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Fathers Are Caregivers Too
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For those of you who know me, or have spoken to me when my son was younger and would be sick, you may recall my frustrations from interactions with my son’s mother during those times. It had been a struggle for me to spend time with him and provide him care during his times of need (although that’s not so much the case now).  At first I thought it was perhaps from my own selfishness of wanting to be there for my son, or the confidence that I could care for him just as well as his mother, which drove that frustration.  I’m sure each parent has been there when his or her child may be sick.  You know your child is not feeling well, you can hear the pain in their voice, and you want to do whatever you can to make it better.  It’s more difficult when they’re very young, because they’re unable to communicate the source of the pain, so all you’re able to derive is the discomfort they are in.  I mean, sure, there are easy tells (such as a fever); but you’re not always lucky enough to have an easily identifiable symptom to help isolate a probable source of their pain.  As they get older, and they can speak well enough to communicate a tummy ache or headache, it’s still not always clear to what extent they have an issue. Is he going to vomit, or is he just constipated?  Did he bonk his head or is he having some sort of symptomatic migraine?

My son is almost four now.  And these days (sometimes to my amusement) I get more descriptive answers from him when he’s communicating pain:  My tummy is full, I ate too much.  My tummy hurts, I have to go poopies.  My noggin hurts, the dresser bonked it. But it was the earlier period (between two and three) where one could not rely on his communication skills to diagnose pain, which was a point of contention between his mother and I.  Whenever my days for custody would arrive and Iain was sick, the immediate stance of his mother was that since he was sick, I was more than welcome to come visit him that evening, but that he was staying home with her that night.  Not an option, not a possibility for discussion, just:  these are the terms.  Now I didn’t always question whether or not he was sick, but I definitely questioned her ability to determine if it was to an extent that he shouldn’t spend time with me at my home.  I mean, I’m his Father.  I’m just as capable of taking care of him too.  I can check his temperature, read him stories, and keep him hydrated.  And who’s to say that it isn’t some mild 24-hour bug, or something less severe (like constipation).  I’m capable of administering medicine, or feeding him roughage.  What’s worse was during that year it seemed as though he was always sick.  Whether it be from a lack of a normal shot schedule, his exposure to other kids during the church day-care on Sundays, or something his mother brought home from her internship at the hospital… every time I was scheduled to have Iain, I’d get a call at the 11th hour that he’s not coming over, but I can come see him if I like. Um, hello, we have a custody schedule. I’m not so insensitive or selfish that I would expect him to always be with me when he was sick.  One would have to be heartless to take a doubled over kid with a fever, who had vomited earlier, out of the comfort of his current home just to stay a night or two with his dad.

Sure, when he was an infant, and even in the early toddler stages, I conceded to his mother’s demands that he stays home when sick so that she could provide him the necessary care.  But as he got older, and I was more capable and confident, I found myself always upset and questioning this arrangement.  First off, who really wants to spend time in their former wife’s home, even if it is to see your sick son?  Factor in the constant scrutiny you feel you’re under, because they’re obviously watching everything you’re doing and judging you… or at least it seems that way.  And I had the added benefit that my former wife moved in with her parents.  So I felt the additional weight of two more sets of eyes watching me.  Then there is the inconvenience that I was obviously coming straight from work (yes I’m making this part about me), would typically have dinner with my son at my own home, but now I had to rush to someone else’s house.  There were many times that I would come in and everyone there would have just eaten, yet another missed opportunity with my son.  Plus it’s not like they offered me anything (perhaps that was expecting too much), but you can kind of see my point (I did finally get offered some left-overs once; maybe twice).  Then there was the obstacle of wanting to do things for my son, which I typically would do at my home when I had him, that his mother or grandparents felt obliged to address in their home (ex:  setting the bath schedule, changing diapers, putting on a T.V. show, etc.).  I mean, this was supposed to be my time, and essentially I was subjected to endure a form of torture because his mommy wanted to care for a sick child, who (might I add) many times appeared completely normal while I was there (I’m not going to go into the excuses I received of how he was feeling/acting earlier in the day which warranted her decision, because I’m sure they could probably be substantiated, but that’s not the point here).

I endured this hell because I love my son, and felt it was for his benefit.  But, if we’re going to be honest with one another, having Daddy come over to play with his son and then put him to sleep essentially was unnecessary and a selfish act on his mother’s part.  If he’s well enough to play with Daddy, then why can’t he travel 20-30 minutes to be with his Dad as he was supposed to be; who is capable of giving him a similar level of loving care; and where that child is still comfortable and at home; at his Father’s home.  It seems we’ve forgotten a simple fact:  a child of divorce parents has two homes… because when mommy isn’t around and our little one has a boo-boo, whom does he ask to kiss it:  Daddy.  And when he’s with his Father and he suddenly doesn’t feel good, who is going to take care of him:  Daddy.  It is the inevitable role that any single parent must play when they have sole custody of their child for some percentage of time.  Perhaps it isn’t engrained in all males, or an inherent trait.  But whether it need be learned or not, a parent must provide for their child.  Fathers are caregivers too!

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What is right, and who is wrong?
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As a young boy, I grew up as part of a large Greek family, my father being one of six siblings.  Like most people, I imprinted from my surroundings.  I noticed that all the members of my extended family married around the age of eighteen.  Each appeared genuinely happy and, to me, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do:  make it to high school, meet a young lady, fall in love, and start your life together.

The story of how my parents met didn’t help either.  They knew each other since elementary school—my father would shoot spit balls into my mother’s hair.  He pined for her in ninth-grade, though she was uninterested and took retribution by causing him to fail French (story for another time).   Junior year of high school, she’s walking home with a friend who happens to like my father, when he pulls up in his car, offering a ride.  Naturally the friend wants to accept and convinces my mom to do so as well.  Funny enough, my dad goes out of his way to drop the friend off first so he can ask my mom out… and the rest, as they say, is history.

In high school, I never considered myself a “looker”, and by no means was I popular.  Being a bit of a loner, I focused on academics and did some sports in the latter years.  There was no high school sweetheart, although I pined after my fair share of ladies.  No girlfriends, no prom dates… in fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that I brought my first girlfriend around family, to which my grandmother exclaimed, “Thank God, we thought you were gay.” 

I guess you could say I was a late bloomer, or at least I felt like one.  When I looked at my relatives and heard everyone’s “story”, I just didn’t fit the mold… but I wanted to, and felt like I should.  The only solace I took was in my Uncle Dave.  More of an older brother than an Uncle (we’re seven years apart), he didn’t marry until his thirties.  But, then again, he was something of a ladies’ man; so it wasn’t from a lack of prospects.

The Blink 182 song “What’s My Age Again?” came out as I was turning twenty-three and it became my theme.  As I struck out on love in the work-place (high school for your twenties), I kept repeating to myself its lyrics:  nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three.  So it was probably natural, being relatively new to intimacy with women, that I found it rewarding to sleep with those few who actually were interested in me, even though I lacked much interest in them as a person.  But the trap I laid for myself was not to be that guy—the one-night-stand.  So many relationships would drag along as I deceived myself that there was some sort of emotional attachment when, in fact, it was purely physical.

Like most men, I loved the sex.  But, more importantly, I loved the intimacy; and the way it made me feel.  Somehow I felt that, by being with someone, I was that much closer to being married, and therefore closer to being like the rest of my family.  Then along came my first wife (never thought I’d hear myself say those words).

I always knew I wanted to be married.  And I felt like I missed the mark considerably when eighteen came, then went, and I wasn’t… not even close.  I know many women think about their age, when they’ll be married, and having kids (Sex in the City has to be accurate, right?).  I mean sure, their biological clock is ticking, there is an expiration date on their eggs, and they only have so many.  But here I am, a man, and I’m worried about similar things.  I wanted to be married, I wanted kids, and I didn’t want to be too old to enjoy their grand-kids.  And, for the record, let me say that I always thought I’d marry once, and would never be divorced; I believed in commitment.  But let’s face it, my track record with women leading up to this point has sucked.  I was a nice, well-meaning guy who (at the time; and probably still to a degree) was also a bit naïve.

My first wife (referred to from here on out as “the ex”) started working at my job.  The girl there who I was actually pining after, being uninterested, finally left work (or was she fired?), so my friends and coworkers thought it would be cute to try and set me up with “the ex”.  I was told the new-hire liked me (so juvenile).  When she was pointed out, I truthfully didn’t mind much of what I saw, but there was no “moment”… you know, where time slows, music plays, and everything else melts away letting you know that she’s the one (I mentioned I was naïve, right?).  What can I say, I was a hopeless romantic, had my fair share of crushes, and so I thought I knew what love was.  So how did we end up together you ask?  Essentially, I’m a glutton for punishment; that, and I later realized my perspective on love was kind of adolescent, and I convinced myself that being happy was being in love.

Over a period of a year or so she continually made her intentions known while I tried not to be rude and inevitably led her on… as she said (years later), “I look back at our courtship and I see where I forced myself into your life.”  To be honest though, I too had my fair share of blame.  Knowing my own past, I let things get physical and, although I tried to break it off a couple times, I never completely severed ties (men are horn-dogs).   After a couple years, I felt I owed it to both of us to give the relationship serious consideration.  And there was a point that I was happy, and felt that I could continue to be happy, seeing a future together.  Let me clarify, you can be in love and therefore be happy; but being happy does not necessarily mean you are in love.  I know that now, but not then since I didn’t have any personal experience I could base it off of.

To make a long story short (and not steal any thunder from my other writings), we were married for four years, had a son during the last year, and she must have realized what I’ve now learned, because she took our six-month-old son and left me.  We divorced almost a year later.

But what is right, and who is wrong in that kind of situation?  I mean, I was blind to the fact that there were issues in our relationship.  I missed the signs.  I guess I should’ve known when she wanted to take Dr. Phil surveys to inspect our relationship.  I figured he was a “quack” who couldn’t make it as a proper therapist and used his connections to get a daytime show—another Jerry Springer.  Now he’s a household name.  It took her getting verbally abusive and antagonistic, trying to provoke me physically, and then finally the “D” word (Divorce) before I realized we had problems.  We practically separated around our third year of marriage and were seeing a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  The writing should’ve been on the wall, and yet we stayed together and decided to bring a child into the mix.  I felt the issue with our relationship was in our dynamic.  She came from a previous marriage that ended due to her man’s multiple indiscretions, so she naturally had trust issues and became insecure.  When I couldn’t comprehend her concerns, it was as though she needed to become independent and therefore leave or force me to.  I, being inexperienced with marriage, felt I couldn’t live up to her extreme expectations of me and would shutdown when she exploded.  When we were apart, I would be confident and in control, and she would come to trust me again.  In this way we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security, thinking the relationship was salvageable.

Now I believe it is always the best approach to stay the course and work at being together as a family unit; but not just because you hope it’ll benefit the children.  It must also take into consideration the parents and their interaction.  A healthy relationship is a healthy environment for the children.  In my opinion, an unhealthy relationship can many times do more damage to our children in the long run.  And sometimes it requires work to make a relationship healthy again.  Could we have tried more to make it work and stay together?  Possibly.  Would we have been happy, and would it have been a healthy environment?  I think not.  We teach our children by example, which includes our relationships.  That also means in the way that a relationship is dissolved.   There is a “right way” and a “wrong way” for a relationship to end.  I’ll go even further by saying that my circumstance would probably lend more towards a “right way”.  We went through mediation and sought the expertise of a Licensed Psychologist who specialized in divorces with children.  We tried not to involve our own lawyers; but I believe, although costly, we both could have benefited more from their involvement towards the end.  In contrast, I believe that deliberately destructing one’s relationship by being physically abusive, emotionally abusive, viciously attacking one another through lawyers, cheating on one’s spouse, or worse; are prime examples of the “wrong way” to end a relationship.  There were definitely minor “wrong way” elements in the dissolution of my previous marriage.  And some tend to still occur through interactions I have with “the ex”.  But those are stories for another time.

So I have since remarried and have been with my current wife for almost three years.  We have a beautiful three-month-old baby girl.  I am truly in love, and therefore very happy.  I do have joint custody of my son, Iain, from my previous marriage to “the ex”.   And when we finally did separate, I tried to reconcile and do whatever it took, but by that time it had become too late; which was for the better in the end.  Although, I must say, I didn’t think so at the time.  She had already determined to be apart, and knew that to be the best course of action for our son.   It has been a difficult situation, but I honestly think it has been for the best and therefore the healthiest approach for Iain.

So what is right, and who is wrong?  Well I’m right in the end, for doing everything I could to try and save my marriage.  And, then again, so is she for knowing we would never really be happy.  So who is wrong?

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Fathers for our Brides
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Albin Polasek Museum—currently host to a playful 1950s underwater photography exhibit taken in Florida’s Silver Springs—has a beautiful Sculpture Garden which served as the venue for my sister’s wedding this past Saturday on March 5th. Amidst the vibrant flowers and remarkable sculptures, I took video of a bride’s procession, accompanied by a string duo, to her friend and now husband. And I watched in awe as his unwavering vows to my sister overcame the blaring air siren (testing for tornado warnings?), thunderous low flying jets, and obnoxious boats looking on from the neighboring lake. And what was an otherwise beautiful ceremony, will no doubt be a memorable experience in their prosperous marriage as resounding applauds followed his performance.

This momentous occasion was also marked as the official debut of our new daughter amongst my family at large. As many parents of newborns observe, my wife and I kept our preemie daughter close to home for the first two months of her life. Born five weeks early, her progress was monitored by our Pediatrician who stated our daughter officially caught up developmentally at her two-month visit. And it was at this point that she was cleared for general exposure to large crowds. Not to say that our daughter had any complications or couldn’t leave our home and be around throngs of people, but it was in her best interest to minimize risk since she was more susceptible to contagions as a preemie. And being that my father is one of six children, our gatherings tend to be quite a crowd.

Now my wife Megan is a planner. And even though she carefully timed the feedings, our daughter determined that she would not only be hungry just before the ceremony, but inconsolable for a time after her feeding. So Megan unfortunately distanced herself from the ceremony to prevent a crying baby from interrupting it, unknowing that other events would inevitably perform the same task. At least with my videoing the wedding, she was able to later enjoy watching it; although that’s not always quite the same.

But what was most interesting to me was what I noticed during the reception following the ceremony. Like many wedding receptions, we had our cast of friends and relatives that clumped around tables and loosely mingled with new faces of extended family that they scarcely recognized. There were the unexpected visiting cousins, the dedicated aunt traveling across the country, and the otherwise reclusive family members. And yet, the general theme I noticed about the families of newborns and toddlers was the role of the dedicated fathers for their committed brides. These men (myself included) held their children, chased after them, and attended to their needs much to the relief of their wives. It was clearly the mom’s day off, or at least the best attempt of it that we could muster under the circumstances. I know my own wife sometimes considers my involvement with the kids a blessing since there are many men who shy away from taking part with their children, especially during their early years. But this undoubtedly was a testament, at least of the men in attendance at my sister’s wedding, that we are indeed doing our part and being involved as fathers for our brides.

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Forevermore
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Here it is!  Twenty-Eleven.  MMXI.  Fifteen days into the New Year.  Can it be that I’m finally about to post something again (rhetorical question)?  Typically we writers are told to stay away from asking the reader a bunch of questions.  So, maybe this means a change; a new direction; maybe a new writing style for me . . . are these more questions?  That one sure was.

So what has changed?  What is different?  Hmmm . . .  I’m married now.  I know, I skipped right by that.  I guess it’s to be expected.  My last two posts were on either side of the big day (one in February, the next in May); considerable time between the posts as my writing tapered off and my attentions turned to preparing a future with my new wife.  Although, you may have been able to derive all of this from a few of my tweets.

That future began on a Friday, February 26th.  A cool breeze flowed in from the lake as dusk approached.  Perfect weather:  crisp blue skies with a peppering of thin, faint clouds.  My bride and I stood amidst tall oak trees, hanging moss, and large fallen leaves that failed to resist the Florida cold.  My little boy—almost three—shivered next to me in a black tux and Chuck Taylors.  I exchanged a toy train with him to receive the entrusted ring box with vintage wedding band for my new bride.  It was just past four-thirty—the big hand swept slowly up—as we spoke our written vows with our parents as witnesses.  And at Azalea Park, in front of Greek columns atop a crescent-shaped wall, we said: “I do.”

Forevermore.

Forevermore

February 26, 2010

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Colby’s First X-Mas
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Colby’s First X-Mas!

Colby has another milestone coming up! It will be his very first Christmas, and I can not be more excited!  I want to buy him everything and get him all he could ever need and want, and he is only going to be about 4 months old!  Ha!  Now, I do realize that he is so very young, and he will not remember this event, only in pictures and such.  But, I do believe in my heart, that I am starting a foundation or the idea of Christmas in my eyes, and how I would like it to be.  I believe that I am instilling or starting the culture, values, and traditions of years to come. 

It begins by putting up the decorations around Thanksgiving time, which include decorating the front yard with several decorations, lights, and putting up the tree.  Then it’s on to watching the Christmas events on television, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, reading Christmas Stories, tuning into Christmas shows and watching Christmas movies that continue throughout the month of December.  These include, but are not limited to:  Santa Claus is coming to town, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and several more! 

Next is the annual Christmas Party with my wife’s family usually about a week or so before Christmas day.  After that, it’s the start of Christmas break, where both my wife and I have two weeks off for the winter holidays each year.  At some point during this month, I’d also like to start the tradition of driving around the town, looking at Christmas decorations and lights with Colby.  (This will most likely begin next Christmas, as he is still in an infant car seat and not able to really see the lights.) 

Next is the annual Christmas Eve party at my parents’ home with my entire family.  (And of course, there is usually this little movie on called “A Christmas Story”, perhaps you’ve heard of it? And it plays for 24 hours straight from Christmas Eve, through Christmas day, and I find myself compelled to watch it at some point during this time.)  And finally, comes Christmas day!  Yay!  In the past, I would open gifts at my house, with just my wife and I, which seemed to pass quickly, and then it was off to both of our parents’ homes where we would spend some of our day.  This has been the ritual or routine for the past several years. 

But, as I have been thinking about it, and remembering how fun it was for me to just open gifts as a child from Santa and be able to stay at my home and play with them all day, I realize that this is something that I am also going to want for Colby.  I believe that probably starting next year, we will have to figure out a way to corporate all of these things into our day, but not race out of my home so fast, as I’m going to want Colby to be able to stay and enjoy Christmas at my home for the mornings.  I believe that we are going to have to start by spending our day here, for more time than I would in the past, and either have the parents (Colby’s grandparents) come our way if possible, or go and visit them later in the day.  This is something that I treasured as a child as my parents were able to give this to me, these wonderful Christmas mornings and days of playing with my toys from Santa.  And I want very much to be able to give this time to my son Colby as well. colby 834a

And of course, starting the tradition of having fun with Colby taking silly pictures! haha…