Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Joy and Pain of a Work at Home Dad

As a full-time work at home dad, I will admit that sometimes I miss the camaraderie that comes from working in a communal space, where coffee pots drip all day and phones ring endlessly. Though I enjoy the flexibility of my current position, which allows me to drive my boys to school every morning and be there when they arrive home every afternoon, sometimes I do long to be able to discuss last night’s Parks and Recreation with a real human being in the flesh instead of the randomTwitterverse.

One of the biggest career challenges I’ve faced was when I began working for a company with a completely remote workforce just before my younger son turned 1-year-old, which coincided with when Mrs. Dude began teaching full-time. She and I made the bittersweet, yet necessary, decision to hire someone to watch our son at home while I was working just a few feet away. Though I keep a separate workspace from our living area, it was frustrating every time I left my office to refuel or relieve and saw him frolicking with the nanny. I desperately wanted to drop what I was doing every time and roll around with my Littler Dude.
This adorable face was staring at me every time I'd grab a drink or snack. It was refreshing and upsetting at the same time.
Sometimes I could do just that, but for only a fraction of the amount of time I would have preferred. Other times he’d run into my office just to see me or sit on my lap for a moment and when the nanny kindly took him so I could resume working, I felt like a part of my soul was being forcibly yanked out every single time.  The irony of my great new job permitting me to be home with my son, while not really being with him, was a struggle that took some time to come to terms with. It was almost a relief when he started pre-school this past fall so that I was no longer faced with the temptation to build block towers instead of PowerPoint presentations on a daily basis.

Working from home is the kind of gift which not everyone wants or appreciates, and that’s OK. The Catch-22 I’ve frequently considered is being able to trade my zero-mile commute for a higher paying job requiring an hour or more each way in L.A. traffic. Now, if my kids need me while I’m working at home just a few minutes away, I can be there if they are sick or to attend their holiday shows at school, no questions asked. What would I do if I worked 25 miles away, which in L.A. terms can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in traffic?
The view from my desk chair.
My boys are never really out of sight.
The traditional familial roles which my generation, and countless more before us, grew up with have been thrown out the window and just as women’s lib was such a big issue almost 50 years ago, maybe it’s time to consider this an era of men’s liberation. Men can be engaged parents who stay at home to raise their families or work in or out of the home and still take an active role in parenting. The days of the incompetent “Mr. Mom” father are long gone, so it’s time to finally quash that lame stereotype, just as we have so many other archaic cliches. It was nice to see that the tide is turning during several recent Super Bowl ads featuring actively involved fathers. 

Still, when friends mention going out for happy hour after work and I tell them I’m already deep into making Mac & Cheese for my boys at 5:30pm, the dormant phantom limb known as my office-working days starts to tingle. Then I go eat some of Kraft’s finest while looking at some adoring adorable faces and it all feels OK because I know I’ve made the right decision for my family for now.

This is my happy hour.


Come hang with me on Instagram for more great pics like those in this post. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Moment I Realized My Toddler is Cooler Than Me

From Clark Griswold to Dr. Evil, countless movies have been filled with terribly cliché fathers trying to be cool around their children and failing miserably.  Though I was never the coolest kid in my school, or the least, I was friendly enough to at least stay on the fringe. Now I’m at the point in my life where my desire to be popular is greatly outweighed by my desire for the mythical good night of sleep. Still I want to be and have fun with my kids and if they want to view me as more fun like Vince Vaughn in Old School than known terrible father Darth Vader, so be it.  
But a couple recent events have made me realize that maybe I’m not as cool as I think I am, or maybe it’s just that my boys are already breezing past me right before my eyes. Mrs. Dude and I took the boys bowling recently and I never expected that seemingly innocuous experience to open my eyes so broadly. I hadn’t been bowling in many years, other than on Wii where I’m an expert, so I was surprised at how long the lanes seemed and how heavy the ball felt.

As we took our turns gliding our tie-dyed spheres down the slick lane I felt like I was having a good time. It was fun to get out there with the boys at this stage when they still need us and don’t realize that before long they won’t want to bowl, or do anything else in public, with us anymore. As we took our turns, aided mercifully by the raised bumpers denying any gutter balls, I heard a couple of older kids in the lane next to ours calling the Littler Dude’s name. Not paying much attention because his name is not uncommon, after a moment I realized they were indeed calling for my 2 year old.

I looked up but couldn’t place these kids, who appeared to be about 10 years old, so the fact that they knew my son was both perplexing and concerning. Several thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there when suddenly I noticed the Littler Dude’s preschool teacher standing a little further back in the next lane. These were her kids who had taken a shining to the Littler Dude on a couple visits to his school. Whew.

It truly surprised me that these elementary schoolers would turn their focus from a group of 8 or 10 of their friends to even notice a 2 year old, let alone pay even a smidge of attention to him, but then it hit me: my 2 year old son is cooler than me. This is clearly the beginning of my boys’ upward trajectory and my plateau. Hopefully I’ll have another 50 or 60 years on earth, but I’ll likely never again be as hip as I feel like I once was. (Note: using the word “hip” means I’m clearly not.) I’m not suggesting that I need to be put out to pasture quite yet, but as my psyche is coming to terms with me turning 40 later this year, I realize that I’m no longer a kid. Despite feeling a little sore the day after we bowled, I’m not feeling too many aches and pains yet. I’ve been working on becoming healthier because I know I must keep my machine in solid working order to keep it running smoothly as long as possible. I may be getting older but I don’t intend to feel old in the process.

That afternoon, while the Littler Dude napped, (who’s cool now?), I visited my barbershop for an overdue cut. I saw a new stylist who did a great job (and not only because she noted that I have a good thick head of hair), which really reinvigorated me a bit as I’d been feeling a little shaggy. As she used the clipper to clean up my neck and sideburns, I heard the buzz getting significantly louder when it dawned on me that she was trimming the tiny hairs on my ears. I attributed it to my uber-strong hair follicles and Russian ancestry and let it go.  A few minutes later, though, after she applied the styling goop to my hair in a generous effort to make me look a smidge less like, well, me was when I received official confirmation that I’m not as cool as I thought.

“Do you want me to tame your eyebrows while you’re here?”

“Um, OK,” I sheepishly replied, though the real thought burning my brain at that moment was “get off my overgrown over-eye lawn!”

It’s official: my kids have clearly surpassed me in coolness and there’s likely no turning back.
Bushwacked brows & buzzed ears

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Trick to Becoming an All-In Parent

Beyond my Monday through Friday preschool drop-off routine, which I adore, as a work-at-home parent I often spend more time at home than I’d like. So on the infrequent occasions when I do get out, I try to make the most of whatever the outing may be.

For some reason we’ve had a slew of holiday-related events to attend this year compared to prior Decembers. When I looked at our calendar with my worn bloodshot eyes a few days ago I noticed a Saturday evening family event that sounded fun if I could stay awake. Then, as luck would have it, I was invited to another event with some dudes the same night and of course at the same time. How could I attend both, which is what I wanted to do, while making sure everyone was happy and no one felt neglected, most importantly the Junior Dudes.

I deliberated what to do as the holiday event would be fun and so would the incredibly-rare “guys’ night out”. So I decided I’d skip the family event to go out with the guys, which seemed reasonable as I’d been to seemingly a thousand family events this month. That night while I slept, along with a dream of going waterskiing in gravy with an octopus, my subconscious told me I’d made the wrong choice. I had to figure out a way to make both things work if I was going to make everyone, include myself, happy in the end.

I consider myself to be an “All-In” parent. I work hard to be actively involved in my boys’ lives and I aim to remain that way. Each time I see disengaged parents at parks, parties and elsewhere, it inspires me to double check where I am with my own boys. I can honestly say that as this year comes to a close, I’ve been more successfully entrenched with my boys than last year.

So I went back to my friends who invited me out and asked if they’d be open to pushing back their invitation a bit so I could attend both events that night. Though I anticipated resistance from a group and an existing event, I was surprised when none came. They were amenable and I was set for a big night out, or at least the kind of big night out a sleep-deprived father of two little ones has these days.
Glow in the dark dreidels are rad. 
I got my boys bathed and ready for our family holiday event and we were on our way. I spent quality time watching them play dreidel, eat latkes, sing and dance at a wonderful Hanukkah event and at the arranged time, my buddies picked me up and we headed out on the town while Mrs. Dude was all set to get the Junior Dudes in their PJs for the ride home and straight to bed.

So where does an “All-in” dad head for a night out? How about to check out Applebee’s new “All-in burgers”? Though I’ve been working toward a healthy lifestyle this year, I know that it’s OK to enjoy deviation from time to time in moderation. As Jack Nicholson said in The Shining, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I don’t want to be dull, hungry, or the caretaker of a haunted resort so I was eager to check out the “All-in” lineup, where the cooks actually ground toppings into the beef. Brilliant.

We enjoyed some appetizers, like the amazing pretzel roll thingamajig, and I settled on the Mushroom Swiss All-in from the 4 options on the menu. Honestly, I was skeptical of how the burger would taste with everything crammed into one mass, but it presented and tasted better than I expected. I’ve been to burger places that try to get too fancy and the myriad toppings all get lost among each other. That didn’t happen here. The mushrooms were perfect and the oozing Swiss cheese was the perfect complement. As my stomach displays, I’ve had many a burger in my time and this is one of the better ones I’ve had lately. My compadres enjoyed theirs, too, so I’d guess that we’re all-in on the “All-in burgers”. 
My #BurgerSelfie
All in all (pun intended), it was a great night. Family, friends, food & festivities made for a great double night out and thankfully I returned home satisfied from both my dinner and my decision to fit both events into the evening.  

Disclaimer: I was compensated by Life of Dad, LLC and Applebee’s for this post, as well as given a complimentary meal to test things out. All opinions and ideas contained in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Showing My Son How to Help Others

With the holiday season upon us, my 5-year-old Little Dude has made it a daily, if not hourly, practice to remind Mrs. Dude and me which Hot Wheels items he would like to receive. Since he’s now old enough to understand the concept of wish lists, his mother and I are making an overt effort to teach him that while receiving things is nice but giving what we can to help other people is even more important.

We are certainly not rich people, but the reality is that there are always people in need who we can help, and it doesn’t have to be financially either. After the Junior Dudes’ recent birthday bonanza, we suggested they each pick some things that they received to give to kids who maybe didn’t receive anything for their birthdays, Christmas or any other day that we take for granted.

More often than I’d like to admit, I catch myself in the middle of trying to teach my boys a lesson by rambling on about it in a Ward Cleaver-ish manner. What I’ve realized, however, is that concepts like poverty and illness can be opaque for kids not living with them. As part of my ongoing effort to break through that archaic Cleaver-style of parenting, I decided to try another method for teaching them during this holiday season: actively showing them what we can do to help people, instead of just rambling on about a concept that a 5-year-old doesn’t fully comprehend, let alone his 2-year old brother.

When I heard that one of the finest Men/Fathers/Poets I know, Whit Honea of Honea Express, recently underwent surgery to help repair some internal issues he’d been battling for the better (worse?) part of a year, I decided that we should do something to help him and his family during his sure-to-be exhausting recovery period. Having been around more recuperations than I care to admit, one thing I’ve learned is that dealing with the mundane elements of life seems more taxing during those periods when life doesn’t flow along its normal channels.

So what could we do that would show the Honea family that the Dudes are thinking of them? Easy:
food. I’m admittedly less than a novice chef, but there are things I make reasonably well that are good as the mercury drops and with winter ready to spring in just a few days. My culinary specialty is baked penne, so I decided to show my boys how the seemingly simple task of making a meal can brighten a day and lighten a load at the same time. One less dinner to worry about after a long week of hospitals, poking and prodding goes a long way. A twist to the story is that Whit’s procedure necessitated an initial liquid diet for him so I decided to make him some soup, which is warming and filling as the L.A. weather turns a (relatively) chilly 55 degrees.

Though he obviously wasn’t going to help with the slicing and dicing of any vegetables, the Little Dude kept me company as I cooked and helped me with some of the prep work, including the critical cheesing of the bake.

We spent time in the kitchen and in the car ride to deliver dinner discussing what good deeds are and how being selfless is critical when others can use our help. It was only a moment before he was asking about other good deeds we can do and we started plotting a course toward helping others going forward.

My recuperating friend & his wife were thankful to have a night off from cooking after a draining week of hospitals, doctors and the fun they elicit. I felt a sense of pride after having taught my son about the power of good deeds as we headed home for our own family’s dinner. I’d initially considered ordering take-out and bringing it to their home, but that would have just made me a delivery boy. I wanted my son to witness the power of making time to complete something important from start to finish. Though I didn’t get to have any of my garlicky vegetable soup, my chest warmed as though I had. 

Though the plan to bring dinner to my friend was my own, it happened while I’m partnering with the kind people at Lee Jeans as part of their #LeeGoodDeed campaign. They sent me a pair of their new Modern Series jeans which are incredibly comfortable. Had I eaten the baked penne myself, Lee’s Active Comfort flex denim would have helped as my waistline expanded after dinner. Lee Jeans are available at retailers nationwide and on

Disclosure: I’ve partnered with and been compensated by Life of Dad, LLC for this promotion, plus Lee sent me a rad pair of these jeans, which I’ve barely taken off in the last week. All opinions and ideas contained in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

From 0 to 5K with #RunDisney & The Avengers

If you know me in real life, you might know that there are three things I’m typically not a big fan of: waking up early, exercising and birthdays. So naturally when I was invited to participate in RunDisney’s inaugural Avengers Half Marathon at Disneyland, which was scheduled to begin at 5:30am on my birthday, I rejected the concept in my head before I even knew what it was really about. But then I found out about a 5K race being run the day before the half marathon and actually gave it a second thought, and then a third thought, before accepting the invitation/challenge. Oh, did I mention this call was 9 days before the event?
So why would I jump blindly into something like a 5K with no notice? Because I had to. No, neither Captain America nor Mickey Mouse forced me to run, my sons did. It occurred to me over the summer when we’d take our nightly family walks after dinner that I was having trouble keeping up with my two boys. Kids love to run, especially after a meal that has refilled their gas tanks, and mine love to sprint back and forth down the blocks to burn some of that energy. After several weeks of feeling winded from running half a block to catch them, I knew it was time for change. I just didn’t know how to actually do it.

So Mrs. Dude and I started going for power walks in the evenings through our hilly neighborhood. At first I thought I was going to collapse after 10 minutes, but it got incrementally easier the more often we did it and before long we were averaging about 2 ½ miles. The problem was consistency, as my exercise frequency varied between zero and 2 or 3 times per week. Finding the time, or rather making the time, to exercise can be challenging. It can also be daunting to someone like me who’s never really had much fitness experience or education.

So with my almost-big birthday looming and having committed to running the Avengers 5K, I had to figure some things out quickly. And not the least of which was how was this lifelong night owl going to run a race at 5:30am! I knew that my workout inconsistency had to change. I figured that if nothing else I could at least walk the 5K course, but my goal quickly became more than that. I didn’t know how to quantify my goal, but I knew I needed to do a couple practice 5Ks to gauge things. I figured with 9 days to go, I could fit in 3 or 4 trial runs before the actual event.

So that night I set out alone in the dark to figure out how to prep for a 5K. It had been almost a month since my last vigorous exercise, but I wasn’t quite starting from scratch. I knew that 5K equals 3.1 miles and using the “Map My Walk” iPhone app, I started walking until I reached that distance. Up, down and around my neighborhood I watched the app’s odometer inch upward, seemingly very slowly, until I returned home a wheezing, sweaty mess. But I’d done it. I’d now completed a real 5K via a hybrid of mostly walking with bursts of running interspersed throughout.
5 days until the Avengers 5K

Five more times over the next week I did the same thing and despite varying the course on every occurrence, on each instance my overall time improved. I was feeling good about my prospects in the race and, more importantly, also about myself. With only a few calendar ticks remaining until I began the last year of my 30s, I was on a mission for my family and myself. Avengers 5K and Disneyland, here I come…
1 day until my first 5K!
To Be Continued

Disclaimer: I was invited by RunDisney to participate in their Avengers 5K race weekend. All opinions and ideas expressed in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 

Note: Before beginning any rigorous exercise/training program you should consult with your physician. My exercise/training results and race preparation were not typical. YMMV.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How the New Annie Movie Inspired Me as a Parent

There’s a scene early in the upcoming reimagining of the classic musical Annie, where Annie (played by Quvenzhane Wallis) responds to a friend wishing her good luck with “luck is for suckers”. From that moment forward, this spunky electric-haired 10-year-old girl had my attention, for it’s obvious that this Annie was wise beyond her years.

The Junior Dudes and me checking out the "Annie" cast. 
Abandoned while very young by her desperate parents, Annie was forced into survival mode early on. Now living in foster care with a handful of other girls in the home of the bitter Miss Hannigan, Annie longs for a reunion with her birth family but in the interim she manages to create something potentially more valuable with her similarly parentless foster sisters: a family of choice.

When my wife and I were engaged we took a course on preparing for marriage. The one message from that class which still occupies space in my brain so many years later is the concept of “family of origin and family of choice”. In context, we learned that the family you choose (in our case, by marriage) should become your priority in life. Everyone’s familial situations are different and sometimes in life we gravitate toward people who become like family, even if not related by blood. Not to diminish the importance of family of origin (i.e. birth family, or whoever raised you), but the families we choose can become more meaningful on a deeper level because they derive from free will.

Lumped together circumstantially, Miss Hannigan’s girls realize they have a “Hard Knock Life”, and some are quite bitter about it. But while Annie attempts to change their way of thinking, she’s constantly working every angle to improve her own situation with the ultimate goal of finding her family.

Throughout the movie, Annie proves to be an eternal optimist in the face of adversity. She doesn’t get hung up on lingering obstacles, like the kind which trip up many adults (like Cameron Diaz’s Miss Hannigan does), and not only strives to make a better situation for herself, but it is part of her credo: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”, meaning good things are just around the corner for those who think positively.  

Family is something that many people take for granted. It’s easy amid our hectic and exhausting daily lives to overlook the big picture of how important family really is.  As the father of two young boys, my primary objective is to ensure they are safe and secure while I’m with them and, maybe even more importantly, when I’m not. I also hope that they are not only willing, but eager, to help each other as they grow up. Though they are not family by choice, like Annie and her sisters, I hope they choose to make each other a priority.

Annie’s longing for her family of origin indirectly leads her literally from the poorhouse to the penthouse. When she’s temporarily taken in by gazillionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), this little girl whose own family history is fractured makes it her mission to teach the lonely Mr. Stacks what family truly means. The irony is she’s never really known a traditional family, yet seems to excel at the nuances involved with one.
The Littler Dude and Sandy. She won't bite. 

I didn’t know how my 2 and 5 year old sons, who had only seen animated features previously, would react to a movie like Annie. So when we were invited to an advance screening I was curious if amid the lively music and cute dog, the subtle messages conveyed in this film would stick with them. It’s obviously too early to tell, but I do know that they were literally dancing in the aisles to several of the songs during the film, none of which they’d ever heard before.

Annie presents an interesting take on today’s ever-increasing modern families, so I’m glad my boys were exposed to the positive messages of optimism, perseverance and family, which are all ideals I strive to teach them on a daily basis. Plus, as an added bonus, I still can’t get “Hard Knock Life” out of my head.

Annie will be in theaters on December 19th.

The Junior Dudes and the cast. 

I was compensated for this post and invited with my family to an advance screening of the film. All opinions and ideas expressed in this post are solely mine, for better or worse. 

All images contained in this post are the sole property of Dude of the House and may not be copied, used or reproduced without permission. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Surprise Ending to Our First Pregnancy

Expectant parents in the movies always experience some sort of unexpected twist shortly before the delivery. It’s usually a silly red herring which gets wrapped up beautifully just in time for the woman’s water to break on a sidewalk somewhere before she speeds to the hospital just in time for a perfect delivery.  My first child’s pre-delivery experience was the opposite.

The Little Fetus measured ahead of scale throughout his gestation, so coupled with the fact that he was breach and I weighed 11 lbs. at birth, Mrs. Dude’s OB/GYN suggested sometime during the third trimester that we schedule a C-Section to occur during the 39th week. That seemed like a good option because it also gave my parents who lived across the country fair warning on when the baby would arrive. We booked a delivery date and they booked airline tickets. What could go wrong?

My parents flew from Ohio to L.A., 2 days before the delivery date and seemed tired upon arrival, which was not too unusual. They wanted to rest that afternoon and Mrs. Dude and I still had a lot to do so we planned to meet for dinner. They called shortly before we were to pick them up and asked us to come up to their hotel room before we went out, which was unusual. We couldn’t help but speculate why.

In the movies, this is the scene where the couple joins their parents who sit them down in a serious manner (AKA the red herring) to have a roundabout discussion where they ultimately reveal that they bought the family a house next door to theirs and offer to babysit every night for the next 18 years. Unfortunately that’s not what happened to us.

I don’t remember much of what was said, but two words are still tattooed on my brain five years later: breast cancer. There would be no houses or babysitting or any of the joyous things we’d hoped for that night or in the future. At one of the most vulnerable moments of my life, 36 hours before our first child was born, as my brain rattled with thoughts of insecurity as to whether I would, or could, be a good parent, I was shaken like an old Christmas tree during an earthquake. Only my branches couldn’t shed everything they held. I had to hold strong with every fiber of my being for my wife, my child and my mother.
12 hours before we became parents
I don’t remember that dinner or most of the next day, our last child-free day forever. Mrs. Dude and I woke up before the sun on D-Day after not sleeping more than a few hours, which in retrospect was good foreshadowing. We drove silently toward the ocean as the sky transitioned from dark to light until we arrived at the hospital to meet our firstborn. 

The delivery went smoothly and I soon held our perfect son in my arms. Shortly thereafter my mother and father did the same. Joy drenched the sterile white recovery room while I anxiously tried to comprehend the circle of life my family was about to experience. 

Fourteen months later to the day, I held my son in my arms and we watched as my mother was lowered forever below the frozen Midwestern tundra in a wooden box.
My mother meeting the Little Dude