How to be popular

A weird thing happened last week when I announced we were getting a dog. In a small way, I became popular. I received a flood of emails, texts, phone calls from readers and friends expressing their joy. People I had not heard from in years contacted me to share their dog stories. And even when I saw an in-the-flesh friend, the first thing he said to me (through a mask) was, “So, I hear you’re getting a dog?”

Word had spread. The rumor mill spun. I was being talked about. I felt the way Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson must feel between bicep curls.

Someone admitted to me that their dog “saved their life”, another person confessed, “it was the best decision I ever made”, and another said, and I’m not sure if they were joking, “they would seriously consider trading in their kids for more dogs.”

But all this doggy-euphoria jarred an experience I have been trying to forget.

In 1994, two years after the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released, I was in 9th grade and a cute-blonde-cheerleader, who had all the charm and physical features of a popular vampire slayer, was my locker neighbor.

Every morning, as I fished heavy textbooks from my locker and stuffed them clumsily in my schoolbag, Buffy and her equally cute and popular vampire slayers talked and laughed about whatever cute and popular teenage vampire slayers talk and laugh about.

If April was the cruelest month for poet T. S. Eliot, 9th grade was the cruelest grade for me. Puberty sprouted in the dark hills and valleys of my body. I was awkward in mind, body, and spirit. I craved acceptance. I wanted to hangout with the cool kids on a Saturday night instead of playing NBA Jam with my little brother.

I remember how I would linger, maybe a little too long, and listen for an opportunity to join the slayer’s conversation. But they never got around to discussing early 20th century poetry or late 20th century pro wrestling.

For 10 months, from September to June, Buffy and I shared a glossy steel wall and never talked. And I lacked the pubescent nerve to ask her about blonde hair or cheerleading or locker hinges or if frozen garlic bread is as effective as fresh garlic bread for vampire slaying.

The reason I dredged up my pubescent yearning to fit in was because after last week’s post I felt as if I was given an invitation into a sacred inner sanctum. Where the vampire slayers, dog owners, and the rest of the cool kids hangout on Saturday nights. Which is something all of us ultimately yearn for–the need for connection. And maybe that’s why we fall head-over heels- in love with our dog. An undeniable, uncompromising, earthly connection.

Here’s a secret: I’m more nervous about becoming a doggy daddy than I was becoming a baby daddy. Is this normal? With a kid you get what you get. But I get to pick a dog. What if I pick, you know, the wrong one? 

Raising a human is hard, but it’s familiar territory. The sights, sounds, smells, and awkward high school hallways are always there under the surface. But raising a pack animal who enjoys the Pupperoni and pooping in public is foreign. In a way, I feel like that awkward 9th grader again staring at the loose circle of vampire slayers. Unsure how to act. Unsure what to say. A heightened awareness to my own insecurities.

So, dog parents I could use your help again: Is it normal to be nervous about getting a dog? And before you got a dog, did you worry you wouldn’t make a great dog parent? Are there things I should do to prepare myself, the family, and our physical house before we bring the dog home?

Be well,


PS: Big thanks to everyone who shared their dog knowledge with me. Your insight was both valuable and appreciated.

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Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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