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



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Skip the Tater Tots and Be a #HealthyDad

Though it usually appears glamorous in movies, most real-life business travel is generally anything but that. My day job takes me on periodic short trips, often back and forth in one day, and to say they are exhausting is like saying the ocean is wet. They’re even more exhausting than parenting. Coincidentally while en route home from my most recent daytrip last week, I had an epiphany: part of the reason I go on these trips is to help take care of my family (financially), but sitting at the gate  I realized that the choices I made on that trip prevented me from taking care of myself.

As the opening notes to “Here Comes the Sun” poured through my iPhone at 4:30am one day last week I knew that I had a flight to catch in 2 ½ hours and had to get moving. I’d slept less than 5 hours the night before and was drained from the get go. I was mostly ready to go from the night before so I quickly got dressed and while making a cup of green tea to take with me, I saw a box of Apple Jacks and grabbed a little baggyful for the road. Sustenance to get me to LAX, I told myself. Plus, it was kinda fruit, right?
One of the few benefits of pre-dawn flights is seeing things like this. 
While waiting for my flight I grabbed some oatmeal from a restaurant to take on the plane. It was loaded with blueberries, almonds and brown sugar. This seemed at least partly healthy or at least healthier than the frosted cinnamon roll that I really wanted at the same shop. After a short flight I had a brief layover before my connection. While traversing terminals at SFO I saw this headline and hoped they’d wait until after I’d gone to begin the testing:

No thanks, SFO. 
After arriving at my destination I met with some coworkers for lunch, AKA a greasy burger with tater tots before our big client meeting. How often does one see tots in a restaurant I asked myself as I wolfed the salty potato nuggets down? Answer: Not often enough to pass them up.

After our meeting we stopped at a gas station and everyone grabbed some candy and a Diet drink to balance it out and power through the long day’s final third. Once back at the airport an order of wings came my way as a sports bar was the only feasible fast place to eat and I needed to grab something to take with. I crushed that meal on my 3rd flight of the day, along with some Twizzlers I’d discovered while waiting to pay for another Diet soda at the airport.  

It was while traversing SFO for the second time that day, as my stomach begged for mercy, that I realized that while my professional day had gone quite well, my personal day had been a disaster because I hadn’t even remotely taken care of myself. While waiting for my plane to board I grabbed a fruit cup for my 4th and final flight of the day. I wasn’t even really hungry but felt I should have at least one quasi healthy food item during my marathon day.

It dawned on me, as I struggled to stay awake on my late night jaunt back to LAX that after a night of almost no sleep I’d made it through the day completely artificially via a combination of caffeine, grease and sugar. I’d started off relatively well with green tea and oatmeal but everything after that point was a disaster, which is not OK.

For someone my age, almost pushing 40, with young kids I need to do whatever it takes to ensure that I’m going to be around when they need me, whether it’s 5 years from now or hopefully 50. And a big part of that starts with taking care of myself. I’ve realized that being a Healthy Dad is important to me not only for my own longevity, but also because I’m a role model to my two Junior Dudes. What they see me do will resonate as they grow and that includes what I eat and drink. My pants have felt snug lately and I have not liked what I’ve seen in the mirror or pictures, so as I get ready to mark another notch around the sun in a few weeks I know that I need to be more proactive about my health. 

 For myself and my family.

I’m diligent about my kids getting their regular checkups but have been lax about my own. The truth is that I found a great doctor a few years back but when my company switched insurers he wasn’t on the new plan. I’m sure plenty of other great doctors are, however, and I’m doing myself a disservice by not taking advantage of the free annual physicals most plans include. My boys aren’t getting any younger and neither am I. It’s time for change. I want to be a Healthy Dad and that starts now. It’s time to get a good night’s sleep, skip the tater tots in lieu of a salad and carry healthy snacks so I have no excuses on these grueling 20-hour workdays. I need to do it. I can do it. I will do it.

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So why am I telling you all this? Because I was invited to participate in the #HealthyDad campaign to raise awareness for leading long healthy lifestyles and taking care of ourselves. I made this video, which you should totally check out on my Instagram, to show you a bit more of my inspiration and perspiration.

video

Make your own video and upload it to the Healthy Dad FB page for your chance to win one of five $100 Amazon gift cards. Totally worth it, for more reasons than one.

Legal Bizness: Thanks to Anthem Blue Cross, who sponsored the campaign, for including dads in this important discussion about family health care. My views are based solely on my experience as a parent, and not as a medical professional. All opinions contained within this post are mine, for better or worse. 




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Your Kids are Growing Up...Believe It or Not

While skipping past my Facebook Timeline’s myriad “I need coffee!” grumbles most mornings and “I need wine!” laments later in the days, I’ve discovered another type of social media declaration that has even more of a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect on me: when parents denote their child’s birthday by saying things like “I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since my hilarious, mischievous, handsome and effervescent Little Johnny was born”.

No, I’m not a Grinch who hates birthdays, children or adjectives. Rather I’m a father who is totally enamored with and constantly amazed by my children, as I’d hope my friends and acquaintances would be by theirs. My two boys leave me in a perpetual state of awe. The Little Dude is 4 ½ years old and I can believe that because I’ve lived it. Day-in and day-out, through better and worse. 

4 1/2 years in the blink of an eye
His almost-2-year-old brother, the Littler Dude, started walking recently, which is one of the most incredible early developmental milestones for a parent to witness. Watching your child trying to figure out how to graduate from being a totally immobile food-recycling lump into a quasi-self-sufficient-being in a matter of months is magical. It seems like eons ago when we watched the Littler Dude eagerly observing his older brother running around outside, while grunting to express how badly he wanted to join him. Willing himself to accomplish that goal, that mission to keep up with his idol, in such a relatively short amount of time was a look into the soul of hope.

2 years
So when people compose a status update like “I can’t believe my bubbly, clever, generous, ornery Tatiana is 8 months old today!” I always think of the preposterously named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. If you can’t believe that oozing yellow goop is not butter, either you’ve never actually tasted butter or your taste buds have been brainwashed into thinking that some artificial faux-dairy product tastes better and is healthier for you, when in reality its ingredients are nearly as plastic as the container it comes in. In order to believe, we must open our mind’s taste buds to savor the complexity of our intellectual manna.


Being a parent is easily the greatest gift in the world (beside a Ferrari), but what makes it incredible is actually experiencing the emotional hills and valleys that make a life lived. Of course those journeys happen at breakneck speed to make us appreciate how fortuitous we as parents truly are. As a wise man once said “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller yearned to maximize every moment of his journey and I strive to do the same with and for my family. I’m wistfully aware that my 4 ½ year-old son has already used up about ¼ of his time at home with Mrs. Dude and me before he hopefully heads to college. It’s that rapid changing of the calendar that frequently makes me reminisce about some of my own life’s adventures that seem like they recently occurred, yet it’s only when I stop to reflect that I realize they were really 10 years ago. Or 20. Or 30.

For me, parenting has been challenging, stressful, messy, sticky and infinitely more. And that’s just in the last hour. I’m beyond lucky to have my Junior Dudes and their wonderful mother as my companions for the odyssey that comprises the story of our family, wherein time is merely a subjective factor in the grand equation that is our life. As parents we often watch the clock for things like “is there really still 20 weeks left of this pregnancy?” or “will my child ever sleep that extra hour so I’m 3% less of a zombie tomorrow?” But the reality is that time is what we make of it. Everyone is allotted the same 24 hours per day, yet those 60-minute blocks seem to move supersonically as we age. Since there is no way to slow them down we must Carpe the hell out of our finite number of Diem to make sure we savor each treasured moment before they slip away.

Just when I’ve gotten used to the Little Dude going to preschool, he’ll soon move up to Pre-Kindergarten while his brother starts at the same school, coincidentally where their grandmother took their mother over three decades ago. I understand the disbelief so many friends claim to feel regarding their children’s growth and empathize. Time does move fast.  Certainly much faster than desired through these prized early moments. That’s why I attempt to savor each one, for though we don’t know what’s coming next we must buckle our seatbelts and be ready for the adventure.  

I can’t believe there’s anything better than that.  


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Monday, July 7, 2014

My Lack of Independence Day


July 3rd, 7:12am
It’s going to be July 4th again tomorrow so I should probably compose some brilliant reflection on the 3 years that have blazed by since I launched Dude of the House. Which angle should I take though? I could write about how when I started this blog on a whim I’d never even read a blog before. I had no master plan, just excellent source material from my 20-month-old Little Dude and plenty of time to write. Too much time, it seemed, and major concern about how would I ever fill it. That’s all changed. 

I should probably jot this down --  the boys are up and since they share a bedroom, if one is up, both are. I'll start at lunchtime.

July 3rd 12:40pm
Working full-time from home is both a gift and a curse. Hearing the joy occurring on the other side of my closed office door often leaves me despondent, since there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than rolling on the floor with my boys instead of paying someone to do it for me. 

Sounds like Mrs. Dude has both boys in the pool. Are they calling me? Better go check...

July 3rd 5:12pm
So much for finishing work early before the holiday. I’ll just start with a couple paragraphs before leaving the solitude of my office to join the group eager for dinner. Where to start?

Ooh, something smells good. Is that chicken? I’ll definitely begin after they go to bed.

July 3rd 8:43pm
Honestly, can two kids ever just go to bed easily in the same room? Just when I had the Littler Dude asleep, his brother got out of bed to lay on both of us in the rocking chair, rebooting the countdown for everyone’s trip to dreamland. I think they’re both out now. Have to get out of this chair. I think my butt fell asleep, which I didn’t even know was possible.

July 4th, 7:07am
Now I’m certain that my kids think it’s illegal to sleep in on holidays. Not sure how to teach them otherwise beside a serious investment in industrial-grade earplugs, door locks and soundproofing. My eyelids feel like they’re made of concrete today. Opening them is going to be a rough one but unlike my other, this job has no days off. I’ll take some time to write my post after breakfast. 

July 4th, 9:22am
Mrs. Dude made plans for us to head to the park with a couple other families for an hour? OK, I’ll start this afternoon.  

July 4th, 1:39pm
Wow, that park was so hot that even the sweat rolling down my forehead was sweating, too. That’s summer in LA, for swelter or curse.

July 4th, 2:11pm
Just got the Littler Dude down to nap & Mrs. Dude is taking his brother to the market. Here’s my chance to finally collect my thoughts. Oh, there are still lunch plates to scrape and a sticky mess on the floor. I’ll just get that stuff out of the way first, then jump back to my abandoned laptop. 

July 4th, 2:33pm
July 4th party begins at 4:00? I guess we better get moving.



July 4th, 10:22pm
I just need to rest my eyes for a second.

Zzzzzzzzz.

July 5th
All day at the beach.
More fun than sun, which was a ton.
I wrote a poem?
My first one.

July 6th, 3:03pm
Ahhhh, silence. Now where do I begin? 

I could write about how I just realized that my 21-month-old Littler Dude is a month older now than his brother was when I started Dude of the House 3 years ago. He wasn’t even a glint in my eye then, yet now he and his brother consume more of my bandwidth, and paycheck, than anything else on earth. Not having time to actually write about parenting because I’m parenting, or working, is a good problem to have. 

How my new friends, the impossibly talented group of Dads I’ve met over the last 36 months, do it is a mystery to me. I’m still in awe of the relationships I’ve built that were beyond inconceivable when I wrote my first post, 200-something ago. Fortunate doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about the things I’ve been able to do for, with, and most importantly, because of my children over the last few years.

Writing has opened up doors I’d never imagined existed, both socially and professionally, but even more significantly it’s made me more aware.

Aware of myself.

Aware of my children.

Aware of the power of what comes out of my mouth and my keystrokes.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I do what I do here and the reality is, I’m not the most organized Dude in the world. Papers and notebooks get lost over generations, though my assumption is that the Internet will be around for a while. Maybe my boys will stumble upon this someday and remember their first baseball game or a crazy day at the beach. That will have made the sum of this labor of love worthwhile. 

Until then, 3 years down and infinity to go.

Thanks for being a part of this journey with me. 

And thank you to the three people who make this, and everything in my life, consequential:




Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sometimes the Best Gifts are Free

I’ve never been someone to have a long birthday gift request list. I’m not a techie eagerly awaiting the new iGizmo and I’m not a golfer dying for a new putter or driver. Gifts are wonderful to receive, but I’m a big believer that the best gifts aren’t bought at the mall, or even on Amazon, but come from somewhere inside. They don’t have to be wrapped in fancy paper with shiny ribbon and a bouncy bow. They should simply be real.

The same goes for Hanukkah, Father’s Day and even my Wedding Anniversary. For example, Father’s Day was last week and I didn’t even have to tell Mrs. Dude what I wanted to do that day. The only present I wanted was to spend the day with the three people who made it possible for me to be an honoree: my wife and two sons.

I didn’t want a fancy brunch at some overpriced restaurant. In fact, I wanted the opposite, a brown bag lunch, and I wanted it at my favorite place in Los Angeles. It’s possibly even the place I moved to LA for, even though I’d never been there before I actually moved: the beach.

I slept in last Sunday morning until 8:30am (which is better than a gift – it’s practically a miracle) and joined my family for cereal and milk, just like every other day whose name ends in a “y”. We loaded the car and traversed our favorite canyon toward the beach. The weather was due to be perfect, as I knew the company would be.


We arrived before noon and played ‘til after 4:00. Hard to imagine anything better than running down the shoreline, holding hands and having fun with my boys. Actually “fun” doesn’t even do justice to what we shared that day. Perhaps bliss or perfection is more accurate. Whatever it was, it was all I wanted and needed. As the sun began to fade, we packed up our gear and headed back over the canyon to reality.

There was one more thing I wanted that day, to show the Little Dude how to throw a slab of meat on the BBQ. A tri-tip that weighed in at a hair over a kilo was going to be my carnivorous treat for the day. We’d already prepped it, so grilling didn’t take more than a half-hour.


Still, I showed him how to baste, flip and rotate the slab that was making my eyes jealous of my mouth. We’d used a special rub and sauce from Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, which I’d heard raves about forever, but never actually tasted until that day. It was worth the wait. The tri-tip came out perfectly and my day was complete. I had everything I wanted, which was really nothing at all. Just a day with my favorite trio, at my favorite place, followed by an amazing meal. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

Oh, and to cap the perfect day: Mrs. Dude made my favorite dessert: a ginormous homemade cookie cake slathered in buttercream frosting. Boom. Mission Complete.



Special thanks to Lee Jeans, who sent these matching Smoke Camo Compound Cargo shorts (and that awesome BBQ sauce!) for the Little Dude and me to rock together.  I’ve hardly taken them off since. 

Daddy & Toddler Motorcycle & Big Wheel tee shirt set by Daddy & Company.

Disclaimer: We received these clothing items complimentary and were not compensated for this post. 
All opinions expressed within are my own, for better or worse. The beach rules. Seriously,