Evil Dad

By Gregory Keer

Following is a Halloween column that scared up some laughs a few years back. It’s back to haunt you intrepid readers, once again. 

I don’t enjoy seeing car wrecks, reading about celebrity break-ups, or learning of the latest politician caught doing something illegal. But I do like witnessing other children behaving badly. I know it’s sinful, a little evil, even. That doesn’t stop the twisted inflation of my ego resulting from other parents having a similar or worse time than I usually have. Honestly, I do not wish misfortune on any parent — I just want to be there when it happens.

I didn’t always know I had this character flaw. For most of my fatherhood tenure, I’ve been too preoccupied to notice it while my own kids went through phases of throwing breakable items in grocery stores and telling friends that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. My youngest boy, Ari, may be my biggest troublemaker. At an amusement park, the other day, he thought it was hilarious to randomly swat other grown-ups while I carried him through the crowd. I’m pretty sure he would have laughed harder should I have been punched in the nose by one of his surprised victims.

Although I know that all children misbehave at times – and that pushing boundaries can be healthy, especially when the stakes are low at the younger ages — I worry about the judgments of others who might see me as an ineffective parent. I sometimes fantasize about turning into a Dickens character, pulling my kids by the collar, and growling at them in a cockney accent, “Mind your manners, my urchins. It’s not wise to make your father look poorly.” (Actually, I did that once and my kids laughed at me).

But a recent conversation has allowed me to embrace my vampire-like desire to feed off other parents’ misery. During a basketball game for my oldest son, I watched a father on the sidelines, trying to give advice to his eight-year-old kid, who responded with, “Why should I listen to you, Daddy? You stink at shooting!”

Then, my friend Adam, a master of the witty aside, leaned toward me and said, “There’s a column for you. Write about how much fun it is to see other parents suffer.” We spent the rest of the game recounting tales from the parenting dark side. When once, as younger men, we might have shot the breeze about girlfriends, pro sports, and bad job experiences, we were now reduced to cackling gossips.

I told the story of the panicked mom who scoured a zoo in search of her missing son. When she finally found him in the dimly lit reptile center, in which she had looked twice before, she screamed, “Why did you go in here alone?” The child responded with the classic, “I don’t know.” As Mom launched the rest of her tirade, I tried to conceal my grin as other people escaped the house of snakes and the nearby baboons screamed along with the poor mother.

We talked about the father who leaped out of the stands to accuse the opposing coach of letting his players hit baseballs at his son on the pitcher’s mound. The agitated dad was just trying to be protective, but the tantrum stood out during a tee-ball game among five-year-olds who could barely tap a stationary ball. We took glee in the pain of the dad who, after overhearing his child refuse to share any of his toys, announced, “We’re really nice people. Please don’t judge us by our son.” And, in one of the more ugly examples, I noted the wicked thrill of seeing another parent get chewed out because his son bit my son, and not the other way around.

I am not proud of my primal need to feel better about my own failures by recalling the difficulties of others, but it does remind me of how absurd it is to try living up to the expectations of calm and wisdom most of us place upon ourselves. As this Halloween approaches, I won’t need a costume or candy. I’ll be the Evil Dad, feasting on the treats supplied by parents trying in vain to keep their kids in line in the dark of the night.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Halloween, Humor, Parenting Stress | 1 Comment

Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews – October 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

LuckyDiazLishyLuJust because October is one of those months where time has been short for me doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few moments to tell you about some of the new music well worth your listening hours. Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band continue their dazzling run of releases with the retro variety-show styled Lishy Lou and Lucky TooWith their second album of the year, Recess Monkey’s 10th studio project is the laid-back Desert Island DiscNew Jersey-based musician Erik Simonsen’s new disc is E is for Erik, a family-music debut that comes with a coloring book inspired by songs such as “Dr. Seuss We Love You” and “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus.” Two other noteworthy CDs are Mister G’s bilingual ABC Fiesta and Josh & the Jamtones eclectic Bear Hunt!

Posted in Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Family Music Reviews | 1 Comment

Fids and Kamily Award Winners for 2013

2013FidsNow in its 8th year, the Fids and Kamily poll has announced its award winners for 2013. Justin Roberts and his Recess album took the top prize, followed by the latest work by Frances England and Alastair Moock. Once again, I was honored to join the group of children’s music reviewers whose votes were counted to make the list. One of the cool additions to this year’s poll is a rundown of first-time family music makers, including Cat Doorman Thank you, Stefan Shepherd of Zooglobble for having me along for this musical ride.

Posted in Blog, Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Family Music Reviews | Leave a comment

Stages

By Gregory Keer

Performer-IMG_4990Last January, my eleven year old tracked me down in my fortress of solitude, the bathroom, and launched into “Suddenly Seymour,” his audition tune for the public arts academy he desperately wanted to attend.

Despite all the love and support I harbor for my child, my reaction was swift as I cried, “Let me poop in peace!”

This sent Jacob into a fit of laughter before he collected himself and continued his song in complete ignorance of my compromised state.

By the time he hit his final note, I had long forgotten where I was or what I had intended to do there. I just applauded.

“That was the best I’ve ever heard you sing,” I told Jacob.

My son gave me hug, at which time reality hit me that I was sitting over a toilet bowl.

“Thanks, Dad, now I can let you poop in peace,” he laughed as he took off.

Whether he’s standing on bathroom tile or auditorium floorboards, my son loves the stage. It started early, when we took a three-year-old Jacob to see his older brother in a theater-camp production of The Sound of Music. We had to hold back the nascent thespian from leaping to join “Do-Re-Mi.” Even as Benjamin grew more self-conscious about performing, Jacob’s theatrical bug never stopped buzzing.

Sometimes, that buzzing got on our nerves. We were frequently torn between encouraging his creative, outgoing nature and protecting our senses from his often disastrous training. There were countless nights when he belted a medley of the Top 40 all day long, from every room in the house – and mostly off key. He didn’t know he was out of tune, nor did he care. He also had the habit of trying to force his vibrato to sound like Justin Timberlake – only he wasn’t Justin Timberlake.

There were the mornings we awakened thinking clowns were ransacking our home when it was just Jacob leaping around his room, rehearsing hip-hop moves he learned in his after-school program. On countless occasions, we sat with frozen smiles while we watched him do modern dance versions of movies like Iron Man 2.

There were all the elementary-school plays, the ones Jacob made us practice with him for weeks, even when he only had one line to say. Worse yet, given Jacob’s perfectionist streak, we endured his criticism of how we delivered our parts: “Daddy, I really think Zeus would sound much bolder than you’re saying it.” You know there’s something wrong when your eight-year-old makes you feel like you’ll never work in show business again and all you wanted to do was help him understand a Greek god’s emotional fragility.

As anxious as Jacob’s relentless practicing of his skills made us, nothing compared to how he felt every time he tried out for a part he didn’t get or was made fun of by peers who found his theatricality not macho enough. Each time this happened, Jacob would come home angry or in tears, and we would boost his ego for being brave enough to take risks. Yet it was mostly his own sense of resolve that motivated him to try all over again.

In this last year of grade school, all of Jacob’s practice seemed to pay off. After three years in the back of the chorus, he moved to the front because he had improved his vocal pitch. After years of musical instrument obscurity, he learned the ukulele and became a soloist at his graduation.

And after endless sessions spent rehearsing dance moves, song stylings, and acting chops, he auditioned for the performing arts academy with so few available spots and so many dreamers vying for them. Weeks later, the email came with the word “Congratulations” on it. Jacob shouted and jumped high, but landed soberly and said, “What’s for dinner?”

Who knows if this opportunity to learn in an arts program will lead to Jacob’s success on Broadway or in Hollywood? What I do know is that, as much as my son has learned to follow a passion, he knows that there’s more to life than a stage. More important than any lead part is that Jacob has learned about working hard, enjoying triumphs, and weathering fear and failure. He’s also learned to balance his theatrical pursuits with friends, family, and soccer, a game he still loves. These lessons will serve him as he makes the transition from the smaller elementary school stakes to the bigger ones in middle school and beyond.

As he takes on this next challenging phase of life, I am so very proud of my boy. So proud that I’ll let him interrupt my bathroom privacy any time he wants to break out into song.

For more on middle-school change, see Middle Earth.

Posted in Adolescence, Arts Education, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Creativity, Education, School, Tweens | 2 Comments

What Dads Need to Know: I Don’t Want to Go to School!

By Betsy Brown Braun

BraunNow that the school year has begun, it won’t be long before one morning you’ll awaken to the declaration, “I don’t want to go to school.” It’s a cry, actually more of a plea, which every parent is likely to face at least once, if not ten times, each school year.  It’s never music to your ears.

Not wanting to go to school for the younger child or proclaiming “I’m not going to school” for the older ones, can challenge even the most savvy parent.  How easy life would be if there were a one size fits all answer that you could whip out of your back pocket.  But the response to this showstopper will be different for every child.  It will depend upon your child, upon what’s going on in his life, and upon you and what’s going on in yours.

“I don’t want to go to school” seldom means just that. It is usually the tip of an iceberg.  There is either a need that is not being met or a cry for help about something. It is your job as parent to play sleuth and figure it what is really going on.

Here are a few tips for figuring out what’s behind “I don’t want to go to school.”

Ask yourself how long it has been since school began. It takes 6 full weeks for a child of any age to dig in and get comfortable in school.  Give it time before assuming the worst. The child may not have adjusted to a new schedule, may not know the ropes and feel overwhelmed, may still be in transition. Give it time.

It is not likely about school.  With preschool age children, the issue is often about separation. Learning to attend school without a parent is very different from being left at home with a sitter but without you. Remember, the process of separation can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. It takes time to form a trusting relationship with a teacher and to make new friends. Your child just might prefer to be home with you.

What is going on at home?  If grandma is visiting, if Mommy is taking a sick day, if little brother is having a playdate, if the workmen are at his house, the child might want to be at home where the action is.

Is she not well? Your child just might be coming down with something. You know that when you feel sick, your get up and go is gone!  But beware of the child who feigns illness to get out of school.

With elementary school age children, all of the above may be at the source, but any of the following may also be the cause:

Does your child feel that she doesn’t fit in?  As children mature, so too grows their social awareness and their need to fit in. Does she feel that she has no friends?  It’s no fun to go to school if you feel out of it or feel like you have no one with whom to eat lunch.

Friend trouble?  It can be difficult to face social issues. Things that you might brush off can deeply affect a child and make staying home a much more appealing option.

Is there teasing or bullying going on?  You’ll have to do a lot of fishing, as it can be hard for children to ask for help with teasing or bullying. Elementary school age children often think they should be able to tolerate or solve these problems, but they can’t. Staying home enables the child to avoid them all together.

Is the course material too difficult?  Fear of failure is enough to make a child want to stay home. And her pals’ awareness that she is having trouble makes it even worse.

Is your child bored…really bored?  There are some students who are just that advanced. Without a challenge or new material, school can be pretty dull. Teacher trouble? The child who has gotten in trouble, has had a consequence imposed, is embarrassed to be outted, just may not want to go to school and face the music.

With middle and high school age children, all of the above may apply, but in addition:

Social issues are the number one cause of a child refusing to go to school.  There can be bullying or teasing on the campus or via cyberspace.

Genuine fatigue can be debilitating.  Teens need much more sleep than their interests and life styles allow them.  You child may be exhausted. Period.

The method for uncovering what is underneath your child’s school refusal will be different for every child.  What is the same, however, is every child’s need to be heard, acknowledged, and understood.  That is the first step in solving the problem.  When the child knows that his feelings and problems are heard, he will be much more open to brainstorming about a solution.

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 Child Development, Education, Featured Moms & Dads, School, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews – September 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Swedberg imagesOur October reviews begin with one nutty and wonderful project by Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. Led by the singing and ukelele-playing Swedberg, who made a comic name for herself as George Costanza’s Seinfeld fiancee, My Cup of Tea brims with whimsy and theatricality. Among the sparklers of the thirteen tracks are “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Istanbul” (a reworking of the classic They Might Be Giants piece), and “Boogie Man.” Swedberg and her band are having so much fun making great music, it’s hard not to get caught up in it — and claim this is one of the year’s best musical surprises.

SS BROOKLYN_COVER (1)Already known as a kindie music innovator with the Deedle Deedle Dees, Lloyd H. Miller steps into the spotlight with S.S. Brooklyn. Marked by a stripped-down production, with the help of producer Dean Jones, to let Miller’s messages and musicianship breathe, the disc centers on the creativity and history of the New York borough of Brooklyn. In fact, this collection rises from the number of Sing Along With Lloyd performances Miller has done to support Brooklyn in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Good intentions meet good performances on such tunes as “I’m Gonna Light Up the World,” “Working on a Bridge,” and “Big Trip.”

Palindrome imagesSmiley Face Sticker is the debut project of the witty wordsmith who calls himself Mr. Palindrome (real name: Natan Kuchar). Based in Australia and educated at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mr. Palindrome makes some nifty tunes out of a lot of nonsense through the title track and songs such as “Backwards Alphabet,” “Alove Alliteration,” and “Onomatopeia (On-O-Mat-A-Pee-Yah).” Listening and playing along with the verbal gymnastics should be great fun for parents and pre-school to early grade-school kids.

Ohmies imagesWith its mission to inspire greater “physical health and overall well-being” in preschool-aged children, the Ohmies is a live stage show and a developing TV series from creators Laurie Miller and Ben Tollefson. Character-driven music from their show is now on record, produced by Tor Hyams, and includes the movement motivating “We’re the Ohmies,” “Wag Your Tail,” and “So Much Fun Together.”

Other discs notable for this rundown of children’s music reviews include new releases from prolific performers. One the groundbreakers of family music, Tom Chapin, delivers The Incredible Flexible You, a masterfully crafted project with songs aimed at helping children with the ins and outs of social interaction. And Chris Ballew, known to a legion of children and parents as Caspar Babypants, makes the Beatles catalogue his sandbox for Baby Beatles. Ballew is both faithful and playful as he reinvents this tunes for young ears.

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Family Man Joins Life of Dad for Dads Doing Good Video

I had an amazing time working once again with director David Guest from Life of Dad for an installment of their Dads Doing Good video series, sponsored by Honda. In this video, we transported a bunch of materials and equipment in two spiffy Honda Odysseys to a baseball field in Hawthorne, California. There, David, contractor Ken Pepper, and a bunch of dedicated coaches/dads went to work improving a Little League Baseball field. Along with help from the kids at the Holly Park Little League and a film crew (including my own 15 year old son), we spent the day refurbishing a backstop, painting and putting up safety boards along the bottom of the fences, and installing a new pitching mound and pitcher’s rubber. We also presented the hard-working kids with new bats, balls, and helmets. What was especially impactful was getting to know the number of league coaches, who talked about giving back to their community as fathers and role models as they teach the kids to pitch, hit, throw, catch, and run. The video below tells the rest of the story in ways words just can’t convey. Special thanks for Tom Riles and his crew at Life of Dad for including me on this project.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Blog, Family Man Recommends, Film, LifeofDad.com, Sports, Video | Leave a comment

Inspiring School Success

By Gregory Keer

Homework imagesOne of the more prevalent questions by parents is: How can I make my child care about doing well in school? This is an age-old question, and one I deal with every day as a teacher. My only problem with this inquiry is when it comes from overly intense parents of children in their early years of grade school or even preschool. Seriously, no college is going to worry about a kid’s performance in elementary school. However, it’s healthy to lay the foundation for school success, as long as you manage your expectations and remain aware that too much pressure can backfire, either by making a child move further away from wanting to do well or becoming a perfectionist).

Here are a few ideas to start in the right direction.

Instill Your Philosophy on Academic Responsibility. Good grades are, in large part, a reflection of responsibility. You want your child to try his or her best by doing homework on time and completely, setting aside time to study each day, and behaving well in class. Discuss these expectations with your child and praise them for being responsible more than for acing their classes. With your child, work on a homework schedule for each day. Even in elementary school, an assignment book is helpful in setting up good habits and allowing a student to check off what they’ve done so they can see their progress. Remember, the key here is that you’re stressing effort, not grades. Results will come, eventually, but the work habits and sense of accountability are most important at this age.

Go Shopping! A few years back, the office supply company Staples ran a commercial that featured a parent dancing around the aisles of supplies to the tune of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The humor might be that the parent is just glad to get the children into school after a long summer of trying to keep the kids entertained. But there is a certain joy in getting new school stuff. The truth is that most of us still love buying supplies, including our kids. Go shopping — with a budget of course — and help your children stock up on everything they need to get their work done. Homework is not so bad if you’ve got cool pens, pencils, folders, and tape dispensers.

Model Your Beliefs. Show your son or daughter that you walk the walk. If you do any work at home, try doing it in the same room with your child, or at least the same time. Perhaps you can talk about something you think is a really hard task that you’ll just have to do your best on. Also, consider telling your child stories about your own school experiences, such as how hard you worked to do well in some area — but also how you didn’t earn high grades in others, despite trying hard.

Play to Your Child’s Interests. In addition to their reflection of responsibility, good grades are a function of motivation — kids do well at what they like. You can instill in your child a deeper love for learning by playing to her interests. Take her on field trips related to what she’s into, and praise her for her passions. In this way, you support your child’s individuality and may indirectly help the passion to spill over into other subjects.

Offer Incentive. Some folks offer money, gifts, and candy in exchange for school success. Frequently, this kind of motivation works – in the short term. But if you’re looking for ways that are a bit longer lasting, you need to reinforce that hard work and achievement are their own reward. Praise your child to your spouse, to his siblings, and to his grandparents when he finishes a tough project. Tell your child how proud you are of his efforts. Daily affirmations of a job well done are important. But don’t overdo it, since you want to allow his sense of inner pride to develop as well.

Know your child.  Remember that every child learns differently. Some children have to work twice as hard to earn a C as the child who gets an A every time.  Some kids learn slowly, and need to take their time. Others click with math, but not languages. Understand and accept your child’s weakeness as well as strengths, and don’t compare him to his older (or younger) brother or sister, his best friend or the neighbor’s kid. Learning is not a competitive sport. Instead, provide as much support as you can. If certain learning approaches don’t work, seek alternatives. Be patient but firm, and you’ll see progress that is even more satisfying to your child than it is to you.

For more things to think about to set your kids up for success, see Birthday Cutoffs.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Education, School | Leave a 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 gregory@familymanonline.com 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

Family Man Recommends: Children’s Music Reviews – August 2013

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

TroutWe drop our line of music reviews into the water with Trout Fishing in America, whose 16th album of wordplay and music whimsy comes out shortly. Keith Grimwood (the less-tall one who plays basses and warbles) and Ezra Idlet (the very tall one who performs on guitars and sings) have a bottomless well of enthusiasm for the genre of family music, as the dozen songs on Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers proves. Tongue twister tunes like the title track, story songs such as “The Late, Great Nate McTate” (one of my favorites from anyone this year) and “My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend,” and true-to-kids’-lives pieces including “Don’t Touch My Stuff” are all imbued with earthy folk-rock strains and sing-along charm. This is a sit down and listen treat to interact with and talk about with the kids.

FrancesEnglandFrances England is one of those artists I could listen to with or without the kids. On her new release, Blink of an Eye, England’s honeyed vocals wash over songs filled with keen observations that capture the wonder of life at a more in-the-moment pace. Produced by Dean Jones, the new album skews a little older to match England’s own kids’ ages, but maintains the clear, poetic themes of family life she has touched on over her previous work. The title song, with its message about the brief-but-precious nature of childhood, features fellow musical angel Elizabeth Mitchell, “Bicycle Built for Two” has England duetting with the wondrous Molly Ledford in a 10,000 Maniacs-sounding track, and “Little Wings” beats energetically with the support of Caspar Babypants. England has made a gorgeous record, filled with superb songcraft and parental wisdom.

dZeM_TurnTurnADV_coverDan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell, with Mitchell’s band You Are My Flower, carry us down a sparkling river of American roots music on Turn Turn Turn. As always, these two titans of kindie music make each song feel like it’s being performed in a living room or backyard. Strumming strings and singing together, Zanes and Mitchell interpret old beauties, including “Turn Turn Turn” (by Pete Seeger), “Wim Wam Waddle,” and “Sail Away Ladies.” The collaboration also brings to life such originals as Zanes’s “Now Let’s Dance” and Mitchell and sister-in-law Anna Padgett’s “Honeybee.” The only thing better than hearing this collaboration on record is seeing them live on tour.

A couple of other notable releases of late include Gratitude Attitude, a thanks-themed collection from the Best Foot Forward series. The album features songs from Debbie and Friends, Bill Harley, and Cathy Fink, among others. Music therapist and musician Jeffrey Friedberg has assembled an eclectic crew of performers for 15 Songs Every Kids Should Know AboutThis is a great group of tunes for preschoolers as it runs the gamut from a Cajun version of “Shoo Fly” to a rockabilly treatment “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

For more of the latest children’s music reviews, mosey on over here.

Posted in Children's Music Reviews, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Family Music Reviews, Music | Leave a comment