Fatherhood is…wait, holy shit. I have the top story on Huffington Post Parents.
Hot damn. I’ve done it. I’ve officially aspired to the highest heights of the blogging world…I’m a Huffington Post Blogger.
Me, Alec Baldwin, and Wyclef Jean: Brothers in Bloggerhood 4eva!
I’m gonna have a drink over lunch, and toast to all of you—the fine folks who read me before the Huffington Post started linking the shit out of my content. Cheers!
(Here’s a link to the actual post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-brown/stay-at-home-dads_b_1453744.html?ref=parents.)
On Easter Sunday, my five-month-old twins were baptized in the Catholic Church. This is a big deal for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact I basically consecrated them to a god I’m not even sure exists. And yet, despite my skepticism, I have no regrets.
I haven’t always been incredulous of Christianity, mind you. Quite the opposite. As an adolescent, I was a Bible thumper. I never would have called myself that at the time; naturally, I considered it a pejorative. And while in retrospect I still do, I understand how painfully accurate a description it was. I was a hand waving, prostrate praying, praise and worship junkie. I had been called into the ministry, served as the leader for our Youth Drama Team, and was well known among a church membership numbering over 2,000.
My memories of those days dwell in a menagerie of affection and chagrin. I imagine that’s true for a lot of folks who grew up in similar ecclesial communities. Charismatic churches with rock bands and weekly altar calls can be emotional playgrounds for the faithful. But when one falls off the monkey bars, it’s a long way down.
Doubt is a curious thing, isn’t it? It can be beaten back, but it can never be fully stamped out. Some Christians will tell you a modicum of doubt is a healthy part of faith. And I’d agree. A faith untested is a weak faith indeed, but doubt is also like a cancer. I hate to use that analogy because it unfairly maligns doubt as something destructive. Perhaps it is; it certainly felt that way for me as a senior in high school when I began doubting certain doctrines of my church—mostly the
miraculous magical bits. I endeavored to reason these doubts away. But fighting doubt with reason, I found, is like putting out a fire with matches.
It wasn’t long before I left for college. And the more I learned there, the less I felt like I knew God. Within a couple of years, he had gone from being an omniscient father with whom I had daily conversations, to a vestige of man’s early understanding of the universe.
I remember sitting in an anthropology class one morning as a junior. The professor, an eclectic woman by any measure and a perennial favorite among the student body, was discussing the role of folklore and mythology in shaping world religions. In the middle of her lecture, she paused, disconnected from the material, and quietly observed: “I don’t know how anyone could be a student of anthropology and still have uncompromising faith in their own religion.” It wasn’t meant to disparage the churchgoing students in the room; I don’t even think it was meant for anyone other than her. But it meant a lot to me, and it still does.
I wish I had the faith I did at 16, but my head won’t get out of my heart’s way. I suspect that’s probably for the best. So why then submit my children to a belief system that I find mostly unbelievable? The answer is simple, a modicum of faith is a healthy part of doubt.
Just as I could never be a fundamentalist Christian, I could never occupy the opposite end of that spectrum either; I find atheism and Christian fundamentalism equally arrogant. While one ideology professes to know the true nature of God, the other professes to know that God has no nature at all. Both require an astounding leap of faith to traverse the gap between what is actually known and what isn’t. As I see it, the best thinkers are the ones who never stop questioning—who can’t stop, because of a niggling notion that there’s always something more to be known.
I hope my children recognize faith and doubt each as positive expressions of the human condition, and that neither are mutually exclusive. In order to do that, I have to allow them the opportunity to explore teachings with which I may not wholly agree. One day, Greyson and Charlotte will be old enough to form their own beliefs, but until then, it’s my job to read them the menu. It’s why Ashley and I deliberately chose four godparents who represent differing religious perspectives; only one is a practicing Catholic.
Eventually, our spiritual horizons may broaden. Maybe we’ll visit mosques, synagogues, and temples. But that’s some years down the road. There’s a fine line between raising critical thinkers and confusing young children. I want them to experience the faith of a child, to understand how powerful it can be. But I want them to learn discernment as they grow into young adults.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in his letter to the church at Corinth. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” The Corinthian Christians didn’t accept the resurrection story nor did they believe in the symbolic sacrifice of the crucifixion. In context, Paul’s counsel was meant to encourage them to grow stronger in their faith…to be less childlike in their pursuit of Christ. However, out of context, the irony is exquisite (and equally valid).
If my children grow up to be keepers of a faith, I hope it’s a faith mitigated by doubt. If my children grow up to be disciples of doubt, I hope it’s a doubt tempered by faith. But my greatest hope is that whatever their beliefs, they aren’t handed down by someone else—including me.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 4: Endurance.
When you’re a stay-at-home parent, some days are good, and some days are bad. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you find yourself when the sun goes down, every day is exhausting. More often than not you’ll find yourself living for bedtime. But the sun, as they say, is gonna come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that when you see that toothless smile in the morning, you’ll forget how hard the rest of your day is going to be.
Don’t worry. You’ll remember.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 2: Enthusiasm.
Here’s a fun fact: the ancient definition for ‘enthusiasm’ describes inspiration or possession by a god. An enthusiast, then, is in communion with a higher power—a force greater than himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, the force was strong with me that first Monday of stay-at-home fatherhood.
By the time Ashley came home from work, I had done three loads of laundry, written a blog post, gone to Wal-Mart, had dinner on the stove and a glass of wine on the table. I was parenting with the force of a thousand Danny Tanners.
When push comes to shove, dads get excited. I think it’s the challenge. We have this innate do or die mentality that drives us to succeed on the court, behind a desk, or in the nursery. Does it get harried at times? Yeah, when you’re watching two babies for ten hours you have to anticipate the inevitable. There were tears, poop, and spit-up…and then the babies had problems of their own. But we dealt with them. And we is the operative word here.
For the first time “we” meant just Greyson, Charlotte, and Daddy. Instead of pitting myself against two temperamental infants, we banded together. Team Dad. Babies aren’t challenging; it’s all the shit you have to do for them that makes fatherhood onerous. And once I realized that, being a stay-at-home dad became a cooperative endeavor. Wet diapers: we changed ‘em. Hungry tummies: we fed ‘em. ABC’s: we sung ‘em (slightly out of key).
No doubt about it, I was a really good dad that day. And the proof was in the kiss my wife gave me when she walked through the door. “I wish you were the nanny all the time,” she said.
Fatherhood is prioritizing at the expense of your daddy blog.
My wife is a middle school teacher—the unenviable occupation of adolescent wrangling. Depending on which student you ask, he or she will tell you that Ashley is the bee’s knees or a pain in the ass. (Good teachers know both are compliments.) But sometimes, a student will tell you that my wife “has swag.” And he’ll do it at my expense.
Last week, posts on Fatherhood Is ground to a sudden halt. Why? I took a week-long position as a stay-at-home dad while our nanny was out of town. To date, I’ve held only a handful of jobs, but being the solitary caregiver for two four-month-olds was officially the hardest of them all. Seriously, stay-at-home parents who do this on the regular deserve a goddamn medal, or better yet…a cape—cut from the finest cotton polyester blend and adorned with rhinestones. You all would wear that, right?
In any event, the joke in Ashley’s classroom was that she had swag because, when push came to shove, she went to work like a baller and left me at home with the babies. As you can see from the accompanying illustration, I apparently sucked at it. But I shouldn’t get too worked up. If I took everything in this picture literally, I’d be Mr. Fantastic and Ashley would be a stoner hippy with a goatee and six fingers.
But more to the point, I was essentially pulling two shifts every day. 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.—stay-at-home dad. 9:00 p.m. to 1 a.m.—multimedia designer. It was fun work made grueling by the dual responsibilities and sleep deprivation. I survived, but my blog died. So to resuscitate it, I’d like to announce a five-part series reflecting on my experience as a stay-at-home dad. It’s called “The 5 Stages of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood.”
The first stage is “Hesitation.” More tomorrow…
When performers want to elevate themselves above their critics, they need only go on the record with one sentence: “I don’t read the reviews.” It’s a lie, but it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the fact they aren’t universally treasured.
One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I gave my son his first giggles. He gave me five stars, two thumbs up, and generated a good deal of buzz about me around the house. I was sure his twin sister would be equally enamored by my performance. She was not.
Here’s a list of people who have made Charlotte giggle: her mother, her grandmother, her aunt. Notably absent is her convivial father who’s been known to turn many a giggle box upside down with his irreverent and unfiltered, self-deprecating humor.
I’ve got a couple of theories on this. Either A.) my daughter is an ardent sexist who finds men mostly intolerable, or B.) she has no taste. Now look, I’m not saying these three women aren’t entertaining in their own right…but c’mon…I’m her dad. I invented the “insert feet in mouth, get giggles" routine.
It’s as if Armond White and my daughter share the same contrariant soul—bitterly hating on all things wondrous and universally admired while venerating mediocrity. (Armond White is the infamous New York Press film critic who robbed Toy Story 3 of its 100% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes while giving thumbs up to films like Mr. 3000, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and Battle: Los Angeles.) It’d be fine, but I recently discovered that my four-month-old daughter is a published entertainment critic herself. Here’s an excerpt from her latest column:
It’s clear from the overstated smile Daddy flashes in our presence that he wants us to find him amusing. But it’s this same toothy grin that makes us find him mildly irritating. Perhaps if he spent more time making “NOMNOMNOM” sounds on our tummies instead of begging us for giggles like an out-of-work comedian, we’d find his routine a bit more droll. As it is now, he lacks the je ne sais quo we’ve grown to appreciate from more adept grownups like Mommy, Maw-Maw, and Aunt Kayla.
Whatever. I don’t read the reviews.
I have a stack of parenting literature—each book with a pristine spine—gathering dust on my bookshelf. So don’t think the irony is lost on me when I say: “Holy crap! I’m officially a blogger for WhatToExpect.com, the companion site to the most commonly read pregnancy guide in the world. GR*TEST DAY EVA!1”
For my first foray into the professional blogosphere, I’ve decided to write about my living room being annexed by the nursery. It’s a moving narrative about a man, his loveseat, and the two tiny despots who threatened to tear them apart. Click the link above to read the account then share the living hell out of it.
The typewriter was invented in the mid-19th century, but hobbled by a design flaw that caused the machine to jam when two adjacent keys were struck back-to-back. The fix was to separate commonly paired letters so that speedy typists wouldn’t trigger a lockup. T and H were strategically repositioned as were I and N, and E and R. It’s why we have the QWERTY keyboard today despite its obsolescent layout. What was once a workaround is now the preference.
I know this is a strange way to say it, but I’m a QWERTY dad.
My father broke his neck in a diving accident when I was eight years old, and from that moment on, all the hugs we could have hoped to share were lost. He couldn’t move from the shoulders down and could only feel from the chest up.
Life was a constant exercise in patience. He spent a lot of time in a hospital bed, propped up by pillows, just waiting. He was waiting to fall asleep, waiting for his nurses, waiting for pressure sores to heal. Just waiting. There wasn’t much room, but as a kid, I would climb in that narrow bed next to him, lay my head on his chest, and wait too.
I can’t imagine how badly he wanted to wrap his arms around me. I can’t imagine because every time I see my boy, it’s the first thing I want to do. But my father didn’t forfeit his affections. With all the effort he could muster, my dad would delicately brush his face against my hair, doing the work his fingers were meant to do.
I never really gave it a lot of thought until a few days ago when it occurred to me that I’ve been doing the same thing with Greyson and Charlotte. Whenever I have one of them on my lap, I’ll brush my cheek, my lips, or my chin through their hair, occasionally dropping a kiss at their forehead. It’s as close to putting them in my heart as I can manage.
I’m sure I’m not the only dad who does this. But I like the narrative. I like the idea that my father could only feel me when he touched me with his face, but now—as a father myself—all I want to do is put my face against my babies and breathe. What was once a workaround is now the preference.
When Ashley gets home from work, she usually spends a few minutes with Joan, our nanny, to swap stories on the twins. It’s pretty mundane stuff that comes across less like anecdotes and more like game stats: FED% (number of ounces consumed divided by the number offered); MIC (minutes in crib); TF (technical foul—the number of times a baby pooped or peed on the supervising adult).
That being said, sometimes the stories are comic gold. A couple days ago, Ashley shared the following nugget with Joan:
"It was so funny last night. I was wiping Greyson’s bottom and he giggled. And I said, ‘Whaaaaat?!’ So I wiped again and he giggled again. It was really cute."
It’s not a funny story; it’s only kind of cute. There are episodes of Full House that would seem raunchy by comparison, yet Joan was in stitches. Perhaps she was laughing politely and just oversold her amusement. At least that’s what I would’ve assumed if I didn’t know the truth.
She wasn’t laughing at Ashley’s story so much as she was her watered down retelling of it. You see, Joan had already gotten the actual account that morning…from me:
"So, I’m in the kitchen fixing some bottles last night, and I hear Ashley call out from the nursery—totally deadpan, ‘Well, I found your son’s new ticklish spot.’
"And I say, ‘Oh yeah? What’s that?’
Fatherhood is coming home for the ‘Mommy and Baby Show.’
Ashley leaves for work at 7:00 and comes home at 5:00—a long day of mutual yearning that evaporates the instant she walks through the door. After that, it’s the Mommy and Baby Show. Admission is free as long as I leave work on time to get a seat. And why wouldn’t I? It’s a daily tour de force performance of laughter, love, and the occasional toot.