Movie Aliens and Captains Offer Family Lessons

Maybe it’s the fact that my sons are getting older so I can take them to more films above the G rating, but I do feel this summer has offered a slew of worthwhile movies to see with my kids. Hard to pick a clear favorite at the moment, especially since timing issues have prevented me from seeing the last Harry Potter flick (I’m a bit fanatical about seeing it in just the right theater and with at least one of my children). But Captain America was a winner for my entire family. The Joe Johnston- (October Sky — which is well worth renting or downloading — and The Rocketeer) directed actioner paid homage to old Hollywood films as it centered on a WWII-era story of heroism, patriotism, and identity. Great line from the movie was Steve Rogers’ response to Dr. Erskine who asks if Steve wants to kill the enemy. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.”Nice lesson to kids who come to the theater to see “The First Avenger” and get a message that it’s not about looking to kill people but about standing up for yourself and preventing aggressors from victimizing others

I’m also a fan of Super 8. J.J. Abrams and his crew told a good Steven Spielberg-style tale of kids being better attuned to others (even aliens) and saving the world. It’s a thrilling movie that gave me a true bonding experience with my adolescent son, particularly because of the father-son storylines. One question, though: why do Hollywood movies and TV shows kill off moms in order to show dads bonding with their kids? This film, by the way, makes me want to show Stand and Deliver to my eldest.

Gonna try to see Cowboys and Aliens this weekend. Not as high on possible lessons, but looks like fun.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Blog, Ethics, Family Man Recommends, Film, Single Fathers | Leave a comment

A Father’s Food Blog

Food and parenting mix beautifully on this blog, written by single dad, school principal, and marvelous cook Don Wilson. Feeding Andrew chronicles how Wilson parents his teenage son and provides delectable recipes for a wide variety of foods he plates for his kid. A recent blog entry is about Wilson’s own dad, himself a writer, who tells a story about a bond with his late dog.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Food, School, Single Fathers, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Books, Dating Dad, Divorced Dads, Featured Moms & Dads, Film, Music, Single Fathers, TV | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Dating Dad, Divorced Dads, Featured Moms & Dads, Single Fathers | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Dating Dad, Divorced Dads, Featured Moms & Dads, Love and Courtship, Single Fathers | Leave a comment

Dating Dad: Tween

I’m sitting at the airport in Detroit, after returning from a quick, 14 hour visit to Toledo, where I spoke to a room full of sixth- and seventh-graders at a book festival, and then signed copies of Ray Reflected.

The handlers and organizers who drove me around, settled me in the room where I spoke, and even fed me, were all parents. Actually, they were all Jewish mothers of kids and young adults, and they all asked me about Simone — what was she like, did she enjoy the book, what kinds of books did she read. I found myself talking about her even more than usual, and even mentioning her a few times in my chat with the kids.

What I happened to mention more than once was that, these days, Simone calls me “Dude” just as often as she calls me “Dad.”

I got a taste of what’s just around the corner last week, when she and I went to a middle school “visitation.” Simone wants to audition for a local school of the arts next year, and this was our opportunity to get in there and check it out.

So last Friday morning, I battled the snooze on my iPhone alarm just a couple of times, and dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. Even with the reprieve that the recent end of daylight saving brought, it was still nighttime dark, without even a hint of dawn sneaking through the spaces between my blinds. After a shower and some swipes with the razor, I was in Simone’s room, gently pulling back the covers, and coaxing her awake.

Simone’s never had a typical little girl’s room, what with the dinosaur art on the wall (posters and her own illustrations), tubs overflowing with plush toys (predominantly reptiles and other non-furry creatures), and bookshelves packed with novels, picture books, and non-fiction tomes on prehistoric life. You’d still find a pile of sillybandz on her desk, but you’d also notice Bagel, the fire-bellied toad she’s had in a tank since she was three years old.

So it’s not a girly room, but the experience of it has changed a bit in the last few months — undergarments that didn’t make it into her hamper no longer have cute animated figures on them, and now she’s wearing two pieces under her clothes; she’s always been an advanced reader, but now her fiction and fantasy is veering into the young adult, rather than middle grade; and then there’s the sleeping girl herself — long legs flung out of the covers at bottom of the bed and messy, dyed hair sticking out from under her comforter; with a sleep perfume that has changed, too — it’s still the unique, warm, and familiar smell that accompanies my sleeping girl, but there’s another tone, now — a pre-adolescent funk that wasn’t there last spring.

Simone rolled out of bed without complaint, the excitement of the day providing enough impetus to get her up and into the shower. There’s a quiet magic in our weekday mornings together; a companionable, low-level cheerfulness that is noticeably absent when it’s just me getting up and out. I take great pleasure in making Simone’s lunch, so while she’s in the shower I’ll fill her lunchbox with a well-balanced meal (and a snack. And a note). And then she’ll sip at her chai and talk to me while I do up breakfast. Most mornings, we’ll sit together at the table and eat, though sometimes she’ll perch on a barstool at the counter while I putter around the kitchen. If we think about it, we’ll put on some music that gets our blood pumping a little faster, and before we know it, it’s time for shoes and coats.

Our super-early morning went smoothly, and I was surprised when we arrived across town at the combo middle/high school with plenty of time to park and take in the tall, slump-shouldered teens slinking their way into the building. The school is a special one, with very motivated, artistic students, but they still seemed to walk with teenager attitude from where I was sitting. It gave me a shiver.

We wandered through halls filled with the most amazing artwork I’d seen in any building in recent memory — a whole display case filled with tableaux created using wooden spoons; a board propped on an easel showing the design elements for the play “Twelve Angry Jurors,” (yeah, I know. I laughed out loud) complete with a top-down view of the stage setup and costume mockups with swatches of fabric; foot-tall imp-like creatures cavorting along the vaulted, skylighted ceiling of the hallway; and an installation of a six-foot tall fantastical creature messing with a remote control and an old-fashioned TV on a stand. Four or five kids sat on the floor next to their lockers while one of them fiddled with a guitar.

Simone was thrilled…she’d found her tribe.

As we filed into the auditorium to be welcomed by the principal, I ran my eyes over the other kids and their parents (no eligible single moms, as far as I could tell). Everyone had that air of tense excitement flecked with nervousness, and you could tell all of the parents had very pointed questions about the audition and selection process, about the educational philosophy and standards, about graduation rates, etc. Simone wanted to sit up front, which surprised me, so we found our way to a couple of seats on the aisle in the second row (our compromise).

As the principal and other staff members spoke, and as the parents asked their inevitable questions, I noticed two things. First, that I didn’t have any questions. I could tell from the ambiance of the school, from the art on display, and from the way the students and staff interacted in the hallways, that this place would deliver on its promise, if Simone was able to impress her way in. As a former teacher, I can assess the temperature of a school within moments of walking through the door.

Second, I noticed that Simone had the teen chair slump down to a science.

Damn it, I thought. My kid is a tween. Somehow, I’d hoped I’d have more time.

After the speeches, a parent volunteer in Simone’s preferred major (stagecraft – she wants to design and build sets, to prepare her for her dream of creating paleontological museum displays, and she wants to design costumes to get better at her own fashion design work), led us from classroom to classroom, so we could see what the actual students were up to.

If I felt a shiver when we walked into the school, standing at the back of classrooms and watching post-pubescent teenagers banter and pick at their faces and whisper to each other nearly gave me heart palpitations.

Last month, I wrote about the pop culture celebration of the clueless father and how I refuse to be painted with that brush. But what that means is I’m not going to be allowed to be the know-nothing dad as Simone approaches her teen years. If I want to be the father that she needs, I won’t be able to cover my ears and go la-la-la when she talks about dating or women’s issues. I’ll have to force myself to listen without judgment and respond carefully. I won’t be allowed to roll my eyes or shake my head or run away.

And, most days, I think I’m prepared to handle this new stage in her life. We have an easy, comfortable way of talking to each other, and Simone doesn’t keep secrets from me. Last time my youngest sister was in town, I asked her to take Simone for…you know…products, just in case the red rider came around while she was with me. I’ve provided her with deodorant and special face soap, and I know better than to put her training bras in the dryer.

But, damn, it would be nice to have a woman in the house as she grows into her tall, lanky body. There’s stuff about being a teenage girl I just don’t know. Put me in a room with a 15-year-old boy, and I’ll teach him all the secret tricks to being a man — the best way to shave each day, how to polish a pair of shoes or sew on a button, how to knot a tie (bow and standard), the highlights of the debate between briefs and boxers (go with boxers). But even as a formerly married guy, women’s feminine regimens are mysterious to me. There are details I’m not equipped to understand.

I know Simone’s mom will handle the majority of the details, but stuff will come up when she’s with me, and, unless something really good and really special happens in the near future, I’m going to be sans backup. I’m fortunate to have plenty of single mom friends who could advise me if I ask for help, but it’s still a daunting prospect overall.

Simone was yawning as we drifted toward the exit from the school, the morning’s activities catching up with her. There was something languid about the way she walked down the hallway, almost as if she’d already begun to absorb the mores and manners of this exotic new place. My brain and heart were tangled and fraught, feeling so proud of and excited for my little girl, but knowing she wouldn’t be little much longer. How can you celebrate and dread something in equal measure, and still manage to stay sane and reasonable?

Shit… guess I’ll just do my best.

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: 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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Dating Dad: Decade

By Eric S. Elkins

It was a spring-like Sunday in mid-March when Simone decided to arrive in the world. She was a full four weeks early, precocious even before she left the womb. We worried a bit that day — her heart rate would drop during each contraction, which meant the umbilical cord was probably around her neck — but phone calls with my baby nurse mother were steady, and she calmed our nerves with her knowledge and expertise. Simone’s mom’s parents caught a flight and arrived at the hospital minutes after their new granddaughter vociferously expressed her first opinion (Not. Happy.). My (now-former) father-in-law, normally hemmed in by his mid-western stoicism, hugged and kissed me in the excitement of the moment.

That was ten years ago.

It’s hard to believe that the tiny, ruddy, screaming bean of a creature, her nose still flattened from labor, but gorgeous and miraculous in her very existence, has grown into the empowered, opinionated, high-energy, charming pre-adolescent who lives with me today. Simone the premie, Simone the infant, Simone the toddler, Simone the little girl…is now Simone the young woman.

She and I have been through so much together.

From day one, I insisted to my employers that I would work from home two days per week, so I could be with my little girl. Before she could walk, or even speak, Simone would go on assignment with me, curled up in her carrier (strapped to my chest), getting a backstage tour of the local aquarium, or finding herself plopped into the Stanley Cup. She met movie stars and authors, traveled to Orlando and to Hilo. For the first three years of her life, Tuesdays and Thursdays were my favorite days of the week.

Simone weathered the divorce as well as she could; her occasional meltdown when I dropped her off at preschool shredded my heart as I left her behind. I’d pull the car over a couple of blocks away from the school because my heaving and weeping made driving impossible. I’d cry until I could pull myself together and start the car again, feeling pathetic and powerless to stop the moving freight train of our fracturing lives. I didn’t know how I’d make it—wanting to give up, to shut down, the despair so potent that I’d finally drift into work, numb and pale and silent, and sit at my desk in a fog. Simone doesn’t remember those days, but I still feel the scars of that tumult.

But we found our equilibrium, the two of us. It took some time, but we settled into our routines, our banter, our understandings and conventions.

Simone’s mom offered up a different sort of stability by marrying fairly quickly and starting a new family that Simone could be a part of. But, though the last seven years have been lonely for me at times, I’ve been able to build a relationship with and create a household for Simone on my own– she has met a few (very few) of the women I’ve dated over the years, and that has allowed us to grow together in a way her mother will never be able to understand (or approve of, sadly). I’ve provided the stability of being there for her, and only her. I’m happy that Simone has a little sister and a mother and a stepfather who love her, but I’m also happy that our home is an outlet and a respite.

We’ve come a long way from the days she didn’t want to leave her other house. Now she tells me she wishes she could spend more than half the time with me. I tell her how important it is that she have time with both parents, that her mother would miss her, and that she needs to be there for her sister, but she talks about how there’s “a lot of yelling” at her other house, and that her mom is pretty hard on her. All I can do is offer her love, a peaceful environment, and a different kind of structure — looser in some ways, but still with statutes and high expectations. If my household has been less structured than Simone’s mom’s, it hasn’t been less safe, and it hasn’t left Simone without a sense that we have rules here, too. I hope it’s also allowed her to find the fun in spontaneity; something her mom was never a fan of.

Our move from the suburbs to the city had a huge effect on our quality of life, and it gives me great joy to see how Simone has grown into an urban sophisticate. She knows her city well, and she understands the satisfaction to be had in walking to amazing restaurants, the Mexican bakery, the grocery store, the playground. She has learned to be aware of her surroundings; to give odd strangers a wide berth, to pause before crossing an alley (even though we still always hold hands when crossing the street). For her, it’s normal to be recognized when walking into a restaurant or boutique, and to be welcomed by name. And her manners are impeccable — “please” and “thank you” come naturally; sparking conversation with a grownup comes easily; she can make a reservation for dinner and order off of any menu. She’s been to grand openings, events, festivals, and preview dinners. She can recommend a place to eat or a good spot for ice cream. Denver belongs to her.

Simone has grown lanky and clumsy in her new body, and her poise and sophisticated take on the world could make it easy to forget she’s just a child. But she is still a little girl in so many ways. She loves her plush toys, she cries when she’s disappointed, she still whines and fusses and begs; she still needs snuggles and hugs and reassurance that I’m sticking with her no matter what.

You know, I haven’t quite given up on the possibility of having another little one. But I’m coming to terms with the idea that it may not happen. I’m starting to feel an equanimity with the future — allowing myself to be happy with either outcome, and letting things happen as they happen. And part of that tranquility comes from feeling so ridiculously lucky to be Simone’s dad, and to have a daughter who’s so uniquely comfortable in her skin. She’s empowered, which can be a problem when you’re only 10 years old, but I know her confidence will serve her well over time.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the last 10 years. I have been far from perfect in my parenting, though I always strive to be better. To do better. People tell me I’m a great dad, but I don’t take those compliments to heart. They’re not privy to my doubts, my slip-ups, the stupid things I say or do. They’re not with me at the end of the day, laying in bed, realizing how I could have avoided an argument or a shouting match. But the good news is that I do feel like I am pretty good at being a father.

Ten years ago, I was just a guy sleepwalking through life, doing okay, but knowing I could do better. Now I’m the father of a funny, smart, and beautiful 10-year-old who’s secure in herself because she knows she’s loved and appreciated. She keeps me present; she forces me to be awake and aware and appreciative of what the world has to offer.

I know it won’t be long until we’re sharing our happiness with someone we both adore. But, for now, it’s easy to appreciate the gifts we share with each other.

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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