Full-Time Dad Update

For everything there is a season, and this blog has entered a new one.

Photo Credit: kuddlyteddybear2004 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kuddlyteddybear2004 via Compfight cc

Since my first post nearly two years ago, I have shared my experience as a full-time single dad, and you have journeyed with me all the way through re-marriage and blending a family.  What a journey it has been!

With some additional responsibilities on the personal and professional front, I have decided to try changing the frequency of my blog posts from weekly to monthly.  This, too, may be for a season.  We’ll see.

I want to thank each one of you who has consistently read this blog, who has encouraged me, who has commented and shared their experiences.  It has enriched my life and made me a better father.

And isn’t it all about becoming better dads?

In the meantime, do not hesitate to reach out to me at contact@ftdad.org with your comments, suggestions for new posts, and anything else you may want to share.

I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing you in a month or so.

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Birthday Fail

Every few years (including the year he was born), my son’s birthday falls on Labor Day.  In Arizona, many families travel to escape the heat one last time before fall.  This year, several of my son’s friends left town for his birthday weekend.

Photo Credit: legaryphotography via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: legaryphotography via Compfight cc

Coupled with the fact he could not decide if he wanted to have a party or just have a few friends over, his actual birthday was less-than-exciting.  We ended up with family in town for much of the weekend, and my parents even came up on Sunday, brought cake, and we had a celebration with grandparents, his cousins (two boys my son just adores…one a year older and one a year younger), aunt and uncle, and a helium tank.

He was also able to play with a friend for most of the day of his birthday.  In all, he had fun.

But this was his last birthday before officially becoming a teenager.  The last year of innocence.

I am being dramatic…but you get the idea.

For next year, I have already decided how we will celebrate his 13th birthday.  It will be a father/son trip and will involve one of his favorite things…fishing.

I find I need to plan ahead and make decisions, or events will creep up and find me unprepared, or at least underprepared.

I would like to think his reaction to the lack of an official birthday gathering with friends was sincere.  He was not upset at all, but I suspect deep down he hoped for a party.

Let’s see if I can do better next year.

Have you ever felt like a failure in planning a party for your kids?  How did they react?

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FLASHBACK – Back To School (Making Lunch)

A few years ago, I wrote this post about making good lunches for your kids.  My son has taken on the responsibility for himself, but I try to get him to think about making a nourishing and energizing lunch rather than a sweet and energy-zapping lunch.  Some days go better than others, but he at least understands the fundamentals of making a healthful and tasty lunch.

Enjoy this flashback…

My son hates cafeteria food and refuses to eat it.  Instead, he wants a healthy lunch from home every day, and a healthy snack or two for his break during school and at the after-school program.

Photo Credit: Ben+Sam via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ben+Sam via Compfight cc

I realize my fortune.  My son’s favorite meal consists of sautéed beef heart and onions with a side of asparagus (neither of us like liver), and he would rather eat one of my meals at home than go out.  He is an adventurous eater and I could not ask for much more.

But what to do about school lunch?  How can I possibly prepare a good meal and still keep my sanity in the morning?  Here are some ideas you might be able to use.

  1. Keep it simple.  Do not fall into the trap of making lunch aesthetically pleasing.  If you have ever worked lunchroom duty you know the cafeteria is chaos and kids either shovel the food in their mouths or end up throwing most of it away.  The time is limited and they do not seem to care if your lettuce wraps have fallen apart.
  2. Ask them what they like.  My son can eat the same thing almost every day of the week.  Right now, he loves grass-fed roast beef, some cheese, sliced red peppers, and a small sweet for dessert.  He just finished a phase of turkey, cheese, and cucumbers.  As the weather cools, he might switch to homemade chili in a Thermos.  I make it a point to have the conversation during the weekend and do my shopping for the week on Sunday.  If he complains, I simply remind him he asked for what he got and will have the opportunity to make requests for the following week.
  3. Prepare as much as possible on Sunday.  Once we determine the menu for the week and complete shopping, I prep all the food and put it in Ziploc bags or other containers and store in the refrigerator so nothing more is required than filling the lunchbox and swapping out the ice pack (get at least three) in those chaotic pre-school moments.  Doing everything in one sitting and having food pre-positioned in the refrigerator sure beats rushing around, looking for shoes and socks, cooking breakfast, and making lunch simultaneously.
  4. Try to keep the meals balanced and colorful.  As previously mentioned, many parents wish they had my son to feed – he is easy.  Try your best to keep meals interesting and healthful.  These books really helped me out early on:  Eat Like a Dinosaur, and Primal Cravings.  Also, check out NomNom Paleo for great, healthful lunch ideas.

We love our kids and we have our hands full with parenting, work, and maintaining our homes. Sometimes buying school lunch (aka “hot lunch”) makes life simpler.  But give making lunch a try and tell your kids you want to give them the best food possible and want to be the one to prepare it for them.  And you can also write funny notes and put them in their lunch box.

What time saving ideas for lunch have you used?

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The Fine Line Between Anger And Fear

Bad things can happen quickly.

Three boys were playing in our pool – my son and two of his stepbrothers.  Splashing, laughing, and playing.  My son, not thinking, got out of the pool and dove right back in, headfirst, a few feet on the wrong side of where it drops off to the deep end.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I saw blood on his face when he came out of the pool, but could not see the injury.  He was shaken, but moving.  I quickly analyzed his condition:  made sure he did not have a concussion or a snapped neck.

I quietly thanked God he was alright.

Then my fear turned to anger.

“What where you thinking?  Why did you dive in where you shouldn’t have?  Don’t you know what could have happened to you?”

These were not words of comfort, but were a perfect combination of fear and anger.  Tears rolled down his face – partly from the pain of a one inch gash directly on the top of his head, and partly from the words he heard from me.

He called his mom on the way to getting the staples for his head and the CT scan to make sure the pain in his neck was nothing serious.  More tears flowed down his face as he told her what he had done, in spite of him knowing the rules.

I am grateful the CT scan came back normal and the wound on his head will heal right up.

But I am also glad he will wear a neck brace for 12 days until he is cleared by a neurosurgeon.  That he will have to tell the story of how he got his injury and is thankful he did not cause permanent damage or die.

What did I learn over these past few days?

  • Make every moment count.  You have no idea when life can take an unexpected turn.
  • It is OK (if not necessary) to show anger.  But it is necessary to provide context and explanation with the passage of time.  I have told my son, I will never get mad at him for telling me the truth and being honest even though there may be consequences.  But I have explained to him this was a different circumstance.  He was not telling me he tried smoking a cigarette, he demonstrated poor judgement and put himself into danger.  I do believe there is a difference between the two.
  • Being a dad comes with fear for your kids.  I know my son loves adventure and excitement, and I do not want to crush his spirit.  But I must redouble my efforts to teach him how to use common sense and self-control during fun and exciting activities.

I hope you never experience something like this with your kids.  I could have gone my entire life without the fear my son had been badly hurt or killed.  But, with this experience, I hope to both give him better guidance and make every moment count.

What experience have you had where fear quickly turned into anger?  What lessons did you learn?

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My Son On Instagram – An Update

Before he left for his summer visitation with my ex, he asked to join the world of Instagram.  I addressed it in this post.

Photo Credit: Visual Content via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Visual Content via Compfight cc

Fast forward to the end of summer, he appeared to use the social media app fairly well, but when he returned home, I noticed the frequency with which he checked his account.  And I thought I was bad on Facebook.

We had a discussion about his use of the app, and he could not seem to curtail his use.  So, we stepped in for him.

Enter Disney’s Circle.

Remember, we have four boys between 11-15 in our blended household.  Between those four boys and the two adults, we have way too many iOS devices.  And since my wife and I cannot reasonably monitor all screen time, we enlisted some help from the Circle.

So far, the little device we plugged into our router has been great.  Expect more on this technology and associated issues in future posts.

Suffice to say, my son and I have discussed reasonable use of Instagram and he and I, together, decided to use Circle to limit his daily use to 15 minutes.  After his 15 minutes is up, I get a notification and his app quits working.  Pretty cool.

So, while he used the app appropriately, he also overused it.  And it also opened up a conversation for us to have about social media and how easy it is to lose yourself scrolling through other peoples’ lives.

I want to make sure he remembers to fully live his own.

Have you utilized any technology to help monitor electronics use at your home?  If so, how has it helped?  If not, why not?

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Quotation Mark Parenting

My son and stepsons have heard me talk plenty.  I try to share life lessons and give good, wise instruction.  I even admit areas where I have made mistakes and regrets.

You may do the same thing with your kids.

You may also find your kids have the ability to tune you out at times.  Voices other than yours can become quite loud – friends, celebrities, random people on the Internet.

So, how can we as fathers give solid input to our kids without directly giving it?

All you need is a chalk-board, chalk and Google.

This week (our first week back to school) marks the beginning of the weekly (or semi-weekly, or daily) quote of the day.  Many of you may have already done this, but it is new for us.

lou-holtz-lou-holtz-do-right-do-your-best-treat-others-as-you-want-toLong story short, I picked a Lou Holtz quote for the first week – it has some extra meaning to my stepsons.  Coach Holtz said something i would like to tell all four boys, but coming from him it may have some additional impact.

If you were to look at the actual board in our home, it would have my crappy handwriting and no frills.  Just a simple message and a potential conversation starter.

I found this by picking a public figure, typing his name and the word “quotes” into Google, and letting it rip.  For the graphic in today’s post, I did the same search in Google Images.

You could simplify and write out or print out a quote and tape it to a bedroom door or mirror.

You could put it on a Post-It note in a lunchbox.

You could save it as the background image on their phone or tablet.

Just mix it up,

My hope is my son and stepsons will respect me and listen to my counsel.  But I also know they need a variety of messengers, and we can pick who some of those people speaking into their lives are and what they have to say.

Have you ever had a quote board in your home?  If so, which quote has elicited the greatest reaction from your kids?

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Re-Entry Strategies After An Extended Visitation

My son returned after his annual 8-week visit with my ex this past week.  Watching him walk down the jet bridge, I could already tell he was taller and had gotten a healthy dose of sunshine.

I never quite know what to expect after such a long visit, but he greeted me with the usual smile and bear hug.

My boy was home.

After signing some papers for the airline, we were on our way.  He had his carryon suitcase and began telling stories of fishing and fun.


Over the years, we have had variations on the “re-entry” after a stay with his mom.  I suspect the same holds true for you.

NASA - NASA http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/entry_br.html http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/hires/entry.jpg atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

NASA – NASA http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/entry_br.html http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/artwork/hires/entry.jpg
atmosperic entry of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) aeroshell, artistic rendition

This time, my son declared he does not get to see his mom enough.  I told him I understood how he felt and reminded him he would be going back two more times this year…for fall break and for Christmas.

He thought a moment and smiled and said he was glad he would get to see her.  And as quickly as he raised the subject, he was on to the next.

Like years past, we have been able to take a short trip immediately upon his return.  Before I got remarried, we would typically go visit my family (including his two cousins – both boys one of whom is a year older and one a year younger).  This year, we went with the blended family to Disneyland and Universal Studios for my son’s first visit ever to either.

So far, the transition has gone smoothly and he has adapted well to the old surroundings, stepbrothers, puppies, and rules.  Here are some best guesses as to why it has gone relatively smoothly:

  • I have consistently reminded him to contact his mom.  While he needs to be reminded to call every once in a while, he also needs to know I believe it is important for him to maintain contact with her.  This helps him understand the importance of regular contact…not just visitations.
  • I do not ask 20 questions about his trip.  As much as i would like to know every detail of his summer and how things are going with his mom, I give him the freedom to share what he wants to share and only ask general questions.  When he wants to talk, I listen and ask normal follow up questions.  I have found letting him share his summer stories at his pace works much better than quizzing.
  • I try to keep everything normal.  Consistency and familiarity seem to work best for my son.  I suspect your kids would also respond well to coming home to normalcy.  A few years ago, my son came home to a new rental home when we were subject to a burglary/arson.  Trying to maintain normalcy when most of his toys, clothes and furniture were destroyed was a challenge and taught me the importance of routine and comfort in situations where things change.

What traditions or routines do you use when your kids return from an extended visitation with your ex?

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FLASHBACK – “Ts” of Single Fatherhood – Thanks

Yesterday, my son returned from his summer visitation with my ex.  The plan is to resume with new content next week!

In the meantime, please do me two favors: 1) please forward a link to ftdad.org to any of your friends who you think would benefit, and 2) please send an email to contact@ftdad.org if you have any topic suggestions – I’m always anxious to hear from readers and get input.

I stood there in the climbing harness, unable to get comfortable despite the constant adjusting. The crisp mountain air felt great and almost made me forget the discomfort.

I looked up at the obstacle course at Flagstaff Extreme and honestly thought the wire lines did not look very high, at least compared to what I anticipated.

I dominated the instruction/demo course which sat a full four feet above the ground. Bring on the real deal.

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kate Hedin via Compfight cc

Lesson learned. Looking up at a wire or obstacle 25 feet from the ground could not compare with looking down at the ground from 25 feet. I had some serious puckering going on up there.

We all know the power of perspective. A slightly different angle. A differing opinion. The wisdom of an elder. A pair of glasses. Each can completely change what we see.

Take a moment to forget the cooking, the laundry, the bills, the toys on the ground, the crying, the dirty shoes, the glitter, the homework, the little league team, the Wiggles, and the Lego you just stepped on.

Take a moment to adjust your perspective and express thanks you can call yourself “dad”.

Tell your kids “thanks” for something they did no matter how small.

Incorporate “thanks” (or gratitude or gratefulness…whichever resonates with you) for fatherhood and your kids into your prayers, your conversations, and your thoughts – especially when chaos reigns.

When you have those “pucker” moments with your kids, just remember to be thankful you have the privilege of being a dad. It may help you be a better one. And I, for one, could use the help sometimes.

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