Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Things I Learned about Parenting from Star Wars

Spoiler Alert: There are key Star Wars plot points inside this piece. I shouldn’t need to warn anyone, as the original movies were all released 30+ years ago, so if you haven’t seen them and are shocked by any revelations here, that’s on you.

During both of Mrs. Dude’s pregnancies I received suggestions of must-read pregnancy and parenting books from more than a few people I knew and myriad more that I didn’t. I did explore a couple, partially to pacify those who had shared their recommendations and also, more frequently, to help me fall asleep on those I-can’t-freakin’-do-this pre-delivery sleepless nights.

But there is another source of parenting tips I’ve reflected upon countless times over the last 5+ years since the Little Dude was born. And now, with Father’s Day once again upon us, I want to share with you some of the great parenting dos and don’ts I learned from one of the most infamous movie fathers of all time, Darth Vader.

1) Be present for, and with, your children: As Vader was pretty much a deadbeat dad, albeit for very atypical reasons, his son was lucky to have his old man’s former mentor (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) looking out for him during his most impressionable period. Sure, being raised on a farm in Tatooine by his father’s stepbrother Owen was probably not nearly as exciting as a childhood spent roaming the Death Star, but Luke received a good education (also from Mr. Kenobi), had a large outdoor area for playtime and ultimately proved to be a high moral character Jedi…despite his father’s best/worst/completely nonexistent efforts.

2) Don’t give your kids trendy names: Luke & Leia were excellent choices given their time and place in history. Context and family history are important, but when selecting names for your children, consider that they are the ones who will have to live with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s got to be difficult to be taken seriously in a professional workplace with a first name like Boba, Qui-Gon or Jar Jar.

3) Support & encourage your children’s interests: Luke was a skilled farmer thanks to his uncle’s tutelage, but he always yearned for something more than a normal (i.e. boring) desert life.  If not for Obi-Wan and Yoda, both of whom were contemporaries of Luke’s father, Luke might not have achieved his true destiny as a Jedi Knight. As it turned out, Luke was probably subconsciously hoping to earn his father’s respect, or at least attention, when he trained to become a skilled Lightsaber user. I doubt either of them anticipated how that one was going to turn out.
If only Vader had used his Lightsaber for dental hygiene instead of evil.
4) Use Your Words: In both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, father and son Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were brought together via one-on-one physical combat. They shared a common dearth of quality time together, so it might have behooved them and their nonexistent relationship to air their grievances (i.e. Luke about his abandonment and Vader over his son’s refusal to join the family business and join him over on the Dark Side). When children are not mature enough to fully express themselves as they wish, they often resort to hitting, hair pulling or other physical actions and reactions as a method of communicating a message or getting the response and/or attention they truly crave. “Use Your Words” is teaching them that verbal communication is a more effective method for earning a desired outcome. Had Vader been a stronger communicator with better grasp of his emotions, he might have been able to convince his son to join him in the family business. Does it matter that said business was less than legit? Not really, after all, family is family.

5) Don’t Be a Jerk: Vader sliced his son’s hand off with a Lightsaber AND THEN finally revealed that he was Luke’s father. It’s well known that children learn both positive and negative behaviors from observing their parents’ habits and actions. Vader shouldn’t have been surprised when after forcefully removing Luke’s limb in the heat of battle, that Luke returned a year later and did the same exact thing to him. Darth should have considered the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, which Luke obviously took quite literally.


All of the above being said, the Star Wars saga is about family, relationships and dealing with others you may not see eye to eye with. There will always be issues up for debate (maybe Luke should have listened to his father and joined the Dark Side, with the goal of turning everyone good again?) but maintaining open lines of communication can help clear murky things up. I haven’t shown the Star Wars films to my son yet, but I think he may soon be due. After all, I know I can hardly wait for Part VII, aka The Force Awakens, which will be released later this year, on December 18!. Maybe we’ll find out if Luke settled down and had a family of his own. I’m hoping he taught his own son a lesson or two, unlike his father ever did for him.

Happy Father’s Day and May the Force be with you.

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Disclaimer: I wrote this post as part of my participation in the Fandango Family Digital Network. I was compensated accordingly, but all content and opinions contained within are mine entirely, for better or worse. Come hang with the FF team on Facebook, too. 

Want to take that special person in your life to see some movies, care of Fandango? Enter below for your chance to win a $100 Fandango Gift Card that you can use to take the fam to see something great this summer! You have up to 5 chances to enter and the entries will close Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 12:00am PST (midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning). 

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Why and How and Thank You Very Much

Over the last four years, I’ve shared stories with you of birth and death, sickness and health, not to mention bodily functions, birthday parties and bubbles. I’ve shared elated and somber, and all else in between, just as is the normal flow of life’s constant waterfall.

Why I’ve done this requires a twofold answer:

1)   To have a record of ups and downs that my boys will hopefully want to read some day to restore memories they were probably too young to hang onto.
2)   To scratch the left-brain itch that brought me from Ohio to Los Angeles 15+ years ago to become the TV writer I never became.

But how I’ve done it is a different story, and one I’ve never really talked about. It’s not that it’s a secret, but rather I must admit that it’s only recently that I’ve realized that I’ve taken this privilege for granted: every word I’ve published in the last four year has been possible due to one person, and she’s known around here as Mrs. Dude.

Today my wife Shana turned 40 years old. We were just kids when we met, if you consider 27 the tail end of adolescence. Now a dozen years, a couple kids, 5 homes and an incalculable amount of joy she’s brought me later, I want to present her with a small fraction in return.

When I’ve had deadlines she’s never blinked an eye while I’ve sequestered myself with my digital quill and ink until the task is complete. Oh, and those incredible conferences which have literally changed my life? My wife is the one who encourages me to go, despite my entirely-self-imposed guilt, even knowing how much extra work it means for her on days when I’m not home to get the boys fed and delivered to school on time in the morning, make dinner or get them bathed and bedded for several days in a row. Needless to say she carried and bore the two Junior Dudes, too, which are tasks obviously way out of my wheelhouse. 


And for all this, I say thank you, Shana.

Through nearly eight years of wedded bliss and stress, plus another four of dating/engaged trepidation, I’ve been beyond fortunate to have the world’s most calm and patient partner by my side. When I get frazzled about being late to a 3-year-old’s birthday party, she’s the one who restores logic to the equation and reminds me that no one will ever remember or care that we arrived 10/20/30 minutes late. Clearly this is an unintended side effect of marrying a math teacher.

I tend to be my own harshest critic and those moments when she returns me to earth often make me feel not only like I’ve just discovered an endless canteen while lost in the desert, but also that I didn’t know water even existed.

Though I know she’ll likely not see these words, given how hard she works at her full-time job, tutoring other kids on the side AND co-grooming two of the sweetest, yet most devilish, boys on earth, I felt compelled to share this for her, and for our boys, and for you to know how we all got where we are today.

It was legendary rock concert promoter Bill Graham who once said “They’re not the best at what they do. They’re the only ones that do what they do”, about pioneering jam band the Grateful Dead. Excelling at any chosen task is a challenge. Blazing a trail and doing things unlike they’ve ever been done before requires patience, vision and endless supplies of energy. I was beyond fortunate to hitch my wagon to someone who has off-the-charts levels of all three and who helps instill those traits in our family on a daily basis. For this, I am grateful and I trust that my boys will realize someday how lucky they are to have such an incredible mother and role model.

I’m even luckier to call her my wife.





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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Boys' Favorite Energy Booster

Having grown up in the wonderful Midwest, home of the 8-month Winter, I not-so-fondly remember spending countless school days stuck inside because we just couldn’t get outdoors for recess without risking frostbite, hail or snowball ambushes.

Raising my boys in Southern California is a different story, however. We are fortunate to live in a place where they can get outside in the fresh air 300+ days per year, including the great majority of their school days. But simply being able to get out and play is not enough. Providing them with the resources to thrive, and the energy to do so, is a critical mission that I take very seriously.


One of the things that still surprises me, as a parent, is how hungry my boys seem to be ALL DAY LONG.

Just woke up à They’re famished

Back home after school? I can hear their tummies rumbling like mini garbage disposals waiting to be filled.

And of course when the clock strikes 5:00pm I know that they’ll either soon turn into pumpkins or start swiping sneak previews from the counter of the dinner I’m always just a few minutes behind on preparing.

But there’s truly only one thing that I know will satiate them no matter the time of day. And no, it’s not gummy bears.

Good old-fashioned milk. California’s finest.


I know that I can steal those last five minutes of dinner prep, (which is really usually 10. OK, 15) needed to prepare their requisite evening noms with a quick glass of milk.  Sure, those gummy bears might take less effort, but they’re worth it and it’s a great appetizer. Plus, I‘m fortunate that the Junior Dudes think receiving that tall, cool glass is a treat, even though they usually have it multiple times daily.

My older son, the 5 ½ year old Little Dude, can be a picky eater. And by “can be”, I mean has been every day of his life. We are fortunate to know that while he will likely enter Kindergarten without ever having tried pizza (entirely of his own volition), we never have to twist any arms for him to enjoy an apple, grapes or myriad other fruits.

As parents it’s important to appreciate winning the little battles even if the larger wars are lost more often than we’d prefer. I can admit that it took me a while to get used to the Little Dude’s preferred daily lunch of yogurt, fruit and rice cakes, which is certainly not the most exciting lunch option available to him. But I know now that I’m giving him the energy to refill his tank so he can get back outside to enjoy the sunshine while hiking, biking or just chasing his brother down the block.


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I’m happy to share with you that I’m partnering up with the California Milk Advisory Board to tell you about their Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP 60) initiative, in association with the NFL. FUTP 60 is all about ensuring that kids get their full servings of nutrients the old school way: via dairy, fruits, grains and veggies while getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Also, to ensure that kids are getting exercise at school, they are offering schools grants up to $4,000 for the upcoming school year to support their health and wellness programs, featuring plays from the Fuel Up to Play 60 Playbook.  To apply for a spring grant, visit fueluptoplay60.com for more info and to get your school involved. Grant deadline is June 16.


I was compensated by the California MilkAdvisory Board for this post, though unfortunately not in bricks of cheese or vats of sour cream. All opinions expressed within are my own, for better or worse.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Time My Preschooler Fell in Love

On a recent school-free weekday not long ago, Mrs. Dude took our boys to a nearby park to burn some of their seemingly endless supply of fuel. As I was working in my pleasant 72-degree office, thinking about chasing them around the vast mecca of molded plastic chutes and ladders slowly baking under the 85-degree California sun, I can’t say I was completely disappointed to miss that scorching outing. But a key lesson I’ve learned about parenting, and life in general, is that we often never know what we are missing out on by not doing something. As it turned out, I missed something seemingly big that day. How big? was the real question.

I can see out to the driveway from my home office’s shaded window and usually jump up excitedly, in a way that would make Pavlov proud, when I see Mrs. Dude and the boys return each afternoon. On this day, however, my 5-year-old made a beeline inside before I could even stand up. When the Little Dude bounded into the house he was beyond excited to tell me that he’d had an unplanned rendezvous at the park that day.

Dada, guess who I saw at the park today?

Elmo?

No, guess again…

Buzz Lightyear?

No! I saw Ethan, Braden and Jack from my school!

Oh, that’s awesome.

And guess who else?!

Lightning McQueen?

Come on, Dada. He’s in Radiator Springs. No, I saw Julie from my class.

(I was happy that he mentioned someone I actually knew, as the boys he’d mentioned first are in other classes and strangers to me.)

How exciting! What’d you all do?

We played on the swings and rode bikes and ran for a super long time! And guess what else?!

Ummm, you went down the slides?

Wrong! Slides are for babies. Guess what: Julie is my girlfriend now.

::The sound of a record player screeching to a halt engulfs my mind::

This was not at all what I was expecting from my almost 5 ½ year old’s day out. Thoughts of an imminent wedding rushed into my head before I realized that was highly improbable because neither the bride nor groom would be able to sign the marriage license because they don’t know how to write their names yet.  
Look before you leap
As he smiled his widest grin I’d seen in a while, I thought about how I hadn’t expected to hear about girlfriends for at least another half-dozen years. I know people say that kids are growing up faster these days due to technology and other societal changes, but explaining the birds and bees was not on my immediate radar, nor should it be.

I’m a planner. I’m not into surprises and have the kind of (cursed) mind which races through every possible outcome of a situation before it even begins to unfold. Whether my suppositions are right or wrong is another matter, I just don’t want to be left unprepared with an agape mouth.
So flying without my well-broken-in net, I asked my son what he thought having a girlfriend meant. I anticipated an answer somewhere along the lines of love or kissing or, at the bare minimum, hand-holding. Plus, whatever the reply, I had to be ready with a quip or an anecdote or something brilliant to suppress my suddenly queasy gut about these uncharted waters we were about to dive into.

My son looked at me, still beaming, and I watched his expression shift as he looked for an explanation that he could easily express. No words came out of his mouth for what felt like an eternity before he finally said something that shouldn’t have seemed as unexpected as it did.

I don’t know.

::Exhale::

And just like that I knew my little boy was back, as my nerves began to slowly unwind and return to their normal operating functions.

Him:  Can I go play now?

Me:  Of course. Go have fun.


And thankfully he never mentioned it again. 

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Nosiest Question Parents Get from Strangers

We know each other extremely casually. Our paths cross a few times per week, usually for a couple minutes at most. Why would you think it’s OK to be so nosy? Do I ask you about that prominent scar on your forehead, which must have an interesting story behind it? Do I ask you how much money you make? No. So please stay out of my bedroom.

Having almost made the mistake once, I would never consider asking a woman who is not my wife if she is pregnant. Even if she is currently crowning while in stirrups, you can never be too sure and rather than risk embarrassing either myself or a female I don’t know well enough, and by well enough I mean biblically, I know better than to wonder – at least out loud.

But for some reason there’s a tangential subject that people have absolutely no hesitation about asking: are you going to have more kids? I wrote a while back about people asking if we were going to "try for a girl", which is a very presumptuous subject, IMO, as we're perfectly thrilled with our two boys and don’t need a girl to “complete” our family. The same goes for a third kid.

So I usually tap dance around this more-frequent-than-I’d-like query with a non-committal answer like "You never know...", but I'm pretty sure I know. 

Would our duo sound better as a trio?
I’ve been thinking recently about why this question from people who don’t mean much to me gets me so worked up and I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s because the truth is that I 
don’t know if we’re going to have a third kid and that makes me a little sad.

I’ve long considered parental age to be an important factor in many facets of parenting. This year my boys will turn 6 & 3 years old while Mrs. Dude and I round 3rd on our 30s and slide into the abyss that is 40. That’s old. Well, it’s not old, but it’s old. Betty White is still going strong at 90-something, but then again she never had children.

40 isn’t as old as it used to be, like 150 years ago when the average American's lifespan was about 45 to 50. But 40 isn’t 30, no matter how badly we might want it to be. In retrospect do I wish I’d started having kids younger than I actually did? Yes! And no. I was trying to carve my life's path during my 20s and early 30s, all of which led me to where I sit today: stuck in this quandary of what to do with the rest of my life, however long that might be.

My mother passed away at 65 and a year later her mother departed shortly after passing 90. Tomorrow is promised to no one, which might be why I’m feeling nervous about my current situation with two small boys who I need to carefully help mold as they progress through school and life.
My lap is currently featuring seating for two.
Since the Littler Dude recently turned 2 ½, it’s not lost on me that my wife and I may have unknowingly smelled the last new baby smell of our own varietal. That scent is indescribably perfect and unique to every child ever born, even when it’s stinky and needs a new diaper. Now we are in the stages of sand-filled socks and still about seven or eight years away from tween boy B.O.  For that, I’m in no rush.

I’m already feeling anxious that I’ll be well into my 50s when my boys finish high school, probably because my parents had three college graduates by that age. It’s absolutely a different time and place now from when I grew up and despite TiVo and iPhones it’s not necessarily a better one. 

I always thought I wanted three kids because I’m a third kid. Mrs. Dude always wanted two because that’s how she was raised and people are often drawn to situations reminiscent of those they were raised in. While I was growing up, my 4- & 7- year older siblings were generally too old to be my playmates.  It wasn’t until during, or more likely after, college when we finally reached the same social stratosphere. If my wife and I were to have a third, he would be almost exactly the same age difference younger from his brothers that my brother and sister are to me. Beyond just the age gap, we’re almost out of diapers and I’m not sure I’m ready to dive back into the Diaper Genie again. I think we have a solid family dynamic with our quartet right now, so is taking a chance on a wild card worth it for us at this point in our almost-40 lives? Or are we missing the jewel of the crown? I don’t have the answer, but the clock is ticking.

So where does this leave me in regard to my nosy acquaintances? Unfortunately not much further ahead than before. All I can say is that if I have something to announce, believe me I will. This decision is grueling enough without your random piqued curiosity. All I ask of you is that next time you see me, please feel free to ask me how my day is, about the weather or the score of last night’s game. Please just don’t ask if we’re having another kid. Those other questions are much simpler, and inifinitely less stressful, to answer. 
Four is the perfect size for man-to-man defense & theme park rides. 

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