Keer

DadwBenjToday would have been my father’s 75th birthday. We had been planning to celebrate it for months and months prior to this date, July 12, 2014. Cancer had other plans, and it took him away from us on February 9 of this year, following a diagnosis less than four months earlier.

After my dad’s death, I took a hiatus from this Web site, partly in keeping with the advice he often gave me to try to slow down a bit more to gather in the details of life. But, on this day when it’s so very hard to be without him, I want to recognize the meaning he had for me in some fashion that feels right. Below is a version of the eulogy I gave at Dad’s funeral. It was surreal to be speaking about him in past tense when I said the words in front of the hundreds who came out to honor him that day. It still doesn’t feel quite real — and yet it is. Grieving is a long process, but remembering is forever, especially when it involves a man such as my father.

***

There are many reasons why I write. A number of them are because of my father. Dad, the man of science, was also a man of poetry. He wrote of moments and emotions in loving phrases to his luminous wife Franny and he etched in ink words of praise and vivid observation to all his children. He even wrote a children’s story about “Rollo,” a ball who learned to keep moving if he wanted to enjoy the world around him.

At times, I struggled to talk to my dad. There was the divorce, which took him away from daily opportunities to converse and he was needed by tens of thousands of patients over a 45-year career. Sometimes, I felt I couldn’t get enough of him. I certainly couldn’t get enough of him on the phone. My sister Kim can attest to my father’s dislike of the phone — often exhausted by work calls, Dad treated the receiver like it was one of Maxwell Smart’s shoe communicators that had come in contact with a pile of dog poop.

One of my motivations to write was to find ways to stop time, particularly in the hyperspace of adolescence, and tell my dad how much I loved him, how much I needed his words of validation. In my pre-teen and teen years, I wrote cards to him, with painstakingly chosen messages. It helped, especially since he wrote back cards to me, with sentences that never failed to reduce me to tears because they shone with such love and attention to the details of my concerns.

It was partly through my father’s writings that I was assured he was always thinking of me, crafting ways to guide me, even when he wasn’t talking out loud. They also showed me how much my dad preferred action over words. Dad was a doer, and the relationship we had over 47 years was less about chit chat or parental lecturing and more about playing basketball together, going to baseball games, and taking trips. So many trips to places like Chicago to see the grandparents, Philadelphia for father-son time, the Sierras for moments of hilarity with the Sussmans, Yosemite for one of many KJ adventures, Palm Desert with all the grandchildren, and Paris for a grown-up vacation with Franny – who, together with Dad, taught me so very much about love and partnership that I was able to find the most remarkable woman in Wendy. My God, there were so many vacations that he made happen so he could enjoy his loved ones without distractions.

Certainly, there were distractions, as there are in any life led in service to a community, that wedged between my dad and my efforts to get more words and attention from him. Often, when we were out at a supermarket together or a ballgame, he’d get approached by a patient who wanted to say hello to their favorite doctor. He was a bit of a celebrity, my dad, and I was known for 30-plus years as Dr. Keer’s son. It was a great coup for me one day when Dad called me up to tell me a student of mine came into the office and asked him, “Aren’t you Mr. Keer’s father?” Finally, I had turned the tables on him. And no one was prouder of it than Dad.

I wanted this speech to be funnier – Dad had such a great appreciation for humor  — as he showed me through the tapes of Johnny Carson clips with legendary comedians, the afternoons of watching Mel Brooks movies, and his own goofiness and willingness to be poked fun at for his follicle-y challenged head, his bird-like legs, and his woefully underprivileged sense of rhythm.

But, I’m not feeling easily humored right now. I’m just beginning to miss him. I’m floating in the fog of all the subtle ways he enhanced my life through little gestures and a consistency of presence that I often took for granted. For a father of such carefully selected words and a son who never seems to shut up, we had one particular trip that was emblematic of our entire journey together. It was a weekend stay in San Francisco two years ago to see the Dodgers play the Giants, to eat great food since we both like that kind of thing, and to just — be — together. Not talking so much, just being.

He was really good at just being.

So, Dad, thank you for being with me. Thank you for being with all of us.

Posted in Aging, Death, Grandparents, Helping Kids Understand Loss, Marriage, Perspective, Values | Leave a comment

Refills

By Gregory Keer

For my fifth date with Wendy Bass, I invited her to the park to meet my kid. No, not my offspring, but something better – the 10-month-old child I was babysitting. While my friends and family had opinions about more suitable jobs for a 24-year-old dude in graduate school, my goal that day was to impress Wendy, who worked as a child development specialist.

So, when Wendy arrived, I was already flexing my baby-feeding skills, delivering spoonfuls of strained carrots with practiced dexterity.

She was impressed. Not with me, but with the adorable wee one.

“Come here, little guy,” she said brightly. “Let’s go see the trees.”

With that, she lifted him and toured him around the park, pointing out leaves, branches, and squirrels while narrating everything in vivid detail. The baby giggled endlessly and I knew I’d found the future mother of my children.

Flash forward to the present mother of my children.

“If I have to make another lunch my kids don’t eat, I’m going to freakin’ flip out!”

“What do you mean my son has another cavity? Does he even have that many teeth?”

“Get your butts into the car or I swear I’ll drive to the school bus without you!”

Funny how 15 years of parenting pressure from raising your own children goes from a walk in the park to an inner circle of fire filled with exasperation and nonsensical threats.

In the years I’ve known her, my wife has shown the cheerfulness and strength of maternal characters you read about in Southern novels, but the moments of trial and tribulation have certainly tested her mettle. This last year alone, she’s labored exhaustively to find the right middle school for our 11 year old and the best mix of freedom and restriction for our teen while dealing with increasing pressures at work, home refinancing, and health concerns about our parents.

It’s not that she’s had to do any of this alone. We battle together through it all and — because we both have diarrhea of the mouth — share every fear and frustration on the phone, email, and pillow.

Yet, I worry about how much joy gets sucked out of this woman who does so much to ensure our family’s happiness.

Recently, a change in the school district’s start of the academic year combined with a further squeeze on our finances caused us to end an 11-year run at family camp. For more than a decade, the camp gave us playtime with our kids in nature, liberty from the rat race for a designated week each year, and friends that we all grew older with. My wife and I spent days fiddling with the calendar and crunching the budget until we finally had to face reality. For Wendy, who originally got us in to the camp by working as a guest-lecturer, this decision hit her particularly hard.

“I never wanted to end a family tradition,” she said, tears welling up as we tried to fall asleep the night we made the decision.

Although my wife melts into tears on rare occasions, this latest rainfall resulted from the overall toll of the family-work grind. It was the relentlessness of obligation combined with Wendy’s own drive to keep things adventurous and gleeful.

My concern for Wendy reached its peak because I hadn’t seen her so drained. So my sons and I got proactive to fill her back up.

Ari (8) now makes sure he takes a break from his Minecraft obsession and voracious reading habit to allow Wendy to read to him the books she loved as a kid, the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wendy barely allows me in the kitchen (I do suck at cooking), yet Jacob (11) will not be denied. Along with the food he’s burned, there are the veggies he roasts and the desserts he concocts to make Mom’s life easier.

Our teenager, Benjamin, has even emerged from his responsibility cocoon to take care of the dog, the dirty dishes, (occasionally) his laundry, and transportation arrangements to and from activities.

For my part, I switch days with Wendy to shuttle the kids, make (or bring in) more meals, and take the boys out so she can have alone time. I do this since she refills me when I need help and since she just plain deserves it.

Perhaps the most important thing I do, though, is remind her that she can indeed slow down and draw shade from the trees she’s planted. Her children and I are there for her because she has nourished us so conscientiously.

Happy Mother’s Day, Wendy.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Marriage, Mother's Day, Work-Family Balance | 1 Comment

One of the Boys

By Gregory Keer

My wife complains about being the lone female in a house of four guys. She bemoans the bathrooms that have been territorially marked by boys with bad aim. She scowls at the criminal lack of fashion sense they possess. She shakes her head in futility over the pushing, punching, and head-locking the guys engage in more often than they speak to each other.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this,” she said, following a harrowing incident in which our seven-year-old chased her with a pair of socks that could have been mistaken for a round of Stilton cheese.

“I’ll never be able to pass along my Nancy Drew mysteries or my Little House books to a girl in pigtails,” she went on.

Then she glared at me. “It’s all your fault.”

This may be genetically true, in that the father determines the gender, though I’m hardly sympathetic. Growing up, Wendy was actually as much of a tomboy as a princess. Her childhood photo albums reveal a hard-nosed little leaguer, a dog lover who wrangled the Great Danes her family raised, and a kid who liked to tinker with socket wrenches. This is not to say that my wife didn’t wear dresses or try out her mom’s perfume. It’s just that Wendy is particularly well-suited to hanging with her homeboys.

For instance, it isn’t always the kids who start the rough-housing. Wendy picks fights with the boys, playfully challenging them to wrestling matches. Our youngest, Ari (7), loves it and doesn’t even mind when she pins him on the rug. Jacob (10) thinks the whole thing is just not right.

“Mommy, you’re a girl,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

To which Wendy responds by tackling Jacob, who is quickly reduced to a giggling mess.

Our 13 year old, Benjamin, has had quite enough of wrestling Mommy. He gets plain embarrassed when she tangles with him, especially because all 5’ 2” of her is competitive enough to still toss him around some.

Speaking of competition, my wife loves to coach the boys in athletics. Over the years, she’s mentored our kids in tee ball and soccer in addition to running them ragged in backyard basketball (she sucks at that sport, but enjoys harassing them on defense).

When it comes to fixing garbage disposals and door hinges, Wendy is the handy one. Ari loves to work alongside her with his own tool set, taking apart drawers and old toys for fun, showing how his engineering aptitude clearly comes from Mom.

I admit that some of these more traditionally male contributions tread on my ego as a dad. I’ve done a share of the wrestling and coaching, but when Wendy jumps in on these things, I feel a little left out. I’ve done everything from warning my wife that she might get hurt during the wrestling to nitpicking her methods on the field. And the day I tangled endlessly with the clogged toilet, reading instructions online and going through an assortment of plungers and coat hangers before I was flushed with success, I made sure to crow proudly to my sons that, yes, Daddy is a manly man who won’t be daunted by plumbing.

Fortunately, Wendy is big enough to let me work out my insecurities and deftly move to other ways of bonding with our boys. Among other things, she’s occasionally put aside her Twilight novels and headed down the path usually reserved for characters on The Big Bang Theory as she’s delved into science-fiction books and movies. This allows her to talk about aliens, wizards, and post-apocalyptic theories with Benjamin. Even in this gender blurring era, there aren’t too many mothers who can converse about wormholes and inter-galactic war.

Eventually, though, Wendy always returns to her moments of wishing she could interact with other females around the house (the dog and hamster just don’t do the trick). Frankly, I sometimes feel the same when I think of the missed opportunity to play the protective dad to a daughter or two.

But Wendy has gotten what she has always been well-suited for – a bunch of boys with whom she can put to good use all those years growing up as a girl who fit in with the guys. It’s helped her move past the occasional sexism in the workplace and it’s made her as strong as she is sensitive in other facets of her life. As a result, our boys see their mom as an example of how role models can come from both sides of the gender line. It’s the reason why this Mother’s Day is full of as many mud pies and bruises as Bath and Body Works. Wendy wouldn’t want it any other way. I know I wouldn’t.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Marriage, Mother's Day | 1 Comment

Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car

By Gregory Keer

After three transmissions, enough mileage to circle the globe seven times, and more nicks and cuts than an undercard boxer, it was time to get my wife a new car. We scoured the review sites and spent many an afternoon test driving with our three human cyclones before Wendy settled on something that made her eyes twinkle.

More than that, getting the shining automobile felt as if we both were hitting a reset button amidst the ragged frenzy our lives have become as parents with multiple jobs, three kids, and too little open space.

When we got the “baby” home, we had the talk with the kids.

“No more smashed goldfish crackers,” Wendy warned. “Or misplaced apple cores, melted crayons, or sandy beach souvenirs.”

“We promise, Mommy,” they harmonized like those charming chipmunks you know are about to wreak havoc.

Later, Wendy gently brought me into her circle of caution.

“I know it takes you a while to get used to driving new cars, with the different dimensions and everything,” she said. “So, it’ll just be me taking it out for a while.”

I was absolutely fine with that. I had a habit of cracking side-view mirrors, backing into brick walls, and (yes) trying to duck a moving forklift within the honeymoon period of our last couple of new autos.

For the first three weeks of this one, all was fine. The kids treated the fresh wheels like white carpet at the grandparents’ house.

Then, one night, after an exhausting day, following a frenetic week, on the heels of a month of never-ending demands, I had to drive my son to an evening basketball game. Sadly, as much as I wanted to enjoy the thought of seeing my son on a court, I had little joy left in me. Seeing this, Wendy told me to take the new car.

“That’s OK,” I muttered in my best Eeyore tone. “I don’t want to be the one to put the first ding on the car.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “You’re ready.”

So, my thirteen year old and I went outside. I opened the door, caught the scent of new upholstery, and — clunk – knocked the freakin’ thing into the neighbor’s ridiculously massive cinder-block pillar.

My stomach dropped. It was a cruel twist of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I paced back and forth, stopping furtively to assess the damage. There were scuff marks on the rubber molding at the edge of the door. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t much. In the moment, it looked like I took a sledgehammer to the car.

I slumped into the driver’s seat, greeted by Benjamin, who didn’t even try to contain his laughter.

“You were so worried you were going to do that,” he spit out through guffaws.

“Be quiet,” I snapped back.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “It’s – too –
funny.”

“It’s not funny,” I groused.

Already late for the pre-game warm-ups, I pulled out of the driveway, wracked with guilt. Benjamin kept cracking up.

“Are you going to tell Mom?” he asked.

“Of course I will,” I said, holding on to whatever teaching moment I could in the situation.

I spent the game watching my son’s team win an exciting contest while I did enough hand-wringing to rival Macbeth.

At home, I performed the one defensive act I knew to do. I exaggerated beyond belief to make the reality seem like nothing.

“I feel like I totaled your car,” I blurted.

Wendy smiled. “Well, did you?”

“I scratched the side of the door and I’m sorry and I knew I was going to screw it up and I apologize for damaging the one new thing you have.”

“Is it really that bad?” Wendy said, wincing a little.

“To me it is,” I replied.

Wendy took my hand. “I was going to get a scratch sooner or later. I’m glad it was you.”

I exhaled and hugged her. She wasn’t giving more guilt than I was heaping on myself.

A day later, our seven year old ran his scooter into the bumper, gashing the paint.

His guilt lasted exactly two minutes.

To my sons, who laugh and move on from errors of small consequence, scratches and dents come with the territory of living life at full tilt. It will take me a while, but part of my own growing up involves adopting this philosophy — though it’ll be another couple of weeks before my wife lets me touch the car again.

Posted in Cars, Columns by Family Man, Humor, Marriage | 1 Comment

Modeling a Good Marriage for the Kids

By Gregory Keer

Today, we have more solo parents, divorced parents, and parents who live together but choose not to marry than ever before. In those situations, there are countless moms and dads who do amazing work in raising their children. However, if marriage works well for you, here are some key points to considering you want to model a good union to the children…

Constructive Disagreement

The most important thing about bickering—or even yelling with your spouse—in front of the kids is that it ends in calm resolution. My wife can have a short fuse and I can simmer so long that eventually I explode. But we always conclude with a hug and a kiss. Often, we tell the kids, “Mommy and Daddy are sorry we got so upset, but we love each other and have fixed our problem.” While it’d be nice if we didn’t argue in full view of the kids, our emotions do get the best of us. By showing the resolution for our kids, we model for them that people who love each other can disagree without bad feelings lasting forever. We are also showing them that disagreement can be handled verbally and not physically. Now, when our kids see us fight, they either ignore us or ask us to stop. When they do ask us for a ceasefire, we halt the argument — until they go to bed.

Love and Affection

Although you should probably think twice about making out or copping a feel with your spouse while the kids look on, hugging, kissing, and holding hands is highly recommended. The advice about being affectionate with your children is well documented, but many people shy away from being tastefully physical with their partner because they’re embarrassed or are just plumb too busy to put their arm around their spouse or kiss him or her on the cheek. Random acts of touch help keep a marriage alive and show kids the importance of contact in a healthy relationship. It will not dawn on kids until they’re older, but it also conveys that affection need not always be overtly sexual. Parents who hug and kiss hello and goodbye, as well as cuddle on the couch during family movie night, model a closeness that will inform the relationships their children have when it’s their turn to get a little closer to someone they like.

Lots to Talk About

Studies reveal that the more parents talk to their children from birth (even before birth), the more likely that the kids will be verbally proficient. The same applies to marriages. Talking a lot to your partner not only helps keep you both in the know about each other’s thoughts, it exhibits to the children one of the most significant qualities of a good relationship. Communicating with your significant other over breakfast, lunch, dinner, in the car, and on the phone lets the kids see that talking creates harmony. Silence is golden on occasion, to show the young ones that you don’t always have to talk to be at-one with your partner, but offering a daily example of how to verbalize emotions and information will help your children in any relationship. Key topics to present in front of your kids involve asking each other about the day, inquiring about future plans, discussing the news and culture, and seeking input on everyday decisions. This last topic is a good one to show the value of interdependence and the respect two people have for each other’s opinion.

Alone Time

Being a good parent is certainly about spending a lot of interactive time as a family unit. It’s also about getting quality moments with your husband or wife. Children need to know that Mom and Dad have a relationship with one another, not just with them. They should see that it’s okay for parents to be apart from the kids on a consistent basis so they know for themselves that, at the center of many successful families, is a successful partnership. Plan on weekly (at minimum biweekly) date nights to let kids know grown-ups need time alone. Doing this regularly helps children be more comfortable with parents going out. When you do go out, you should be sure to have a good time — seeing a grown-up movie, eating leisurely, being out with other adults, whatever it takes to feel like a couple, not just parental units. It’s also wise to enforce bedtimes so Mommy and Daddy can have alone time.

Playfulness

You don’t always have to go out of the house to show your kids that you’re having a good time. Laughing with each other displays how much fun you have with your partner. Let the children see you tickle each other, crack (G-rated) adult jokes, play checkers, even wrestle so they can see playfulness as one of the significant facets to a relationship. Don’t be afraid to have the kids see you being silly. In fact, next time you’re at a party with a karaoke machine, perform a duet with your partner. You’ll laugh and embarrass the kids more than yourselves. And your children will get a glimpse of the crazy-in-love people you once were — and hopefully always will be.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Marriage | 2 Comments

What Dads Need to Know: The Fatherhood Economy

By Laura Diamond

When I was pregnant with our first child, a stack of pre-natal and parenting books towered perilously high on my bedside table.

On my husband’s side of the bed was a single book for first-time fathers, bought by some well-intentioned friend (okay, maybe it was me). Giving our “friend” the benefit of the doubt, at the time there weren’t many fatherhood books to choose from. And maybe this friend didn’t read the Table of Contents. Had she, she’d have known that the book’s sole message to fathers-to-be was: You Man. You Earn Money.

I discovered this one night as we lay in bed preparing for parenthood in the way we lawyers knew how – reading, studying – and I heard him groan. I turned in time to see him holding that book, his face contorted with disappointment, the words crushing his natural excitement for his impending fatherhood.

When he explained why, I grabbed the book, checked the publication date, looking for the 1950 copyright. Nope, it was current. I tossed it aside. “That’s ridiculous.” But the genie was out.

When our first baby boy was born, we agreed I’d stay home to care for him. My husband stepped up and became the sole money-earner in our family, at least until I wanted to go back to lawyering. (Still waiting for that desire to materialize…) Over the years, he has provided for our family while staying true to his playful nature, placing time with his kids above everything. As he’s made career moves, each time he has prioritized the ability to spend time with his family. Speaking for my kids and myself, we are grateful for the law-partnership-path not taken. We like having him around.

Yet that manly-provider-thing still haunts him. A few days ago, he confessed that he had been daydreaming about returning to a law firm so that we could have more money, live in a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood, even though it would mean more hours in the office. Worse, he was indulging that waking nightmare while bouncing on the trampoline with our first-grader, usually their happy place.

Breaking into his father’s thoughts, our airborne joy boy said, “Daddy, don’t you wish I only had school and you only had work on Monday and Thursday, and we could play all day all the other days?”

Just like that, he brought him back from the brink.

Recently, a Cornell professor wrote about life lessons older Americans had for the rest of us. Chief among them, Don’t worry so much about money. Spend time with your family. Say yes to adventures.

These are modern day self-evident truths, but they are slippery, easy to lose hold of, especially with messages like the one in that loathsome book so pervasive. But being a great Dad does not mean being the best financial provider on the block. Does your family really need the latest greatest iPhone? The fanciest cars? The biggest Bar Mitzvah party? I didn’t think so.

Repeat after me: “The time I spend with my kids, present and focused and looking in their eyes is worth more than any pirate’s treasure, more than any winning lottery ticket, more than any golden parachute.” No amount of money can buy it back once it’s gone.

Try putting that on your bookshelf.

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Marriage, Perspective, What Dads Need to Know, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Labors of Dad

By Laura Diamond

So the Family Man asked me to offer the world of fathers some words of wisdom – what should dads know? I consider the question — I confess I come up blank. It is hard enough to know what I should know. But Family Man was asking, and I needed an answer.

I decided to go to the source. I asked my husband. I began by buttering him up. “I can’t think of anything useful, because you’re so perfect.” He saw right through me, scoffed, snorted and rolled his eyes. But then, proving my point, he gave me the perfect prompt: “Tell them Dads should know what labor pains feel like.”

No doubt. Let’s back up a week. Last Sunday, 2 a.m., I awoke to find my husband not in bed. We’d already been up many nights that week with our six-year-old son Emmett suffering from a stomach virus. Now Emmett was sleeping through the night again – but where was Christopher? I got out of bed, stepped lightly downstairs, and whispered his name. “In here,” he groaned. I found him on the living room floor, prone and writhing. “I think I need to go to the hospital.” He may have had the same old virus as Emmett, but he had a new appreciation for the kid’s mettle.

I drove him to UCLA/Santa Monica E.R. They hooked him up to an I.V. and gave him drugs. Not strong enough. “Give him morphine!” I begged, channeling Shirley Maclaine in Terms of Endearment.

I watched him reeling with the pain, unable to be still, leaning over the hospital bed, body swaying, unable to focus on anything but the pain, and an unbelievable thought occurred to me: he looks like he’s in labor.

He said something to that effect to the nurse, a young woman who probably hadn’t yet experienced the joy of childbirth. But holding the torch for the sorority of womanhood, she verbally knocked him down without a thought: “No. Nothing compares to labor.” My husband dutifully apologized for the breach. It’s like denying the Holocaust, or uttering certain unmentionable words: It’s just not done.

I wanted to come to his defense. I wanted to tell her, “You know what? I’ve had two babies, and I’d give this man an epidural if I could.” But she was the woman in charge of his I.V. I didn’t want to piss her off.

We came home, morphine in his veins and vicodin prescription in hand. He had a new appreciation for what I’d experienced 10 and 7 years ago with the birth of our sons (without the benefit – or responsibility – of a baby at the end of the experience, of course.)

And me? I have a new appreciation for what he gives us every day. He is usually the life of our party. But thanks to this punk virus, his bright light is dimmed. He’s tired. He’s uncomfortable. He’s not himself. We all feel it. The kids ask him to play baseball, go on bike rides, and he has to decline. The energy in the house is gone. We miss him. We’re waiting for him to come back.

So what should dads know? They should know they matter in every family moment. They should know the zing they add to a morning, making breakfast and riffing on the Sports page. They should know that no matter how mommy-centric their kids might be when it comes to sharing hugs or secrets, when he’s down for the count, the joyfulness fades palpably. Dads should know that they deserve some down time to get rested and revived. Dads should know that their families are rooting for them to get their groove back. Dads should know how much they mean to us.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know about the labor pain. Just don’t tell a woman you hurt that much. It’ll get you nowhere. 

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Humor, Marriage, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Playing House

By Gregory Keer

Almost two years ago, my son got married. It was a private affair. Just Ari, his beloved Maddie, and a few friends. After the simple ceremony, the couple and their guests sat down to a meal of fish sticks and carrots. No limousine picked up the newlyweds. Instead of going on a honeymoon, the couple — their shirts stained with grape juice, their cheeks smudged with washable paints — went home with their respective carpools.

It wasn’t until that night, after Maddie’s mom Sharon called my wife to share the news, that I learned about the marriage. Preparing to read a bedtime story to Ari (three-and-a-half years old at the time), I inquired about the wedding.

“Did something special happen at school today?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Maddie and I got married,” he said matter of factly.

I choked back a chuckle. Ari and Maddie had been “dating” for close to two years. The months before their betrothal was filled with napping side by side and impassioned jealousies regarding how often they played blocks with other suitors.

“Why did you choose her?” I wondered.

“Because I love her and she loves me,” he said. “Now please read the book.”

Ari leaned on me, stuck his thumb in his mouth and his blanket under his arm. This tow-headed preschooler thought of himself as a married man. Who was I to judge?

I often find myself wondering how I got here myself. When did I go from being five years old, playing house with Kathy Kincaid from across the street, to a man in his 40s with a wife, three sons, a home, a job, and the other accessories of a grown-up life?

On the rare occasion when I’m alone with nothing to do and everyone else asleep, I sit on the couch and ponder all of this. I survey the strewn sweatshirts, game pieces, and orphaned socks my boys frequently forget to put away. I stare at the photographs on the walls and shelves capturing the memories of amusement parks and vacations. Then I go to the rooms of my sons just to listen to them breathe.

I reach my own bedroom to see my wife barely visible under the covers. Her piles of graded papers and correspondence from the committees she’s involved in spread over the nightstand.

“We forgot to sign the field-trip form for Jacob,” she mumbles throatily before drifting off again.

I sign the form and climb beneath the blankets. I stare at this woman. Her hair is disheveled; a slight frown knits her eyebrows. This is the person I married with whom I have built a life full of all the people and experiences I once only dreamed about.

There are plenty of times when I have shortness of breath, weighed down by myriad responsibilities. Occasionally, I succumb to the fantasy flashes of writing great novels in a solitary mountain cabin or of a playboy lifestyle of being surrounded by exotic women and powerful men admiring of my status.

Then there are the real moments when I know I am damn lucky to have Wendy. She’s smart, sexy, strong, and incredibly tolerant of my downfalls. But what always strikes me about our marriage is our mutual interest in working our butts off to make the partnership grow. We have plenty of leaks and holes in our marital fortress, yet we continue to patch them up while adding new rooms to labor and play in.

Our sons learn a lot about the nuts and bolts of marriage because we hide little from them. This may have helped Ari when he found out Maddie had moved to another school. He cried, but took heart in Wendy’s promise to help him phone and e-mail the woman he calls “my wife.”

Two years into the relationship, Ari maintains his unique affection for Maddie. Before his fifth birthday party, I caught him ransacking his dresser drawers.

“I have to find the right clothes to wear for Maddie,” he explained, worried since he had not seen her in a couple of months.

When Sharon brought her daughter to the door, Ari smiled broadly and guided Maddie into the party to show her around.

“She spent an hour picking out the right dress because she wanted to look good for her husband,” Sharon said.

And so it was. Two little people acting like a committed, eternally excited married couple. May they be as blessed as their parents.

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What Dads Need to Know: A Cure for Kidaholism

By Wendy Jaffe

Believe it or not, there is only one known society in the entire world that hasn’t embraced marriage in one form or another. The Na society, a group of about 30,000 singles living in Southwestern China, forego marriage completely. With the Na, the women become pregnant after liaisons with men in nearby villages, and then daddy is completely out of the picture; aunts and uncles act as co-parents to children.

Thanks to this unique arrangement, the Na may be the only society in the world in which mothers can devote all of their attention to their children without having to worry about simultaneously nurturing a relationship with their children’s father. Here in the United States, motherhood is a bit more complicated. Figuring out how to balance motherhood and wifehood is as challenging as going through childbirth without an epidural. Women who are unable to strike a proper balance, the kidaholics, are prime candidates for divorce.

How did I learn that kidaholism is a major cause of divorce? I interviewed 100 of the top family law attorneys in the U.S. for a recent book, and asked a deceptively simple question: Why do couples divorce? Attorney after attorney commented that one reason many marriages become broken is when women focus exclusively on their children, causing their husbands to feel insignificant, unappreciated, or just plain unloved. Husbands react by withdrawing into work, becoming best friends with the television remote control, or by having affairs (wife: “you forgot to pick up the Huggies, again???” vs. attractive co-worker: “you are so brilliant, warm, and sensitive! Does your wife know how lucky she is?”).

New Orleans divorce attorney Ellen Widen Kessler summed up the problem this way: “Children cause people to change their focus from caring about each other to caring about their children. Momma starts to put nearly all of her emphasis on her responsibilities toward her children, to the exclusion of her husband.”

Cynthia Greene, a well-known family law attorney practicing in Miami, Florida, has also witnessed many divorces resulting from kidaholism: “Men are jealous of the time that their wife spends with the kids. Maybe jealousy isn’t the proper word, because the men are being sincere, but where there is a total focus by the mother on the child, and no focus on the marriage or the husband, the marriage frequently falls apart.”

Before we go any further, let me clarify that, although it is typically the woman who is the afflicted, dads can also become infected with a bout of kidaholism with the same unfortunate consequences to the marriage.

Symptoms of Kidaholism

So, the next questions is, how do you know if you have crossed the line from being a wonderful, devoted parent to a kidaholic? And spouses, how can you judge if you are married to a kidaholic, or to a person who is just trying her best to juggle the often conflicting demands of her dual roles of parent and wife? Check out the symptoms of kidaholism below.

- Kidaholics tend to talk primarily about their children.

- Kidaholics tend to give up interests that they had before they had children and devote any free time to interests or activities that somehow relate to their children (e.g., scrap booking, soccer mom duties, school volunteering).

- Kidaholics frequently part ways with friends who do not have children.

- Kidaholics frequently refuse to go away with their spouse alone for even one night even where there is another capable adult available to care for the child.

- Spouses of kidaholics frequently complain that “there is no time for me.”

- Spouses of kidaholics frequently complain that their sex life is lacking.

- Kidaholics do not set aside a specific time for their spouse such as a weekly date night.

Treatment for the Affliction

The good news about kidaholism is that it is easily curable if caught early. The cure involves three simple steps.

Recognize the Positives for Your Children

When you make time to focus on your spouse and marriage you are actually doing a positive thing for your children as well. Your children will witness a role model of a healthy marriage, which they will likely emulate one day. The steps that you take to cure your kidaholism will make it more likely that your child will not have to deal with the ramifications of a divorce.

Set specific time aside for your spouse.

This can take the form of a weekly date night or a regular evening walk.

Develop joint interests.

Nearly all of the attorneys that I interviewed commented that couples that develop joint interests do better in the long run. It doesn’t matter what the interest is; it only matters that is something that you both enjoy doing together.

A close friend of mine, who rarely spent time alone with her husband because she was always “unable to find a sitter,” is now a reformed kidaholic. (I always thought that it was funny that she had no problem “finding” a great manicurist, fabulous pediatrician, and a nearly painless bikini wax woman.) How did she finally make a weekly date night with her husband a priority? All it took was “seeing herself” in a book that she would never have read had it not been written by her good friend.

For many of the other kidaholic parents, recognizing themselves in the patterns shown above, then following some of the steps suggested, can go a long way to maintaining a healthier marital relationship.

Wendy Jaffe is the author of The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide To Staying Married. She can be reached at wjaffewrite@aol.com. Her website is www.DivorceLawyersGuide.com .

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What Dads Need to Know: Sleep is the New Sex

By Ann Douglas

Dads may clock a bit more sleep than moms do during the early weeks of caring for a new baby, but when it comes to overall feelings of exhaustion, moms and dads are pretty much on par. That’s one of the key reasons why sex falls off the radar screen for many parents of newborns: no one can stay awake long enough to get the deed done.

Even on those nights when there’s interest, energy, and opportunity (the ultimate bedroom hat trick at this time in your life), your sexual fortunes can turn on a dime. The in-laws drop by to sneak another peek at the little one — at 10 pm. Your wife’s best friend calls to talk babies and breastfeeding. Baby wants a bonus-bonus-bonus feeding. And then the ultimate insult: your neighbor’s car alarm startling Junior into wakefulness just as you and his mom are getting nice and cozy. Moron.

And even if your baby does settle back down to sleep after a quick nurse and cuddle, the libido may have left the building. (Your wife’s, that is.) That’s because the Maternal Emergency Response System (MERS) has been put on full alert as a result of the baby’s panicked cry, causing the woman of your dreams to switch from sex kitten setting to mom mode in two seconds flat. It’s as if a gigantic Boy Scout poured a huge bucket of ice water on the campfire that was her sex drive. You can try to get things started again, but you have 50/50 odds of looking like an ultra-attentive lover and 50/50 odds of looking like a pushy jerk who won’t let a tired mom get the sleep she so desperately craves. It’s up to you if you want to want to play sex life roulette. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose big-time.

And while we’re talking mother meta-text (the things that moms think but simply won’t say), here’s something else that might be conspiring against your sex life: basic biology combined with a common maternal misunderstanding. It has been scientifically proven that moms are hard-wired to be more responsive to their babies in the night than dads (they hear their babies better and they’re more tuned into their babies’ movements, even when both mom and baby are asleep). This means that moms tend to respond instinctively to their babies’ murmurs and stirs while dads are still somewhere off in dreamland. What a mom may interpret as laziness or mean-spiritedness or rotten parenting on the part of that slumbering dad may be basic biology at work. So you get in trouble for being a guy.

But don’t use your guyness as an excuse. She’ll be on to you in a flash. If you even think about using the aforementioned biological fact as a license to play Rip Van Winkle for the next 18 years, you can kiss your sex life goodbye for at least as long. (Let her know that she’s welcome to wake you up if she hears the baby in the night and it’s your turn to get up. Crisis averted.) While your evil friend Barney might be tempted to try to con his wife, he will pay dearly for his stupidity. If a mom feels that her partner isn’t helping out enough with night-time parenting, she’s likely to start feeling angry and resentful, and anger is anything but libido enhancing, as every guy knows.

Here’s what one of the moms that I interviewed for Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler had to say: “There were nights with my first child when I would be hit with this overwhelming urge to kill my husband,” confesses one mother of two. “I was so resentful of the fact that he was lying there sleeping while I was getting up for the third time that night to breastfeed. When I’d come back to bed, I’d get in bed as noisily as possible in the hope that I’d manage to wake him up. I practically used the bed as a trampoline as I bounded back into it at 4:00 am. If he didn’t wake up, I’d lie in bed feeling incredibly angry at him for not waking up, and that resentment would build in me until I felt like I was going to explode. And all the while, he would be having a good night’s sleep without a care in the world.” (Note: In my book I talk about each couple’s needs to figure out what kind of split of night-time parenting duties makes the most sense for them: sometimes 50/50 isn’t equal or fair.)

When I talk to new moms who are feeling this angry and desperate, I try to give them a Dad’s eye view of the situation — to remind them that everything isn’t perfectly rosy on his side of the bed either. In fact, he may be experiencing a smorgasbord of emotions that he may be reluctant to express for fear of upsetting his partner further. So it’s not a cakewalk for dads, either, despite the stereotypical image of the well-rested dad sauntering off to his perfect job to “get a break” all day long.

So what does it take to keep your sex life on track when neither of you are getting much sleep during those weeks and months after baby arrives on the scene? Those three magic ingredients I mentioned earlier (interest, energy, and opportunity) plus a few more: persistence, a sense of humor, a connection as a couple, and a feeling that you’re playing for the same parenting team. As one of the moms that I interviewed put it, “We were tired, and that was a fact of life. Sort of, ‘If I wasn’t so tired I’d jump you’ and ‘If I wasn’t so tired, I’d like it.’”

Ann Douglas is an authormagazine writer, andnewspaper columnist who specializes in writing about parenting. A popular speaker, Ann leads workshops and delivers keynote addresses on a variety of topics of interest to writers, parents, and others who share her passions for education, health, social justice, and civic engagement. She is the host and producer of theTrent Radio shows Citizen Parent and This is Your Writing Life. She lives and works in Peterborough, Ontario, and volunteers her time with various projects and causes.

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Marriage, Sex Ed | Leave a comment