Great Expectations

By Gregory Keer

great_expectationsI always think I’m going to enjoy the holidays more than I do. I imagine the days off as time that will allow me to reduce my stress, live in the moment, and enjoy family and friends. Oh, those carefree hours to play basketball in the yard with the kids, go to a few movies together, laugh, eat and share stories around the holiday table.

Yeah. Right.

Instead, stress seems to escalate — mostly because of all these hopes. My kids don’t like playing basketball (not with me, and certainly not together). My adolescent boys see all the good movies with their friends. And meals are spent with Wendy and me running around serving people, asking the kids not to talk over each other, and usually ending with someone crying or yelling or pouting.

Often, that someone is me.

Whereas most people like to reference A Christmas Carol around the holidays, I relate more, at least in terms of the title, to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I set my bar impossibly high, imagining all my thirst for the joys of family life will be quenched in a mere two-week period.

This year, I aim to change all that. I’m planning to clear up all my holiday problems in one fell swoop. A lot to expect? Perhaps. So, let me rephrase — I’m going to make the winter festival season a little better by lowering my expectations.

First, I need more me-time. One of my mistakes as a parent, especially during the holidays, is believing that I have to be engaged with the children at every possible moment. When they were little, I needed to be guiding them and playing with them. Now, they don’t want to spend that much time with me, not because they don’t love me, but because they are individuating and hanging out with people who are helping define them beyond my reach. And, to a large degree, that’s the way it should be.

So, instead of licking my wounds about being irrelevant, I need to take more private hours to read one of those neglected novels, sleep in or take naps, and go to the good movies with my wife or even by my lonesome if no one will go to the cineplex with me. These are gifts I will give to myself, but they will also teach my sons that we are all better people to our loved ones when we are first good to ourselves.

Second, I need to play sports differently. So what if my kids don’t like basketball and won’t play sports together as I always envisioned they would? I’ll hit the field or court with them separately for whatever sport they wish — even if it’s just for 10 minutes each, one time each over the entire course of the two weeks. When they say they’re done playing, I’ll stop and consider the session a success. Usually, I run into problems because I nag them to play a little longer so I can teach them a few things. I have this grand idea they will learn a couple of tips from the old man. Not during these holidays, not this time. The point will just be to have fun.

Third, I will not try to turn meals into some version of The Waltons’ holiday dinners with everyone politely sitting ‘round the table, delighting in their togetherness. My children don’t even know who The Waltons were, which may be part of the problem. In fact, I kind of hate The Waltons now because they corrupted my sense of what holiday meals are supposed to be. Instead, I will allow our dinners to be as chaotic as my kids want since that’s my family’s way. In my house, the kids eat turkey stuffing with their fingers, my younger ones jump up from the table at random to sing Bruno Mars tunes, and my eldest goes on philosophical political rants with his unsuspecting grandparents. I will just sit back and enjoy the always-delicious food, restraining myself from trying to control the situation, and realizing that I’m lucky enough to have family to share the mayhem.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure this will work out, but I have to try. After 15 years of expecting my holidays to be as perfect as the ending to It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s time to prepare a bit more for the unexpected and just bask in it.

It may be that, upon stepping back from my role as a wannabe winter-season patriarch, my kids will take up the reigns and drive the sleigh of fun and togetherness activities. Perhaps they’ll look at me and say, “Dad, we love how hard you work at family holidays so we’re going to reward you with family basketball and a dinner of toasts to the greatness of you and mom.”

But that’s a hope, not an expectation.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Holidays, Perspective, Work-Family Balance | 1 Comment

A&E’s ‘Modern Dads’ Series Kicks Off With Promos

ModernDadsabout-mainA bunch of television outlets are getting into the fatherhood business with sitcoms (even I wrote a pilot script for one), but A&E has opted to bring actual dads to the screen with a new reality TV series called Modern Dads. The show, which premieres on Wednesday, August 21, at 10:30/9:30C, features a creative, high-energy group of Austin, Texas-based stay-at-home dads and their kids.

First, there’s the giveaway. All you have to do is be the first dad to email me at to tell me you want the Modern Dads pack and you will win: an A&E mug, tool belt, wipes, antibacterial gel, stain remover stick, wash cloth, baby spoon, and a $25 gift card to Toys R’ Us! Please include a mailing address to which A&E will send the prize pack.

Second, there’s the contest for creating the best “Dadget” that shows a way you’ve made parenting easier. Submit a photo of the “Dadget” and you could win a $1,000 gift card to be used to fulfill your gadget invention! Enter on Facebook by uploading your photo in the “Submit an Entry” section, or by posting a photo on Instagram or Twitter tagged with #DADGET.

Submissions and voting will take place until September 6, 2013 at 12:00pm. On September 6, 2013, the top ten Dadgets with the most votes will be posted. Voting for the top ten will conclude on September 23, 2013. The winner with the most votes will be announced September 24, 2013.

For more about being a modern dad, please read Big Babies.

Posted in Contests, Sweepstakes & Promotions, TV, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment


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

What Dads Need to Know: What Does Mommy Do?

By Betsy Brown Braun

The mom’s tears at the end of the session spent counseling this soon-to-be separating couple were not surprising. Divorce is never easy. We had begun to discuss custody schedules, always a prickly topic. That’s when the dam broke. My empathetic comments about how painful these things are bounced right back. “That’s not it!” the mother unequivocally declared.  “What will I do?” she cried, emphasizing the word “do.

There were so many divorce related changes-to-come that had to be flooding this mom’s mind. But for her the tsunami was the revelation that she was about to be out of a job, at least a few days a week.  She had devoted her entire mom life to her kids—carpools and taxi service, homework and school projects, play dates and extra-curricular activities, house care and meal prep. The kids’ lives and needs were her job 24/7. That was about to change. And Mom didn’t have anything else to do, or so she felt. She could not even imagine being without her children, and she was terrified. Who would she be? Her identity was MOM, period.  At that moment the stark realization was about her, not her kids.

This plaintive comment, “What will I do?” reminded me of a blog by Leslie Irish Evans recently posted on The Huffington Post, “5 Reasons ‘My Kids Are My Whole Life’ is a Stupid Thing to Say”.  The author put forth many sound reasons for a woman not to make her child her whole life. But the last reason, “It sets you up for a big fall,” herein relates. Evans is referring to the time when the children go off to college, and mom no longer needs to be mom 24/7.  But what if it happens sooner, like in divorce?

I would like to add  three more reasons to Evan’s 5  for cultivating a life nowthat includes more than all things mom-related.  These additional reasons deal not only with the messages we give our children through our life choices, but also with how we position ourselves to live.

6.  Children need to know that moms (and dads) wear many different hats. Today’s kids need to see that there are lots of things that mommy does in addition to being a mom, many by choice and some by default.  Just like the child is a son, a brother, a cousin, a student, a karate guy, and a baseball player, Mommy does lots of things too. She is a mommy, a wife, a daughter, a lawyer, an artist, and bike rider, and a gardener. Mommy is just one of the many things you do.

7.  Mommy likes all the things that she does. So often a parent answers the child’s complaint about Mommy going to work by saying, “I have to work” or “I wish I didn’t have to work.” While that may be the case for some, many moms actually like their work. Working in addition to her work as a mom is a choice, and the child needs to know that reality. What a good idea it is to raise children to look forward to their grown-up work, seeing it modeled as aget to and not a have to. The same goes for making the choice to go work-out or take a knitting class and leave the kids at home.  Mom has lots of things that she likes and chooses to do in addition to being a mom.

8. Cultivate the YOU who isn’t a mom. While it is easy to mold your life around your kids and their friends’ families, take pains to have a non-mom social life and do non-mom things. Maintain your BC (before children) and non-mom related friends—from work, from your past, from your own interests. Take that class, cultivate that hobby that always interested you. These people and interests will remind you of your identity separate from mom and will remain long after your 24/7 mommy hat gets put higher on the shelf.

My client could not answer my question, “What do you do for yourself?”  Don’t let that be you.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Mother's Day, What Dads Need to Know, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

The 5 Commandments of Fatherhood

By Gregory Keer

Ten years ago, I was getting woozy as I stared at the proof pages of a magazine I was editing. It was 4am. I had phoned my wife five times that night, promising to come home soon with each call. I really did love the work I was doing, but not seeing my kids for the  whole day left me feeling empty.

The worst of the calls involved hearing my newborn wailing in the background as my then four-year-old got on the line to say, “You’re not even going to cuddle with us tonight?

I had been prepared for missing an occasional night with my kids. I wasn’t equipped to miss the three I was absent for in that week alone. In just a few days, I had broken most of the important rules I set for myself as a father.

It took me a while to change my ways (and eventually get a different job). Not to sound too much like an infomercial, but I did it by coming up with “5 Commandments” that led me – and can help you — to the promised land of involved fatherhood.

1. You Shall Keep Your Promises to Your Kids

Too often, we worry that our employers or clients will fire us if we don’t put them first when they ask for more of our time than we expect. Even more often, we think that we can make it up to our kids for the occasions we break a promise to be home at a certain time or take them out to play catch. That thinking is wrong. The reality is that the employer or client usually won’t fire you if you set limits (often they respect you more). Your kids, on the other hand, will lose faith in you if it happens too often.

My youngest son used to hover around my home-office, waiting to play with me at my work cut-off time. After a run of days doing that, he stopped waiting and went to his room to play alone. When I was ready for him, he told me, “Daddy, I want privacy. Shut the door.” That hurt. So, now, I try to put work on hold and play with him, rather than miss my opportunities.

Keep your promise to your kid and you won’t regret it. You can always catch up with the client after bedtime or schedule another time to follow up. Use technology (emails and faxes) to work overtime for us and help keep our kids happy.

2. You Shall Not Beat Yourself Up

We can do all the right things and still seem to “fail” with our kids (like when we come home with a great Chinese food and our kids say they no longer like Chinese food). Children don’t give us grades or raises. So there really is no consequence for small mistakes other than their grumpiness. Roll with the punches. If you yell at them or come home late, don’t write yourself off for long. Get back on track because you’ll get a lot of extra chances.

I go through periods where I raise my voice to my kids too often at night. I feel awful, but I do it because I’m out of control. Rather than not deal with them and their frustrating bedtime ways, I work on my expectations and approaches, tinkering every night. I also accept small victories — I’m happy for the nights I don’t yell and even happier for the nights they do almost everything I ask.

3. You Shall Establish a Rhythm

If you don’t jog regularly, your muscles forget what they’re supposed to do and bark back in pain. Similarly, if you don’t keep up regular parenting activities, it’s hard to build much strength in the relationships with your children. Give yourself a few assignments per day that involve helping your kids and you will get in their daily rhythm. Strive to have moments with them morning, noon, and night.

Try serving breakfast each day or every other day, driving them to or from school regularly, and reading to them or checking their homework each night. If you leave before the kids go to school, put a note in their lunch or call them from work before they go. You can even email or text your older kids each afternoon, just to check in. Phone calls and emails do not replace being there, but they can certainly keep you more in the loop than if you disappear from their lives for the day.

4. You Shall Hug a Lot

Men are notoriously stereotyped as undemonstrative. That’s often correct. If you are this way, consider the cliché of a hug a day. Kids need touch for security and love. Getting a hug — maybe more than one and throw a couple of kisses in there, too — means so much to a child in a cold world. You are their reliable source for validation, so give it.

Here’s a simple idea: when you can’t think of anything to say or do with your child — whatever they’re age — give your child a hug. They may sometimes push you away — as my 10-year-old sometimes does, especially around his friends — but what counts is that they know what you mean and it means the world.

5. You Shall Take Time Off

Quality time is what matters. Being focused on nothing but your kids for more than a couple of hours allows you to know them in a well-rounded fashion. So take a vacation, at least two solid weeks a year. And take occasional days off, maybe even once a month. When my buddy Sang had his first child, he was working crazy hours and was stressed out over the fact that he couldn’t see his kid during the day except on weekends. I suggested he take one day off each month or every two months. I also recommended he run home for lunch once a week or twice a month. In the scheme of things, it’s not much time from work and — now that he does it — it means a lot to him to be with his child just a little more.

Honestly, it remains a challenge for me to follow these “commandments” to the letter, but it does help me to stay focused on some rules I truly believe in. Try some of these ideas our and/or make up some of your own. The important thing to remember is that there is no higher authority than your own fatherly voice that says the time you spend with your children is precious enough to set in stone.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Columns by Family Man, Perspective, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

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

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

Being There

By Gregory Keer

Lately, I’ve been teetering on a breaking point. Just last night, in the tiny bit of personal time I had to make notes for this column, there were relentless interruptions by kids who can’t sit next to each other without committing assault and battery, emails from work alerting me to additional classes I have to substitute for, and a dog with incontinence who needs to go out for the third time in an hour.

So when my wife asks me to switch with her this morning in taking the younger children to school, it’s just another crack in a week full of schedule-busters, including the toilet that won’t flush, the oven that won’t work, the lunches I forgot to pack the night before, the homework my eldest left at home that needs to be delivered to school, and the extra soccer practices for playoff games (am I the only parent who secretly roots for my kids’ teams to suck so the season ends on time?).

As I force-feed boys and backpacks into the car, a voice inside me whispers, “Run. Run very far away.”

I quiet the demon and take care of business. Five minutes into the ride, Ari (6) and Jacob (9) are actually following the car rules: no sudden or loud noises that might cause Daddy to drop his cell phone, orange juice, or notepad; and no hitting each other that would force Daddy to raise his voice and attract the attention of traffic cops who might frown upon the aforementioned phone, juice, and notepad.

Things continue to go well as we hit the final mile to school, a curvy jaunt through a tree-lined neighborhood, over numerous but gentle speed humps, and up a serpentine canyon road – the perfect stretch to realign Jacob’s inner ears.

“I’m not feeling well,” he says.

“Look out the front window so you can see the road,” I recommend, maintaining composure.

“I can’t,” Jacob moans. “I’m gonna throw up.”

“Not on me, not on me!” Ari cries out, cringing toward his door.

Hurriedly, I procure my beverage bottle. “Vomit in here. Don’t do it on the — ”

Too late. It’s all over the seat.

That earlier whisper pushes me closer to the edge.

“I gave you the bottle in time!” I yell.

“Eww! It’s sliding toward me!” Ari whines.

Grossed out, I pull up to the drop-off as a volunteer mom opens the car door. She looks at a green-around-the-gills Jacob and questions, “Is he going to school like that?”

“Yes,” I say firmly as I push the kids outside with the cars behind me honking insistently.

“Love you,” I shout as I drive off.

Within seconds, I suffer a barrage of guilt for having lost my composure, for not saying more comforting words, for not having parked the car and made sure Jacob would be OK. But the devil on my shoulder argues that I’m gonna have to clean the vomit, pick up those kids later, cook for them, get them to do their homework, plan their summer camp schedule, help with their college applications, pick out their wedding invitations — I really could speed far away from everything! Just leave the whole daddy package in the dust.

Then, the freeway congestion opens up and so does my mind. I won’t race off to an unfettered existence because, when all is said and done, what matters most in parenting is staying on the road well traveled. It’s rolling through everything from the car throws up to the MRIs for adolescent back ailments without taking the offramp.

In this new year, I resolve to take greater stock in the fortitude that keeps me coming back for more of this often grueling parenting endeavor. I truly feel that it’s no great shame to imagine life without the constant responsibilities children place upon us and it’s essential that we at least take breaks (date night, ball games with buddies, grown-up vacations) from the rigmarole for our sanity. But there’s great pride to be had in just showing up as a mom or dad, however imperfect we may be. Parenthood is more than a marathon; it’s a lifelong road trip that can bring subtle but powerful rewards if we allow ourselves to appreciate the power of just being there.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment