The Day the Girls Were Given Tampons

Our sixth grade teachers divide us into two groups: boys and girls.

In the boys’ room, the teacher wobbles behind her podium and says words like penis, testicles, erection and sperm and I struggle to breath. I choke on my laughter. My face grows hot and my insides hurt and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. But it’s okay. Because it’s just so damn funny.

When the teacher runs out of funny words to say, she hustles through the classroom doorway, into the hall, to either cry or laugh, and since we’re boys, and now we’re unsupervised boys — we explode. We laugh and squeal and shake and cry and whimper because it’s just so damn funny.

For 12 year old boys, the word testicles tops the list of funny words. Especially, when your teacher says it — testicles. And if I’m being honest, at 37, the word testicles still makes me laugh.

As girls file back in the classroom with bowed heads, silent, like they just witnessed an execution our laughter tinkles out. Each girl carries tightly a white wand and I think how unfair it is that they got a prize and we didn’t. But maybe we would’ve been awarded a prize if we hadn’t howled like hairless wolves.

A girl with shoulder length auburn hair pinned back with butterfly berets slides into the desk in front of me. I tap on her shoulder. At first she doesn’t turn so I tap again and wait and before I’m about to tap again she turns and levels her eyes into mine, “What?”

“What kind of prize did you get?”

“It’s not a prize.”

“Well what is it?”

“It’s a tampon.”

“A what?”

“A tampon. You know, for when I get my period.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about.

Naturally, men want titles. Titles that will raise both pinkies and eyebrows at cocktail parties. Titles that will earn free drinks. Titles that will get the girl.

As I toiled through my 20’s and into my early 30’s I felt that the most important titles a man could collect were titles like CEO, Supervisor, Manager, Principal, General, Admiral, Chief, Coach, Quarterback.

In our defense, society has taught men that to prove our worth we need to collect titles the way we collect imported cars or empty bottles of imported beer (depending on a man’s financial situation).

For girls, the title of mother comes painfully yearly. They menstruate, wonder why, and a soft, older voice explains they’re now biologically ready to become a mother. About the same time, the same voice explains that mother is the most important title a girl will ever know.

Further cementing the gravity of mother, high school girls endure home economics and child development classes and are evaluated on their ability to care for a plastic baby who cries when it’s hungry or a sack of sugar (depending on a school district’s financial situation).

I find it interesting and, somewhat sad, that boys are not offered classes on fatherhood.

Boys are often evaluated on their ability to build and destroy things. To give commands. To take orders. But boys are rarely, if ever, praised for their ability to nurture, care and empathize.

Maybe that’s why fatherhood is such a confusing ordeal for men. Maybe that’s why the expectations for fathers continues to be shamefully low.

25 years ago I was in 6th grade, clueless about the origin of human life, about collecting titles. I was just a catholic school boy, laughing like an infidel at the pronunciation of the delicate instruments that would gift me with the most important title I would ever hold: Father.

I’m just slightly embarrassed it took so long to realize such truth.

Be well,

Jay

Crossing the Line: The Birth of a Delusional Parent

It’s July and I’m standing along a sun-splashed sideline watching my son embroiled in a heated little league baseball game, sweating.

Chase’s team mans the field. There’s a runner on first base.

Two outs.

They are losing 6-4.

Chase is playing second base. He’s got a pair of black socks pulled above his calves, his gray baseball pants are loose in the thighs and tighten just below the knee caps. He’s wearing eye black and with his hat pulled low he looks like he just stepped out of the baseball cards I collected when I was a kid.

A baseball field has two foul lines.

A white chalk line that begins at the batter’s box, runs straight through the first and third base bags and dead ends deep in the outfield fence.

The line is to help umpires and players know if the ball is fair or foul.

The line is also to keep parents out.

 

Parents like me, spongy and creaky kneed, patrol sidelines.

We watch our children and urge and instruct and curse and twist and tense and believe our body language has magical powers to spell the plays unfolding on the field before us.

As a teacher and former coach, I’ve witnessed parents living vicariously though their children. Stepping sideways out of their own lives and into the lives of their children. Driving their children like shiny new cars to run down their lost dreams.

But there’s danger in such joy rides.

I’ve seen children limp through adolescence hating those things once loved because parents crossed a line, because parents got too close, because parents exploited their child’s ability hoping to recover dusty trophies from the past.

It’s something I swore I’d never do.

There’s an aluminum pop.

It’s a quick bouncer up the middle.

Chase springs to his right, dives, extends left arm and the baseball disappears and the heat rises as if Medford, New Jersey tilted closer to the sun and the right field chalk line dissolves and I’m playing second base and there’s a quick bouncer up the middle and I react, faster then I’ve reacted in years because my body feels fast and strong like a new Corvette and I dive and extend my left arm and the baseball disappears in my glove, its weight cradled in my palm and I land on my stomach and the dirt funnels up my nose and I reach in the glove and with a back-hand toss watch the ball arch into the July sky and land safely in the shortstop’s glove who is standing firmly on second base.

The crowd explodes.

Three outs.

I spring to my feet, dirty and smiling.  I just defied gravity.  I just made eyes pop. I just made mouths say wow. I just did what big leaguers on baseball cards do for a living.

The shortstop slaps his glove across my back as if to say, “Atta boy!”

The coach barrels out of the dugout, crosses the foul line clapping and cheering and announces, “That’s a big league play, son!”

And it was. It was awesome.

And I didn’t do any of it.

My son did. It was all Chase.

I just poured his Frosted Flakes, tied his cleats and drove him Medford, New Jersey.

In the sudden swell of excitement, a line had been crossed.

A line I swore I’d never cross.

Between innings as parents reapplied suntan lotion, as the opposing team littered the field and Chase’s team traded gloves for bats and it unnerved me to learn how quickly self-awareness strikes out.  How in the snap of one play I let my mind cross into his body. How quickly delusional parents are born.

Like wading through soup I pushed to nearby shade, wiped my forehead, exhaled and acknowledged that I was hot and a little bothered.

Be well,

Jay

 

In Honor of Father’s Day: 6 Pieces of “Dadvice”

It’s Father’s Day Weekend!

Time to hike up your socks, fire up the grill, lean back in your favorite chair and say things like …”Hold your horses!” and “”My house, my rules!” shortly followed by “I don’t know… go ask your mother.”

With the popularity of Justin Halpern’s hilarious Shit My Dad Says to the emergence of the soft and lovable physique known as the “dad bod” and cringe worthy “dad jokes”, pop culture has declared being a dad cool and hip.

And on this rare occasion, I agree with pop culture. Being a dad is cool.

We carry pocket knives.

We clog then unclog toilets.

We treat wounds with dirt and spit.

We pride ourselves on knowing where things are located in Home Depot.

We play golf.

We build fires.

We embarrass our kids.

We consider it a declaration of war when we spot a field mouse scurrying across the kitchen floor.

We have a spatula with our name engraved on the handle.

But of course with this “coolness” comes great responsibility.

My dad ( far left), my two brothers, my two sons and me (holding the camera) talking in a baseball game.

It has occurred to me that my children are seeing me through the same lens in which I saw my dad when I was their age.

In their young eyes I’m all powerful, all knowing. My actions, my “dadvice” are seared into their little brains and one day (God forbid) may serve as good blog fodder about fathers.

To highlight the power and coolness of being a dad here are 5 pieces of dadvice my dad offered me many years ago…

1.On eating a big breakfast every morning

My father has always championed the need for a hearty breakfast. Dad scoffed when those FDA “nitwits” claimed that eating highly processed foods–loaded with sodium and saturated fat could be deadly.

My dad (like a lot of dads) has a signature dish. .A culinary cuisine that he describes in with great pride to the other dads at the CYO meetings. My dad’s Spam and Egg sandwich is one of the reasons I had friends as a kid. His signature sandwich is a 900 calorie heart-stopper made with only the finest pasteurized cheeses and slaughterhouse scraps.spam

I remember once asking him why he needed to eat such a big breakfast every morning. He looked down at me with serious eyes and said “Who knows if or when I’ll have the opportunity to eat again today.” Which seemed a bit dramatic –like something Lewis said to Clark on the first morning of their Continental Divide expedition. But it was also funny too– because as he said this dad was packing his work lunch box/cooler with a week’s worth of food.

*I should also mention that at this time dad spent most of his working life and passed a Burger King every 8oo feet.

2.On boosting confidence

In grade school, for some school project ,  I was forced to work with the smartest kid in the class who openly teased me– claiming that he was smarter than me. Upon hearing my complaint, dad looked at me, smiled and said, “But can this Einstein hit a curve ball?”

3.On medical care

Once when mom wasn’t home, I threw my younger brother Kyle into a wall joint leaving him with a gash in his head and blood streaming down his face. Dad, who was outwardly annoyed that Kyle’s melon had dented the drywall, carried Kyle into the bathroom, dropped him in the tub, offered him a roll of paper towels and said, “Wait here until mom gets home.”

 4.On eating expired food

“Do you think George Washington had expiration dates on his ground beef?”

5.On love

When I was in my early 20’s I begin thinking about proposing to Cindy. But naturally I was hesitant.  I wanted to know how to know someone was “the one”. Dad met mom when he was 17 and seemed to have the whole love-thing mastered. So I sought council in dad. I was certain that he had some sage advice to offer on the matter of love.

So one day I ask him how did he know mom was the one. And after a long, thoughtful pause dad looked at me and said “I just knew.” End of conversation.

6.On the most important thing to do in life

Next week, I will be delivering the commencement address at Robbinsville High School.

An opportunity granted after I was named the Robbinsville Public School District Teacher of the Year.

I’m flattered and humbled to have this opportunity to speak at high school’s penultimate event. I’m not threatened by speaking in front of 2,000 people however, for the past few days I was growing concerned about finding the right subject to talk about.

Really, what do I say to a stadium full of people, sitting under the June sun on metal bleachers, who can’t wait until I’m finished talking?

For the last few days I’ve been engaged in some heated brainstorming sessions, considering what the 18-year-old version of me want to hear? Need to hear?

Now there were a ton of things I needed to hear…

You’re not as cool as you think you are.

Talk less, listen more.

Make time your friend, not your enemy.

Opinions don’t matter.

Take care of your knees.

But after all the brainstorming I settled on a simple truism to guide my writing, “be honest, tell the truth.”

My dad is and always has been a mild man.

But nothing poked his ire more then catching me in a lie. I remember, on many occasions,  his blue eyes drilling holes through mine as he pressed me, interrogated me on the inconsistencies of my stories.

And now, when I’m questioning my own children on their stories, I can feel my dad’s eyes, I can hear his voice, “Be honest, tell the truth.”

The more complicated life gets, the more evasive truth becomes.

We dangerously mark truths with a capital “T” only to endure bouts of moral terror and heartbreak and doubt and question if capital “T” truth ever existed.

We get mixed up.  We lose our authenticity and integrity.

We replace our own truth with the opinions and perspectives of others, distancing ourselves from the person we want to become.

Dad and I (1983)

I want to thank my dad for instilling the importance of truth and honesty in me. How honesty is the foundation of every relationship you will build in your life.

Like everyone, writers are wrestlers, constantly trying to pin down the squirming truth.

I realize now (as I write this sentence) that this blog, my writing and the life I’m striving for pays homage to my father’s stare, to his endless work of trying to get me to be honest and tell the truth.

Happy Father’s Day!

Be well,

Jay

The S Word- by Mark Roeder (Guest Post)

Meet Mark Roeder…

Hi everyone, my name is Mark Roeder. I work full time as a Project Manager in Washington DC for a DoD contractor after 10 years active duty in the Navy, living in the Virginia Beach area.

My family is the most important thing to me and I spend all of my spare time with them. I married my best friend over 10 years ago and we have two tiny humans that share our last name. I love sports and my son shares my passion and I’m lucky enough to coach his soccer team for the second year in a row. I am a dad blogger and have contributed to the Huffington Post Blog, Babble by Disney and my own site, All Good in the Fatherhood.

I started off writing as a form of therapy, a way to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or a screen really). I really enjoy sharing my experiences through fatherhood and after some of the great feedback that I’ve gotten, I love knowing that I can help out or entertain just a few people.


The S Word

As a married dad, we all think about it all the time, we can never seem to get enough of it, plan our lives around it and often daydream about that dirty S word… Sleep! What other S word could I have been talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter! From the moment that our first bundle of joy, cries and poop was born, we had to adjust our lives to be able to function on significantly less sleep. We thought that once the midnight feedings were done, we would be able to get more sleep but boy were we wrong! As the kids have gotten older, it is nice that they can get their own breakfast and play and even feed the dog in the morning, giving us a few extra minutes, but not many as they haven’t quite figured out the art of quiet. When Brenn is still asleep and Lilly is awake, she will come in our room and talk and use our bathroom and want snuggles and hugs, really any way to not be the only one awake. A clock in each of their rooms has been a blessing and rules that they cannot come out of their room until 8:00 gives us slightly more rest.

Sleep is almost a tradable currency in my house, with negotiations always ongoing such as “If you get up early today, I’ll go grocery shopping for you and get up with them tomorrow”.

It seems like there is a sick kid or a nightmare on a weekly basis. My 5 year old still randomly climbs into bed with us once a week or so and she takes a while to fall asleep and has been known to talk to herself or even ask us some of the most random questions about a meal that we once ate at a restaurant that was completely unmemorable but is enough to spark a thought and make it that much harder to fall back to sleep. On top of kids keeping us up, we have 2 cats that sleep on the bed, a golden retriever that sneaks on to the bed when she thinks I’m not paying attention and a giant rabbit downstairs that doesn’t like to be left alone so will randomly thump or toss things around his cage. The odds are stacked against all of us but I promise that you will not jump out of bed faster than when you hear a kid or animal start gagging and it turning into full-fledged projectile vomiting.

I know that it has become cliché at this point but for all the times that we didn’t want to nap as a kid, we wish we could nap so much more as an adult. We sneak naps whenever we can get away with one, my favorites are when I can sneak out of work early on a Friday and catch an hour cat nap before getting up and thinking about dinner and our raging Friday nights of Pie Face and Nick Jr! My wife relishes her nap time and she loves the lazy Sunday afternoon nap, and I cherish my alone time with my kids on Sundays, even more now that they are no longer devoted to homework and studying. I have been known to catch a few Zs on the couch while the tiny humans play all around me.

I wake up early most days to go to work, usually around 4:45 which is way better than the 3:40 for my last job. It is tough to balance life in that respect between not getting enough sleep to function properly or going to bed when my kids do and not getting any adult time with my wife. I usually get around 6 ½ to 7 hours during the week and a solid 8 on the weekends and that works for me but not everyone is the same. I know a lot of people that need much more than that to function, and others that seem to be able to go without sleep all together. Being in the Navy gave me the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time and I have even fallen asleep standing up on multiple occasions. I fall asleep almost daily on my Metro ride home from work, but I’m too nervous for a deep sleep.

We are all warned when we find out that we are going to be parents to get all the sleep that you can before the baby gets here and that seems to be the stereotypical advice given, but I believe that we need to cherish what we have, whatever it is.

Stay strong and not so sleepy out there dads!


Be sure to check out Mark’s blog at www.allgoodinthefatherhood.com

Why Fatherhood is Like Being an NFL Quarterback

My beloved Philadelphia Eagles trail their division rivals, the Washington Redskins by 5.

There’s 20 seconds on the clock.

The Eagles are 5-7, floundering in last place a highly competitive NFC East, with their playoff lives on life support.

Our quarterback, our white knight, Carson Wentz the strapping young lad from the North Dakota plains, who after 13 games this season appears to have all the tools–the strength, the speed, the football IQ, the moxie to deliver the starving Philadelphia fan base its first ever Superbowl title, takes the snap and drops back to pass.

19…18…

He looks right. Rolls left.

17…16…

Bodies clash, muscles strain as 70,000  fans roar like lions under the soft gray December sky.

The enemy pass rush presses forward clawing at the offensive line as our white knight stands bravely, squaring his shoulders, in the quickly collapsing pocket.

25 miles away and sensing victory, I rise up off the couch as Tostito crumbs tumble down my shirt.

Carson cocks his right arm back. Bodies fall all about him. He sees a receiver open in the flat. I see a receiver open in the flat. All of Philadelphia sees a receiver open in the flat.

In my living room I mimic our hero. I square my shoulders. I cock my right arm.

15…14…

Then, a mighty paw like the paw of God appears from nowhere and swings and swats the pigskin from Carson’s hand.

Carson falls under the collapse of white jerseys. The football waddles across the green grass like a lost duck.

25 miles away I’m pointing and screaming, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” as if I’m saddled between the Lincoln Financial Field hash marks, when a monstrous Redskin lineman rushes the duck. Pounces the duck. Swallows the duck.

The Redskins celebrate. The Eagles hang their collective heads.

The game is over. The Eagles playoff hopes flat-line.

I deflate back to the couch with my hands on my head as if covering from enemy fire.

To my left, Chase sits with his hands on his head.

To my right, Dylan is holds the same position.

Both of my boys are waiting for my next move.

And that’s when I began to realize that fatherhood is like being an NFL quarterback.

wentz

This season, Eagles fans slid Mr. Wentz under the proverbial  microscope. We dissected every pass. Every decision. We examined how he handled the pressure of being stalked by bloodthirsty linebackers. We scrutinized his press conferences. His poise when probed with tough questions. His willingness to shoulder blame.

We judged his ability on the field and his character off. We wanted to know if this quiet Midwestern boy was worthy of our faith.

What the entire Philadelphia fan base did to Carson Wentz this season is what children do to their fathers everyday. Our children study moves. They listen to the cadence of commands. They take mental notes on what we value and what we don’t. They scrutinize our interactions with the world. They take in how we treat people.

In his timeless interview with Bill Moyers, an interview that was ultimately turned into one of my favorite books, The Power of Myth, American scholar Joseph Campbell explained that since the beginning of man, children have always looked needed fathers to teach them how to engage the world.

Mothers give birth to a child’s nature and fathers give birth to their social character.– Joseph Campbell

I’ve seen how my children study my subtleties. My facial expressions and mannerism.  How I celebrate. How I handle defeat. And at the tender ages of 8, 6 and 3 my children are beginning to mimic my behaviors. Behaviors that are weaving the fabric of their little mythology.

Fatherhood, like quarterbacking, is a tough business. You’re going to get beat up. Lose confidence. Question everything you know.  You may even find yourself sitting in some darkened corner, ice packs on your joints, towel draped over your head, wondering if you were cut out for this business.

There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray.– Michael Chabon

It can downright terrifying to acknowledge how much influence dads have on their children. Yet as the dad, as the quarterback, we must accept our responsibility to lead and inspire. That’s what we were drafted to do.

Now, if we can correct our mistakes, survive our trials, if we can rise up after defeat– we can instill a belief, a spirit, a love in our familial fan base. A fan base that so desperately wants and needs a hero.

Be well,

Jay