Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sometimes You Just Have To Jump

"Now's a good time to introduce the band; 'bout as good a time as any..."

When is the right time to make a life-changing decision?  Some of them are made in a chronological fashion and tend to follow a natural progression - decide if/where to go to college, decide whether or not to take a job, decide to get married, have kids, etc.  When is the right time to leave a job that you really enjoy doing where you have great colleagues and an incredibly supportive work environment?  Good question.   

There were a number factors at play in my personal decision to leave my job.  It was actually a decision that we (my wife may disagree with the use of that pronoun) made before we found out we were expecting baby number three.  For a while I had wanted to find a way to spend more time with our kids.  On workdays, I would often drop them off at daycare at 7:30am and pick them up at 5/5:30pm in the afternoon.  I know this is pretty much commonplace for two income households, and some people see their kids even less during the workday.  But to me, nearly 50 hours a week seemed like a long time for our kids to be at daycare.

Not that we were unhappy with the childcare we had.  The center our kids were at was awesome - the staff were intelligent and engaging, our kids learned a ton, and it was really close to our house.  I just wanted to find some middle ground.  Given the good environment and the things our kids were being exposed to through their childcare, I was hesitant to take them completely out of that setting.  I often thought, if they stayed home with me all day, they'd be bored out of their minds.

It also wasn't the case that I was unhappy with my employment situation.  I had a good job working with some incredible people at an amazing institution. Together, my wife and I made enough for us to pay for a good daycare and still put some money away.  But, I knew there was a shelf life to my job.  I couldn't do it forever and I had no interest in moving up in the department.  I was also starting to realize that the things I needed to do to be successful in my job were starting to directly conflict with the things I wanted to do to feel successful as a parent.  Internally, I never felt like I was putting in enough time at either place, work or home.  Oddly, I was feeling a greater sense of accomplishment doing seemingly mundane household tasks - laundry, cleaning, etc, than I was fulfilling my obligations at work.  Something had to give.

At a weekly meeting with my boss in March, I told her that I was going to be done.  No contingency plan, no other job lined up - sometimes you just have to jump.  Well, actually, I told her that I would stay on until the end of August.  Summer is the busiest time of year for our department, and it would allow some time for them to find a replacement and me to figure out what my next move might be.  It would also be five years in August that I had been at my job and I'd be leaving on my own terms, good terms, which seemed like an appropriate time to move on.  So, I didn't necessarily run to the cliff and jump, as much as I did camp out at the edge and wait for favorable weather before jumping.

"Ah, might as well jump"
Irregardless, my decision came as a surprise to a lot of people.  Especially when I told them that I had no idea what I was going to be doing after I left.  A lot of people asked if I was going to stay home with the girls.  Early on, my response was that I didn't know and if I didn't find anything, that would always be an option.  Secretly, I think I kind of hoped that would turn out to be the case.  When we found out toward the end of April that we'd be welcoming a third little one to the family in early January, it seemed considerably more definite that this would be the case.  Of course we had to wait until mid-June to reveal the news of our expansion.

My wife and I had always kind of joked that someday I'd probably become a stay at home dad.  I think she often mentioned it in jest to gauge my reaction and see if I would really be open to it.  With two under five and one more on the way, it became pretty apparent that if we were ever going to try it with one of us staying at home, now was going to be the time.  Financially and logistically, it was always going to be me.  My wife makes at least three times what I made and had a considerably better schedule.  Emasculating?  Honestly no, but I'll elaborate more on that in a follow-up post.

So we (or I) made a decision.  Was it a good one or a bad one?  I guess we'll see - so far good, but it's still early.  Good or bad, it was the right time to make that decision.  If it turns out to be a bad decision, then we'll figure things out from there.  My Mom always told me, "you get to choose"; referring to the direction in which your life goes.  Luckily, I was born and raised in an environment where that is the case.  I've had support along the way and continue to receive incredible support as I figure out parenthood, and just life in general.  I know that when I jump, there is a solid chance I'm going to fall, but I've got family and friends that will help me get back up.

That's what I'm most thankful for in my life.  The people that surround me, because they are amazing.

You may have seen this already, but I think it is worth sharing again - a snip-it from Jim Carey's Commencement Address at Maharishi University (watch from 10:18 to 12:18 at least).  My buddy Frank shared this video and succinctly put it; pretty profound for someone who rose to prominence talking out of his ass (literally).  You can fail at anything.  Might as well take a chance on something you love.  Are you doing something that is worthy of your time?  You get to make that choice.

Three incredible ladies who are always worthy of my time.
Luckily they think I'm worthy of their time too.

Stolen Quotes:
Subtitle courtesy of Bob Dylan between-song banter at a concert at the Xcel Center; retold to me by a good friend who attended the show.  He said it was one of the most random things he'd ever heard.  Classic Dylan.

First photo caption courtesy of Van Halen's "Jump" (obviously).


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Doin' Work

This weekend I received a Daddy Doin' Work wristband from Doyin Richards, author of the blog and recently released book, Daddy Doin' Work.  I finished Doyin's (pronounced Doe-ween) book last week, and sent him a quick comment thanking him for the his thoughts and giving some of my own personal takeaways after reading it.  To my pleasant surprise, he emailed me a very personal response the very next day thanking me for my comments (and reading the book) and inquiring how he could send me a DDW wristband - he even followed up to make sure I received it.  Pretty awesome, I thought, for a nationally recognized author.
If you get a chance to read the book or check out the blog, I would highly recommend it.  It's a great read for fathers, mothers and anyone else who may be concerned about the state of a father or mother.  If the book/blog sounds familiar, Doyin was featured on numerous news shows after a photo he posted on his blog of himself doing his oldest daughter's hair while he had his youngest daughter in a baby ergo/baby bjorn.  The photo went viral for all of the right (praise and admiration) and wrong reasons (racist and sexist comments).

I've read quite a number of books about parenting in the lead up to becoming a parent and now that I am a parent (and not just the "What to Expect" series).  Here are a few additional ones I'd recommend:

Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary - this one is laugh out loud funny.  It will likely also make you cry.  If you read one "self humor" book about being a new parent in the 21st century, read this.

All Joy No Fun by Jennifer Senior - this one is a little more social-sciency, but since I'm into that sort of thing, I really enjoyed it.  Has some pretty thought provoking observations.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl by Brian Klems - if you have girls, especially more than one (which I do), this one is a great read.

One Year Off by David Cohen - I like to travel and I want to travel with my kids.  This book was inspiring and will probably need to be reread a half dozen more times to ensure that I actually follow through with my ambitious family travel goals.

How to fit a Car Seat on a Camel - edited by Sarah Franklin - a collection of laugh-out loud stories about traveling with children.  I read this when we were expecting, as I was convinced that having kids would not slow down our desire to travel (both of our children have yet to be on a plane or venture further than Wisconsin or Missouri.....).  If I reread it now, I'm sure the stories would become exponentially more humorous.

If you have any good parenting reads, feel free to leave a comment below.

This will be a good reminder of what I need to do each day.


Friday, November 21, 2014

11/19/2010 - The Day S*** Got Real

Ready Or Not, Here I Come

On Wednesday, we celebrated a huge day in our household. Four years ago on November 19th, my wife, Jess, celebrated her 27th birthday by giving birth to our first child, Isla (think island without the 'nd'). This obviously means that on Wednesday we were celebrating Isla's 4th birthday, and my wife's, well, I'll let you do the math.

What a great birthday present, right? Share a birthday with your first baby, and a girl at that! Jess has certainly warmed up to it and been incredibly selfless at making the day about our daughter. But spending her birthday in labor for 12+ hours was probably not at the top of her to do list on that day. Irregardless of the day and the fact that she was two weeks early, we were completely overjoyed to have a healthy baby when it was all said and done, along with a pretty smooth and uneventful delivery.

My wife and I discovered we were expecting our first child somewhat unexpectedly. In hindsight, this was probably the best possible way we (definitely me) could have welcomed a child into this world. When my wife told me she was pregnant, my first response, literally, was, “how?” We hadn't actively been trying to conceive, which is something I've always found a little odd for people to say. To me, the notion of "trying to conceive a child" conjectures up images of people having sex in the most fertilization-friendly positions at the optimal times designated to increase the chance of a spermatozoa penetrating an egg patiently waiting inside the uterus. Sounds kind of like a science experiment, and I'm certain it has never resulted in a female orgasm.

It’s not that I was ever anti-kids, it’s just that I never really considered myself “pro-kids”. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise in my early 20s, I always figured I’d have kids eventually, like most people do. I just never really felt that calling to have kids, like some people do. If I had kids, great. If not, also great. In that regard I was somewhat indifferent. Jess and I had just gotten settled into our careers, so to find out that our lives were going to be drastically changing in less than nine months, prevented us from having that intense conversation about when we thought we should start a family. Now we just had to be ready. It also proved that you can't believe everything Toby Keith sings about.

I was still relatively suspect of my wife’s findings about being pregnant. I am not a science person, and stayed as far away from anatomy in college as possible. Despite her education on the various indicators that proved she was with child, I wanted some additional confirmation from a trained medical professional, not just a pharmacist. Needless to say I was a little surprise to find out that her first doctor appointment didn't occur until eight weeks into her forty week pregnancy. That seems like a long time to suspect that you are creating a human being inside your own body - especially if you see a lot of pro-life billboards pointing out the various milestones the fetus hits in the first trimester.

Luckily, we had an incredible support system around us, food, shelter and steady paychecks, so we felt like nine months would be ample time to get our lives baby-proofed (if that is ever even possible). We should have seen in coming when wife's water broke two weeks before her due date. Isla apparently knew better than we did when she wanted to enter our lives and when she thought we'd be ready to be her parents. She seemed to have more confidence in us than we did in ourselves at that point - at least me for sure.

Following the delivery, after we moved from the delivery room to the postpartum room, the three of us were enjoying some quiet alone time. We actually waited until after Isla was born to contact our friends and family with the news, which was a great way to keep visitors at bay for a little while. A luxury we didn't necessarily have with number two, and definitely won't have with number three.

It was a Friday evening, and as I was holding a sleeping newborn in the rock chair while my wife slept, I had a phone call from Tago, a good friend of mine. He mentioned that he was out at one of our favorite establishments with a few people enjoying some adult beverages and good conversation, and wondered if I was interested in meeting him out. Below was our conversation that transpired (or how I recall it). It was a noisy place, so he was having some trouble hearing my responses.

Me: "I'd love to, but I'm holding my newborn baby girl right now."
Tago: "Alright. Sounds good. Maybe we'll catch you sometime this weekend."
Me: "No, Tago. I don't think you heard me. We're at the hospital, Jess just gave birth today!"
Tago: "Yeah, sure. I'll give you a call or something. Maybe racquetball on Sunday."
Me: "Dude. Listen to me. We just had our baby. I'm a dad."
Tago: "Wait. What? Congrats mate! Holy shit, you're a dad!"

Indeed. It would still be six or seven months before my daughter would call me "dada" or make noises that sounded like she was referring to me by my new title, but from that day forward I would be known as a dad. Her dad. A few year's later, her sister Havi's dad. In a few months, her baby brother's dad. I might have had trouble seeing myself as a dad four years and nine months ago when I first found out I was going to become one. But now that I am one, I'm going to do everything I can to be the best damn Dad possible.

Birthday Buddies 2010
Birthday Buddies 2014


Saturday, November 15, 2014

How My Search For Happiness Led Me Home

Asking The Big Question

I've always been a person who has internally asked myself the question, "am I living it right?"  This is something I have struggled with since my teen years, and a question I've asked more and more when it came to making significant life decisions - getting married, pursuing a certain job, purchasing a house, having kids, etc.

Often times it seems as though complete attainment of happiness is well, unattainable.  In effort to keep our sanity, we have to adjust our mentality to be happy with our circumstances.  Or to paraphrase a quote from the famous children's book Charlotte's Web, "that'll do."  As I've gotten older, and had to make more significant life decisions, I've found that at times you can spend to much time thinking about the decision itself, causing paralysis of choice because you are afraid of making the wrong choice.  Most times, you just need to make a choice and roll with it, embracing whatever outcome might follow and make the best of what situation unfolds.

People look for happiness in a number of places, and a number of people look for happiness in very far off places, searching for a certain something that will make them feel complete.  Eric Weiner wrote a book entitled The Geography of Bliss, where a self-proclaimed grump (himself) embarks on a tour of the happiest and unhappiest countries, as measured by the world happiness database.  Weiner (yes, pronounced whiner) hopes that by visiting these countries, he can find the recipe for happiness, and unhappiness, to help him in his own pursuit of the seemingly allusive goal of happiness.

I'm happy in a lot of places, and I've found happiness in a number of places - foreign countries, exotic locales, amazing adventures. From the outside, I've always been seen as a "happy guy" and on the inside my feelings more often than not replicate my exterior emotions.  Despite this, I've still struggled internally with that big question.  The issue with this question though, is that it focuses too much on the unknown, something we have no control over.  Sure, I could maybe be in a place - physical or emotional - where I might be happier had I made different life choices.  However, I could obviously also be in a place where I might be considerably less happier than I am right now.

For me, it helped to rephrase the question to, "am I living it right, right now?"  Given the current circumstances laid out before me, is what I am doing at the moment providing me with the highest level of attainable happiness.  When I rephrased the question, it helped me to better understand where I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time and energy, and that was how I came to make one of the biggest and best decision of my life so far.  Two weeks ago, I left my job to stay at home and support our ever growing family - two young girls under four with a baby boy on the way in a few months.  Ultimately, my current search for happiness led me home.

My decision to make this life change unfolded over the past six months, and I'll divulge more of the details and shed some light on my own personal decision in subsequent posts.  I've started this blog not in hopes to receive accolades for what I'm doing, because it's not rocket-science, I'm just doing what I think is best for our family.  But seriously, I've obviously started it because ""Dad Blogs" are all the rage these days (or so my wife tells me).

Actually, I'm hoping that this medium will selfishly serve as an outlet for my personal reflections, and undoubtedly help me hang on to some of my sanity.  I also hope it provides an opportunity for conversations about what does modern parenthood look like, how do we find happiness if the daily interactions with our families, and are we, as a society, support an environment that values family.  It's a conversation I want to have, because it centers on questions that I've asked myself as a young parent and things that I read in parenting "self help" and "self humor" books.

The Utilitarian in me wants us all to be happy, as happy as we can be.  But I also want our happiness to bolster the collective happiness of our society, environment, country, state, city, neighborhood and family.  I think it can be relatively easy for us to list of things that we think make us happy - food, beer, sex, sleep, etc.  When I asked myself what made me happy, the answers were pretty straightforward.  But when I actually thought about how those answers made me happy, why they were the answers in the first place, and how I was going to use those answers to ensure I was on my personal path to happiness, things got considerably murkier.  They aren't easy questions to answer, but ones I think we definitely need to be asking.

So, I hope you enjoy it.  I'd love feedback and comments that are constructive and add to the conversation, or help me improve on my literary skills.  For those of you who may not know me as well as others, you should know that as a second language I am fluent in sarcasm.  If you are wondering if some of my comments are made in jest, you're probably correct.  I'll try to clarify when I think it might be needed.  Also, I'll attempt to keep the colorful language to a minimum, but I am personally a fan of occasional, appropriately-utilized profanity.

What's in a name?

Some of you may be wondering how this literary masterpiece (sarcasm) received the name it did.  Or maybe you don't really care.  Well, I'm going to explain it anyway, sort of.  During my later years of college, I somehow received the nickname of "the King."  If you are one of those people that know how that came about, good for you.  If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you, and you are welcome to formulate your own idea of how that might have transpired - I love a cleverly fabricated story that doesn't hurt anyone other than myself.  There is also the old adage of a man being the ruler of his house, or the "king of his castle".  While I don't really adhere to this philosophy, it seems to fit my current arrangement in a somewhat different fashion.  So, I'm going to roll with it.  

The "greenest" component comes from the notion that the "grass is always greener on the other side."  I've often had that mentality myself throughout my search for happiness, and it has often been that mentality that has kept me from realizing what really makes me happy.  I truly believe that I'm standing on the greenest possible grass I can right now.  Sure, there might be greener grass on the other side of the fence, but that grass was probably just fertilized with chemicals which aren't safe for young children or pets to walk on.