new dad

Future Value: Real Expectations for New Dads

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My Letter to a few Magazine Editors:

After letting our nanny go, I took on the seemingly easily managed task of staying home with our 2 yr old daughter. She wasn’t sufficiently potty trained  to attend a local Montessori yet... so the plan was to save money while contributing more significantly to the development of our daughter Catherine. Everything I read portrayed today's stay-at-home dads as an in vogue and growing sub-culture of creative elites and the affluent who placed family above leisure. After watching my umteenth diaper commercial featuring only dad's, I figured that I would be in good company…that there would be dad groups to join… and bonding over play dates....but what I found was quite the opposite.  You see, I don't live in Tribecca or L.A....so I was the only at-home dad in my neighborhood. And in suburban Philadelphia, most working dads are about as accepting of stay-at-home dad's as they are of drag queens.

Upon embarking on what has become a life-altering sabbatical transitioning from working dad to at-home dad, I decided to keep a journal as a form of therapy… since there was no-one with whom to commiserate. I now post those journal entries on my blog: www.dbadaddy.com

As I share the experience of taking on this, at times, overwhelming role I also share the resulting new perspectives on fatherhood. Most mainstream media continues to print articles that discuss the increasing popularity of women being the breadwinners and  fathers taking over the domestic responsibilities… but no-one seems to be addressing the incredible hurtle men face of overcoming the generations-long conditioning of gender identity. Not to say that successful professional women have it any easier...they are still very much a minority, but they do seem to share more company.

Please consider exposing the social and psychological  challenges men with successful professional wives face, when they make the decision to “stay home” with their children who aren't yet spending 5 or 6 hours a day at school.

I believe if more men knew more what to expect, they would be better prepared caregivers and not waste as much of what precious little time there is trying to figure it out. If there’s one thing I have learned…it’s the importance of understanding early-on that attempting to balance work and the full-time care of a two year old ensures that both will suffer. The benefit of staving off professional atrophy comes at the cost of a child and father both being robbed of as much joy and growth as this advantage can afford. "Leaning In" to both Mom and  Dad's career requires outsourcing... not commitment and balance.  

Entertaining Clients: Throwing a Birthday Party

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Some nice birthday gifts received from Catherine’s friends today and a wonderful party all around.

My wife did a lot to make it special and I was moved by the beauty of her happily getting lost in what truly was a labor of love…a commitment to excite and thrill our little girl.  

We stayed up pretty late the night before preparing hand-made decorations and favors in order to construct an “Arts & Crafts” themed party. She monogramed white oversized children’s oxfords with different colored fabric letters for guests to use as smocks they could use at the party and then take home. She also put together a “make-your-own party hat” station as one of the activities for the day and “sock puppet kits” comprised of everything from the sock with cardboard mouth pre-glued in to eyes, whiskers, spots and anything else required for the respective animal or creature-in-a-bag. These kits were packed in their goody bags as well. We both really enjoyed thinking of the animals and characters for which we spent hours cutting out their parts from sheets of felt and making a few of our own along the way.

The sample sock puppet my wife made was hilarious! It actually had a Muppet-like personality. Green yarn hair. Black googley eyes (complete with eyebrows), a long pointy nose and a long thin black mustache. I couldn’t stop laughing when she put it on for a trial run and made “Juan” immediately come alive with his Spanish accent and adult humor. 

Talent Aquisition: Mommy's Job Offer

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As a specialist, my wife receives letters and postcards (sometimes twice a week) from recruiters and health systems all over North America. They never explicitly state which hospital it is specifically but they all guarantee: top salaries, high quality of life, national sports teams, major universities and “…a wonderful place to raise children”.

My wife is working very hard with a practice covering seven hospitals in three states and feels as though her employers’ commitment to her is as not as significant as her commitment to  them. She always says “Your first job is never your last…” So, after 5+ years of interest from Sanford Hospital in South Dakota, we’ve decided to take a look. Although we couldn’t imagine living in South Dakota... we did some research on Sanford Health and decided it was worth the visit. At the very least, it would be an opportunity for my wife to catch up with an old friend and former colleague for whom she has a tremendous amount of respect.

FAST FORWARD 7 WEEKS…  

When we arrived in Sioux Falls South Dakota, we were simply blown away at this hospital’s whisper of a “Talk” and thunderous “Walk”. Thanks to Premier One Bankcard founder Denny Sanford (and his $700MM in gifts so far…), Sioux Valley Hospital has been renamed “Sanford Hospital” (surprisingly) and transformed into a region-shaping health care network with an infrastructure of physicians in leadership and an outreach spanning 126 communities throughout 8 states. They are implementing several initiatives including global children's clinics, multiple research centers and finding a cure for type 1 diabetes and breast cancer. With both domestic and overseas satellites opening at a record-pace, Denny Sanford is creating an unprecedented momentum of ensuring the highest caliber of healthcare both in the Midwest and in 18 countries throughout the world (now developing international clinics in Ireland, Ghana, Israel and Mexico). Organizational growth and development with cutting-edge medicine, sophisticated research and advanced education like this isn’t seen in cities ten times their size.

We arrived the weekend of Sanford Hospital’s Annual Gala ( benefiting the expansion of their cardiac division) and graciously accepted what we believed would simply be an opportunity to meet some folks on the team and have a nice dinner. I’ve been to a lot of these events and they always seem to follow the same syllabus: cocktails followed by a President’s greeting, a few words of promise by the CEO or COO then a video presentation of the good work being done by talented physicians and administration’s plans for the future. Then it’s back to dinner and some dancing afterwards.

The Sanford Healthcare gala we attended not only brought one of the better meals I’ve had this year to our table (a perfect medium rare filet, roasted brussel sprouts and truffled potato gratin), but also tears to my eyes…and handkerchief. Never before have I been so moved by the parents of children whose life-changing stories were shared …or by the teams of dedicated people working orchestrally, from top to bottom, who selflessly make such a monumental difference. But the Sanford story did not end when the lights came back on. This was not a benefit injected with a presentation of “good work being done”. This was simply a spotlight on life at Sanford whose message of “Improving the human condition through exceptional care, innovation and discovery” didn’t end with a video. Improving the lives of children, specifically, didn’t seem like “just a job” people are doing here…it seemed more like a calling. An ingrained way of living life. A belief system that is evident in everything from the conversations between fulfilled guests at every table and the LED-illuminated spinning magic wands handed out on the dance floor (that surely made many a baby-sat children at home delighted in the morning) to the child prodigy pianist who led the orchestra all evening long.

I guess it’s just an overall feeling of genuine commitment to care and to the community of people who provide it…and there doesn’t seem to be a sense of (or pre-occupation with) time clocks, budgets or superfluous layers of administration associated with it. The passion was palpable and contagious. It’s hard to be around people like that and not feel a moral imperative to join them.  It’s hard to be a father and not want an amenity like them for your own child.

Now that some of our preconceived notions regarding the Midwest have been obliterated, we have a lot to talk about on the flight home.

Outside The Box: Considering Relocating

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My wife just told me about an in incredible job opportunity she has in Sioux Falls, SD. She may as well have said it was somewhere in the Himalayas. Seriously, what’s the difference? I just looked at a map to see where South Dakota is located because, although i'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, my knowledge of domestic geography is akin to that of a child’s proficiency with jigsaw puzzles. I’m pretty good with the corners and edges but a bit dodgy on the middle.

Living in a big coastal city with a baby, where cultural arts abound, is a lot like having a pool. It’s nice to look at… and if you didn’t have it, you’d wish you did but at the end of the day, you’re basically paying a premium for an amenity that's really appreciated more by your friends and family than you.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the inherent value of a big city with access to amenities like superior health care and education, the arts / museums and concept dining…even if you don’t regularly take advantage of them. Chances are, those amenities have drawn others to the area that may not take advantage of them either. So at the very least, you’re left with having like-minded neighbors with similar interests.

We moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia (back to my roots) just before Catherine was born. We thought that growing up with trees and a yard was preferable to vents in the street spewing out the smells of the subway and buses heaving clouds of heavy dark smoke on top of strollers on the sidewalk. Moving back to the suburbs not only offered our daughter the same kind of childhood my wife and I enjoyed, but also brought us closer to my family who made it downtown about as often as a herd of deer.

So, moving to the middle of the country doesn’t really seem feasible… but we’re considering it.

Due Dilligence: Taking Great Activity Ideas Home

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Although I’m a big fan of spending time at the local pet store (AKA: The Free Zoo) and going on “Playground Tour 2012”…There are a lot of other things to do in the area.

This week, one of my best friends Jeff (who is also a professional Daddy) re-introduced me to Longwood Gardens. Like many other places I’ve visited as a childless-man, I was surprised to learn that there was a “children’s section”.

Longwood has an exhibit in the Indoor Children’s Garden “…filled with intricate water features, handcrafted artisan elements and engaging horticultural displays that invite children into an imaginative world all their own.” - www.longwoodgardens.org

Located in the center of these awe inspiring displays is a large stone fountain adorned with hand-carved dragons and surrounded by slate-tiled walls. A collection of buckets and small wooden-handled paintbrushes are made available for children for them to “paint” everything from the fountain itself to the cement floor beneath it…with water as the "paint" that temporarily darkens the surfaces.

As someone with large rocks lining their driveway and approximately 60’ of flagstone along their front walk, I immediately recognized the beauty of this interactive exhibit. The quick-drying “paint” motivates the children to continually create new designs or re-do patterns that have just faded… until you have to drag them away.

Needless to say… I bought 3 cheap paintbrushes at Sherwin Williams yesterday and am looking forward to Catherine’s reaction when I break them out this weekend.

So much easier to steal GREAT ideas from someone else than to think of them yourself. Whenever I’m at a loss for fun things to do, I guess I just need to get out with the openness to re-discover places and things I thought I knew.

Reminds me of the classic cure for “writer's block”.

Setting Up Shop: Stocking a Playroom

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My wife and I went to the craft store yesterday and bought a shopping cart so full of stuff (colored cotton balls and pipe cleaners to popsicle sticks and finger paints) the cashier thought  we were teachers and gave us a discount. Catherine now has her own supply closet in her playroom located in our basement...which we prefer to call: “The Way-Downstairs” (as an homage to “the way back” of the classic Country Squire Station Wagons that very few families were lucky enough to own in the 70’s).