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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…

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What Dads Need to Know: The Long Ride Home

By Laura Diamond

The following is an excerpt from the journal about Laura Diamond’s cross-country experience with her husband and kids. You can read her entire travel journal at her Web site, linked below.

Moving from Stowe to Burlington, Vermont, meant moving up in population size from 5,000-ish to 40,000-ish. Like astronauts acclimating to earth’s gravitational pull after time in space, we were visiting increasingly larger places so that Los Angeles would not crack us upon re-entry.

Burlington, a bustling college town with views of Lake Champlain, was a boon to our license plate game.  Students gearing up for the start of classes at University of Vermont came from all over the country — Washington, Tennessee, Iowa, even California. Church Street Marketplace, several pedestrian blocks of stores and restaurants, was reminiscent of Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, minus the buskers. We walked along the bluffs of Lake Champlain, and could all but convince ourselves we were on Ocean Avenue looking at the Pacific Ocean, but for the minor fact of New York’s Adirondack mountains in the distance.  Our adjustment process was progressing.

Until we visited Shelburne Farms, a 1400-acre working farm, national historic site and nonprofit environmental education center located on the shores of Lake Champlain, which welcomes guests to milk a cow, gather eggs, watch cheese being made, and enjoy food grown on its grounds. Two steps back toward small town goodness.

We left Burlington loaded with goodies from Shelburne Farms’ gift shop – wine, maple syrup and chocolate – to enjoy and share with friends and family who would be hosting us on our path. We decided to skip Boston and gratefully accepted an old friend’s invitation to visit her in Amherst. It had been nearly twenty years since we’d seen each other. Among other things, one of the highlights of this trip was the chance to renew friendships, and inaugurate new ones between our families.

The next day, racing against Hurricane Irene’s arrival, we aimed to arrive in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania in time for dinner. The route we chose was, nonetheless, along a path less taken.

Forgoing speed, we charted a course through Redding, Connecticut in order to visit the setting of My Brother Sam is Dead, a book we were reading to delve into American revolutionary history while in that neck of the woods. (Teacher extraordinaire Mr. Miguel Espinoza had pointed the way to, which pointed the way to the places in the book, as did Redding’s own town website).

Despite initial griping, Aaron took the helm of the camera, and documented the places from the book, including gravestones of the real people we were reading about.

We continued on smaller roads, through New York towns like Chappaqua (of Clinton fame) and Tarrytown (of Washington Irving and Sleepy Hollow fame), crossing the Hudson at the Tappan Zee Bridge. We arrived in Washington Crossing in time for dinner with grandparents, aunt, friends and dogs, and hunkered down for Hurricane Irene. When the coast was clear, we bade farewell and set off to complete our journey.

The boys could smell home, just two days away. They’d had it with history. With sightseeing. They were done. But we had two days, and the wealth of potential activities in Washington, DC tormented me. How could we choose? Bicycle tour of the monuments; visiting the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; tour the Bureau of Engraving & Printing to see money being made, the International Spy Museum?! These were all on our list of want-to’s. But time ran out, and they’ll be on our list again next time.

We decided to venture past Washington, D.C. (okay, we accidentally went to Virginia while looking for parking near the National Mall – my fault), to visit the home of George Washington in Mount Vernon, and historic Alexandria, Virginia.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Mount Vernon. On the one hand, I was curious to see how the first President lived, see the faded wooden floors where he stood, the chair where he sat, the bed where he died. On the other hand, I was sickened by imagining the horror of being enslaved there, as I walked on the same paths as the human beings he dominated to keep his house painted, his chamber pots cleaned, his family well-fed and pampered. I looked at the massive stately tomb of the most revered American, knowing that paces away nearly 300 slaves were buried without so much as a gravestone.

So, that was fun.

We lightened things up later that afternoon in Alexandria, eating crepes outdoors by the Town Hall, cruising the Potomac, and browsing some of the 62 artists’ studios at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. We drove our rented Chevy over cobblestone roads past charming brick buildings. I soaked up the other-ness of it, anticipating the mini-malls and wide avenues of L.A. in my future.

The following day, our last full day of this summer adventure, we spent with friends at the Newseum, a gleaming treasure trove of history and temple to the First Amendment.

Here’s a place I could visit again and again. The kids were enthralled by “the Death Tower,” one of the checkpoints the museum had imported from East Berlin along with sections of the Berlin Wall. They listened with astonishment as to its purpose — for guards to see and then shoot fellow citizens trying to escape to the other side — and noted that the West side of the wall was painted with murals and graffiti, the East side was dismally blank.

In another exhibit, I listened to a radio report of Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1932 Berlin Olympics, then watched Tom Brokaw reporting the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everyone had a chance to try their hand as TV news reporters, joining their cross-country friends.

And then it was over.

We boarded an airplane headed for Los Angeles. On my right, the kids watched a Harry Potter movie for the tenth or twentieth time. On my left, Christopher read a magazine. In the middle, I typed these words. When we pulled up to the California grandparents’ home, they were waiting for us, along with the cousins and sister we’d missed more and more every day.

Everything is as it always was.

Thanks for reading.

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…

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What Dads Need to Know: The Labors of Dad

By Laura Diamond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Dads Need to Know: Overabundant Gushing

By Laura Diamond

It was a Sunday, filled with the promise of flaky warm croissants and bursting red strawberries. We walked toward the Farmer’s market in town, my younger son Emmett concentrating mightily on bouncing a ball. New and delicate stuff, this dribbling. The ball got away quickly; two or three bounces then he’s chasing it into the bushes. But he had decided that he liked basketball, and he was determined to figure this out.

I watched him retrieve the ball from the neighbors’ newly-planted pansies, and my every cell vibrated with the effort not to scoop him up, squeeze him and tell him he’s scrumptious. But I controlled myself.

I wish I had controlled the next impulse, which was to innocently bestow encouragement and praise: “You’ve really improved in basketball!” 

At once his face darkened and his spirit shriveled. He stopped walking, dropped the ball, crossed his arms, stared daggers at me and said through red teary eyes: “You hurt my feelings.” He resumed walking, but without the bounce and joy from before. “I wish you weren’t my mom. I wish you weren’t alive.” His words didn’t cut me nearly as much as knowing the depth of the hurt I’d caused him. 

Parenthood is too powerful; it’s so easy to screw up. With one well-intentioned sentence, you can shift a morning, change the hue of a day, sear an indelible memory. When I was a teenager, my dad used to joke whenever he’d do something odd or possibly irritating, “This isn’t going to send you to the psychiatrist’s couch years from now, is it?” I can still see his impish smile and hear his voice as he asked the question. Only now, through the lens of parenthood, I think I hear a pleading behind the laughter: “Please say I haven’t messed up too badly; please say you’ll weather my mistakes.”

When I was a new mother, with one fragile infant in my charge, I attended a weekly parenting class with religious devotion. Between sessions I’d collect my questions and concerns, desperate to have wise Tandy Parks weigh in. I still carry her advice with me, most of it embedded deeply in the whirls of my brain. But one piece of wisdom resides in the accessible upper reaches of gray matter. It is this: Children don’t need perfect parents; they need “good enough.” She was letting us off the hook for the mistakes we’d all make.

As for Emmett, there was nothing I could do or say to take back my unintentional wound. Only the sight of his older brother Aaron waving croissants from across the street lured him from his melancholy. Sampling the strawberries and oranges on the farmers’ tables took his mind off our sorrowful walk. By the time we headed home, arms laden with fresh goodies, I hoped he had forgotten. 

His face was calm as we neared our house. And then we got to the fateful square of sidewalk, next to the pansies, and he was reminded of what was said there an hour earlier. He stopped walking, his face fell, crushed anew by the memory of my words. Then he spoke, his voice a quiet mix of understanding and regret. “It’s okay that you said that, Mom.” 

I don’t know in what sense he meant it was okay. Okay, he forgave me? Okay, he’d still let me play with him, read him books, kiss and hug him as much as possible? Okay, he’s willing to overlook my flaws? Willing to accept his own? I knew better than to push for an explanation. I was just glad that he was talking to me again. 

A week later, walking home from school, he heard me tell the mother of two little girls racing past us in matching sparkly sneakers that they were “so cool.” His steady voice down by my hip said, so quietly that I had to ask him to repeat it, “How come you never say that me and Aaron are cool?” 

This can’t be. I am an effusive mom! I am, aren’t I? 

“I don’t?” I leaned down and asked him. 


He needed me to lay it on thick. “Well, I think you’re the coolest ever. Amazing and awesome and cool and wonderful. And I love you so much.”

And so he reminded me, again and again, that the little moments that constitute our days—the ones we don’t think twice about—are rich with meaning. Tonight at bedtime, after stories and kisses and hugs, I wished them sweet dreams and asked, “Did I tell you enough times today that I love you?” They sighed and rolled their eyes, but I saw the glimmer of contentedness on their faces as they relaxed into their pillows. I give thanks for the child who told me he needed more than I was giving. I give thanks for the teacher who said it is okay to make mistakes. I give thanks for parents who worried about the effects of their own mistakes. And I am a convert to the religion of overabundant gushing; I’m praying that too much will be enough.

Laura Diamond is the editor of Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, a collection of true stories about motherhood “that enlightens and inspires, evoking tears, laughter and, most of all, the YES of recognition.” More of Laura’s essays can be read at Laura Diamond Writes On…

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